RIP Patrick Macnee

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I couldn’t let the recent passing of actor Patrick Macnee go by without at least a tip of the bowler.

My memories of Macnee go way back.  It’s likely I heard him before I saw him, thanks to his ominous narration at the beginning of every episode of the original Battlestar Galactica. Later, he was the voice of the Cylon’s “Imperious Leader” in the same series, before finally showing up in (sort of) human form as the evil Count Iblis.  By then, I’d probably seen him as British agent John Steed on The New Avengers, running at 11:30 EST on the CBS Late Night Movie.

Naturally it was the Steed role that made the biggest impression, as James Bond had already predisposed me in favor of secret agents and all things British.  Though paired in The New Avengers with two more contemporary, youthful and “hip” agents, it was the comparatively anachronistic (if not fantasy-based) Steed who most interested me.  With his Edwardian outfits and ever-present umbrella, his impeccable manners and cultured ways, he was exaggeratedly “British,” which I suppose satisfied me in the same way that foreigners want all Americans to wear cowboy hats and talk with a twang.

Post-Avengers, Macnee went on to memorable roles in the horror film The Howling and the cult-favorite comedy, This is Spinal Tap, and practically innumerable guest appearances on TV shows.  He starred as Dr Watson opposite two Sherlock Holmeses, Roger Moore (!) in Sherlock Holmes in New York and his old school chum Christoper Lee in two other films.  Macneee also played Holmes himself in The Hound of London, making him one of very few actors to play both roles.  In the wake of his passing, I sought out the Magnum, PI episode titled “Holmes Is Where the Heart Is,” in which Macnee guest stars as a former British agent who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes in a sort of “two for one” package of Macnee specialties.

Indeed, the Steed role was the gift that kept on giving for Macnee, keeping him steadily employed from 1961 to 1969 opposite various screen partners on the original series, then again in 1976 in the aforementioned New Avengers revival, plus in-character cameos on talk shows, variety shows, music videos and commercials.  Even when he was “done” with Steed, he pretty much turned “ex-British agent”  into a second career; you could just imagine producers saying, “We need a former spy in this episode.  Get me Macnee!”  In 1983, he replaced the late Leo G. Carroll as Napoleon Solo’s boss for the Return of the Man from UNCLE TV movie, and if his precise status was somewhat unclear in the 1985 Bond film, A View To A Kill, his casting opposite Roger Moore was obviously meant to capitalize on the nostalgia appeal of pairing two former icons of 60s British adventure TV.

In the 90s, I finally got to see the original Avengers series on AMC, and it became a bit of an obsession for me.  Almost every episode had at least one moment for Steed to shine, but near the top of the list, for me, was a scene in “A Touch of Brimstone.”  Chiefly famous for a skimpy and suggestive outfit Mrs Peel wears as “the Queen of Sin,” (contributing mightily to the decision by American networks not to air the episode at the time), the episode also features the immortal scene where Steed applies for membership in the mysterious Hellfire Club, and is put through a tension-filled initiation by the wonderfully evil Lord Cartney, as played by Peter Wyngarde.

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Steed is first challenged to drink a ridiculously huge mug full of some sort of alcoholic spirit, which he does with aplomb (asking for a bit more as “the drive down seems to have given me quite a thirst.”) Then, with his wits and reflexes thus (presumably) impaired, he’s challenged to remove a dried pea from a chopping block before a club member can cut it in two with an axe.  Another member, and a veteran of this particular test in the past, holds up his two prosthetic fingers as a warning of what could happen.  Steed agrees gamely, with the air of a fatuous aristocrat out of his depth and blind to his peril.  Lord Cartney looks on with a cruel leer, al but licking his lips at the prospect of witnessing a gruesome maiming.  The signal is given, the axe swings down and Steed — puff! — blows the pea off the chopping block, thus meeting the challenge of removing it, and without ever risking his digits.

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Wyngarde, still a couple of years away from iconic superspy status himself as Jason King in Department S, is perfect here, projecting first an oily sadism, then a fuming disappointment at Steed’s clever dodge.  Macnee handles the scene perfectly as well, playing up his “clueless fop” act while underneath he’s acutely aware of his danger, and Cartney’s treachery, and determined to outwit him.  By literally “blowing off” Cartney’s “ultimate test,” he makes a mockery of the whole exercise, and gives Cartney a figurative poke in the eye without ever dropping the pretense of fun and games.   Here we have Steed in a nutshell, the eccentric, flighty facade concealing a center of hard, English steel.  It’s no coincidence that the bowler secretly has a steel brim and the umbrella conceals a finely honed sword.

At the height of my infatuation with The Avengers, I bought a full-size umbrella to replace my collapsible version.  I wanted to practice all the “stage business” Macnee was so great at when he used his as a cane, a pointer or a hook (rarely did Steed’s brolly actually get opened).  In my defense, I never carried it unless their were rainclouds out, and ultimately I abandoned it as too hard to wrestle in and out of my car.  Plus I could never roll it even a fraction as tightly as Steed did.  Even at my most intense stage of fandom, I didn’t buy a bowler, but I definitely sympathized with Niles and Frasier Crane when they defended their love of Steed to their dad Martin in an episode of the sitcom, “Frasier:”

Martin: My point is, you guys could never resist putting on airs.  Even when you were in junior high, you used to love that TV program, “The Avengers.” You used to run all over the neighborhood pretending you were that guy with the umbrella…Steve.
Frasier: Steed!
Niles: (rolls his eyes) Dad!
Frasier: There were worse role models. Steed was dapper and witty.  When anyone tried to give him grief, he gave them a sound thrashing with the umbrella.
Martin: Well, that’s great, admire him if you want. But did you have to run through the neighborhood in bowler hats? I mean, you were just begging to get beat up.
Frasier: Come to think of it, it was rather a rough summer that year, wasn’t it?
Niles: I remember getting a chin strap so the bowler wouldn’t fall off when I ran.

It’s worth noting that much of what we associate with Steed are traits native to Macnee himself; the cheery good humor, the charm and pleasant manner and gentlemanly conduct.  In his book, “The Avengers And Me,” Macnee noted that it was largely up to him what form his character would take (not least because, at first anyway, it had been meant as just a supporting role):

“Nobody told me how I should play steed, or relate to other people.  I never, ever, got a brief. It was never written down.  The script for ‘Hot Snow,’ the first episode in December 1960 said; ‘Keel is about to push the bell button when the door is flung open.  Steed stands there.’  Just that, nothing else.  No description, nothing.  So I just made him up….[Steed] was never a character in literature, like Bulldog Drummond, Simon Templar or James Bond, or a persona somebody else had first created in another medium.  Steed was never written down — “Steed stands there.”– and I was the man.  I’m awfully proud of that.  As time went on, Steed and myself just grew together.”

Even in his heyday, Steed was an anachronism, and more’s the pity.  Macnee, likewise, seemed one of the last exemplars of a more civilized and decent era, a time either long past or maybe just imagined in the first place.  We’re a bit the poorer to have lost them both.

 

RIP Leonard Nimoy

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Long ago, before the geeks inherited the Earth, before “Big Bang Theory” ruled the airwaves and superhero movies ruled at the box office, before everyone and his brother had a Dr Who t-shirt, “nerd” was not a label we wore with comfort, let alone bragged about.  Being a nerd meant being ostracized, teased and bullied.  Back then, your love for science fiction or comic books was something you kept to yourself, until, through some secret signal or other, you connected with a fellow traveler, thereafter to spend your lunches in the school cafeteria together, gleefully — if quietly — comparing notes on favorite Bradbury or Asimov stories, debating whether the Flash could outrun Quicksilver, or trying to figure out the science (if any) behind warp speed and photon torpedoes.

If there was an icon for us in those days, it was undeniably Mr. Spock, the ultimate outsider, the only one of his kind on a crowded ship where everyone else fit in.  Like us, he was defined by his otherness. His brain worked differently from his peers, which gave him satisfaction and a sense of identity but also loneliness and pain.   Where we stuck out as different with our thick glasses or braces or bad skin or never-quite stylish clothes, for him it was those pointed ears; at once cool and unsettling, weird and mesmerizing, they set him apart from everyone else, which could be a good and bad thing, often at once.  And that’s why we “grokked” Spock.  We may not have come from the planet Vulcan, but we knew what it was to be alien.  In the end we were vindicated as Spock’s logical mind often saved the ship, or whole worlds, and intelligence was revealed not as a liability but in fact a superpower.  (And just for good measure, he was the strongest guy on the ship, even if his pacifism kept all that power in check.)

Under the makeup and ears was Leonard Nimoy, an actor of considerable intellect and ability who worked hard to preserve his character’s dignity and saw it pay off as he and Spock grew into cultural icons.  Fifty years later, with Star Trek such an integral part of popular culture, it’s easy to forget what a hugely courageous act it was to put on those ears for the first time.  Like any actor, Mr. Nimoy must have wanted to be respected for his work, and to get more work, but both respect and future employment were on the line if the gamble failed, if no one would see beyond that odd makeup to the soul of the character.  Today even Academy Award winners line up to shave their heads, paint their faces and apply fake noses, brows, ears and hair for superhero and science fiction films, but Nimoy took up the challenge in an age where most celluloid science fiction involved zippered, rubber monster suits, giant insects and wobbly flying saucers. There were no guarantees he’d come out on the other end of Star Trek with any kind of career at all.  It was to his great credit that he saw the potential in the character and was willing to put so much on the line to bring it to life.  Everyone making millions today off of nerd-friendly movies and TV owes him a Vulcan salute.

Of course, there was a lot more to Nimoy than Spock. He was a talented poet and photographer and directed non-Trek films like Three Men and A Baby and The Good Mother, for starters.  But it’s a testament to the talent and sincerity he poured into Star Trek that, for once, it doesn’t seem disrespectful to link a real person to a fictional character.  For many, thanks to Nimoy, Spock was as real as anyone they knew.  Which, on the downside, kind of makes this a double loss.

The last reel of Wrath of Khan, still and probably always the best of the Trek films, is filled with three-hanky moments as  Spock sacrifices himself for the ship, says goodbye to his best friend and is given a “burial in space,” but the moment that always hits me hardest is when McCoy calls up to Kirk, still on the bridge, and tells him he’d better come running.  Until now, Kirk has been so wrapped up in his battle with Khan that he hasn’t even noticed Spock’s left the bridge, but as soon as he hears that cryptic plea from McCoy, he knows what’s happened.  He looks over to the science station to see Spock’s empty chair and the truth hits him like a punch to the gut. That image of the empty chair is more powerful in its understatement than all the gory makeup or teary dialog that follows.  Today the chair is empty again, but unlike in the movies, and with due respect to Mr. Nimoy’s nominal successor in the role, that’s the way it’s going to stay.

Rest in peace, Mr Nimoy, and godspeed on your new voyage.

spocks chair

 

Carmine Infantino

It’s likely the first images I ever saw of Batman were created by Carmine Infantino.  Sometimes I try to remember my first exposure to the character and I’ve just about decided it wasn’t through the comics, the TV show or cartoons, but through the merchandising.  By the time I was old enough to toddle around, the live-action TV show was winding down, but the tidal wave of related toys, lunchboxes, trading cards and sundry other gee-gaws it had inspired was, if not still cresting, then leaving the shores thoroughly littered with bat-this-and-that’s as it receded.  And a lot of that material featured imagery created by Mr Infantino, who passed away this week at 87.

When he was roped into re-vamping Batman in 1964, Infantino had already played a key role in launching comics’ “Silver Age,” having re-introduced The Flash with a deceptively simple-looking costume that broke with “cape-and-shorts” tradition and actually looked like something a guy could comfortably run in.  His fluid designs, nimble figures, space-age skylines and dynamic layouts were about as far as you could get from the stiff, flat, lantern-jawed take on Batman that Bob Kane’s ghosts had been churning out for decades, and considering the Caped Crusader’s sales were in the toilet, just the shot in the arm he needed.

It’s probably hard for modern Bat-fans to appreciate how huge a deal the shift in art styles was back in 1964.  Batman has attracted so many stellar artists for so long that it’s easy to forget he was locked in one art style for an incredibly long period, and that that style could most charitably be described as “primitive.”  Infantino’s comparatively realistic and far more contemporary style — known then and now as  “New Look” Batman — was such a jolt it sent fans into two camps; those more than ready for a change and those who thought Batman, like Dick Tracy, could only be drawn properly by his creator (a debate that played out in the pages of fan magazine “Bat-Mania” which, if you’re off a mind, can be downloaded for free here).  It was in that same forum that fans would soon learn Batman’s “creator” had in fact not drawn the strip in years, and may not even have been the “creator” at all, but that’s another story.

The point is, Infantino helped give the character the boost he needed to reverse his sales slump and get him back on the map with readers, which in turn led to the TV show, followed by a cartoon series that used Infantino’s designs, and all that groovy bat-gear.

As I get older, it gets ever harder for images to stick in my mind, but certain ones from early childhood remain as vivid now as they were the first time I saw them: Oddjob throwing his bowler hat, the Beatles in their Yellow Submarine, Steve Austin running in slow-motion, and comic images like the one below, created as a pin-up by Carmine Infantino and recycled endlessly on posters, album covers, statues and the cover to one of the most-prized books in my collection, “Batman From the 30s to the 70s,” not to mentioned being, along with the covers to Action Comics #1 and Spider-Man #1, one of the most imitated, parodied and plain old ripped-off comic book images of all time:

Then there was the “arms akimbo” pose that was used on tons of merchandise, including a version that was embossed on the bottom of everyone’s favorite die-cast vehicle toy, the Corgi Batmobile:

Infantino’s pin-ups of Batman villains the Joker, the Penguin and the Riddler were, likewise, the definitive images of those characters for a generation:

None of which is to imply that Infantino’s career began and ended with Batman.  He was one of the few talents to be around almost from the beginning and stick with it for decades, starting in the “Golden Age” of the 40s by introducing the Black Canary, evolving his style through the 50s with work on fantasy, sci-fi, adventure and Western strips and in 1956, as noted, ushering in a second era of superhero dominance with the re-imagined Flash.  As the 60s gave way to the 70s, he took the unusual post of “cover editor,” drawing roughs for the covers of almost all of DC’s titles and establishing a “house style” to be followed by such luminaries as Nick Cardy, Neal Adams and Murphy Anderson.  In the early 70s, with DC more or less on the ropes as Marvel Comics dominated the field, Infantino became the first artist ever to serve as Publisher of a major comics line, hiring on a new generation of artistic talents and creating an atmosphere of creative freedom that eventually wooed even Jack Kirby away from Marvel.  In short, he created “my” DC, the comics I started with and which inspired a lifelong interest.  More recently, reprints of his Silver Age work on The Flash and Adam Strange have made a comics fan of my son, Jason.

Of course the down side to being a constantly evolving artist is that sometimes you evolve too far for your audience, and as Infantino’s art became more and more stylized and quirky, he left a lot of readers behind, including yours truly.  By the late 70s and early 80s, I started actively avoiding his work on titles like Star Wars because it was just too angular and cartoony for my tastes.  Back on The Flash again in the 80s, he drew what seemed to me an utterly interminable storyline called “The Trial of The Flash,” which between lasting literally for years and featuring that ever-more oddball art style pretty much led to the character being killed off in 1986’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”

And so he became a sort of poster boy for the cycle that defines all truly innovative artists with an individual style and a desire to keep growing;  you start off with folks calling you an  “exciting young talent,” progress if you’re lucky to “genius” and “giant in the field” and end up with “meh, I liked your old stuff better.”  But oh, that old stuff!

I was lucky enough to meet Mr Infantino at a late 90s convention and got him to sign, among other things, a poster of that “rooftop” image, which was pretty awesome.  He seemed like a nice guy, if a bit tired, but then I’m guessing he had that image shoved in front of him about a zillion times over the years.  To him, it was old news, one of countless jobs he cranked out in a long career, if for some reason just more popular than a lot of the others.  But to me, it was one of the most powerful images of childhood, one that unlocked a whole universe of imagery and adventures and a lifetime love of comics.

I’ve often thought it must be awesome to connect, really connect with an audience on a meaningful level, whether through a portrayal, a song, an artwork or whatever.  I hope Mr Infantino knew that he made that kind of connection with a lot of readers.  Either way, he’ll live on through his work, and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

 

RIP Andy Griffith

It took me a while to get into Andy Griffith.

By the time I was old enough to stay up for prime time viewing, The Andy Griffith Show had already morphed into the tepid Ken Berry spin-off, Mayberry RFD. I never quite warmed to the “Perry Mason by way of Cracker Barrel” routine of Matlock. Oddly, my introduction to Mr Griffith probably came with Salvage 1, a kooky show (but not a comedy!) about a salvage expert who builds a space ship out of junk parts and manages to get it to the moon and back.  And while I liked that show(!), he didn’t especially stand out for me.  Anyway, as a kid I was all about the futuristic adventure of Star Trek and glamorous globe-trotting with James Bond; down-home, “country” shows were all Hee-Haw junk in my book.

It wasn’t until high school and syndication that I was able to watch The Andy Griffith Show, but by then I’d changed enough to enjoy it, because by then I was old enough to understand the appeal of nostalgia.

Yes, I know you can’t feel nostalgia for a place you didn’t live and a time you were too young to remember (if you were alive at all), but the beauty of Mayberry was that it could have been any small town, and for millions of viewers it was theirs.  For me it was the small Virginia town where I spent my earliest years, and which — after a passage of years and miles — my hazy memories had rendered as idealized and near-mythical as the backlot sets of Mayberry.

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The real appeal of the show for me, though, was in the relationships between the characters, especially the father-son dynamic of Andy and Opie, which was touching and real without — at least for my money — tipping over to maudlin.

Andy Taylor was, for me, a lot like Ward Cleaver; a good dad who made his share of mistakes, and often ended up with egg on his face, but whose heart was in the right place.  By the 70s,  sit-coms woudl shift their focus away from the parents to the kids; the stars of the shows were precocious pre-teens, and the dads — to the extent they got any screen time at all — just showed up to play straight man and act hopelessly befuddled by pretty much everything.  This is a trend that continues to the present, with no end of cable shows on Disney and what-not starring nominal “kids” who live essentially as little grown-ups, with parents who are mainly absent and when they do show up, an annoyance.  (Delivering two lessons modern generations have embraced all too readily: One, Never involve your parents in your life because they just don’t get it, and Two, perpetuate childhood as long as you can, because “grown up” is worse than dead).  For me, those older shows proved there’s lots of comedy potential in parent-child relations without making the parents into cardboard caricatures, or kids into smart-mouthed trouble-makers (though they were around then, too. See “Dennis the Menace”).   Andy and Ward often wandered in over their heads when it came to being dads (who doesn’t?) but they were never played as buffoons.

Ironically, one of the scenes I remember best from the Andy Griffith Show was actually about the folly of excessive nostalgia.  Andy, Opie and Aunt Bea are sitting on the front porch one summer night and the exchange goes more or less like this:

ANDY: “Opie, when I was a boy on a hot day like this, the ice man would drive his wagon through town and we kids would all run along behind it, trying to snatch off a hunk of ice to chew on.  Of course we’d usually get a piece of straw in there with it, but it still tasted great.  You know, something’s gone out of life since then…”

BEA: “Yes…Typhoid!”

The message — if any — being that it’s easy to overlook the down side of the “good old days,” and to forget that, after all, back then we were all working towards and dreaming about our future…which is now.  Better to enjoy the day at hand than pine for the one that’s gone.

Or something.  But it’s still hard not to yearn for a time when life was slower and simpler, when the “social network” centered on the annual town picnic and  “friending” someone involved actually meeting them, when all it took to keep the peace was a sherrif and a deputy with only one bullet between them (and that one kept in a shirt pocket), when the only resident of the jail was “the town drunk” and being drunk was pretty much harmless, when families talked to each other over dinner every night and then moved out onto the front porch to talk some more.

Yes, it’s hard not to pine for those things even if you never actually experienced them.  Maybe especially if you didn’t.  Even though we know Mayberry wasn’t real, we feel it should have been, so we massage our own memories until our home towns are Mayberry, when none of them really were.  As newsman Maxwell Scott says in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

And so as he embodied the protector of Mayberry and its values, we can mourn the loss of Andy Griffith, the actor.  But since he was only ever an idealized symbol in the first place, we needn’t say goodbye to Andy Taylor.  He’ll live on in reruns, as will Mayberry itself, not so much a real town, in Griffith’s words, as “a state of mind.” Meanwhile as a dad, I’ll keep trying to give my kids what I had; a great childhood that, looking back as adults, they’ll remember being even better than it was.

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Remembering Richard

On Sept. 17, I lost a longtime co-worker,  mentor and friend to cancer.  His name was Richard Brumfield.

Richard was a complicated guy, and just to make it even more complicated, he was also a simple guy.  A Marine veteran who spent 23 years in the Corps’ COMCAM division, filming combat in Vietnam and later Beirut, Richard would nonetheless never have struck you as the “military type.”  He certainly wasn’t what you’d call spit-and-polish or gung-ho, though his training did tend to come out in the way he’d call our clients “sir” and “ma’am,” in that way military men and police officers tend to do, even in retirement.

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Pretty much from the day he joined our staff, we picked on Richard as the “old man” of the outfit, though he couldn’t have been much older when he started than I am today.  It probably had more to do with his demeanor; he could certainly come off as a “keep your frisbee off my lawn”-type crusty curmudgeon.  Anyone who spent any time around him, however, knew it was all bluster; he was a total marshmallow under that prickly exterior.  I never knew him to give less than 100% to any job, or to turn down a request for help from a co-worker no matter how much it might have inconvenienced him or how late it meant sticking around.  Every year he put together a special video for local high school graduates who were dealing with cancer and I’m positive he never wrote up a bill for any of his work.   And rumor has it, though I’m not supposed to know, that even as he was dealing with constant pain and the long ordeal of chemotherapy and radiation, he took time out to write a letter to the president of the university praising his coworkers here in the department.

Richard dropped out of high school before he joined the Marines, but you’d be hard pressed to find a guy better-informed on almost every subject.  Working at a university, we did video projects for doctors and professors from all disciplines, and as we interacted with them, he’d always ask insightful questions that got the experts talking and thinking, and put them totally at ease (since the one sure way to an academician’s heart is to express interest in his or her field).  Often his questions led to a more fully realized film, but more than that it relaxed the “talent” to the point where they turned in a better performance, because now it was no longer about “how do I look” and “that camera is scaring me”…now it was an opportunity to share their interest with a wider audience; they could concentrate on what they were saying and not how awkward it felt to be saying it to a cold, unblinking, mechanical eye.  It was a process I watched unfold a thousand times, and I never quite decided whether he was really that interested in so many things, or if it was just the shrewd strategy of a gifted director.  Either way, it was always impressive to witness.

Working with a guy for twelve years and spending time with him in the office, on the road or at conferences, you get a lot of opportunities to chat.  Once you’re done with the mad dash of setting up for a shoot, there’s often a lot of waiting around for things to happen, so you talk about whatever you can think of just to pass the time.  Consequently I know that Richard was a troublemaker as a kid, and once drove a motorcycle through the halls of his school (which may have contributed to that early departure).  I know he taught film at UCLA, despite — again — his own lack of a degree and a less-than-welcoming reception from the decidedly anti-war crowd enrolled there when he arrived in the late 60s, looking every inch the Marine.   I know he had a knowledge of and appreciation for vintage films and film stars, which made for many interesting conversations and — when I wasn’t careful — something of an education.   He had hilarious stories of working with Henry Winkler (a snob) Robin Williams (a druggie) and Geraldo Rivera (a narcissistic phoney…surprise!).  The star who most impressed him was Judy Garland, whom he once got to met, briefly, and of whom he was clearly in awe.  He had an encyclopedic knowledge of camera and editing techniques, and — again belying the “old fart” label — a keen interest in where video was headed in the digital age.  It never ceased to amaze me how he seemed to know about every new development in video before anyone else heard about it, especially given how much time he spent playing poker on the internet.  When did he find time to learn all that stuff?

I also know, of course, that he loved his family, and doted on his grandkids.  And that he was scared, in the last year or so, of what was ahead for him, and them.   He kept it together for their sake, but I knew he was freaking out underneath it all, as who wouldn’t?  In spite of ever-increasing pain levels and diminishing mobility, he kept dragging himself into work as long as humanly possible, and I think it broke his heart to finally give it up.

During Richard’s illness, I learned an interesting thing or two about the government’s official stance on Agent Orange, the Vietnam-era defoliant blamed for so many illnesses over the decades.  As a veteran, all Richard had to do to collect V.A. benefits (or to start the ball rolling, anyway) was to prove (1) that he served in Vietnam during the conflict and (2) that he had cancer.  With those two facts established, the government will rubber-stamp your request in the certainty it was Agent Orange that did you in.  Of course, if you happen to be a Vietnamese citizen with cancer, or with a child with birth defects, the official answer is, “There’s no proof Agent Orange causes any of that.”

There was another take-away from the whole sorry affair, and that is that everyone should be intimately involved with their own health care.  Don’t assume your doctor knows all; if you have a test, ask for the results, and if you’re not getting answers that make sense to you, get a second opinion.

It’s a very strange thing, working closely with someone for so long and then realizing one day they’re gone.  Every day I come across a file he crammed in some unlikely place, or a folder or label with his handwriting on it.  I’m torn between the desire to reorganize things the way I always wanted them to be anyway, and the reluctance to alter the few things left that reflect his influence.  At this point, his phone’s pretty much stopped ringing, and soon the day will come when people stop asking me about him, or sharing condolences.   And someday, if I’m here long enough, it’ll be hard to even remember what it was like when he was here.  It’s a natural process, but it’s still somehow offensive to imagine in the early stages.

Speaking of condolences, that was the one part of this whole thing that most caught me off-guard.  I was not prepared to have people seek me out to tell me how sorry they were; after all, I’m not family.  I found it very touching that people would think of how it was all affecting me, although ironically I think it didn’t really hit me that hard until they did so.

Richard’s funeral service was both low-key and impressive, featuring as it did a Marine Guard to act as pall-bearers, play Taps and present the colors.  Since he wasn’t really the religious type, it was held at the graveside, with what appeared to be a “rent-a-preacher” delivering a respectful if generic eulogy; I got the distinct impression the minister’s familiarity with Richard was fleeting at best.  Similarly, I was hoping for more from his obituary, and found the one or two mentions on the web (at USMC sites) even more cursory.  Surely a guy as storied and well-traveled as Richard deserved something more involved, or even profound?  Which I guess is what drove me to start this post, though it occurs to me I’ve achieved only the “wordy” part.

brumfield

I guess the only thing to add is that Richard was a sort of father-figure to a lot of the student workers here, some of whom were separated from their families by whole continents.  They seemed drawn to him for some reason, and sought out his advice.  It occurs to me he played a “mentor” role to me, as well, having been the one to sweet-talk management into transferring me to the video department when I was disillusioned with my previous position.  This despite a lack of any real experience in videography on my part.  Thus he joins a line of teachers and mentors who’ve influenced my life and career, and for that alone deserves mention here.  Not that it was an entirely altruistic move on his part, mind you; before that, he was a one-man department, and he needed the help.

More than that, I’m pretty sure he was lonely in that office, physically separated from the rest of the staff by a long(ish) hallway.  Lately I can sympathize with that feeling, as it’s certainly been a lot quieter in the last few months.   In fact I’ve been struck by just how large a space it is, though of course the office is exactly the same size today as it ever was.  It’s just that a very large presence has left it.

Rest in peace, Richard, and Semper Fi.