Kage Baker didn’t want to know when her friends died.
It wasn’t that she didn’t care – she did, tremendously. But we’d entered that time of life when one’s playmates start dying a lot; and she couldn’t stand the increasing list. I was the one who kept up on social media, just to see that everyone was still alive. She finally forbade me to tell her the casualty list.
Every now and then she’d ask me “Okay, who’s died recently?” And I’d tell her; and she’d go so pale her freckles glowed like embers across her nose, and her eyes would become black ice. And then she’d be very quiet for awhile, and finally tell me, “Don’t tell me anymore unless I ask, okay?”
“But you always do ask!” I’d protest.
“Fine; but wait until I ask, all right?” And then Kage would usually find a way to write the most recent beloved loss into a story. Which seemed to ease her heart – until, of course, she made the Hit List and left me to cope all by myself with the relentless tide of loss …
That was 5 years ago; since then, a lot more of our dearest friends have died. We’re all getting older, after all; and while there may well be a few immortals concealed among the very peculiar people who work Faires and write science fiction, they all keep to the rules and appear to kick the jam jar (as Kage liked to say) after a reasonable amount of time.
The main reason I check Facebook every day is to see who’s survived another night.
Yestreday, Gerald Zepeda – yet another brilliant old friend and companion – went into the Uttermost West. We call it Skyfaire, in our peculiar tribe: by now, it has the best community theatre, orchestra, choral groups, costumers, armourers, fighters, dancers and general performers anywhere since the original Globe Theatre burned down.
Gerald was one of our best. He was a street performer of the very first water; a matchless improviser, a fine director, a selfless administrator. He dealt with the Front Office long past the time when most of the rest of us sensitive artistic types had set our hair on fire and run screaming from the insane demands of the Business Mind; he always did his very best to keep The Show pure and alive and running. Because he did have to sit at the Grownups’ Table in order to keep the playground open for us less responsible actor types, we clashed a lot – but he was my friend, nonetheless, my playmate of old, someone I always admired when he got to put down his burdens and come play with the rest of us loonies.
He was part of my life for over 40 years. He was someone I would always recognize in a crowd – from his walk, the set of his shoulders, the back of his head.We weren’t bosom buddies – I don’t think I ever even kissed him; and believe me, at Faire, you kiss everyone … but Gerald was one of my brothers. I’ve fallen in the mud with him, yelled at him, yelled for him, poured beer and water and lemonade in his cup and over his head.
He started out as a Monger, selling hysterically gross deceased and decaying items to horrified tourists; I met him when he was the fierce paternal guardian of the little girl Mongettes on the Actors’ Bus. He invented an hilarious group of Puritans, and was a great stump preacher. He was a slimily evil Sheriff, a pompously evil Spanish Ambassador, an eye-rolling insane Bad Bishop …
Gerald was my boss for many years, too; me and the other insane, unreasonable, un-herdable, barely-domesticated performers making art under the oak trees. And he was always good to me. He was good to all of us, which was one of the hardest things any administrator must ever have done: because he worked his ass off to give us the freedom to be mad creators when he could have been right out there upstaging most of us if he hadn’t been such a responsible director. And he did it when it would have been a lot easier to just haul us all up on charges – perfectly justified – of being rude, crude and socially unspeakable.
He was kind enough to praise my own skills at improvisation – which was Gold Standard Praise from the Praiseworthy, because Gerald was light-years beyond me. He praised the folks who could be trusted to talk to the press; at the same time, he lauded those of us who did good stuff by deciding to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. He encouraged us to be independent, and kept us as free from stodgy interference as he could. He did that for all of us whose art he was delighted to see, as long he didn’t have to know about it before we did it … and he had a new show opening at Dickens this year, too. It will open, with the rest of Extreme Christmas, this Saturday in the Cow Palace: I cannot imagine his cast does not intend to be on the boards in his absence.
He was a good man, a fine actor, an exemplary scholar. He was a beloved husband, father, friend, mentor. He was a devout man, and yet always tolerant of others’ religion. He was laugh until milk comes out of your nose funny.
Rest not at all, Gerald! Pick up where you left off, resume your role as brilliant actor and instigator with all the vigour of your endless youth. There are dead chickens and pig’s heads to sell, Puritans to lead and harass, sinners to exhort, widows and orphans to threaten. There’s a place at the long wooden table under the oaks, where the afternoon light comes down in curtains of golden dust, and all the world is young and strong and laughing.
Man, you will be missed.
It has been really hard to have to let Gerald & Ken Hill (asst. manager Ale 5) go on the same day. Ken I knew was leaving very soon. I met Gerald & Ken about the same time when I first started working faire. Gerald on the other hand, I just saw him at workshops. He looked ok, not in the best of health, but certainly not ready to leave for SkyFaire. I can’t wrap my head around it. Kate is so right, pick up where you left off, it is the only way for this to play out. You will be missed here; but SkyFaire has gotten a brilliant star. Shine on Gerald. Go get a brew from Ken & Mojo.
Kate, that was one of the best memories of our fair family, beautifully written. Thank You.
Thank you, Dina. Bearing witness as our beloveds go into the West is one of the hardest duties that has ever fallen to me. They deserve it, though.
I’m so sorry.
I wasn’t a friend of Gerald’s but was a respectful fan from the first time I saw his work on the street. He could do the quiet, intimate bit as well as the blustery, over the top slapstick sort of bit. He had a voice that could drown out a fog horn when he chose, but could still mentor those little Mongettes without scaring them. A remarkable man who will be missed. Here on earth. I can imagine the roaring approval at Skyfaire as he showed up to celebrate with his old friends, young and healthy again with no worries of hangovers.
Bless you, Kathleen, for doing such a wonderful job of explaining him – and us – to everyone. This missive was truly beautifully written.
Thank you Kathleen.