In front of my open garage, Monique Esmedina and I sit on the cold pavement. The fountains in her eyes seem to have shut down again, and moments of bitter silence are repeatedly punctured by sobs. After more than three weeks of trying to locate the peripatetic “Moan,” I’d nearly given up. Today I had decided it was time to finish sorting through the last of the stuff that her uncle Steven had returned to me, his remarkable soul imprinted on every piece. And now…Allah Akbar! Here comes his niece!
I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time.… We shall never see his like again.… His name will live in the annals of history.… Torn between two civilizations.… This controversial figure who became a legend in his own lifetime.… The most extraordinary man I ever knew…He was a poet, a scholar, and a mighty warrior.
Steven Esmedina would, were he here today, insist on reading the above tributes at least two times before composing himself to offer comment. Finally, he would give his response; as always, precise, concise, fearless: “Thanks, Alec. What are…words spoken in the trailer for the film Lawrence of Arabia?” Once again, Steven Esmedina is our champion. In addition, he’d think it’s pretty damn fucking funny that those bloated accolades had found their way here to begin with, into a piece about his own bloated, funkybad self. Well, I’ve got news for you, Blubbo: those raves might just as truly have been written about you! Parts of it, at least. I mean, a word or two…all right, how about “torn”?
On a summer night about 24 years ago, I first encountered Steven Esmedina on the dance floor of the popular North Park lesbian bar Diablo’s. My friend Ginger had begged me to accompany her and two of her girlfriends, insisting that it would be a fabulous experience with absolutely no problems. Somewhere across town, a similar group of ladies were certifying their friend Steve as their own mascot on a trip to the same destination.
Red lights were everywhere. It was much larger than I had expected. There was only one couple actually dancing, but 10 or 12 ladies had formed a semicircle at the far end of the dance floor, blocking view of whatever it was they were studying. I walked along the mirrored walls to investigate, noticing a diminutive guy (at least I wasn’t the only male!) standing by himself, away from the ladies, who were devouring the same remarkable something with their mournful starving eyes.
The object of this brokenhearted attention was a single woman, her hands pressed up against floor-to-ceiling mirrored wall, swaying sensuously in time to the music. She reminded me of Michelle Phillips, only if Michelle Phillips had become even more beautiful. A masterpiece of female beauty, dancing only with herself, in love with her own reflection. The ladies around her could do little but gaze and hurt and dream and hurt some more.
I began to feel intrusive. When the other guy saw me heading toward the exit, he followed. Outside, we lit cigarettes. Then he spoke.
“I was thinking about offering to buy that girl her favorite drink, but Diablo’s ran out of it last night. They’re expecting their next shipment of her bath water sometime tomorrow.”
Good one! “Could you believe that?” I asked. “Incredible. And the looks on the faces of those chicks…the whole scene, the whole situation! Fucking unbelievable…so fucking…”
“Poignant,” he declared, precisely, and I would have high-fived him, but I don’t think high-fiving had been invented yet.
Having read and admired both his and Duncan Shepherd’s criticism for many years by that time, I was happy to meet Steve in person, and he seemed pleased that I was a fan. We spent a while talking of our shared admiration for Shepherd, as well as several other regular Reader contributors. Perhaps our most emphatic agreement on that perfect summer night was that neither of us would ever be capable of forgetting Revelation in Red, a superb tableau, described by at least one noted critic as “poignant.”
I didn’t run into Steven again for several years. Early in the ’80s, though, his niece Monique began to work at the Guild Theatre, which I managed.
She would tell me wonderful stories about her uncle, during times when her tongue took the odd vacation away from its new residence in the throat of my older brother Tom. The more I learned about Steven from Moan, the more I admired him. We seemed to like a lot of the same stuff.
I was flattered that he enjoyed the musical duo that Troy Danté and I had started. When he interviewed us, he hadn’t yet realized I was his niece’s boss, nor that we had met several years before. When I began describing a certain scene, bathed in red, a single dance…it clicked. “That was you! Yeah! Oh, I’ve dreamed about that scene…that amazing bitch…that goddess…was so…”
“Poignant,” I offered. We became friends.
Since 1965, he was able to recite the entire “Dracula’s Return” side of the album Famous Monsters Speak. That’s 22 minutes in a Lugosi accent, word-perfect and never missing inflection or pause. I could toss him a random line from the script, and he’d pick up and carry on the narrative until I’d have to stop him, each of us satisfied. I was satisfied also in that I had another friend who, having fallen in love with monsters during the Great Golden Revival of the late ’50s, lived to watch his love grow. Steven was thrilled that I had saved most of the magazines and many of the other artifacts from my childhood’s “dark side,” and it was gratifying to observe the reveries they inspired in him.
When Playboy hopped into our lives, we didn’t trade one for the other. Hell, we had lots of room. Bring ’em on: Help, Mad, and on and on through the decades. It seems clear now that Steven either hit a bump in the road or lost his way when he approached Hustlertown. I imagine his conflicted heart being given a choice: Hang out here for a while or find the straight road home. For young Steven, alone, this would be a tough decision to make. He would leave it to Beaver.