This slightly balding, paunchy, Cuban refugee took me under his spell immediately when we met at the Gay and Lesbian Rap groups in 1980. The slight accent and openness made him an intriguing connection. He became an APLA buddy when my lover was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986. This was a program where the AIDS Organization APLA, would assign someone to help people living with AIDS cope psychologically and physically. Since he was friends with both me and lover Scott it was a natural transition to caregiver for Scott. When he called me with the caveat “I need to talk to you privately Gordon.” my mind went in a multitude of worried directions.
I enter The French Market Place for our lunch date. Dennis is sitting at a table with his addictive coke-a cola, chicklets and cigarette. The threesome made its way through his body at least four times a day. We hug.
“The last time I got together with Scott he said he had been seeing the same group leader psychologist that we used for the Men’s Raps, Harry Collins.” Dennis says.
“Yeh I liked Harry. Didn’t we have an all-day training session on how to improve our rap facilitator skills?”
“Yes, the same. Anyway, Scott says Harry thinks you are the problem in the relationship. That Scott shouldn’t worry about having outside sex.”
“What! That’s how he got AIDS.”
“The guy is a nut. Has Scott said anything to you about this?”
“You are a saint to put up with this. I would have left long ago. You put up with this behavior for fifteen years.”
“I love him. I hate him. What can I do?” The familiar reframe and sentiment from Shirley Bassey’s song Never, Never, Never.
Of all my friends Dennis has been the most perceptive. No one speaks to me about leaving Scott.
“Also, I wanted to tell you I am going to the California Men’s Gathering or CMG weekend, so I won’t be reachable.”
“Sure. Scott has been doing well anyway. I appreciate your help. With you both being writers, playwrights and poets it’s been great for Scott. What is CMG?”
“Men getting in touch with their feelings. An offshoot of EST. Straight and gay men spend a weekend in the desert in group discussions.”
“Nice. A bit too outdoorsy for me.”
“Oh, some exciting news, I am working on a play and will try to get a reading at Theater of Note on Cahuenga.”
I’m familiar with the theater. They mainly do absurd weird plays, so I suspect that is what Dennis has written.
“How are things going at the men’s study?” where I’ve been getting tested HIV negative since 1984.
“Busy, busy. We started going to San Francisco, San Diego and Palm Springs once a month to branch out from Los Angeles study victims.”
Dennis is a godsend the next couple of years as Scott’s health transitions and his death in 1989. Our friendship waxes and wanes but we always connect for my every six-month men study visit. He is my strongest link with Scott.
“Gordon, I am finally getting my play produced at Theater of Note”, he tells me on my last visit “I want you to come with me to the opening. It’s called Destronelli.” His abstract writing is a perfect fit for that venue.
I am excited as we sit in the theater. As I listen to the words, I hear Dennis’s voice clearly. I may not understand what is going on, but his handling of dialogue has a ring of poetic honesty. As the evening progresses, I doze for a short spell. Without a strong plot my mind drifts. I feel a shake.
“Gordon, you missed that character. He was based on you and you fell asleep.”
“Oh my god. I’m sorry. I didn’t sleep well last night” I try to use as an excuse.
“I can’t believe you slept through part of my play.
I’ll need to load up on coffee before I see his next play. He was becoming a known force among Los Angeles theaters. He was listed as a resident playwright at Theater of Note. A critic for the Los Angeles times wrote “In a language that is in turn grandiose and quietly poetic, playwright Dennis Miles has redrawn archetypal characters desperately grasping for connection and purpose at the Lounge Theater.”
Dennis had always envisioned going on the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage walk. It begins at Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and travels 500 miles through four of Spain’s 15 regions, ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The journey takes hikers over the Pyrenees Mountains, past vineyards, and through lush eucalyptus forests.
Even though he was an out of shape smoker, he spent an aggressive six months increasing his walking momentum. His goal was ten miles a day. He walked from his Silverlake house to UCLA. He did it!
The trip cultivated his poetry and filled his head with future play ideas.
God had other ideas for him. A year after his return an unrelenting cough took hold. The diagnosis of lung cancer wasn’t a surprise based on his smoking history. This crushing blow to this awe-inspiring talent at sixty-two took seized the wind out of his co-workers, friends, family and theater followers.
His obituary tried to do him justice:
Cuban playwright and author, Dennis Miles died peacefully Aug. 10, 2014 surrounded by his loving sister Aurora and friends. He is survived by numerous relatives in Cuba, Canada and USA. Was Site Manager, LA Men’s Study UCLA School of Public Health and also served during Vietnam. Forever in our hearts.
Another link to Scott broken.