Bryan Clayton Northam
Celebrating his Life...
to view a streaming video of NYChapters Film Festival (2016)
Click Here to view a streaming video of one of Bryan's best performance pieces (2007) "Horse Tales" which he did for the San Francisco Fringe Festival
Click Here to email pictures, comments, posts, and corrections for this web site to Gene Dermody
"Life of Bryan"
In true Monty Python style, Bryan was the consummate wacky entertainer. Every day was performance day for him. He was always searching for a new and appreciative audience for his madcap act. He was the live capuchin monkey he used as a prop in his act - funny, shocking, sometimes annoying, and in the end victim to his addiction demons.
Bryan and I met when we competed for the McBurney West Side YMCA back in the seventies. At the time, I was living on the upper West Side and coaching at various NJ high schools: Paramus Catholic, Hawthorne, and Leonia, after having been an NYU walk-on in 1968. Bryan and I were an instant attraction as rivals, with just enough Irish Catholic Green vs. Protestant Orange mutual contempt to keep it interesting. He was taller, leaner, lighter, and stronger than I, the product of some decent Nassau Co. HS program near Hempstead LI. But Bryan had no TakeDown Set-Up that worked on me. His contortionist scrambling was painful to my joints (he would have loved BJJ). He could regularly best me at Scholastic, but I could regularly best him in FreeStyle.... TakeDown, Stand-Up, repeat.
The YMCA Team competed regularly against the Lehman, Stevens, Brooklyn, and CCNY colleges, and Bryan looked forward to our workouts in that old YMCA red mat padded cell. Eventually the YMCA Team morphed into Ed Lindsey's program, and became the forerunner of the Twin Towers WC at Hamilton Fish Rec Center when McBurney turned the YMCA room into a chrome, mirror, and shag-rug yoga room (ugh!).
San Francisco 1998-2009
In 1982, I moved to San Francisco. My only contact with Bryan came when I visited family in NJ, and wrestled him at the YMCA. In the mid eighties I became heavily involved with the fledgling Gay Games as a wrestling coordinator. It was not until 1994, after Gay Games-IV in NYC, that we made contact again. I invited Bryan to visit San Francisco. Bryan had not planned well enough to compete in the 1994 NYC Gay Games, but after seeing them he was keen to compete in Amsterdam in the 1998 Gay Games. In San Francisco, Bryan fit right in with the Golden Gate Wrestling (GGWC) team's three training sessions per week in preparation for Amsterdam. In 1995 and 1996, we both attended the inaugural Poconos HillSide Wrestling events, where Bryan found a new audience!
In 1998 Bryan and I competed for GGWC in Amsterdam and did well. Bryan decisioned San Francisco State WC's Alan Posey and legend Ed Lindsey of our old West Side YMCA. These were the two best matches of the tournament. The attached picture shows us celebrating our medals and GGWC's team performance. It was a magical week for us, and we decided to formalize the relationship which we had started in San Francisco, building the GGWC team. We went back to San Francisco to begin the training for the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney, Australia.
Amsterdam to Sydney 1998-2002
From the 1998 Amsterdam games to 2006 at the Chicago games was a very exciting time for me. During that period, Bryan took jobs as an ATA flight attendant, a Norwegian cruise ship attendant, a pedicab driver, a taxi driver, and a bike messenger. He was very capable of obtaining employment in any job he wanted. I was at the height of my IT career, traveling everywhere, and perhaps this was the eventual problem.... There was often no one home to keep an eye on Bryan and discourage him from socializing with known alcoholics. Apart from being oblivious to the ways of addicts, I am meticulous (i.e., clean and orderly) about my living conditions. My structure drove him crazy. Bryan was a scrupulous health nut who made fresh vegetable/fruit juices every day with an industrial juicer that should have been used in the movie "Fargo". I eventually accepted the splattered kitchen walls as an intentional design pattern. At first, we lived very tightly in our unfinished downstairs studio unit, actually sleeping on the 10'x10' Resilite mat for a year. There was little opportunity for unobserved alcohol or drug use. In 2002, we moved into the main flat upstairs, which afforded ample room for privacy. I started working from home more and more, and I was able to be with Bryan more frequently.
We were both busy working, commuting a lot, coaching at GGWC, organizing the annual Folsom Street Fair/Don Jung Tournament, working the big annual Bay Area Wrestling Association (BAWA)'s Far Western Tournament, bringing wrestlers to compete in the various local tournaments, organizing the annual GGWC trek to the Poconos HillSide Wrestling each summer, etc. One year Bryan and Ed Lindsey competed in the USAW Las Vegas Veterans FreeStyle Tournament, and this exposed Bryan's bad knee. In order to get his knee fixed, we took advantage of San Francisco legalizing gay marriage prior to the State of California doing it, just so we could add him to my health plan. Eventually, the San Francisco legalized marriages were overturned, and our license became invalid. But Bryan was able to keep his insurance under a new Common Law policy on my health plan until he returned to NYC.
Sydney 2002 was the 'Zenith of Mission' for the 'Gay Games Movement' especially for wrestling, and that was exhilarating for both of us. It had the registration numbers, the diversity of ethnicity, gender, race, skill, and age, and it was a very positive experience that strengthened our relationship. We had the incredible help of highly respected Russian coach Alex Ostrovskiy who radically changed our style for the better, and we brought him with us to Sydney as a reward so he could reunite with his former CCCP teammate, Sam Feigleman, from the fifties! We also made him, Sam, and Sam's wife work the tournament. Along with Johnny Almony, we created that Sydney GGWC Team over the four years following Amsterdam as a joint project. This kept Bryan very focused as coach and competitor. Training, uniforms, fund raising, calendars, and tournaments built an incredible camaraderie, and GGWC was the envied Cinderella team at Sydney. Bryan had an easier bracket with two NY wrestlers he knew well: Michael Faraci and Kris Landherr. When we spent a few days with Coach Alex and Sam's family at a local beach, Bryan and I shared some pressure-free quality time in Sydney.
Sydney 2002 to Chicago 2006
When Bryan returned from Sydney, he threw himself back into developing his story telling talent, creating many packaged performances that he delivered at various SF Bay venues. I had no idea these places existed, but like the Karaoke I was to discover years later, they were ubiquitous, and Bryan built up a local reputation. It was difficult to get Bryan to use technology. His mobile was the extent of it, and he preferred the old notebook and pencil methodology. So alas, most of his work has disappeared. I finally was able to reconstruct a video of his most famous "Horse Tales" from what I found in his 'possessions box'. As I watch it today, I am saddened that I was not more supportive of his talent at the time, when he really needed it. He needed a manager and a director, and I just felt unqualified. But looking back now, I would have certainly been better than those he found over at the Bernal Heights's Progressive Grounds coffee shop, a place he performed regularly.
The preparations for 2006 Chicago were marred by Bryan's knee problem exacerbated by the USAW Las Vegas Veterans Nationals Tournament. Even so, we decided to soldier through to Chicago and hope for the best. We would have his knee repaired in 2007. The preparations for the GGWC Chicago Team attracted a solid group, but the two years wasted because of the Montreal GLISA attempt to steal Gay Games made it a difficult sell. Everyone wanted to go to Montreal. Bryan could not train like the demon he was for Amsterdam and Sydney because of his knee, and I was spending weeks at a time in Chicago helping them pull it together. Frankly, we were all getting too old for this, and the 'political immediacy' of having a Gay Tournament was becoming passť, as we became victims of our own success.
Bryan's bracket was not a threat except for a young stud from NJ (Shawn Giberson), who was so fast that we feared he would destroy Bryan's knee with his killer John Smith single. Bryan was not as fast on his feet, and so he needed another attack/defense strategy. We worked on changing Bryan's stance and defense style so that it did not offer up his compromised knee so easily since I always got it on demand, and I was SLOW! However, he still had a packed bracket to get through, and like most Scholastic wrestlers, he was not able to totally change his style so easily so quickly. Luckily, he drew Shawn first round, and purposefully and carefully lost respectfully with no injuries to take the Silver. Whew! Dodged a Bullet.
The young turks will always drive out the old, and it is just an existential fact of life - just harder in wrestling because of the intense personal bonds formed in competition and training. Bryan's Chicago 69 kg OPEN Bracket also featured Ross Capdeville, another promising GGWC wrestler, who would go on to replace Bryan as GGWC's next icon. Like those gory videos of lions in the wild, it was not pretty watching the changing of the guard. For a coach, it never is. I watched the same tension in 1996 when Bryan gradually replaced Alan Posey and Mike Masino, both Div-II university wrestlers, as the alpha by 1998 Amsterdam.
It was also an emotional day at Northwestern University on a lot of levels besides the wrestling. There were some ten wrestlers in Chicago who met for the first time, hooked up, eventually became legal partners, and the new blood for our wrestling clubs. In true Bryan style, he gave his coveted Silver Medal while on the podium to the 4th place wrestler who was an old NYC friend.
Destructive Spiral 2006-2009
Chicago 2006 Gay Games were to become the last time Bryan wrestled competitively, and it was a devastating blow for Bryan to face his mortality. When Bryan returned from Chicago, he had his knee surgery and it went ok. But the pain was so excruciating that he began over using the OxyContin and avoiding rehab. He also began to drink heavily as he went less frequently to AA because of his decreased mobility. I finally could no longer ignore this self destructive behavior. We had some big fights that we could not take to the mats anymore, and I would have to keep him in the bedroom so he could regain his sobriety. Coupling the pain medication and the alcohol with his multiple psychiatric medications (Risperdal, Wellbutrin, Ativan, Ritalin, and Effexor) led to an intervention at the Napa state psychiatric hospital with Bryan's two brothers and his psychiatrist. I no longer recognized Bryan as the guy I loved. He became overwhelmed by his demons, demons of a ferocity I had not seen since the AIDS-ravaged eighties. I grew numb. I was raised in a large extended family (sort of like The Cleavers) where things like alcohol and drug problems were unknown. I was terrified at what I was witnessing, especially as I sat in those intervention meetings.
In 2009, while I was away in Koeln on Gay Games business, I got a message that Bryan had been in a car accident. He was in police custody in a hospital, and his brothers were taking control of his legal affairs. They had Bryan placed into rehab in Queens. I believe this is the day that I finally let go of Bryan in my heart.
The first suicide flyer just mysteriously (and anonymously) appeared in the local Clinton/Hell's Kitchen neighborhood a week after Bryan's jump from "Manhattan Towers". It was then posted on the Twin Towers WC FaceBook page by Nick Zymaris of METRO WC. I then learned about it from another McBurney West Side YMCA wrestling buddy Lou Liberatore. At least the flyer was brief, sensitive, targeted, and informative. But it begs the question for me how much more the "publisher" knew. The second notice was published in the "44th. St. Block Association Newsletter", and it was followed up with a 'Correction' which was a three page bizarre narrative. It read like a draft screenplay/storybook writing exercise. What exactly was this report 'Correcting'? For one, Bryan was not 'Tall'. It was more concerned with whether Bryan was a resident and if the dog he was walking was ok. To use the report for self promotion, PR for various suicide services, and then even referencing "Dear Evan Hanson" was typical Broadway conflated conceit. But after all, it was "Manhattan Towers". Is this the way the "Broadway" community report on tragedies, i.e... as an opportunity to Virtue-Signal? Really? A month later now, there is still no Official Police Report, Standard Obituary, Possible Memorial Service, or even Contact Information. The only discussions I am aware of are happening within Bryan's wrestling family.
Bryan was bipolar, heavily self medicated, alcoholic, and was always under psychiatric care. I am sure this condition is a commonplace cash-cow malady for Manhattan shrinks, but not for this Jersey Boy. However, it would be disingenuous of me to not acknowledge the rest of the man whom I loved, who had such a magnetic personality, who was so talented, and who was so beloved by many. If I do not make him Google searchable, who will? But this will be from my perspective from the ~'70s to 2009 when he disappeared from my life.
I had not spoken to Bryan in over 10 years, since he was committed to the Queens Rehab Center. I originally intended to ignore a tribute because I was too ashamed, given the 'Sturm und Drang' ending of our 12-year relationship in San Francisco, i.e... we were not "Ozzie and Harriet", and frankly, his eventual suicide was always my expectation.
When he was gone, I collected up his stuff into a 'possessions box': photos, singlets, ASICS, licenses, AA coins, storytelling notes, VHS tapes, books, and Medals. Now sealed in a large labeled FEDEX box, I put it on a shelf by my bed where I could see his name every day. I then just waited for the inevitable. I finally opened that box this week.