I hadn’t thought of Otto in a long time. And then two things happened that brought him to mind. The other day, my friend Jimmy reminded me how we all remember things from our own perspectives. I remember Otto as a lover with a very complicated-- even disturbing-- story. He was half Japanese and half German, an orphan. Jimmy remembered him as the guy who sold him a hot high-fashion leather jacket that had fallen off the back of a Macy’s truck for $50. I would have never recalled that… although, now that Jimmy mentioned it, I seem to remember that Otto sold all my friends stuff that had fallen off the backs of trucks.
The other thing that made me think of Otto today was a piece in Eater about notorious restauranteur Ken Friedman. When I knew Ken, though, he was a notorious concert promoter in San Francisco.
At one point he worked for Bill Graham and Otto and I were sitting backstage at a Bangles show at the Warfield (May, 1986) because I had gotten a a tip that Prince would be joining them onstage to perform “Manic Monday” that night. He did; here’s the clip:
Anyway, Otto didn’t think of himself as gay— not even a little. I don’t know how he thought of himself… someone who murdered two cops when he was 12 and survived lots of different incarcerations over the years and lived on the street. Ken’s a tall guy and Otto and I were sitting on a couch talking when Ken came over and was looming over us and was his regular friendly, smug self. He said something unctuous, kind of insinuating Otto was gay. Otto set his pants on fire. (In prison, even if you’re having sex with a guy, you never admit— even to yourself— that you’re gay. Otto never even admitted that he and I were having sex… I mean he would deny it to ME five minutes after I banged him!)
Otto was between incarcerations when I picked him up. Thinking back to that first time, I’m lucky he didn’t rob me or even kill me. We went back to my place in the Mission and that became Otto’s home for years when he wasn’t in prison. When I was hired by Warner Bros he said he would come down to L.A. with me. On the day I was driving down, he didn’t show up. I never saw him again. He wrote to me from prison once and I sent me a chess set, lots of ramen noodles and other food they permitted. I still have a bundle of his letters. In fact, he’s the only person in my life whose letters I happen to have saved. Oops. I just went upstairs to find them. I couldn’t. They must be somewhere but… it’s a big house with lots of places for things to get lost.
Yesterday I asked my friend Denise if she had any recollections of Otto. "Petty thief, juvenile delinquent," she offered. "He was sweet enough when I picked him up, at your request, from 850 Bryant one morning." I e-mailed back and asked her what 850 Bryant was. "Jail," she replied.
Damn, I wish I had a photo of Otto. I never had one. He's at least a decade and a half younger than me so he could be alive... although prison life is tough, so maybe not. I remember when my new boss met him the first time— it was at a Madonna concert— and the guy started making very obvious googley eyes at Otto. Otto said, loud enough for him to hear, that “If your friend comes on to me again, I’m gonna lay him out right here.” Otto was like that, but I never saw him hurt anyone… unless you count when he set Ken’s pants on fire.
So I went back and searched a little harder for the letters— and I found them, tucked behind dozens of (pre-internet) Zagat restaurant guides from all over the world. Oddly enough, along with Otto’s letters were dozens of letters from another old boyfriend, Ray, who I don’t remember. Even after reading the letters he wrote me, I can’t recall him. I mean vaguely, vaguely, vaguely… but just vaguely. Otto’s letters, on the other hand, brought him right back to mind. Many of them were from a half-way house and there were an awful lot of sentences in them about a desire to get high. I hadn’t remembered Otto as a drug fiend, but the letters make that aspect really clear.
One he wrote from McFarland state prison in 1991: “So how’s life been treating you? Still calling shots and having things done your way? I’m writing, hoping you will forgive me and listen to my problems in life, whether or not you care. Plus I kinda sorta miss your funny style ways, and being jealous of you for making it big in life. I have a lot of things to say! The question is, do you want to hear from me or not?”
I always wanted to hear from Otto. Maybe I didn’t make that clear enough to him. I did an online search for him today but every lead came up dry. I did find this, however. I wonder if someone searches for Donald Trump they'll get a warning like this too.