La Vie Boheme

Last night I had the opportunity to see the 20th anniversary of the Broadway musical RENT.  Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched the character Angel die of AIDS. Memories of my sweet sad goodbye with Garryn, a close friend who had contracted HIV AIDS in the 1990s washed over me as I watched Angel’s lover, Collins, struggle with the loss of his beloved.

I had lived in a commune of sorts on Ironwood Drive in San Jose whom a witty friend had dubbed “The House of Chaos”.  I lived with Tyagi and a rotating cast of characters over the course of 9 years from 1990 to our fateful move in 1999.  At first, I was hesitant to move in, as I didn’t know Tyagi well and was afraid to trust my intuition.  Soon we were in full swing, with weekly house meetings where a self-proclaimed anarchist, John, would accuse me of being “rectilinear” when I complained of food left out on the kitchen counters and mice scuttling across the floors.  My housemate Stacy would cross dress and often appeared in latex and little else. She/he (pronouns weren’t yet a thing then) decorated their room with mannequins and eye-catching textiles, which would find their way onto the hall and living room walls.

Four pinball machines and three Atari arcade game machines (including Asteroids) stood prominently in our small living room, leaving little room for sitting.  John the anarchist (and future Atari video programmer) had towed them across country from Ohio.   A wall in the kitchen was reserved for graffiti and witticisms.  I called it the wailing wall.  “Free your ass and your mind will follow” was written in bold black ink across half the wall.  Our house saw wild parties with strange confluences of people on the fringe of society including artists, anarchists, scholars, occultists, and kinky folk. It was a suburban version of the Bohemia depicted in RENT’s East Village New York City scape.

Walking out of the musical, I felt heartache for a life lost. I felt like I had traded a life of stability for the excitement (and seomtiems fear) of the unknown.  I wondered whether my childhood exposure to my parents’ Bohemian circles had created my longing for the unknown.  I reveled in the after-dinner conversations of these artists and academics, whetting my thirst for a stimulating and unconventional life.


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