One year ago today I woke up in Bob Perl’s guest house, the quaintly furnished mountain house above the garage on his estate near Willow, NY. We had shared a weekend in honor of Todd, a few old friends and his nephews and me. Bob Johnson, Bob Perl and I had some coffee and packed up to head down to the city for the memorial service we’d planned at his club on the Lower East Side. Mark Burk had left before we’d awoken and we were grateful for his effort to be part of the weekend. Ben Saft had spent a wild Friday night with us, a fine dinner and a midnight hike to an alpaca ranch, worthy of a Todd adventure for sure.
Johnson and I stopped at the Ashokan Reservoir on the way down to NYC. Many a balmy afternoon had been spent with Todd and Marian and Amee lolling around the banks of the reservoir and dipping in for an illegal swim, the water stunningly clear and drinkably delicious. It was a foggy gray morning and Bob and I were sullen. We took a few pictures and continued on down the Thruway. As we entered Manhattan Bob became virulent against the city traffic. I understood his rage, I’d experienced it myself so many times. Raging at your competitors for the West Side Highway, the Harlem River Drive or the FDR, their aggression, their “yo primero” or “YP” attitudes as we’d say in Caracas.
We made it to the club off of Delancey and found a host of friends and relatives already gathering. Larry Geismar, Larry Goldstein and several other Larrys. David Lehrhoff, David Tessler and hundreds of “faux-Davids.” And only one Nora, one Rachel, one Carol, one Telts, one Jhon. People had come from all walks of Todd’s life, his advertising days, high school friends, cousins from far and near, guys who had only met him in the last few months and couldn’t get enough of him.
Stories were told, pictures taken and a video shot (though I’ve never seen it). We laughed and many of us cried and Bob J. sang The Highwaymen and I quoted some Steely Dan lyrics. It was the best we could do and it was Todd’s birthday, as it is today. It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago, so much seems to have transpired since that time. The shock and disbelief gave way to numbness and fear, the haunted days and sleepless nights led to dreams in which Todd spoke to us in vivid phrases, saying he was okay now, that we would see each other again. And gradually, achingly, we got used to his absence, found solace only in the presence of his memories, quoting him for the younger ones, “doing” his routines for each other, even listening to the prank phone calls.
In December I performed a childhood story called “Mudballs” I’d written and then adapted for solo performance. In it I had to play my mother, our stepfather, a Todd-like brother named Otto, myself as Max and a narrator on a road trip to the Poconos in 1971. It was a challenge, but not for the reasons you’d think. Embodying my family members was tough enough, but finding sympathy for them was the surprising effort. How could Joe have married into the family? What were his motives? What qualities were human about him, sympathetic? And how did my mother feel having to announce his arrival to her boys? Did we ever show compassion for her and her difficult situation?
My director, David Ford, helped so much. An outsider with deep understanding of “human emotion” as Todd would call it, he opened avenues for me to find something in The Joe that could be admired or at least that would cause an audience member to discover complexity in him. And with the Otto character, he helped me tap directly into the 14 year old’s rage. It was a very educational process for me, but sadly difficult and ultimately uncomfortable. I’ll publish the story soon and hope you enjoy the journey.
I ramble but you know what I’m getting at, don’t you? Happy Birthday, Todd. The second one we’ll have with out you. Wish you were here to see it.