Alfred is ready to play his electronic synthesizer. Every afternoon around 4 pm, the 75-year-old Castro resident brushes up on his creative skills – playing hits from some of the greats, like Prince, and remastering them with his own take. The result – a futuristic explosion of harmonies with just a hint of Caribbean cruise influences.
He’s been playing musical instruments and dancing for at least 16 years mostly because of the encouragement he received as a youth.
“I’ve been playing ever since I started playing churches and nightclubs,” Alfred explains. “A friend of mine gave me a big compliment – he said I sounded like a cross between Liberace and Ramsey Lewis.”
The Maryland native spent most of his childhood growing up in Florida. His father, who was in the British Royal Navy, moved him and his mom to Japan for two years when he was 19. Alfred joined the U.S. Navy after graduating High School in 1961 but after a few years, he knew there was much more to life that he wanted to experience including exploring his own sexuality and pursuing his creative passion for dancing and music. After the military, he spent a number of years performing as a go-go dancer at nightclubs in Miami, Florida and Knoxville, Tennessee – enjoying the wild nights of one night stands and tripping on drugs.
Always the entertainer, in 2010, when Alfred was in his 60s, a friend made a video of him dancing for a seniors’ talent show. This video eventually made its way to the producers of the insanely popular television series “America’s Got Talent.” While he wasn’t selected, he was one of the top 40 worldwide finalists, and the video submission – a tastefully orchestrated striptease-style dance with his clothes remaining on – made it on to YouTube where it’s received over 150,000 views to date.
When Alfred moved to the Bay Area, times were tough for him financially. He worked as a dancer at the Condor and various nightclubs frequented by local celebrities. He (mostly) had a roof over his head – there was a four-month stint where he lived on the streets or temporarily in shelters where he’d avoid men who tried to befriend him for sex and money.
In 2008, Alfred’s health began failing. After a fall, he had to have hip replacement surgery. Adding to his health woes, he struggled with high cholesterol, mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, two more hip operations, and a prostate surgery.
Alone with no family members to rely upon Alfred’s IHSS caregiver helped enroll him in Meals on Wheels that same year. Today, Meals on Wheels delivers a week's worth of meals to him on Wednesdays that he can heat up at his convenience. The drivers check in on him as well making sure he's able to get around and has what he needs to be safe in his apartment.
"I'm grateful for the food because I can't cook for himself and it’s nearly impossible for me to go out and shop for and carry food home because of my hip."
The Meals on Wheels service became even more valuable to Alfred in 2015, which is when he was diagnosed with HIV.
“All in all, Meals On Wheels is a great organization doing things and providing for people of San Francisco with needs, like me.”
Despite his health issues, Alfred leads a vibrant life.
He's proud to be gay and loves his Castro. When asked what, if any, challenges he faces as a gay senior living in the neighborhood, he says the biggest problem for seniors (gay or straight) is that "old people are invisible there." Alfred tries to go for a walk a couple of times a week -- good exercise for his hip and a way to enjoy the neighborhood. However, one outing where he was knocked down by people while walking to Dolores Park, makes him more cautious now.
"People were looking down at their phones and not paying attention to me. Now, when I see big groups of people on the sidewalk, I try to avoid them, or if nothing else, let them go ahead."
These days, when he's not busy playing his synthesizer, taking care of his two cats, or writing English papers as part of his online literature course, he's making new friends through social sites, connecting with other gay men in the community who share his interests.
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