A very close friend of mine, Ernie, had a terrible fire in his home and I've been talking to him a lot. He and his partner, Chris, are emotionally devastated. It happened this past Sunday and the enormity of what it all means is just beginning to sink in.
It was an electrical fire that was caused by a short circuit in the wiring of a surge protector connected to his computer. It got tangled and twisted in some way and caught fire under a big oak table. Then it swept through the whole top floor -- den, living room, bathroom, kitchen and dining room.
He had just left the apartment, too. Around 9:15 Sunday morning.
At 9:45, he was sitting on Sunset Blvd. having breakfast with another friend of ours, Danny (who's an indie filmmaker), watching the fire engines roll right past.
Scary. Horrible. But, ruled the Fire Marshal, an accident.
Ernie and Chris are modest people who do not seek the spotlight (though Ernie gave me permission to talk about them here). They're not in the show biz, but they they love movies, theater and going to concerts. Our conversations are always about art and music and politics and religion and life. We laugh a lot. Say the worst, most inappropriate things. We can be real with each other, something that's rare. And I'm writing all this because I'm thinking of them and how much I love them and I don't know how to express how utterly devastated I feel for them.
Of course, when I saw Ernie on Monday morning, what I actually said was, "How could you do this to me?!?!"
He laughed out loud, but his eyes immediately reverted back to sad.
It's what he always says to me when I have bad news. A signal between friends that you already know. Ernie and Chris are far from rich. They've spent the last 25 years together, working very hard, scrimping and saving enough to get the mortgage on this, their own place in a small apartment building.
This past July, there were married at West Hollywood City Hall. I was there, taping the whole celebration.
But, now. Suddenly, they needed a place to stay. What about their clothes? And work? Pictures? Music? Videos? Kitchen stuff? Miraculously, the downstairs bedroom was spared. But the water and smoke damage is extensive. Danny and I are gonna go with him on Friday so Ernie can see that part for the first time. The personal loss is incalculable.
But you know, they also have one other thing: a community of friends. Both Ernie and Chris take friendships very seriously, and everyone who knows them, loves them. Despite the gravity of the loss, what I saw in the faces of the friends was an eagerness to help. To do anything.
Sleeping was merely a matter of moving upstairs, thanks to Joie, who, when I walked in, had taken over talking to the contractors sent by the building co-op while Ernie sat on a small balcony smoking (and crying).
He told me, "I'm smoking again. I had just stopped."
Chris was out getting sandwiches. They assured me there was nothing I could do. Their burned apartment was blockaded.
But looking in the door, it was a black gaping maw. Horrible is its utter blackness.
They will survive this. E was already back in his office by Tuesday, though his boss offered him as many days off as he needed. They did not have fire insurance, but building itself does. So, hopefully, the basic rebuilding costs will be covered.
As for whether their "legal" marriage will survive November 4, that's in the hands of others, apparently, with this hideous Proposition 8. Fires can burn them out. Politics can strip them of their rights as a couple, but they will survive all of this because they are massively and insanely loved.
And that's something no one can take away.