Last week’s issue of the SFGN - featuring the life, loss and legacy of Michael Brown (of West Palm Beach & Rooster’s)
- was informed, authentic, and poignant. It was also an important contextual piece, on so many levels, as Michael Brown represented an era when the gatekeeper of our social networks played a vital role in maintaining a higher level of discretion, protection - and often times anonymity, so that our private lives could be only as open as we wanted them to be.
In 1997, the year I met Michael, gay men in Florida were facing a new world. 1997 was the year anonymous testing programs were required to begin reporting the names of those persons, who tested positive for HIV, to the State of Florida. Testing numbers didn’t just drop, before I joined, they were nonexistent. Programs like the one at Compass had been marked for extinction because no one was asking or telling anyone anything.
Michael was well-known, but he was also very private, and the moments following (ten years after I met him) – as his name was spoken in the news – were queer, unusual and the events were shocking.
The way I remember it - in my world of superheroes – I’m standing in a bar surrounded in green hangover decorations – hung from before St. Patrick’s Day 2008. The Incredible Hulk was dead. Stabbed to death, he was found in his home after he didn't show up for work. Found in his condo, just north of Southern...
The murderer? A person suffering the same afflictions Michael helped me to forge a Compass to battle. The man who murdered my best friend was able to do so because Michael refused to kick a guy to the curb most people would have left for dead, without checking for a pulse. Michael was a Gentle Giant, he his refused to turn his back on the guy.
Those of us who loved him were powerless, but were we really afraid for his life? Maybe we just hated the way he was being treated.
It actually hurt to confront how many people felt that they knew loss like I did, and I missed my moment to feel it. The pain people expressed...I was actually jealous of it. I found it excruciating to hear people talk about his murder - to hear people say how much they loved him - because I knew that they did. Everyone did. How could I be angry for feeling like I lost more than anyone else. When you interviewed people, did you learn his DNA was hand crafted? When he interacted with you, you walked away feeling unique in his world, and because of that gift, anyone who met him felt a little more special in the world we share.
He was my neighbor, boss, confidante — an absolutely fabulous, late night, dog-walking, pot brownie cooking, life is Chicken Soup for the Soul, dance-with-my-mother-until-she-drops, best friend. He was fearless and strong. And because of him I wasn’t afraid to be out, or to go out, or to be anywhere at anytime – with or without him. He protected us, unapologetically, and universally.
I just needed you to know you’ve captured his presence along with his community values, values he inspired in others, or at least I hope they did. He was the epitome of “Judge? You? Move the f*ck on Mary, there’s work to be done.” He made us share our Pride, without shame. I’m a better man than most because of him. He knew we did not have to be angels to justify wearing wings. We always intended to fly now and again, The bubbles, rainbows, and bumpy rides – all of it waiting up in the air, tripping us up all the time – flying or trying to fall down in the right direction. Who knows?
“561-820,” the Palm Beach Post’s signature caller ID – the last four digits – random – a reporter? What in the hell do they want to talk to me about this late on a Friday night?
“Mr. Plakas, I’m a reporter with the Palm Beach Post. We got your number from Compass. Did you know Michael Brown?”
She said his name so casually, and the sentence was so past tense - he’d been gone forever before I heard her say another word.
And it felt exactly like he said. It was just the weight of the world.