Mark Abramson's 'Laughing Matters'

  • Tuesday October 17, 2023
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author Mark Abramson
author Mark Abramson

Prolific author and colorful Castro fixture Mark Abramson reanimates his life as seen through the lens of the global pandemic in this energetic, expressive book of diary entries. Keeping a diary is nothing new to the author, who admits to keeping a journal since his 18th birthday, with requisite gaps in time while he worked on other projects or was "simply too high on life or drugs or falling in love."

An unofficial sequel to Abramson's "Arlene Francis and Me" which consisted of earlier pandemic reflections beginning in 2020, this book mirrors those themes and pushes forward from January 2021 when the author roamed the empty Castro district where bars and restaurants were still being ordered closed by the city. He also takes time to grumble about all the Christmas decorations still present in the neighborhood well after the close of the holiday.

Some of the details are mercilessly mundane and superfluous, but it's when the author gets serious, nostalgic, writes poetically, or becomes lightly philosophical and speaks from the heart is when it all becomes worth the trip.

A few pages in there's an entry from January 6, the day the "Trump cult stormed the U.S. Capitol" and Abramson calls the media out for focusing on that event instead of the alarming Covid-19 death count. That same month saw the deaths of pioneering sex worker Margo St. James, iconic actress Cloris Leachman, and gay rights activist Ken Jones, all of whom the author fondly acknowledges.

Mark Abramson's previous dairy-style book, "Arlene Francis and Me"  

Sacred places
Nostalgia is embedded everywhere throughout the memoir. The author, who remembers falling in love with San Francisco when he was 23, lovingly reflects back on the 18th and Castro location formerly known as "Hibernia Beach" that was both a fun place for gay men to gather and flirt shirtless in the 1970s and '80s, but also a sacred place of memoriam "covered with photographs of the gay men who died that day or that week or that month" from AIDS.

He also contributes his own personal history as a longtime HIV survivor from an initial diagnosis in 1988 to today, through AZT trials to a modernized Biktarvy regimen.

He writes vividly and candidly about being shell-shocked by the events transpiring across the last few years (MAGA-madness, climate change, the media's open denigration of San Francisco, and Covid-19) which only exacerbated his attempt to emotionally reconcile with "aging as a gay man in America."

As diaries go, a good amount of the narrative is freeform and rambling. This results in Abramson writing about his sexy neighbor in one breath, then to the health of his staghorn fern "reaching out with patriotic joy and rebirth in this Joe Biden Era in America" in another, then on to adventures with his cat Rufus, or spiraling down "YouTube rabbit holes," his jock itch, and frequent sojourns up to Buena Vista Park.

Marijuana-inspired or not ("I'm so stoned right now it's hard to write," he often admits) it tends to create a chatty, effortlessly breezy reading experience and even tickles the funny bone on occasion. A section on former San Francisco police department sensation Chris Kohrs's time on the Castro beat is particularly memorable as well.

There are also plenty of photographs to enjoy sprinkled amidst all the anecdotes, including a fun shot of Heklina performing outside of Beaux wearing the clear plastic face coverings performers were required to wear in crowds.

Dishy, gossipy, and consistently verbose, Abramson escorts readers to the front row seat of his life over the past few years with anecdotes and spirited commentary about his travels, his associations in the Castro neighborhood and beyond, his moments of happiness, but also his times of depression, disappointment, and disillusionment.

One of the best qualities in Abramson's epistolary self-portrait is his willingness to share his life with his readers and the fact that nothing is sugarcoated or overly polished. Throughout the months between lockdowns and restrictions stagnating the city, Abramson remains grateful for his life and vitality. A moment when he commemorates the eighteenth anniversary of his heart attack and subsequent open-heart surgery is memorable, though readers will want to know more and the subject deserves its own chapter.

The book concludes in the winter of 2022 where Abramson, 71, expresses a sigh of relief (as we all did) that he survived a global pandemic and is now more than happy to meticulously share every moment of the ordeal with his readers.

Mark Abramson will read from and sign copies of his new book October 22, at 4pm at Fabulosa Books, 489 Castro St.

'Laughing Matters: Pandemic Diaries from Castro Street 2021-2022' by Mark Abramson. Minnesota Boy Press, $16.95|

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