Biography of a swampchild

Swampchild is not just a cutesy name, it reflects the truth. My earliest years were spent in a place just north of the Everglades named "Cow Pee Hole," miles from the closest neighbor. Though he was to get sober years later, at the time my dad was a violent drunk. Mother on the other hand was deeply disturbed and cruel woman who never should have been allowed even near children, much less have them. The only lights in that darkness were my grandmother and my magnificent aunt Effie McAdoo. Aunt Effie was a sort of cross between Mame, Madea, and Hedda Hopper.

Thrown out at age 14 I went to the place that I had heard Effie talk about so much; New Orleans. I knew nothing of Mardi Gras but landed right into the middle of it and was quickly picked up by a very nice man who taught me many things, including how to hustle and the vocabulary of my community.

 It was here in New Orleans only a few months later when I met my first, and only, romance, Adam Hannah. We were two street kids and no match for the larger forces in the world which tore us apart. I think of my time with Adam as "Our one bright season"

By age 15 I was in Coconut Grove and had my infamous encounter with President Nixon when he saw me naked. After that it was off to Hollywood, an era of porn stars and a pet mole named Vagina, of printing up our own invitations to the "industry's" fanciest soirées and spending a weekend doing acid with the Doublemint twins. one man was so kind that he taught me all the ins and outs of show lighting, from a small cabaret to a stadium, skills that fueled my next move.

It almost seemed like San Francisco had been waiting for me. After being there about a year a serendipitous walk along Polk street had me literally run into Lee Nathurst, a man I had known way back when in Ft. Myers who had moved to San Francisco and opened the Macambo. It was Lee who was to first hire me to do lighting and he was also responsible for introducing me to Eartha Kitt, or the woman she really was, Eartha Mae. Soon enough I was doing the lights for this show and that which put me in the line of fire to meet Jack Essex, the man who was to become my greatest mentor and who is, to this day, the person I miss most. Jack introduced me to Europe on that infamous trip where I sat in Prince Rainer's lap and was chased through the Kasbah of Tangiers by horny Berbers.

Jack had a wonderful penthouse on Nob Hill which I was house sitting while he was in Tahiti when casual sex turned into a life changing act of brutality. Mind you I had a penthouse of my own at the time on Post Street, an area many called "Lower Nob Hill" but which I called "Tenderloin Heights." As I lay in that hospital room for days then weeks I learned that all the people who were more than happy to drink my cabernet were unwilling to even call me once the vino stopped flowing.

The placement of the wound all but ensured infections which were to have me in and out of San Francisco General time after time and which also caused me to stink. No amount of bathing can stop that kind of smell, so soon enough I was living on the streets again since normal work had become out of the question. My street mentor was Curt who taught me about the soup kitchens and missions as well as the one place I could get work which was delivering flyers. Both of us moved into a bottom of the barrel rooming house south of Market on Van Ness where Curt started developing what we thought were bruises but were in fact Kaposi's Sarcoma. Curt was the first person to die in my arms. There were to be dozens more.

First it was that weird gay cancer. Then it was simply Gay Cancer. Then it was GRID and finally it came to be known as AIDS. In 1984 they finally developed a test for HIV so that they could protect the blood supply. A test for the public was not yet readily available, but if you had the money and the connections you could get it. Jack had both. I had hidden from him for quite a while after he returned from the south seas out of embarrassment. He knew I would never take a handout, so he came up with various jobs I could do for him. When that test became available he talked me into going to get it with him. We both tested poz, and that night came the event I talk about on the "book" page. Years earlier we had been sitting in that selfsame spot when I had asked him "Jack, how do you want to die?" His answer "I don't care as long as I'm on the front page."

Jack died in France about eighteen months later, an event that did make the front page of the Chronicle. There was a memorial service at Grace Cathedral then a wake at the Plush Room. Both were very nice, and the wake, which featured many entertainers that he had given their first chance was deeply moving, especially when Sharon McNight sang "I've loved these days."  The problem was that it all happened at the end of a week when four of the people I was caring for also died. Take someone who had very low self esteem to start with and add the mountain of survivor's guilt that I had and it should be no surprise that I lost my mind. Totally bonkers, off the deep end, whatever you want to call it. I walked out of San Francisco in an attempt to escape the ghosts. They refused to be left behind though. Surprise surprise.

There followed about a year of just hitchhiking around, north to south east to west, no goal beyond wanting to forget. I had little jobs here and there, raking leaves, painting, whatever. Then, after a particularly rainy December in northern California, a stunning and clear New Year's Day dawned and on that day I decided that I would finally show up for a date I had originally made back at Cow Pee Hole. I began seriously looking for whatever work I could get and the following March I flew to Greece on a one way ticket, landing with $75 in my pocket. I didn't know a soul and couldn't read the alphabet. Three months later I helped found the Center for Life, the first AIDS care organization east of Paris.

Though started by expats, the Center needed to be a Greek organization and though it took some years, it finally became so. I am immensely proud of that. As that process was taking place, I knew that I personally needed to get away from AIDS care. There was certainly more than enough work to be done still, but I personally needed to work on something else, which is part of why I started working with refugees, particularly children.

After 9/11 President Bush famously called worldwide heads of state to the White House for what turned out to be "marching orders." No country likes to be told what to do by another country, and the Greeks even less, so when the Prime Minister returned to Athens with said "marching orders," it was only a matter of time before the citizenry found out. Only days after his return, the Prime Minister's secretary had said orders published in English and Greek in the nations papers. Very soon after, all American expats were told that we had thirty days to leave.

Faced with the dilemma of figuring out where I could stand living back in the states after over a decade in Europe, I finally settled on New Orleans which is where I live now.