The Memorial and the Actor

My friend died. He was a good guy, really the best kind of person. He was relentlessly positive in the face of everything that is negative. Kind of the opposite of me, I hate to admit. But we did share a similar sense of humor, which is everything.

And while I wasn’t one of his closest friends, I know that my friendship did matter to him. He was older than me, but we were both in the same place, living on the outskirts of Hollywoodland and chasing our dream come hell or high water, despite every damn thing that was ever said about our type of dream chaser and the Show Biz Machine. When we saw each other, we always connected on the absurdity of our failures and successes alike. Neither of us were in it for the glamour (although when we caught glimpses of that aspect of our chosen profession it’s hard not to enjoy it) but for the work. Perhaps more specifically, for the storytelling. For the play.

His memorial was a simple but elegant one. We gathered in a park in Santa Monica where he could frequently be found playing sports or just hanging out. I myself had never been there before in my life, as he and I were more likely to meet in dingy, low-rent theaters. It was a pretty place, and his closest friends and family shared their memories about him, all of which were wonderfully good-humored. I had heard many of the stories before told from his perspective and it was a bittersweet treat to hear them all again from different perspectives after his passing. My favorite story about him was actually the basis for a Hollywood movie starring Matthew Broderick and Alec Baldwin called The Last Shot. It is a story so absurd it is impossible to believe it actually happened, but it did, and it happened to him. The short version, which I give you now because no way in hell can I spin the yarn the way he could, is that he and his writing partner were hired by the FBI to produce one of their scripts in order for the FBI to bust some mob-tied teamsters in Rhode Island…but he had no idea it was the FBI doing a sting operation. He thought all his dreams were finally coming true! (Although it was rather odd that they wanted his story about characters in Arizona to be shot on the East Coast.) You can’t ask for a more absurd entertainment industry screw-over story than that. Man.

Anyway, the last time I saw him was a couple of months before he was diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him. We laughed and drank beers and did all that stuff that old theater cronies tend to do and I suppose neither of us knew what was coming. After that, I only spoke with him via email. At one point he asked me what was up with my family and my career. I told him the family was good, I was booking some gigs, and I was self-publishing a couple of books. He wrote, and this meant the world to me, “You’re my hero!” And he meant that. And in that moment, I understood what it means to chase a dream, whatever it is, even if you are only met with failure time and again. Dan, despite having nothing material to show for a lifetime chasing his dream, had found contentment in just the dreaming. And what the hell is wrong with that? It’s perfect, man. It’s a perfect life…just dreaming. Then he wrote, “Stay healthy.” And I wrote back, “Speaking of that, when are you going to get better so we can grab a couple of beers?” “Maybe in the next life,” was all he said. And that was the last I heard from him. What was left of his life involved way too much pain for such a warm-hearted guy. I don’t get why shit has to go that way, but I suppose nobody does.

I will miss you, Dan. But I won’t ever forget those last things you told me…because you are my hero, too. Rest easy. I’ll catch up with you in the next life. I’ll bring a six-pack of something good.

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