To recognize what would have been Randy’s 70th birthday, today I am sharing some quotes from the oral history interviews I conducted for my book. Specifically, I asked each person to remember the first time they met Randy and the impression he made, and I concluded by asking them to describe what they see as Randy’s last influence in society. This is just a small sample of the many memories people shared with me, but if Randy were alive today, I think he’d be quite moved, amused, and grateful for how they still remember him.
By the end of 1981, both Time and Newsweek had joined the mainstream papers in publishing cursory stories on the epidemic, but much of the credit for keeping gay cancer in the headlines lay with a small handful in the gay media who, often against the wishes of their publishers and advertisers, insisted on keeping it there.
Prior to the MMWR’s announcement, Kramer had already witnessed an alarmingly rapid decline among some of his friends. “We’re appalled that this is happening to them and terrified that it could happen to us,” he wrote. “It’s easy to become frightened that one of the many things we’ve done or taken over the past years may be all that it takes for a cancer to grow from a tiny something-or-other that got in there who knows when from doing who knows what. . . .”
“This is our disease and we must take care of each other and ourselves.”
In adjusting to post-vaccination life in the age of COVID-19, re-reading this history has helped me to reflect on just how difficult, yet innately human it is, to struggle with a “new normal” when forces beyond our control make life as we’ve known it impossible (or impractical) to continue living as we had before.
It’s been hard to keep a partition between reading for work and reading for pleasure. If it’s something that might have bearing on the content of my book, I want to take notes. Reading for pleasure should be, well, more pleasurable, but the eyes and brain weren’t having it when I’d try to pick up a book in the evening for the fun of it.
With respect to the attention economy, Goldhaber notes, “We struggle to attune ourselves to groups of people who feel they’re not getting the attention they deserve, and we ought to get better at sensing that feeling earlier.” While he’s making this observation about those who recently tried to overthrow the 2020 election, the comment gives me pause because I think it applies quite aptly to the stories of ordinary people that Randy often featured in his work. To the extent that attention functions as currency in our society, what can we make of someone who was undeniably ambitious, yet tried to use his journalism to help lesser-known and less powerful individuals?
It perhaps goes without saying that in order to establish and maintain healthy, productive social relationships, we need to start by paying attention to each other. Simplistic as it may sound, this is a crucial step toward establishing more substantial bonds like empathy, attachment, mutual concern, and reciprocity. “Attention is a bit like the air we breathe,” Warzel comments. “It’s vital but largely invisible, and thus we don’t think about it very much unless, of course, it becomes scarce.”
Turning through page after page, the voice in my head that hates being uncomfortable was telling me, “Close it up. I have to use the bathroom. I’m hungry and thirsty. There’s nothing new here, so let’s go.” Soon, I was down to one last piece of paper to examine, which I was sorely tempted to skip. After all – what could I possibly find, that I hadn’t already seen?
By stepping into the role of biographer, I realized that I’d taken on the part of quasi-time traveler, putting myself in the same place at different moments and connecting what I’d witnessed in archival footage with the evidence provided by my own senses.