This work was done by Fred's boyfriend from the 1960's, Richard Passantino, who changed his name at some point to Richard Santino. Richard went on to become the lover of Richard Poirier, a noted literary critic. Mr. Poirier acknowledged Richard Santino as his lover, and as the creator of the collage for the front cover of his book "Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing" which remains a valuable reference on Frost's work. (A scan of the cover is included after the jump at the end of this post.) This book was assigned to us in a class taught by Joseph Brodsky at Columbia when I was a poetry student there. I did not take the time to read the introduction of the book back then, so I had no clue of the connection until researching this post, but it goes to show what a small world this is.
Why I like this piece:
Fred was one of the best people to know if you were a young man coming out of the closet. He had been involved with the Mattachine Society in the early 60s. He regaled me with tales of how secretive gay bars and gay society was when he first came out. He talked about the codes and signals that gay men used to identify each other in social situations, and how careful it was necessary to be at work. He told me of his love for NYC; how it provided a gay man a real life. He talked about his flirtations with students and with how he and his friends had come to know and love one another.
That was Fred; one of the most generous men I've ever met. I still use the stainless flatware that he gave me when I had to move out of the dorm. He nursed and nurtured me through the usual heartbreaks and fears of becoming an out gay man.
Fred too was taken by HIV. He became ill on a visit to his beloved Puerto Rico. During our last phone conversation, he spoke from his hospital bed. I was in the process of losing two other friends and couldn't bring myself to tell him of these other catastrophes. So while I kept the conversation light and topical, he pronounced me as being a very boring person.
As was so often the case, when Fred passed away his "family" swept in to remove all the evidence, as if the family he had created in New York was of no account. (Yes, I deem the quotes to be correctly applied.) They did have the good grace to ask me if there was anything in particular I wanted. His portrait was the first thing that came to mind.
You can see the cover of "Robert Frost" by Richard Santino after the break.