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Excerpt, Essay 13, David, just as he was

(A portrait of a friend who died nearly twenty years ago, and the last essay in the collection.)

David stands on the corner of Market and Castro, a wide grin spreading under his bottlebrush mustache, a Bible clasped in one hand while the other brushes a thick shag of brown hair from his eyes; his bantam chest strains against the obligatory neatly-pressed plaid shirt tucked into the equally obligatory jeans molded around strong young legs set akimbo.

Around David the Castro teems with men. They lean out of cars, shouting and waving; they spill over the sidewalk and sway in the curbs; they drape their bare, well-toned torsos over the fire escapes of the slightly frayed Victorians lining Castro Street, kibitzing among themselves while they eyeball the boy-toys, handsome young fellows who weave sinuously through the wriggling masses or loll hip to hip on a sunny patch of concrete in front of Hibernia Bank—Hibernia Beach, they call it—rubbing suntan oil on their innocent chests. Two immense flags striped with peacock fields undulate above the crowds, their fly ends snapping in the crisp coastal breeze.

It is an immaculate late June afternoon smack in the middle of the most perfect summer of 1978. It is Gay Pride weekend, and this revelry is the sacramental afterglow of that holiest of observances, the Freedom Day Parade. The official parade route was far from the Castro, from Market and 2nd Street through Civic Center, and the official post-parade celebrations are still held on Polk Street, the fusty old gay district of yore; but anyone who is anyone is in the Castro this afternoon. Harvey Milk was elected last November and can be seen wandering with his doting entourage, his narrow basset-hound face split by his wide clown grin; young men are bursting with health and optimism; the Castro reigns supreme.

David is laughing. He gestures with his Bible, shaking the book so its page ribbons dance, as twin streams of cars on Market Street swerve and honk behind the teaming masses and dark grey fog hurries in to cloud the pale blue ocean sky, fog that comes in every night to cool and moisten the city and remind us of the impermanence of sunshine. God loves me as I am, David is saying, as I watch him in this dreamscape that I cannot fully remember within my own mind, a borrowed memory that I have been patiently exhuming and animating from conversations, photographs, and newspaper clippings, but I am told is real as real can be.

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