Thursday, October 23, 2008

Home, Again

Looked up to see the old 'hood, and all the familiar sights. Overwhelmed with the rush of memory. Hitting the corner of 14 and Rhode Island was the startling moment.

Jim and Dan are my kind hosts for the weekend, and thrilled to connect with friends and colleagues here for a few days. Ben stopped in to Stoney's to say "hello", sparkly and sad.

So many thanks to Larry and Elisabeth, Tamara and Bob, David and Jim for organizing a remembrance to our departed friends. Great to see despite the sad occasion so many familiar faces.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Memorial in Progress

Michael Todd Hodges
(April 1968 - September 2008)

Photo: Memorial ice carving in the form of a double vodka luge by the staff of the Embassy Suites Hotel, Washington, DC. Courtesy of David DelRusso, General Manager.

Todd Hodges passed from my life three years ago, in sadness to both of us.

Partners in business, friends, confidantes for years. We came to desire different aims in our lives. He wanted to pursue a finer art, and struggled to reconcile a living from his commercial skills.

Todd had a gift for it, no doubt. He made his work look easy, though that was never quite true. Relentlessly curious, he would often attack a problem by focusing on something completely different. The more he dithered, the closer he was to the “aha”.

He came to begrudge the work, feeling that a piece of his joy went into every assignment deserving or not, and that was a tragedy because, for him, the store of his wonder seemed finite. Friends gathered for a memorial celebration on October 25, and I was touched to learn from his colleagues at the that Todd found his way in recent years to integrate his professional and personal passions. That is a great comfort. 

Outside the commercial realm, Todd could give, graciously, enthusiastically, even affectionately, but had the greatest challenge in receiving love. It was a life-long struggle, and that reality may help us to understand why he chose to keep the gravity of his illness so intensely private for so long -- no matter how we might have wished to help shoulder some of his burden. He was fortunate to know friendships and kindness from housemate David Del Russo and friend Jim McConnell, and the love of Elisabeth and Larry Rivers. His mother, Patricia was with Todd at the end of his life. Our hearts are touched by her sadness and for the still too recent loss of her mother.

Todd's love for his grandmother was absolute, unreserved and the connection fierce. Her style, her graciousness,, her manners, and her many bon mot were a lodestar: “Dahling,” he would mimic in her drawl, “I never learned to type or pump gas because I figured someone would make me.” And another favorite, “There is a lot of taste in this world, darling, and most of it is bad.” He loved to talk about her brilliant magnolia trees trailing down to the dock that took them crabbing on the river in better years. For that, of course, she also had a pearl to offer on the subject of crab, “Darlin', that’s a lot of work for not much food.”

Her death would have been piercing to Todd, no doubt, for she too had traveled through Washington – the old Washington of her younger days -- and that mannered world held a fascination for Todd. He lived with great knowledge of past and present.

From that erudition and curiosity, Todd developed a fine taste in everything.

He was never shy about sharing it either.

Not as a snob, he was above that, but as a teacher and pedagogue. He was able to help me see color and light and form in new ways. And certainly his fellow students at the Corcoran School pattered themselves on his outward style, while others he brought to his insights helping them to achieve new artistry. At the memorial celebration, his friend Garrett Martin spoke of the costume Todd helped him fashion. Garrett was determined to go to a pageant of Queen Elizabeth I. Todd helpfully connected Garrett's love of automobiles with his love of royal showmanship by proposing an everyday auto filter to serve as the ruff in the costume. Vintage Hodges, there: insightful, clever, and love of the dramatic.

A few stories:

- Maybe talented professionals are shared among friends like a reliable plumber, or hair stylists -- or more seriously with therapists. Todd recommended a counselor who was truly a great help to me over time. That several of my dearest friends also received his counseling meant that we learned how to talk to each other – and parse the sub-text in every conversation. Todd brought that gifted insight to our every argument and every challenge. It was annoying that he could pierce by bullshit so easily. But the same insight when applied to himself, and he did know himself, he just couldn’t apply.

- Bunny cake at Nora’s. We celebrated his 35th birthday with a small group at the precious Nora’s. He had one request in addition to the gathering of friends. As his birthday always ran close to Easter, he wanted a homemade birthday cake for dessert, with apology to Nora. Todd’s suggestion was to take a Betty Crocker box mix and sex-it-up with a cup of wine instead of the proscribed water. Stayed up all night to bake and mix frosting and cut out rabbit ears, and paste them together. Of course, the result was comical and marvelously complex; took the stuffing right out of the rarified airs and haute cuisine.

- Joy and “Sordid Lives” Halloween in New Orleans. We were barely open a month in 2000, and had long-standing plans to travel in late October. Todd called it “sissy Christmas”. Took the brief literally over a cel phone, wrote the brief on the plane, concepting on the bed overlooking the French Quarter. Presented the day of our return – a little bleary, but energized to be undertaking our first client project. “Blitz” was never more appropriate to the task.

His love for New Orleans, the history, the underside and the promise of performing on a larger stage where his gift could be appreciated in all its glory. Still famous to this day, our Gucci trio and the T-shirt in rhinestones, based on the movie “Sordid Lives". It read in glittery boldness: Can you smell my pussy now?

- Friendship shared. Thanksgiving dinner at Tony Hain’s house. His first event in a new home. All the preparations for a perfect occasion. A beautiful table, all the trimmings: cranberry relish, Tony’s childhood favorite – a savory giblet gravy, and a fat turkey that got started way late. Late afternoon arrived and several bottles later, um make that many bottles of wine later the meal was getting close. Tony was making final preparations, standing at the sink with a serving and making to open the plastic container with the silky, still gelatinous gravy. In a flash, the gravy turned itself up and outside, landing smack in the sink drain. We watched in horror and agony to see the perfect dinner spiraling into the depths of the Anacostia. Well this was not to be. Out we dashed to – what was open at this hour? – not the grocery closed at that late hour, but to CVS to ransack the shelves for something. No gravy to be found, but working from some Progresso chicken soup, a basic roux and some of the pan drippings, we mixed and stirred and whipped up a reasonable facsimile to pull the dinner on track. Inventive and sensitive he was.

Throughout history, our heroes are both flawed and great, and they suffer in their quest. Achilles defeated Troy, but fell when an arrow pierced his heel, the soft spot unprotected by his mother’s hand. I am told in his Facebook profile a last post says that “Todd has given up”. I never knew him to give up, or give in very much.

To say goodbye now is bittersweet when I would have wanted to make amends had there been an opening, a gesture or a hint. He always said to me, “You’re never promised another day.” And the moral was plain: to live one’s life richly and with curiosity, and with care for today. So can we each take this lesson to heart. Would that we follow our instincts and own advice more, each day, because our pride is nothing but our own Achilles’ heel in the end.

Farewell, friend. Go down to the river. Savor the sweet crab underneath the ever-blooming magnolia, and be at peace.

Living (Room)

Dark is the night sky
Pricked by silvery sills.

The window near a sparkling mirror
Reflections lit from this room of mind.
Spilling with hope and memories that bind.