GOD SAVE THAT GRACIOUS QUEEN
Remembering Todd the God
For all of the high profile energy, action and celebrity attention surrounding AIDS (and the quilt is nice, of course, I don’t mean to dis the quilt) there is not enough of a variety of memorials to really evoke the exuberant lifestyles and wild personalities of many of the fallen, especially in a hotbed of eccentricity like 1980’s San Francisco. I still remember the joyous men who danced with enormous mylar fans at the Trocadero Transfer. I remember the Golden Shower leather Daddies with their chaps and yellow bandannas hanging around The Stud and The Eagle. Mostly, I remember gay men of great countercultural will and spirit, possessed of tremendous style and drollery, who had overcome oppressive family and/or social situations to become, like butterflies, utterly themselves. I owe so much to some of these men, who showed me great friendship and helped teach me to be an adult.
I left home when I was 17 and moved into a Victorian in the Haight Ashbury with my best friend (and speed dealer) Todd, who I thought was the most glamorous being I’d ever met. He was lissome, ageless, and genderless; a beautiful, elfin, Barbie-faced man/boy somewhere in his late 20’s, tall and slim with tawny skin, bleach-blond hair and outfits only a dedicated speed freak could concoct or get away with; silk scarf headbands, plaid pants, dozens of bracelets, rings and necklaces.
People used to give him strange and beautiful things all the time - antique religious statues, jewelry, clothes - sometimes as payment for drugs, but largely as tribute to his impressive sense of style and beatific personality. He could have been a Hummel figurine: he was always beaming from a combination of meth and Valium and naturally angelic brain chemistry, having been raised in a midwestern Christian household. To me, he was kindness itself — his nickname, among our friends, was “Todd the God.” The house was a constantly evolving shrine of amazing tchotchkes and decorative boxes within decorative boxes, containing precious and odd things — bones and gems and weird treasures, wrapped compulsively in bandannas. One of our friends, a young man we’ll call Birdy, had become something of an artist at Breaking and Entering — he stole amazing objects that he brought over to the house, usually through the bedroom window; cheetah rugs, Tibetan skulls, chandeliers.
Todd and I did a lot of tarot card readings, with the classic Rider-Waite deck; the card that he identified the most with was The Fool — the lovely young blonde man, traipsing along on the edge of a cliff. If he had been born a woman, he would have made a beautiful society wife and mother — someone who cares and decorates. Instead, he effectively (and thanklessly) adopted me as his punkrock teenage problem child.
Todd had become a drug dealer by dating a Stanford chemist, who had figured out how to make meth in our bathtub. When you opened the front door, a wall of ether would waft over you in Welcome.
They broke up rather badly when I was there. In one of the few times I ever saw Todd upset, he informed me that we were going for a cab ride, and grabbed a hammer. He had the cab wait outside with me in the back seat as he ran to the chemist’s front door and beat the front glass out with the hammer, screaming the Teena Marie lyric, “Take me to your Egypt baby!”
Todd and I loved to get dressed up together and dance around to Teena Marie and the Ziggy Stardust album.
One of our friends, a male prostitute named Lee (Todd, like Jesus, was friendly with many prostitutes) dubbed us the “Dancing Moon Bubbles.” We would stay up all night clubbing, then go to brunch in the Castro at an outdoor hotspot called “The Patio Cafe.” I had white dreadlocks and electric blue vinyl pants and gold pumps. We wore sunglasses and felt like rock stars. We were treated like rock stars.
Most of the time I sat on the floor of the apartment doing elaborate art projects. I almost never paid rent — I did once, after finding a wad of hundred dollar bills on the floor of the student union at SF State. Usually I pretended to help with “the business,” but I was really more of a liability than a partner.
I admired and wanted to be like Todd - he had a glowing, charismatic personality that drew people to him. I made one concerted effort at being Toddlike and utterly failed.
One prostitute and occasional customer was a highly insane ball of cocaine and frazzled wires — a veritable polecat of a woman named Francesca, who had allegedly come from a mafia family. She would occasionally come over to score drugs, go do them in the bathroom, and we would hear the shluck shluck shluck noise of her grabbing the shower curtain and yanking it back and forth, apparently in thrall to a whopping level of paranoia.
One day, Francesca called in a panic. She was living in an expensive condominium in a ritzy complex called Opera Plaza, and needed to pay her rent. She begged Todd to be her secretary for the day, and book her sex appointments. Todd uncharacteristically refused, rolling his eyes.
I thought this was a great opportunity for me to demonstrate my Toddlike altruism and the goodness of my heart, so, ignoring Todd’s advice to avoid the situation entirely, I took a cab to Opera Plaza.
Francesca was supposed to meet me in the parking garage and pay for my cab — but she never came downstairs, and the cab driver eventually got frustrated, kicked me out and drove away without payment.
Francesca opened her door for me miserably, directed me to her phone, and retreated to her bedroom, locking the door.
I decided to line up her day with a perfect amount of tricks, to secure her rent for the month. I made up a little schedule, feeling like an exceptional secretary. I answered her phone, and found myself talking to a pleading man who said he had been waiting outside downstairs next to the payphone, wearing an army jacket. “Why can’t I just come up there now?” He asked.
“She’s not ready,” I said, in a fake European accent.
“What about you?” He asked.
“I am not on the menu,” I said, affronted.
Francesca refused to leave her bedroom, or to speak to me. The man in the army jacket kept calling every fifteen minutes. I was entirely frustrated that Francesca was not availing herself of my amazing secretarial skills.
At some point, being an entirely strung-out teenager, I decided that Francesca was horribly ungrateful…or I was just deeply freaked out by the situation, or something — but I snapped. Her apartment was covered with mirrors and windows. I decided the best thing to do would be to write Francesca a Tough Love -type letter about how badly she was fucking up in red lipstick all over the glass surfaces of her home. Once her home was entirely vandalized, I left.
I thought it was quite exemplary of Todd not to kick me out after that. I stopped trying to emulate him; I thought he was too spiritually gifted and evolved. He had a magic touch, always. Once he blew cigarette smoke through sunbeams shining through the holes in an old black curtain, and I thought it one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
After I completed a stint in rehab, it was difficult to see Todd. I loved him a lot but he had fallen on hard times and become a prostitute himself. Mostly, I was trying my best to stay away from speed, and our relationship became a casualty of my (relative) sobriety.
I spoke to him one last time, after he became seriously ill with AIDs and moved home to the midwest. I couldn’t say goodbye to him. I cut the call short and told him I would call him later, even though I knew this was the last phonecall we would ever have. I rationalized my behavior by telling myself that reincarnation was real, and that we would be together again.
I found out years later that Todd had gotten clean before he fell ill, and become a Born Again Christian. He used to hand out Jesus pamphlets in front of the gym where he worked. It was a natural progression, I thought. His big powder-blue eyes were always suffused with a kind of otherworldly holiness. Jesus had always been in him, even in his weirdest hours.
Rest in Power, Todd.
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Artwork: “Victor,” oil on linen by Cintra Wilson, 2020