My first marriage lasted five years.
And the reason it lasted even that long was Jim Bishop. (Not His Real Name.😊)
Jim Bishop was Bill’s best friend, and a more intelligent, humorous, altogether sympathetic human being you could never hope to meet.
Many years afterwards, it occurred to me that Jim had been sitting on his own secret.
But we were long out of touch by that point, and although I have a general idea of Jim’s whereabouts and could probably get in touch with him again if I wanted to—
Remember me? I believe we met in a Moscow train station back in 1919—
—I decided against it. I mean, it’s possible he might be overjoyed to hear from me again after 30-some odd years!
But probably not.
Bill and Jim grew up in Delaware, Ohio—not together exactly, but on each others' peripheries. I loved listening to Bill’s stories about his boyhood: Give Huck Finn a bunch of explosives and teach him how to drive, and that would have been Bill. He was always blowing stuff up and having interesting interactions with the local wildlife.
Al Hare, Bill’s father, an engineer who worked in some capacity with molecular bonding, had discovered that for certain metal alloys, useful in industrial production, molecular bonding was best accomplished through massive explosions; so Bill had ample access to explosives.
Eventually, Al decided to strike out on his own, so the Hare family set out for the Olympic Peninsula where Al bought a bunch of land in and around Port Angeles and Sequim, and founded his own company for molecular bonding through massive explosions. It was very popular with Japanese industrialists.
Each of the seven children was allowed to bring a single item of personal significance on the cross-country move.
Al brought the entire contents of two cluttered garages.
This tells you everything you need to know about the dynamics of the Hare family.
Bill was determined to be a scientist because it was something his father had failed at. Al had wanted to go into pure research, but putting food on a table for seven children presents significant challenges, and the private sector pays much better than the pursuit of pure science in the Realms of Academe.
When I met Bill at the Café Roma oh so long ago, he was in the process of finishing up a Ph.D. in the neurobiology of vision at the University of California at Berkeley.
I forget how Jim ended up in California.
He was—probably still is—a fairly competent bass guitar and played in a couple of bands, so it seems likely that his reason for migrating had something to do with his music—although the San Francisco Bay Area was hardly the heart of the rock ‘n’ roll scene by the mid-1980s.
He shared a dark little cottage on the Oakland/Berkeley border with one of his bandmates, a guitarist called Bill Duke, and Bill Duke’s girlfriend, a Brit called Debbie Hyatt whose accent and hairstyle exercised a kind of morbid fascination on me. Debbie didn’t speak in the pearly tones of the BBC but rather like one of the characters out of one of those English kitchen sink movies, Look Back in Anger, maybe, or A Taste of Honey, all glottal stops and diphthongs. And her hair was cut like a Mohawk except instead of bald scalp, there was hair.
Bill Duke came from a rich family in Tiburon. In addition to being a remarkable guitar player, he was rumored to be smart. I never saw any evidence of either of those attributes, but of course, in those days, I didn’t look around as much as I do now.
Bill Duke also had a heroin addiction, so much of Jim’s life—when he wasn’t playing music, or selling security alarms, or reminiscing with Bill about the time Bill blew up the Van Zants’ abandoned hen house, or saving my marriage—was spent listening to Debbie complain about Bill Duke’s heroin addiction or chaperoning Bill Duke through various stages of relapse and recovery.
One day, Jim returned home—after eight hours of convincing moderately well-off people that an expensive security system was really the only thing that stood between them and underclass hoards aching to get their hands on the moderately well-off people’s worldly possessions—to find that everything of value in the dark little cottage was gone.
Jim being Jim, I’m sure the irony of that discovery did not escape him.
Bill Duke had apparently had a massive relapse and no money to feed it with.
So, Bill Duke did what any self-respecting junkie would do. Nabbed every object of value in the house—including Jim’s three bass guitars and Jim’s expensive stereo system—and sold them for dope money.
Shortly after that, Jim moved back to Delaware, Ohio.
Bill and I did love each other. Both my sons were conceived in an excess of ❤️LUV❤️; in that sense, I guess you could say it was good genes calling to good genes across enormous chasms of misunderstanding.
Because Bill didn’t get me at all.
And for that matter, I didn’t get him.
He teased me a lot, the kind of rough-edged, sarcastic jostling you’d expect from someone who grew up with six siblings all struggling to prove to a massively self-absorbed father that they were not invisible. I couldn’t stand what I saw then as constant belittling. In those days, I was incredibly thin-skinned.
Also, he did not get that I saw myself essentially as a narrator (that hasn't changed, by the way 😊), that it was therefore important for me to have certain kinds of adventures. I mostly stopped having sexual adventures after I married, but occasionally, I’d go off on a psychedelic adventure.
Funny. Bill was into dropping acid, too, but we never tripped together. I think because I really did not want to be seen in my entirety by Bill; I was pretty sure he would be horrified.
Jim was not horrified.
Jim was one of the least judgmental human beings I’ve ever known.
I would summon Jim when I was coming down off one of my clandestine psychedelic adventures, and we would plot out exactly what I’d have to do to “maintain,” and laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
Jim was the only person I confided in about what happened when I went back east to hang out with Jon and Ann again after All Those Years.
At one of the innumerable parties Bill and I gave—or that others in our circle gave—Jim and I would invariably gravitate toward each other after two or three beers and launch into a marathon talk fest: philosophy, history, the meaning of life, shoes and ships, cabbbages and kings.
The friendship owed nothing to romantic attraction.
In fact, I’m not even sure the friendship owed much to affinity.
Jim by nature was what you might call an emotional fixer. That was what he was really, really good at.
And in those days, I had a lot of things that needed fixing.
Many, many, many years later, I had the Aha! moment.
Jim was gay.
Not closeted about it. I’m quite sure he knew his own inclinations and quite possibly acted upon them.
But he almost never talked about himself. And he had a kind of cool, temperate persona. Detached. The political baggage attached to “coming out” would have been something he simply had no interest in or use for.
Also, I’m quite sure he was in love with Bill Duke—as much as he could be in love with anyone. And that was a card impossible to play, so he'd want to keep it close to his vest.
When Bill Duke went full-on junkie, stole Jim’s bass guitars, his sound system and everything else, Bill Duke broke the closest thing Jim had to a heart.
Last time I was in Oakland, I went looking for the dark little cottage under the freeway.
It isn’t there anymore. Crossposted from Dreamwidth.