Issue:        09.30.01 
Page:       n/a
Comfort comes in a variety of forms

Jane Ganahl
  Sunday, September 30, 2001

Days after the catastrophe that changed our universes -- both micro and macro -- we wait for the dominoes to stop falling, but clearly they have not. Instead they fall ever more surely: stocks diving, numbers of dead climbing, hearts growing sicker, despite the efforts at healing.

Everyone in the group -- even those lacking traditional spiritual beliefs --

has sought out the comfort that gatherings offer in the days following the catastrophe: a Glide-sponsored church event, the city-sanctioned oratory fest at Bill Graham Civic -- even a political rally. Everyone is looking for hows: how this could happen and how we can go on from here.

Now that the initial shock has worn off, relative radio silence among the tribe has been replaced by a flurry of e-mails: how to contribute, where to donate blood -- everything up to and including poetry by W. H. Auden and words by the Dalai Lama. No business is being done; those on the delicious tenterhooks of breakthroughs -- Sarah's recording contract, Jack's book contract, Greg's script-writing project -- must content themselves to wait for the sun to start shining again before anyone cares about their labors of love.

Only Evan's creative powers are in urgent demand right now: a film he's being romanced into directing that he knows little about yet. But his meeting set for today has been pushed back; producers were unable to get flights to the City, and he's trying to be patient despite his excitement.

But he and Sarah both are turning their anxiety into action. Both have determined that their next shows, his tonight and hers next week, will be benefits: Evan's for the Red Cross and Sarah's for the United Way. But both wonder quietly if anyone will show up.

I have a conflict with Evan's show tonight: My former lover, a New York comedian, is also scheduled for stage time in the City this weekend. He has already missed two of those nights, unable to get a flight out of New York, and is down to his last two.

I wonder if he will make it at all. I wonder why he would want to leave home just now.

I wonder if he'll be able to find anything to joke about.

I wonder if I might lose my self-control and throw myself at him, such is my extreme need for comfort -- the kind that sex could maybe offer. Maybe.

-- -- -- -- -- --

Evan's band is scheduled to play early at El Rio, and I am startled at how many people are there, less than a week after the tragedy. It seems the arc of public sentiment has gone from: "Hide! The world is an evil place!" to "Music equals healing." Or, at least, "Booze equals numbness" -- there is a huge amount of alcohol being purchased tonight.

Stephan the rock star is here, to support the efforts of Evan, one of his oldest friends. His own band played a big show in the Central Valley this week,

and donated all the proceeds to the Red Cross, so he's feeling good about his own contribution.

"Those firefighters, man -- they didn't even hesitate. They walked up those stairs and into an incinerator," he says with troubled eyes. Then he and Sarah get into a peppery debate about the value of a military response.

"I would just like it, for once, if the United States waited until they were sure of their target," Sarah hisses, ever fearlessly opinionated, "instead of taking out thousands of women and children by accident."

Zoe is here with Martin, who rarely comes out to such funky events, preferring to stick to his posher (and older) peer group. But they are clinging to each other sweetly -- so close that I wonder if their sexual standoff (shall-we-or-shan't-we?) is a thing of the past.

"This is the first time I've been out of the house," says Zoe, a native New Yorker whose financier father lost many friends this week. "I was so glued to the TV. But I needed a break from it; I felt like I was drowning."

When the band finally takes the stage, Evan manages a halting intro. "We debated whether we should play, but we decided maybe this was one way to make people's lives a little better."

They kick into one of my favorite tunes, and soon the faithful are singing along -- Stephan at the top of his lungs -- and smiling, and soon dancing. The sight brings tears to my eyes.

-- -- -- -- -- --

I race across town to the comedy club, to find my old flame in the last half-hour of his set, which is being greeted with wild appreciation by a packed house. I tuck myself quietly into the back corner, accept a stiff drink from the owner and watch. He is amazing: angry and funny and unafraid to risk losing the audience by talking about our less-than-Mensa-worthy president. He avoids the subject of the actual event, but focuses on the nimnulls in the news, Falwell especially, and the absurdities of life in general.

He gets a standing ovation -- so much for the notion that flag-waving is the only way to reach people these days -- and exits to the back of the room. He is surprised to find me there. Of course he is, since he has not stayed in good touch since it became obvious we would not be a long-lasting couple.

We go for drinks, and his company is soothing like cough medicine -- and makes me just as high. He has endless tales of the days following the calamity,

which he relates with anger but no bitterness. Even more tales of his TV deal in the works. He finally asks me how I am.

"How am I?" I stammer, and my eyes well with tears again. "Unglued."

He takes my hand and squeezes it. "As are we all."

Hours and many drinks later, standing on the cold, deserted street, the goodbye looms. He reaches for me in a nonplatonic way. I pull back.

"To resume something just because you're here . . . would make me feel even more alone tomorrow," I sigh. "I need my strength right now, and you'd take it with you when you fly home to New York."

He smiles, we hug and I walk to my car alone, but momentarily at peace.

Catching up To read previous installments of "Cosmopolitans" on the Web, go to sfgate. com/cosmopolitans.

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