The Good Ones are Allergic to Garlic

They're both allergic to garlic: Bebe and Dave. That's Bebe Neuwirth and David Kessler. Yes, that Bebe Neuwirth. And yes, well, that David Kessler. Probably. (There's another one who you might have heard of, but this one is more important.) I didn't know he was important when we met.

He showed up at my door like any other piano student, a stunningly grey-haired-dignified-yet-hip Robert De Niro. Dave played some Bach for me. We spent most of his first lesson discussing ornamentation. He knew more than I did. He still does. He needed me, though. I play better than he does. I could help him make the music he could hear in his head come out of his hands. That was twenty years ago.

Over the years, I became more than fond of Dave. I started to love him. I think the love started in 1999. He had taken time during a trip to Paris to visit a designer boutique. He brought me back my favorite baby gift. It was wrapped in an oh-so-French-baby-blue cake box. Inside was a delicious three-piece ensemble sewn of a mother's dreams of her adorable, perfect, baby boy.

Dave was a good sport a few years later when said boy, then a 3-year-old, ran into the room during Dave's lesson, picked up an end table and hurled it across the room. It just missed Dave.

His comment:

"Well, I didn't think I was playing that badly."

We continued the lesson.

We started to have my adult student get-togethers at his beautiful Victorian home. Tidbits of information trickled out. He was a forensic psychiatrist. Sometimes he would come straight to his lessons from visiting an inmate at San Quentin. Most of his cases involved murder. No wonder he wanted to play some Brahms.

I broke my rule; I went to his house to give him his lessons. He had gotten a rare form of leukemia and his immune system was compromised. I couldn't imagine him coming to my home: land of child-born germs and table-throwing.

He recovered completely. He resumed coming to my place.

The movie Milk came out. Dave started telling me about his life in the 70's in San Francisco. He had known Harvey Milk. In fact, he had spoken at Harvey's memorial service at the Opera House in San Francisco.

The prosecution had asked Dave to testify as an expert witness in the trial of Dan White. Dave had declined because he was afraid the defense would have said that his objectivity had been compromised. He wonders to this day if the trial would have ended differently had he testified. The Twinkie Defense wouldn't have held up. I'm sure of it.

This week, on Dave's 80th birthday, twelve of Dave's closest friends surprised him with dinner at Masa's.  Dave loves good food.

For my second course I had:

Composition of Early Spring Vegetables

roasted purple and white cauliflower, cipollini onions, brussel sprouts,

baby spring leeks, rapini, maitake mushroom "cream", pine nut "dust"

But I digress.

Dave's cousin, Helen, brought along a copy of a People Magazine article from May, 1979.  It featured Dave, then 48. His coming out made history. He was the first president of Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights, the nation's first formal organization of gay doctors. If any of you are relieved that being gay is no longer classified as an illness, thank Dave.

I showed the article to my daughter, Evie.

"Mom," she said. "Can I have this? I want to put it up on my wall."

I love that she's proud of him. I am too.


Obama got health care passed. It's a miracle. I'm thrilled.

It made me think of my friend, Nancy because I know she's going to be unhappy about it. She found McCain too liberal and thought Sarah Palin delightful. It's true. What she thinks and that she's my friend. I have a friend with whom I don't see eye-to-eye. Not even eye-to-chin.

Nancy and I violently disagree about all things political. She votes right, I vote left. I live in a world of art and music; she lives in a world of hardware. Literally. She works for her family's hardware distributorship. You'd think we wouldn't have anything to talk about but that isn't the case.

I call Nancy my oldest friend because our mothers were friends when my Mom was pregnant with me. That makes it all old: her, me, our Moms and our friendship.

I love Nancy's humor. She gave me a card last year for my 50th birthday. She took a print of "The Allegories of Music," a painting by the French artist Vanloo (1705-1765). It's a painting of three very cherubic children: a girl playing a pre-piano keyboard, and two boys looking on adoringly. It's sweet, but what I adore are the speech bubbles added.

The girl playing the keyboard (carefully labeled Diane H) says, "Someday I will play Carnegie Hall!"

To my right is Paul H, (my big brother, who has just adopted his fourth child, two from China, one from Nepal and the latest from Ethiopia,) who says, "Someday I will save the exotic baby at a time!"

The adoring boy on my left, Carl W (her big brother) says, "Someday my sister Nancy and I will sell hinges and slides to all of the custom cabinet shops in the State of California!"

Inside she inscribed,

Dear Lady Di,

May our childish dreams continue to be fulfilled.

Love, Nancy-girl.

I have lots of friend now, both new and old. I have people with whom I can talk about music, art, literature, parenting, gardening and politics. But if I really want to laugh and feel like there's someone really there hanging on every word, I call Nancy.

I called her when my Dad passed away a few months ago. She used to laugh, "My parents have been married 55 years and you are the only person that doesn't impress."

My parents were married for 68 years last June. She knew that 55 years was nothin'.

It was my Dad who went first. We'd both been dreading the moment when the first one went. We knew that all four of our parents had been living on borrowed time, especially our fathers.

She may vote for all the wrong people. She may cancel out every vote I'll ever make, but Nancy is my oldest friend and my dearest. I hope that when my daughter turns 50 she'll have a "Nancy" to write her a card that shows her understanding of her life and everything that matters to her.

Old friends are hard to find. Especially funny ones.