Ben’s Noble Square apartment was stale with used corn oil and cigarette smoke. His little bedroom was like a prison cell.
In bed, he used to read me the Tao Te Ching. We’d lie there naked under Guatemalan blankets, and his voice would be tender. I’d rest my head on his chest, and the words would flow over me, like cascading water caressing the mountain’s curving slope.
When he had these gentle moments, he seemed benign, almost like he was normal.
He used to make me hibiscus tea that he brewed in a mason jar, and he made me spaghetti sauce with bay leaves and sugar. “Vegetarian style,” he said. Once he made me a chile relleno casserole. He taught me how to grill flour tortillas over a gas flame on the stove. He pickled vegetables--carrots were my favorite. He gave me mangoes and pineapples and plums on ice. Sprirulina smoothies. Fresh-squeezed limeade and lemonade.
He had devised a way of making a living. He kept house for people on disability, a constantly changing number of people. There was Luis and Kim and Eric and Larry.
There was always coffee brewing. “Coffee and sugar,” he said. “Those will be the things that’ll be the hardest to give up, during the revolution. Better start stockpiling now.”
Before I knew him, Ben lived in Pilsen, with his alcoholic father, his father’s Mexican wife, and their children. Apparently, his father was a well-known dissident, and Ben and he had fought with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
And, for a while before I knew him, Ben lived in San Francisco. In the mornings, he would practice Tai Chi in Washington Park. He learned the art of massage from people that he met at Rainbow Gatherings.
He wrote me beautiful love letters on an old typewriter, possessive and insistent in his adoration of me.
He had a tattoo, though I can’t remember where. Was it on the back of his neck, or was it on the calf of his leg?
He danced with wild crazy abandon, flailing himself about like grease on a hot griddle.
He gave me odd presents, scavenged from neighborhood dumpsters. Mexican parkas, hats, cloth bags.
He liked to think of himself as a punk. He listened to the soundtrack from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, singing along in an exuberant way that he must have thought was theatrical. But he liked Bob Marley and the Residents (or was it the Replacements?) and the Ramones. He loved the Ramones.