By Rick De Yampert
Editor's Note: Rick and Jeff worked together for many years in the Accent Department of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Once upon a time I lied to my friend Jeff Farance. It was sort of a big lie, too, given the subject at hand. Even now I try to convince myself that it was what Kurt Vonnegut, in the fictional religion of Bokononism that he created in his novel “Cat’s Cradle,” would call “foma” – a “harmless untruth.”
Jeff, who was not only my friend but also my colleague and editor at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, passed away, seemingly peacefully, at his Holly Hill home on March 7 at age 67.
Along with being the Daytona newspaper’s entertainment editor, movie reviewer and wine columnist, Jeff also was a wit in the Oscar Wilde sense (truly!), a devoted caretaker of his kitty companions L.A. and Sally B., a helping, roll-up-his-sleeves friend, my wine pimp, my own personal Roger Ebert, a tool collector who possessed more devices than Inspector Gadget, and a subscriber to every magazine in the world (at least the worthy ones in the fields of cultured literary writing, arts and entertainment, and progressive politics).
Jeff was laid off from the News-Journal in 2008 along with about half of the paper’s workforce, including my wife Cheryl, who worked in the marketing department. Jeff and Cheryl were friends too – he adored her!
I still had my job as the News-Journal’s arts and entertainment writer, and Jeff and I kept in touch by having lunch together every few months or so. After Cheryl died from breast cancer in April 2015, Jeff and I had lunch or dinner meet-ups more often.
Some months after Cheryl’s death, I had Jeff over to my home for dinner. This was after L.A., one of Jeff’s two cats, had mysteriously disappeared from his home, never to be seen again and leaving Jeff heartbroken.
We were sipping our post-dinner wines – procured as always by Jeff -- when he became a bit subdued and asked me: “Do you believe you’re going to see Cheryl again?”
“Yes, I do,” I said quietly.
But I was lying. At that time, in the early months after Cheryl’s death, I was still reeling, and I didn’t know what I thought about any sort of afterlife. I had been an agnostic on the subject long before Cheryl was diagnosed with the Breast Cancer Demon in October 2011. Anytime the subject had come up in philosophical-spiritual discussions with her or friends, I would shrug and say, “I’ve read a lot about what different faiths believe, but for me any sort of afterlife is a big question mark, and I’m OK with that.”
But I lied to Jeff that night at dinner. I told him that I did believe I was going to see Cheryl again whenever I left this earthly realm. (These days, following numerous strange, spooky, woo-woo occurrences over the past several years, I genuinely have come to believe that I will meet Cheryl again in some sort of afterlife. But that is a story that is being told in another place and time.)
That night I lied.
Jeff smiled meekly before his expression turned wistful.
“I believe each one of us will spend eternity with our one true soulmate,” he said. “For me, that will be L.A.”
I recognized the hesitant, sheepish tone that had crept into his voice. Since Cheryl had died, I had talked to a number of friends who had lost animal companions. Often as they poured out their grief, they would suddenly get that deer-caught-in-headlights look and their voice would falter and hesitate, and I knew what they were thinking even as their thoughts remained unspoken: “I didn’t mean to compare my loss to yours, Rick.” Sometimes friends indeed would verbalize such apologetic sentiments to me.
I reassured Jeff just as I had other friends: “You lost a beloved too. That’s hard. That’s heartbreaking.”
Some years earlier Jeff had fallen at his home and was unable to get up, and it was three or four days before a friend figured out something was wrong and checked up on him. Jeff told me and others that he was able to survive his ordeal only because L.A. was there beside him and kept reassuring his human that he was going to be OK.
But I didn’t know the true depth of Jeff’s relationship to his cat L.A. until that night at dinner.
Jeff’s fall was due to the chronic pain he suffered from back problems that had proved difficult for doctors to diagnose, and from hip and knee problems. His hip replacement surgeries went well and, during his last several years in this world, Jeff was rather pain-free from what I could see.
And he was happy during our meet-ups. My heart leaped up to see him in such a good place. And he was happy to know I had found love again with my girlfriend Rachel – he adored her, too!
Jeff and I would talk movies and, because he was then a freelance movie reviewer who received DVD screening copies of the latest flicks, he would loan me ones that he knew I would like: “The Shape of Water,” “Loving,” “Manchester By the Sea” and many others. And he’d gift me with an insightful mini-review off the top of his head.
Jeff also was my sweet-wine pimp. Jeff loathed sweet wines but he lovingly procured them for me without condemning my philistine taste in vino, and without condescension – unlike another editor and wine enthusiast who had sniffed that sweet wines were “Kool-aid.” Rather, Jeff would gift me some sweet vino and genuinely extol the peculiar virtues of each bottle – or at least what he had heard about them.
Each meet-up with Jeff also would mean I would walk away with three or four bags bulging with the latest issues of The New Yorker, National Geo, The Nation, Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic and dozens of other mags. I often wondered why Jeff subscribed to so many magazines, and if he ever got around to reading even a tenth of them.
The last three bags he gifted me, after we had lunch at Einstein Bros. Bagels last month, are still piled up in a corner of my home.
People who were close to Jeff know that he was a multi-faceted personality. Some Facebook posts by friends have called him “complex,” “complicated” and “unique.” All true!
I’ve never known anyone else who had as big a heart as Jeff while also possessing an acerbic wit and a scimitar-sharp tongue to match. Jeff could go Oscar Wilde on bullies and assholes who had shown themselves to be heartless – whether it was national newsmakers or local folks known to both of us.
His tart tongue was still evident during his last few years in this world, but he seemed just as content to regard the heartless ones with bemused contempt rather than dismiss them with acidic one-liners. But still, you didn’t want Jeff to go Oscar on your ass!
And just to be clear: Jeff was not being mean-spirited at such times. Anyone who might have been eavesdropping on our conversations would have silently nodded in agreement and thought “Yes, that bastard deserves to be taken down a notch.”
Jeff was happy during his last years in this world. He smiled a lot. He laughed a lot. I miss him. I miss hearing his laughter. I especially miss hearing him when he would get what my mom would call “tickled” – when he would share something silly and he would begin giggling and then wheezing as he fought to suppress a belly laugh that would have rattled the windows of whatever eatery we were at.
Jeff, like your fellow movie critic Roger Ebert, I know you have an aisle seat in heaven. And I know L.A. is curled up in your lap as you sip wine and the two of you watch movies together. And I imagine Sally B. will join you both one day.
Namaste my dear friend: The Light of the Divine in me bows before the Light of the Divine in you.
-- Rick de Yampert