Tag Archives: Death

#42 – Bury My Stepdad

I was watching Abby Lee Miller have a mental breakdown in the middle of the bank when my Mom text me.

“Baber passed away at 3:25pm…”

That’s how my Mom broke the news to me that my stepdad died.

I don't know how long ago this was, but I am sure it was early on in their relationship because my Mom hadn't made him grow a beard yet. Everyone agreed that the goatee looked a lot better on him than what he had in this picture.

I don’t know how long ago this was, but I am sure it was early on in their relationship because my Mom hadn’t made him grow a moustache yet. Everyone agreed that the goatee looked a lot better on him than what he had in this picture.

I wasn’t shocked. She and I knew it was coming. Just hours prior, arrangements were being made to put him on hospice, because the doctors couldn’t do anything else for him. My initial reaction was more of relief than anything else. It’s not easy watching a family member suffer. I don’t know how my Mom and sister did it for two years. I had already been in LA for six years by the time he got his diagnosis, so I only occasionally saw him at less than 50 percent of what he used to be.

It was Thursday July 2, 2015. On a normal Thursday I would’ve been at work in Culver City for another three to four hours, but because we had the Friday off before the fourth of July, my boss told everyone we could leave early. So I went to visit my girlfriend Zoe at work at her bank. Last fourth of July weekend I was in Las Vegas at Encore Beach Club watching Macklemore and Ne-Yo perform. Zoe was also in Vegas at Encore Beach Club. We weren’t together. We hadn’t met yet. This year our plan was to go to Marina Del Rey. Our friend Michael invited us on his boat to party down there.

I didn’t want to tell a lot of people. I told my oldest friend Matt because Matt pretty much grew up with me in our house. I told my oldest LA friend Chris, because he almost lost his Dad last Christmas. I told Michael because we were going to spend fourth of July with him and he’s a good friend and I didn’t just want to be a no-show. Beyond that, I didn’t speak to anyone, which is not easy for me. In the days coming, I had to tell more people, because I was M.I.A. and people were inviting me to do things, and I had to explain why I couldn’t.

I don’t know how I would have reacted if I was still at work. I probably would have walked outside until I gained my composure before asking to leave early. Instead, I was in a very public place watching a very public figure cause a very public scene. Who knows what the “Dance Moms” star was on but every other customer in the branch was trying to figure it out as she bellowed at the top of her lungs for employees to “do their job.”

I couldn’t ignore the irony of what the past 2 months had been like. Television is my life. I will do anything for it. You have to have that mentality if you work in it and want to be successful. I put a temporary hold on that mentality by turning down great jobs because of things in my personal life. My stepdad’s cancer came back vigorously in April. I got an offer from “Storage Wars: Miami” the day after that news broke. They wanted me to work in Miami for three months. I was also offered my first showrunner gig in New Orleans around the same time. They wanted me in New Orleans for way longer than three months.

I felt I couldn’t leave Los Angeles, not only because my stepdad and Mom are only an hour and a half drive away in San Diego, but because I also moved in to an awesome new place with my girlfriend and upon my return to LA didn’t want to see freshly painted pink walls and a new puppy. The pink walls and puppy aside, I knew he was on his way out, and I had to be there for my family.

We didn’t have a close relationship. That wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t hate him. He didn’t hate me. He was quiet, and I am loud and opinionated. He didn’t like being the center of attention, and I work in entertainment. We had a common love: my Mom, his wife. And we had respect for each other, but that was something that grew with time.

Here we are as a family at the Grand Canyon.

Here we are as a family at the Grand Canyon.

He came into my life when I was around ten. I still had memories of my real “Dad.” My little sister Jamaica didn’t. She took to Baber much quicker than I did. He had to deal with the horrible teen years of me leaving a room and saying, “Bye Mom, Bye Jamaica,” and then closing the door without saying bye to him. I’m sure he felt uncomfortable or pissed or some sort of disrespect when I did shit like that, but he never expressed it.

Here I am being an annoying teenager, making a face during one of our family trips.

Here I am being an annoying teenager, making a face during one of our family trips.

His ability to not bring down others is something I grew to admire, especially in his two-year battle with cancer. He never once complained, even after he had surgery, was confined to a hospital bed, lost his ability to walk without assistance, because the surgeons removed several inches of bone from his leg. And eventually when the cancer returned he still didn’t want to burden anyone with a peep of depression or anxiety. He never once took a painkiller. He never once complained that life was unfair. He never once asked, “why me?” Anyone would have understood if he did any of those things, especially because he pretty much went his whole life without illness. Even when my Mom bought him a bell to ring in case she wasn’t in his vicinity and he needed help with something, he only used it once. I’m sure my smart-ass would’ve rang it at least once as a joke, but he was much stronger than that.

As I mentioned, you couldn’t have met two people who were more complete opposites than us. The one thing we did have in common was sports. He worked for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club for nearly four decades. Horseracing became a huge part of my life when he became a part of my life. He worked at the starting gate every summer during the Del Mar race meet. My Mom took us every Friday to the races. She would place $2 bets for my sister and me, and we would watch the races and she would watch Baber at the starting gate. We would all wave and he would sheepishly wave back. I’m sure his friends would tease him, because none of their families were there waving at them. I frequently talk about how I grew up in comedy clubs. The other place was at the racetrack.

Baber to the left standing where he used to stand for nearly four decades.

In retirement, Baber still made time to visit the racetrack. It was probably odd for him to be in the stands, so he always made his rounds to his old stomping grounds to visit his friends. In 2012, he took me down to the starting gate where he used to stand for nearly four decades. That’s his head to the left.

I didn’t realize it at the time, and I don’t even know if he realized it, but he had an impact in me becoming a writer. When I was 11 or 12 he signed me up for a subscription to Sports Illustrated. That’s where I discovered a writer named Rick Reilly who showed me that I could make a living writing about sports. Six years later, when I turned 18 I started making a living as a sportswriter. I still have the subscription to Sports Illustrated because he renewed it every single year without saying anything to me. I never understood why he initially bought me that as a Christmas gift, but I’m glad he did, because sports writing led to comedy and TV. I don’t know how else I would’ve discovered my passion and ability to write.

I always wondered how I would react when he passed away. I didn’t know if I would cry. I’m not a super emotional person. I didn’t know how involved I would be in the burial. After all he did have his own kids too. I didn’t know if my family would expect me to talk at his funeral, because after all, I am the one who is good with words. To me, many things were up in the air, especially since I had never gone through this before.

Zoe and I drove down to San Diego a couple hours after I got the news. We met my crying family on the balcony of my childhood home. That was only the third time I ever saw my Mom cry. The first time was when she told me she was divorcing my real “Dad.” That was on the balcony of the same house when I was six. The second time was when I was around 18 years old when she told me she had breast cancer. This third time was especially rough, because I knew she wasn’t just crying about him dying, but also because her breast cancer just came back about two weeks ago. It was the first time I saw her cry in front of a group of people. My Grandma, Grandpa, sister, and girlfriend were all there this time. The other times it was just she and I.

Any question I had about my involvement in his arrangements for the afterlife went out the door when I saw my Mom crying. It’s an unbearable feeling when you see a parent cry. They’re not the ones that do that. They’re the ones who comfort you when you’re crying. I told her I would go with her to anything she needed help with.

Because of the holiday, July 5 was the first day she would have to start getting things in order. I had been to Eternal Hills Mortuary in Oceanside numerous times. Baber’s parents are buried there. His brother is buried there. My Grandpa’s Mom is buried there. My cousins are buried there. Our families have a lot of real estate there. I had never been there for someone I really knew well though. Baber was the closest person in relation to me who has died. For God’s sake, I had only been to two funerals before. Once for my great Aunt Antonia when I was really young and another time for comedian Marilyn Martinez.

July 15 was the day of the burial. I was overwhelmed by how many people showed up to the cemetery. There were at least 200 people. There would have been more, but not all of his former co-workers could make it since the next day was opening day at the Del Mar Racetrack. My Mom totally understood since she remembers Baber’s schedule between mid-July to the beginning of September each year. I think it’s a pretty common thought to wonder how many people will be at your own funeral. I don’t know if he had those thoughts, but I’m sure he would’ve been embarrassed to know so many people showed up, because he never liked the spotlight. It really was a testament to how many people loved him when he was alive. The one thing I am sure he would’ve loved was the people wearing Chargers hats and jerseys. I feel like he was always wearing either a Chargers shirt or hat for most of his life.

Just like him, my Mom is also someone who doesn’t like the spotlight, so my sister and I made attempts to be with her while hundreds kept offering their condolences. We cried a lot. Most people were bawling during two parts in particular, when one of his oldest friends Al shared an anecdote of how Baber went to Hawaii with him to help him pursue his eventual wife. The other time people felt connected and a bit more comforting amidst tears was when his longtime friend Junior had his daughter Susan read a letter about Baber cruising in his GTO’s, tailgating at Chargers games, and hitting the Indian casinos every weekend.

I made this memorial card that we handed out at the funeral.

I made this memorial card that we handed out at the funeral.

I think I cried more, however, when we actually picked out the burial spot 10 days prior. That was more real to me than anything. That day was a bit more intimate and cryptic, because it was selecting where his final resting spot was going to be, and eventually my Mom’s final spot too. I never had to go through the burial process before, and it’s horrible for many reasons but none more so because it forces you to realize your own mortality.

Here's one of the pictures his daughter April made for the funeral. The lei was appropriate given his love for Hawaii.

Here’s one of the pictures his daughter April made for the funeral. The lei was appropriate given his love for Hawaii.

Over the past couple months it wasn’t all sadness though. Zoe got to meet him and understand my childhood and see the full family dynamic for a few months. I got to jokingly take Baber’s side a few more times when my Mom would complain that he could never give her a straight answer about what he wanted when she would present him options on anything. He was so agreeable and a go-with-the-flow person that he was always happy with whatever my Mom wanted, and that would get on her nerves sometimes, so I’d see that as an opportunity to make fun of her on his behalf. After I was done it would always leave the two of them laughing at each other.

This is the last picture we took with Baber. He got really sick after this. I don't even know if he knew that he was in the picture, because it was on Mother's Day. It's not the greatest picture of me, Zoe, and my Mom but we are glad we have it.

This is the last picture we took with Baber. He got really sick after this. I don’t even know if he knew that he was in the picture, because it was on Mother’s Day. It’s not the greatest picture of me, Zoe, and my Mom but we are glad we have it.

This picture is simply for my Mom and Zoe since we all look better in this one.

This picture is simply for my Mom and Zoe since we all look better in this one.

Over the final two months we also shared a lot of stories, laughed a lot about some of his tendencies, and reminisced about the time Baber did this…like how he couldn’t handle rides at amusement parks, but he would take Jamaica on them when she was little; how he would eat only half of pretty much any food, except beans which he hated; how he would take the coast for the view of the ocean instead of the freeway if both routes could take you somewhere; how he would take forever in the lone bathroom in the house to get ready in the morning while the rest of us would be pounding on the door for him to hurry up; and how for every Chargers home game he was first in line at the entrance to Qualcomm Stadium to get in to the parking lot.

This is one of my favorite pictures I have. It's from the starting gate. Baber took me down to the turf right before one of the races during the 2012 meet. For him it was nothing, because he spent nearly four decades in that spot, but for me it was a real treat to standing between those gates.

This is one of my favorite pictures I have. It’s from the starting gate. Baber took me down to the turf right before one of the races during the 2012 meet. For him it was nothing, because he spent nearly four decades in that spot, but for me it was a real treat to standing between those gates.

I remember life before Baber, life with him, and now life without him. Life before him was rough. I was young, but I remember how trying it was for my Mom. He made her a happier person, which trickled down to Jamaica and me. The last day I saw him was on Father’s Day and the last words I said to him were, “Happy Father’s Day.” He was in bed and hunched over to one side with not enough energy to lift himself up. He replied “Thank you,” and gave me a look that we both knew it was going to be the last time we spoke. We didn’t need to say more, because we both knew that was not going to be our lasting memory of each other. Life with him is what I will remember.

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#10 – Go Skydiving

I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, but usually not intentionally.

I went skydiving last Sunday, and without question, it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Two thumbs up during pre-jump flight prep.

I generally don’t do crazy things unless I have a good reason to do it. My friend and colleague Trevor Wayne is quite the opposite of me. He very much does things just for an experience, so when he invited me to go skydiving for his 26th birthday it really didn’t surprise me even though I am well aware of his fear of heights.

Me and Trevor mean muggin’ in the face of death.

We were supposed to jump out of an airplane on January 8, but the skydiving school cancelled our dive due to poor weather conditions. I was quite happy, because I was not my normal self. Comedian friends had been passing away one after another due to illnesses and accidents they could not control. Here I was, choosing to participate in an activity that laughed directly in death’s face. It just didn’t seem right.

I spent that extra week conducting research to ease my mind. I asked friends who had skydived what it felt like. I also found out that only something like 1 in every 100,000 people die from skydiving. That extra week of research got me back to my normal self.

Trevor rescheduled the trip and I was psyched to go. My excitement was quickly shattered, because the forecast called for rain. By canceling our trip two times in a row I couldn’t help but feel that the universe was sending me a sign not to jump. Trevor then rescheduled the jump for January 29 and I knew I couldn’t back out. I had spent nearly a month telling everyone about my intentions to risk my life. I would have looked like a pussy if I backed out.

Ultimately, even though I prefer to be alone most of the time, I knew I would never skydive unless I did it with other people. And I knew it would have to be with Trevor, because it’s no coincidence that some of the craziest experiences of my life have been with him.

Trevor was at the dinner table when Suge Knight made me touch the bullet in his head. Trevor ran down Rodeo Drive with me to deliver life-sized cardboard cutouts of us to Ron Howard & Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment to get a pitch meeting. And Trevor was with me when I talked our way out of being arrested in Hollywood.

Other people in Trevor’s life had the same feeling that skydiving required a commune, because six other people joined, five of whom had never done it before. It was certainly an interesting group of people since Trevor is a paparazzo for TMZ. Some of his co-workers joined, in addition to his roommate Brandon Holley, who is also a good friend of mine.

Brandon, aka “Branville” is a clothing designer and also happens to be the personal assistant to a very well known musical artist. He is by far the craziest person I know. He’s always the life of the party, and I guarantee you’ve never met anyone who rages harder than him.

Branville parties for a living.

Brandon has more lives than a cat, so I knew if he was going skydiving then I would survive, because he survives everything. I know that doesn’t make sense, but I was searching for something to grasp on to.

Branville didn’t see this notice until after the fact.

I wasn’t nervous in the hours before the jump. I was actually quite calm. I think I got rid of all the nerves in the prior weeks. I could tell that Trevor and Brandon had a lot of nervous energy though. Judge for yourself and take a look at the footage of our drive from North Hollywood to Perris.

Once we got to the skydiving school it suddenly became serious as we saw people parachuting downward. A lady met us and took us into a room where she pressed play on a video that was supposed to teach us about what we were about to experience. We paid attention for the first few seconds, then started making jokes, and the rest of the video was no longer audible.

Clearly we are taking our safety very serious.

From there, we were taken to another room where the lady made us fill out some paperwork, and give a testimonial on camera that we were jumping based on our own free will, so that if something did go wrong then our families couldn’t sue.

Trevor was quite passe about reading aloud his consent to die.

I had to lie on my paperwork because it asked if I had any illnesses that would prevent me from jumping. It listed diabetes as an example. I didn’t want to risk them not allowing me to jump, so I didn’t list it.

I’m ready to die.

After we signed our lives away, we paid up, took a bathroom break, checked out the premises, and our names were called over the loudspeaker.

Trevor tried to get some alone time in order to get in the right mindset. Our buddy Clayton, who wasn’t jumping, decided to get him pumped up instead.

We were taken to get geared up and introduced to the person we’d be attached to and in charge of our lives 12,5000 feet up in the sky. My jump instructor Brett introduced himself, and said that when it was our turn to exit the plane that I should get on my right knee, rock once to my left, then once to my right and then out the airplane door. That was it.

I thought we were going to have to go through a whole class, in a room fully equipped with a chalkboard or something. I simply prayed that there was nothing important on that video we joked our way through.

As we walked our way to the plane, Brett said I didn’t look nervous. Truthfully, I wasn’t worried at all. He said it would probably hit me once we were on the plane though. It didn’t.

The plane ride up to 12,500 feet lasted about 10 minutes. I was sitting in between Brandon & his jump instructor and Trevor & his jump instructor. As we reached the destined height, our instructors told us to sit in their lap. That’s not the first time another dude has made that request of me, but it’s certainly the first time I obliged.

Our instructors strapped us on to them. I gave a fist pound to Trevor, who looked more pale than milk and then I shot a look over to Brandon who looked like Trevor’s mirror image. It still hadn’t hit me, and I still wasn’t frightened. I told Trevor, “I’m scared that I’m not scared,” and then walked toward the open door. The strap over my left shoulder was somewhat loose, and slipped off for a second. I immediately put it right back on, and didn’t think about that until later.

I left my body at that point. Somehow I got on my right knee, rocked to my left, rocked to my right, and threw me and Brett out the open door. I was told that in the first few seconds before I hit maximum speed during the free fall that I’d get that pit in my stomach feeling you experience on a roller coaster. That feeling never came, which means I am more likely to skydive again then take a seat on a roller coaster.

I could stare at this for hours.

I was told that we freefell for a minute. That was by far the quickest minute of my life. It’s a feeling that is incomparable to any other feeling. I was not frightened at all. I didn’t even think once about the possibility that either of the parachutes wouldn’t open. I simply enjoyed the view of the Perris mountain range and the feeling of being weightless.

Before the flight, Brett told me how to pull the parachute cord, but I told him I’d leave that up to him and his 25 years of jump experience. If he needed a joke at the 5,000 feet level to save our lives then I told him to tap me on the shoulder.

Once he pulled open the parachute, the noise from the freefall stopped, and it was such a sudden shock that I felt like I died. Nothing was audible. Then Brett shouted, “The chute opened. It’s smooth sailing from here. Now try to find some words to describe that.”

What a view.

The parachuting part was fun, but it doesn’t compare to the adrenaline rush from the freefall. It’s a little awkward dangling there, even though the view is awesome. Other than needing that part of the process to live, I could do without it.

Once we got closer to the ground Brett told me to lift my legs because we were going to land on our ass. When my butt hit the grass I felt a sense of relief while holding on to the adrenaline of the experience. I got up off the ground, gave a hug to Brett, and walked over to Brandon and the other guys who landed before me. We then watched as Trevor came down.

Something didn’t look right as he was approaching. He wasn’t lifting his feet, and he looked really limp. Once he landed, he laid on his stomach for a minute, and his jump instructor checked on him. I approached and he lifted his head, so I knew he was OK. He told us that he nearly blacked out, almost threw up, and that the left side of his body went numb after the free fall.

Once he reached ground, he said he couldn’t wait to do it again. Brandon immediately said he wanted to try base-jumping. As for me, I think I’m good never doing it again.

It was a great experience, but I didn’t really feel the extreme rush that I was expecting, which seemed like everyone else experienced. I wasn’t afraid going into it. I wasn’t nervous during the process. I get more of a rush writing something under a tight deadline. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, because the way people talked about it going into it I was expecting a way more intense feeling, almost life changing, like some had described.

After a few minutes back on the ground, I texted friends and family that I landed safely. A few weeks prior to the initial jump I informed my Mom of my intent, and she told me not to tell her when I was doing it, and just to tell her when I landed. When I called her after the fact, she was fascinated by my details of the experience, knowing then that I was safe. The reaction that shocked me the most was when I told my Grandfather, and he responded by telling me that he did it over 60 years ago when he was in the military. He signed up to be a paratrooper in the Korean War before ending up as a machine gunner. I don’t think anyone else in the family knew about his daredevil intentions. Maybe war-like circumstances would’ve given me the rush I was looking for.

Regardless, skydiving is definitely something that I recommend, because despite my calm attitude it was a fun experience. The best part for me is that I am able to say this crazy statement: “I’ve jumped out of an airplane.”

I am afraid, however, to find out what experience will make me crap my pants.

Oh, and I got this piece of paper recognizing my stupidity.

Video of my skydive can be seen here. It starts shortly after the school’s promo. My favorite part is that I didn’t even realize what my face was doing, and that my chain kept nailing my instructor in the face.

Video of Trevor’s skydive can be seen here. My favorite part is when the instructor pulls the chute and Trevor asks his instructor if they’re OK. Also make sure to check out Trevor on Twitter here.

Video of Branville’s skydive can be seen here. My favorite part is when he plugs his Branville clothing line at the end. Also make sure to check out Branville on Twitter here.

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