Bright Lights Film Journal

George Kuchar: A First-Person Life

[Editor’s note: George Kuchar passed away in San Francisco on Tuesday, September 6, 2011, age 69. The cause was prostate cancer. He was beloved by many, and was certainly a “bright Light” to us at the magazine. Here writer and Kuchar friend Jack Stevenson offers some reminiscences.]

My original plan with this text was to employ an informed and objective tone and keep myself out of it. George had a zillion friends, who am I to hog the spotlight? And after all, this is about him, not me. But I soon came to realize that it was impossible to write about George Kuchar in anything but the first-person. In his presence one was never allowed to be just a spectator. Like his film class; if you were in the room you got a part, if you were crashing his class you got a part, and if you just wandered in off the street and only wanted to use the toilet you got a part. It was not his style to allow people to just hover in the background and merely observe. He had a very straightforward and direct relationship with people and sucked them in to the great collaborative project of filmmaking and life. He was in the trenches making it happen, hands on. There was never any formality, let alone academic pretension, at play with George, he never put himself on a higher plain. His life and his filmmaking, which embodies the essence of personal cinema, was all done with the immediacy and engagement of the first-person form, and any tribute to the guy has to be in something of the same spirit. And so I commence . . .

In the mid-’80s I was living in Cambridge, Mass. I tell people I lived in a brownstone in Central Square, but I really lived at the Brattle Theater up in Harvard Square. One day in the fall of ’87 a hand-scrawled note taped to the door of the theater announced that some days hence George Kuchar would be appearing in person to introduce his films. There was no advertising for the show other than this, but when the day arrived the theater was packed. I had never seen his films but had read about him and wasn’t about to miss an appearance by one of the legends of ’60s underground cinema. I sat in the front row. At the time I was publishing a journal called Pandemonium . . . maybe I could persuade him to be in the next issue.

George finally appeared on stage. He took hold of the microphone and immediately the heavy old-fashioned mic stand went crashing to the floor. The crowd erupted in laughter as if George had planned this. It was the perfect icebreaker and he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He didn’t plan it, of course, as witness his mildly taken-aback expression.

George Kuchar in the mid-’90s somewhere in Upstate NY. Photo credit: Bridget Shields

In those days (and still) his films had a reputation for being comedies, Comedies of the Underground as the title of the 1982 documentary by his pal David Hallinger termed it. And that’s what the audience expected, I think. George could be funny but he was no stand-up comic delivering scripted shtick. His films dealt with loneliness, despair and disconnection and were not comedies in any orthodox sense, although they were often sculpted in entertaining and comic fashion in accord with his ability to appreciate life’s absurd and harrowing moments.

The mic stand was fixed, George talked and a selection of his shorts including Hold Me While I’m Naked screened. I had expected to see something akin to the scabrously attack-driven work of a young John Waters, who unfailingly mentioned George and twin brother Mike as influences, and yet these films possessed a radically different spirit and were infused with a much gentler vibe. I had never seen anything like it and wasn’t quite sure what I thought.

During the Q & A I made a pest of myself and asked about 80 percent of the questions. On stage George was frank, unpretentious and relaxed. After the show he was sitting in a seat back by the exit with the programmer, Mark McElhatten. I introduced myself and gave him copies of the first 2 issues of Pandemonium and asked him if I could interview him for the third issue. The general theme of these publications was film and crime, and in my youthful punk-inspired zeal I had crammed the pages with correspondence from famous killers such as Charles Manson and John Gacy as well as luminaries of the counter-culture such as John Waters, William Burroughs & Al Goldstein. George took my offerings, seemed receptive, and we promised to get in touch.

For quite a while I didn’t hear from him, and he later explained that while paging through the magazines he’d been taken aback by the inclusion of the killers. He said he had his own dark side and didn’t want to channel further into more negative karma. George had a dark side? Who’d a thunk it? Genuine, engaging and down-to-earth were the adjectives that people so frequently used to describe him, a real sweetheart, and yet, as I came to know him there was always talk of a dark side, and this was clearly very much a part of who he was.

Some months later I mailed reams of questions and cassette tapes to his address in San Francisco, and in May 1988 he took all that with him on his yearly pilgrimage to the Reno motel in El Reno, Oklahoma. This was a tradition begun two years prior. Here he would wait for tornados and create small films that explored the contours and mysteries of daily existence, interpreting life through its matrix of trivialities, creating something out of nothing. These trips also figured as George’s attempts to reconnect with Middle America. Having lived in New York City and San Francisco his whole life, this was an exotic yet comforting place. Here life was lived as it should be, meaning maid service, heavy meals, anonymity and time to daydream. And never a tornado. In any case he took the time to do my interview, dictating his answers into a tape recorder in leisurely fashion. Later he mailed me piles of original photos and the sum result was the sprawling interview that appeared in Pandemonium issue number 3, from 1989, which was later reprinted in the 1996 Creation Press book Desperate Visions.

In 1990 I moved out to San Francisco, landing digs over a Thai restaurant in the Richmond district. Visits to George’s apartment across town in the Mission often ended up in walking tours of the neighborhood since I was new to the city and needed to be acclimated. We had breakfast in his favorite Mex slop joints and we creepy-crawled the Mission Dolores, with George giving a historic tour of the place that was really quite without any trace of irony. After visiting him at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he had taught since the early ’70s, we hoofed around North Beach and Chinatown while he dispensed gastronomic wisdoms (“Stay away from the House of Nanking, it’s nuthin’ but a lousy tourist trap. Go to Chef Gia’s instead, ya can always get a table and its good“). We ended up blocks away at what was at the time his favorite Chinese restaurant where he offered to instruct me in the potentially lethal contact sport of Chinese spices and even how to use chopsticks. These jaunts around the city are among my fondest memories of that period.

In 1992 Johannes Schönherr arranged a European film screening tour for me, Mike, and Marion Eaton, an actress in both of the brothers’ work. (At some point in the late ’80s George refused to travel outside the U.S.) In Copenhagen I met my future wife, Maren. A journalist, she was on assignment to interview Mike, who had a gig at the same cinema the day after mine. But he mysteriously never showed up, choosing to stay in Berlin instead. Rushing back from the train station with no Mike in hand, the booker met me instead and asked me to fill in and just throw something up on the screen (thanks, Mike!). In the fall of 1993 I moved to Denmark, where I have lived ever since, but I spent that spring and summer in SF and she came over to visit me. One afternoon we were trolling for a good restaurant on Mission and I spotted George on the sidewalk up ahead, heading toward us but more out along the curbside. He was a fairly big guy, lurching along with that particular gait he had. It was odd; he had a really severe and foreboding type of expression. I was kind of taken aback. He didn’t see me and we just passed by and I didn’t say anything. I’ve always felt bad about that because every time I’ve seen him since he always very jovially asks me “How’s the little woman?” and the one opportunity I had to introduce her to him I blanked out. I’m sure if I had just called out to him he would’a been the good old George in a flash . . . “Oh Jack , how ya doin’?” in that trademark Bronx accent. . . . But who knows?

Of course George had dark sides. Who doesn’t? One might assume that his vast creative output in different mediums was all a way to tame his dark side. Maybe he had a dark side as ferocious as Dr. Morbius in Forbidden Planet. Or maybe I’m being way too dramatic (surely a forgivable sin in a text about George). In any case our relationship stretched over 23 years and it was never about the “sturm und drang” of everyday life or otherwise disturbing stuff. No social realism here. The fact that I was now living in a foreign country and only saw Mike and George once every year or two also drove our relationship in a certain direction. Most communication was by old-fashioned letter traffic. I almost never e-mailed and only called on the phone if I was in town. Essentially just out of the blue I would ring them . . . “I’m in town until such a day , what’s a good time for me to stop over?” I had started a co-op style film distribution in Europe when I had moved there and they had floated me prints so I usually had cash for them. During these roughly annual visits to their flat on 19th street we would sit in the small living room, have coffee and pastries, tell stories, trade gossip, and they would often show me their latest productions. If I’d written a book I would bring them a copy and sign it to them. These visits were always very jovial and had a certain timeless quality about them. We were never far from those sunny, upbeat days when I had just arrived in town.

Occasionally they would give me more films to put in distribution. Getting the spools from them was a straightforward affair. I was once visiting George at SFAI and we went down to the basement where he had his locker. The upper compartment of the locker was an incredibly messy stash of papers, and to my surprise he proceeded to extract a number of spooled-up 16mm prints. “ya want of print of (title here)? . . . How ’bout this one . . . ? Here’s a print of (title here), but I only got the one print so I can’t let it go.” And once I was at his apartment and he pulled out a couple of prints from his kitchen cupboard where he kept a stack of spools next to the cups and saucers and peanut butter. Several large circus-like props from his films were also for many years stored in that back kitchen area. Mike also blessed me with an original and still ultra-vibrant print of Sins of the Fleshapoids that he stumbled across in his closet at one point. This was like getting splinters of the True Cross.

On several of my trips back George arranged for me to show films at his class at the Art Institute and always made sure I was paid. The last time I brought along copies of my books to donate to the SFAI library. George introduced me to the class, which on this day happened to be just a few students, and then took a seat in the back. Before I was more than a few sentences into my spiel he began to pepper me with a series of impulsive and totally irrelevant questions that had nothing to do with the film I was going to show and left me in a state of some chagrin as I tried to steer our little tête-à-tête back on track. No chance. Films did eventually show and the class seemed to enjoy the total package. Then we went over to the library, where he browbeat the librarian into taking an interest in my books, and proceeded to introduce me to all three of the students present. They seemed to be deeply engaged in one project or another, but no matter. When you were with George it was not possible to stay discreetly in the background. Several attractive Japanese girls were also visiting him that afternoon, one or two of them ex-students , and I left with them while George stayed on to do his tutorial, and we ended up having a nice lunch in a North Beach bistro. George was gay but hanging out with him not infrequently led to being in the company of good-looking women.

We were all a part of what might be called the George Kuchar diaspora; hundreds of people from different generations and eras scattered around the globe . . . old students, people who had appeared in his countless productions, film bookers who had programmed his stuff and kept in touch as well as filmmakers who had gotten George to perform roles or cameos in their movies. It included friends from the many walks of his life, fans who didn’t necessarily know him personally but followed his exploits and creative types who had collaborated with him on past projects in various mediums.

Many young students had come from foreign countries to study with him, and they were loyal to him to a degree that surpassed what you might expect the normal teacher-student relationship to encompass. They formed a loose fraternity, password to this inner circle of Kuchar-dom being the invariably outrageous title and year of whatever class production they had participated in. As a practical matter he was only ever in touch with a small fraction of these folks at any given time, but he had taught for so long that he had become a beloved institution, and ex-students from faraway lands were always stopping back in at the Art Institute to reconnect with him. There would always be an England and there would always be a George Kuchar.

Many of these people appear in episodes of his video diary series, a voluminous collection of intimate portraitures that celebrate an event, a person, a trip or whatever. I remember attending the Roxie Theater one evening in the ’90s when a selection of his video diaries were playing. No specific titles were announced; the idea was that George would just pull some favorite recent work from his hat. It was a small crowd, perhaps not more than twenty people. I knew many of them, and I remember musing that they all must be featured in one or another of his video diaries. It was really just another way that George dispensed with the barrier between the audience and the movie. This was a night of film where the audience starred (complete with the shock of seeing yourself on the big screen for the first time).

George in Marion’s backyard in Mill Valley, at “Fostine” in summer of 1994

That night I sat praying that he wouldn’t show Kiss of the Veggie Vixen from 1990, which was a document of a trip George and I had taken out to Mill Valley to visit the previously noted Ms. Marion Eaton. Her credits included a role in his UFO picture Blips, and she was also his memorable co-star in Thundercrack! Driving over in my car, we rendezvoused with Marion, who at that point lived on a spread that figured as something of the “little Bohemia” of Mill Valley. Dubbed “Fostine,” the grounds were laced with passageways that cut through dense shrubbery, every bend decorated with odd hand-crafted signs that resembled outsider art, including one that helpfully announced the presence of the 7-11 next door, as if they need more advertising. She occupied the cramped ground-floor quarters of the back house, and Charlie Deal, famed for constructing guitars out of toilet seats, inhabited the top floor. Kiss of the Veggie Vixen was a record of that trip with the main focus falling on Marion, but it also featured footage of me wolfing down chow like a slob at a Mill Valley restaurant. I could rest easy , he didn’t show it. The lesson here I guess was that he didn’t spare himself and he didn’t spare others, although this was also fairly early in his series and he was still developing his technique.

Celebrity, such as it was, came late in life to George. He was indisputably a key figure in ’60s underground cinema but was never accorded the top-tier status of the likes of Brakhage, Warhol, Anger or (Jack) Smith, in part I think because as a personality he lacked the pretentiousness, the yen to self-mythification and the relentless media savvy of the above-mentioned luminaries, worthy as they all are. He never took himself too seriously; he had a sincere, almost naïve way about him that made the tag of “living legend” a bad fit. And he was never embraced by the hip set. Unlike Bruce Conner, another SF resident and subject of a George video diary, he never hung out with cool guys like Dennis Hopper or the legends of the psychedelic ’60s, and never founded a famous underground rock band like Tony Conrad (The Velvet Underground), whose abilities as an experimental musician also helped to place him at the center of the spotlight. “Hip” was never going to happen to the gangly kid from the Bronx, plagued in his teens with acne and whose hair stuck up like a toilet brush (his words). He was everyday people and his films celebrated everyday people with a vengeance. He was, to say it again, down to earth. Hell, this guy loved the weather! You don’t get more down to earth than that. Most people, let alone artists, think the weather is beneath commenting on, but with George it forms a major thread through all of his work.

Hollywood never called, and that was not his calling anyway. He never had the requisite opportunism and hard-ass hustle to cross over from the underground into the world of commercial feature filmmaking as did Paul Morrissey and John Waters, the later acknowledging at every opportunity the debt he owed the brothers. “They made me want to make movies,” Waters has said many times, but I think that is incorrect. He already wanted to make movies; that was due to many influences and nothing was going to stop him. Rather, Mike and George made him realize he could make movies, that if you were just a kid with a movie camera you could still get discovered and famous, at least in the underground milieu. And of course Waters went on from there, on to the midnight movie circuit that served as his bridge to the mainstream, while George continued to make his small personal films and toil away at the Art Institute for almost forty years, also very much because he needed to pay rent on the less than glamorous walk-up in the seedy part of the Mission that he shared with Mike. But George had a unique and unmistakable talent. You could be sitting in a room full of people watching a student’s awkward debut production with everyone being nervous and not knowing what to say about it, and George would blurt out some seemingly off-the cuff remark that would diffuse the tension with laughter but more than that would really get to the heart of the film.

George had developed a unique persona; praised, liked, invited to every crazy party and gathering, but I got the fleeting impression he wasn’t always happy being “good old George.” “What else am I gonna do?” he repeatedly asked me during one visit, as if he felt typecast by the world and typecast by himself, fated to be this character that everyone wanted a piece of . . . . to forever sit in that front room at the digital console making these little films. It was the basis of why he taught, why he travelled, why he knew all these people, why he got paid. Sometimes we all wish we had another life, but how do you reinvent yourself? That’s a question George might have also asked.

On the other hand his teaching job was a lifeline to being around young people and young energy as he got older, and he appreciated that. And in recent years he did achieve various breakthroughs , in the art world where his paintings and drawings began to sell for major money, and in the film world where Jennifer Kroot’s 2009 documentary about him, It Came From Kuchar, propelled him to a new level of recognition. The film did well on the festival circuit, and the brothers were feted and dined and hauled around in limos and backslapped by famous people. They both got an immense kick out of that.

In June 2009 it was part of the San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, screening at the mighty Castro Theater. I attended with the experimental filmmaker Kerry Laitala, who had also studied with George, and this caused me some chagrin since I was interviewed for the film and one of my lines is that nothing ever happens in an experimental movie. Yikes! As we ascended from the Castro subway station there were Mike, George, and Jennifer almost right in front of us, posing for photographers in various combinations with the Castro marquee as a backdrop while a scrum of security guards kept the great unwashed at a distance. Behind them crowds milled about the entrances. It was an epic image. They finally got their big day, real Hollywood-style movie glamour. It was a full house with a bit of “This Is Your Life” aspect to it. They got a standing “O,” and at the end, speaking from the stage, George invited the whole theater , like a thousand people , to stop by his class on Wednesday.

The last time I saw George was in Berkeley at the Pacific Film Archives in June 2011. The PFA had programmed a Kuchar retrospective entitled The Cult of the Kuchars that spanned fifteen days, and I happened to be in SF and was particularly interested in the program of their early 8mm work that screened on June 23rd. On that evening I travelled over on Bart with Jim Morton and Michelle King. 16mm blow-ups were going to be screening. This was a real treat, and was due to the fact that some years prior the Anthology Film Archives had convinced Mike to liberate the original 8mm prints from his mother’s closet in the Bronx so the blow-ups could be made. The original spools had hidden securely under dresses and hat boxes for what? Half a century?

We arrived about ten minutes before show time. It was sunny and everybody was outside, George attired in crisp summer apparel. He appeared frail and was using a cane but otherwise seemed in fine fettle. “Oh Jack! I’ll put ya on the guest list!” he exclaimed and disappeared to the front of the line to harry the ticket seller, and after that there wasn’t much time to talk as the show was just about to begin and he was surrounded by a bunch of people and things were a bit chaotic as they were trying to get folks in. It had the festive if unruly character of a large family gathering, George and Mike the black sheep uncles.

We took our seats and they offered some opening remarks, among other things dedicating the show to Bob Cowan, a main actor in many of their early films who had just passed away two days before in Toronto. He was in fact the star of one of the evening’s films, Born of the Wind. Then the lights dimmed.

I had been enjoying and writing about their films since the mid-’80s but had never seen this early stuff. It was a real pleasure to experience the insanely ambitious scope and comparatively large cast of The Naked and the Nude from 1957, which clocked in at a relatively epic 36 minutes and was so rarely screened that Ms. Kroot had not even glimpsed it during the course of making her documentary. Sylvia’s Promise (1962), on the other hand, was very much identifiable as George’s own effort, a squalid domestic melodrama of the type he would revisit often in the future and one that exemplified his more unhinged style. A highlight of this film was a scene from a great early ’60s dance party that rocked with a raw home movie vibe. Perhaps to a greater degree than the more studied 16mm work of the brothers’ mid-to-late ’60s period, these early shorts reveal what a racially diverse circle of friends and collaborators they had. Born of the Wind (production dates of 1961, ’62, and ’64 are all listed in reliable sources), which was directed by Mike rather than George, figures as the best-known work from their 8mm period, and, reflective of Mike’s more perfectionist leanings and fondness for well-executed stagings, was more carefully crafted. In many ways it clearly functions as a predecessor to his signature work of several years later, Sins of the Fleshapoids, not least as it introduces the fabulous acting duo of Donna Kerness and Bob Cowan.

But my favorite film of the night was the 16-minute Anita Needs Me, which struck me as a kind of distillation of the essence of no-budget filmmaking. Armed with nothing but an 8mm camera and the cheek to exploit the patience and photogenic qualities of two mod friends (who appear to be a couple), George feverishly whirls and pirouettes about capturing facial close-ups, the geography of the apartment and the sardonically if lovingly celebrated “Bronx skyline,” giving the picture a real visual energy. He sculpts the footage into a kind of sexual melodrama by dubbing reams of florid dialogue over the action, all of it recited in a hilariously nonchalant and semi-rushed fashion. Of course the dialogue is funny and the images are compelling, but it also begins to work in spite of itself as a serious drama. It is a film stripped to its very essence, nothing but faces and dialogue. George knew the power of an interesting face, he taught that to Waters, and he knew that if all you had was a face, you still had a movie. Every film student who ever sweated bullets because he couldn’t get the tracking shots perfect or had an investor back out unexpectedly should see this movie. I’d written extensively about the brothers’ abilities in this department and thought I had the rap down pat, but this film was a revelation. The same way that The Craven Sluck and Portrait of Ramona were revelations to me in 1996 when I, already supposedly a jaded “Kuchar expert,” attended Dennis Nyback’s Lighthouse Cinema retro in New York and viewed said films for the first time. You think you know their work well enough to know what to expect, and then a whole new door just opens up.

Anita Needs Me also appeared to be a more personal film, as evidenced by its straightforward title and an ending where he promises his mother he will never leave her (as their father did). And who is Anita? Secret real-life heart-throb, mystic muse of his imagination, or none of the above? Hidden somewhere under all the over-written dialogue and audience laughter is the pain of a teenager tormented by the uncertainties of love and sex, mysteries that other people appeared to have solved. George and Mike never shot an inch of film that wasn’t deeply rooted in something personal.

George (left) directs class picture Summer of No Return, 1988. Photo credit David Hallinger

The evening concluded with a surprise screening of George’s most recent weather diary. Introducing the film, George noted in a tone of bemused disbelief that he had been going to the Reno motel for almost . . . thirty years now. Technology had changed much in that span of time, and now he had been able to edit the entire film even before he checked out of the motel. Something else new had happened , an actual tornado. It had almost flattened the motel and enabled him to fill half the film with dramatic TV reportage and anticipation of the event. The rest of it is peppered in his usual style with personal musings and voyeuristic asides as well as visits to local restaurants where gluttonous heaps of food are dished up middle-American style. But not entirely usual, since he also included an outtake of explicit gay porn footage of some mustachioed knave orally servicing a well-equipped companion. George always willingly admitted that he frequently packed porn on these out of town trips, but with the exception of Thundercrack! this stuff rarely found its way into his own work. Shortly after that he holds up a letter from his secret lover, despairing of growing old, unsightly, and pitiful and wondering why this younger man would bother with him. A touching but also brutal moment.

After the lights came up George and Mike engaged in a dialogue with Gene Youngblood and then took questions from the audience. They were in good form and the stories and anecdotes flowed. And then the show was over. I chatted with Mike and former PFA boss Edith Kramer while George remained up front, moving gingerly and surrounded by a small crowd. Soon a pretty co-ed came up and wanted Mike to sign her program. The three of us had to get back to the Bart station and the city, so we quietly took our leave.

George didn’t have any rentals pending and I had given Mike his rentals at the show, and I left San Francisco a couple days later without paying my usual visit to the House of Kuchar on 19th Street. I would catch them at a later date and we’d have another gab session in their living room like we always did, catching up on all the stuff. I returned to Denmark, and not until August did I learn the unvarnished truth about George’s medical condition, that he was battling terminal cancer and was soon to enter a hospice. I was staggered. This was absurd and unreal. Although clearly in recent years George had become more frail, nothing in anyone’s behavior had hinted at this.

In retrospect the explicit footage in George’s last weather diary and the letter he held up to the camera from his lover appeared in a new and more telling light. Maybe he knew this was his last weather diary, maybe he didn’t care if he threw a start into the politely receptive crowds at school and gallery screenings. Maybe at this stage in his life brutal honesty trumped all, although these were just glancing moments in a film that generally held to form, and maybe I’m reading too much into it. I hadn’t seen all his weather diaries and couldn’t possibly appraise them as a body of work, but maybe now it sounded a little bit like a goodbye. And what’s this about God finally sending him a real tornado?

The news of George’s condition became known and he was besieged by visitors at his hospice in the Castro and buried in e-mails and phone calls, and initially there was some effort to get all this under control and spare his energy. On the other side of the world I couldn’t visit him, and I was no good on the phone, and e-mails seemed trivial, as I confessed at long last in a letter to Mike, but my paralysis owed to something more than that. Simply our relationship had never been about serious stuff. Goddamn him for getting serious! Furthermore he was badly miscast as a man dying of cancer. Who the fuck is casting this picture!?

I wrote this to try and work through my feelings, but after all is said and done it’s meaningless, not remotely worth, say, the ten-minute phone call I never made. I never said goodbye to George, but then again how do you do that? You say goodbye to someone when they go out to get a pizza, not when they are departing from this plain of earthly existence. Or maybe you do. Am I the only one that has a problem with death? My father died and I never even returned to the States for his funeral. Someday I’ll get it right. But I must say I cherish the last e-mail I got from George, brief as it was.

“I’m in the hospital. Big changes in progress.”

Short and sweet. That’s the way things should end, on a dramatic and slightly mysterious note. That’s the last I heard from him and maybe , heartless as it sounds , that’s the last I wanted to hear from him. Come on, this is the guy who invented dramatic dialogue. He would understand. He knew how movies should end.

* * *

Postscript: Drama queen that I am, this was the final version of my text and the one I was determined would see the light of day. But with an immaculate sense of bad timing George ruined the ending by writing me an e-mail after I had finished it. After that we exchanged e-mails almost daily, my long windy stream-of-consciousness messages trying to draw a chuckle or two from him, and his replies very brief. I ascribed this to his weakened condition but was being a drama queen again, as in fact it owed to his unstable internet connection and the fact they had no wi-fi at the hospice. He stayed the same old George until (almost) the very end, but of course not the same old George because he was dying a painful death and he needed all the strength and courage he could summon. And he found it somewhere. And he even had some left over, telling me to be strong.

In trying to sum up George my thoughts return to something as mundane but joyously elemental as the weather. In one of my e-mails I told him that as a kid I drove my grandmother insane by writing three letters a week to her in perfect penmanship that dealt only with the weather. George would have understood. This would not have driven George insane. His reply to my windy story was to the point. “Miss the big skies of Oklahoma in springtime. Love the waterfall of fog over the Frisco hills. Reasons to live.”