By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
After introducing the police to Early, Erickson had hustled back to his own home in the hopes of tracking down Fingerman's therapist. "I was on the phone when I saw one of the officers come through the door. He put the shotgun against the wall, not ten feet from the door, and then left without a word." Frantic and distracted, Erickson was not thinking about the gun. After a few minutes he managed to get the therapist's emergency number. "As I was writing down the last digit, I looked up and Clay was at the door. He was smiling. He saw the shotgun, and within seconds he'd found a box of shells and got it loaded," Erickson says. "That's when everything turned." Less than three hours later, Clay Fingerman was dead.
Jim Erickson first met Clay Fingerman in February of 1994 on the opening day of a weeklong Caribbean cruise. Erickson, a commercial filmmaker, was shooting video for the cruise's sponsor, RSVP Travel Productions, a company that caters to the gay and lesbian market. "It was pretty much instantaneous attraction for both of us," Erickson remembers fondly. "He was like a figure from a romantic novel. He had this very, very deep voice and this Southern accent. My God, he was charming." He had an air of mystery about him, Erickson says: "Something in his eyes, an energy that if you caught, you'd just snap back and say, 'Whoa!'" At the time Fingerman was living in Austin, Texas, where, he told Erickson, he'd recently been a professor of anatomy at the state university. Later Erickson learned that was a lie, a bit of autobiography constructed on the fly. Actually, Erickson says, Fingerman was then, as he was most of his life, unemployed, living off a small family stipend, and moving from relationship to relationship. He'd gone on the cruise in search of romance, having just gone through another breakup.
Fingerman did quickly confess an important truth to Erickson, however. He had recently tested positive for HIV. "He told me right away, and he was really scared I would reject him," Erickson says. As it turned out, he had nothing to worry about. Erickson was seduced by Fingerman's knowledge of art, history, and politics--beguiled by "his sweet, loving manner." Just three weeks after the cruise Fingerman packed a couple of suitcases and his Airedale, Brandy, into an Alfa Romeo convertible and headed up I-35 to Minneapolis for a visit. After a couple of weeks Fingerman and Erickson decided to make the arrangement permanent, and Fingerman had the rest of his belongings shipped to Minneapolis. As soon as he was settled Fingerman began meticulously researching his treatment options, eventually enrolling in one of the early AIDS cocktail trials. "His number-one goal was to keep himself healthy and alive," Erickson explains. "And I was just happy to have him around and share my life with him."
At first Erickson was ecstatic. Fingerman taught him about carpentry and helped fix up his house. He built the fence and deck, laid the brick walkway, installed a set of French doors, even picked out the "New Orleans colors" for the bungalow's exterior. That Thanksgiving Erickson and Fingerman exchanged marital vows in a small family ceremony held at home. The happiness didn't last. By midwinter, Erickson recalls becoming increasingly alarmed by Fingerman's drinking habits; on at least two occasions Fingerman had become so ill from overconsumption that he needed to visit the emergency room. In June 1995, about a year and a half after first meeting, Fingerman and Erickson split up. "I was sober, and he was blacking out, and I finally told him, 'You have to leave, because if you don't I'm going to start drinking again.' I regret that now," Erickson says with a sigh. "We had a commitment to care for one another in sickness and health."
In the intervening years, Erickson had little contact with Fingerman, but admits that he watched over his friend from afar. Fingerman, meanwhile, found a new partner about eight months after the breakup; a man with whom he lived until the last six weeks of his life, in a home just a few blocks from Erickson's. Like Erickson, Bill Boyd (who requested his real name not be used), a manager with a national financial services company, was immediately smitten with Fingerman. And like Erickson, Boyd exchanged wedding vows with him. "He was one in a million," Boyd says of Fingerman. "It amazed me to see Clay in a social setting. He could read the emotions in a room and respond to make himself look like he was feeling what everybody else in the room was feeling. Or he could take the room and change what everybody was feeling. And he could talk incredible amounts of money out of people."
As it turned out, Fingerman put that latter talent to good use. In 1998 he began volunteering with the Minnesota AIDS Memorial, a nonprofit foundation with ambitious plans to install a public sculpture in Minneapolis's Loring Park and create an endowment to help fund AIDS education efforts. Fingerman quickly rose to the position of executive director, and on World AIDS Day (December 1, 1998), he stood next to Terry Ventura and Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton for the official dedication of the site. "It's not for people who have passed on," Fingerman later told Focus Point, a newspaper that covers gay and lesbian issues. "It's for the people who are living...people who wouldn't go to a support group, but they'll sit there and tell each other stories."