Sunday, June 9, 2013

In Memoriam

At first glimpse, the venue seems like anything but a memorial, in fact, more like the deck and lawn of the home of your late friend.  At least thirty lawn tables and chairs are scattered about a wide, shady patch at the rear of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, its decor adobe buildings and a simulacrum of what Santa Barbara was, back then when the Spaniards and Californios were in residence.

On second glimpse, you see any number of persons who at first became familiar to you because they were on the deck or lawn of your late friend or at the writer's conference he brought to life every year, thus individuals such as Sandy Vanocer, whom you followed back when there was on NBC TV News a Huntley-Brinkley Report.  Thus Eva Marie Saint, back when there was On the Waterfront.  Thus a number of pals from the time when you were among their midst as faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference.  Thus actor-writer-turned politician, Chris Mitchum.  Thus the motion picture producer, Kipling Hagopian.  Thus any number of local writers, performers, entertainers whom, in the absolute context of this being a small town, you see with some regularity.  Thus, as if in added recognition of this being a small town, your next-door neighbors, you looking at them and they at you in a sense of momentary disorientation, as in, what's he doing here.

What all of us were doing was paying yet another kind of fond farewell to the late, much lamented Barnaby Conrad, who in official terms, was once Barnaby Conrad, Junior.

As a new arrival to the growing throng of invitees, you are set upon by Chris Mitchum, who wonders if you still do your Saturday workshop because he is having troubles getting at the memoir of his late father, Robert.  You are also set upon by he who is Barnaby Conrad, III, whom you refer to as BC3, telling you about the lineup of speakers and designating you as clean-up, on the theory that you are quick on your feet and will vamp around any repetitions the speakers before you might offer.

The Conrad daughters, Tani (short for Cayetana) and Kendall, and stepsons Michael and Billy, and BC 3 have put some thought into the ambiance and the invitation list.  Hearing the amplified piano and the songs being played, you are thrown an additional step off stride; you look to see where the piano is so that you can greet the player--until you realize the player you'd imagined was in fact the reason for everyone being here, you included.

Another toss off stride is the hugeness and eclectic nature of the celebrants who, by their diversity and number, remind you of the presence of the man you'd come to greet once again.

After giving the guests a chance to become socially and alcohol lubricated, BC3 takes to the mike and begins being host, welcoming us, thanking us for coming to own up to the hole that has been left in our individual and collective lives with the departure of Barnaby Conrad, Jr.  Of course we are all mourning a different person, a protean individual who, as the speakers commence their eulogies, use the attribution "renaissance man."  Kipling Hagopian actually compares Conrad with an actual renaissance man to make the description even more vivid.

The tide is growing in admiration, but it is a sad admiration, its various aspects and nuances and reach adding to an effect of the maudlin, which is not a good tone for a memorial, not for this man, who had no patience for the maudlin, whose trompe l'oeil paintings and constructions embodied mischief and tomfoolery.

You've crafted your remarks, which come in at a tad over a hundred words, but you recognize, as BC3 introduces you as clean-up hitter that you'd be contributing to the maudlin effect if you deliver only your prepared remarks.

You sketch in the thousands of lunches you shared with BC over the years, not to mention breakfasts and dinners, arriving quickly at a relatively recent lunch, when he was well into his 80s.  You and he were at a favored venue, the Pharmacy Lunchroom at the Upper Village in Montecito, munching away on their remarkable egg salad sandwiches when a statuesque and stately young woman entered.  Conrad noticed her immediately, grabbed your forearm and said, "Oh, to be seventy-five again."

The strategy worked.  Loud guffaws had the sound of firecrackers.  The audience was thinking of Conrad as a presence again.  Then you were able to deliver your remarks.

"Barnaby Conrad has left us,"  you said, "a legacy of portraits, demonstrating for us the quirky, memorable dignity of humans and animals.

"With his mischievous and rascally trick-of-the-eye trompe l'oeil paintings and constructions, he taught us to seek the unexpected surprises lurking within the ordinary.

"His stories, narratives, and reminisences brought us all close enough to these remarkable events and characters that we sometimes see them--events and characters alike--as our very own.

"Considerable and memorable as these accomplishments of his may seem, they are sent into total eclipse by his presence, which showed us what it is like to have a friend."

There was nothing more to say after that, so you got yourself a beer and stood among your friends.

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