Friday, December 3, 2010

CoTW 94 -- A Little Bit of Soap

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.

17 comments:

Ro said...

Although this made me cry, I loved it. I also loved all those soaps and purchased some each time I went to his shop on the Miracle Mile. It made me appreciate the special soaps and I now buy them whenever I am in a store that sells them. I spoke to him after reading this and told him how much he was loved and is missed. And he smiled. I am so proud of you and your siblings for the kind and compassionate things you do.

Lawrence said...

Great piece as always, Bill. Good luck for the Boston Music Awards, you deserve some credit for the work you put into this, we all appreciate it.
Also thanks for the ongoing rock and roll education, i never knew the name Bert Berns, he's not as well known as people like Holland/Dozier/Holland but having looked him up i recognise most of his songs.

Anonymous said...

Me thinks you could honor the man better without the moral arrogance of thinking you know better than an actual serviceman.

Bill Janovitz said...

Anon, which actual serviceman? Gates? Mullins? Any of the majority that answered the survey that they would not be affected by serving with openly homosexual person? I assume you side with flip-flopping (on whose advice and which report he would consider to vote for repeal) McCain and the minority. Talk about moral arrogance. There is not much more immoral or arrogant than banning a class of Americans from serving their country should they so choose, or inviting them to lay down their lives as long as they keep in the closet.

Speaking of closet, anon, come out into the sunshine and provide your name to prove that you have the conviction to stand behind your comments and accusations of "moral arrogance" and so on.

Bill Janovitz said...

I found a setting that requires commentors to be registered, even with Open ID. I think the web is mired with and weakened by anonymous rock throwers. I encourage everyone to speak up here, but at least sign on with some identity. I like to see if someone is posting comments on different subjects/posts. Hopefully this sits well with all readers.

Ro said...

Bill your message was pure of heart. People are free to disagree with you on issues, which is what makes our country great, but nothing anyone thinks or says will diminish your intent which I believe was your love for your uncle. It is all good and can only be diminished if you let it be.

Bill Janovitz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reese said...

hey bill loving the new BT track, are you guys hopping to tour like you did with the last album? ie come back to aus :)

Mike H. said...

I'm proud to live in a state that elected such a principled Senator to serve in the "Ted Kennedy Seat." A man who looked at the current state of evidence and changed his stance on the issue. Perhaps one day we will have a President who will not make his argument against Homosexual Marriage based on his religious beliefs.

Mike H. said...

I wake up today proud to live in a state that elected a measured and reasonable man to the "Ted Kennedy Seat." Perhaps one day I will wake up in a country where the President doesn't make his argument agaist Gay Marriage based on his own personal religous beliefs.

halfralfwiggum said...

Billy Bragg wrote a song for his "Worker's Playtime" album called "Tender Comrade" which he sang acapella. It is about one soldier speaking to another and asking what will become of the bond thay had in the darkest hours of their service, how they became closer in the fear of death than many of the stereotypical depictions of brothers in arms. It speaks to this discussion and no matter where you stand on the subject, you will be moved by it. I, for one, am not opposed to gay men and women serving in the military. Here is a link to the song on youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1MPF6gOHXc

dante said...

Naked Scotty Brown shows his "principles": "I am keeping an open mind, but I do not support moving ahead until I am able to finish my review, the Pentagon completes its study, and we can be assured that a new policy can be implemented without jeopardizing the mission of our military." In other words, he has decided to discriminate against fighting American men and women, for nothing more than political reasons. Shame on us for electing this moron.

Mike H. said...

When my man Joe Liberman splits this out in to a separate bill with Sen. Collins (R) of Maine I will be shocked if Brown doesn't vote Yes and eat the appropriate serving of crow.

Mike H. said...

http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/2010/12/big-boost-for-dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-brown-backs-senate-bill-.html

dante said...

OK. Naked Scotty is on the right side of this, again. However, it could have been a done deal, and now it is up in the air--with not much time for this congress to get it done, and I'm damn sure the next one won't do it at all. Imagine THAT: He gets to tell us in MA that he is not a homophobe, yet the repeal doesn't go through, so nationally no one cares!! Now that is cynical.

Mike H. said...

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20025987-503544.html

Randy Reichardt said...

I've probably said this before, but you have honoured your Uncle through your many blog posts about him, lovingly written from the heart. As such, we have all benefited because we now know him through you, and what he meant to your family. Thanks for this, and for the great cover.