A few things have occurred recently, conspiring to bring the memory of my Uncle Vince back to the forefront of my mind. To be truthful, though, he has never been far out of my immediate consciousness since his murder (if you are new to the site, you can refer to CoTW 53 and 54) just over a year ago.
As I write, the United States Senate is holding the first of two days of hearings about the repeal of the shameful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law banning openly homosexual Americans from serving in the military.
Any reasonable American should be ashamed and embarrassed that this is even a topic of discussion, especially at this point in our history. I'm not here in this space to argue it; there is no argument. Such a law is, at minimum, a disrespectful insult to men and women who have and continue to serve, fight, and die for their country. Vincent Pravata served his country overseas during Vietnam while in the Navy. And he was a gay man. As his nephew, godson, and executor of his estate, I feel obligated to add his name and face to the context of this pathetic debate, during which Sen. John McCain continues the downward spiral that is the unspooling of his own reputation as a once reasonable senator.
There have been other reminders, mainly his birthday, the one-year anniversary date of the murder, trial updates (the killer is in a jail cell awaiting a trial that is unlikely to happen until late 2011 at earliest), and some small things, like the song I wrote borne from the experience, “The Big Light,” about to be released on the upcoming new Buffalo Tom record.
In many ways, Vince fit a stereotype of a gay man -- interior designer; antiques importer; health nut who did everything he could do to slow the signs of age (not afraid of a bit of Botox either); had a penchant for Amy and David Sedaris, Maria Callas, and Eva Cassidy; he drove a sky-blue Audi convertible; and so on. He got a little kick out of an email friendship he had with the author Augusten Burroughs. I loved spending time with him, especially in his house, picking up on design tips, trends (63 year-old man more up on trends than his nephew 20 years younger), eating well, and using his myriad grooming sundries. He gave me travel candles to bring on tour that would make any shitty motel room feel like a room at the Four Seasons. Well, almost.
And the soaps, oh, the collection of soaps! This was a man who took orders for friends and ordered wholesale quantities of imported Italian and Scandinavian olive and lemon soaps. I remember from the time of my adolescence the fine smells that made me feel like I was in a spa. He was my personal Queer Eye for this Straight Guy. Though, to be truthful, I think he thought I was mostly beyond any help he could provide. We still turned each other on to music, books, and movies, though.
Adding salt to the wound of his death was the fact that at the time of his murder, he had just finished a spectacular master suite addition to his modest South Miami three-bedroom house. The master bath was a truly spa-like Zen masterpiece. He did not have more than a couple of weeks, if that, to enjoy it. It was where I spent my time there while I attended to the estate and selling the house itself. I went through the drawers using grooming tools, creams for every imaginable part of the body, and would linger in the five-head shower with a big window overlooking a lush tropical garden.
As we emptied out his house, we saved most of his special items, many of which were specifically bequeathed in his will. We sold some other things to the buyers of the house. And we donated bedding, clothes, appliances, and housewares to charity. I loaded up by luggage with many things I could fit into my luggage, mostly things of sentimental value. I brought home is iPod Touch and a vintage 1950s glamour statuette bust of a starlet with eyelashes flickering for my daughter. And I grabbed his and his father’s service medals and colors for my son and Navy dog tags for my brother. I packed away crates of stuff to ship home. And I made sure to clear out the bathroom closet all the bars of soap my bag could hold.
We only ran out of the last sliver of the last bar of that soap earlier this autumn. As I scrubbed and watched the last fragment turn to lather and the suds disappear down the drain in our own newly remodeled bath (funded in part from a bit of an inheritance he left), I was pretty sure it was a tear running down my face in the shower.
A Little Bit Of Soap mp3
I have been boring people with my cover of this old Bert Berns-penned song for years. I remember playing it live on a short solo acoustic run down the east coast about 10 years ago with my co-pilot, Mike O'Malley riding shotgun. The refrain has been running through my head for the whole year, for obvious reasons.