Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"Our Andrew is no more"


     Shocking, sad news Tuesday morning that Andrew Patner, WFMT stalwart, Sun-Times classical music and opera critic, and my old friend, passed away suddenly. "Our Andrew is no more," said his longtime partner, Tom Bachtell, adding that Andrew died after a very brief battle with a bacterial infection.
      He was the voice of cultural sophistication in the city, a lifelong Hyde Park intellectual, and good friend to so many.
      I owe my entire book publishing career to Andrew.  In the late 1980s, I barely knew him, but he offered me his agent, David Black, when my own agent couldn't seem to sell my stuff. Andrew was a supportive, tireless advocate. I learned to value his intelligent, delightfully world-weary opinion on all matters. He did not sneer at my amateur forays into opera, as another expert might have. Being a guest on his radio show was a pleasure. His brief biography of I.F. Stone is a classic. 
     The first column I ever wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that had my photo atop it was about Andrew, though I didn't name him. He helped me sort through the complicated view that straight men can have toward gays, particularly a quarter century ago, and if I developed a more enlightened perspective sooner than most, Andrew deserves much of the credit. He made me a better person, and I will miss him. This originally ran Nov. 4, 1990:
  
   By the time a man gets to be my age, the friendship dance card is pretty much filled. With the ceaseless grind of daily obligations, there isn't time to see the handful of friends I already care about, plus my wife, never mind letting just anybody else join the club.
     Maybe that makes me odd. Maybe most guys are like that. I don't know.
     So it was with a bit of surprise, and not a little fear, that I found myself recently becoming friends with a gay man.
     At 30, I wish I could say that I've had lots of gay friends, shared in-depth talks about their situations, participated in their lives. It would fit in with my neat, cosmopolitan view of myself. "Some of my best friends..."
     But it isn't true.
     Two years ago, when I met this guy — a journalist — I didn't know he was gay. He didn't manifest gayness in all the cliche ways I expected. If he had, I probably wouldn't have gone to that first lunch with him. Not out of prejudice. That would be wrong.
     Prejudice against gay people is not an accepted 1990s attitude. But then, I suspect that much of the Standard Party Line liberality everybody says they adhere to doesn't really jibe with their reflexive daily actions and unspoken meannesses of the heart.
     I didn't know he was gay. I went to lunch.
     He never laid his hand on my knee, but due to a tactful, unspoken inquiry, I figured it out: this guy was gay and wanted to find out if I was gay, too, so we could be gay together.
     The overture offended me greatly.
     The idea was rattling. I worried that I manifested some sort of gayness, heretofore unknown to me, that he had picked up on. Then there was an uneasy vertigo. Who can walk past the Scenic Overlook without, if only for a passing moment, imagining an impulsive leap over the edge? And here comes this guy, shouting, "Jump! Jump!"
     I was also peeved by the thought that he hadn't sought me out for my obvious fine and personable qualities. But for something dark and sexual, slithering below the surface.
     Had he not been such an interesting person, it would have ended there. "I'm sorry, but you've dialed the wrong number." However, I really liked him. He had all the admirable qualities I imagine in myself. I held my ground. Presenting my heterosexual credentials (a love of women; no attraction to men) I decided I was liberal and big-hearted enough to be friends with this gay person, who was smarter and more successful than I.
     The friendship simmered on low at first. Recently we've been talking more, perhaps because his roommate was dying of AIDS.
     As he reeled off this terrible situation — a good friend dying horribly, his office persecuting him — I was surprised by my lack of sympathetic reaction. After knowing him, and soaking up all those big Life magazine photo essays and everything, I think I was still shocked to find an actual person, suffering.
    In other words, the reaction of a bigot; the dry crust of indifference extended to people who are too unlike yourself.
     Realizing this has helped me regenerate a bit of the humanity sapped away by years of joking about fags with my buddies.
     His friend died. The last time we talked, he was fulfilling the mournful duty of bringing the obituary around to the papers. As he left, I thought: "He's at risk, too. How does he live with it?"
     Next time, I'll ask him.

8 comments:

  1. That is a moving column and now I understand better about your views. It certainly gives food for thought.

    Mrs. A

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am shocked and so sorry to here of Andrews passing. I discovered him as part of your online "hive" and especially enjoyed his occasional comments. Then I started watching for anything he wrote for the Sun Times. He will be missed, I am sure.

    ReplyDelete
  3. One of the kindest, most authentic people I've had the pleasure to meet in, or out of, journalism. Years ago, when I told him my son was considering going to Oberlin Conservatory, he said, "I know a few people there...I could make some calls." Of course, Andrew knew people everywhere. We were all lucky to have known him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whenever I would bump into him at an event, it was with the greatest gratitude, because I knew I would now enjoy an engaging conversation.

      Delete
  4. Well done Neil. Words fail. Perhaps "heartfelt."

    Did you ever ask him?

    Tom Evans

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for re-posting this column.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I just saw Ms. Murphy's post about Trump loving. Her blog pic says it all as to what type of person she is.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.