My brother Richard and I used to dance around the living room in Atlanta…..learning from each other how to cha-cha, in preparation for all the Bar Mitzvah parties we would be invited to in the year ahead…one-two, cha-cha-cha, to Frankie Avalon’s “Venus” ….”Venus if you will, please send a little girl for me to thrill…” i wanted to kiss Frankie Avalon.
Richard Laurence Baron would have adored living in San Francisco.
He might actually have considered moving here from Houston, with his wife Barbara. He’d never have moved to New York City. Visit every now and then, maybe, if business necessitated or I was in a play he wanted to see, but live there? Not a chance. NYC is a violent place, and my brother was a gentle man.
Had they visited here, though, they would’ve been as enchanted as Peter and I are by everything San Francisco offers to people who are smart, engaged in life, enthralled by natural beauty. He would’ve been as avid as we are about discovering SF’s hidden treasures, unique neighborhoods, wondrous cultures, because Richard adored exploration. Of new places, new people, new beers, new books, new adventures. My dear brother was fascinated by life. And San Francisco is a town filled with it. A quality Richard would have immediately recognized, relished for its pace, and embraced.
That is, when he managed to pull himself away from the many richly laden, independent bookstores he’d have located first. Books were important to Richard. I never knew a man who loved even the smell of them as he did. When his dear Barbara finally does come to see us here, our first thing will be the bookstores. We will discover them together, the ones I love, the ones I’ve yet to find. The ones Richard would have led us to.
Also, whereas New York City has its heights, its figurative mountains to climb, their steely artificiality represented to Richard man’s striving for the things he himself never thought to be important: money, ambition for its own sake, grabbing for, getting and keeping all one could, no matter how useless, and all the pushing and shoving it took to get those things. San Francisco’s natural heights, on the other hand, its glorious hills, would have matched Richard’s idea of what soaring truly meant. A city like San Francisco exists in the sheer, magnificent space it takes to contain a man with the spirit the size of my brother’s. He woulhave felt good here because of that alone.
We’d have taken a bountiful picnic up to the Marin headlands, sat on top of one of the old army bunkers – that Richard would have been able to tell me the story of, since military history was another love of his – and he’d have stood tall – he was 6’5” after all – stretched out his long arms and included the Pacific Ocean in his wide embrace.
New York City would have hemmed my brother in too much for him to have ever lived comfortably there. When he did visit, he’d spend time in the darkest corners of the Natural History Museum and the Egyptian Wing of the Met..
And he’s the only person I knew who’d have made a dent in the enormous height of the trees in Muir Woods. Those trees would have felt his remarkable hug, and Richard would have felt like he was among honest friends, in the presence of those awesome redwoods. Tall things understand each other, and my brother was tall in every way.
My darling brother passed away several years ago.
But it gives me enormous joy to visualize him and Barbara living here with us. Enjoying the great cafés, getting to know the local wines. I soothe myself with imagining he’d have loved that. But I do know that Richard would never have wanted to live in NYC. Though he visited it when he needed to, it was never a city congenial to his spirit and heart. It was too hard, too fast, too selfish. And Richard was none of those things. I was the selfish one. He was the patient, the kind, the long-suffering older brother. And he is gone now.
I will, however, think of him often and imagine him here, in this town he would have loved.
At this moment, in my mind, I am dancing with him to a mellow rock cha-cha from the late ’50’s, hugging him for dear life.