Thank you Dav Yandler—Jimmy’s dear friend, and now our dear friend—for writing and performing something beautiful.
The Six Foot Tall Ginger Poet Adonis
By: Dav Yendler
My friend Jimmy Gauntt will not survive this story. He won’t even survive this paragraph. My friend, this guy, this Jimmy Gauntt was a six foot tall ginger poet Adonis. Built like an Olympic sprinter, Jimmy committed to learning how to do a headstand the way you and I commit to a quarter-pounder with cheese. He could get any girl he wanted by twinkling his six foot tall ginger poet Adonis eyes. Best friends with Tony Hawk’s nephew since childhood, he kept his bedroom a mess and spoke with his hands and teeth when he had nothing else to say.
We met in a movement class called the Actor and The Body at the Queen Mary School in London and from that point onwards would actively make sure we were in each others’ classes for the rest of the year. I was there on my third year abroad thinking that I wanted to be an actor and figuring that whole thing out. Jimmy Gauntt, born and dead in San Diego, CA, would change my mind.
He was there as a fourth year from USC. He said he got tired of all his friends and the whole scene in LA at large, or maybe he said he needed to test himself out of complacency, or maybe he was there because he was bored. When I met him I was completely flabbergasted that such a person even exists, and somehow this person was talking to me.
My first real conversation with Jimmy Gauntt went a little something like this: We were developing this movement phrase based off high divers. One of the dudes in the class was this kid Robin who used to be a pro diver but got really shitfaced and completely shattered his ankle doing a back flip off a truck. He came from this working class background and was built like Wolverine, like 5’3″ and arms like BOOM. Angie- the movement instructor- had him teach us some basic stances and was taking photographs on a digital camera. Now, I already felt pretty ridiculous in the class because I was nowhere near as physically adept as the rest of the students- I had no handstands, no somersaults, no flexibility, no rigidity, no line. I didn’t know anyone in the class, the school, the country, the hemisphere. I looked at myself in one of those photographs and was just absolutely horrified at the lonely, squishy guy nervously looking cool in a room full of people who look cool for a living. Jimmy and I had maybe one conversation up to this point:
Him: “The west coast.”
Me: “More like the best coast, am I right?”
But there was something about his six foot tall ginger poet Adonis-ness that made him— I don’t know—the right guy for this? Maybe because he was the other American in the class. I walked up to him, thrust the screen in his face, pointed to the part of the photo that showed my chest in profile, and said, “Jimmy, whaddya think of that?”
Without missing a beat he looked at me, the photo, back at me, the photo, and then he reached up, put his hand against my chest, and said, “Yeah, you’re a little soft up here.”
Now if this were any other person on God’s green earth I would have just turned into a blubbering mass of insecurity right and then, but this was Jimmy Gauntt, you know? I went back to my room and did push-ups. Or rather, I tried to do push-ups. My sister’s all-girls Junior High gym coach would call what I did girl push-ups- from the knees? But I did ’em. I did ’em and I did ’em and I went running by the creek down to the Thames where the fish markets were just cracking open, I did push-ups and went running up the creek where the dogs chased creek barges on muddy banks, I did push-ups and went running to Brick Lane, where Bangladeshi restaurant owners stood on their stoops and hawked discounts to wandering diners. I pushed up and up and ran down and down, I went from push-ups on the knees to push-ups off the feet to push-ups with my feet on the bathtub to push-ups with my feet on the bathtub and my fingers in a little diamond. My sisters’ all-girls Junior High gym coach called those woman push-ups. All because of Jimmy Gauntt. I still do those push-ups. 40 of them a day. All because of Jimmy Gauntt.
My kind of friend at the time Brett was the one to call me last summer and tell me about what had happened to Jimmy. They had some acting class up in LA or something together. Brett and I never talked on the phone—ever—so I was weirdly happy to talk to someone from someplace familiar in that first, foreign, and altogether lackluster Chicago summer. He sounded totally unsure of how to say what he needed to say-
“Brett! What the fuck up!”
“I have some, uh, some bad news.”
At this point the phone began cutting in and out so what follows sort of stumbled out on top of itself,
“What’s going on?” I asked
We talked, and after I hung up I remember looking at the call log and seeing that the conversation only lasted a minute and a half. I remember looking up at the trees on my street, totally arrested. I looked up at the trees, and the leaves murmured and winked soft little secrets.
I saw Jimmy cry once. Just once. And what a cry. He called me first. He called me and I could barely make out the words that he was saying. Something about Sarah, “She told me the truth, oh God!” and love, “What happened to what we had, bluh bluh,” and time, “Oh there just not enough of it! ”and it was nonsense. I could hear his footfalls in his breath and I looked out my window to see him shuffle sprinting straight for my door. I ran outside and he collapsed— collapsed!— into my arms, all six feet ginger poet Adonis-ness of him, his strings cut by this mystery tragedy. My Somali roommate who smelled bad watched frozen and dumbstruck as I took Jimmy’s weight onto my own and half carried, half pulled him up the stairs into my room, his wails, yes, his wails, reverberating up the concrete. “I can’t breathe! I can’t see!” My mind raced- what happened? What was I going to do to console this force of nature? Once the door closed he moved at 120 frames a second- in one moment he was on the floor pounding his fist against the carpet and then in the next he was standing on my bookshelf wind-milling his arms, shouting and weeping! I sat in awe and heard how Sarah just broke his heart by telling him she didn’t want to be with him. I sat in absolute awe of him, just, emoting the way he did and when he calmed down I told him how sorry I felt for him and that I still loved him and he was still a good person. He nodded, sniffling, telling me what a good friend I was and how he loved me too.
Then, staring at the perfect snot running down his perfect nose, I took a gamble and I said, “Jimmy? I didn’t believe a word of that. Any of it.”
He looked up at me, and I thought, that’s it- we’re through- and then he smiled his Jimmy Gauntt six foot tall ginger poet Adonis smile, and said, “Yeah, I didn’t believe it either.” We both grinned widely. He wiped his perfect nose and took me to a bar downtown. He told me about privilege and art, about basketball and his dad, about how he couldn’t help but love and love and love. I had taken this whirlwind of disaster and shaped it into something real. Watching that Sarah-mess in my room made me realize that I could never be an actor; there was no way I would ever be that close to it, whatever it is. Jimmy Gauntt brushed shoulders with it daily. I listened to him in that London bar, enraptured and enchanted, drunk and intrigued. The cops caught us without bus tickets on the way home.
Eventually I tracked down the number for Dad Gauntt’s law practice through the obituary he had put up. Having no clue what the protocol was for talking to parents about their dead kids, I ended up just staring at the phone for an empty five minutes. Casey Gauntt was a very high profile lawyer to the stars who I swear didn’t like me because I don’t like baseball. I looked out into my window onto the shining sun and green leaves with the phone in my hand daring myself to do it. Finally I called and after a few circuitous transfers between offices I got a hold of his secretary.
“Uh, hi, hi- yeah, um, is Mr. Gauntt in?”
“No, he’s taken a leave of absence for the next two weeks. May I take a message?”
“Right of course, no no no… I’m actually calling about Jimmy.”
“Oh,” she softened, “Well, it’s terrible, isn’t it?”
“The service is going to be on Saturday at UCSD, do you need the address?”
“I, uh-” I froze. That’s where I went to school, “I can’t make it.”
“Sorry to hear that,” she said, “would you like to leave a message?”
“Would you like to leave a message for Mr. Gauntt?”
“…No. Thank you.” Click. Why did I call?
Jimmy was the first person with whom I had a total friendship. That is to say, a beginning, middle, and an end. All the other friends with whom I’ve lost touch I’m able to- any day I please- just pick up the phone and pick up where we left off. Brett and I did. Not so with Jimmy. You know, in all likelihood, had he not walked to his childhood home in San Diego that night after a party and that car had not run him over, we might have just dropped off each other’s maps like so many friendships that return from big travels and doings. But now…
I stared out the window again into my first Chicago summer. I didn’t get it- this was the badass Chicago summer? I’m from California- we invented summer.
Angie, our movement instructor, had invited us to her village in Devon for three days to work on that movement phrase some more and then film some of it. On day one she took us on a 6 mile hike through some incredibly dense mountainous terrain to her dance studio tucked in the cleft of two giant boulders. Robin smoked cigarettes the entire way. I took photographs and Jimmy just smiled his brilliant Jimmy Gauntt smile. He said things like “ah”, and “ohm” whenever he saw or thought something pretty. Which happened a lot. Puff puff, click click, ohm, ah.
Day two we took a car to the studio where we sprinted up and down sheep hills until we vomited, physically fought one another, cut our faces while we rolled around in brambles- it was a very wax-on-wax-off kind of day. It felt good. It felt really good. Especially after those push-ups. And day three was the shoot. Angie took us to these cliffs, these massive cliffs, these crags of splintered rock jutting out of the face of the earth like protest, flat and smooth, these stone teeth after a brawl, this impossible architecture. We regarded the rocks and tied our ties. That’s where we were going to do headstands. Wow, I said. Wow, Jimmy said. Wow, Robin said, teeth clamped over a cigarette. “Nut up, boys,” Andrea said, and we went off. She led us up some treacherous terrain and stopped at a nice little boulder perch and pointed to the coast. There were three rocky promontories, platforms, arranged neatly and separated from one another by about 30 feet. They towered over 120 feet of open air and the booming ocean below. Andrea set up her camera and looked up at us after a moment, her look alone asking us what were still doing on the perch and not each to our own rock.
So we went. Jimmy on the first, me on the second, Robin on the third. We could feel the wind ripping at our clothes and we broke off from another to walk onto these stones. Mine shook. I’m assuming theirs did too. The ocean stretched out forever in front of me and a quick glance to my right and left told me that Jimmy and Robin were also completely ensorcelled. On some unknown queue all of us at the same time straightened our arms at our sides, leaned forward, and raised our bodies on our toes- the wind and a prayer the only thing keeping us from tumbling into pounding surf 120 feet below. Then, eyes closed, with the Atlantic roiling in bloody murder for as far as the eye could see, I stretched my arms out to my left and right, my whole self straining forward, ready, leaning, my toes keeping miraculous purchase on my ledge, Robin the same, his diver’s body going back to what it’s known for years, rigid and strong, his face blank and ready, his mind rigid and strong, blank and ready, and Jimmy to my left, Jimmy, his arms reaching out for forever, his whole self embraced, his face at peace, his body serene against the howls of the wind and sea, Jimmy Gauntt, that six foot tall ginger poet Adonis, smiling, his brilliant eyes wide open, leaning out over the edge of the world.
Story developed in conjunction with 2nd Story in Chicago, IL. For more information check out www.2ndStory.com.