kearns, aids-write, havvacc: how shall we be free? (reprint) (0085)

how shall we be free?

how shall we be free?


gay pride 2005 in los angeles. the parade on sunday.

eleven o’clock sunday morning. i am preparing to march with aids-dot-org. there are nine of us, eager and restless and proud and ready as we wait in our assigned parade staging area. we mill in a whirling colored poppingcorn carnival of paraders.

inspiration is a thunderbolt in our staging area, and i recognize the omen: it’s one of the twenty tools of enlightenment that gwan yin holds in her ten pair of hands when in her goddess form.

gwan yin achieved enlightenment by listening. she is the buddha of compassion. she always hears. she always knows. she guides my spirit.

i need to be on my toes.

how shall we be free?

first i cry out. then i compose myself.

the aids-dot-org contingent is gathered around a rented white 2005 chrysler sebring convertable. my friend peter and his friend gary, the director, sit high in the back seat, practicing their parade waves. they’re wearing matching beige-on-black hawaiian shirts. the aids-dot-org banner is suspended over their heads on a white, pvc-pipe frame which rests atop the trunk lid behind them.

my journal and my pens are inside the trunk.

alan, an old flame i haven’t seen in fifteen years, drives the car. jerry, a curly-haired goateed blonde, mans the bullhorn in the passenger seat next to him. jerry is covered with a collection of the most unusual tattoos i’ve ever seen. the world trade center on his back. a war in iraq memorial on his right calf. on his forearm—a gwan yin angel. i should have spotted gwan yin’s energy when i saw his tattoo the first time. jerry’s tattoo artist trained at juliard.

ramone is the walker posted at the left front bumper. we have two rainbowflag-waving bicyclists—matrix and gipetto. gipetto is linked arm-in-arm with steve, and the two of them practice parading together slowly at the right rear bumper. one walking, one riding. matrix is right front. i’m behind the car.

gipetto has a dark canvas bag over his shoulder, and i see a tidy collection of ink sticks in it.

“quick—give me one of your pens,” i say.

eyes wide with surprise, he does.

“i need something to write on,” i tell him.

steve hands me a black matchbook that says “midnight bar and grill.” their motto: “it’s a new day at midnight.”

clearly, my brothers in infection are more used to collecting phone numbers than journaling on the go.

but it’s a place to start. i am resourceful.

i take the pen and write on the inside of the matchbook cover, in gold glittery letters:

we are all in the parade

being gay is not a spectator sport

good. i’ve written down the obvious stuff, so it’s out of my system and i don’t have to worry about it any more. on to the real work. i close the cover and put it in my pocket.

before striking.

how shall we be free?

“pop the trunk!”

“pop the trunk!”

“pop the trunk!”

“pop the trunk!”


”“pop the trunk!”

“richard needs his journal!”

“pop the trunk!”


“pop the trunk!”

they pop the trunk, even though it means partially dismantling the banner pipes.

peter is amused. “it’s the intrepid aids-dot-org reporter covering the 2005 christopher street west celebration,” he says, sounding like dick clark or somebody cutting to commercials.

what can i do but grin back at him? i am scribbling notes, weaving a verbal web to bind these images to my memory.

how shall we be free?

the fierce pride lgbt buddhists wait in the staging area behind us. there’s a great name for a rock band in there, somewhere.

behind the banner sit two fiercely proud lesbian buddhists on color-coordinated italian scooters, bathed in emerald serenity. their names are sheila and denise.

“these are called ‘vespa’s’” they tell me. made in italy by piaggio. one black, the other “teal,” they say. (it’s not really teal, that’s just what piaggio calls it. it’s more a mint green with a fair amount of yellow in it.) a stunning combination—sheila and denise took the scooters apart and swapped various color panels.

i recognize the tao. the harmony.

how shall we be free?

i feel the footfalls of all my fellow marchers, pounding the tarmac under my feet.

tarmac, short for tar-macadam, fascinates me.

macadam road is a mixture of crushed stone and tar or asphalt that’s pressed flat and smooth for a road surface. e pluribus unum as an engineering concept. as important as the roman invention of cement.

it is named after its inventor, John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836), a scottish civil engineer and british loyalist who fled the united states after the revolutionary war and returned to great britain, where he spent the the first thirty-six years of the nineteenth century perfecting the invention of his roadstuff. (he was not gay.)

creator of the modern road.

“tarmac” usually referrs to the substance of airport runways.

tarmac. i never knew it was a sounding board before. today it is behaving like a quartz crystal.

the heartbeat of the tarmac. the song of the road. through my feet up to my heart, reaching out through my hands, rising up through my head and into the sky, taking off. landing again with every step.

santa monica boulevard is singing to me, and i’m taking notes. we are a river.

crushed and flattened between tarmac and footsole:


tinsel strips.

ghost ribbons.

dismemberd audio cassettes, their shiny guts spilled out across the fauxbrix crosswalks.

indecipherable blue spray-painted glyphs and arrows.

green gum wrappers.

i kick a wrapped pink transparent candy along the road and it unwraps itself and rolls into pieces that scatter in arcs recalling rainbows.

planet out key rings.

flattened nylon lei flowers.

thick double yellow stripes.

thick white crosswalk stripes.

fresh red curbs.

empty water bottles and post cards resting in the gutters.

tobacco trash: cigarette butts; empty cigarette packs; not-quite-disposed lighters.

a blue-patterned face-down playing card, one corner ripped.

on either side, a shoal of watchers, many of whom wear red feather boas. they are living aids ribbons. they remember.

wet tears are now underfoot, not all of them mine.

a breeze dries our faces.

i can feel the rumbling of twirling-brush streetsweepers in my feet, as they follow miles behind us.

how shall we be free?

once we move further down santa monica boulevard, we lose the fierce pride riders, who are replaced by marching gay christians from christ chapel. they are an army of red signs atop ten-foot-tall wooden spears led by a red convertable that is covered in sprays of yellow roses.

pilgrims heading for the holy city.

how shall we be free?

we cross la cienega and pass by the caged faux-chrixtians there. they carry signs that say god hates. and i thought i was a blasphemer.

how shall we be free?

i get hooted for my fake marijuana lei. it’s an instant hit as a medical marijuana badge.

then the crowd quiets down.

jerry springs into action.

he hits the siren on his bullhorn and says, click, “c’mon people! this isn’t a funeral! let’s hear it for aids-dot-org!”

how odd.

we are at a funeral. mine. yours, if you are lucky.

i would march like this, in joy, in my own funeral procession. unknown. unrecognized.

what a relief—it doesn’t make any difference who i am or what i think. i remember this from the first time i walked a labyrinth.

here is how i want to quit the planet.

after i die, i want my body cremated, and the ashes placed in fireworks that will go off in a distant and hot summernight sky.

defying stars.

no traces left.

gone completely.

how shall we be free?

we are all marching to the one true city, wherever it may be.

to mount mckinley. to jerusalem. to mecca. to akka. to india. to tibet.

to somewhere between fairfax and robertson on santa monica boulevard.

up the mountainside to the roof of the world. following kokopelli. following coyote. pursued by fire and flood and madness.

on the pressed gray tarmac in west hollywood.

heading for the citadel.



heading home.

how shall we be free?


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