One of my favorite people in the whole world passed away last Saturday. I knew he had battled cancer in recent years but was unaware that he had fallen ill again, so the news came as a huge shock to me.
I first saw Taylor Negron on screen when he delivered a pizza to Jeff Spicoli in Mr. Hand’s classroom in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (a movie I fell in love with the first time I saw it and to this day consider one of my all-time faves; I knew Cameron Crowe when he wrote for Rolling Stone and I could write a whole blog dedicated to this film.)
Over the years — decades, I suppose — I always enjoyed seeing Taylor on screen. I can’t recall ever seeing him do a throwaway role. He seemed to relish every role he played, and brought something unique to every one. It’s not something I consciously thought of before but am aware of now in retrospect. You know how some people you just feel a connection with? Even if you don’t realize it at first? That’s how I felt about Taylor Negron when I eventually met him.
In the beginning days of UnCabaret, back in the late ’80s/early ’90s, I was a regular audience member at Luna Park on Robertson Blvd. I never met Beth Lapides or any of the performers (including Taylor) but was there often, usually with a bunch of my co-workers from MGM.
In 2012, I found out that Beth had rebooted UnCabaret after a long hiatus. I was so thrilled that I sent her a message and told her how I used to go all the time back in the day. I went and introduced myself and, over time, I got to know her as I once again became a regular. When she posted one day that she needed a volunteer to help out, I immediately emailed her and told her I had to be the one — and she said okay.
Over the 19 months I worked at UnCab, I met so many amazingly nice and talented people, many of whom have become my friends. It would be a stretch to say that Taylor and I became friends, although I bet if I ever said that to him he would tell me that was nonsense. (I feel it’s more difficult to categorize friends these days thanks to the false sense of intimacy Facebook induces.) One of his greatest gifts was his ability to make you feel special. He was very inclusive. And sincere. I think he really liked people, even those he railed against in his shows. Human nature: the good, the bad and the ugly. That’s something I can relate to and from which I draw my own stories and characters.
I remember the first time Taylor was in the lineup; I was so excited. He didn’t pay much attention to me at first but I immediately liked him and saw that he was a very kind, unassuming, polite man. And, of course, watching him onstage blew me away. As a writer, I am drawn to people who are smart, funny, witty and know how to use words. And, boy, did Taylor know how to use words. I loved his perspective on…well, everything!
The first few times he came to UnCab, our interaction basically consisted of hellos, how are yous, good to see you agains, that sort of thing. But one night, as I was working the door, he asked me where all the smokers were who he usually saw outside. He wanted to take a few puffs before his set. I told him I had cigarettes; Some performers felt like having a smoke to ease their nerves so I always carried them with me — along with gum, mints, bandaids, pens, dental floss, lighters, notebook paper…anything that anyone ever asked me for to help them relax and/or prepare for their sets I made sure to have with me every week. Taylor was impressed when I told him I did this. And when I handed him one of my cigarettes, he said, “Wow, Dunhills.”
The next time he was there, I saw him walking up to the front desk toward me. I instinctively took out a cigarette and my lighter and handed it to him when he approached. He said, “How did you know?” And I said, “Of course I know.” That was the night when things shifted and we connected on a different level. I think he began to see that I was the real deal — just like he was. After that, we were always happy to see each other, greeted each other with hugs, and began to have brief but wonderful conversations. He always mentioned how much he loved my outfits, and we would discuss vintage fashions with a shared passion. His knowledge on the subject was extensive and impressive; it’s not often that I find myself having conversations about people like Diana Vreeland.
About a year and a half ago, he asked me what I was working on and I told him I had written a new poem. He asked if he could hear it. I happened to have it on my phone, so I read it to him. When I finished, he looked at me and said, with the utmost sincerity and fondness, “Oh, that’s so sweet.” Ever since then, whenever I tell anyone about my poems, I share that story and boast with pride, “Taylor Negron likes my poem!”
When Taylor started doing shows with Logan Heftel, the magic expanded to a deeper level for me. Those two were delightful together — on stage and off — and their songs and banter were so much fun to watch. As much as I adored Taylor, I was (and am) also very fond of Logan, as much as if he were my own kid.
On April 24, 2014, I went to the opening reception for Taylor’s art showing at the Laemmle Royal Theatre in West L.A. I did not know he was also that kind of artist and I was intrigued. I walked in and saw he was talking to someone else, but he greeted me warmly and, surprised, asked what I was doing there. “I came to support you,” I said. I left him to continue his conversation and went to get a glass of wine. When he was finished he came to say hello and tell me how much it meant to him that I came, and we ended up talking off and on while I was there, part of the time with his friend Greg Cope White. Greg and I were convinced we had met before and spent most of the evening trying to figure out where we knew each other from. (We never did.) I am happy to say that Greg and I remain in touch via Facebook and the occasional run-ins at UnCab. (Taylor and Logan recently appeared on his Let’s Make Eggs talk show, you have to watch it — check it out here.) I fell in love with Taylor’s paintings and made a vow to buy at least one when I had some extra money. It would mean a lot to me to have one of Taylor’s painting hanging on my wall. I even took pics of the pieces I wanted (which for some reason I cannot find, but below I’ve posted a pic I found online of one of my faves). They were filming people talking about Taylor and I was asked if I’d like to say something on camera. I never want to participate in things like that — I am a behind-the-scenes, out-of-the-spotlight kind of gal — but I enthusiastically agreed and gushed on and on about how much I loved Taylor and his art. I can’t think of one other person who could inspire me to do that; it makes me blush just to think that I did it. (I hope someday I get to see what they filmed and I hope it’s never too late for me to own one of his paintings.)
When Taylor first came to UnCab, he talked about his cancer, but after he stopped talking about it I forgot about it and thought he was okay. He always seemed okay, so I had no idea that he had recently become ill again. So when I was driving to a show Saturday night and picked up my phone while stopped at a red light and saw another friend I had met at UnCab, Drew Droege, post on Facebook about his passing, it was a huge shock. It was raining, and I thought, “God is crying.” Since I couldn’t find anything online about what happened, I thought to call Beth, but it was her birthday so that was not a good idea. I took off my gloves and, choking back tears, called Drew to find out what? and how? I left him a voicemail and then my FB feed started filling up with posts. I parked my car near The Echoplex, where my longtime friends The Flesh Eaters were playing later, and walked up to Sunset Blvd. to Stories bookstore, where my pal Dave Ross (who I also met at UnCab) was debuting a new comedy show whose lineup included another UnCab favorite of mine, Rory Scovel. On the walk up I realized I wasn’t wearing my gloves. “Damn, I bet they fell off my lap when I got out of the car,” I thought. But I didn’t feel like walking back. All of a sudden I thought of Taylor and asked him to please make sure no one took my gloves if they did, indeed, fall outside. I went to Stories and held it together while I said my hellos and waited for the show to begin. Fortunately, Rory went on first so I was able to see him and then head to the Echoplex after catching up a bit with him. No one mentioned Taylor so I assumed they didn’t know yet — and I wasn’t going to be the one to say anything. I could just hear Dave say, “Gee, thanks, Suzanna, for bumming everyone out at my new show. You’re awesome.” Taylor wouldn’t have wanted me to do that, either.
When I got back to my car, lo and behold, the gloves were there on the street outside my car. Soaking wet now, but still mine. I looked up and thanked Taylor for protecting them for me. I went to the club to see my friends play and was glad I had this distraction to keep me from reading all the posts on FB. On my way home later that night, I burst into tears and bawled the whole way home, and for awhile after.
The last time I saw Taylor was when he and Logan did a show at UnCab on July 20 of last year (picture above is from two weeks earlier, July 6, my last night working there). I can’t imagine never seeing him there again. It’s like a huge bit of magic is gone. But, strangely enough, after getting over the initial shock and all the crying, I don’t feel as distraught as I often do when someone I adore passes. I went to a Buddhist meeting Sunday morning and usually if someone has just passed I get a feeling of their energy — anger, sadness, etc. His was…absolute peace. I usually cry, too, but this time I didn’t. I remained focused and chanted for him and it was so okay, serene even. He’d probably know better words to describe it.
I think that is a testament to Taylor’s impact on me. It’s terribly sad that he has passed at such a young age — 57 or, as I like to call it, Nifty-seven; this decade has been my best since I was in my ’20s so I call it my Nifties. But for the first time in my life the feeling I have is more gratitude for the time I spent with someone who has passed and for having the good fortune to get to know them and experience the gift of their talents rather than being overwhelmed with grief that they are not around anymore. My sadness is not rooted in selfishness, if that makes sense. I suppose you could say this is the last gift Taylor Negron gave my life, in addition to the warmth, laughter, sincere interest, generosity of spirit, and for showing me that you can ask a friend a favor after they’ve passed away and they will make sure no one steals your gloves. I will be eternally grateful for everything. I am also grateful to Beth Lapides for giving me the opportunity to meet and get to know Taylor and numerous other amazing people, some of whom are part of this story.
This is also the first time in my life that I have opened myself up like this in a public forum. I feel vulnerable for doing so, but I am not afraid. (Well, I kind of am!)
RIP sweet man. I look forward to exchanging lovely words with you in the afterlife.
Here is the poem I read to Taylor (written 9/7/13). It occurs to me now that it is kind of perfect, in a way. Taylor glistened, and he listened. When I publish my book this one will be dedicated to him.
Suntan oil and
Baking in the sun
I start to sweat
Take it easy
Smoke a bowl
This is really fun
My bottoms slip
Waves of contentment
Roll over me
I’m always glistening
Down by the sea