Jorge Enrique Garcia Rodriguez ’70 was born in Havana, Cuba on August 22, 1948. In 1961, his parents moved to Maine, where they practiced general medicine. Jorge graduated from Milo High School in 1966 before majoring in Art History at Yale, where he was a member of Saybrook College. While at Yale, Jorge participated in Gymnastics, the Yale Political Union, the Yale College Council, the Saybrook Dramat, and the Cheerleading team;
His artistic works as an undergraduate were consistently sexual or relating to a life of pleasure, with his cartoonist-like paintings including such titles as “Amorous Octopi” and “A Harlot’s Series.” Although provocative in nature, Jorge’s work earned him the Art Department’s Best Senior Painting Prize upon graduation. Following commencement, he moved to Manhattan alongside fellow classmates Robert Endo, Douglass Smith and Richard Arnold.
In 1975, Jorge abandoned art and pursued a career in publishing. Following a brief stint in architectural publication, Jorge began work at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich publishers, where he specialized in the production of foreign language materials, specifically Spanish textbooks. A member of the Islanders Club, Jorge and his partner Danny Goggin, a writer of Broadway musicals, annually rented a home at the Pines in Fire Island.
He died in the spring of 1989 of AIDS related complications.
He was 41 years old.
I was aware of my very good looking classmate Jorge, but not sure of myself. But at some point he caught my glance and his face lit up for a second then reverted back to the gorgeous mask. How could you not notice Jorge?
He dated a very pretty Sophomore co-ed and on certain Saturday nights they strode into the Saybrook Dining Hall in full evening clothes nodding to and enjoying the approval of our somewhat slovenly peers.
We were in the same drawing class during junior and senior years. I was the laborious and studious draughtsman with an emphasis on discipline whereas Jorge always seemed to try to see what he could get away with and call “art.“ Of course it was being done in Manhattan at that time, we all knew it. Barbara Rose had said to us: “I make artists.”
Jorge did dripped paintings done with a stick dipped in house latex paint and swirled onto a Masonite panel. It was action painting, as we read in Clement Greenberg. I was dubious about it, preferring to study exacting figure drawing with Deane Keller, himself a veteran of the old academic style.
For whatever the dripping swirls would suggest, Jorge would find some wry title, or outrageous. His favorite alter ego was his “Harlot Series.“ Jorge’s philosophy seemed to be one big dare: “I dare you to love me.”
People did love Jorge; he was popular for sure, a social butterfly maybe. Jorge did not come out while at Yale, but we found ourselves both in Manhattan in the early seventies, and he found he was gay.
We compared notes. During the seventies we’d occasionally get together for happy hour at one of the East Side bars after work on a Friday, and then perhaps go back to his huge apartment on West End Avenue which he shared with at least five other men, order Chinese takeout, and then talk about the life we were leading.
Jorge liked the Islanders Club and Fire Island. He shared a house in the Pines with his lover, Danny Goggin (who was working on “Nunsense” at the time) and three or four other couples. Once I went out there to stay in their house–just once, as it wasn’t exactly my scene.
So it went. We didn’t see each other a whole lot, just a couple of times a year maybe, and we’d get reality checks on each other; we had our own “class notes." Jorge had a high powered job in publishing and I got the feeling that a lot of his social life merged with his professional life. He’d go off on vacation and yet somehow he was on the job, and getting paid.
I was aware that he wasn’t painting or doing art like he used to. Our classmate and mutual friend Doug Smith would get together with Jorge and me for a reunion once in a while. I remember the last time the triumvirate convened was on the eve of the AIDS epidemic, I guess 1985, when we were all apprehensive about what the future would hold for our brotherhood. Already my partner had been diagnosed with KS, we knew of others.
I had had night sweats and pneumonia a couple of years prior, and Jorge was noticing sores and spots inside his mouth. We were all feeling our necks to see if our glands were swollen. Well, we took stock of this all, there and then.
And then we disbanded.
It is December 1987.
Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.
My partner is fighting a losing battle with Kaposi’s Sarcoma that has invaded his lungs and internal tissues. Dr. Cahill has to tap into his lungs to let out the fluid, something that is done when there is no real hope of recovery. In the weeks that he lies there fighting for life, I happen to notice in the hospital, the names on two patients’ rooms.
One name rings a bell—an old and memorable trick from the early days in New York—and, on the other door, the name “Garcia-Rodriguez”. When I saw that I felt a surge of joy.
I dared to peek inside.
Yes, it was Jorge, looking surprisingly handsome and obviously on the mend. He said he had had pneumonia, and was going to be discharged. He’d decorated his private room with sarapes, art posters, get well cards everywhere, flowers, and a lot of other stuff.
My partner Ron, however, was not as lucky. He died in the next room, unwilling to let go to the end.
There was so much death within a short time. Our classmate Doug Smith was the next comrade to fall, the following spring, 1988; Jorge and I communicated by telephone about Doug’s death and his memorial service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The tone was low. We were both deeply discouraged.
Jorge sounded philosophical, resigned, as Doug had been. We simply didn’t call after that, but once more, briefly, for a final touching ground.
And then we spoke no more.
I heard of Jorge’s death but had no particulars, not even the date. I was always hoping that I would eventually stumble upon a person who was close to Jorge who could tell me about his final days and wishes.