Jazzy is what I called him as did others who knew him. He considered us friends, but the reality is I don’t think any of us really knew him at all or even wanted to.
Why he kept popping up in my life I don’t know. Some people keep resurfacing like a bad penny, and he was one of them. That won’t be the case anymore. Jazzy died of a heroin overdose a couple weekends ago.
I met him in the spring of 1993 at a bar, a gay bar, near downtown. He was a young, good-looking man, had long blonde hair, was full of himself and flamboyant as hell. He thought he could have his way with other guys with his baby-blue eyes and soft-spoken “jazzy” voice. He thought that of me too until he found out I liked females instead.
I kept running into him. I always stopped to talk, which probably wasn’t a good idea. When he found out that part of my job with the company I was working for in the fall of 1994 was managing two apartment buildings, our relationship started to get uncomfortable.
Jazzy talked me into letting him rent an apartment in Walnut Hills. Thinking he was odd but basically harmless, I didn’t bother to check out his references except for verifying his employment. I let him move in. Big mistake.
Jazzy never paid any rent — not one dime. When he moved in, he said painters working on his apartment got paint on one of his expensive rugs; said the rug was worth $3,000. There indeed was a little paint on it, but it looked like a Wal-Mart rug and not worth a lot of money. I gave him his first month living there rent-free thinking it would solve the problem. It solved nothing.
I’ll make a long story short
Months later, I saw him downtown. He acted like nothing had happened. He said he was staying with a boyfriend in North Avondale, said he had found true love. I said I was happy for him, which I really wasn’t, and I also thought about asking him for his address as I wanted those hired attorneys to try and get some money from him for that unpaid rent. I decided it was a waste of time.
In the late 1990s, I ran into Jazzy again around the Court House on Main Street. He looked too thin and I told him so. He said he was HIV positive and didn’t have long to live. He was approaching being homeless and didn’t have a place to stay. While sort of flirting with me, Jazzy started hinting very strongly for me to put him up for a while.
Jazzy knew that my brother had died from AIDS and that I had a soft spot for people living with the illness. That soft spot didn’t mean I was stupid. Jazzy was playing on my sympathy and I could tell. Instead of giving him a roof over his head, I gave him names of some AIDS organizations in the city that would offer him help. I could tell he faked being grateful.
For the next decade, I continued to see him — at the Main Branch Library downtown, at Findlay Market or on random streets downtown. When I didn’t cross the street to avoid him, he still wanted to talk.
Jazzy’s good looks were gone now. With him still being painfully thin and with his sunken eyeballs, I could tell he was probably a drug user and not HIV positive at all. The last time we talked on a hot afternoon last August, he was wearing a long sleeve shirt, probably wanting to hide the needle marks on his arms. He told me he was out of money and wanted to get something to eat. In a moment of weakness or pity, I gave him a couple bucks.
Now he’s dead of a heroin overdose, and I’m thinking of the years that I’ve known this man and trying to make sense of it all.
Jazzy was a user — a user of people he knew and didn’t know. He was also a user of drugs. I have no problem with the drug part. I think all drugs should be made legal. If a person can pay for them and wants to kill him or herself, like Jazzy did, it’s their business. Let’s stop the drug war nonsense.
But I suspect after paying for the drugs, Jazzy didn’t have any money left. That’s why he couldn’t pay rent, had to stay with friends or lovers and, in the end, came close to being homeless or actually was homeless. He no longer could use his young good looks to get others to enable his behavior. He didn’t know how to take responsibility for his own actions.
That’s my take on Jazzy. While it’s a sad ending, and I know his life was probably empty, I have to leave it at that and let it go.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org