The Columbarium

When you’re in San Francisco, you really should visit the Neptune Society Columbarium. On tiny Lorraine Court off Anza behind the Coronet Theater, it’s mentioned in the better tourist guides, but you don’t have to worry about crowds, as it lacks the lowest-common-denominator appeal of Fisherman’s Wharf. It had fallen into disrepair, but was acquired by the Neptune Society and gradually restored during the late seventies and early eighties. A strange and wonderful building, it is quite interesting architecturally and extremelyinteresting sociologically. The interior is utterly surreal and was the scene of the most astonished moment of my life.

About ’81 or ’82, I had a former repeat trick become casual friend named Lou who I didn’t see very often any more but knew had taken up with a really ditzy young lover I had barely met. One day, though, I got a phone call from him telling me that Lou had died of a heart attack after his fiftieth birthday party, the attack having been at least partly provoked by some post-party recreational refreshments. There was to be a memorial service at the Neptune Society Columbarium next week, and the lover was going through Lou’s address book notifying potential mourners. So I went.

As the mourners were gathering before the service and regaling each other with tales of how we had first had Lou, I turned a corner and found myself face to face with him. He was looking quite good under the circumstances, since he was walking toward me! And then he spoke, crossly, “What are you looking at me like that for?!”

I sensed immediately that this was a test. Unfortunately, like all too many of the others, one for which I was not well prepared and which, worse yet, was not multiple choice.

Gasping, I made a full, if a bit blunt, confession. Luckily, Lou Ryan had a sense of humor, and kindly let me know that the service was for LouJones, another former trick of about the same age who also happened to have recently acquired a ditzy young lover whom I didn’t know.

The service itself was anticlimactic.

But why, aside from the architectural interest, should you visit the Columbarium? Examine the contents of the crypts, noting the sex of the deceased and their dates as you ascend to, say, the third floor. You see detailed the progress of an epidemic.

And richly detailed in many cases since large numbers of the crypts contain the urns of a gay couple and are decorated with gay themes.

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