I read the obituaries every day. I’ve done it for as long as I can remember. For my entire life, I have been afraid of death. I just can’t comprehend what it is like to not exist. My father, who was very wise, told me simply that I had been there already, before I was born. Somehow that didn’t help.
My fear of death has made me a raging hypochondriac. Agewise, I’m in the “Death Trough,” the time of life where the end is in sight, but you don’t know what form it’s going to take. People I know are appearing in the obituaries. Three people I liked or admired died in the past couple of years—and I feel the need to write their obits.
Robert Schimmel, the son of Jewish Holocaust survivors, was a top comedian. The first time we met was on my radio show in New York City in the early ’70s, when he was reading poetry as part of a young-poets circle that included the late Jim Carroll, author of The Basketball Diaries. I didn’t really remember Robert when he resurfaced on my San Francisco show in the mid-’80s as a comic. Regardless, we became good friends.