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.
“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, you can 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.