STORY: 2008 - I was living at the Russian River and a good friend, Russ, called me up and said you have to see this astrologer. “He is really cool and accurate, but he has to come to your house to do this reading. He sits at your kitchen table,” he said.
It was unusual for Russ to advise this, but, I was into it so I invited the guy over. He looked cool and sat at my kitchen table. He began his reading, and most of what I remember—I’ve lost the tape—was he said, “You’ll be moving from here down south.” I figured that was easy enough and I said “Yeah, Palm Springs.” I was at that time thinking of moving to Palm Springs.” No, much further and on the ocean,” he replied. He said a lot of things that now I wish I could remember because his accuracy would later stun me.
Shortly after, I bought a house in Palm Springs, moved me and my dogs there, and renovated it for about 18 months. Suddenly, up pops this business opportunity in Fort Lauderdale. It was a simple deal putting together a project, so I expected I would be back in California soon after.
I went online on BEAR411 one night checking out the guys in Ft. Lauderdale, as I was flying in on a Thursday for some business and thought I’d get the lay of the land. I met a guy on that site named Mark and we chatted quite a bit. He was a very hot Italian and I was excited when we made plans to meet up on Friday night around 9 at the Ramrod. It was all set. I said I’d be sitting at the bar. Friday night date.
Thursday, I got into the guest house early, drove around, and ended up at the Ramrod. I had a couple of beers and then I was surprised to see Mark coming straight towards me. “You look just like your pictures,” he said. That caught me off guard, as he was a night early. He was tall, lanky, sexy, and hairy, looking just like his pics, if not better. He said, “Hey, the guy I was gonna hook up with tonight hasn’t shown up, you wanna go fuck?” I waited a beat. “So…” I said, “I’m like second in line here. You sure you don’t want to wait for him?’ “Naw, you’re hotter.” It took a few more drinks for me to agree to this. He told me he cut hair in town and knew everyone.
He followed me to the guesthouse. Actually, I tried leading the way, but kept getting lost. I was drunk and Ft. Lauderdale doesn’t have mountains or landmarks, so I couldn’t get a handle on where I was going. Finally, he pulled ahead and stopped in the middle of the road near the entrance to the guesthouse. I got us in the gate and into the room. Our clothes were off in minutes and we went at it all night, all over each other. It was hot and wild and he slept over. In the morning, we were at it again. Then, he said he had to get out of there and to his hair salon. He gave me his phone number and, as I put it in my phone, I took his pic, which freaked him out completely. I teased him, but he was very serious and grabbed at my phone, so I just deleted it. He walked out. I hadn’t thought it was a big deal. But he did.
When I got back that night to the guesthouse, I figured it had been a one-time thing. But, as it turned out, he would be waiting at my room or calling me every day of that trip and ended up staying with me the entire time I was there. He brought me a blooming purple orchid in a pot, which was a very cool gesture. I kept it. We both got big crushes on each other.
I ended up traveling between Lauderdale and Palm Springs quite a bit for the business. While we’d been fucking all this time, he told me he’d had some internal medical issues. I ended up flying him out for a visit with me and having him see my doctor in California. He was very impressed with Palm Springs. The doctor checked him out, treated him, and told him he would be ok. Much to his relief. I was glad. It could’ve been cancer. We became close. But, then, arriving back in Lauderdale, I discovered Mark had a long-term lover. I assumed he must not have known a thing about me.
As to my business deal, what I thought was going to be fairly routine became a huge crisis, so much so, that the principal begged me to move there and take it over immediately. I flew home to Palm Springs, grabbed my dogs, threw some things in my truck, and drove 3000 plus miles to a rental house the company owned. I found myself in South Florida and on the ocean. I had a huge amount of work to get this club up and running. Mark was helping me identify problems and I paid him. We hung out together a lot. None of this had been in my plans. I even decided to put the Palm Springs house on the market. That decision felt guided from above, too, since escrow closed on August 1 and the stock market crashed only 6 weeks later. I kept thinking of that astrologer.
Mark and I were still close, but, on my side, the relationship had begun to cool. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I wasn’t into sneaking around and I wondered how the hell the other guy wouldn’t have any idea Mark was cheating on him. I was swamped with work. Mark cut my hair every week or so and we stayed close.
Mark would venture out a lot, still have the same boyfriend, yet I’d catch him making out with other guys at the bar. Naturally, he’d be embarrassed. He told me he thought of me as his Daddy. I laughed at that. But, I did worry about him.
When I was around him, he always wanted to fuck, I found myself making excuses. I fucked with him one more time, when we were in a hot tub together. He was hot and intense. He'd get mad, jealous, and possessive which confused the hell out of me. I was trying to move this more towards friendship. He resisted.
I noticed he was a bit thinner and was changing jobs. One night, his lover called me, evidently finding my number on Mark’s phone, saying he found Mark not doing well, with shallow breathing, so he had called 911. I jumped in my jeep, called other friends of ours to get to Broward General. I was the first to arrive, just as the doctor was coming out to tell me he was gone. The doctor said, “whatever your friend was inhaling has killed him.” I was stunned beyond belief and, as friends showed up, we all broke down crying in the hospital hallway. This beautiful man was gone.
I didn’t repeat what I had heard from the doctor at first, because I didn’t understand it. Then, Mark’s lover and another friend, Jim, said out loud in the room “it was that Ethyl Chloride shit. He’d been addicted to it and we tried to stop him”. I still didn’t get it. I didn’t know much about it. This was all crazy. After an hour or so at the hospital, I invited everyone to my house, which was under renovation and a mess, and we stayed up until 3 am crying and drinking tequila straight out of the bottle, trying to understand. His lover came over, too, and stayed close to me; he knew something; we were leaning on each other. It was surreal.
This was the week before Christmas.
The next few days were even more surreal. I was upset, would break down, and then I began getting phone calls from everyone. Would I set up the funeral? The girls at his hair salon knocked on my door. They wanted to give me Mark’s things. They had Jaegermeister, so we all got drunk. The hospital called, trying to contact the family. I didn’t understand why I was getting these calls and not his lover, and I didn’t quite know what to do. The girls at his salon were very blunt, “Mark loved you,” they said, and wanted to give me his clippers and possessions from his station. I took them with no idea what to do with them.
I asked the hospital what was happening. I didn’t know the family. He was in the morgue by this time and hospital authorities were matter of fact on the phone. “The family in Michigan wants nothing to do with him,'” said whoever was at the morgue. “What the fuck did you say?” I demanded. "Yes, the father says he doesn’t care and will not pay anything,” he replied. I was pissed. I called the hospital administrator. “What happens now?” “The county will defer to the court which will assign his body to a grave under court order,” he replied. “Where?” ‘Sir, this is up to the court now.” I was appalled. Mark’s “good” catholic father and family had refused their own son. Mark was to be left to be buried by the county. Mark always wore his gold cross around his neck.
I called the salon girls who were pissed and came over to my house in about 10 minutes. We called his lover; we called everyone. We finally located the father’s phone number and then those of his sisters. I called the father who said he wasn’t well and he didn’t care. He listened to me a minute and then hung up. A sister tried to hang up, too, but I started yelling at her and threatened- “I have your address and we will be flying up to Michigan to meet this father of his and you unless you release his body to us immediately. I don’t care how sick this man who claims to be his father is.” This went on for several days. It was brutal. They were clear about their bigotry.
Finally, the day before Christmas Eve, the father relented and signed Mark over to us. We had to come up with more than $3000 to handle expenses and arrange a cremation. I started a fund. The girls helped. We had Mark out of the morgue and cremated as soon as possible. We obtained his ashes in about 3 days. I brought them home. We planned a funeral for him just before New Years. He was Catholic and he would want a mass. The church in Fort Lauderdale was decorated for the holidays and beautiful, so we set it up.
I then received another call from a man I didn’t know. He told me he’d heard I was the one to talk to and asked if he could come over. I said sure. My place had become mourning central by then. He came over. He was an older, nice-looking man. He sat down and we had a drink. Then, he began a story: he’d been with Mark for about 2 years. They were in a heavy sexual relationship and he had been worried about Mark. I knew none of this. The guy was also very emotional. I told him I was trying to raise money for the expenses. He just waved his arm, then took out a checkbook and wrote a check for $3000, asking if I needed more. I said this was more than enough. He was choked up, saying he had loved that boy. He also mentioned Mark had loved me. This was grueling. He said Mark had given him a beautiful blooming orchid, and it meant the world to him, he would always treasure it. I hugged him. He cried and left.
I stood in my house with his check and looked up to the ceiling and said “Mark, what the fuck? How many lives did you have?”
On the day of the funeral, we arrived at the church. I was to give the eulogy and his lover was to say a prayer and read from Psalms. His lover and I could barely keep it together. We had a big picture of Mark placed in front of the altar. The church was beautiful. The pulpit towered high over Mark’s picture. I sat in the front pew as everyone started coming in. We were all in coats and ties. I had my head in my hands, wondering how I was going to get through this.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched a man place a blooming orchid at the base of Mark’s picture. Then another one. After about the 5th blooming orchid was placed there I looked up to see many handsome men, one by one, bringing up single blooming orchids to place them at the base of his picture. As I watched one by one, the number grew to twenty or more. Pretty soon there were countless orchids crowding the altar and pulpit, overflowing into the aisles. The church had a seating capacity of 200. It was full of guys and the altar was full of different colored blooming orchids. I had to smile a bit. I felt a bit of strength. I thought I know why he gave me my orchid…..
His lover couldn’t make it through the prayer and the Psalms. He broke down hard and had to be led to the pew. It was my turn. I just looked at all those orchids. I prayed to Mark, looking up with tears in my eyes that I wasn’t sure I could keep in check, “Ok fucker, you get me through this.”
I walked up the stairs to the pulpit and looked out across the pews overflowing with handsome men and began to speak. I don’t remember much of what I said, except I pointed to his picture and remarked what a “passionate man he was” and pointedly added that “Mark’s family is not here today,” I started. The priest gave me a sharp look since he knew the story. I continued, “…but, his real family, the only one that matters, is here. Just look at all these orchids. Godspeed, Mark.”
I could feel him as I left that pulpit. It turned out to be a beautiful service that brought us all together as we took care of one of our own. The priest finished with some prayers and we all got up and began filing out of the church. I saw one of the guys I knew who’d brought an orchid. We both locked eyes and walked out together into the bright Ft. Lauderdale sunshine, shaking our heads about Mark. A lot of the guys stayed out front talking about him, that we would always have to take care of our own. No more so than on a day like this one.