Leslie, Keep Heaven Weird


I don’t remember the first time I saw Leslie Cochran. I vaguely remember times when I was a kid in elementary school and people mentioning a slightly eccentric, out-spoken, cross-dressing homeless man named Leslie. Being a kid, and it being the late-1980s, I didn’t think much of it. Austin was, and always had been, a little weird, a little different. It was the only way I knew Austin. Heck, it was my normal and I didn’t know it was abnormal.

I remember the first time Leslie ran for mayor. And the second time. And the third time. He received a decent amount of votes each time, and finished in second place in 2000, with 7.75% of Austinites voting for Leslie.

I remember occasionally seeing Leslie and saying hello, particularly once I started attending UT and later started working at St.Ignatius, Martyr Catholic Church, just south of downtown. Leslie could even occasionally be seen waiting to catch the bus in front of the parish. I remember one time a couple of people in our parish parking lot calling the police about Leslie while he was waiting to for the bus. Leslie wasn’t causing any problems, the people just didn’t know who he was and honestly, I can understand. If you didn’t grow up around here, or hadn’t heard the stories, coming across a cross-dressing bearded man with fish-net stockings and a mini-skirt and waist-baring tight shirt right in front of the church would be a bit of a shock.

I remember hearing the stories of the parish school 8th graders who saw Leslie on the bus (and took pictures with him) on their way up S.Congress to the Capitol to take part in the Texas Catholic Conference Catholic Faith in Action Day.

I remember Leslie’s local Super Bowl commercial for Pinky’s Pagers.

Probably the memory that stands out to me most in my own encounters of Leslie was when I was eating a meal with a friend at the old location of Bouldin Creek Café. We had both finished our meal and suddenly, Leslie walks up to us. He briefly strikes up a conversation, then sees my friend hasn’t finished the serving of salsa she was given. He asks if he can have her salsa and, being that this was her first time meeting or seeing Leslie, she stammered, an “uh, suuure…?” And before we could blink, he downed the salsa like a shot of alcohol, winked at us, said, “Gotta finish it all (meaning the meal),” and walked away.

Leslie, beloved Austin icon, died on March 8, 2012 in the early morning. Late at night on March 7, Leslie, who was Catholic, received the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum from a priest in the Diocese of Austin. The fact that Leslie was Catholic is a shock to many of us. As well as we Austinites knew Leslie, we didn’t completely know the whole soul of man.

We Austinites knew Leslie the man to be eccentric, cross-dressing, flesh-flashing, bearded, attention-seeking, sometimes impatient and often cynical. We knew Leslie the man loved thongs, mini-skirts, feather boas, his beard and high heels. We also knew Leslie the man to be peace-seeking, friendly, quick-witted and ambassador for the homeless, speaking on behalf of an often-ignored population.

We Austinites did not know Leslie, man and soul, who longed for God in the faith he grew up in. As friend and fellow ACNM contributor Martina put it, “It seems no matter the skeletons in the closet, most people can’t escape their Catholic identity and long to embrace it.”

Please join me and other Austin Catholics in praying for the repose of the soul of Leslie. A man who gave us Austinites many memories, and who we now know longs to be with God in Heaven.

—-

Leslie will have a private, just for the family, Catholic funeral here in the Diocese of Austin. He will be buried locally as well, with his family hoping to keep his final resting spot private.