Each of us, over the years, accumulates favorite "stories" based on our experience, which we tend to tell over and over again. One of mine is how I went to work for the largest "porn mill" on the west coast, and I'll give you only an abbreviated version here, since the main point of this blog is not porn but people.
I applied for a job as editor of a "men's magazine" in Los Angeles, and was called in for an interview. I soon discovered that the magazine in question dealt with issues of human sexuality and relied on sexually explicit photographs...heterosexual, of course. The man who interviewed me, Keith Bancroft, was very nice and, in the course of the interview he called in his wife, Iris, who also was an editor at the company. She was as pleasant as her husband, so when Keith offered me the job, I felt I had to be honest with them. "Well, I said, I think you should know that since I'm gay, I don't have the foggiest idea what men and women do in bed together."
Keith didn't bat an eye, and merely said, "Well, then, you'll have a different perspective on things."
I started to work for them the next day and was with the company for, I think, seven years. In that time, Keith and Iris became very close friends, and we have remained friends for more than 40 years. Perhaps it was because I have relatively few heterosexual friends that Keith and Iris's unconditional acceptance made them so important a part of my life. I used Iris's name for one of the lead characters in The Hired Man and borrowed parts of her personality to give to other characters.
Both Keith and Iris were remarkably talented human beings. Each was an avid and excellent photographer, each played in at least two local symphony orchestras, Iris wrote and published several books. They had a wide range of interests which kept them forever active. We often would go hiking in the foothills near my home, sitting beside a remote waterfall with a picnic lunch, laughing and talking, and I always loved going to their home for an evening of food, music, and friendship. At lunch, at work, they would play chess. They tried to encourage me to learn, but I never did.
Iris's life was particularly fascinating. She was born in China, the daughter of missionaries. She had, I think, three sisters, one of whom was seriously and chronically ill. She married young, had two sons, and settled into a typical middle-western, middle class life. Then she met Keith and divorced her husband to marry him.
When I moved from California, we kept in sporadic touch, but the friendship never wavered or waned, and I considered them to be part of the solid foundation of my life.
And then I got a note from Keith saying that Iris had died. She had had a minor stroke two years ago, and had been battling cancer for the same amount of time. Yet other than casual, in-passing references in her infrequent letters, I had not given a moment's thought to the fact that she would not always be here, and part of my life.
In the past three months, I have lost three people important to me: my good friend, Bil Buralli, whom I met when he wrote to compliment me on my books, my former publisher, Bill Warner, and now Iris.
I feel very much like a sand castle on the shore of eternity, with the waves of time lapping ever closer. They've breached the moat and I can't help but fear my lofty minarets and flag-topped towers will soon crumble.
I know, I know, the older one becomes, the more friends one loses to time. It's inevitable. But I have always relied so heavily on my friends and family for comfort and support and a sense of belonging, that when yet another stone in the foundation of my life crumbles I feel a growing sense of loss, and longing.
And you see? I've managed to turn what I intended as a tribute to my irreplaceable friend Iris into another reflection in the cracked mirror of myself.
Goodbye, Iris. I can never tell you how much your friendship meant to me, or how much I will miss you.
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