Category: Other

Religion is the Perfection of Evolution

A strong case can be made that  life is about replicating life. The grand design is that all reproduce, give birth to new life, and that each succeeding generation do the same, so that your name, bloodline and species will multiply, flourish, and most importantly, never die.

The great promise of many religions is that you will gain eternal life, that by believing such and such, by calling God by His correct name in the correct manner you will live forever, as will your friends and family, who will multiply, flourish, dwelling forever in a happy place, and most importantly, never die.

In this way religion is the logical outcome, even the perfection, of evolution.   Belief in eternal life is not surprising but inevitable.

September, 2003

Two Stories About Birds

A beautiful thing happened to me, but before I can tell that story I have to tell the first one, and both stories are true.

While stewing  in my usual gloom in May of 1994 there was a knock on my door and the UPS man had a special delivery letter from the O’Neill telling me I was going.  After leaping off the walls I called Annie and then Mom and went out for a walk.  Not one block away on a stretch of sunny sidewalk a mocking bird flew out of a bush, buzzed my face, flew over my shoulder and then down to nip the back of my right hand.

I was made uneasy by this, for never before or since has a bird, much less a mocking bird, treated me such, and in the same hour that I had heard the best news in many a year. My next trip down the sidewalk I saw she had her nest in the bush.  But the portent seemed all too clear.  My fate would mock me.  Indeed it did.

I went to the O’Neill and had the best play, something other playwrights and other people  told me.  Six plays from that year have now been produced, on Broadway, off-Broadway and in London, but not mine.

What I would have given if The Clan of the MacQuillins had gone exactly one week earlier, on a gala star studded night, a 30th anniversary celebration.   I believe it would have been born and given life if done that night.  But it didn’t happen that way and the mocking bird told me right at the top it wouldn’t.   Next summer marks seven years.

This year a beautiful thing happened to me on a Sunday morning in the first week of October.  It was the eve of Yom Kippur, an occasion my Father observed except he called it the Day of Atonement, a day of expiation for sin, observed in our family with prayer, study and traditional privations.

As I stood in my attic window in the room that was my office on a sunny day praying, the Hudson Valley autumn colored at my finger tips, a bald eagle soared up to my right from the North over my neighbor’s field.  He soared one circle then crossed and in front of me to the West soared a second circle, and coming out of this flew towards me, passing above my right shoulder, his wings a bare few feet above the eave of my house, every feather in his wings precise, his beak and talons a hard corn gold.

I was amazed and spoke aloud to the Lord, thanking Him again for my life, joyous at the miracle of being alive, and at that moment the eagle returned soaring a third circle, his wings rigid and still and directly above me, while I at my open window a few feet below was at his center.

There are days I am filled with a serene confidence all will happen as it should.

October, 2000

Eulogy for My Brother Quillin

He was handsome, he was affable, when he had a hundred dollars he felt like he had a thousand. When he had a thousand he felt like he had a million. He was always certain that in the very near future it was all going to work out great. It almost never did. But he was always a fascinating guy to have as an older brother.

Because Quillin, starting with his very name, no middle name, was different.

It was my sister Jan, a conduit of all sorts of interesting information in my youngest days, who told me all the way back on Armstrong, that Quillin had a different Daddy than the one we knew.  I once asked Mom, “What was he like, his dad?” She thought a moment and said, “Quillin is a carbon copy of his Dad, both inside and out.”  It would make an enormous difference in his life and it could and would explain certain things.

When grown Quillin tracked him down, his biological dad, a man named Ford, and convinced his progenitor to meet him at the Los Angeles airport.  When he walked toward him Quillin said, “He looked just like me. It was like meeting myself.”  The first words out the man’s mouth were, “Kid, I don’t need this.”  They spent maybe a half an hour together.

Quillin told me he came back from that trip and put his arms around Dad and told him that he loved him, and that Dad, James L., was his real Dad.  Which was true.  He was a Porter.  But he was also a little bit different, and oh, what a character.

When we were young and went camping, you best believe he met every young woman in that campground. There was the time when a whole gaggle of girls taught Quillin to water ski in the frigid waters of a lake in the Rocky Mountains.  His brothers and sisters stood on shore, laughing when he fell, cheering when he held his balance and skied.

An indelible image of that day, besides Scott laughing so hard he lost his balance and nearly fell into the lake, giving Grandpa Porter an attack of laughter that made him wheeze, was the crowd of adoring girls, wrapping Quillin up in blankets as he emerged from the freezing water, triumphant.

Then there was the trip to California, driving there in a white Chrysler station wagon pulling a green trailer.  It was the trip where the camera got left on the kitchen table, which is a shame because it might have recorded an astonishing event.

On that trip our brother Quillin met and fell in love with, and more importantly she fell in love with him, Hayley Mills. She was a movie star of the time, young, blonde, beautiful and famous.  How she lost her heart to a young man from Kansas, only in California a few days, how he slipped away from his parents, how he swept her off her feet, in San Diego of all places, well, it is truly a shame a camera was not around.

Hayley was so smitten with Quillin she wrote him letters and signed her name a special way, a way she only did for ones she truly loved.  I know all this because my sister Jan told me.  Quillin showed her the letters.  He never showed me the letters.  So I had to scrounge through his desk for weeks, reading all his love letters, sent to him by all sorts of women in Kansas, Colorado and other places, but I was looking for that one letter from Hayley.

It was never found.

But as it turned out there were pictures.  Yes, an eight by ten glossy signed “To Quillin with love, Hayley” and a second eight by ten glossy, a contact sheet with twelve pictures, one with a man’s arm around the adorable young blonde.  You could not see the man, just his arm, and in our one and only passing conversation upon the subject my brother assured me, “That’s my arm.”

He was seven years older which is a lot when one is five and he is twelve, or ten and seventeen, and so forth.  For awhile Quillin told me he had been a football star in college.  Many a time I pored over that Emporia State yearbook, looking for his picture on the team and those great games he played. Maybe he was gone the day the pictures were taken.

There is a story that has floated around for some fifty years that Chuck Connors is our uncle.  No, he isn’t and he wasn’t.  We had an uncle who looked a little like Chuck Connors. But when Quillin told the story around school while in the 8th grade The Rifleman became a blood relative and ssshhhh, no one’s supposed to know this, so don’t tell anybody, so only about seven thousand people ever believed this to be true.

All of us have a dream life.  Quillin was a dreamer.  If he could sell you his dream then it might be true.

It was Quillin who broke the unplowed ground with Dad, and you did not bend Dad’s will easily, about playing sports on Friday nights.  He threw a fit and said he was going to play football no matter what.  So Dad relented, and for the first time the start of the holy day could be profaned by the playing of a game, a victory that was a benefit to each of his siblings.

Grandpa Porter took me to one of Quillin’s football games.  His opinion was, “Your brother runs like a coyote.”  I remember going with Dad to the stadium at WSU and watching Quillin run in a big track meet.  He won his race that day and I was proud to be his brother, and was envious of the medals he wore on his letter sweater.

He was a much better athlete than any of the rest of us.  The game he loved was football.  In the great football games at Porterville, Jan and Whitney were on his team, Scott and Kimberly on my team.  Every game he would lay a ferocious block or tackle on a certain younger brother, which would send me tumbling into a nearby wheat field.

So when he went away to college me and my team practiced.  Oh, how we practiced, working on plays my older brother had taught me. Thanksgiving was the big game and it was the only game in about a hundred my team ever won.  And boy did that make him mad, because Quillin loved to win. In the grudge re-match over that one victory, that was the game Scott broke his collarbone in a collision with Quillin, and for the most part the football games ended, for which I was secretly grateful.

Now I will tell you, I think Quillin was a better big brother to me than I ever was to my little brother Scott. I can catch a baseball because Quillin hit and threw them to me for hours. He let me spend a week with him in bachelor splendor in a sprawling top floor of a Victorian house in Coffeyville, giving me a copy of the book Candy, which I devoured in one day, then going out to look for me when I stayed out too late prowling the streets of a strange big city.

On a later trip to Coffeyville he lent me his brand new Buick, a company car from whatever company he was with at the time, and I drove it much too fast, the only time I ever had a car almost up to a hundred and twenty, with a pretty girl on the front seat, a girl Quillin had introduced to me only a few hours before.  I was fifteen.

He was reckless and he was a lot of fun.

He was an encyclopedia salesman, a sports writer, an insurance adjuster, an advertising man, several times a hustling entrepreneur, and ended his business life as a stock broker and investment manager.

When I heard the words Quillin and stock broker in the same sentence I knew there was going to be trouble.  Because our brother, the dreamer, the reckless one, always wanted to go from A to Z and never mind those pesky little steps in between like B, C or D.  He wanted it now, he could dream it couldn’t he, and for as long as we knew him Quillin wanted to be rich.

A couple of times he got close. For a few months I was an eyewitness at XMG.  It was a good product, a Teflon motor oil that actually seemed to work, giving a car better gas mileage.  The first week I noticed the highlight of the day was lunch. Quillin and his partner would adjourn to a restaurant across the street and order two and on occasion even three rounds of double scotches.  Along about the second drink the burning question would arise, “Why kind of company jet do we think we should get?”

Not being wise in the ways of business but being a wise acre, I would point out that they had not, as of that moment, sold ten thousand dollars worth of product.  “Paul,” my big brother explained to me patiently, “you just don’t understand business.  You need to plan for these things.”

The funny thing about Quillin is that he did know great luck in his life.  There was Dad, a man who adopted and loved him as his own child.  There was Mom.  But maybe his best luck was that he married Yolanda, who was and is beautiful in all the important ways.  Together they had Lexi.

One of my memories of XMG was the day she was born.  Quillin was on the other side of town when Yolanda went into labor, labor that was far too early, and he made the hour’s drive across the length of Kansas City in twenty minutes.  The child born that day was no bigger than your hand and survived in part because her father loved her.

He loved all his children, Traci, Chad, Kenneth, Tiffany and Lexi.  He loved you, he was proud of you, and he regretted that he did not spend more time with you.  One time he said to me, “Dammit Paul, I never knew my own dad, and now my own children grow up without me.”

He knew many defeats.  All of us know defeat.  Few of us wind up spending ten years in prison because of one.  Our brother would spend about one out of every seven days of his too short life behind bars, on parole, or on the run, events which started after he turned fifty. The man who once drove two different Lincoln Continentals, who arrived at our Father’s funeral in new Jaguar, who once gave thought to a company jet, now hid out on the Mexican border sleeping under bridges, becoming a day laborer, happy if he made enough to buy one meal a day.

He learned to speak flawless Spanish, went by foot and horseback for great distances along the Mexican border, working in cantinas as a bartender, and after being out of touch with everyone for four or five years, sneaked back into this country to see Mom.

My Mother told me, “He looked ragged, more like a migrant worker than an American.” Tired of life on the lam, of being out of touch with his family, he turned himself in and from everything I heard was relieved.

It is wrong he is gone only three years after Mom.  He lived long enough to outlive jail and to know again a few years of freedom.  He lived long enough to put to paper his earliest memories of Mom and tell us a story about Dad none of us ever could have guessed.  He lived long enough to reconcile with his beautiful wife, with Lexi, and I hope his other children.

It was fascinating to have him as a brother.  It was also too often sad.

Age plays tricks on you, so I don’t know if it was six months or two years ago that Quillin and I were on the phone.  He told me that he had a hell of life and that he wouldn’t trade it for anybody else’s.  I always told him if he could write the true story of his life it would be a good book, maybe a great book, and he might finally make that million dollars he always wanted.  Not so long after he sent me 150 typed pages.  Some parts I know to be true, some parts I know to be lies, and other parts I just don’t know.

This much is true:  Quillin’s life was an adventure.

There was always something about him that made you forgive him. I knew him to be foolish, but I never knew him to be malicious.  We loved him in the ways us Porters always love each other, both unreservedly and with the judgment of our own strong opinions, Christian or otherwise.  Other than Mom and Dad, he affected my life more than any other single person I ever knew, a fact I did not appreciate until I began to compose these remarks.  Three small examples:

Because he was a Yankee fan, I became a Dodger fan.

Because he was a business man, I became an artist.

Because he was a sports writer I began my own sports column while in high school. It was my first consistent attempt at writing.

One more story.

His first real car was a 1959 red Ford Fairlane convertible, the first in a long line of eye catching cars Quillin would drive.  I shot baskets on the court at Porterville, winning the NCAA championship a remarkable number of times, and I would roll the cars off the drive to enact this miracle.  One day I coasted his red convertible down the cement and the driver’s side door caught on the car next to it and was bent back double.  And did my big brother yell at me for messing up his nice car?

No, he didn’t.

We are a more interesting family because he was our brother.  To my remaining siblings I say no more eulogies for now.  Take care of yourself and get home safely from this day when we remember Quillin, who was, as each of us are, different from all the others, though he was a little bit more so.

Thank you.

Wichita, Kansas
8 August 2010

Eulogy for My Father

I will remind you here at the beginning that it is all right to laugh, and of course it is all right to cry.

I think my father had a good life.  In many ways he was very lucky. Anyone married to our mother for nearly 50 years would have to be considered lucky.  For many of those years he lived in a fine, handsome house — his house — on three of the most beautiful acres of land as could be found anywhere on earth — his land.

Now his children may have been a more mixed bag of luck.  Some of us may not have turned out exactly as he might have wanted.  But there was never any doubt that he loved us, and never any doubt he treated each of us equally, not favoring the righteous over the not so righteous, the loud over the more quiet, the obnoxious over the less than obviously obnoxious.

He and Mom raised good children, and in the end he showed a parent’s greatest love, by letting us go on to become exactly who we wanted to be, never meddling, always pulling for us in our struggles, loving us regardless, and always, always praying for us.

A man starts out as a son, and today for a moment we remember his parents, Grandpa and Grandma Porter as well.  It was Grandpa who taught Dad how to fish, and he was always happy with a pole in his hand and a hook in the water, a love he passed on to two of his six children, and in baseball three hundred is a good average.

Grandpa taught Dad how to fix and tinker and fool with, the same as Dad taught me and others, the fruits of which have adorned and plagued our various houses for years.

Dad went to college and became a geologist, and from there to war as a pilot, nearly being killed three different times in training accidents, a fact he told me once that began his religious search.

After the war he married Mom and us kids, one-two-three-four-five-six came along, nearly as fast as that, and after a life time of not being a church going man, Dad decided there was something missing and thus began his spiritual journey, a journey that was a key to his life.

Dad began to read the Bible, not just to read it, but to study it, not just to study it, but to devour it, and in the end he would breathe its words as naturally as a man would walk.  And he decided that God wanted him to keep the Sabbath.

Now at this time Dad worked for Shell Oil and at this time people worked six days a week.  But Dad didn’t want to work on the Sabbath.  So he left, or they fired him.

At this same time Dad picked a doctrinal difference – not the last time this would happen – with the church we belonged to, and they kicked us out and cursed us, and told my Mother she would soon be a widow.

And in this time we were poor, and lived often on what we grew in the garden, and one hard winter when my brother’s shoes were accidentally put in the trash and burned and there was no money for new ones, my Mother wept.

But Dad would not go back to Shell Oil and he would not go back to the church that threw us out, and he felt if he stayed true to what he believed then God would bless him.

And God did.

I remember his clothes that Mom showed us, that were covered with oil from a well that had finally come in, and soon we moved to that handsome house on those fine three acres, and he had the three things that most marked his life:  his family, his home and his spiritual journey.

Now Dad was not particularly playful.  Jokes and wise cracks were not his forte.  He was reserved and he had a presence.  Even if he did not speak you knew he was in the room.  But he did make two of the most outstandingly playful toys imaginable: a bag swing and the monorail.

Now there are other bag swings, but surely none more perfect than the one we had, swinging down the steep hill and back to its stand.  And for those of us who were there, we cannot forget the sight of our father, all two hundred and ten pounds of him then, stretched prone on that tree limb, twenty-three feet above the hard ground, while Mom stood below, wringing her hands and crying, “Be careful, Jim.”

There might be one or two bag swings that are better.  But the monorail, ah, the monorail.  There was a feat of engineering and whimsy, of playful uniqueness, a one of a kind wonderful back yard toy never duplicated, and it was Dad who made it.  What a shame we didn’t have camcorders then, so we could prove it was every bit as wonderful as we remember.

Now there are other stories I could tell you of Dad, of the camping trip to Colorado when he urged Mom from her warm sleeping bag early one cold morning.  So she finally got up, none too happy, saying, “What? What?”

“Just look at how that fog hangs on the water, honey.”  She could have smacked him one.

Or the time, as all of us watched from the front picture window, when he killed a coyote at a hundred yards with a single shot.  Years later he told us, “You know, I was as surprised as that coyote by that shot.”

But mostly I think we will remember Dad for his great passion for the Bible, for his endless study of its words, his journey to get closer to God, to understand what God wanted him to do, and how he became filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

There were many people who would go see Dad, to be prayed over, to be taught, to be healed. There is no counting the number of pilgrims and refugees who passed through our house.  Whenever I came home from my various travels there would be new ones and he my Mother would always welcome them.  To my knowledge, they never turned anyone away, and there were scores of them.

I sometimes tell people I never heard my father use a single swear word, and never once heard him raise his voice to my mother, and they are astonished.  But it is true.

Now he was not a saint.  I’m not trying to tell you he was.  But he was a good man, a man of great character and integrity, and most difficult of all, he was a righteous man.

Perhaps the best measure of a man’s life can be found in how many days he gets to spend doing exactly what he wants with his time. When I think of Dad I will remember him on the patio, the sunlight slanting from across the river and through the trees, in that serene and beautiful place that was his home, the Bible open on his lap, as evening was coming on.

Faith is the measure of the hopefulness of man, that his deeds on earth will let him know peace, now and through the ages. I think my father had a good life. I think he is now in a place of peace.

February 15, 1997
Valley Center, Kansas

Eulogy for My Mother


Before I begin there are a couple of things I need to cover. Last night my sisters looked at me…horrified…not the first time this has happened…and said in one voice, practically in unison, “You’re not going to your Mother’s funeral tomorrow dressed like that, are you?”

So I had to tell them a true story, about one of my last conversations with my Mother. There toward the end I got to spend a week with her and I asked her, I just flat out asked her.  I said, “Mom, do you want me to go to your funeral dressed in a three piece wool suit on a hot summer’s day?”

Now you have to understand, it is from my Mother I get my highly developed and rather original sense of humor. So now Mom, bless her heart, she looked at me and said, “Why no, son, don’t go to my funeral dressed in a three piece suit on a hot day. Go there in a t-shirt and flip flops, because afterwards you might want to go swimming.”

So as I stand before you here today, I am dressed better than my Mother expected.

There is one other thing I would like to mention before I truly begin. I would like to thank my sister Jan and her husband Steve, for all the love and comfort they gave our Mother in the difficult last months of her life. Before that my brother Scott and his wife Kirsi opened up their hearts and their home to our Mother in her declining years. Before that my sisters Kimberly and Whitney, and their husbands Randy and Bob, gave so much comfort and joy to both Mom and Dad in the sunset years they lived in Texas.

Their behavior is a testament to our parents. May we all be so fortunate to have such devoted and loving children when our own end approaches. I thank each of them.

* * * * * * *

Our Mother was beautiful every single day of her life. When she was young, she was movie star beautiful. Now some of you might say, “Well, of course he’s going to say that. And on a day like today he’s even allowed.”  So I brought pictures to prove that what I say is true. Now it would please me and make me proud if you took the time to look at these pictures and to ooh and aah.  But if any of you steal these pictures, I will hunt you down to the ends of the earth.

Some of you may remember Jackie Mackay. When he was about ten he told Mom, “Mrs. Porter, you sure are pretty.”

“Well, thank you, Jackie.”

“You sure don’t look like you’re fifty.”

“Well Jackie, I’m not. I’m forty.”

“Oh. Well you sure don’t look like you’re forty either.”

And when she was she didn’t. She was one of those rare people every bit as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside, which is better than almost any movie star you could name.

She was born Virginia Beth Quillin, a last name so unique and full of history and one she loved so well, she would give it as a first name to her oldest son.

For a moment today we remember her parents, Granny and Grandad Quillin, who lived such hard lives and produced such good children. For a moment we also remember her four brothers – Frank, Dale, Rob and Paul – each of whom proceeded her to heaven, each of whom fought in World War II, some with heroic distinction.

She was brought up on a ninety acre cotton farm in Konawa, Oklahoma.  Except in the most remote corners of the world, no one picks cotton by hand anymore, not even slaves.  But our Mother did.

The house she grew up in did not have electricity, and she read her books and learned her lessons by the light of a kerosene lamp. This was not unusual on the small farms of the 1920’s and 1930’s.  But I hope you young ones, and you not so young ones, think about this when you step outside and flip on that cell phone, or click through the hundred channels on the remote tonight, because life was not always so easy or flip, and it could be argued, quite well I believe, that the very hardness of that time produced a better quality of people.

She started school at a one room school house when she was five years old.  At the end of the first week she was promoted to the third grade. One of her older brothers complained to their mother about her class room ability. “Make Jenny stop answering all those questions. She’s embarrassing me!”

She graduated from high school when she was fourteen. She graduated from college when she was seventeen. While in college she appeared as Emily in a production of Our Town.  She told once about being in that play, “I really wasn’t very good.” But I bet she was.

During World War II Mom worked at the Douglas aircraft plant in Oklahoma City. It was during these years she learned to fly and got a pilot’s license, and actually flew alone, soloed.  There is a picture of her as a young woman in her aviator’s outfit, one foot on the wing of a plane, looking every inch like Amelia Erhardt’s cousin.  How I wish I could put my hands on a copy of that picture.

After the war her younger brother brought around this guy he knew, a young petroleum geologist named Jim Porter, who was destined to become one of the luckiest men on the face of the earth, for he was to be married to our Mother for nearly fifty years.

She told me when she first met Dad, “He smoked like a chimney and every third word out of his mouth was a cuss word.”  But pretty soon he quit smoking, and she must have had a good effect his language too, because I never heard Dad use a single swear word in all the years I knew him. They were best friends and made a great and happy couple, and of course on this day we remember Dad, too.

They had six children and she became what those of us who knew and loved her best will always remember her as:  Mom.  When we were very young and our family very poor and television so new we didn’t even own one yet, Mom ended each day by reading us a chapter from a book.  Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn.  Alice in Wonderland.  The Pickwick Papers.  What a treat to gather around our beautiful Mother at the end of the day and listen as she read to us great books.

When Dad found religion and began teaching each week from the New Testament, it was Mom who taught us the stories from the Old Testament.  Now Dad had an engineer’s mind and a pedantic way of thinking and speaking and teaching, and I will be honest here, he could drone on. [nervous laughter from the audience] I see a few of you spent a Saturday afternoon or two with my father.

But never for a moment was I – or anyone else – bored when Mom held the floor, and told and acted out the great stories from the Old Testament.  Abraham, Joseph, Moses. Joshua, Gideon, Samson.  Saul, David, Solomon. To this day I can remember those stories because she told them so well.  It is a shame video cameras did not then exist so there would be a record of Mom in her prime, entertaining us to the point of enchantment, and teaching us the Bible.

She did not like to sit and do nothing.  When quite advanced in years, as President of Women’s Aglow, she flew all over Alaska, giving speeches in remote towns and Eskimo fishing villages and loved every minute of it, and if given a chance would have done it again.

When she finally did sit still, she read.  It is no accident two of her children are published playwrights, one is a novelist, one just wrote his first screenplay. Another is a doctor. Now I don’t mean to slight the last one by not giving a label to her life, but she is probably the best looking of the bunch, and for that she can also thank our Mother.

For us, the six of her children, it is the greatest deal of the cosmic deck that we could call her Mom, for no one could ask for one better. Twenty-one others could call her grandma. Twelve more could call her great grandma. Now my math may be a fuzzy on these last two figures.  But I can guarantee you she knew the exact number, and she knew all of their names and their birthdays as well.

And in this large tree of her descendants, if you find that you are smart and witty and love to laugh, if you smile easily, if even on your death bed your smile makes you beautiful, if your idea of a great day is when the whole family and guests and friends and relatives sit down together for a good and big meal, and after that meal you sit with your family and friends to play Liverpool Rummy or Twixt or Boggle or Thunder on Your Neighbor, so that you could compete, laugh and have fun with each other, if you are fair of face and have few if any enemies, if you are wise and warm, if you are a good and great parent to your children and love them no matter how far they wander, if you are made of good character, if you love to read and have a good mind and are more interested in ideas and thoughts and history than you are in mere gossip, then remember to thank our Mother, your Grandma and your Great Grandma, for you are in part these things, because of her.

If there is a heaven she is there.  As another playwright wrote, “May flights of angels sing you to your rest.”  Amen.

7 July 2007
Valley Center, Kansas

The Last Time I Saw My Son

The last time I saw my youngest son, Sam, he was wearing a ridiculous haircut.  He was such a handsome fellow and it was the worst haircut ever, one that made him look goofy. Thank God I didn’t say anything about the hair.  Maybe that’s why he smiled at me, because I didn’t say anything. That is my last clear image of him, giving me a happy mischievous smile, his face sunny for a moment.

He came by to drive me to the garage where I had left my truck. That was a good drive because we talked and it could be hard to get Sam to talk.  I left him laughing with a story about moving a piano.  Both boys had been by a couple of weeks before to help move the piano to have new carpet put down.  It was a huffing, puffing experience for the three of us and Sam as always more than held up his end.

I got him to laugh because I told him about the two Mexican laborers, here to lay the carpet and who helped me move the piano back. Both were five six one forty and “they picked up that piano like it was a kitchen chair and I just had my fingers underneath the thing.”  He laughed and I thanked him for the ride and closed the door to his black Camry.  That was the last time I saw my son.

In the last two weeks of his life he remembered Mother’s Day and his Mother’s birthday.  Only days ago Annie was driving home, thinking to herself, “When I get there I’ll ask Sam to put the air conditioner in the kitchen window.”  When she arrived he had just finished doing that very thing.

On a Saturday morning in late June our beautiful son Sam chose to take his life.  This has left me in such a state of shock I cannot say the words “my son is dead” without boiling into the hottest tears I have ever cried. “This is so unnecessary,” I keep telling him, “you didn’t have to do this, son.”  But that handsome young man, so intelligent, so full of light once, who kept so much of his inner life unspoken, is gone.

I thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

1 July 2013



On Kicking Cigarettes

On a New Year’s Day a friend of mine, Andrea C., began her attempt to kick cigarettes and started a blog as opposed to “bitching out all her friends.” The following was contributed to her blog.

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Having traveled down Tobacco Road, let me tell you my own experience of quitting. Maybe you will pick up a pointer or two, but I will keep the advice to a minimum.  Maybe you’ll just skip down to the “go girl rah rah” and “buck up, sweetheart” part.   But either way, you Nicotine Wretch, here are my two cents.

By 1984 I had been smoking two packs a day for ten years.  O n days of great stress, like rehearsals, I smoked three packs a day.  There were any number of psychological triggers that required the company of a cigarette.  The phone rang. Light a cigarette.  Cup of coffee. Cigarette.  After breakfast.  Cigarette.  After lunch.  Cigarette.  After dinner.  Cigarette.  Go to a bar and order a drink.  Cigarette.  Driving a car.  Cigarette.  Sit down at a desk to write.  Cigarette.  Get stoned.  Cigarette.  Stare out the window and contemplate infinity.  Cigarette. S tare out the window and realize how lonely, bored, frustrated, depressed and useless I felt. T en cigarettes.  Sit up all night with a friend talking.  Pack and a half of cigarettes between the two of you. . And of course, the ever popular cigarette after sex.

There were two dozen attempts at quitting.  My attempts generally lasted a few hours to a few days before willpower folded and I would reach for that little burning white friend, who was always such good company.  Like so many others I would say, “I love to smoke.”  And I did.

Then I got married.  We lived in three small rooms in Soho and my wife was pregnant.  To her credit she never hinted I should stop polluting the premises. On my own though I came to the obvious conclusion:  it’s not fair to a newborn baby to smoke up three small rooms.

So I quit, quit for somebody outside of myself, which – it is my belief – made it easier.  Toothpicks and sunflower seeds helped keep hands and mouth busy.  To this day I will stuff my mouth with a wad of sunflower seeds and work my way through them, one by one.  But heck, sunflower seeds are good for you.

So that’s my first bit of advice.  Sunflower seeds and toothpicks. Either one, especially toothpicks, will get you out of that psychological white cotton night gown when walking around Manhattan.  Toothpicks are snarly, the perfect complement to lowering the chin, narrowing the eyes, and hissing quietly through your teeth, “Get the fuck out of my face.”

My second piece of advice is this:  both times I quit, and I will tell you about the second time in a minute, Day Three to Day Fourteen were the toughest.  The psychological addiction was much greater than the physical addiction.  Maybe it will be different for you. But there all those damn triggers.

Going into a deli and not buying a pack is a habit you have to break, too, especially when the clerk knows you.  There was a woman at my deli who would put a pack on the counter when I walked in the door.  There were friends or acquaintances who would shake out a smoke and ask, “Want one?”  There was the time I quit for three days, then spied a single cigarette laying on a sidewalk, just begging, “Smoke me, you fool.”  And I did.

For me there was no such thing as tapering off.  One cigarette was a thousand cigarettes.  One smoke was another year of smokes.  It’s no different from an alcoholic with “just one drink.” Uh-uh.  Addiction must be pulled out by the roots.

So in 1984 I quit for my young baby, my young son.  Went cold turkey a few months before he was born and stayed clean for five and a half years.  Not a puff.  Did it make me feel good about myself? Yes it did.

Then my wife and I broke up and that was my excuse to start smoking again.  Just like you point out, there is a whole “I’m sorry for myself and I’m going to self destruct” dynamic going on with cigarettes.  In no time at all it was two packs a day. Again.

How stupid can one get?

Another three years went by and almost every waking hour found me with a burning cigarette between my fingers. Then slowly, ever so slowly, a new thought took root.  It was revolutionary thought, one that took twenty years to form, but one of enormous importance.  I could no longer say “I love to smoke.”

In fact, I hated to smoke.

I hated how my lungs felt black and bleeding when I woke up in the morning, hated how a flight of stairs made me pant for breath, hated the obsessive compulsive order that set in when it was time to leave the house and every trash can and ash tray had to be checked for butts because one time the waste basket was smoldering.   Most of all I hated the brown and yellow phlegm I hawked up and spit out every hour of the day, living, vicious, viscous proof of stupidity and weakness.

Have you ever been lonely and depressed and sat up so late the info-mericals came on and you actually watch Tony Robbins for a whole hour?  I confess I have sunk so low that this has happened to me. Tony Robbins is a total tool, but there is one thing I did take from him. “Visualize where you will be 15 years from now.”  If I kept smoking for 15 more years, I could see myself in an iron lung in the charity ward of a hospital.

With that picture in mind I quit.  Quit for good.  As a matter of fact, in a few months, it will be 15 years since my last cigarette.  Perhaps I should thank Tony Robbins.  On the other hand, he can bite me.  No, better he should bite you with those big old tombstone Mormon looking teeth.


This is my third and final bit of advice. You have to come to a point where you say, quite honestly, “I don’t love to smoke.”  I’m not going to say this makes it easy.  But it does make it easier.

So rah-rah. Love yourself enough to stop. Congratulations on your first couple of days of fighting down the demon weed. You go, girl. From now on you’ll get more and better kisses because your mouth won’t taste like an ash tray.

Remember to buck up, sweetheart.  It will get worse before it gets better. You will no doubt be a raving fucking lunatic.  But only us who really know you will know you are any worse than usual.

John Paul

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