Carl and I were together only two years, but during that time, we had some great adventures and misadventures. More than once, we hitchhiked up the coast trying to make to Oregon. Never got there. Even on the road, Carl wore his signature suit jacket (which he called his "soot," as in “this furnace is choked with soot”), sweater vest, and tie. And even camping out on the beach, he always carefully draped that tie over the nearest flat rock so that the next day it would be wrinkle free, and he could cut a snazzy figure sticking out his thumb by the roadside.
In the city, when we weren't working at the factory, we'd go to Specs to drink Irish coffee and play chess. Or we'd dash on the spur of the moment to Clown Alley in the middle of the afternoon when Carl was seized by a sudden, irresistible craving for a big juicy burger. Or go to matinees; we saw “The Godfather” in its first run at one of the old movie theaters on Polk Street, and I'll never forget how it bowled us both over; we could hardly even talk after we emerged from the darkness. Other times, we'd just hang out with our East-West buddies.
Probably the most dramatic thing that ever happened to us was the Christmas Eve fire that destroyed our apartment. Carl had moved into my tiny, one-room place with black walls, over a health food store at 19th and Castro when the neighborhood was just going into transition. I was away on a family-mandated trip to Bermuda, not for fun, but to visit ancient relatives, and Carl stayed in SF. When the fire started, it was the wee hours of the morning, and he barely got out before the flames consumed the building. After the fire was out, he made heroic efforts to rescue our stuff, mostly mine actually, and with the help of a fellow EW friend, Carrie, schlepped it across the street, where she made room to stash the smelly heaps of clothes and books in her apartment. Soon after, I got Carl's letter announcing the upsetting news. He told me about the fire and all the damage in the most careful and delicate way, trying not to shock me and urging me to stay till it was time for my scheduled trip home. Of course, in a dither, I left right away, as fast as I could – and I remember what a joy it was to see him (unscathed) waiting to pick me up at the airport (those were the days when anyone could go right to the gate to greet arriving passengers).
Carl was one of the most interesting people I ever met. He was tremendously intelligent, quirky, talented, and really, really funny. He was intolerant of whatever he deemed phony or fraudulent and had a sort of X-Ray vision that enabled him to detect any sort of pretension or phoniness a mile away. Along with that, he was unfailingly honest with himself and everyone else. Yet no one had a gentler spirit. He was all bark and no bite, however gruff he seemed on the surface.
He may not have won the fame and admiration that someone with his gifts deserved. But he made art anyway, for its own sake, and what inventive, witty, and imaginative work it was!
I never knew anyone who was so uncompromisingly himself, and so intensely alive, as Carl was. It's hard to believe that he's gone.