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Pub date June 6, 2006
WriterTim Redmond

› tredmond@sfbg.com

I sat in the second row at McKinley Elementary School’s “junior Olympics” last week, right behind Superintendent Gwen Chan, who is doing a pretty good job so far, and district spokesperson Lorna Ho, who remains the most annoying public relations person I’ve ever had to deal with, and as I watched the kids do this amazing opening ceremony on the playground, I realized how much I love San Francisco public schools.

I don’t always love the school board, and I don’t always love the flacks at headquarters, and I really, really didn’t love the last superintendent, but on some level, that doesn’t really matter. On the ground in the places where teaching actually happens, in the classrooms, in the auditorium, on the playground my public school is amazing.

There’s nowhere near enough money. It’s not an easy, upper-middle-class student population. But the principal, Bonnie Coffey-Smith, is fantastic, the teachers are all full of energy, and the students all of the students are learning.

I could have spent tens of thousands of dollars a year on a private school, and I don’t think my son, Michael, could possibly have gotten a better educational experience than the one he’s getting now.

Onward: It’s been 25 years, exactly, since the first AIDS cases were documented, and 10 years, more or less, since Paul O’Connell died.

Paulo was my best friend. We met in college, smoked a lot of pot, and dreamed about world revolution. After we both (narrowly) emerged with our diplomas, we drove out west, escaping a nasty law enforcement problem in upstate New York, losing all of our worldly possessions to burglars in Chicago, scrounging some blankets from an old motel so we wouldn’t freeze when we slept on the ground in the Rockies, and finally running out of gas and money in San Francisco. We stayed for a while, then hit the road again and wound up in an apartment in East Hartford, Conn.; in a commune (of sorts) in the New England woods; in a house in Croton, NY; and on a buffalo ranch in Oklahoma before we eventually came home, to a slum on Hayes Street with no shower and no doors.

And always, everywhere, Paulo loved life.

We lived together for three years or so, all told, until I moved in with my girlfriend and Paulo went to work for Ralph Nader in DC. I saw him a few times a year, usually when the Grateful Dead were in town. It was about 1987 when he told me he was gay, which was a big whatever except that Paulo was never good about safety, and that was a dangerous time. He loved to party, hated condoms because they never seemed to fit right, and figured if he got an AIDS test every couple of months, he’d be OK.

Then one of the tests came back positive.

Paulo fought bravely: He never once complained, never slowed down, and refused to give up the pursuit of happiness. But that was before the drug cocktails, when there wasn’t any truly effective treatment. In the end, the plague was stronger than Paulo. I still miss him, every damn day.

And here’s the thing: There are 80,000 stories like that one, just in San Francisco alone.

As long as the rest of us live, that’s something we should never forget. SFBG