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          Farkash slumbers under some massive, ugly power lines on a hill in the San Fernando Valley, with a distant view of smoggy, grungy Sun Valley. Not that the view matters to him. As a mutual friend put it, “guess he’s shakin’ hands with that ole groundhog now, to paraphrase Dr. John and Louis Armstrong.”
          What a hilarious image. What a great cartoon. There’s a full moon. Coyotes bay. Electricity from the power lines shoots into the ground, a grave opens up, and Farkash steps out in top hat and tails, followed by a whole troupe of groundhogs, dancing the jitterbug, or heidi-ho-ing like Cab Calloway. Maybe a bunch of soft-shoe-ing skeletons singing background vocals, for good measure. . .
          Mike would have liked it. At least the Mike I knew would have. . .
          I went to say goodbye to journalist/playwright Mike Farkash the other day, at Eden Memorial Park in the north San Fernando Valley. A rabbi who was either bored or severely Xanaxed haltingly offered the most insipid of homilies (it’s not the dates in the years of birth and death on the gravestone that count, it’s the dash between them), and took the occasion to explain a bit about Judaism, in case there were potential converts in the crowd. His most pithy remark:
          “I didn’t know Moishe Raphael, so what can I say?”
          Farkash would have been amused.
          No, the rabbi didn’t know Moishe Raphael, and neither did I. I didn’t know the good son, good brother, good uncle, and all-around Nice Jewish Boy they eulogized at Eden. He kept that side for family.
          And I didn’t know the “Michael” that various actor-friends of Mike’s preciously, oleaginously celebrated, talking about how “gentle,” and “generous,” and “giving” he was (cough), and brilliant, blah blah. One guy made the stunningly surreal claim that Farkash was “always surrounded by babes” and was a “great lover.” For a moment there, I wondered if somebody had spiked the hand-out yarmulkes. It sounded like a tribute to Rudolph Valentino.
          Whatever Farkash was, Valentino he most definitely was not.
          This was a roly-poly guy with a soft, insistent voice, protuberant soft-boiled egg eyes that stared at you like Nosferatu, dark wavy hair (when he had it), and a slow, loping walk that prompted his indefatigable friend Scott Paul to occasionally hum the theme music from the old Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Farkash smoked cigarettes like they were indispensable tools of thought, shook hands like an effeminate priest, and his laugh was an almost maniacal explosion of teeth and cackling. Generous? I think he once picked up a check---one out of oh, five or six thousand, but who’s counting?
          If this seems cruel, it isn’t---at least no crueler than truth always is. And the truth of the matter here is that this is a tribute to a one-time friend that I have to write, despite decidedly mixed feelings. Or undecidedly mixed feelings.
          It’s the laugh that I will remember best. It came without warning, direct from the gut, often with head tossed back, eyes crinkled shut, teeth revealed. It was so amusing, so inimitable, so demented, that I once deliberately coaxed it from him for a super-8 movie, “Rense Meets Farkashus.”  It was robust, merry, yet somehow conveyed the knowledge that everything is absolutely, irretrievably, wonderfully, horribly. . .absurd.
          And there in the stuffy chapel at Eden, I was among the few old friends who alternately rolled their eyes, suppressed laughter, and shook their heads at the theater of the absurd before us, while the husk of Farkash presided up front, hidden in a pine box.
          How absurd it was for him to be dead. How absurd to send him off in such a glum, solemn fashion. How absurd that he had let himself fall victim to diabetes, obesity, heart disease. How absurd that he never stopped smoking. How absurd that he was only 53.
          His loving sisters, Debbie and Renee, mitigated the gloom and bogus dignity a bit by recalling how young Mike once invited them to put their tongues on a frozen serving dish, saying that nothing bad would happen to them. And how, after Mom and Dad left town, the sisters home promptly hosted a mad all-night party---while teenaged Farkash sat upstairs, eavesdropping and writing a play about the goings-on, which he proudly presented to his parents on their return. Prompting a good deal of household scandal.
          And at least one of his actor pals strayed from the maudlin stuff, too, allowing that while reading for Farkash’s hit play, “Meat Dreams,” he had “no idea” what it was about. And that even after he played the part for a few weeks, he still had “no idea” what it was about. And how while he was happy to continue playing it for six months, as it fetched him roles in TV sitcoms and a film, in the end, he still had “no idea” what it was about.
          That was more like it.
          My opinion is that the play---an L.A. Weekly critic’s choice which also snagged a great write-up in the L.A.Times---was about nothing but Farkash’s obscure, idiosyncratic notions of human behavior. The premise had something to do with telling fortunes by reading entrails; the characters were meant to be richly eccentric, but were only peculiar. By way of explanation, the auteur once said to me, “It means whatever you want it to mean, Rip,” prompting me to respond, “That's’s the bullshit device of every poseur, Mike.” He then offered a genuine explanation, which struck me as worse than the first.
          Farkash, as he was primarily addressed in my experience, was a vexing, complex, contrary, and ultimately rather troubled character. There were two Farkashes, really: the one I knew, and the one who became, briefly, a celebrated L.A. playwright. The former was lighthearted, a prankster; the latter self-serious, humorless. The former was known affectionately by his last name or “Mike,” the latter as “Michael” or “Michael R. Farkash.”
          His last name, really, was at the heart of his problems. He was good-natured about the kidding it aroused, early on, but later he came to hate any “playing” with the moniker, and to become poisoned by the hatred. Strange for a man of his intellect, but then, the brain does not discriminate against foible. You can easily imagine how college kids messed around with a handle like that, scatalogically and otherwise, and I was certainly one of them. We were great pals back then, Mike and I, at the Cal State Northridge Daily Sundial, and for another ten or twelve years afterward---during which everybody called him “Farkash,” or “Fackrash,” or “Fartcash,” or occasionally “Mike,” and did so with nothing but affection. He was our version of a Dickens character, with a Dickensian name. For a while, he even joined the fun with a delightful self-deprecation, dubbing himself “Uncle Mike, the Kiddies’ Kike” in an underground newspaper advice column, and mock-defending the nobility of his surname with “It’s Hungarian for ‘wolf.’” (Which it actually was.)
          And that was the best stuff of Farkash. For whenever he entered the Sundial office, or a junky Valley coffee shop at midnight, or a poker game, or your apartment, or a party full of disaffected, disassociated, disinclined young Valley intelligentsia, you knew the fun factor was about to go up. He loved to talk to people, and he had a ready, highly literate, ironic, dry, goofball wit. Well, best to also include the descriptor, “bizarre” in that previous sentence, but bizarre in the practically quaint '50's science-fiction sense.
          Which brings to mind a favorite Farkash anecdote: how, when he was still living at home, his mother complained that she had been gone all day and Mike had not bothered to do the laundry, as instructed.
          “But Mom,” he said. “It’s still radioactive.”
          Badda-bing. Mom reportedly laughed.
          The Farkash memories are fragmented now, and getting more so. You’d walk into a newsroom and find him engaged in day three of a running chess game, or enter a party and find him in sunglasses, Spiderman T-Shirt, shooting people with a toy ray gun. He was apt to show up New Year’s Eve dressed as Sinatra, karaoke-ing “New York, New York” with a boom-box strapped to his midsection, or on Hallowe’en in blackface dressed as Barry White (once doubling the part with a certain Internet columnist.) Everyone who knew him has thousands of Farkash snapshots embedded in memory, most of the “you had to be there” ilk. One of mine: cruising around the great, dumbass Valley in his ’64 Chevy around 3 a.m., stoned, laughing louder than should be legally allowable, as a CBS Mystery Theater featured actors unaccountably declaring “Men with no mouths! Men with no mouths! There’s another! Aiieeeeeeeeee!”. . .
          More than anything, Mike was a writer, and an obsessive/compulsive one. He spent most of his twenties pounding a mechanical typewriter (filched from CSUN, I think), cranking out countless science-fiction short stories. He was a living embodiment of Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout, endlessly coming up with plot after plot, hammering them out---but unlike Trout, could not even get them published in “beaver magazines.” This was no reflection on the quality of the work, really, as lots of published science-fiction is far, far worse than Farkash’s ever was. I’m willing to bet that some of those stories, now languishing in filing cabinets with tons of rejection letters (he saved them, perhaps for the day that he triumphantly met the press to discuss his New York Times best-seller), are pretty damn worthwhile.
          The only one I recall offhand was very brief, and asserted that UFOs are actually hats left behind by extra-terrestrials.
          Nobody I know wrote more, or worked harder at succeeding as a writer, than Farkash. He suffered for his art, that’s for sure. A coterie of loyal friends---and fans, really---kept him going through the hard times: with food, parties, encouragement, pot, and love. I was one of them, too. I recall a cruddy period when Mike was living in an dilapidated barn converted to room rentals, along with an old blind woman and her daughter. Real "Desolation Row" stuff. His diet consisted largely of potato chips, cigarettes, and Coke; his wardrobe a couple of flannel shirts and jeans. Yet he was nothing but upbeat. In fact, I used to drop in on him in order to boost my own spirits. That’s why you went to see Farkash, really. No matter how depressed he was, or you were, you’d wind up laughing.
          He worked a million crappy jobs in those days, as he tried to become the next Philip K. Dick, or George Clayton Johnson---including a brief stint at what used to be called an “adult bookstore,” which he chronicled in an article in the old Valley News. An excerpt recalled by one of Mike’s editors at the time: a customer asked if he had magazines about a particular arcane fetish, and Farkash politely responded something like “I’m sorry, it’s my first day, and I don’t know what that is.”
          I later got him freelancing regularly at the Valley News, after leaning on various editors to buy his (solid) work. This enabled him to keep eating, pay his slight rent, and to persevere at science-fiction (although nothing would have stopped that, I'm sure.) I spent countless hours by phone and in-person, encouraging him to apply for jobs at newspapers all over the state, which he did, and later to apply for a writing post at a new magazine that the Valley News was producing. To that end, I lobbied the hell out of a Valley News features editor, and that editor prevailed upon the female mag editor to give Farkash the gig (and get him out of the barn.) But it did not work out.
          In a story that is outrageously commonplace in journalism, the man was usurped---treated like a slave, working 12-hour days for a “probation period” of four months, writing up a storm---then was dropped in order that the editrix could hire a galpal. It was a set-up. There had never been any plans to give Mike the job full-time; he was used in order to help get the mag off the ground.
          A colleague and I promptly stormed the editor-in-chief’s office---my colleague almost kicked the door off its hinges---and demanded that this injustice be rectified. Idealism? Naivete? You betcha. When we got the cold, hard, company line in response, we quit the paper on the spot in protest, and in support of our friend, Farkash.
          In the coming years, I helped get Mike freelance work at a variety of venues where I was writing: the L.A. Weekly, Emmy, and places I’ve since forgotten. I quoted him in articles that called for comments about life in the Valley, or science-fiction (one memorable photo accompanying a Weekly article about the Valley featured Farkash floating in a pool, surrounded by armless and legless mannequins.) I once typed his resumes and cover letters, as they were one aspect of writing he never did well. He was a friend, see, and in my world, friends help friends. But this was not Farkash’s world.
          Due to pride, or perhaps because he was taken over by tiny reptilian insects from the planet, Noogoonoogoo, Mike apparently never felt he owed me a thing. Or my colleague who also quit on his behalf. Not even kindness.Years later, on several occasions, he insulted the hell out of both of us. In one particularly comical instance, my car broke down in the middle of the night on I-5, and I phoned Farkash for a ride. He refused to help me out because I had, weeks earlier, addressed him as “Vargas.” “You played with my name,” he said.
          It all went south permanently when I attended one of his awful plays, the name or premise of which I thankfully no longer remember. All I do recall is that, at the end, several of the characters lit up cigars for some reason, there in a 20-seat playhouse, and my terrible asthma at the time drove me to quietly get up and quietly leave.
          Next time I saw him---him being the successful playwright, “Michael R.Farkash"--- he turned his back on me and walked away. Farkash would never have done such a thing. I never spoke to him again, and I did not see him for at least the last ten years of his life. I didn’t need the abuse.
          He had a good run, though, and I’m glad of it. The obituary that ran in his last place of employment, the Newhall Signal, where he was a general assignment reporter, was impressive, and duly so: A friend from college, John Rogers, had given him his first full-time journalism job at the old Simi Enterprise, where he stayed as Entertainment Editor for about a dozen years; he had gone on to copy-edit and write for the Hollywood Reporter for quite a while, then the Antelope Valley Press and the Newhall paper. One aspect of his character had remained a constant: colleagues enjoyed his wit.
          And as a protégé of John Steppling, a playwright who is worshipped and adored by the phoney-baloney artsy-fartsy Silverlake-y crowd, Farkash finally did enjoy recognition as a writer. All those years of living on potato chips and Coke, and assaulting typewriters, paid off. He was the toast of the town for a while because of “Meat Dreams,” and a second play with one of those great Farkashian premises, called “Frozen Futures.” The idea was that cryogenically suspended heads were successfully revived two or three centuries later, but that there was no way to reattach them to their original bodies, so they were put to work running machines. Taxicabs, for instance. Yes, taxi-cabs driven by misanthropic, bitter, out-of-time, disembodied heads.
          It was a musical.
          The reviews were mixed (it lacked humor!), subsequent plays were less and less well-received, and finally they were just brutally panned. I can’t say what it was about Farkash’s dramas that didn’t hold up, except that they were aggressively twisted and just didn’t seem to make much sense. My guess is that he was trying too hard to be “Michael R. Farkash,” and had forgotten how to be “Farkash," which is a common enough sort of affliction. It was very hard for him to accept the ebbing of success, and I suppose that he really never managed to do it.
          So ended the life of a highly unusual, highly motivated, greatly enjoyed, indisputably flawed soul, who certainly tried his best.
          After the funeral, four people who were his truest friends, probably---Rogers, Valley bon-vivant Scott Paul (who never shunned him, no matter how contrary), ad executive and old Valley News colleague Jeff Lam, and me---went to a lousy Valley coffee shop that Farkash used to favor, told tales of the “good Mike and the bad Mike,” and raised our glasses.
          And it hit me, as I did so, what his truest and greatest legacy was. Not the journalism, not the plays, not even the earnestly written unpublished reams of science-fiction.
          There was simply no better person in the world to sit in a coffee shop with in the middle of the night and shoot the breeze with. Farkash was guaranteed to keep things interesting, and to keep them funny.
          And I think that’s a hell of a eulogy.

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