When Howard Met Bill
In honor of Valentine's Day, we're rerunning a post written by the love of Howard's life, Bill Lauch: For a long time Sarah has wanted me to contribute to her blog, but I’ve resisted. It’s not that I’m uninterested in the website (I think it’s great), or that I have nothing to share. It’s that writing isn’t easy for me, especially if I really care about the subject. But after lots of encouragement and a little arm-twisting you may occasionally see something here from me. So where to start? As Glinda tells Dorothy, “It’s always best to start at the beginning.”
Howard and I met in 1984 on a February night close enough to Valentines Day to claim it as our anniversary. We met, as many pre-internet single gay men did, at a bar. Boy Bar to be precise. Now long gone, it was in the East Village on St. Marks Place between Second and Third Avenue, close to where I lived at 14th Street and Avenue A, and less than a block from the Orpheum Theatre where “Little Shop” was running. Later I learned about Howard’s practice of popping into the theater and watching the show from the back to give notes and keep his “baby” in good shape. I suspect that’s exactly what he had done earlier that night.
Boy Bar had two levels, a loud dance space on the first floor and a quieter lounge upstairs. Our first words were exchanged downstairs but we quickly moved up out of the noisy crowd to chat. He was immediately likable with handsome Germanic features and blondish hair that was short on the sides, loose and wavy on top. His blue eyes were friendly and his smile revealed a cute little gap between his two front teeth. He was out-going, confident and energetic.
Initial conversations at bars are frequently awkward, but I recall ours being relaxed. We talked about our families and hometowns and work. I was at an architectural firm in mid-town, the third I worked for since moving to NYC from Columbus OH four years earlier. Howard said he wrote and directed theater. I wondered if he’d done anything I might know, stunned when he said, “Little Shop of Horrors,” with a question in his voice. I wasn’t expecting something I’d actually seen. It was great to be able to say I thought it was wonderful and really mean it. He asked when I saw it to determine which cast I saw, and the late summer of ‘82 meant it was the original with Ellen and Lee. That pleased him. Nothing wrong with subsequent casts, he just liked that I saw the first.
Countless times in years to come I would watch Howard’s work on a stage or screen, often right by his side, eventually with only the memory of his essence. But on St. Marks Place that night, getting to know this nice guy I just met, there was no clue how his life and mine would entwine from that moment on.