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Joaquin Andujar died on September 8, 2015, at the age of 62.
September 8, 2015
It was March 1998, and the phone in my Santa Monica, California apartment was ringing. That apartment, which was leased to us by U: The National College Magazine, the publication that employed us all straight out of college, was total chaos at all hours: Four 21-year-old idiots, cigarette packs and bongs everywhere, random clothes lying around all over the place, some random dog barking like crazy, we don’t even know how he got there or whose he is, just absolute mayhem. Putting four strangers straight out of college in an apartment together for a year is a recipe for madness, and we were all reliably mad. It was awesome.
Anyway, my phone was ringing, and once we found the phone under all the rolling papers, New Beverly schedules and copies of L.A. Weekly, I grabbed it and groggily said hello. It was noon or so, so I’m sure I’d just woken up. It was my sister. She was a senior in high school back in Mattoon, and all that came with being a senior in high school: She didn’t call often. She seemed rushed, hurried, urgent.
“I’m coming out there next month. On my birthday.”
“OK. Mom and Dad cool with that?”
“I don’t care if they’re OK with it. I’ll be 18, I can do whatever I want.”
“And I’m getting a tattoo.”
“OK. Wait ... you sure about that?”
“You sound like Mom. You can’t stop me.”
“I couldn’t stop you if I wanted to. You’re really getting a tattoo?”
“I want one, and I’m 18, which means I can. And they can’t tell me I can’t.”
Of all the ages I do not miss, 18 is rather high up there.
About five minutes later, the phone rang again. It was my mom.
“Did Jill just call you?”
“You are absolutely not to let her get a tattoo when she’s out there next month.”
“I don’t think I can stop her.”
“You have to.”
“If I tell her not to get a tattoo, she’ll go somewhere shady and get a terrible one. I can at least find a clean, reputable place to get one.”
“She’s going to regret that tattoo. I can’t believe she’s doing that. She doesn’t listen to me at all.”
“I’m sorry, Mom, I have to go, this is a lot of activity this early in the morning.”
“It’s 2 p.m. Are you just waking up?”
My mom was realizing what, 20 years later, we all know as sure as we know anything on this earth: You can’t tell my sister what to do. Just like she said, she came out there on April 10, and I found her a well-regarded tattoo parlor in Venice, and she got a huge butterfly across her stomach, one of those things that seem like a good idea when you’re 18 and you’ll surely regret when 20 years later ... but shit, you’re only 18 once. Jill is gonna do what she is gonna do.
My sister and I are very different people. She is hard-headed, and uncompromising, and desperate to connect with every new person she meets; I am happy to meet pretty much anyone halfway and, all told, would be perfectly happy sitting in here typing in the dark by myself all day. She is constantly searching for new experiences and new paths in her life; I’ve known exactly what I wanted to do with my life since I was 15. She now works in sales, trying to talk people into buying things; I can say in no uncertain terms that would be my absolute nightmare job. She is constantly pushing the envelope, questioning rules and authority, loudly asserting herself in every situation; again, I’d be perfectly happy sitting here silent and never leaving this desk. She is emotional and tempestuous and impulsive; I prefer to have every day of my life planned out and going entirely the way I’ve studiously sculpted it to go months, maybe years, in advance.
This has caused us to butt heads occasionally, but never in any profound, ugly way. We’re just different people with different personalities. But any time either one of us have gone through any hard times, we’ve always been able to know, no matter what, we’ve got each other’s backs. She’s my sister, ya know? And all told: I’ve always found myself a little envious of Jill’s fortitude, her self-assurance, her total inability to stand quiet for any injustice, however small or insignificant. There is a fire in her that feels much more alive than my removed, objective reservation, particularly because being removed and objective isn’t actually possible and I’m only kidding myself. She lives life in big huge gulps. I sip, and carefully, so that I do not spill. She was getting that goddamned tattoo, and wasn’t nobody going to stop her, not least of all me.
Jill is getting married this afternoon. We’re here in St. Charles, Missouri, and family members are coming from all across the Midwest to come celebrate in a way that Columbus, Georgia, was a little too far for most of them eight years ago. It has been a long, winding road to this point, as it is for just about everybody, and we’ve enjoyed the festivities much more, I suspect, than if Jill had gotten married when she was 23, or 27, when everyone is freaking out about it being The Most Special And Most Important of All Days For This Precious Little Girl. Jill is a grown woman now, who has fought her own battles, winning some, losing others, but always coming out stronger in the end. She is as well and happy and healthy and herself as I think I have ever seen her. She’s killing it. She is marrying a guy she has dated for many years, who has been through some of the same wars, and he’s become as much of a member of a family as any of us: Heck, as far away as I was from some of those wars over the last decade, and as close as he was, maybe he’s even more of one than I am. He’s a good dude, and I say this not just because he is a bodybuilder — I always joke he looks like an upside-down Trivial Pursuit wedge — and could crush my windpipe with one of his toes. Throughout everything, he’s always been right there beside her. That’s what family is, after all.
This likely won’t be a mushy, emotional wedding: It is a Midwestern one, after all, with minimal speeches and minimal crying and minimal fuss. His family is even more stoic than ours, and we’re pretty stoic. But Jill’s always been trying to bust us out of that, and maybe the best way to honor her today is to get a little messy, to push ourselves outside our comfort zones, to try to live a little bit louder and bigger and more. My sister has been through a lot, more than I have, and she’s in the best place I’ve ever seen her. I’m proud of her. And I’m extremely happy for her. She is my sister, and I love her. She is the best. I still do not want to see that tattoo looks like today.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)
1. How Nike Got All the Way to Lionizing Colin Kaepernick, New York Magazine. This one turned out really well, I thought.
2. The Cubs Are Dominating Again, MLB.com. Ugh, this one hurt. It’s true, though.
3. Predicting September Clinch Dates, MLB.com. I do this column every year, it was fun to do it for the mothership.
4. Imagining NBA-Style Superteams in MLB, MLB.com. Just a fanciful little piece that got everybody fired up, for some reason.
5. The Thirty: The Top Free Agent for Every MLB Team, MLB.com. A sellers market, to be sure.
6. Debate Club: Best Dolph Lundgren Movies, SYFY Wire. OK, sure, why not?
THE WILL LEITCH SHOW
No show this week, but good ones coming next week.
Grierson & Leitch, before taking a week off, we preview the Toronto Film Festival and look at “The Thin Red Line.”
Seeing Red, Bernie Miklasz and I do two shows! Thursday night, we did a live show. It was fun!
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, look back at Austin Peay, look forward at South Carolina.
If you have an Amazon Alexa — and my family doesn’t, for obvious reasons — you can hear a special show Grierson and I are doing weekly solely for the Amazon Alexa. Read about it here. If you have one, will you try it out and see if it works? I have no idea how to work that weird device.
The boys are here in St. Charles and love the pool at this mid-level commuter hotel more than they’ve loved anything in their lives. And Go Dawgs.