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Ode to a Good Man - 2017

Al Muller was my junior college drama teacher from 1981-83. The drama department he led was my sanctuary and home away from home. In 1983, he encouraged me to apply to universities in Los Angeles. I was accepted at UCLA. In 1988, as I lay in ICU with a still undiagnosed fracture skull, subdural hematoma and internal bleeding, Al, down from Stockton for a conference in Long Beach, had the sudden urge to visit me not knowing what had happened. He called my family 10 minutes after they had been notified of my accident asking where I lived. They informed Al that I was in ICU at the San Pedro Peninsula Hospital. 45 minutes after I had arrived, the curtains open and there is Al bringing his light, encouragement and the providence of “the larger thing”. I was stunned. Previous to this accident I was depressed as I had finished school and was at a point in my life where I was unsure of what my next step would be. This accident was the wake-up call and I soon realized that life, as I knew it, was over. There was no better person I could have seen at that time.

I do not see him for 22 years. When we meet up again it was 2010, he says he wants to catch up on “The Renowned Swami O’Bryan’s Psychedelic Touring Road Show and Snake Oil Xhibition.” We meet at Stockton’s only “beatnik” coffeehouse, The Blackwater Café. We catch up. Talk about the accident. He uses the term "providence" as to our coming together in ICU and, on looking back, how scary it is. I tell him my partner was going through treatment for cancer. He promises to pray for her. He consuls me to get some health insurance. "No one should be without it over the age of 40" On leaving I thank him “You don’t know what you did for me.” He mentions how proud he is of the great human being I had become, am, and continue to be. I burst into tears. We hug.

Gift to Al on dedication of a theatre in his name

We meet throughout the years. The gist of our conversations are philosophical and fun. Current and prescient scattered with moments of gravitas. When here in Los Angeles we find time to meet at the Beachwood Café in Beachwood Canyon or at Nate and Al’s in the Valley. I am blown away by how current he stays with his students. I recall my first acting scene ever, a piece from Edward Albee’s “The Zoo” with a black man named Bobby Celestine.

“Yes, Bobby Celestine.  He moved to east Stockton and is now working for Caltrans”

He is surprised when I tell him I graduated with a degree in History from UCLA.

“I thought your degree was in Theatre Arts?”

I explained what happened; how my theatre arts application was rejected and that I went in undeclared.

“I could have pulled strings for you. I am good friends with the director of the school.”

Now it’s my turn to be stunned. I sense another road that is walked. It doesn’t matter. It becomes crystal clear. We are given many options. Many choices. Bless them all. Then choose. There is no wrong decision.

When I am visiting Stockton we meet at The Boulangerie on St. Mark’s Plaza or at The House of Shaw Espresso Café just off the Miracle Mile. I am overjoyed that Aloysious (my pet name for Al said in loving deference to the character played by character actor William Demarest in the film, “It’s a Mad. Mad, Mad, Mad World”) has, at the age of 84, purchased a new Mercedes Benz with Sirius Radio and now can listen to his beloved show tunes in style. He brings me up to speed on the local politics and the mutual characters from our pasts. He shares with me the inappropriate touch he received from a priest when he was a teenager. This good, strong, caring, tolerant man who still remains strong in his faith. I recall the trip I took with him to Santa Cruz in the summer of 1983. He invited me to stay for a week and help repair the guesthouse his family owned above the boardwalk. Just he and I.  Alone.  In my heart, he was taking me away from the chaos of the farm. I sensed he knew this. I assisted him that week. My free time was mine. He let me be. Alone, I went to watch “Octopussy” and “The Man With Two Brains” in the theatre that 6 years later would be destroyed in the Loma Prieta earthquake.

As vulnerable as I was at that time, I was never threatened nor felt threatened. His character remained true. And my devotion to this good man remained intact.

I received the message today that he received last rites last night. He was recently found to have lymphoma throughout his body. Yesterday his doctors gave him 48 hours. He has gone to sleep and has not yet transitioned.

I hold his journey with the same high regard he holds mine. Our last message was November 14. His e-mail was, as usual, encouraging, vital, thoughtful and caring. On getting the news today I reread the message. I am happy that the diagnosis was recent and that he leaves before any of his children and grandchildren have. That, as of November 14, his heart and spirit remains vital and strong and that, in his wonderful fatherly way, he anticipated a positive future.

Reading this message, and knowing that he is transitioning…again it is made clear to me…that love undergirds all.

And that imbues his last bodily words to me with even greater meaning.

"Will catch you another time.  Blessings and tolerance—Al"

Vaya con dios, compadre’

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