This is a tribute for Felice Picano’s most recent book, True Stories Too: People and Places from My Past. There is a compelling cadence to his remembrance where the depth of detail is so beautiful with the excitement of a life lived to the fullest. His stories took my breath away. I am a gay man senior to Mr. Picano by more than a decade and I tried to match my experiences of where I was and what I might have been doing at the time of each of his stories. This rich memoir led me on a journey of remembrance which I might never have taken but for True Stories Too. Although the wrenching coverage of the time of AIDS reduced me to tears, it provided me the opportunity to recall the memory of my many friends and the important role they each played in my life. Like Mr. Picano, I was a caregiver to many and the staggering loss stirred me to greater involvement as an activist for gay rights.
Picano’s recounting of Greenwich Village as the home of gay establishments is a wonderful record of its long history as a mainstay for many New York City gay men and women. Men of my age joyfully compare our conquests at the old haunts of the Mineshaft and The Eagle, to mention just two of the great hangouts, and the foolhardy, daring, night visits to the crumbling piers along the Hudson River. Mr. Picano reminds us of the history of Greenwich Village from the time when it was just that, a colonial village. How many folks know of the extensive landfills that added acres of land to lower Manhattan? Or the site of Herman Melville’s long tenure as a shipping clerk or the pier where the survivors of the Titanic stepped safely ashore? We are indebted to him for this gentle reminder of Greenwich Village and how much it has meant to the gay community.
Then, just when I thought I could catch my breath in my read, I was whirled away on a wonderful visit to the Federalist on West 11th Street. This beautiful memory recounts the site where much of Mr. Picano’s writing was done and, apparently, was a very happy period of his eventful life. The history of this beautiful house and his time there as a tenant cries out for a more detailed story of the inhabitants through the years. The images of the nineteenth-century, ghostly housekeeper in her embroidered apron with the heavy ring of keys and the unfortunate Rachele Wall are haunting.
Picano took the time to tell us of his immigrant family, his youth, and his continuing adult involvement with relatives both here and in Italy. The harshness of his early childhood, the sometime love, and the growing respect of his Italian heritage gives us a hint of an insight to the source of some of his writing. His breaking away from family to struggle on his own for an education was an early sign of bravery in a life of challenges which he has met full on and not only conquered but excelled with his fine, penetrating writing.
Whether tales of his life partner, book tours, writing, friends, publishers, Greenwich Village, Tokyo, Berlin, Los Angeles or New England, they all resonate with the specifics of the particular locale and time and the importance each of them has had in his life. Early on I realized I must slow my reading pace to fully savor these all encompassing stories. For me, this memoir moves Mr. Picano to the head of the line of gay storytellers. I urge you to read it as soon as possible.
Garrison Phillips is a Korean War Veteran, a graduate of WVU, and a retired actor. He writes a blog, Everyday Strolls, for Senior Planet of OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) which teaches the Internet free to senior citizens. He has had articles and letters published in the quarterly journal of the Allegheny Regional Family History Society, The New York Native, The SAGE Newsletter, monologues in By Actors, For Actors, and a short story in Apalachee Review. His short story “Humpty Dumpty” and his memoir “Prof and Lily” appeared in Chelsea Station.