Thursday

Remembering Paul Tracey

I ran across the eulogy I gave at my friend Paul Tracey's funeral in Phoenix seven years ago. I'm a fan of honoring those odd incidents that occur in your life in some way, and so I'm reprinting it here.  In light of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" debate, it bears repeating that gay people are part of our families... funny how archaic this debate will seem in 5 or 10 years. Like the Civil Rights or Women's Rights debate.  Did we really debate that stuff?  Seems silly now. But here's to you Paul, enjoy. 
Dave Patlak and Paul, circa 1985.



Paul’s Eulogy from Feb. 2003

For years Paul and I would argue over whether or not he’d come to see me in Santa Monica, or whether I’d come and visit him in Arizona... - oh what lengths you would go to win an argument, Paul!

Last time we spoke was a few weeks back.. Told him how he’s going to be an uncle in a few months as Sherry and I are due to have a baby girl.. We laughed about that, and then I complained about his complete inability to use email - something I’ve been after him to do since they invented it.. And I’m amazed to say that in the past ten years I’ve gotten a total of one email from him. And I think he sent that by mistake. He was a phone person - .. We spoke often, more frequently than I do with other friends who live nearby - and every one of our phone conversations was as if we’d just finished up the last one mid-sentence. I fully expect the phone to ring at some date in the future, and Paul and I will pick up where we left off.

Kathy Delaney, Paul, Janet Tuzzolino and Me
freshman year in High school
Where did we leave off? Well, the conversation started in 7th grade. He’d moved to Northbrook with his family and we met on a football field. Paul was a natural athlete, fast, our halfback, I was a guard - I can still remember in glorious detail the “40-cross” that we ran against St. France in a Championship game - Billy Meyer in the backfield, Dave Siebert at my side playing center, 40 cross meant I took Dave’s guy and Dave too mine -and number 40, that was Paul, would take off.. I’ll never forget looking up from the mud to see Paul running for the touchdown that won the game. Silly as it sounds, I’ll never forget that moment. He was poetry in motion. It was our sophomore season that he went into the hospital - as I remember it, he didn’t have to, but had an operation so he could play again - little did we know what the staph infection would do to his hip and keep him from being the athlete he was. Not to say that Paul was such a fan of football, but I know he loved the camaraderie and friendships we had on the field.

Dave Siebert, Kathy Kearney, Paul circa 69
We also traveled together a bit. In grade school during spring break, Paul and I had the brilliant idea to take a Greyhound bus to Florida to visit his grandfather in Deerfield Beach. We thought we were pretty cool, smoking cigars on the way, until we both turned green from the smoke. We got to Florida and burned ourselves to a crisp in a day - and since we spent the next week indoors, got in so many raging arguments that his grandfather, sick of the bickering, actually bought us both plane tickets and sent us home. We were both shocked that his grandfather actually thought we were serious, and laughed about it on the plane home.

But Paul and I spent most of our time laughing. I imagine it was that same sense of humor that inspired me to get into making comedy films. I paid homage to Paul a couple of times - In “Three For The Road,” Charlie Sheen’s character was named after Paul, and I even got him to do a cameo in my film “Limit Up” - he happened to be in LA for the day, stopped down to the set, so I threw him into a scene, which, of course, he nailed in one take. I asked him if he wanted to stick around and watch the filming and he said “I’ve already got my close up, what would I stick around for?”  Sue Bodine sent me an email expressing her condolences; she wrote “All I can think about it Paul the raconteur, standing at a table or piano with such humor and timing, engaging everybody in his earnest story. What does Renee Zellwegger say in that film? “You had me at hello.” He was like that. You loved him before anything happened. He just didn’t know that. We love you Paul.”
Paul, me and Dave Patlak describing the pizza at Numero Uno's in Chicago


It was indicative of the kind of person Paul could be when he gave it some effort. When he put his charm and ability in front of him, he made everything seem effortless.. I know that didn’t prevent him from finding ways to make his life full of effort instead of effortless. I only mention it because we talked about that too, his inability to conquer his demons and the stress it put on those around him. At one point, he was furious with the love of his life Carlos over the fact that Paul had bought him a motorcycle and for whatever reason, Carlos wasn’t able to make the payments… Paul was raging that he couldn’t reach Carlos and wanted to repot the motorcycle. I suggested that in actuality, Carlos had put so much time and effort into their relationship that if you put a dollar figure on it, Paul was into Carlos for much more than the bike was worth. He thought that was hilarious, and promptly sent Carlos the title to the bike and a note telling him the motorcycle was his.  I think Carlos sent him the full amount after that, but my point is that Paul had his own logic of how things and people should be and at his core, he cared deeply about other people’s feelings.

Like when he called to tell me he was ‘coming out of the closet.’ At first he hesitated - his ex girlfriend Nancy Covington had told him I’d never be able to accept Paul being gay, and that my family would freak hen they heard the news. Of course, this coming from the girl who’d sailed to Greece to propose marriage to Paul and was devastated when her proposal was met with the truth - indicative of how honest Paul could be when he wanted to. I had just been to see him in San Francisco, living on his boat “The Endorphin,” and I had gone with Luana, my old girlfriend, who adored Paul up until her dying day - but Luana noted she felt something about Paul was different.  I should have had a clue when his dad looked at me and joked about Paul always having to iron his socks. I was clueless.
My dad, Paul and my mom

So Paul called, “Richard,” He said, with a seriousness unlike I’d heard before - “I have something important to tell you.. And I really don’t know how you’re going to react.” Hmm.. I thought, what could this be?  He said “I’m gay.” Stunned, - I chose the position I always chose when arguing with Paul - that I knew more than him about anything we ever discussed. I said “Like I didn’t already know that!”  He breathed a sigh of relief, I resolved that nothing Paul would ever tell me would be something I couldn’t handle or rather, wouldn’t be something I’d convince him I’d already considered and had a full blow opinion about.  My family’s response was equal to mine - we’ve always loved Paul, having always considered him part of our family - a fifth son - Paul was at just about every wedding and funeral in my family - but when I told my mom that Paul had ’come out of the closet’ she said, “Why can’t he just go back in there with a flashlight?”


I was weighing how to tell my mom the news of Paul’s passing. My dad’s got Alzheimer’s, she’s taking care of him at home - which is stressful as you can imagine - and I didn’t want to add any stress.. So I asked her what she thought happened to a person after they died. She said, “Well, I think they go to a wonderful place.. When you die, it’s beautiful, and you see people you love, and you feel better physically and don’t have any problems.. A place where you’re perfectly happy in the best of health, and all the worries and woes of this life are behind you.”  It was then that I told her that our dear friend Paul had left this planet, and that I thought he had perfectly described where he is now, and how he’s feeling.
A photo of Paul on The Endorphin next to his ashes

I know how much he loved all of you. I know because I haven’t seen most of you in 20 years but he kept me up to date with pride - Hope’s wedding - to which I replied, “Hope, married? Isn’t she still 12?”  About Peter’s job and family, Jack’s living her with his family - Susan the hippie rebel and Pam the practical professional - what you guys have been up to, even hilarious tales of Aunt Rhea - and especially his mom and dad - he was so impressed that his dad is Lance Armstrong senior, riding a bike every day for umpteen mils and how his mom was, as I’ve heard it, winning just about every bridge championship in the country. Maybe he was making it all up, I’ll never know, because you see, Paul and I saw the world we created. I’m sure he’s finding it hilarious to see us all here celebrating him - Dave, Mark, Billy, Dave and Maryanne - I’m sure he’s enjoying this.

Bill Meyer, Mark Caplis and Paul's
red Maple, growing with the help
of some of Paul's ashes.
Finally, we talked a lot about travel - using his sky miles to go somewhere - lately he had a passion for Ireland - He’d sign up with a new long distance phone service every week and get huge chunks of air miles - last year we were swearing we’d go to Ireland.. Something about the lure of the home country called to him, something deeper in his spirit that he longed for, I imagine.. I’m sure he’s here with us today, but I’ll be happy to spread some of his ashes on the Emerald Isle for him if the family would like me to.

I’m hoping one day Paul and I can continue our conversations, maybe in my dreams, and maybe after this life.. I may even admit to him that he’s right now and then.. But my phone’s been ringing this week and there’s no one there, so I’ll assume it’s Paul, but he’s at a loss for words. Thought I hardly think that’s likely. Paul, we’re all going to miss you very much.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, Rich. Very moving. I didn't know Paul had passed. Sad to find this out but really loved this piece on him. I remember Paul very well and really found him endearing and wise.

xo
Jeanette

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