I was standing on the pavement at 13th and Locust on Sunday morning, waiting for Philly Pride to start. 38 years ago, a Philadelphia police officer lay on his back on that same street corner, staring up at the barrel of a gun. This section of the city was different 38 years ago; they used to call 13th and Locust a “combat zone.” Pimps, prostitutes, johns, winos, hobos, gypsy cabbies and ne’er-do-wells populated that intersection. Now it’s the well-heeled, croissant-procuring, latte-swilling sort. Ray-Bans and Converse. Selfies instead of .38’s.
My phone went off. It was a text message from my former office-mate, letting me know that a friend of mine, a former colleague of mine at the psych hospital where I spent five years, was violently assaulted at work the previous morning.
“Facial injuries,” the terse message said, “Likely concussion. More later.”
In an instant, I exploded on the corner of 13th and Locust, like a high-velocity Devastator bullet exploding from the chamber of a revolver.
“FUCK!!!!!” I screamed, blinded by rage, unable to restrain myself in front of the four cops milling around the intersection, amicably interacting with the growing rainbow-swathed parade-goers and participants.
“GODDAMNIT!!!! FUCKING DAMNIT!!!! FUCK!!!!!!!!”
Suddenly a fraction more situationally aware, I clenched my fists tight, squeezing a thousand triggers and I turned away from those on the sidewalk and the street and I hit the wall of a building. Fucking stupid building. I fucking hate you. I want to break you down. Tear down the system. Take down the man. Fuck the machine.
After giving the stupid fucking building a few good strikes with my cellphone (thank you, imitation Otterbox case) I let my knees buckle and I just rested my head against the wall, closing my eyes tight, hoping everything would go away, that something would change.
But nothing changes. Not in inpatient psych. Not anywhere.
I was participating in Pride with my Love Bug replica, that bears the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on its rear window. I didn’t belong there. I didn’t belong at the psych hospital either. I didn’t belong at 13th and Locust.
I don’t belong anywhere and yet — I’m here. And there. Here and there and everywhere.
This past weekend, I was at a medium security forensic facility in Illinois. Showing some films. Giving a talk. Slinging some shit.
“Shake out your shoes,” the security officer at the metal detector said.
“What?” I said, “what do you mean — shake out my shoes?” I wiggled my feet around.
“No,” she said, “take them off and shake them around; like you’re at the airport.”
A Philadelphia Sheriff’s Deputy killed himself on Friday. His name was Dante Austin, and he was the Sheriff’s Office’s LGBTQ Liaison Officer; a friend to the LGBTQ community and a warm-hearted, generous and respected officer and veteran. Maybe he thought that he didn’t belong anywhere either. Maybe the thought of Saturday was too much for him.
My head was spinning at 13th and Locust — thinking about Deputy Austin. Thinking about my friend. Facial injuries. Likely concussion. Trauma. EMS. Man down.
Get the guys.
Hit the bell.
“We break a glass at Jewish weddings,” I tell a friend in one of the films that was shown at the forensic hospital in Illinois, “to remind everyone that, even in times of great happiness; there is pain.”
And there, at 13th and Locust, among this multicolored orgy of pride and happiness, there was a crumpled man in a purple shirt trying to knock down a cement building with his cellphone while Herbie the Love Bug sat close by — inert — another queer, aberrant sight amidst the gaudy floats, the rainbow thigh-highs, and the eyebrow-arched drag queens.
I tried to enjoy the parade and, at times, I did. But my thoughts frequently returned to my friend, to the times I went running down the halls of that stupid fucking hospital as the French ambulance siren went off in my ears. The personal alarm system they had at the hospital in Illinois; the one I tried to get grants for at our own hospital, and failed. I wrapped my bony fingers around Herbie’s steering wheel and sweat through the back of my purple shirt. The way sweat trickles down your spine against a vinyl seat is sickening.
As we drove the parade route, a queen kept getting right in front of the car, away from her group — lost in her own reverie, I’m sure — taking her languid strides and puffing on her fake cigarette in her opera-length cigarette holder. I was so angry at her and, at one point, I put my foot down on the gas and I accelerated around her, abruptly cutting the wheel. I wasn’t, of course, angry at her. I was just angry at the whole fucking universe, of which she is a part.
As soon as the parade reached Penn’s Landing; I ripped the feather boas and rainbow streamers and the rainbow and black bunting my wife and I made the previous night to honor Deputy Austin and I threw it on the floor of the car and I raced off to the hospital where my friend had been admitted — 33 miles away. When I got to the nurse’s station on the floor where they told me he was, I was told that he had just been discharged.
“Good,” I said to the nurse. “Good.”
“Hey, at least you got some steps in,” she said to me.
I wanted to say something back to her — something witty or mean or rational — but I was too hot to think of anything.