My friend Al Weisel--to some political parody blogger Jon Swift, to others a movie critic and co-author of Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause--died last weekend of an aortic aneurysm. He was a mere 46 years of age--in life he would have cringed about the publication of that little detail and routinely shaved years off his birthdate.
It's funny, because Al ended up a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker of the sort that only out-of-towners become (particularly out of towners like Al who come here and find a kind of liberation) but one of my first thoughts upon hearing of Al's horrific and shockingly sudden death was a memory of a late night in 1981 after some concert or other eating pizza at Ray's on 11th Street. When the two old timers next to us finishing a loaded pie became full and offered us--two skinny, hungry-looking college freshmen--the remainder, Al was open-mouth stunned. This kind of neighborly kindness didn't happen in New York he admitted that he honestly thought. Naive, misinformed, vulnerable, impressionable--these are NOT adjectives that would normally come to mind when thinking about Al. Smart (and smart-alecky), over-prepared, inured, blase--those are adjectives for Al. But my first memory of Al to arrive in his physical absence was a memory of his soft white underbelly--those sensitive parts of himself that he didn't like to expose. I loved those parts of Al: the tenderness beneath the outrage, the caring beneath the cynicism, the wonder that even at our advanced ages still occasionally peeped out from beneath the jaded shell of experience.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Al when we were both half-formed teenagers full of ego and intelligence, desperate to re-invent ourselves, cringingly carrying the pain of our teenage years in ways we were then just groping to understand. We lived together for a year as freshman college roommates, spending daily hours arguing about and jointly investigating music, movies, writing, New York. We were very different people, and yet not only did we share a lot of the same interests and ambitions (we both became writers--which in those days we consciously discussed setting out to become--and we both found out writing wasn't going pay for our retirements) but also many of the same personality traits--brash and cocksure on the one hand, nervous and insecure on the other.
In the nearly 30 years that I knew Al I didn't see him much--once or twice a year maybe, during some decades less, during some decades more. My sense of Al was that for him intimacy and emotion were never easy but there was something about our rare occasional conversations that I cherished deeply, and it was precisely the easy intimacy that results from sharing life events during those tender years when the vulnerable parts are all exposed no matter how well we think we're hiding them. I know that is the kind of friendship I'll never have the chance to develop again, so on a purely selfish level I'll miss Al more than probably he would have known.
Speaking of hiding things-- keeping secrets, was definitely one of Al's most treasured inner pastimes. For years, literally years, he would remind me with agitation about something I had written in the early Internet days to the effect that we've basically given up our privacy in the modern age anyway so why concern ourselves with protecting it online. Privacy, even secrecy, remained for Al a deeply cherished notion. I've been reading many of the blog posts eulogizing Al's Jon Swift persona. I know Al was proud of Jon Swift, perhaps a little frustrated by his inability to make it pay off in a kind of Matt Drudgey way. He certainly was gleeful about poking fun at conservative group think (sometimes the line between his parodies and the non-parodic statements of actual conservatives was indecipherable), and his malicious, gleeful, nervous laugh will be sorely missed. But I keep wondering, reading the Swift mourning, how many personae Al really had and who among his family, friends and lovers actually knew all of Al?
I know I didn't know all of him, but the part of him I did know I loved. In Al I had someone in my life who was as sharp, acerbic, judgmental and opinionated as I was but somehow, instead of setting us at odds it drew us together.
Al was not too fond of getting older. He worried that he hadn't made any effort to save money and wanted to change careers into something that would give him some sense of security. He fretted over the loss of status and appeal that he felt came inevitably with getting older ("You just don't understand the gay subculture," he liked to lecture me, ludicrously I thought, as if youth was an exclusively gay cultural commodity). I guess he won't have to nurse those worries anymore.
Goodbye old friend.