Righting a Wrong
70 Years Later
by Michael Jacoby
Melvin Dwork and I met nearly
fifteen years ago. I was a server at Pearl Oyster Bar, a
cramped, counter seating-only seafood restaurant in the
West Village (NYC). Working there was a bit like working
in a bar, so I got to know quite a few of the regulars
slinging Lobster Rolls across that marble countertop.
But Mel was my favorite. In his 70’s at the time, Mel
would entertain me with stories about his travels abroad
and experiences in New York City. Mel had been living in
the city since the early 1940’s and had fascinating
tales to share. I’d never had a friend like Mel before -
I was in my late twenties and most of my friends were
around my age. Eventually Mel and I made plans to meet
one another outside of the restaurant for coffee. As our
relationship grew we became better and better friends.
Today I consider Mel family.
As a young gay man, what always amazed me about Mel was
his self- confidence. He will tell you that he always
knew he was gay, and he never thought twice about his
sexuality. He doesn’t flaunt it, but he has never made
any attempt to hide it from anyone either.
My favorite thing about Mel is his willingness to share
his life experiences with me. I’ve learned so much about
art, music, dance and the City itself. Mel also shares
personal memories that I know are not easy to relive;
having lost nearly all of his friends to AIDS in the
80’s. I’m honored that he cares enough about me to share
such stories. Some of Mel's stories even inspired me to
film my first feature documentary, Ten More Good Years.
Without a doubt, Mel has lived an incredibly vibrant
life filled with many wonderful friends and loves. A few
years back we decided that we would make a new film
about one of his most incredible stories, and last
Spring we began shooting the first of many interviews
for The Undesirable.
Darin and David
15th of October (his first National
Guard Drill since the repeal of DADT), my
partner stood up at his promotion ceremony
and introduced me as his husband. You could
have heard a pin drop. One airman at the
back of the room started clapping slowly,
but soon stopped after he realized that he
was the only one doing so. The room became
quiet again, my husband swallowed hard and
began the most important speech he has ever
given to date.
We hadn't planned for it to work out this
way, really - David had insisted that he
wasn't going to come out publicly after
repeal. He was convinced that he would be
scorned and the resulting disruption would
undermine his leadership abilities, as well
as his mission. He was truly grateful that
the threat of discharge no longer stalked
him every time he stepped on base, but had
decided he would just deal with it as best
he could if and when anyone on base found
out he was gay.
He was supposed to be promoted a month
before repeal, and this promotion was
especially important to him because it was
to the rank he wanted to achieve before
retirement. But then his ceremony was
delayed, and in the meantime DADT became
history. I let him know that I wanted to
come to the post-repeal ceremony, but I also
accepted that it would not be me that
decided how and when he came out on base.
But then two weeks or so before the event he
told me he wanted me to attend. I could
tell that he had been stewing for a few
days, but I hadn't been sure why. I told
him that just being there would be enough,
and that I didn't expect him to make any
kind of a statement. Let's take this
slowly, I said. I brought this up a lot as
we got closer to the day, but he would just
nod in a non-committed manner.