For photos of this persona, click here.
August, 1996—June, 2012
I seriously doubt that anyone has mistaken the title of this section of my curriculum vitae as a call for suitors, but if you’re into old farts, read on. It’s about how we folks of a certain age try to make our way. Almost stereotypically for guys in their mid-fifties, when my WESTAF job disappeared, I had to concoct a new life.
The first thing I did was take a trip to the Grand Canyon and on to La Jolla and Black’s Beach for a splendid nude week with sand and sea. After that relaxing vacation, the next step was to get on unemployment. Even before WESTAF left town, I’d already applied for a couple great positions with big local organizations, but lost out to candidates with better political connections. (I don’t think my being openly gay was the problem.)
With the leisure of not working, I started working on the verb ‘get’ again in a first draft which ten years later became “Getting Get.” But by December I’d run through any reasonable job opportunities was running out of my pittance of unemployment. So to make ends meet, I started helping my daughter Aimee’s guy Rich in his woodworking shop. (They’d moved to Santa Fe in 1990 so I was now well grounded with family in town.) The curious experience of manual work lasted through the spring of ’97.
Then in May I came into, shall we say, close contact with a striking Brazilian named Marcelo, as young as my daughters. Getting sexually involved again gave me a feeling I’ve recently learned the word for: akrasia–Ancient Greek for doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing but doing it anyway. My equipment proved in great working order. Also, right then my daughter Aimée and Rich got married (after being together for a decade), which loudly proclaimed my advanced age, but akrasia aside, young Marc made me forget such maudlin things. The very next month I got on at the College of Santa Fe as assistant to the dean, and I was back in the saddle professionally.
Marc moved in with me right away, and we had quite a summer of travels, including my third time to the Grand Canyon, as well as an intimate fall and winter. Marc and I dramatically split up in March of ’98 in a troubling scene that doesn’t bear telling. After the earlier dysfunctional partnership with Ernesto, the ill-considered fling with Marc was my only physical involvement in like 12 years. After that fling, I went right back to being a non-sexual.
Anyway, over the summer of ’98 I stupidly propagated zillions of cuttings of several types of jade trees from pruning my big specimen plants. By August, with nothing to do with them come winter, I started selling them on Saturdays at the Farmers Market down by the railroad tracks. In a couple months I’d sold most of the plants and made a fair piece of change. For the winter, I arranged to lodge the rest in a friend’s innovative pit-greenhouse. Inspired by the concept, I started digging my own hole in January ’99 (which with shovel and wheelbarrow took around 3 years).
Come May ‘99, I started back at the Farmers Market as a regular vendor with the jades and outdoor plants I dug up out of my overgrown flower gardens. When I’d sold off my iris bed, I started selling those of other people, re-doing their iris beds for free, and making off with any rhizomes left over. They sold like hotcakes, so much so that I left the College of Santa Fe and started half-time with Women’s Health Services, devoting the other half for the Market. On the take of just two weeks I bought a 1970 Chevy pickup I named Grover the Gray and looked for all the world like an authentic traditional farmer.
The business did so well that I baptized it Babylon Gardens (for the Hanging Gardens and my etymological background), and in the spring of ’00 left WHS to dig full-time in folks’ gardens for free merchandise. But business fizzled, and by August I had to go back to woodworking with Rich. In November, I found half-time work with the Santa Fe Community Foundation that led into a peaceful period of 12 years as half-time plant recycler with Babylon Gardens Salvage Nursery.
During that time, my first grandson, Jake’s boy Ike was born January 15, 2001 confirming my grandfather title, and in fall, 2002 I built the roof over the greenhole and started selling exotic houseplants as well.
In October, 2002 three more grandsons, Jake’s twins Bob and Sam, and Aimee’s Jammes were born. My multiplied title became Papou, the Grampyre.
Meanwhile, through the Market I’d gained wide reputation as the Iris Man (alternately the Used Plant Man) and started getting newspaper coverage as a unique business. (In one article, a customer called me “a character,” which I found quite flattering.) Babylon Gardens was indeed unique combining recycling with community service–and really cheap merchandise, a lot of it simply plastic grocery bags full of dirt and miscellaneous vegetation.
Part of my public Iris Man image at the Farmers Market was always wearing bright colors (an effective marketing ploy) and a signature visor cap, usually color-coordinated. I enjoyed folks looking at me, either to spur them to make a plant purchase or to admire my attractive persona. You see, I knew that for an oldster I was “good-looking,” apparently to all and sundry, having kept in superb shape with decades of daily Spa treatments and several years of weekly dancing. Out gyrating on the floor of the Paramount (or up on the stage at Rainbow Vision), in spite of being in my later sixties, I felt totally beautiful. Actually, I think beauty may mostly be in the mind of the beautiful.
The contentment of my grandfatherly years allowed me to focus on writing, working at last on my novel about New Orleans, and I published DIVINE DEBAUCH online with AuthorHouse.com in 2004. I turned immediately back to ‘get’ and in 2006 published that glossary of the wild verb in the same way. Going on Social Security in 2004, I kept working on at the Community Foundation until 2006 when I switched to a new organization called NGO New Mexico. In November, 2007, my last professional task was to close down that statewide association of nonprofits.
My work at the Market was very fulfilling, and I also enjoyed making sculptures again, found-object assemblages. My first sculpture show at the end of 2008 in the new Farmers Market building, I called Opus Uno and had remarkably good sales. Right around then I also started writing on an Egyptian inspiration for an animated feature script which carried me along creatively for a good couple years but wound up getting shelved. I seriously doubt there’s any hope of salvaging it. These things happen.
In late 2009, worn out after seven years of slavery to a hole in the ground, I closed down my greenhole and turned to selling yard plants exclusively, still specializing in iris. Then at the holidays I staged my second sculpture show, again at the Farmers Market, which I cleverly entitled Second Showing. It sold reasonably well.
By the fall of 2010, I was fed up with the increasingly horrible winters in Santa Fe and left town for three months on a writer’s retreat. I rented a small slave quarter apartment in the French Quarter and enjoying New Orleans’ mild winter, focused totally on a sequel to the first failed Egyptian screenplay. When my sojourn was over in March, 2011, I’d concluded that the sequel had also failed and put it too on the shelf as a dud.
Unfortunately, with the increasing drought conditions in New Mexico, the Market season in 2011 was rather poor. Over the holidays under financial pressure, I held my third sculpture exhibition called Yardart, but it was a flop. Perhaps as a reaction, I spent the first three months of 2012 writing on a memoir of 1964-65, the story of my going back into the closet, which finally got published in 2016 on my website as THERE WAS A SHIP.
Back at peddling plants, it was a slow start with one good week in early May, 2012 then downhill to diddle all through June. On Saturday, June 30, 2012, I held a huge going-out-of-business potlatch giveaway of every plant I had left with a little box out for much appreciated donations. By the end of the Market day, I’d disposed of everything and gotten donations for more than I could have sold the stuff for. Thus was Babylon destroyed. At the venerable age of seventy, I was suddenly no longer the Iris Man.
And now I’m supposed to give the lesson learned from being the Grandfatherly Gay Character. It may sound trite, but I think it’s this: Do what you love doing. Early on in my Farmers Market career I realized that this was exactly what I loved doing. There were echoes of my little flower gardens as a teenager in Arkansas (with a long row of purple iris that we called “flags”), and the utter joy of peddling peaches in the roadside stand by our house. It also recalled my jungle of palms and Rex begonias at the Four Belles in DC when I actually fantasized about opening a plant store; my long relationship with the jade trees (30 years!), that got me started at the Market; and my vast collection of plants all over the WESTAF building and the little house on West Alameda.
I tell folks that being the Used Plant Man was the happiest job I ever had. All old farts should be so lucky. Then I had to concoct a new persona which I’m calling the Venerable Old Queen. As a preview: I’ve now cut way down to just a few house plants (with a huge dracaena named Gina that’s been with me for 35 years) and an almost manageable flower garden with three dozen varieties of iris and a glorious almond tree.