Saturday, September 02, 2006

Billy Martin, never just Billy

Blonde, almost white hair, this little blue eyed boy always Billy Martin, never just Billy, finally asleep on the couch at 3am while his Dad, Pat and I and whoever else is over talk and drink and laugh and joke about everything in the world that is meaningful to us. His Mom, Ute has long since gone to bed, she has lots to do tomorrow. But Pat and Billy Martin and I can stay up all night if we want to. And we do.

Billy Martin with us as we teach him to drink beer and eat hot sauced food in our favorite Mex Cafes or search out the poets in North Beach Cafes. He must be about 5 or 6 and he is part of us. It’s no wonder he grew up to be all the things I’ve been reading that you, his friends have said, warm, witty, generous and “smart as a whip.” Must have something to do with the salsa we consumed so often or the late hours listening to us blog before there was an internet. We blogged in person, laughing, touching, loving. First at the pumpkin colored house in Marinwood and later, in the moss roofed cottage in Mill Valley.

I can remember clearly, Billy’s face in a photo that Pat took for a series of postcards, this one to show racial harmony, sitting on a curb next to a boy of his age, maybe 4 years old. Billy Martin, fair, blonde and the boy, his friend for a while, shadow black, innocent and sharing a moment of childhood grace.

The world was graced by Billy Martin for such a short while. It is our loss that he is no longer with us except in memory. I only knew him as a boy since I was out of contact with his family for some time. I regret that I spent so little time with him and will not have the opportunity to do so now and I am saddened knowing that he will not have the experiences of a long life filled with joys and sorrows. It was many years later that I married and had a child but when we were together, Billy Martin was my son too.

Poet, A. E. Housman said it thus:

To An Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the raceWe chaired you through the market-place;Man and boy stood cheering by,And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,Shoulder-high we bring you home,And set you at your threshold down,Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes awayFrom fields where glory does not stayAnd early though the laurel growsIt withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shutCannot see the record cut,And silence sounds no worse than cheersAfter earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the routOf lads that wore their honours out,Runners whom renown outranAnd the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,The fleet foot on the sill of shade,And hold to the low lintel upThe still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled headWill flock to gaze the strengthless dead,And find unwithered on its curlsThe garland briefer than a girl's.

Eddie Greenly

A good Life ...

Having known Bill and his family since he was about five years old, I came to know him over the years as someone of great integrity and warmth.. A truly nice human being. I believe these words ring very true for Bill ...

"A long life is not good enough,
But a good life is long enough."

I am starting each day with Psalm 24 in memory of Bill, and hope it comforts his soul as it comforts me.

Mike Marcus
Plantation, FL

Thursday, August 31, 2006

An Ideal Reader

Reading about Bill in these homages, I only wish I'd known him better. To me he was always a guy I hoped to run into more often, but our circles just didn't cross often enough. Reading these tributes, it's really wonderful to know that the guy I knew glancingly was the same guy everyone else knew so well. Thank you to everyone who's written so beautifully about him, and to your tributes I'll add this anecdote, the result of which a few people might recall. It might explain how Bill ended up in full-page ads in the San Francisco Chronicle, c. 1994.

I started working at the SF Weekly back in 1992, and Bill quickly became my hero. He was the chief copy editor -- I think that was his title -- but in any case his job was to watch over and polish every word that went into the paper. Meeting him was a shock.

Maybe I grew up around a lot of slow-talking Midwesterners, but Bill was the sharpest, fastest-talking, most eloquent person I think I'd ever known. Everything that came out of his mouth was a bon mot. In fact, I don't think I'd heard a bon mot until I met Bill. I had frequently read about people uttering devastating bon mots, but I did not personally hear the uttering of a genuine bon mot -- astute and erudite and all that -- until I met Bill Goggins, whose brain produced them with stunning regularity.

I only worked at the Weekly for a short while, but he and I kept in touch as much as one could in that era, before email was email as we currently know it. A year or so later, I was working as a freelance designer, doing in-paper promotional ads for the San Francisco Chronicle. The campaign we were doing at the time was predicated on the idea that when you opened up the paper, you learned a lot more than you expected to. (The campaign might have even been called, egad, "I didn't know that!") So we thought of what an ideal Chronicle reader might look like -- a downtown reader in his late20s/early 30s who seemed professional and curious and very intelligent.

I called Bill, and asked him if he'd be the model. I think the conversation went like this:

Bill: You want me to what?

Me: You're going to be in this ad campaign, where we show ideal readers enjoying and learning from the paper.

Bill: Really? That's insane.

Me: Do will you do it? We'll pay you $200.

Bill: Sounds good. Can I do it on my lunch hour?

Me: Done.

He laughed and agreed, and we did the photo shoot outside of the Weekly's then-location on Brannan Street. He wore a white button-down shirt and khakis and stood on the sidewalk, reading the paper, looking intellectually enervated -- not very difficult for Bill. The ad was in the Chronicle, a full page, about a week later, and ran periodically for months after that. I don't even know if we realized, then, how strange it was that the copy chief for the SF Weekly was essentially selling the SF Chronicle, but San Francisco's always been an all-boats-rise-together sort of town, so no one said a word about it.

Over the years I've run into Bill here and there. He'd be at this or that random party, or he'd be walking through Chinatown at midnight, on the way home from work. He came by 826 Valencia for events -- his sister Aimee is a volunteer -- and he was always the same Bill: generous and easy to laugh, exceptionally witty and warm. He was a good man, and I wish I'd seen him more and known him better.

My profound condolences to all those who knew and loved him.

Dave Eggers