The last few months have been complicated and sad and harried and new and wonderful. Living in a new house and searching around a new neighborhood for basic comforts is weirder than I remember. Twenty years living in the same place turned me into a dog in a rusty kennel without enough walks and shitty dog biscuits. My mind is stuck in certain patterns and, until the last week, I had been unable to unglue my old habits. The salt is in a new place, the sink in taller, the washing machine bigger and there is only one toilet. You heard me! We downsized to a single bathroom but upgraded to a killer house with a big backyard and birds-a-chirping. Bad news, one must barricade the door if one wants five minutes of private potty time. Good news, outside dinners in a slice of paradise that we have never had.
Now that school has ended and our hellish commute is over we have been able to spend some time in our new, little town and hike and walk the streets and trails of a beautiful Southern California throw-back. I have written nothing at all except grocery lists, reminder Post-It's and permission slips. Otto is in summer camp and apparently, all grown up. Dave is slammed with rewrites in the most exciting way and I am creatively constipated but trying to breath through it anyway.
Even though so much has been good, the bad has been bad to the bone. An old friend of mine was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in February and passed away two weeks ago this week. With a young wife and two very young children the loss is beyond words or logic. It sucks. It is fucked. It is wrong.
I wasn't going to post anything about his death because I made me feel mad and shitty. But the more I thought about it I realized positive prayers and thoughts and memories work wonders for families left with such a gaping hole. So, I thought I would post what I read at the reception after his funeral but before I do I wanted to say a few things about why everyone needs to tell people how they feel and forgiving and forgetting is sometimes the most important thing one can do.
Sam Brown was a man who defied logic and belly laughs during his short, electrifying life. He was a father, a husband, a comic genius and a writer. He was hysterical, maddening, brilliant and a bouncing ball of energy that no one could harness. He was my friend.
I hadn't spent much time with Sam over the last few years. We had drifted apart because of a misunderstanding and hurt feelings on my part as well as the all-encompassing duties of parenthood and life. A few weeks before he was diagnosed I ran into him a on an L.A. street near his home he shared with his wife and two sons. We had the most wonderful conversation and I told him how much he inspired me as a comic and a writer and to always keep writing because of his gift. I also said that he was a light and that more people needed to see him on stage and scream his way back into the comedy scene that he once commanded. He had retired a few years earlier to focus on a very lucrative screenwriting career but I knew deep, down he wanted more stage time as all of us weirdo comics always do.
We ended up having lunch together and the whole time I felt a rush of energy and relief that I had had a chance to make amends with my friend and guffaw with him like I did so many times before we fell out of each other's lives. I told him all the things I truly felt about his talent and his unmatched skill and we spent an hour walking through tunnels of old times and embarrassing memories. I told him to get back on stage and to write his insane jokes and burn the city down with his hilarity. I truly thought he would. It was as if something was pushing me to forgive and forget and lift up and inspire and be inspired. He had done that for me so many times and I clearly needed to pay him back.
Afterward, he walked me back to my car and we hugged goodbye. He thanked me for telling him everything that was on my mind and then he called me his muse of motivation and begged me to keep yelling at him to write jokes and perform his crazy. And I promised I would.
Two weeks later he got the diagnosis and the shit came down hard and fast and he didn't have an umbrella or an answer. I tried to see him at least once a week and would stop by without calling or asking. Yup. I was that asshole and glad I stunk up the place. When I was lucky to get a visit in and he was feeling well enough to host, his amazingly strong wife always had a smile and a thank you and a funny anecdote about Sam's journey through chemo or comments to nurses. Sometimes I was lucky enough to see the kids, his oldest son running around him with snorts and laughs and the energy of a Trojan army while the baby grinned and giggled at everyone and everything lighting up the room just like his father.
I am so happy I told him how I felt that day I ran into him and that maybe because of our random encounter and the sewing of a hole in a frayed friendship he is killing them somewhere up in the clouds and heckling the hecklers. Who am I kidding? He would be anyway but I'm sure glad I chimed in.
Below is my goodbye to Sam.
So much of Sam was what he did and how he lived and whom he loved. His world was alive with color and texture and cork boards of crazy and dog pillows of hairy and messy and funny. The force of his energy was incomparable and unavoidable and being hit by the truck that Sam drove was an honor and a privilege and often very painful after the truck backed up. When you sat in his audience, in a room he devoured with words and watched him ravage a crowd and mold a joke into a monologue of mayhem the laughter hurt every inch of your body and made you pee on your seat and regret wearing white pants. That kind of deep, insane, guttural laughter only happens when the truth is being spoken. Sam was all truth and all dare and if Sam thought it, he said it. But when someone else said it, it just wasn’t as funny and didn’t really hurt.
As the last few days have melted into moments of deep sadness and effervescent joy in remembering Sam, the list of words used to describe him is as long as the distance achieved when throwing a hot dog down a hallway. I couldn’t resist. Yes, he was a ferociously brilliant wordsmith and a loyal pit-bull of a friend and a soft squishy center of a husband and a doting, awe-inspiring father. He was the best dinner guest and the worst plane companion. He sang like Ethel Merman and dressed like Stevie Wonder. This was a dude whose red pants were his opening act three years in a row and a man who proudly wore a multi-colored, silk button-down shirt at his first Comedy Central taping after the 80’s were over.
But in this huge pile of adjectives and adverbs that paint a crooked picture of the least paint-by-numbers man I have ever known the word that keeps coming back to me as I retrace my friendship with Sam is light. He was a crazy, spinning ball of light, something I know we were all blinded by. Every conversation he had, every thought he shared, every joke he told and every moment he lived was a moment illuminated by a shiny, sparkling beam that came right off of him and into the retina of the world around him. He was a lamp with no shade and a bulb with no glass. He did it all bigger and brighter and bolder and if you didn’t like it than he’d tell you to put on your sunglasses and get off the truck.
While we mourn an extraordinary man and an explosive life cut short, the light still shines in what he has left behind. In Ilona, a wife and mother of unending energy and love for her family and in Max and Leo, two children who inherited the ability to see the funny and spell it out. One only needs to spend a sliver of time with these two spark plugs to get a glimpse of Sam’s light once again. They are magical and luminous and will always be the apple of Sam’s blinding eye.
May god hold and keep you, Sam. I love you.