Friday, January 26, 2007 

Two weeks ago in Los Angeles a small jet went down moments after take-off in Van Nuys. There were two pilots aboard, headed for Long Beach to pick-up a charter. One of those pilots was Fernando Fernandez. Years ago he was simply "Chris," but that was before he reconnected with his Cuban identity. The joke used to be, that Fox television made a hit out Beverely Hills High School and the 90210, but Chris exemplified actually living it. In the early 90's his wife Maria, my wife's friend and sometimes boss was a star editor and former War Correspondant at Time Inc, the hothouse where we all learned to write well and to lunch at Citi. It was a place of arrogance, and of brilliance then, a place where Martha Stewart might crowd the elevators with a troop of Girl Scouts on "Take Our Daughters To Work Day," and where, at Sports Illustrated, the Brahmans had a particular affection for Boston College and little respect for the SEC. It was a long way from the carnival midways I'd haunted in childhood and the muddy circus lots that followed.

Today in the Valley they will lay Chris Fernandez to rest. Five years have gone by since my wife left International Creative Management, the Beverly Hills agency where she landed after People Magazine. This is an LA story, driving off at 5AM she felt a bit like she was returning to the belly of the beast. LA has never been a circus town, but then again it has been. Mabel Stark was there for decades. Al Barnes called California home. Rare is the week when a small Hispanic circus isn't haunting a a vacant weed strewn building site or a parking lot on the eastern fringes of LA, and the ghost of Cliff Vargas lingers near the Gallerias.

This has been a winter season defined by death. Whether family, or friends, or stangers in a Baghdad marketplace, young soldiers who will not live to take their own children to the bigtop. My own Dad was a fan of motordromes, the carnival thrill shows where heavy motorcycles, surplus from the Second World War raced around the "Wall of Death," somtimes almost verically. The Brill Company sold the plans for the walls and they were hugly popular after the war. The Wall of Death was an exercise in pure physics, like wire walking, or today's motorcycle acts staged inside globes. It looks a lot more dangerous than it really is. Though by no means does that imply that there aren't serious risks. My Dad used to say, you went to a carnival (in the days of back end shows) or a circus, or a thrill show (Joey Chitwood was once famous enough to inspire a line of toys) to be scared, but not to watch anybody die. It wasn't like stock car races, where there was a certain voyeuristic appeal.

I am, I think, on this late January day, ready for a circus season. I am ready to be scared. I am tired of people dying.