A whole memoir could be written (and perhaps will) about my friendship with Michael. I had just moved onto Bronson St and La Mirada Ave. into an old Hollywood studio bungalow.
It was my first or second night in my new place, and I noticed coming home from a night out Michael standing on the corner of my block. He was wearing a tight white dress and stood awkwardly with a small white terrier dog. He was working the streets, and I was totally amazed that he got work. He was a huge figured man, standing around 5' 10" and weighing at least 300 lbs.
At first we greeted each other with cordial waves. Then when I came home from a catering gig one night I had saved him a plate of food, thinking he may need some good nourishment. He loved the gesture, and that is when I found out he was deaf.
Michael always walked with a notepad and a pen. We developed a relationship that was entirely communicated through street sign language, pieces of paper, and napkins.
Michael sensed I was a big softy, and would hit me up for cigarette and drug money, which I went along with when I had the means. His requests became so frequent that I decided that he needed to pose for me at times so that I wouldn't resent my charity towards him. He was fine with it because he was a total ham in drag. He hated being photographed out of drag, but I would ask here and there because he was totally interesting looking out of his drag persona.
Michael became one of my closest friends in LA, and we spent a good deal of time together. The last morning I spent in LA before I departed for graduate school Michael greeted me, crying. We embraced and both had a nice cry. He was my last hug when I left LA in 2008.
One of the funniest things that would happen to me on occasion would be the unexpected visits. I configured my bungalow where my bedroom was in the living room where I had a cute fireplace that I would use in the winter. On a regular basis, Michael would need money at 2am or later, and he would think nothing of knocking on my front door loudly. This almost always happened when I would be in bed with a girlfriend. At first, she would shoot me an incredibly nasty look because she figured it was another girl. That would have been a better scenario however, because when she realized it was a 300lb man at the door in drag, she was wishing it was another girl. The explaining I would have to do was epic. And I would race to the door naked, and would have to use that "finger in the hole" sign language I learned on the playground as a kid to communicate to Michael that I was with a girl, and he was interrupting. He would express his embarrassment, and I would get him money, and then the explanation to the girl. I had to do this all the time because he would knock until I answered if he saw that my car was parked outside.
The best Michael story, however, came from a photo shoot I was doing for my Backroom Series. Michael came over in drag before he was set to hit the street. At that time, I used a Kowa 6 medium format camera to shoot with and a Canon AE1 35mm camera as my light meter. A few days after the shoot, I realized that my Canon was missing. I looked all over, but intuitively I knew that Michael lifted the camera. When I saw him later in the day I asked him if he saw it, to which he sprung to action and acted overly concerned. This only confirmed my suspicion that he stole it from me, and I went to Samy's Camera and bought another used Canon AE1.
I would have been really pissed about it, but as a former active junk addict, I felt fortunate enough to be sober with a few hundred dollars in the bank to replace it with. It was my fault, and besides, it was like a right of passage to me.
When I was a kid, we used to fish in This Pond, a pond in my neighborhood every day from when the ice melted in the spring, to the first day the ice formed over in the early winter. There were bluegill, large and small mouth bass, a few catfish, and a bunch of carp. There was one particular carp, appropriately named The Big Carp, that must have been over 3 feet long, weighing 50+ lbs. The deal was, you weren't officially a real fisherman until you lost your fishing rod to this huge fish. Every kid in the neighborhood tried to hook him, and I don't know of anybody who successfully did.
On one particular night, not long after I received a beautiful new Ugly Stick rod for my birthday, I cast in a Wonder Bread ball and sat to wait for The Big Carp to bite. I would have been happy with a catfish or small carp as well. I remember sitting patiently, and while daydreaming, my new rod SHOT off of the bank and plunged into the murky depths of the pond, never to be seen by me again. I cried, but deep down inside, I realized I had been initiated into the big leagues of fishing at The Pond.
I hadn't remembered that story for years until the moment I realized that my camera was gone. I smirked to myself and knew that I had just been initiated into the world of photography.