Meeting Arturo

Arturo Galster was a legend in the San Francisco drag community. He passed away on Sunday the 24th of August, apparently from a head injury. SFGate and SFist have obituaries of sorts, and I’m not going to try to write anything like that. I want to talk about the image I built of him, through the people he’s left an imprint on. I won’t give any names or repeat any specific stories, partly because it would feel like publishing a page out of someone else’s diary, and also because I was a bit drunk and don’t really trust my memory. This is about feelings, not facts. 

There was an informal memorial held deep in the night between Saturday and Sunday, and I was privileged to attend it, even though I never met Arturo. It was an eclectic affair even by this city’s standards; a motley collection of performers, fans, hangers on, and random passersby laughing and crying and talking beneath a tree while the city glittered around us.

Some of the people there were staying up late to be present, others had just finished working. The clothes ranged from jeans & a hoodie to five-inch stiletto heals with LEDs that blinked every step combined with a slinky black dress, fishnet top and more LEDs in the chest. As the night wore on, the wind picked up and cold began to seep into the mourners, punctuated by the almost comical attempts to keep a candle lit. A bottle of Arturo’s preferred whiskey was passed around, and stories were told and memories shared. And I began to build a picture of this person I’ll never be able to meet, assembled from the words of those who loved him. 

Arturo was kind without necessarily being nice. He noticed people working with him and made a point of greeting them, even if they were the lowliest ticket collector. His philosophy was that you should not ask for what you need, but demand it, and he taught that to young performers he worked with as well as living it for himself. Arturo was willing to advocate for the new kids to get their chance to shine. He also traveled extensively, and I’m looking forward to hearing some of those stories from his traveling companions over a drink sometime. 

I know there was more to him, more than I could ever learn even if I decided to spend the rest of my life as his biographer. People are complicated, and no matter how well you think you know someone they always have hidden depths, they’re always capable of surprising you. It can be easy to simplify your impression of somebody, just as it can also be easy to fall into comfortable routines, letting habit decide your actions. I get the impression that Arturo was also a believer in working outside your comfort zone. 

I did not speak when everyone was standing in a big circle telling their stories, but I knew what I would have said, so I’ll say it now. 

I never met Arturo, and I never will. Listening to the stories from those who knew him I feel robbed of that chance. He wasn’t killed by age or disease, his death was entirely avoidable. To me knowing that, and hearing people speak of him, powerfully underscores our responsibility to take care of each other, and to cherish each other. 

That is all I have to say, for now. Please take care of yourselves, and take care of each other. 

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on August 31, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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