Louis A. McMeen, Jr.
I remember him standing there. This soft, sweet smile about his face. He said he had to go. I asked him to wait; that I'd get out of bed in a second, and we'd make some tea. The phone rang with news I'd already received. He wasn't there, and I knew he'd never be again. The date was January 10, 1992, one month and one week after his twenty-fourth birthday.
George Bernard Shaw once said that a reasonable man adapts to his environment. An unreasonable man expects his environment to adapt to him. Therefore, the world is changed by unreasonable men.
In the two decades prior, he lived more of a life than most do in ten. While always returning to Streator, IL where he was born, he never accepted the status quo of this particular environment, and Streator, while a fine community, does not readily accept diversity. Louis never let this stop him. He dressed as he wished. Talked as he wished. Most importantly, he lived and loved as he wished. While rejecting the standard taboos and stereotypes attributed to gender roles sometimes resulted in hostile reactions from many in the town, Louis refused to live in fear. Streator was his home and he was as much a result of this Illinois farm-based community as anyone else there. He carried himself accordingly.
Louis was deeply scarred by the death of his mother. He had witnessed her murdered by his father when Louis was only two. The rest of his life was spent in a Freudian tempest. Strange forces followed him, and if you weren't repelled by them, you were enveloped into them. There was a darkness to him that combined with an intoxicating vitality. He always seemed to work right in Eliot's shadow, just between the "Spleen and Ideal". Two parts theatrics, one part magic, he loved the show and the effect. He preferred the mystery of a dead-end question to the assurance of a rational answer.
His artistic talents varied from painting to writing, music to cooking, interior decorating to neon hair-dye. What he might have accomplished is gone now. Another impotent silence enforced by the AIDS virus. Even his grave remained unmarked for years until a group of friends collected enough to get him a head stone.
It seems human nature to destroy what it doesn't understand and to ignore what it cannot destroy. After Louis' death, it seemed as if that empowered ignorance was going to silence this vital attempt. Of course to all this is inevitable. Even the pyramids in Egypt stand anonymous to most. But an oath was taken on his grave that I plan to keep. Louis was a link in a long chain. Links that meet and pass on a heightened sense of self despite the common.
Currently in the works is a fictionalized account of Louis' life. Although based heavily on interviews with friends, it is important to remember that a "true story" is an oxymoron. His name is spelled according to his wishes. He toyed with the idea of changing his name several times. Lewis was the one I liked in particular. And he was a Wire fan for those of you who might remember the 80's underground which undoubtedly had something to do with the choice. If you'd like to take a look at pieces in progress, please stop by the Book of Hope page. The first pic of Lewis was taken by his friend, Gypsy68, in his dorm room at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL where he attended for a year by his friend Gypsy68. The second pic is from the Daily Egyptian, the university periodical.
© 1999 C.T. Thieme all rights reserved