Posted by: facetothewind | December 1, 2008

Remembering Wessie

Here’s a photo I shot of Wessie in 1997 (I think) and a piece that I wrote for Wessie’s memorial that didn’t make the final cut. Thought I’d share it anyway…

I always think of Wessie when I’m making my bed. I know it’s not a very glamorous or grandiose way to remember someone whom I considered part of my extended family. Still, I do think of him every time I put clean sheets on the bed and I always will. Let me explain…

If you knew Wessie, you knew he had systems. Oh boy did he have SYSTEM! Systems for everything – filing, accounting, cleaning house, cooking, and of course for making the bed. One afternoon I watched him reset the upstairs apartment for incoming guests. He showed me his system for making up the bed, demonstrating his technique for rolling on an inside-out pillowcase. No wrinkles, no pillow jammed in sideways with a floppy end.

Wessie then whirled about the edges of the bed, thrusting the corners of the mattress into the air one by one and whacking sheets under to make the hospital corners — something I’ve never been able to do. I stood watching a master, mesmerized by his pride in producing a perfect bed.

Of course, while Wessie was hoisting the mattress, whacking sheets and crisping up corners, he was muttering and sputtering about his work as a nursing assistant at the AIDS hospice. He giggled and told me how he could actually change the sheets on a bed while someone was IN it! It was his specialty – gently rolling the guy over on his side and peeling up the sheets around him until miraculously in about 5 minutes the patient was sitting pretty in a spanking new set of sheets. Telling the story, he stopped for a moment and sighed, wiggling his beard at me. The sigh I interpreted was his way of expressing his grief at the carnage he saw at the hospice.

Wes was a great study in contrasts. I had seen the little bearded guy at Faerie gatherings but never really met him until I needed a ride to the California Men’s Gathering in Malibu. I was assigned to him, Tim Henke and David Alosi for a rideshare. When Wessie pulled up to my house in Noe Valley and honked the horn, I looked out the 3rd floor window to see him and thought, “Oh crap, it’s the swami and we’re going to levitate in purity and serenity all the all the way to Malibu leaving a stinky trail of nag champa behind.”

Instead we rode to the gathering in his immaculate Dodge van and talked about all the practicalities and gritty realities of politics, economics, health care, the AIDS crises. He was no swami. In fact he wasn’t even spiritual. Come to find out, there was no one, but NO ONE who was more irreverent, more anti-religious and unspiritual than Wessie.

It was the beginning of a great friendship.

Over time, I learned never to ask Wessie about religion. Whenever I did slip and ask about his Catholic school days, his eyes would spark, you could tell his pulse was pounding and he’d belt out something pithy and venomous. He’d pull back at the last minute embarrassed by his own vitriol and then say, “Don’t get me started.” But he couldn’t help himself. He’d start in anyway, “Did I ever tell you about Sister Mary Evil Bitch?” I sat in horror listening to his tales of how the nuns had scarred him at any early age.

And yet when we went for our early morning swims at Garfield pool, Wes would take advantage of the cave-like acoustics of the shower and locker room and start singing Catholic masses he had learned as a kid. I quizzed him about this in the van on the way home. “Wessie, I thought you hated the church, how come you were singing a Kyrie in the shower?” “Well just because I hated them didn’t mean I didn’t like the music.”

I loved the contrast of Wessie: He looked like a wizard but was more like a gremlin. He looked like your grandfather but was more like your grandkid. He was a banker and a radical faerie. He was a vegan and cooked meat for Richard. He looked like a guru but was decidedly fallible…

Once Wessie was making dinner for a small group of us in Sea Ranch – after we had spent the day eating magic mushrooms on the coast. He was in the kitchen whipping up something yummy when he was offered some marijuana. He took several big puffs and then stood in the middle of the kitchen. I asked him, “How can you cook when you’re stoned? I lose my sense of timing and can’t do it.” “Oh, no,” he replied, “I have a system. I do it all the time. Don’t worry. It’s easy.” Of course he had a system. I trusted that all would be fine and I went off to the hot tub and came back in to the smell of smoke. He had burned the dinner.

“What happened?” I asked him as he fanned a smoking casserole dish. “Well maybe I was too stoned to cook.” We both laughed saying we could just scrape off the black parts.

Wessie once told me a story that, like his pillowcase rolling, has stuck with me forever. It was the winter solstice party at Marti’s 14th Street house – known for their massive, naked bacchanalias. Wessie had been tripping on mushrooms and was lying in front of the fire watching legions of young men prancing around like pan, drumming and dancing. Well, apparently Joseph Kramer (of Body Electric fame) approached him lying on the floor and held him and stroked his hair massaging him into an ecstatic state. The mushrooms had taken Wessie to a very distant and beautiful place. After what seemed like millennia for Wessie, Joe brought his touch to a close and whispered a simple blessing in Wessie’s ear before leaving him alone by the fire:

“Nothing’s forever…nothing’s forever…nothing’s forever.”

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