AN APPRECIATION : L.A. Won’t Be the Same Without Jack Smith
Like a lot of Times readers who opened the Jan. 10 paper to the sad news of Jack Smith’s death, I’ve spent a little time thinking back to my favorite Jack Smith columns.
My absolute favorite goes back perhaps 15 or 20 years. The details of the piece escape me now, but I recall it as a sketch built around Jack spending a dreary, rain-sodden morning running a series of errands downtown. No dramatic actions were chronicled, just small moments captured in a rush of sights, scents and sounds.
It was a series of commonplace actions, acutely observed and discovered to be beautiful. The piece ended with Jack taking refuge from the rain in a bookstore (or perhaps it was the Central Library) and finding comfort in the dry feel of a book’s pages on his fingertips.
The details aren’t important now. What he communicated so memorably was a delight in his senses and his exhilaration at being alive--priceless gifts from a very fine writer to his readers.
I met Jack Smith only one time. It was at a signing for his book “Jack Smith’s L.A.” I bought a book for a birthday gift and he signed it. I thanked him and walked away.
Then I decided to buy a second copy for another friend. I went back and had him sign that one.
I walked to my car, and then decided to buy the book for myself. I walked back and bought the third book in less than 20 minutes. By now, he recognized me, so I felt that I had to try to explain my behavior.
He smiled, and signed the third book, “To Lisa, we’ll have to stop meeting this way!”
I feel that I have lost a friend. After all, I have been eating breakfast with him for a long, long time. There are people we know like this who come into our lives when we read their words or listen to their music. Jack Smith left a touch of humanity behind to be savored by all of us who knew him in this way.
I moved to Southern California from New York state in 1987, on the day of the Whittier earthquake. Shaking aside, I knew the weather would be nice and the girls, pretty. I didn’t know then about Jack Smith.
Almost nine years later, there was no shaking on Jan. 10. The weather is nice and the girls are pretty. But the paper informed us of the passing of Jack Smith. A sad day in paradise.
I am one of the many who will miss Jack Smith’s columns greatly, especially the ones on the vagaries of the English language.
I’m sure Jack would have delighted in gently advising the staffer who wrote his otherwise excellent obituary in The Times that virtually all fatal heart failure is “severe.”
ELDON E. MILLER
In 1975 I was asked to take my daughters’ Girl Scout troop in Brawley on a cultural excursion. Los Angeles seemed to be the answer, but I was not quite sure what to show them.
As one of Jack Smith’s readers, I knew he could make a few suggestions, so I wrote to him. With great pleasure I read his letter stating that he would be happy to show our troop around some downtown sites if his schedule permitted.
Mr. Smith met our train at Union Station and welcomed 34 Girl Scouts, myself and four other mothers. We had a delightful experience, which included visits to the Bradbury Building and Central Market, a downtown bus tour and lunch at Olvera Street.
HELEN H. SEABOLT
I can’t stop crying. With the passing of Jack Smith, I have lost one of my last links to the Los Angeles that was.
Whether or not he believed in a hereafter, I believe that Jack and Mr. Gomez are somewhere enjoying a tall, cold Cerveza.
I came out here as a green Midwestern kid dipping a toe in the movies. Jack gave me the sense and rhythm of Los Angeles, truer than Dashiell Hammett. Funny when he wanted to be, easy and generous always, Jack made me understand Los Angeles. I know of no one else who has done it as gracefully nor as well.
It will take me a long time to get used to opening The Times with no chance of reading his wry and loving ruminations on our city.
Even when Jack’s columns appeared daily, each one was shared with my family in London, who will now receive the last column of Dec. 25, 1995, and your heartfelt tributes. He will be missed very much.
Too often we hide the old away, ashamed of their changes. But age is not grotesque. Wrinkles are not ugly. Even the psychological changes and physical changes are not tragic. They are natural--our common destiny.
We watched Jack Smith go, if not gently, at least gracefully into that good night. His juices flowed, his urge to create and share were changed, but not diminished. We are better for having known him throughout the entirety of his creative life.
Thank you for your extensive coverage of Jack Smith’s death, and especially for including some of his writing and the glowing tributes of his friends.
I think that you helped relieve our sadness by making us fully understand that we belong to a very large group who share a deep affection for Jack.
DOROTHY AND QUENTIN STODOLA
I spoke with Jack Smith a few weeks ago. He had written of his concern about being left in a handicapped-parking space while his wife shopped. It was about 9 a.m. when I called, expecting to leave a message on his machine. But there was Jack on the line. We went over the rules printed on the back of the handicapped-parking permit, issued to a person, not a car.
I should have known he would answer his phone. He didn’t like machines--he liked people.
During the 38 years that I have known him through the pages of The Times, Jack Smith had come to be a friend whose gentle but irreverent wit brightened my day.
The fact that we had in common agnosticism, claustrophobia and, of late, Parkinson’s disease, somehow inspired in me a precious extra ounce of courage with which to live.
Every Jack Smith reader has a favorite remembrance. Here’s mine.
In 1981, I was involved in a publishing project celebrating the bicentennial of Los Angeles sponsored by the California Historical Society. We asked a number of prominent authors and historians to contribute articles.
Jack Smith could be counted on to add his wry spin, and it was confirmed when we read the opening line of his submission: “Whatever else the yearlong celebration of Los Angeles’ Bicentennial may accomplish, it will have been worthwhile if it deprives posterity of the notion that Los Angeles has no history and evolution at all, but was created overnight in the 1920s at the command of Cecil B. DeMille faking God’s voice.”
Over the decades, Jack gave us insight into what makes Los Angeles tick. As he noted in his bicentennial piece, “Something untoward will surely happen; but something wonderful may happen too.”
JAMES R. GALBRAITH
The man who taught a devoted San Franciscan to appreciate the beauties and infirmities of Los Angeles is gone.
Wherever you are, Mr. Smith, agnostic or not, may the cats be few and the grackles many.
PAUL N. BOGGESS