I woke up Sunday thinking about David Freelander. No particular reason; I think about him often. One of his paintings holds a prominent place in my apartment. And many of the memories and photos and stories from my twenties and early thirties feature David. The time my mother gave us tickets to a gala opening night at the ballet and David was making me a gown. He never quite finished it. When I went downtown for a fitting he was in a snit, throwing glasses against the wall, so on gala night he had to pin me into it.
We ran into Geraldine Stutz, CEO of Bergdorf Goodman, in the plaza in front of the Metropolitan Opera. She greeted us and, admiring my gown, asked David to call her.
The dress was complicated; David had to back me into a phone booth and unpin me so I could pee. Life was complicated. But that was well before AIDS when everything became terrifying, devastating and complicated – and SAD. It was the mid 1970s, we were just young and beautiful and daring.
Soho was just beginning. People lived in cavernous raw spaces. They installed a few appliances and some basic plumbing fixtures and made art all day, carpentry or waiting tables, cleaning houses or escorting rich people to dinner.
David didn’t have a certificate of occupancy for the loft space – the 11th floor of 596 Broadway – he had split with two other people. There weren’t many places to eat downtown. There was Fanelli’s and OG’s where you could get giant cookies in the middle of the night. Then Giorgio Deluca rented a storefront on Prince Street. David and I were on our way to Aggie’s (a great little hangout coffee and lunch bar at the back of a dress shop).
Giorgio called to us as we walked by one late spring morning. We walked in. He was arranging imported Italian delicacies in a new display. His partner – John was his name, I think – was unpacking cookware in the back of the store. They were opening soon. Giorgio gave us tastes of Parmesan Reggiano and bread dipped in fragrant olive oil.
But why, Sunday morning, did I find myself missing him so much. After all these years. I flipped through the movies on TV and happened upon Philadelphia. The scene when Denzel Washington goes to Tom Hanks’ loft and Tom is listening to Maria Callas.
It was the date. Over the years, the date has softened. Less of a stabbing pain, less of a road bump. January 29, 1987. That was the day David died of AIDS. Thirty-five years ago. I have now spent half my life without him. And in those years I have become less manic, less fragile, less creative, less rebellious. I have become less.
I have become more stabile. More docile, more cooperative, more corporate. Still not enough to be reliably corporate. My colleagues wonder nervously what I might say next. I get bored with the language. Sometimes I know all the words in a sentence and still don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about.
So I go backwards in time. Back to when jobs were ways to make money and our art defined us. We took bizarre jobs. David had a gig making those kitschy big-eyed velvet paintings. I measured old tenements as an architect’s assistant. We took risks.
One night I went to see David Ina performance piece. The event was sparsely attended. Just a few arty types in an off-off Broadway black box theater. David’s role was to stand in a heroic warrior pose on a blue lit stage. That’s the only part I remember. David, his tall, sinewy physique perfectly lit to magnify the architecture of his body.
After the performance we went for drinks with his friend GI. GI had a kind of sexual superiority. She worked as a go-go dancer in New Jersey. She wore bright red lipstick and lots of mascara. She had a self-assurance that was beyond my ken. At the time, my day job was working for Novello Music for six dollars an hour. Gi made tons – she would come home with $300 after a 5-hour shift. It was 1979. That was still a lot of money.
I wanted to do that too. I asked about it. David and Gi laughed. I wasn’t exactly the type. Pale blonde, no makeup, baggy clothes. They laughed at me. And that was it. My indignation and the promise of riches drove me. I met Gi for breakfast the next Monday morning and went with her to her agent: Joey M – of Joey M’s Dancers.