Monday, November 8, 2010

Tia Chuck, Elevator

Posted By on Mon, Nov 8, 2010 at 9:05 PM

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First things first.

Chuck Ramirez died on Saturday afternoon.

Here is the information for his memorial service:


Thursday evening, November 11, 6:30 pm


Outdoors at the Blue Star Arts Complex

1400 South Alamo Street

San Antonio, TX 78204

(210) 225-6742

The service will take place in the parking lot in order to accommodate as many people as possible.


The entrance to the event is NOT the South Alamo entrance to the complex. Enter on the Probandt side. ALSO, please try to park in the neighborhood somewhere rather than parking on the premises, to conserve room for...well, us. There will be a reception after, and there will be, as I understand, some art and video installation in the main contemporary art center building. If you are interested in volunteering to help serve drinks and set up, please get in touch with Nina Hassele at Also, there is a beautiful altar still in progress on the corner of St. Mary's and Stieren Streets.

Chuck's friend Ben Judson has set up a memorial page here, too.

OK then.

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Damn near everybody I've spoken to in the last three days about Chuck Ramirez does some kind of imitation of him. They try for the jerky rhythm with which he'd fling his arms away from his body, whether in frustration or while declaring something. They intone Chuckles's witticisms in his commanding rasp of a voice, its tone falling somewhere between Tony Curtis as Cary Grant, and Elaine Stritch.

Everybody's Tía Chuck impression is a little different, but they're all wonderful.

His friend Lori Furrh Dunlap does a particularly accurate Chuck Ramirez. So does Rick Liberto. They told me a story today at the Mike Casey-owned compound where Chuck Ramirez lived and held court next to Sala Diaz.

Now, many of the Chuck stories people have told me since he died (and, come to think of it, way before that) are too... let's say "rowdy" to tell here. I figured I'd get this one out here in this blog post, though, then try to make the article coming out this Wednesday more, I don't know, PG-13.

But this one is a good story for a sad time.

One time Chuck Ramirez and Lori Furrh Dunlap drove to Santa Fe from San Antonio in eight hours and fifteen minutes, surely a land speed record.

Lori explained that the car she was driving "pretty much drove itself... I was going 115 miles per hour without even accelerating."

"She was driving with her knees," Rick Liberto guessed.

"Finally we were pulled over by this undercover cop," Lori said, "and he said 'why are you going so fast?' and I said, 'We were just following you.'

And [the cop] said, 'well, I'm on official business. Y'all better slow down.'"

"Chuck had [a magazine or catalog] with him in his lap," she went on, "and he'd whip the pages over, all tense. So I said, 'Chuck, are you OK?' And Chuckie said" — here Lori imitates Chuck in rapidfire-delivery mode:


Meanwhile, Rick Liberto informed me, he and Chris Hill had already flown to Santa Fe this particular trip, and were receiving frantic text messages from Chuck reading "HELP ME. PRAY FOR ME. SHE'S GOING TO KILL US BOTH."

"We got to Roswell," Lori said. "And I slowed down! I slowed all the way down to 70 miles per hour and it felt like we were goin' 20. But we were still going too fast for Chuckie, who suddenly yells at me:


Another true story about Chuck: He lived with HIV for close to twenty years, recovered from particularly risky open-heart surgery to correct a dangerously oversize aorta about two years ago, but died as a result of falling off his bicycle Friday night about fifty feet from his house. He was coming home from The Monterey, Stacey Hill and Chad Carey's new restaurant around the corner.

At an impromptu wake on Saturday night, people asked

Why didn't he just walk home through the backyard?

Why was he on his bike, anyway? To go less than a block?

How could he just fall down forever, between dinner and home?

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This may be apocryphal, three different wake attendees told me that when asked how he thought he might die, Chuck answered "Oh, it'll probably just be something stupid like falling off my fucking bike."

The death of Chuck Ramirez proves that absurdity and irony aren't necessarily funny, and are almost always cruel. It's so tempting to decide he's in a well-appointed afterlife viewing all the funerary proceedings and partying with a critical, art-director's eye, that he never felt a thing, that it was just his time, that everything happens for a reason.

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Right now, it just seems wrong. If this happened in a screenplay, nobody would believe it.

He was suave, harsh, crass, elegant, ethereal, world-weary, curious, supportive, critical, peculiar, accessible, acute, sentimental, argumentative, gentle, terrified, wise, amusing and amused, loving and loved. He could cook like crazy. His cackle haunts the compound like his cats (who, luckily, are being cared for by neighbor Dylan Collins and his son Noah). Chuck found beauty everywhere, cast his laser blue gaze on piñatas, bread and brooms and garbage bags.

As his friend Chris Hill noted today, "He was able to elevate anything."

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At the time this photo was shown in The San Antonio Museum of Art's Chocolate show, I wrote

"It’s mysterious to me how Ramirez’s unadorned, unexplained images have the power to evoke so much mental activity, but they do. His “Dark Heart,” which depicts in black and white a heart-shaped chocolate box, fairly pulsates with loss."

So do we all, I guess.

Chuck doesn't anymore, though.

I really hope we all come to terms with this catastrophe, the loss of him, the memory of him, the soul-deep enigma of his life and death and legacy.

He's gonna be high as a kite by then.

A cover feature on Chuck will appear online and in the paper Wednesday. It'll only be about this long. I don't know how the hell I'm going to do it.

Please post your memories and stories here, if you like. Everybody loves hearing them.

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