The kinds of connections that can get made in the course of a long life are sometimes pretty fantastic (in the sense of very unlikely). For example, in 1959 I had a painter friend who was supremely gifted. Indeed, his work was the first oil painting I collected. Years went by: a European séjour that I helped fund (by buying more paintings), a move to Boston, and not very frequent visits. Then one night a phone call arrived telling me he had killed himself. It was in 1975 and I still haven't completely gotten over it.
More years went by. One day I was in the Student Union, probably just hanging out and watching the passing parade. There was this guy, youngish and lean, with very penetrating eyes, sitting by the window, drawing. We looked at each other several times, fairly intently. I didn't have a strong sense that he was cruising, but something was passing between us.
I guess I walked over to his table and asked if I could join him. It very quickly developed that he was indeed an art student, and in due course I mentioned my painter friend, who used to sit in the Union and draw, years before. He asked the name and I told him. "But he was my uncle!" Steve suddenly exclaimed, "and I very much want to see any work of his you have!" That was easily arranged, of course, as I had at that point four large oil paintings and quite number of works on paper -- woodcuts and drawings.
As it happened, Steve was taking a book-arts class and thinking about a project for it, wanting to use as an illustration a drawing he owned by his uncle. We decided to collaborate, in the form of my writing a cut-up poem in memory of his uncle, which he would then make into a chapbook with the drawing. And this we did. I very much like both the poem and the book. And, it must be confessed, the more I was around Steve, the more I liked him, too.
One the nicest things we ever did was to bring a lot of Allyn's work from Baraboo (where his mother, Steve's grandmother, lived) to my place in Madison and have a kind of retrospective to which we invited a number of Allyn's former teachers and long-time friends. That was a very intense but deeply rewarding day for all involved.
We did a long camping trip together one time, out through the Black Hills, the Big Horn mountains, Ten Sleep Canyon, and across Wyoming to Grand Teton National Park. The first night there it snowed and we could hear wolves baying high up above Jackson Lake. As it turned out, this was the trip of great contrasts, because though it had been very cold in the Rockies, it was very hot -- 95 or so -- in the Great Plains on the way home.
We stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, set up our camp, took drugs and scampered up a 900-foot butte to idle away the hot afternoon with no clothes on. We had not reckoned with getting down from there safely while under the influence, and there were a couple of close calls. That night, as we lay in our tent, mountain lions were mating across the river and overhead there was the most brilliant display of Aurora Borealis I've ever seen. I thought nearly all of the things we did together were fairly marvelous and unusual in that way.
I always thought Steve was a little vague or ambiguous on the subject of his sexuality, but I've never been especially aggressive about forwarding my own sexual interests, and nothing happened between us for quite some time. One night we decided to do drugs together, which somehow broke the ice on the issue of physicality in our friendship. Afterwards we did things pretty often, which he seemed to relish.
He seemed a bit lost about what to do with his life, I thought. He made an attempt to be in the Air Force, which quickly failed. He moved to California, then later to the southwest, and finally to Oregon, where he got married, had some kids, and last I knew was making his way doing construction work. I don't know (and I wish I did) whether he is making any art. He should, for he was a good draughtsman, with a very elegant line and a keen eye.
It was certainly a surprise when in early 1997 a mutual friend sent me the URL of a porn-site photo and the note, "Don't we know this person?" Indeed we did, and it wasn't long until I had located a number of pictures of him on the web.
If I should ever run into him again -- you never know -- I would like to hear about that part of his experience.