Sherwinn Poff 1956-1991
updated May 18,
photo: Rob Allen
Sherwinn (right) at a OneWay/theoretical, Scott Craig, left
He had the most charming deep-South accent and loved to dance. "Tabasco's" in Silverlake (L.A.) was our favorite disco for a time and we'd go dancing with friends on many Thursday nights when the music was more "experimental."
He never missed a theoretical. Once he became ill (about 1989) he didn't socialize much and eventually returned to his family home in Greensboro.
No one could ever roll their eyes back with such affectation and sarcasm.
(and so, they have!)
A few months later, Greg Cloud and I were on our way to the Sundance Film Festival by car. I had brought several cassette tapes of music and rants that Sherwinn had sent me from Greensboro. As our car steadily climbed the rise up to Park City, Utah, I put in one of the tapes and Greg and I began to speak to Sherwinn as if he were in the car. We both suddenly and acutely felt some type of presence in the car. It was some indefinable type of pressure, as if maybe Sherwinn had just sat down right on top of us. We laughed at the idea, but we were warmed at the thought. Sherwinn had introduced me to the film, "Carnival of Souls," which was partially shot at Saltair, an abandoned amusement pier off The Great Salt Lake.
Greg and I decided a pilgrimage was in order, and after the Festival, we set out to the Lake. The Great Salt Lake is probably the most eerie natural landscape I've experienced. You can imagine any number of supernatural, and probably unhappy, events occurring there! We embraced the oddness of it all and trekked around looking for Saltair. What we found was an abandoned amusement that had replaced the Saltair of the film. The original had first fallen into disrepair, and then later into the lake itself. The structure that did remain was wonderfully creepy, and almost as awesome as we had hoped. We "borrowed" a few trinkets, and then the three of us got back in the car for the long ride back to LA.
I remember that we knew something was different about us but were unsure, as most are, what it was. He went off to UNC-Chapel Hill to study pharmacy and I attended UNC-G to study piano performance. During the summers between school years, we worked on production lines at Vick Chemical Co. with about 50 other college students. He and I were absolute hellions and nearly got fired during the summers we worked there.
Together, our sense of humor was so biting that we terrified most others around us! We spent most of our spare time together listening to and buying records.....this was a joint love that we shared.
His parents had a little summer house out behind the main house and we would stay out there playing records. We would get stoned and put on "Funky Music Sho Nuff Turn Me On" by Yvonne Fair and, once, his mother opened the door while holding the sides of her head and screamed "Sherwinn, if you don't turn that racket down I'm going to go out of my mind!" Both our mothers were very similar......domineering southern women living in a post-war world that had ended.
Ginny, his mother, talked non-stop. We would tape her talking to herself in the kitchen and laugh until we cried over her craziness. We both graduated at the same time (his degree being a five-year) and to celebrate, we took a trip to Atlanta together (1976). Sherwinn had only recently come out, I was to find out later, and I had not at that point in time. We got to Atlanta and without even asking me a thing, Sherwinn took me out to the gay bars in town. I remember dancing with him to "Jump" by Aretha Franklin and knowing I had arrived!
Both of us toyed around with job possibilities in Greensboro and Sherwinn went to work as a pharmacist there while I moved to NYC to move into arts management. After a three years in NYC, I moved to Atlanta and so did Sherwinn. We shared an apartment here for a couple of years. He was working at a pharmacy in a rough part of town called "Cut-Rate Drugs" which he called "Cut-Throat Drugs". He was driving a 1969 Chevy Nova that he had gotten from his parents....an absolute piece of junk that broke down all of the time. Once, he and I were going up the interstate here during a bad storm and the hood flew open. I remember laughing so hard outside the car during the storm as we tied the hood back down with a coat hanger sure that we would be struck by lightening.
Somewhere in the early to mid-80s, Sherwinn moved to LA from Atlanta. He used to write hysterical letters to me about the culture there, the nightlife, and so on. There was this thing I remember.... "Dial a Ride" which he used until he could afford a car. He told me funny stories about what idiots the drivers were and how they couldn't find anything.
We continued to see each other on holidays in Greensboro and any other times we could get together. At first, he lived with his aunt Lena in Fountain Valley who drove him absolutely mad complaining that there were no good men left in the world to marry (she was divorced). I remember, one day, that he called me in Atlanta and told me that he had been sick with some sort of cold and couldn't shake it and that he had red spots on his face. I said little to him as I recognized what he had just told me. He went to the doctor and, of course, got the difficult news.
As his condition worsened, he moved home to Greensboro, first to live in an apartment and then to his parents home. I went home to Greensboro as often as I could to spend time with him. For awhile he was managing the progression of AIDS and was his old self. Fortunately, we used to make cassette tapes of all kinds of things about ourselves and send them back and forth to each other.
While he was living there, he sent me a tape that I still have called "The Story of Greensboro" which is so funny. It is a wonderful satirical look at the town we both grew up in and I'm so glad I have it. As you know, suddenly in the late summer of 1991, Sherwinn's condition worsened. I came in to the house one night that October to find a message from Sherwinn's brother, Kerry, telling me that Sherwinn had died that day. I guess it was really selfish on my part but I was so devastated by having received the news in such a callous, one-sided way. I found that pretty tought to forgive. I kept in touch with his family for a couple of years after that and still see them once in awhile when I am in Greensboro (we grew up about a half-mile apart from each other). There are days that I know he is with me and suddenly something that we shared together 30 years ago pops into my head and out of my mouth. I am so grateful for the friendship we had. We were very lucky to have so much time together as friends. The memories of it still remain fresh to this day as I know they always will. Now I'm glad to know someone else that knew him, too.
(with Greg Cloud)
for letting me share this with you.
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