I come to you today to say goodbye, farewell, adios, ciao, au revoir and auf Wiedersehen.
I don’t know how to say it in any other language, and there’s not a lot of time left for me to look them up, but you get the idea.
This is my final column for the L.A. by God Times.
Actually, this is my second final column. I wrote one a year or so ago when I thought I was leaving; this is, you might say, my final final column.
Not that I am going to dig a hole and bury my computer. This isn’t retirement. It’s just moving on to another phase of life. I don’t intend to while away my days puttering in the garden or playing bingo at a senior center. Don’t like bingo. Never have.
I’m going to do what I’ve always done for the last half a century. I’m going to write and travel, and on certain bluesy twilights I’m going to put on a Billie Holiday tape and have a martini for the good old days. She always puts me in a melancholy mood, which is the way it ought to be. Martinis are best drunk sad.
I’ve had a ball writing a column. There aren’t too many in the newspaper biz who are given an opportunity to write 800 words on their dog and actually get them published. Not a lot of dogs are even worth 800 words.
But it isn’t animals I’m thinking about this golden, windless day. It’s the people I’ve written about who march through my memory like an army of shadows. There was nothing the same about them. Each was different.
I’m thinking of guys as diverse as the anonymous homeless man who donated a kidney out of gratitude to an ailing stranger for getting him a job and a place to live. I’m thinking about a bail bondsman named Joey Barnum, once a ranking welterweight, who just wanted to be remembered and now, near age 90, hardly remembers himself.
I’m thinking about a singer named Nick Edenetti who did a one-man show on Frank Sinatra, right down to the single spotlight, the skimpy-brim hat and the raincoat thrown over a shoulder. I met Edenetti in a Chinese restaurant in the Valley where he was playing to an audience of four that included two waiters, a cook and me. How much he wanted fame. How consistently it evaded him.
I’m seeing the gray faces of the dying at an AIDS hospice during the terrible dawn of the “gay cancer” and how they lay ignored like contagious victims of the plague, out of sight of public concern for years until it came to us that we’re all children in the same village. We’re all sons and daughters of the same father.
I am still haunted by the story of a woman who lay her head on her stricken brother’s chest as the HIV virus was taking his life, comforting him at the end, listening to the softening beat of his heart until it faded and stopped. I hear her crying in the stillness of the hospital room, tears of regret for us all.
I see community activists from hell taking on the establishment in unique and surprising ways, one protesting at a City Council session by riding his horse into the meeting; another lowering his pants to moon the panelists; a woman engaging in a physical fight with a mayor, rolling around on the floor like muskrats at play to the stunned amusement of a large crowd.
I think of the waitress Alice at the Redwood, as skinny as a chopstick and as efficient as a U-boat commander, remembering what the regulars drank, silently slicing through the crowds to bring each his favorite. And the paunchy little racetrack tout Sideways Sidney on a phone behind the bar, placing a bet and losing with the regularity of a metronome.
And there was a rare interview with Angelyne, the ageless face on the billboards, red lips puckered to the world, celebrating herself in the timeless manner of a woman creating her own fame, oblivious to the joke she had become, never revealing who was paying the bills.
I see her in juxtaposition to the large guy in a gorilla suit who sold kazoos along Fairfax Avenue, jumping out at startled passersby and demanding they buy a kazoo; and the beach-side lawyer in Venice peddling legal advice from behind a wooden box he used as a desk; and the hot-dog salesman who campaigned for City Council from his mobile stand; and Dean Martin dying of cancer, drinking alone at La Famiglia; Ed Asner holding court at the Redwood one night; Wayne Rogers, surrounded by adoring women fans, on another.
Names, faces, words.
They all mattered to me, the clowns and the victims, those who gave and those who took; those who demanded attention and those who allowed me with reluctance into their private pain and compelling fears.
I remember them today as I write this last column, and I remember you, and how grateful I am to have had such an audience. You have touched me in more ways than you can ever imagine. I look forward to meeting you again, at a different time, in a different place. Adios, ciao, au revoir, auf Wiedersehen.
And, yes, goodbye.