We didn't so much meet as collide. Howard wroth was an awesome thing to behold, and we began with a considerable number of sharply barbed postings and email exchanges before discovering what there was to like about each other. When all that took place he was still living in Seattle, but shortly he would move back to his beloved Los Angeles.
Fortunately, Howard's boyfriend Ken Rudolph is an independent filmmaker and shot a lot of videotape of Howard at various times; for Howard's memorial feast of remembrance Ken edited his tapes into a delightful if also very poignant portrait of Howard. There is a wonderful segment showing Howard coming back to California, driving the truck, holding forth on any and all topics, as he was wont to do. One thing he certainly wasn't: shy about stating his opinions.
Whatever Howard loved he loved with completely unrestrained passion; his was the principle of the excluded middle when it came to affect, be it friends, taste, historical or political opinion, or just about anything else, above all food and wine. His dislikes were equally intense. While he was probably the most mercurial person I've ever known, he was a surprisingly steadfast friend. I think we loved each other, in some nontrivial fashion, even before we met face-to-face.
That meeting took place in the spring of 1993. Howard, his boyfriend Ken, and his former boyfriend Kevin were staying at a wonderful house Ken owned in Littlerock, near Palmdale in the high desert east of the San Gabriel Mountains. Howard wanted to show me all the things he loved as we drove from LAX to the house in the desert, so rather than taking the much more direct freeway route, we headed right across the mountains from the city, the pickup truck's stereo blasting away at maximum volume, an eclectic mixture of taped music: Baroque opera, Latino disco, country-music radio.
Howard was a breakneck driver, a little on the scary side, I thought. We careened over the often precarious mountain roads, the truck clattering and shimmying on the sand and gravel at the many sharp turns. We would come over a crest (Monteverdi blaring) and he would say, "Oh, look at that! Isn't that lovely?" about the vista in this or that small valley, "But just ahead now is this really perfect hideaway." Driving twisty, turny roads over hill and dale in the boonies is about my favorite form of sightseeing, and I've done it endlessly myself, so this outing on all-new terrains was my idea of heaven. All the while we were holding forth on a long list of topics, ranging from high art to vicious gossip. It was easy to forget that he was exhausting himself with all this exhuberance, because he had precious little energy reserves. He had to spend all the next day in bed.
That trip to Littlerock was such a wonderful visit. I met Kevin Martin and Ken, whom I instantly liked. We made a day trip into the city to meet Arne Adolfsen, who had been such a strongly supportive friend for Howard. When Ken gave up the Littlerock place, he and Howard would have Arne as a roommate in their apartment just next to West Hollywood off Sunset. I would stay with them there on subsequent visits.
Littlerock is in the Antelope Valley, which is a huge basin lodged between the San Gabriels and the Tehatchapee range many miles farther east. The area is wide open and flat as a fritter, which is one reason Edwards Air Force Base, nearby in the valley, is used for Space Shuttle landings. It's primarily agricultural land, and the main crop is fruit trees, mile after mile of orchards. Howard loved planting things. He showed me some almost unbelievable number of trees he had put in on their land behind the house.
It was April when I was there. The nights were cold, but the days warm, and the air was perfectly clean and transparent around the clock. I don't know if I could live right in the city of Los Angeles, but I think I could be quite comfortable in a place like Littlerock.
I made several more trips to LA to visit Howard and Ken. But even on that first visit, Howard had seen his doctor just the day before I got there and told me he'd been startled by the doc using the phrase "end-stage disease" to describe his condition. And on each of the later visits he was a little weaker and less resilient.
One of those visits was four days after the severe Northridge earthquake of January, 1994. I got my first first-hand earthquake experience later that night, a 5.3 aftershock, which I thought was a fairly impressive introduction to Mother Earth's jitters.
Earlier that evening we had gone to dinner in an Italian place (we saw a lot of pretty awful quake damage in that neighborhood). If I remember correctly, we had with us a very nice red wine I had brought to Littlerock and left for Howard eight months earlier. I don't know much about wine, though I do about food, and I was gratified that it met with Howard's enthusiastic approval.
It was a time when Howard was having a daily infusion of Foscarnet to combat his CMV retinitis, because of course he was terrified of being blinded. We spent those hours on Ken's big bed in the loft, watching films, talking and talking and talking, Ken and Arne both being at their respective jobs. Although he had to go through the infusion process every day, whether he was alone or not, I was awfully glad I could be there for four or five days. I do think it made it a little easier for him. I remember we watched Tom Hanks's brilliant acting tour de force in "Philadelphia."
I greatly admired Howard, from whom I learned much about carrying on in the face of adversity. He was determined to go on living to the fullest of his ability, every moment that he was alive. One of the most important stakes in this terrain for him was to eat and drink well. And that we did, whenever I was around him. He and Ken kept a small stock of wines, but they were always of the highest quality. Howard knew that my wine is coffee, and when we were together in San Francisco for Gay Pride and Mike Thomas's incredible "HAF Bash" party/feast, Howard whizzed me right to Graffeo's and made sure I had a pound of what he considered to be the very best coffee anywhere.
In Ken's film of Howard, there's a part near the end in which Howard is meeting his brother's new baby for the first time. Only three days later, he would be gone, and he was terribly weak and wasted from his disease. But he reaches up to take the baby's hand. There was such a delicacy in the gesture.
I'm glad to say before the whole world that my too-few times with Howard were some of the most treasured experiences I've had in my long life.