Tahoe Daily Tribune: Neece ‘comes out’ with compelling story of love and life.

“Some stories have significance far beyond the pages on which they are written. Gone Today, Here Tomorrow, a memoir is one of those.  It brilliantly showcases the resilience of the human spirit, and is a beating the odds story everyone can appreciate.”

Gloria Sinibaldi, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Tahoe Daily Tribune: Neece ‘comes out’ with compelling story of love and life.

By Gloria Sinibaldi
November 15, 2012

Some stories have significance far beyond the pages on which they are written. “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow”, a memoir written by Lake Tahoe resident Randall Neece, is one of those.

Not only is it rich with compelling content, it is delivered masterfully in a riveting narrative that cuts to the core with honesty as its key ingredient. Neece does not gloss over the events of his life but instead focuses on telling his story in a way that opens hearts and minds. He discusses family, friends, self-discovery and coming of age, but he also introduces topics rarely spoken of with such candor. He shares with us his “coming out” experience within the parameters of a religious family, his long, loving and committed marriage to husband Joe Timko, a union that saved him during his darkest days and facing death and dying.

“Gone Today, Here Tomorrow” brilliantly showcases the resilience of the human spirit. It is a beating the odds story everyone can appreciate.

Sex was not a subject of discussion in the home where Neece grew up. He lived a stereotypical “Leave It to Beaver” lifestyle in a Whittier, Calif., neighborhood back in the 1950s. Raised in the Quaker faith by devout parents, the church played a central role in his family life. But Neece determined, based on a sexuality scale developed by sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey, that on a scale of 1 to 6, with six being the most gay, he was a six. Would he be accepted for who he was? There were no gay people that he knew, no role models to emulate. As a way to excel in something he loved, Neece embraced his natural talents. Using his innate ability to delight audiences and his God given gift for singing, he broke into the world of entertainment and became part of the singing group, “The Young Americans.” He traveled the world and made spotlight television appearances while still in high school.

Hollywood continued to be part of his legacy in later years. He went on to direct, produce and pilot television game shows. Although his career offered great promise his personal life was a confusing roller coaster ride until he met and fell in love with Joe, the love of his life.

But heartache laid in wait. Not long after AIDS made its debut and just as he and Joe planned to marry, Neece learned he was HIV positive. His illness bloomed into full-blown AIDS and he suffered the depths of hell battling one infection after another. Neece watched friends die one by one, which increased his fear and exacerbated his sorrow and shame. His fate was sealed and he knew it. He quietly prepared to die. But “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow” is deeper than just a story about AIDS. It’s a love story. Joe Timko and Randall Neece went on to get married in the face of it all, and at a time when marriage equality was extremely rare. It is what saved him.

“If it were not for Joe’s love, encouragement and commitment my story would have a different ending,” Neece said. Almost 30 years later they are still together. They appreciate each day of the full and wonderful life they resurrected after the darkness lifted.

Neece’s self-deprecating writing style inserts humor, adding yet another dimension to this amazing tale. “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow” is an inspiration to everyone who faces challenges and will offer hope and promise for a better tomorrow.

You can order your copy through Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. The publisher is Author House. Kindle and Nook versions are available.

 

Q & A with ‘Gone Today, Here Tomorrow’ author

Randall Neece and Joe Timko own and operate Canyon View Ranch, a dog-boarding facility in Topanga Canyon, Calif.Their celebrity clients describe it as the “Garden of Eden” for dogs. When they’re not there they escape to a much loved, slower paced lifestyle in Lake Tahoewhere they’ve owned a home since 2006. “Tahoe is where our heart is,” Neece said. “We call it home. When we first arrived we didn’t know anybody and nobody knew us. Now we have a large group of friends we see regularly. Prior to meeting us, many of them never knew a gay couple. In Los Angelesit’s no big deal but in a smaller town, it’s different. Viewpoints have changed and we’re proud of that. When people begin to realize that they know gay couples and have gay friends HIV and AIDS becomes more personal. It’s also what will turn around the issue of marriage equality. No longer will it be about them and us. It is really about all of us.”

Q: What was your life like as a young boy growing up in Whittier Calif.?

Neece: Back in the ’50s, it was a different time. It was like “Leave it to Beaver.” All the neighbors knew each other and there was a feeling of unity. It was a predominantly white, conservative community with no diversity. There were no out gay people.

Q: You became part of the singing group the Young Americans. What was that like and was it difficult to become grounded once it ended?

Neece: I had never traveled before. I flew around the world and was making television appearances at age 16. Most of the kids were older than me, around 21 or 22. I had to grow up fast. It was a fantastic learning experience and taught me self-discipline. When it ended, I was emotionally and sexually off balance. It took me about five years to get back on track.

Q: When did you feel well enough both physically and mentally to write a memoir? What inspired you?

Neece: I hung on just long enough to receive “the cocktail.” My health turned around quickly. It took about two years to recover emotionally and physically. I was offered a chance to direct two game shows. It was an enormous gift to go back to work. The “Canyon View Ranch” idea came three years later. Life rushed back quickly. Once I had a chance to step back and take a breath, about six years after the cocktail, I saw the gifts of a new beginning. I wrote to “The Advocate,” a gay and lesbian news magazine to tell my story. The response was great. I thought, “Could there a book in this?” It took me five years to write it.

Q: It must have required a serious emotional investment. How difficult was it to relate and relive your experiences?

Neece: It was very difficult but also cathartic. At first, I didn’t have a focus. Then, eventually I realized, this is not a story about AIDS, it’s a love story. I originally released “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow” in 2007. Today it has greater significance. I want to dispel the myth that it’s no longer a big deal to be HIV positive: “Just pop some pills and you’ll be just fine.” That’s not the case. My life is forever changed. Let’s make sure we learn lessons from the history of the AIDS epidemic. I also want people to know that although our story might be more dramatic, what Joe and I went through is really not that different than what other marriages face. We all have challenges.

Q: As a young man of 35 what was it like to face death and dying?

Neece: It was like having the rug pulled out from under me. HIV was a death sentence. In 1988 the people I knew who were HIV positive were dropping like flies. There was no logical reason to think I would be an exception. Once I got through my own personal hurdles my focus turned to Joe. How would he be taken care? When I became consistently sick I just wanted it to be over. I didn’t want to put my loved ones through it. I wanted them to be able to get on with their lives.

Q: At one point you preferred death to prolonged suffering and wanted to give up then that the “cocktail” came along. How did you and Joe deal with your renewed health? You were joyous of course, but there must have been some challenges.

Neece: I didn’t think I would survive and had no plans for it. You play mind games with yourself. You tell yourself, “The next life is going to be great!” Then all of a sudden that trip has been canceled. Now what? Having to start my life all over again was daunting. Re-starting my career was mind-boggling. When the opportunity to direct again came along it was like a dream. I thought I would wake up and it wouldn’t be true.

Q: In today’s world most marriages fail but the marriage between you and Joe has been successful for almost 30 years, even under extreme circumstances. To what do you attribute your success?

Neece: After facing these struggles we’ve learned what’s important. Our perspectives have changed. It’s given us strength to handle things. Hard times can bring you together or tear you apart. For us, we stayed together. Joe and I had good parents. They were role models and taught us how to be good people. They demonstrated how to make a marriage work. Joe’s parents have been married for 65 years.

Q: How have your experiences changed who you are today?

Neece: I used to live a regimented life. I always had a plan and needed one. I’m a control freak, most directors are. I’m willing to take risks now. I’ve eliminated the “what ifs” and believe anything is possible. Canyon View Ranch is a perfect example of this. It was an enormous risk, financially and otherwise. The old Randy would never have given it a chance.

Q: Why should we read, “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow?” Is there a message?

Neece: The message is “never say never.” When you think things are at their worst, don’t give up. Instead say, “The best is yet to be!” It’s not only a love story. It’s for anyone who faces challenges, whatever they may be.

Q: What is your life like today? How have you been impacted by the side effects of taking so many drugs?

Neece: The quantity of medications I’ve taken could fill a cargo container. It’s bound to have an effect on your body. We live in Tahoe and ski a lot. Some friends like to do first tram. I have to pass. In that way it’s been tough. There is a laundry list of side effects. Multiply that by six or seven highly toxic drugs and everything changes. The other reality is I never know how long they’re going to continue to work. This of course has an emotional effect. Am I living on borrowed time? My way of handling it is to just get out of bed in the morning and keep going.

Q: Why do you think you survived? Do you experience survivor’s guilt and if so how do you handle it?

Neece: What I feel is a profound sense of responsibility to pass along the lessons we learned. As a tribute and honor to my friends who didn’t make it, I need to carry the message. “Play it safe and protect yourself or this is what happens.” I also want to tell them to come out of the closet, the sooner the better. Promiscuity is a byproduct of staying in the closet too long. Being promiscuous and not protecting yourself is lethal. Young people need to know that practicing safe sex is not just hype. I always search for reasons for my survival and would never want to miss one. If I can write a book and get out a message, then I’ll do it.

Q: What advice would the older and wiser Randy of today give to the young Randy of yesterday?

Neece: I would tell him that it’s possible to find the right person in your life. I would like to be a role model for that. Don’t be discouraged or lose hope. Also I would tell him to be prepared when coming out to your parents. Be ready for the conversation in order to avoid a bad scenario. Know what you’re going to say. … Know how you’re going to respond. Pick the right time. Be in a good place and don’t do it when you’re stressed or upset.

Q: Do you feel people have evolved in their thinking about the subject of AIDS and also about the hot topic of marriage equality?

Neece: All of the polling is pointing to a new horizon and positive changes. But those who are opposed are extremely vocal. Opposition is fierce. AIDS education has come a long way and that’s good.

 

 

The Parent Crap: 10 Tips for Coming Out

The Parent Crap: 10 Tips for Coming Out

For most people who are struggling to come out, way up at the top of “Life’s Most Dreaded Moments” is uttering, “Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you: I’m gay.” For many parents, it’s not exactly the moment they’ve always dreamed about, either. Reactions from parents can range from, “Not if you want to continue being my son, you’re not,” to, “Duh, we’ve known since you were 6 and could sing ‘Over the Rainbow’ from start to finish.”

If you’re heading home for Thanksgiving dinner with the family and thinking this might be the right time to come out to your parents, here are 10 tips to consider as you plan what to say.

1. Consider the timing. If you’re going to spill the beans at Thanksgiving, do it after dinner, not before or while you’re passing the cranberry sauce. Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble to cook this meal, so first enjoy the turkey, and then raise the topic at the appropriate time.

2. Determine whether this is the right time. Do you still live under your parents’ roof or rely on them to cover expenses such as your education, clothes, car payments, gas money or insurance? If you think they’ll be reasonable in their reaction to the news, then go for it, but if you think they might try to use this in some way as leverage against you (for example, restricting who you can see or even perhaps cutting you off financially), then waiting until you’re no longer dependent on your parents might be a better time to come out to them.

3. Be in a good place in your life. Be comfortable and confident with who you are. I came out to my parents after I had learned that my boyfriend of 18 months was cheating on me with another friend of mine. I was heartbroken and tired of living a lie, so I made the mistake of choosing that moment to come clean. Do not spill your guts when they are already tied up in knots. Showing your parents how miserable you feel at the moment is only going to reinforce their imagined fears that you’ll end up living a sad and lonely life.

4. Be realistic and anticipate what their reactions will be. Parents can sometimes surprise you and may not have any issues at all. They may even embrace you for being honest with them. But if they are socially conservative and proud members of Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, don’t expect them to trade in their membership card for a PFLAG T-shirt anytime soon. Be prepared with what you’re going to say and how you’re going to respond to their reactions.

5. Arm yourself with answers ahead of time. There isn’t a concern that your parents could voice that hasn’t already been discussed in dozens of articles and blogs online. You’ll find some great suggestions on how to phrase your answers that will make you sound like Einstein. You know your parents better than almost anyone else, and if you anticipate their concerns, you can be ready with some answers that will be hard for them to dispute.

6. Be ready for the “hellfire and damnation” argument. If your parents are nonreligious, skip to #7. But if they’re anything like my parents were, read on. You probably aren’t going to win this argument in the first conversation, but you can avoid losing it. Educate yourself with some basic answers to what you know will be their main arguments. They may not comprehend what you’re saying or even agree with you if they do, but at least they’ll know you have given this a lot of thought, and you’ll know how to respond to them in later conversations.

7. Stay calm, even if your parents aren’t. You might have someone like Sally Field for a mother — her reaction to her son being gay was, “So the f*#% what?!” — but if your parents are more like mine, be ready for them to get angry, melodramatic and downright cruel. Don’t join in. Keep your cool and be the rational adult in this encounter.

8. Their approval or permission is not required. Don’t expect too much from your parents right away.  It’s taken them a lifetime to believe what they believe, and that’s not going to change in one conversation, and maybe not even in 100 conversations, so try not to measure the success or failure of your first coming out conversation by their initial response. If it’s not what you had hoped for, don’t despair and don’t give up. Give them time, but do not give them the impression that you’re asking for their approval or permission. This isn’t about them. It’s about you and who you truly are. Show them that you are the same person they’ve always loved, just more honest now.

9. Know when and how to make your exit. When I came out to my parents, there was a lot of anger and drama, and I was hurt that they weren’t welcoming this news with open arms. So I took the old “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” approach and stormed out. Though it felt pretty good, it wasn’t very effective. You might consider a less dramatic exit line. It’s important to be sensitive to what they may be feeling and put yourself in their shoes. Their concerns may be all over the map, from, “Will we ever have grandchildren?” to, “Please, God, don’t let my son get AIDS.” Whatever happens, try to leave the door open, even if you or your parents feel like shutting it.

#10  Give them time.  It took my parents years to really understand and accept the truth.  They are both gone now, but one of the last moments I remember before my mother died was when I came home to find my husband, Joe, sitting by the phone with his eyes filled with tears.  Mom’s health was failing fast, but she had an important phone call to make.  She wanted Joe to know that she loved him as if he were her own son, and told him how grateful she was that we had each other to love.  She passed away a few months later.  In the end, she realized that the most a parent can hope for is that their children are happy and loved, and that’s really all that matters.  It didn’t take my father long to come to the same conclusion.  Hopefully, yours will too.  Just give them time.  If they cannot come to terms with who you are, at least you were honest with them and with yourself, and the charade is finally over.

Love, marriage and AIDS

Love, marriage and AIDS

Topanga resident Randy Neece tells of living with AIDS and surviving through marriage in his re-released memoir “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow.”

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Sixty-year-old Topanga resident Randy Neece has lived with the reality of AIDS for nearly half his life. Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, he was in the throes of full-blown AIDS and fighting for his life by 1993.

But when he describes his memoir cataloguing that time, “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow,” recently annotated and re released by AuthorHouse, he characterizes it not as an AIDS story, but a love story.

The book tells of not just the painful journey Neece undertook with his diagnosis—years of panic at the slightest sniffle, the unending “cocktail” of drugs required to keep infections at bay, the increasingly debilitating illnesses and agonizing trips to the hospital, the point of deciding that death would be preferable to an AIDS-defined life—but the remarkable tale of the man who stood by him for the past 30 years, his husband, Joe Timko.

“Joe was with me every step,” Neece said. “He didn’t have to hang in there but he enlisted in this war. He crawled to the front lines to pull me back into a foxhole and saved my life and it wasn’t easy. To me, that’s what a real marriage is all about.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to re-release this book [originally published in 2007],” Neece continued. “At this time, when marriage equality is such a hot-button issue, I want people to see what a 30-year, committed relationship is like.”

Both Neece and Timko believe they come by their mutual dedication naturally. Neece was raised in Orange County in a tight-knit Quaker family (Neece calls it “The Friends Church”), where his parents worked together in a paint and wallpaper store. The whole family stood by each other, despite his parents’ initial skepticism of Neece’s sexuality.

Timko grew up in a traditional Italian Catholic family of chaos and family dinners. He kept his sexuality a secret from his father for years at the request of his mother, who claimed knowing his son was gay “would kill him.” But when Timko finally came out to his father, the response was simply, “You are my son and I’ll love you no matter what.”

That loving acceptance of whatever life would throw at them was the glue that kept Neece and Timko together for three decades. With the controversy of California’s Proposition 8 swirling and gay marriage being a touchstone of political campaigning, Neece believes examples like himself and Timko could be illuminating for some people who question their feelings on the subject.

“I think that most people who are opposed to gay marriage probably never met a gay couple who’ve been together for a long time,” Neece said. “What makes a marriage? We have all the same issues any long-together couple has. How have I handled it? Hmmm. Earplugs?”

Timko worked as a ski instructor and blackjack dealer in Lake Tahoe when he first traveled west. He had been with Neece four years before the HIV diagnosis came, and said abandoning his partner was not an option.

“It’s not anything heroic,” Timko said. “You stick with someone you love. We both came from strong family values. You face stuff together.”

Their struggle in negotiating his illness was another reason Neece wanted to re-write and rerelease “Gone Today, Here Tomorrow.” He is alarmed at the growing complacency he sees in a younger generation’s approach to safe sex, and their inherent insouciance toward AIDS as a life-threatening disease.

“I felt I missed something in the first version of this book that I needed to rectify,” Neece said. “We may have enjoyed a happy ending, but my life is by no means normal. We’ve progressed so much in the fight against AIDS, kids nowadays think you can just take a pill. It’s not like that. It’s a tedious daily struggle. But the history of AIDS and the devastation it continues to cause is just lost on this generation. I felt it was my responsibility, having survived to pass along what I’ve learned and detail the realities of my life.”

Though he found writing his book “cathartic,” Neece doesn’t dwell on it. After his health turned for the better in 1997, the partners opened a dog boarding and training facility in Topanga, which boards about 80 dogs per day and helps keep the couple running.

“When I got well, my life went back into full force mode,” Neece said. “I wanted to leave a legacy so I wrote this book, but I’m not going anywhere.”

Message to Mitt: Have You Forgotten What It Was LIke When Ann Was in the Hospital?

Message to Mitt: Have You Forgotten What It Was Like When Ann Was in the Hospital?

This minute, there are thousands of people by the bedside of a loved one who is in a hospital, offering their love and companionship.  A statement Mitt Romney made about hospital visitations being a “privilege,” not a “right,” confirms to me that he doesn’t have the capacity to put himself in other people’s shoes (unless they’re in his size and a gift from Sheldon Adelson).

Romney campaign adviser Bay Buchanan tried to sidestep her boss’ callous position to Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidnertried by pulling out the old federal-government-vs.-states’-rights debate.  But let’s put aside the issue of who should get to grant this right and just look at the issue of why any governmental institution would feel that it should be the one to grant the “privilege” of who can be by your side while you are in the hospital or care facility.  The only person to decide that should be the patient and his or her loved ones.

That is precisely why President Obama put into place an executive order in 2010 that puts the decision in the patient’s hands.  Romney wants to eliminate it and give each state the authority of granting visitation rights, which would only serve to create another hodgepodge of inequality.  Obama’s memo couldn’t have been more eloquent and empathetic: “There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. … Yet every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides.” Gay and lesbian Americans are “uniquely affected” by relatives-only policies at hospitals, Obama said, and added that they “are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

I checked out what the legal difference is between a privilege and a right, and it’s more complex than I thought. In its simpliest form, however, a privilege is something that’s granted to a specific group of people by the state or another authority that gives them special entitlement.  A right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from the moment of birth, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  If only Jefferson had added a mention of our God-given rights at the time of illness or death, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  Perhaps our founding fathers felt it wasn’t necessary and just assumed that any reasonable person would honor that most personal and critical of moments and welcome anyone who is willing to be there for a loved one.

Everyone, at some point in their lives, will be that patient in the hospital bed or that loved one sitting by their side. I know because I spent over three years in and out of the hospital dying from AIDS.  I lost count of how many days, weeks and months I spent in the hospital during those years between 1993 and 1996, but I have never forgotten that most of them were spent with my husband, Joe, at my side — and he wasn’t just visiting me.  There was a foldout sofa bed in my hospital room where he slept most nights. I have no doubt that his presence helped keep me alive.

I’m sure Gov. Romney has spent many nights by his wife Ann’s hospital bedside as she battles multiple sclerosis, which makes his comments even more incomprehensible to me.  The next time he finds himself in that position,  I hope he doesn’t have to hear a presidential candidate say to him that he’s there not because it’s his “right” but because it’s a “privilege” that has been granted to him by the government.