- The Mystical Hiring Committee of Life
Richard and I used to say we'd have to write the book about Gay Community News before anyone else did it and got it all wrong. But it was clear to me even then that Richard would never write a book. He barely read books, preferring to lug around a week's worth of the New York Times in his knapsack until he'd finished every word in every edition, except, naturally, the sports-and a couple of times I caught him glancing at that too. Which just proved it was the comfort of habit and not the content of the Times-he genially agreed it was right-wing twaddle-that kept him at it.
Actually, it's hard to imagine how Richard and I thought we could write a book together when we disagreed so much. We debated for years, literally from dawn to dusk, as we worked together at the GCN office, went out afterward for dinner to the whole-wheat pizza place on Charles Street-where you could bring your own jug of red wine and where I more than once pretended I didn't see a little gray mouse leap across the floor and disappear behind the baseboard-and called each other on the phone as soon as we got home.
It's a curious thing about Richard: in any particular group, he's always perceived as the voice of the establishment. This has nothing to do with what he says. Maybe it's his height-six foot five. Or his booming voice. Some people are surprised when he tells them he sings bass, like they expect all gay men to be countertenors. Richard used to sing in the choir at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, and every year we'd have a major argument about his Christmas concert, which he insisted I attend even though he knew I was fed up with Christmas, probably because of my experience in elementary school, where it dominated the entire curriculum from September through New Year's Day. The rabbi would tell us little Jews, "Don't you sing those Christmas carols!" while my mother's philosophy was, "You're a child, you like to [End Page 166] sing, enjoy yourself." My solution was to sing everything except the references to you-know-who: "Joy to the world/hmm-hmm has come." The minister at Richard's Christmas concert was a wonderful old fag who could pronounce the word Mary with three or even, if he got particularly carried away, four syllables during the scripture reading, and afterward we were all invited to his lovely home for some holiday cheer. He would greet Richard and me with particular warmth-"Merry Christmas to you and your tribe"-even though at one party, overstimulated by the concert, the eggnog, the obnoxious blinking lights, and the cold but jolly pedestrians and their packages jamming Harvard Square, I had such a loud dispute with Richard about that morning's staff meeting that the other guests fled the living room. Richard freshened our drinks, and we settled into the armchairs in front of the roaring fireplace, which we had gotten all to ourselves.
"Your homosexuality saved you," I used to tell him. I meant from becoming the corporate lawyer his parents wanted him to be, from settling down in the suburbs, from voting Republican, from drinking martinis, from a stifling oppressive middle-class existence. In those days Richard adored Christmas and weddings and graduations and birthday parties, any sort of elaborate social ritual where you got together with your family and smiled until your cheeks got twitchy and your jaw clenched-he absolutely refused to understand why a person might not want to go. He's changed about this, and so have I; these days I'm the one who's always running off to the Seder or my parents' anniversary party, convinced they'll love my homosexual self this time, while Richard tactfully makes his excuses.
I met Richard Burns in the fall of 1978, when I called the Gay Community News office to inquire about the features editor job they were advertising...