Chris Meets Manny

Thursday, December 16th, 2004 | Family, Gay

20 years ago today, Manny Scrofani walked into Marcello’s Pizza, near midnight, and asked me to go home with him. I was working my way through the San Francisco Art Institute, and inadvertently already dating several older guys, including Ron, the owner of the Valencia Rose and later Josie’s, and I was not in the mood for another dude of his free-loving and non-committing generation. “How old are you?” “40,” he lied. “Do you realize I’m 19? Is that even legal in California?” We went on like this for a while. He liked the feistiness of my resistance. He obviously had been drinking, and stopped in for a slice on his way home, just up the street. “Look, here’s my address, stop by after work if you like, if not, fine.” I didn’t even take his note, leaving it on the counter as he tossed his scarf over his shoulder and shuffled out the door. “Presumptuous old dude.”

At 2:30, when I got off work, I thought, “Oh, well, what the heck, what’s one more?” and walked the additional 1/2 block to his house (I lived just down the street from him). He answered the door in a loosely tied robe, and immediately grabbed me and took a big bite out of my twinkie lips. I remember vividly my first scent of him, his breath laced with some cheap Italian wine varietal. He tossed me in his hot tub and we made love all night and the next morning. In the morning I made my way home and switched gears back into student mode, and didn’t pursue him too intensely until the following summer, when I discovered that I was profoundly, intensely, sickeningly, bricks-dropped-on-my-head in love.

I blurted out one morning, “I love you, Manny.” He waited a moment and then told me that he didn’t love me and never would. Clearly, he just didn’t understand the love he felt for me because it was so deep. I would help him understand. It was a maddening time, and after I discovered my love for him, I discovered that he wasn’t 40, but 53, which he matter of factly mentioned after seeing Back to the Future and reminiscing about the time of the film. I said, “Manny, you were only around 10 years old then,” and he replied that he was in college. “You fucker, you told me you were 40–40’s my limit. You’re a generation over my limit. When I’m 40 you’ll be 74. I can’t be in love with a 53 year old…” but it didn’t matter to him, he still thought that he didn’t love me and was probably hopeful that I was finally going to ease up on the assault to take his pearl beyond all price.

About a year later, he told me he loved me and wanted me to move in with him. I was Ann Miller dancing across the Castro rooftops. I’d won the Grand Nationals and married Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. When I’d come home from school and see his car in the driveway, I’d run up Collingwood Hill to see him, and hold him. I’ve never loved anything so intensely and with such tenacity, or with such passion and urgency.

Manny died when I was 27, in 1992, 8 years after we met. I couldn’t forgive him for leaving me, I still can’t. I’ve learned to live with a huge gaping hole in my side, that has never gone away, that never will. I live in our house still, I read from the spot where he died in my arms, I tend his garden, I remember. His death was very quick, or at least the brutal part, really only about two weeks in bed. Changing his diaper during those last weeks, giving him spongebaths, I was still excited by him, even when he swelled from edema and his legs were covered in lesions. I kept telling myself during those weeks that I’d forget about the awful state that his body had deteriorated into and remember only his beauty, his laugh, the smell of his skin and hair, but I haven’t forgotten those other things.

In college I made a series of images in which I placed myself in his family photos, taken when he was around my age. (This was before photoshop, so the montage was deliberately sloppy, to draw attention to my imposition into his life.) The final image in the series shows us on the beach, Manny looking right into the camera, my Burt Lancaster, and me lying at his side, my cheek against his arm, imagining that his warmth would never end.

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