Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Tears for Danny 

How do you properly pay tribute to a man you have never met? It’s one thing if the man is someone like Viktor Frankl. You can refer to his remarkable history of having survived a concentration camp and emerged a positivist; an optimistic force for good in the world whose work and writings have helped countless people learn to live in optimism or at least to find hope for humanity.

But what if the man is a humble betting clerk? A face behind a counter at OTB. A place you never have been to in your life that you shun when you walk by, that you associate with a society of losers? How do you pay tribute to a man who never preached, never wrote, and never evangelized publicly a philosophy that one might adopt for oneself?

I did not even know of Danny Perasa’s existence until early last Friday morning and yet I’ve hardly stopped thinking of him since. I was taking a shower and getting ready for work when NPR’s Morning Edition aired a StoryCorps feature.

StoryCorps is a program that sets up booths across the country to record and archive people’s personal stories. Anyone can sign up and bring a friend, lover, son, daughter, parent and interview them, have a conversation; anything to get a story or stories out and into a record. NPR highlights certain stories that have resonance beyond the storytellers and Friday morning’s story was about a couple so remarkable that they were naming the StoryCorps booth in Grand Central after them: Danny and Annie Perasa.

Danny and Annie visited the StoryCorps booth many times. Mostly so that Danny could talk about how much he loved Annie.

Listening to Danny is a shock to the emotional system. His ethos is a remarkable collision of the real and imagined; the mundane and the mythic. Listening to Danny, you discover a philosophy that is a wondrous amalgam of Viktor Frankl and Don Juan de Marco spoken by Mike Hammer in a voice that is a blend of the Danny Devito and Archie Bunker; a heart that is both very human and somehow angelic.

I was so moved by listening to Danny that I couldn’t wait to share the clip of him with K. that evening. I got out a big tissue box because K. is a serious gold medal crier. (The folks who made the early 90’s AT&T commercials could always count on my dearest to unleash Niagara for their 30-second nostalgiafests.) And I knew that listening to Danny talk about how much he loved Annie and how concerned he was about her future now that he was terminally ill was going to completely undo K. And it did.

What I was not prepared for, however, was the little notice on the side of the page on NPR.com titled, “A Sad Note”. And when I read it, I began to sob. (As I must confess I am again now as I write this.) Having only just met Danny Friday morning, I learned Friday evening that he had died earlier that afternoon.

Listen to Danny for yourself. Listen to his last recording and how his only thoughts are for Annie. For obsessing about whether or not he could help her to be all right after his passing. And this was only hours before he left her. I marvel at his selflessness, the depths of his passion for his partner, and the completeness with which he seems to have loved and lived. I only hope to live up to his example.

Today is K’s birthday. I love you, K!
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