I’m looking at a picture from more than 10 years ago. It is a picture of two guys posing in front of my spiritual home, the South Bay Alano Club in Hermosa Beach. There’s a sort of pipe railing and a small man and a larger man are leaning on it. The large man has his arm around the small man’s shoulders. The small, gray-blond, older guy smoking a cigarette is Harry. The wide-shouldered, younger guy with dark, well-combed hair is Jay.
Both of them are dead now, but I remember them fondly. How did this picture pop up? Maybe I stuck it into a book as a bookmark. Or it was in one of my many boxes of junk. Somehow it popped up, drawing me back to memoryville.
I liked Harry a lot. He was an AA old-timer, originally from Kentucky. He said often in his soft Southern drawl, “Oh, I just get so angry,” in a petulant way that always made me smile. He was one of my kind, angry, sarcastic and suspicious.
I didn’t like many of the comments he made to me. They were usually quite cutting. But at least he was listening to what I said in meetings and felt free to comment to my face instead of behind my back. In his own way, he cared.
I learned to deal with it, even use it, because he was usually right on the money.
At one time, Harry helped me with some questions I had about being gay. He drawled, “Oh Doug, you wouldn’t believe how much of those kinda things go on around here.” Then he propositioned me. He was very straightforward about it. I wasn’t interested. He was slightly irked, I think.
Jay was a slick, fast-talking, well-dressed man. He tried to do the AA program from what we at the Alano Club called “the half-measures room,” which contained the club’s coffee bar. The adjacent rooms were for meetings, the coffee bar was for lounging.
(I remember a Pacific Region AA conference topic: “Alano Clubs: Boon to AA or Repositories of Dangerous Bar-like Behaviors.”)
He spent too much time there instead of in meetings and it didn’t end well.
I knew Jay’s dad, a local police detective who did calligraphy for the local cities, hand-drawing proclamations in fancy script with lots of curlicues and inked in with bright colors. His artistic dad was a policeman through and through. It must have been tough for his burly son to be gay.
Later on, one of his lovers told me about his suicide. I think he just didn’t want to be a homosexual. I don’t remember or care to remember the details of his death.
Harry showed up one day with an oxygen bottle and later went back to Kentucky to die close to his relatives. The cigarettes gave him emphysema, I think.
I do not feel any anger over the demise of these two men. I just feel lucky to have known them. I do not feel superior to them because I have survived them.
I only know that they were friends and part of my recovery. One of them could tell you the cold hard, truth. The other couldn’t face his. No blame, no great fault there. I’m not too good at facing the truth either. They both taught me a lot about love.
I am lucky that I have survived the disease of alcoholism these years and this very day.
And I still don’t know where that picture came from.