Ashes, Part 2
Continued from last week's reposting of Ashes, Part 1.
When Gary died, we scattered his ashes into the Gulf Of Mexico off Pass-A-Grill beach. That was the gay section of the beach in St. Petersburg and Gary had stipulated that we release his ashes in that place where he'd spent so many languorous afternoons with his best friends. Then we went to T-dance at the nearby club and got spectacularly drunk on a bar tab that he had pre-paid for us.
When Michael Paul died, his friends scattered his ashes off Haulover Beach, the nude/gay section of the national seashore near North Miami Beach. Then they all got stoned out of their gourds on some killer weed that Michael had been hoarding for the occasion.
When Martin died, his lover Angelo placed his ashes in their prized Baccarat crystal decanter, from which Martin used to serve his famous "Martin-eees". The decanter sat right on their antique serving cart, because as Angelo put it, "More than anything in his life, Martin hated to miss a good party."
Naturally, all these ceremonies made us all contemplate our own disposal. It was a common topic in my circle, sometimes discussed with silliness and frivolity, sometimes with sincerely delivered drunken pledges to honor each other's plans.
For myself, I gave everyone instructions that if I met an untimely demise, I was to have my ashes fired out of the confetti cannon at the Warsaw Ballroom, on a Saturday night, over the packed dance floor, at the precise peak moment of The Communards' cover version of Never Can Say Goodbye. And the crowd would squint and spit out the ashes and say, "Ew, yuck! Tastes like.....Joe!" When the Warsaw fell out of favor, I changed the location to Paragon, then to Amnesia, then to another club, then another, and so on, for several years.
Sometime around 1993, my roommate Jim had his boyfriend Jeff move in with us while they looked for a place of their own. The first time I visited the house that they eventually found was when I arrived for Jeff's memorial about a year later. At the door, I was handed a Florida Lottery scratch-0ff ticket, because Jeff so loved his scratch-offs. Similarly, only Miller Lite in the can was served, along with Skittles and Cool-Ranch Doritos. Jeff's ashes sat on a shelf in Jim's closet, where they still were ten years later when I asked Jim about it.
Ask any gay man over 40 and he'll likely have a couple of ashes stories for you. I suppose the fact that so many gay men are cremated, rather that buried, is a function of several influences. Among them are a lack of interest in religion, a disconnection from biological families, and in the early years, an unwillingness of funeral homes to handle the bodies of AIDS patients. And certainly, the cost of burial was/is a factor, as AIDS impoverishes almost everybody it touches.
I have friends who have the ashes of lovers, the ashes of roommates, and in one case, the ashes of a lover's roommate. These ashes are sometimes prominently displayed in tasteful urns, positioned in places of honor. Sometimes these ashes are quietly stored out of sight in a closet or in a box under a bed, their caretakers unwilling to dispose of them, yet unable to cope with a constant visual reminder.
My friend David F. used to say that gay men tend to create such ceremony over these ashes because it's part of our new and still-evolving unique tribal culture. Some cultures create funeral pyres. Some float their dead down a river. Gay men largely ignore the physical body after death, it seems. I can't remember having been to a viewing or a burial. But we do sometimes turn the ashes into ceremonial props, potent visual effects best used in celebrating love, or so we try to convince ourselves as we force ourselves to forget the suffering and remember the smiling. And sometimes we turned the ashes into potent weapons of dissent, hurling them onto the lawn of the White House.
After David F. died, his lover David R. and group of their friends, myself included, scattered David F.'s ashes from the back of their boat just offshore Miami Beach. We were each given a small portion of the ashes, which were divided into fancy individual fabric bags. It was beautiful, it was heartwrenching, but above all, it was David F. entirely. Martha Stewart had nothing on David F. when it came to fabulous event planning.
One by one, we untied the ribbon around our bag of ashes and said a personal farewell, all as stipulated by David F. As I tossed the contents of my bag into the breeze, I said, "David, even from beyond the grave, you are a drama queen. And I will always love you."
It was one year and one day later when we repeated the ritual for David R.
Originally posted September 2004.