Adam’s Memorial Service----March 6, 2008
Temple De Hirsch, Seattle
I was recently reading Adam’s Salon Magazine commentary on a 1995 Bruce Springsteen concert in Berkeley. In it, Adam suggests that “the Boss” watch the Preston Sturges' film, “ Sullivan’s Travels’” to learn how to stop impersonating the misery of those he sings about (now that he’s so rich) and to worry more about entertaining them, instead. In “Sullivan’s Travels”, Adam says: “Joel McCrea plays a successful Hollywood director of screwball comedies who feels compelled by the Depression to make a serious Capra-esque film about social justice. Setting off disguised as a bum, (McCrea) ends up jailed in a dismal Southern prison. At a rare screening for the prisoners, McCrea discovers that the anarchic humor of a cartoon provides the cons with glorious brief respite from their grim lives. McCrea learns first-hand that a dose of laughter and delight can offer the oppressed something they need far more than any earnest indictment of social ills.”
Anyway, when I was reading this a couple of weeks ago,I thought ”omigod, I’ve got to tell Adam about the time I snuck into the party Robert De Niro threw for Mandela right after he got out of prison and got to hear Mandela tell Eddie Murphy the exact same thing! In a case of life mimicking fiction, I saw Mandela lean over and tell Murphy how deeply important his comedies were to him at Robben Island. I couldn’t believe it, Eddie Murphy (of all people!), made continuing with daily life seem possible for Mandela and his fellow political prisoners! Since this was right after (morally craven) Murphy had made the hugely stereotypical and bigoted ”Coming to America,” I was astounded.
Of course, I had forgotten that I can’t tell Adam.
Adam and I grew up on the same street. The Block kids were smarter, funnier, naughtier, and more argumentative, than any other family we knew, and my older brother and sister and I continually sought to go play with them at their lively, boisterous house.
Right after Adam’s mother (who was also my god-mother) Dorothy, died, Adam and I started the 3rd grade together at Stevens School, here on Capitol Hill. To our dismay, we found ourselves squarely “in the peculiar world of third grade” (to paraphrase what he later told Schuyler, regarding another school) ”in which you are held prisoner by adults often less intelligent than you are.” Adam, when he discovered that our teacher, Miss Straight, was both criminally dull and moderately cruel, almost immediately made his move. And he did so in what I would call classic Adam fashion: he talked her to death. Before my eyes, he became a kind of machine-gun of humiliation for her, firing one question after another at her that she couldn’t answer. Adam skipped a grade, based on this performance, leaving me behind, to get beaten up after school and to try out a tentative 3rd grade friendship with a girl who lived near us too, until I learned her brothers were famous for shooting the legs off birds.
Although he came to visit me when I was in college in Palo Alto, and we rode around in my blue and white 1956 Buick Special; our friendship mostly took place later, in San Francisco. Starting thirty years ago or so, after I moved to New York, I would look up Adam when I came to town. We would sit in one little North Beach cafe or another and just talk, and I would show him images of my recent work. He seemed unfailingly interested in seeing what I was doing, which puzzled me, slightly, because my paintings didn’t fall within any parameters that I imagined him to be very interested in at that time. Although we had both grown up around fine examples of the work of Morris Graves and Mark Tobey, and my work was derived from a language rooted in, among other things, NW painting, I couldn’t really imagine why he would be that interested in it. Sometimes, I felt his interest came from a kind of loyalty to our shared past. But, in any event, with regard to wanting to see me and what I was up to, his interest was unfailing. Adam was family, also, in the way that your first friends with whom you share ideas become your family.
Right before my 50th birthday, Adam called me in Paris to offer to come celebrate it with us. When my husband and I were married 12 years ago, we eloped, and although we had a very nice reception a year later, we were hoping to have a real party for my 50th, for the self-selected group that would make such a journey to come play. I had mailed out scores of very colorful invitations designed by my daughter, Makaiya, who was 10, of a kitty flying over the world. The picture was one that I, the mom, considered to be an utterly charming image, one that I imagined would be impossible to turn down. We were inviting our stateside family and friends to launch into the air to us, and the invites contained an offer to put up our guests in Paris for a few days (possibly, but not necessarily on the floor of my mother’s Paris apartment) but, offering food and lodging of some sort, anyway. When Adam called, fully intending to come, I had to regretfully inform him that he was actually the only one planning to come from the States, although, as I told him, the turnout of friends from Europe would be considerably better. Unfortunately, this news dampened his enthusiasm enough to cause him to reconsider. But, how I loved him for that instinct, for his loyalty and warm heart, and for his special brand of wit and intelligence that has helped keep us all warm during the cold times.