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It’s nearly midnight in Los Angeles, Oct. 25, 2020. I have just found out that my friend Randall Kenan died nearly three months ago. I received a Facebook message from a mutual friend expressing her heartbreak.
After a series of WTFs and reading a plethora of online obits, I still find it hard to accept this reality. This year, 2020, has been hell. And, just when you thought it will all be over in less than 100 days, it bites you in the arse again.
Randall and I first met at Random House in 1985. We actually started on the same day. Eric, a man who would become a mutual friend, processed our paperwork. I don’t remember how the conversation between us started–maybe it was because we were all young, gifted and black–but I suspect that Randall, forever the southern gent, introduced himself first. He was going to work for Knopf as an editorial assistant and I was going to work in fulfillment for the RH imprint. We spent tons of time together–Randall, Eric and I. I remember once we were en route to our favorite Chinese restaurant on 51st and 3rd, when Eric spotted Katharine Hepburn weeding her front lawn. Randall was beside himself.
Sometimes on the weekend we would meet at Burrito Loco on West 4th Street in the Village. We’d run around Washington Square Park, which at that time stayed open 24/7, get some cookies from David’s Cookies and then the boys would abandon me to some gay dive bar to stir it up.
My tenure at RH was short and in 1986 I suddenly had to leave New York due to illness. Randall agreed to sublet my flat. Man was he fussy. He wanted everything out even though he had no furniture. What I didn’t know, until months later, was that he had not paid the rent! He only fessed up when I came back to the city to retrieve the rest of my belongings because I wasn’t coming back. Needless to say that put a strain on our friendship and I didn’t speak to him for years. One day, however, I stumbled upon the announcement that he was now a professor at UNC and I reached out via email. We chatted briefly on the phone and I told him how much I had enjoyed A Visitation of Spirits.
The last time I physically saw him, was in ’86, a few months after Eric tragically died while trying to rescue a man who had jumped into the East River. The man survived his suicide attempt, but Eric did not. Randall dedicated his first book to him. Now both are gone.
I’ll always remember those days with those young men fondly. I hated my job at RH so they provided much needed comic relief. You could tell, however, that Kenan was destined for far greater things.
To his success. Here and there.