The eldest child received her new ipod last week. It’s the AIDS awareness version, and it’s very pretty, bright red with a white control. She refuses to admit that it looks like the Target logo reversed, but that’s ok.
You have to name the damn things, so I said, “Name it Karl.” She said, “Why didn’t you name yours Karl?” And I said, well, I have a really crappy ipod (a shuffle) and also, it’s not an AIDS ipod. And then she understood, and we talked a little and I told her my other friends who died:
Terry, Charlie, Michael, Deva, Felix
I was lucky. 6 (including Karl) isn’t such a high number, not compared. Honestly, if I’d kept in better touch, I’m sure there would be more. She settled on Felix, and I will here pay a brief and long overdue tribute to him.
I met Felix Rice at a party in Key West. Karl had been dead just a few months, and I don’t remember how I got to the party, but it was one of those moments where our eyes met and we were instantly friends. Born in D.C. but having lived a long time in London, he had a nice distinctive accent that combined a Mason-Dixon thing with soft British. He was fairly exotic looking; his dad was black and his mom was half black and half Indian. So he had really lovely copper skin, good bones, and a wonderful devilish grin. He also had gills on his ears, which was pretty wild; they were these tiny little natural slits right on that little piece of your ear that sticks out from your cheek.
He had wonderful stories and about half of them were true:
His maternal grandfather was an Indian chief.
His mother’s maiden name was Booth, and she was a descendant of John Wilkes Booth.
He had a stunningly beautiful singing voice. He once played for me a Cole Porter song he’d recorded on a cassette, “I Worship You.” I still remember it and it makes me cry.
He played the Rock Man in a London stage version of Harry Nilsson’s The Point, which starred Davy Jones as Oblio and Micky Dolenz in…some other part. Nilsson wrote a special song for Felix which is on the difficult to find soundtrack.
He was in the all-black revival of Hello Dolly with Cab Calloway and Pearl Bailey. Calloway was a homophobe who used to swat all the gay dancers’ asses with wet towels. Felix played the tall skinny guy who marries Cornelius’s daughter. I hate that show.
He was in a show based on Cinderella called I Got a Shoe that played in London for a long time but never came to the US.
He played Mr. Golly, a Golliwog doll, in a British kid’s show Tis Was.
However, after Felix died, I also found out that he had lied about being Dorothy Dandridge’s nephew (there is a faint resemblance, so it was a good scam), and that the supporting role he’d boasted about in Yanks was actually one line. There were others, but I’ve forgotten them, because, why remember the bad stuff?
Felix was really mad at me for leaving Key West, and toward the end of his life he got increasingly angry; he didn’t have full-blown AIDS dementia, but he definitely had something strange going on. We shared an apartment my last 9 months there, and unfortunately, the boundaries weren’t clearly drawn. I think he may have told people, and convinced himself, that I was going to stay with him and take care of him no matter what. In denial when I moved in – I did not handle Karl’s death too fabulously – I knew I had to leave KW as soon as I got pregnant. Felix and I both fought for our own interests, and they conflicted. I still feel sad when I think of him, but I know I couldn’t have done anything else, and I definitely couldn’t stay.
He died within a week after I left. He was basically starving himself. I could take it as a hunger strike protesting my leaving, but in my heart I don’t believe that Felix was that manipulative, just very, very ill toward the end, and at some point that September, something in him decided to stop.
Sadly, I had only one dream about Felix that felt like a visit. Of those who died, he’s the only one except of course Karl, of whom I’ve had several which are generally lovely. He was in a dark tunnel on a little cart. I said, “Felix, how are you?” And he said, “I’m just so bored. This cart won’t go anywhere, and it’s so boring.” At the time, it seemed very real, and unfortunately like the kind of afterlife he would have ended up with. He could be childish; it was sort of the eternal equivalent of me saying, “Well, I just won’t eat any more ice cream!” when I was 4.
I hope and pray, my dear Felix, that you did get off the cart at some point and found some wonderful musical theater where you’re the perpetual star. You gave me so much laughter and happiness for such a short time, and in the brief time that we were close, you were a wonderful friend.