‘There’s A Grief That Can’t Be Spoken …’

prism splitting white light

Oh my friends, my friends forgive me
That I live and you are gone.
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.
There’s a pain goes on and on.

~ “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables,” from Les Misérables

Like most of you, Thursday’s Supreme Court decision was as welcome as it was impossible viewed through the lens of just a decade or so in the past.

Like most of you, Thursday’s Supreme Court decision was as welcome as it was impossible viewed through the lens of just a decade or so in the past.

But there is someone I’d like to tell you about, someone who didn’t get to see this day, and I only recently (just before going back to Kansas) found out what happened to him.

Grant Granger SFHS 1970

Santa Fe High School, Para Mañana 1970
( Santa Fe, New Mex. yearbook — page 116)

His name was Grant Granger, and we were best friends my junior year in Santa Fe High School.

santa fe high @ xmas 72

Santa Fe High School @ Xmas 1972

How we met is probably important, except that while I remember some of it, I don’t remember all of it.

hart in high school 1970

Hart in high school 1970

Across Yucca Street, right across the street from Santa Fe High, they were building an adobe-ish church from scratch. (I am not sure it was adobe, but they wanted it to look that way.) And, at the time, I was vaguely curious about it, but not that much. Anyway, for some reason, as it progressed through the summer and into the fall, the church was finished, and, lo and behold it was the “Temple Baptist Church.”

temple baptist church yucca drive

Temple Baptist on Yucca today

They were and are fundies, and we’ll leave it there, because it’s not that important. The minister was a young redneck from Southern New Mexico (or, ‘Little Texas’ as we call it) or West Texas. And, for some reason that remains obscure, I ended up attending an evening service of some sort ON MY OWN (no parents), and that’s where I met Grant.

He was about six foot, slightly taller than me, and took a more than high school pride in his clothing, which he bought. He was a section assistant manager at Montgomery Wards in what would become the new De Vargas mall a couple years later, and used his employee discount in the electronics section liberally, as well as the men’s clothes section.

devargas mall

De Vargas Mall

It was one of those instant things: we hit it off, had stuff in common, just clicked and thereafter, we were pretty nigh inseparable. You never know when someone will walk in from left field and alter your life, but that night Grant did, and we became old friends who hadn’t met yet.

I don’t remember much about the  service, etc. but I do remember going back to Grant’s house. He had a pretty good stereo, and one of those “light show” boxes that supposedly followed the music as it played:

72 psychedelic lamp

They used to sell the lamps
on the right in the Sears catalog

You know, that kind of black light paraphernalia they used to sell at Spencer’s Gifts in the mall, until Sears and Monkey Wards and K-Mart trumped them with their own crappy black light poster sections and trippy lights sections. And that’s an apt metaphor for us: we were in the cultural soup of the early Seventies, but we were suburban  straight, white kids. Grant’s dad was a minister (but a fallen minister, in the midst of some spiritual crisis — I don’t know, since I almost never met the man).  My mother was in the midst of fanatically pretending that her recent past hadn’t occurred and had a special relationship with her invisible friend Jesus™.*

[* Wikipedia: “Santa Fe High’s mascot is the Demon, the mascot routinely outrages local groups who periodically petition the school board and local authorities to have the Demon mascot removed from the school.” Don’t know how she missed that one. I’m pretty sure Temple Baptist didn’t.]

santa fe high demon in parade

santa fe high demon in parade

But this is about OUR spiritual quest, and none of the parents much enter into it. We were straight kids who dressed straight white suburban and listened to Led Zeppelin and the Beatles.

In fact, the album Grant had on the stereo for the magical light box to dance to was the Beatles’ post White Album singles LP (the “Hey Jude” album).

beatles hey jude album

Beatles Hey Jude Album

Didn’t drink. Didn’t smoke. Were reasonably well-behaved. Both with jobs and a pretty independent life from the home front. (See “The Rite of Spring“) I had even picked my own church, which was where I met Grant.

So, Grant suggested that we go to the drive-in the next night, and he’d fix a dinner for us, and we could sleep over.

There was nothing sinister in this, and I welcomed the respite from the free-standing asylum that my house had become. I was just then learning that the best way to get along with my parents and siblings was to avoid them as much as possible, returning home mostly to sleep by the summer between high school and college.

And that was the sticking point: Sure, I told Grant. But you’ll have to convince Mom and she sees a dope dealer behind every tree and liquor behind every cactus.

wallach-calvera

The little old White church ladies told tales about
the incredible amounts of drugs flowing
in and out of Santa Fe.  Or incredible tales.

Grant smiled. “Don’t worry,” he said, and he was right.

Grant was a natural-born salesman: he was sincere, he was personable, and you’d buy whatever he sold you. Later I would witness him shopping and more than once OFFERED A JOB by the owner of the store right then and there. He could get a job anywhere, and when we met, he was getting sick of Monkey Wards and transitioned to another job as casually as you’d flick a stray hair from your shoulder.

And he got Mom to play the piano. And then he sang for her, and then with her, and within fifteen minutes, Mom was eating out of Grant Granger’s hand, a Get Out Of Jail Card that came in handy betimes after. This night, Mom gave her blessing and I went over to Grant’s house in the Avenida de Las Crucitas* neighborhood, a far enclave of middle-class homes in a middle-class minority city.

reality called

(* Avenida de las Crucitas itself is typically Santa Fe. Beginning as humble Bob Street, it crosses the arroyo and becomes Hickok Street, thence crossing the U.S. Highway/St. Francis Drive to become Paseo De Peralta where it loops around the “Roundhouse” state capitol building, and swings past Canyon Road and its mega-gallery colony, across the Santa Fe River, past the Pink Castle (there’s a Pink Castle in downtown Santa Fe and it’s a SECRET) the Scottish Rite Temple of the Freemasons, across from the Federal Building(s) and thence back along the river to the De Vargas Mall, and RE-crossing St. Francis Drive it becomes Avenida de las Crucitas, a popular neighborhood for commuting Los Alamos Top Secret Employees back in LANL’s heydey, completing its odyssey from “Bob Street” as Dump Road, which crosses above the dead end at its base where Bob begins, fifty feet below.)

triangle of fubar

Santa Fe traffic flow

And I walked into a crisis. It seems that Grant’s “fiancée” had broken off the “engagement” (which was real enough, she angrily returned a ring several days later) because Grant’s little sister had answered the phone while Grant was out and told him that he was going to the movies with someone, and she, naturally, assumed that it was a GIRL, and freaked out before getting her facts straight.

She might have gone on to become Governor of New Mexico for all I know.

We thought it funny, and Grant made thermos hot dogs and fixings, and we went to the old  Yucca Drive In where we saw “Von Richthofen and Brown” and “Soldier Blue” bvut leaft halfway through “Soldier Blue”  because it was boring.

Yucca Drive-In

Yes. It’s the infamous “penis” silhouette at the old Yucca Drive In.
click to see full size

yucca penis

A bit more horrifically obvious.
The drive in has since been torn down.

Spent the night listening to rock and roll, watching the colored lights dance, and slept on my first waterbed. (I still sleep on a waterbed, so I guess I liked it.)

And then we were thick as thieves for a long time. We sang in the church choir together. Mom decided she had to butt in, as did brother John, who ended up buying automotive citizens’ band radios (and FCC license manuals) from the minister (these were the big ones, before the miniaturization that brought on the CB craze of the mid-70s), and so on and so forth. But Grant and I had an excuse to do churchy things, such as watching those old Moody Bible Institute time lapse films at one of those amazing houses hidden among the piñon that Santa Fe is famous for.

Government_building,_Santa_Fe,_New_Mexico

Grant and I were buddies, negotiating the white water of adolescence as best we could. Used to joke that I broke up his engagement. Records and movies and good times, and yet no pot nor booze. Whatever.

And then the pastor at Temple Baptist Church suddenly told me that I couldn’t have a solo unless I was a MEMBER of the church.

prayingfeetsies

I pressed him on this, even as he pressured me, and I don’t pressure good. Finally he admitted that there was no such rule, that he’d made it up on the spot, and I walked away from that church and from “joining” any organization for many, many years. Grant followed me, and nobody much noticed. But I didn’t get a solo and I didn’t join the church. Nor anything else for nearly thirty years.

cheesycheeziscomix

Fade forward:

It is the summer of ’72. It’s been a hell of a summer. I spent two weeks at Boy’s State at Roger Staubach’s old alma mater in Roswell, New Mexico: NMMI.

And other adventures. And it is time for the annual pilgrimage from fair New Mexico to hellish Nebraska and Kansas in August. And Mom invites Grant along. Grant is happy to help out with the little kids (three in diapers) so there is no problem.

And for the entire trip, people keep thinking that Grant and I are brothers and brother John is the invited guest. He has never looked like the rest of us, but it was driven home that summer.

lucas water tower

And we ended up in Lucas, Kansas with the kids I’d finished my sophomore year with, just before starting my senior year. Since there were too many of us to sleep comfortably, we moved the credenza from in front of a DOOR. A door that I’d never noticed in all the years I’d been going to my grandma’s, across from the Garden of Eden (which Grant thought was bizarre, too.)

lucas class of 48

There was a flight of VERY STEEP stairs, and, up there, perfectly preserved save for a recent dusting, was MY DAD’S ROOM from high school. With pennants stuck to the wall, some for teams like the Brooklyn Dodgers, or the Philadelphia Athletics, that hadn’t existed for years.

And there, next to the bed, was Dad’s personal library: ALL Zane Grey books.

spinach repair

Another era

Which explained why a Kansas farm boy would go to Wyoming, work for the Forest Service in the Jim Bridger National Forest (Yellowstone and Grand Tetons) and enroll in the University of Wyoming Engineering program, where he met mother, etc. etc.

And one other book: An old paperback copy of Peyton Place.

eyeses

Uh-oh!

Well, let’s just say that I had some special knowledge in this area. Even then.

I knew (without going into “how?”) that Peyton Place, the Sears Catalog Undergarment section and National Geographic were, before Playboy, the only jack off materials available to men of a certain generation. And I had learned (don’t ask how, but it was very scientific) that people tend to break the spines of paperbacks on the “hot” parts of the novels. Therefore, if you pick up the paperback by its cover, the pages will magically separate at the tempestuous passages.

peyton place

about 2/3rd’s of the way back, I think

Which brings me to Peyton Place, which I KNEW about. The specific line that an entire generation of men and boys split the spine at (laughably to my generation, who, with the first copy of Penthouse we passed around at Boy’s State, had seen pubic hair, the last taboo left over from the days when a woman’s naked ankle was scandalous) … “her nipples were as hard as diamonds, Rodney saw.” (I am quoting from memory).

penthouse feb 1972

Feb 1972: Not yer daddy’s Sears catalog… 

So, I picked up the copy of Peyton Place left lovingly in place by my Grandma, who had touched not a thing, I believe.

“her nipples were as hard as diamonds, Rodney saw.”

Dad! I thought.

sexhorror

Anyway, Grant and I shared that bed, as we had shared other beds, in all the innocence (to me, at least) of childhood. And we got back to beautiful, mountainous, tree-d, lovely, mild Santa Fe, having “vacationed” from all of those qualities.

papermoonkansas

Hot. Dusty. Must be vacation.

Grant had graduated at mid-semester in January of ’72 and was in another go nowhere job, but endlessly considering going to chef school. (I have always been blessed with a superabundance of cooking friends, some of whom, like Grant and like Mark Weiss, were professionals.) So, he waited until he turned 18 the following year, and then Grant went up to Denver to perhaps get into cooking school. We lost touch.

I burbled through my senior year in high school.

Hart Willams, SFHS 1973

My official graduation photo, more or less.

And then one night, Grant was back. He needed to talk to me. We drove out in the piñons near the high school, near Temple Baptist Church, where we’d met, and he said, I don’t know how to tell you this.

And, slowly, by fits and starts, the story came out that his girlfriend in Colorado Springs had sent him to her brother in Denver, and her brother in Denver had seduced Grant, the preacher’s son.

And he had liked it.

And repeated it, and he was damned to hell.

devil-worship-tabloid

Stop. Listen to that, because I sure as hell did: damned to hell. To HIM, this carried all the consequentiality that it could for an eighteen-year -old male.

 And he presented me with an ultimatum: he didn’t know whether to kill himself, or make love to me.

And for the next eternity, out there under the New Mexico stars, I talked my friend Grant Granger out of BOTH.

van-gogh-starry-night

I do not know where the wisdom came from, because I sure as hell learned about …. you know … in the worst possible way less than a year earlier. (See “The Story of a Child Predator.”)

dali st anthony

Understand that I still didn’t know anything about it, and even in that time of “Sexual Revolution” there was virtually no talk about homosexuality. None. Nada. Zip. It was still, in many ways, endlessly the inside of a John Rechy novel.  I didn’t know that Grant had visited the City of Night, nor whether he was going back to it.

CityofNightRechy

I knew that it was OK for him to be him, and there was nothing that required suicide and that he was not going to hell.

And I also knew that I don’t fuck men. Lesbians will appreciate this best, perhaps.

Journey into Night

And that BOTH were OK. OK? It was like walking on eggshells along the rim of a volcano, but after what seemed like hours, Grant was OK. And I was OK with him and still his friend, but no sharing beds together. And he was OK with that, and with the fact that he wanted to DO that.

Got it?

It’s either a couple short paragraphs, or an entire Tennessee Williams play, and I don’t have the time.

the-senator

But I never saw Grant Granger again.

And I have never told this story to anyone. But now I can.

My grandmother in Kansas got a message from him, but I never picked up the number.  And then, came the internet.

us-search

I searched for him for years and then, almost by accident, I found the story right there at home, in the Santa Fe New Mexican. Even odder, one of the stories, a front page story, was dated 1990, and I was LIVING in Santa Fe in 1990, and read the paper just about every day. How did I miss it? And why just before I went to Lucas? I ran into someone in town who remembered Grant, and I actually knew what to tell her happened.

8track

This is what happened to Grant Granger after that night of heartfelt heart to heart talking, parked in a car with an 8-track in the New Mexico night, twixt the cholla cactus and the piñon pines.

Granger obit 8 July1986-page A8

click for full size
Santa Fe New Mexican, 8 JUL 1986, p. A8

I found that and it floored me. Just because it happened a long time ago to others, doesn’t mean it happened a long time ago for me. For me, it’s been three weeks.

You see, according to several pieces over the years (Grant, always the charming one, became Santa Fe’s de factor poster boy for AIDS at some point).

The last time I saw him was in 1973. Which means that six years are unaccounted for.

He seems to have joined the marines at some point. He is buried in the federal boneyard (as my dad used to call it) as a Marine. He cooks in Denver and Houston. Moves around, seemingly. Then, finally, he decides to really DO it.

In 1979 he enrolls at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and becomes a chef — something he’d talked about from the first night I ever met him and broke up his engagement. CIA is hard core, and part of certification includes stuff like food costing and restaurant accounting, in addition to knife skills, et al.

ciaNY_main_photo

After graduating, he gets a good position at a good restaurant in Wichita, Kansas. Make it circa 1980.

This is about the time that he contacts my grandmother in Lucas, and leaves a message for me to get in touch with him.  Again: When I first got to Hollywood in 1976, I got along fine with the gay c0mmunity from day one. If my best friend could be gay, anyone could. Ironically, at one point, I shared an apartment with two gay writers, one of whom had ESCAPED from Wichita, Kansas.

Grant pre-AIDS

It seems odd to think that Grant escaped from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Wichita, Kansas. Perhaps there is a circularity there. But said roommate assured me that, deep underground, there was a highly secretive gay community in Wichita.

Vietnam War Tet Offensive

Downtown Wichita

Later, I would manage to be a “founding father” of West Hollywood, voting yea! in the referendum and having a small part, hopefully, in founding the first openly gay city in America or the West Coast or whatever.

Grant prepares 800 calorie meals for the specialty restaurant. But the gypsy bug bites him again.

And, then Grant moves to Champaign, Illinois in 1982. He is the chef for a large sorority house at the University of Illinois-Champaign. Everyone is happy.

In 1984, he suddenly changes. Misses work. Undercooks meals. Says strange things. Goes from being a clockwork dependable to a Where’s Waldo?

idjit

You know the rest.  He moves back to Santa Fe and his mother nurses him until he dies in 1986.

But his girlfriend in Colorado Springs had understood something that Grant had not.

Yes. There was a time that I couldn’t bear to go to San Francisco, because nearly everyone I knew there was dead.

grant at beginning

I was in a group with my second wife, the redhead, and our keyboard player, Dean, one of the sweetest souls I’ve known, died of AIDS around that time, as the redhead sat vigil, the only of his friends or family, seemingly, who cared enough to help a friend die.

sick and tired

But I read what the New Mexican reports:

“He went from job to job, [his mother Donna] Granger-Baerwald says,” “We were worried about him, so we’d go to where he worked and tip him. Even then something was wrong. He was tired and could barely stand up … I know that when he went to work he could barely walk.”

Santa Fe New Mexican November 19, 1986, “A Mother Her Final Act of Love” pages 5, 8

And the long, deadly bumbling as no one can diagnose what’s wrong with him.

grant granger aids

This is, remember, 1984. The Reagan Administration is still dragging its heels on doing anything about a “gay” disease. And Grant died, by slow, agonizing degrees. We all saw it happen, unless we were very, very lucky.

My ex-roommate from Wichita? Died of AIDS about 1987.

rock-hudson-before-and-after

Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 got the Reagan 
Administration off its ass and back into Public Health

As they discussed the secret he had not wanted to reveal, Granger told his mother that he never really thought that he was a true homosexual, but was just looking for some kind of love from a man t fill a void in his life. He never had affected the mannerisms of the gay lifestyle, he said, and as time passed, he eventually had shunned his homosexual connections. Yet by then he had contracted the AIDS virus. “He was angry at that aspect of his life, and what happened as a result of it,” his mother says.

~ Santa Fe New Mexican November 19, 1986, “A Mother Her Final Act of Love” pages 5, 8

If you have ever read Ernest Hemingway’s short story “One Reader Writes” you know exactly how I feel reading that last paragraph.

If you haven’t, perhaps you’ll still understand that I never had a problem with homosexuality because I have always known  who and what I am. As a result, my sexual proclivities have been  the source of some hilarious misconceptions that I have overheard from time to time, but that is beside the point.

nrockwell=gossip

My reaction to a gay predator and then a gay best friend without ANY knowledge of homosexuality or even West Hollywood was probably not the typical one.

The sheer painful ignorance of not understanding that it isn’t a CHOICE, that you can’t be homosexual (male) unless you prance, lisp and studiedly  lose the musculature around one’s wrists. All of what we didn’t know know in the 1980s, and all that Grant died before we found out.

His girlfriend in Colorado Springs had understood something that Grant had not. And never did.

grant granger dies

So, while I am happy to know that a sea-change day took place, and that we’ve jumped a very high hurdle, I wish that my friend had died not hating himself and his sexuality.

And I wish that he had not died at all, but could be here with us to see this day.

My Left Hand Masquerading as my Right Hand.

Courage.

=================

A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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