Suffering Is The Only Honest Work
By Casey Gauntt
This story is because of Tom Strickler and his drive, leadership, mentorship, generosity and love for Jimmy Gauntt. Jimmy first met Tom in 2006. As a founding partner of Endeavor—now William Morris Endeavor— one of the most powerful entertainment agencies in the country, Tom was a major force in Hollywood with a triple A client list of writers, actors and directors. They were introduced by Jimmy’s very close friend and writing partner, Evan Nicholas, who went to work for Endeavor as Tom’s assistant right after college. Jimmy and Evan started at USC in 2002 as freshmen and pledges of the SAE fraternity, and they share an extraordinary thing in common.
Evan told the story at Jimmy’s memorial service:
“Jimmy and I were born on the same day, November 8, 1983. Since I met him, we’ve always had our birthday together and it’s been a really fun coincidence. We were friends for months before figuring it out and I’ll always remember the way we made the discovery. We were 19 and on our way into a local bar. Jimmy was in front of me so he gave his ID to the bouncer first and then when I handed mine over the bouncer exclaimed, “Wow, you guys have the same birthday?” Jimmy and I looked at each other a little unsure and shrugged, “Yeah, I guess so.” So, the bouncer gave back my I.D. and sent us on our way. Jimmy was still in front of me but he kind of hung back and when the bouncer was out of earshot said, “HEY, I THINK OUR FAKE ID’S HAVE THE SAME BIRTHDAY.”
Tom had come to their 23rd birthday party in Los Angeles and mentioned he was training with some of the Endeavor agents to run the Los Angeles Marathon in March. Tom asked Jimmy if he was interested. Jimmy thought this would be a great way to get back in shape and it certainly couldn’t hurt to get to know some of the top agents in the entertainment industry. “I might be interested in doing that.” Tom heard “Yes, sir, I’m all-in”; and so he was. Jimmy was always fast. In high school he was a wide receiver and ran track—sprints and high jump— but he was not a distance runner. I don’t think he’d ever run a 10K. And Jimmy had gotten out of shape over the last few years. He said he’d burned out from four years of high school football and year-round workouts. He also started smoking in college, just like his old man.
Jimmy really enjoyed the training and shared with us lots of stories about the runs they took through the L.A. countryside including a particularly wild jaunt on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Tom, Jimmy and two other Endeavor agents, Bill Weinstein and Rich Cook— Evan had somehow eluded Tom’s marathon net—were halfway into a fifteen miler in the Malibu hinterlands when Rich slipped on the trail and fell hard. The other guys circled back to find Rich writhing in pain; his arm and shoulder at an odd angle. He had broken his collarbone, badly. They tried to get Rich up but the pain was too bad and the trailhead and ranger station were miles away. Tom took charge. Bill and he would run to get help and Jimmy was ordered to stay with Rich and keep the mountain lions at bay. Rich later recounted Jimmy was a great comfort, patting his head from time to time as you would a lap dog. Over an hour later, Jimmy and Rich heard a WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP soon followed by the appearance of the hulking frame of a Los Angeles County Emergency Rescue helicopter. The chopper touched down in a clearing nearby and two paramedics jumped out. Tom and Bill were not with them. They put Rich on a stretcher and loaded him in the helicopter. Jimmy jumped in and they were airlifted to the beach several miles away where Tom, Bill and an ambulance were waiting.
There would be no marathon for Rich, however the hard work paid off for the rest of the team and on March 4, 2007, Tom, Bill and Jimmy successfully tackled the ordeal with Tom notching a personal best marathon time. Jimmy posted this email of his experience the day after the race.
On L.A. Marathon Day,
Golden-buddha-light-of-compassion shines through 26.2 miles of the
city. There is water for the thirsty, vaseline for the chafed, and
white boys are welcome on Exposition and Normandie. The song “I love
L.A.” plays before the gun is fired, which is apt.
We began next to Universal Studios. Soon I was on Hollywood Blvd.,
running beside Two Elvises taking turns pushing a boombox blasting the
King’s hits. I thought I would follow them the whole damn way, but
they were too fast!
On Rossmore Street, in wealthy Hancock Park, well groomed little kids
offered diced bananas under flowering trees. I took the last pieces
from a kid in a suit and tie, and looked back seconds later to see him
running into the house to dice some more. I’d remember this when I was
running through South Central. A very different way of life, but diced
bananas were still available.
I ran next to a black man in his seventies, in impeccable shape. The
back of his shirt said “Finisher of Marathon Races in all fifty states
including Washington, D.C.” I told him that was amazing. He thanked me
graciously, even though I was the five hundredth person to tell him
so. But if you put it on the back of a shirt…
I ran next to a man with great hair who had labelled himself “The Coat
Man.” Besides the coat, he carried a tray with a bottle of champagne
on it. He had the stink of fame about him. He finished a couple
minutes ahead of me. The bottle wasn’t broken.
In KoreaTown, twice I nearly ran into old ladies who had to cross the
street to get home with their groceries. Dodging marathoners seemed
the thrill of the month for them. Once they got across, they checked
their grocery bags (no broken eggs), then laughed and laughed (a knee
The best entertainments along the way included drums. Around the
half-way point, this great jazz drummer hammered his set for us.
BA-BOOM-BOO-BA-BA-BA! I felt like I was in the action sequence of a
Wes Anderson movie. The other drums came at mile 22 – Twenty kids
playing big Chinese drums. I felt like a Samurai.
At mile 18, best friends were there to support. John Dale offered to
run the rest with me, then disappeared as I considered the offer.
Friend and Marathon teammate Bill’s younger brother DID run the rest
with him at mile 18, and I luckily came across them round mile 20.
Talking to them kept me away from the wall. By the end I was running
as hard as I could, and running 11 minute miles.
The race concluded dramatically, between downtown skyscrapers, and
thousands of spectators. The Guatemalan runner’s club representatives
were at mile 26, handing out big flags for their countrymen to drape
round their backs as they finished. It made me wish I had a closer
identification with the old country.
Finish line – Even though 2115 people had run across that line before
I got there, the crowd was nice enough to make me feel like I’d won
something. They cheered on repeat, which was very generous. A
finisher’s medal was put around my neck, but it felt so heavy I wanted
to take it off. The thing must have weighed ten pounds to me, at that
That night, marathon personal record setter Tom Strickler took us all
out for Korean BBQ. The Kobe beef and Cow tongue were savory. It was a
I recommend the marathon to everyone. Just Run.
Eighteen months later………
It was a Thursday afternoon and I had come home early from work as I’d been doing each day since I’d gone back a month ago. I could only focus for about four hours in the morning on my law practice before heading home, exhausted, to be with my wife, Hilary. I was in “Jimmy’s room” in our home in Solana Beach, California, going through and boxing up some of his things. Even though the last two years he’d been living in Los Angeles pursuing a career in writing and acting and really hadn’t spent much time at home since heading off for college, it remained “Jimmy’s room.” And, of course, it was his bedroom whenever he was visiting us, as it would have been that last Friday he came home.
I’d been going through his drawers, closets and book shelves a little bit each day— a “little bit” was my limit. Our objective was not to erase Jimmy from the room—far from it—only to soften his overwhelming presence. His things would remain close by, in boxes, in our third story attic. As I sifted through thousands of his football, basketball and baseball cards, some repressed angst with my mother bubbled up for having tossed my collection after I left for college—a fortune surely lost. Well, probably not. I wasn’t even close to the collector Jimmy was. That’s how he learned to read at the age of four—he desperately needed to know what was written on the cards—he drove himself that way. I got into it for the bubble gum.
There were the ribbons, medals and trophies for races won, teams joined, most improved, best sport. Diplomas, report cards, photographs of friends, crushes and happy times; essays, notes and his books. The books. Jimmy had hundreds of books in his room in addition to the hoard stashed in the house he was renting in Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon. I suppose ‘house’ is a slight exaggeration—it was a four hundred square foot artist’s cabin, with a loft, teetering on the side of a hill accessible by a crumbling rock footpath through the backyard of an actual house owned by his landlord. An aside worth noting about his place is that many years earlier one of its occupants, also a struggling actor, “paid” a couple months rent by using his carpentry skills to build a loft and some closets in this matchbox. His name, Harrison Ford. Jimmy summed up his workmanship: “Lucky for him he became an actor, because there is no way that day job would have worked out.”
Going through his titles made me feel—well—lazy. Jimmy had all the classics: everything written by Shakespeare, Joyce, Tolstoy, London, Keats, Tennyson, Whitman, Hemingway, Updike, Kesey, Steinbeck, and all of the heavyweights in Spanish literature—in Spanish. I thought of the books my friends and I were “forced” to read in high school and college. Jimmy read those books voluntarily. He actually kept a reading list throughout high school and college that he’d plow through during summer breaks and downtime in the school year. He’d obviously read many of these tomes multiple times. His books were full of margin notes—more like undecipherable scribbles—and dog-eared pages. He worked these masterpieces and they worked him. There wasn’t a title of “crap” among them. Jimmy didn’t waste his time with best sellers or Oprah’s picks. Nor did he turn up his nose up at the junk the rest of us were reading. That wasn’t his style.
There was the frayed, well travelled, North Face backpack he’d tossed on one of the chairs in his room when he came home that Friday evening. It had remained nestled in that chair, untouched, for several weeks. I could tell without even looking there were clothes and books crammed inside. Jimmy always travelled with books and those had packing priority over clothes. He cared deeply about books—clothes, not so much. Inside were the things he thought about that late Friday afternoon, that he touched and placed in the backpack. They were a thread to him—a piece of the grand mosaic that was him. These were his things—personal things— and we respected his privacy and the sanctuary that was his space. There were lots of reasons and excuses to not open that door, but eventually I did.
Inside, on top, was a ball of clothing, including a pair of well-worn blue jeans, a couple of dark Banana Republic t-shirts, some boxer shorts that appeared to be clean, and a rumpled dress shirt and slacks he surely would have attempted to wear as-is to dinner one of the following nights with my sister’s family visiting from Switzerland. There were no socks, swimming suit or tennis shorts. He’d borrow—he would have borrowed—some of mine. The rest of the pack was filled with books I’d never heard of.
Buried in one of the pouches in the pack was a receipt dated May 24, 2008 for $7.87 from Roberto’s Mexican food take-out in Solana Beach. Three rolled tacos, one bean burrito and a small beverage. I wondered if this was from the last time he and Erik Shepner saw each other—when Jimmy asked him “Shep, write me something beautiful and send it to me.” In one of the front pockets of his jeans were some crumpled debit card receipts from a Quiznos on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Santa Monica Liquor, and a Chevron station somewhere in L.A.—too faded to make out an address. In a back pocket were two ticket stubs for the Wednesday, August 6, 2008, 10:30 p.m. showing of Pineapple Express at The Grove theatres on Sunset Boulevard only a couple of miles from Jimmy’s place in Laurel Canyon. Two nights before he came home. Who did he go with?
This particular Thursday afternoon in Jimmy’s room I looked for the first time in the night stand on the right side of Jimmy’s king size bed. In the top drawer I found a watch— a very nice watch, in fact. It was a Rolex Explorer. We had bought him a watch for high school graduation and I was trying to remember, “Was it a Rolex?” No way—a nice watch, but definitely not a Rolex. I could not remember ever seeing Jimmy wear the Rolex or mentioning that he had it. Was it his? He would never buy something like this for himself. He never wore a ring—no piercings or tattoos—and I rarely saw him wear a watch. But there it was in the nightstand drawer. A stream of questions raced through my mind. When was the last time he wore it? When did he place it in the drawer? Was he wearing it when he came home that Friday? Had he taken it off and placed it in the drawer before he took off for the party? I had no answers and Hilary wasn’t home at the time so I couldn’t ask her.
I took the watch upstairs and put it in a wooden jewelry box with a glass cover that I keep in my section of the walk-in closet of our bedroom. The box contains Jimmy’s other things the San Diego County Medical Examiner had returned to us in a plastic bag: wallet, keys and cell phone. The three $20 bills he was carrying are still tucked in his wallet.
Tom Strickler drove down from Los Angeles the next day to have dinner with Hilary, Brittany, Ryan and me. We thought then—and now—how courageous and meaningful it was for Tom Strickler to want to be with us and talk about Jimmy. Although we’d met Tom once before, he was Jimmy’s friend. Most of our friends were struggling with what to say in a sympathy card—personal visits were not on their radar. We were like their kryptonite.
Towards the end of our dinner and after lots of “Jimmy” stories, some welcome laughter and more tears, Tom said “I hope this doesn’t come off as petty or materialistic, but I need to ask you something. A few weeks after last year’s L.A. Marathon I gave Jimmy a watch to commemorate our achievement and friendship. I do that. I was curious if you’ve come across it. It’s a Rolex and I’ve been worried Jimmy may have left it in his place at Laurel Canyon or it might have ‘wandered off.’”
Without an explanation I excused myself from the table and went into our bedroom closet. I returned moments later and asked Tom “Is this it?” Tom took it from me and after a quick examination confirmed it was, indeed, the very one. Hilary, Brittany and Ryan were looking at me with this ‘What is going on?’ look. I told them how I had found the watch in the nightstand beside Jimmy’s bed the day before and how perplexed I was about it. None of us, other than Tom, knew anything about it nor had ever seen Jimmy wear it. We were grateful to Tom for having connected the dots at least as far as who the watch belonged to.
One of the “Jimmy” stories Tom shared with us was about an article that appeared a year earlier in Fade In, a Hollywood magazine that caters to the film industry. It was a rather scathing and unflattering piece about Endeavor in general and Tom, in particular, and that Jimmy was the only person who ever said anything to him after it came out. “Not a co-worker, client, colleague—nobody. Everyone in my business reads that rag religiously, so I knew for a fact that practically everybody I know read that article. That’s one example of why I considered Jimmy a good friend.”
A couple of days after our dinner, Tom sent to us the email exchange he had with Jimmy over the Fade In piece.
Tom–My bro johnny [John Dale] (the dude who kicks me in the balls on cam. [Jimmy and Me comedy video posted on Funny or Die]) was running around CAA [Creative Artists] the other day, and I guess as they were running laps around their holistic achievement punch, they chatted to John about their plus-plus praise in the never-was screenwriters magazine “Fade In (ON WHAT?)” As a result of their positive ink, the CAA under-suits all got merit rhombuses for the afternoon, personally inserted in their group-ambition-cavities by CLEAR R. Lovett/ghost of Ayn Rand. I guess it’s all about them “working together” over there. But we all know we come alone. So John showed me this article, and as I read it I was alarmed at its contradictions to my experiential fact, mainly in regard to one Sir Tom. Apparently, to my intuition, some bloated, ass-clown producer of a “film” you likely fucked for good reason saw a nice opportunity to chip at your ass in print. The worst was when he said “he’s not a good person to be around”, or something or other. That pissed me off. You’re a jumbo bag full of carrots of fun to be around Tom, and don’t let the slighted producer of Rob Lowe’s straight to MySpace musical/noir release make you believe otherwise. VIVA RENO! Kanye or Fifty would tell you to clown this dude’s ass in print. Like find him, find who he is, find what puny shit he does, find the shit he wants to do but can’t, find the bitches he’s fucking, and fuck them with more alacrity…basically, expose this dude’s ass and tear it up…walk around inside of it. But I know you will sit and sit pretty. But reading all that shit made me angry, and I just wanted to vent and hope that it didn’t ruin more than one minute of the many days you’ve won and run for yourself. —x/o jimmy
‘A jumbo bag full of carrots of fun’? And such a mouth! Apparently that was nothing new—he reeled it in around his old man. I laughed so hard snot came out of my nose.
This was Tom’s reply:
“I’ve done a pretty good job of pretending I don’t care. Moved into that “I’m tough as shit and don’t give a shit” mode. General Tom. Take the hill boys and don’t stop until you get to the top. Of course, it’s a ruse! It was painful to read and embarrassing to think that everyone in Hollywood was reading it. And a shadow of doubt…Am I who I think I am? But as you know Jimmy-I believe in pain. The suffering of the 24th mile. The dance of loneliness. The death of loved ones. It is never fun or desired-but it does bring great counterpoint to the giddy fluorescent dance of life in the age of anti-depressants. And through the pain, we always learn more about ourselves and appreciate the richness of life! —Tom”
Tom’s words were hauntingly familiar and Hilary put it together, instantly. “Jimmy wrote that poem for Tom as a thank you for the Rolex!” When he came for dinner, Tom brought with him the poem Jimmy wrote for him after the Los Angeles Marathon— the poem we heard for the first time when Evan Nicholas read it at Jimmy’s memorial service—this extraordinarily beautiful, powerful and omniscient poem. More dots connected.
Suffering Is The Only Honest Work
Rich lay flat in the tall grass,
and you had a reason to run.
I’d stay with the writhing wounded,
Come help or a mountain lion.
Hope against panic, this was real,
A chance to make use of our bodies,
A chance to be men in the flesh.
And the joy in your step
As you bounded away
Took with it the shame of my joy.
We bonded in the fracture of a collarbone.
Suffering is the only honest work,
Pain’s wail the only song whose words
Can’t be gargled in the cynic’s throat,
Reduced to truth, then spat to the walls,
Thus, pain is irreducible, pain is true,
Suffering the only honest work.
False wisdom! You showed me otherwise,
On the run…
I can’t go on!
My lips are cold, and the sun is warm.
The wall, the wall, the fucking wall!
No more! I can’t! Not any more!
(As six more steps plod the asphalt)
Interrogate the body!
Purge it of its false intelligence!
That the flesh is deceitful
Is divine consolation,
And in periods of keenest pain
I’ll know that I’ve run through walls,
That doubt is a bad idea,
And this death not even a trailhead
On the endless loop through ourselves;
That when my body lies flat in the tall grass,
The rest of me bounds up the hill.
Later that evening after Tom headed back to Los Angeles, I placed Jimmy’s watch back in the glass covered box with his cell phone, wallet, Roberto’s receipt, movie ticket stubs….
Five years later……
The Fraternity-Part 2
We now pick up where I left things off in The Fraternity. At the close of that story I shared how a few days after the The Jimmy scholarship award presentations at Torrey Pines High School, Maya, one of the 2013 recipients, sent us a wonderful thank-you note. In her email Maya mentioned Marinee Payne, a long-time teacher in the Theatre Department at Torrey Pines who Jimmy got to know when he appeared in some brief cameo roles in a couple of plays when he was a senior. Maya wrote:
“Marinee has some words of Jimmy’s tattooed on her arm, and they have become a guiding mantra for me and other Torrey Pines Players, a “black boxism” that I will carry forward for life: Doubt Is A Bad Idea.“
We were of course blown away that someone we hardly knew would be so inspired by Jimmy that she would get a tattoo on her arm of a line from his poem Suffering Is The Only Honest Work. We also were desperate to see the tattoo. Hilary asked Maya if she would reach out to Marinee on our behalf and a few days later we received this letter and photograph from her.
“Robert Petimermet, also a teacher at Torrey Pines, made a poster of this phrase soon after Jimmy died… we put it everywhere around the school. It sparked many ‘teaching’ moments and provided a foundation for Artistic Courage. It also gave me an opportunity to speak of my love, admiration and the legacy of Jimmy. Ahh, so many warm and indelible memories of our brief time together. In 2009 I went through a “life challenge.” I consistently would find myself echoing Jimmy’s words. They are important enough I thought to carry them with me. I decided then to have my first tattoo…These words serve me well, but most importantly they reach hundreds of students each year. Jimmy teaches beside me.”
As we were to learn, Marinee had not read Jimmy’s poem. Mr. Petimermet, or perhaps his daughter Giverny, another good friend of Jimmy’s, heard Evan read the poem at Jimmy’s service. Marinee also reminded us her daughter Taylor was one of the first recipients of The Jimmy scholarship in 2009 and that she recently graduated from DePaul Theatre School in Chicago having majored in Costume Design and Technology.
We couldn’t help but think of Ali Eastman. She and Jimmy were close friends in high school and a few months after Jimmy’s accident she sent us a photo of the tattoo she had done on the inside of her wrist—one word, Love, in Jimmy’s handwriting copied from a letter he had sent to her. The vision of the tattoo Jimmy’s good friend Steven Tran has on his forearm bubbled up—that will be its own story. All words important enough to carry with them.
Three years ago I had some t-shirts made with Suffering Is The Only Honest Work, Jimmy stenciled on the back. The words are in Jimmy’s handwriting and copied from the poem Jimmy had given to Tom Strickler. I gave the shirts out to family, my work-out buddies and, of course, to Tom, Evan, Rich Cook and Bill Weinstein who proudly wore them at triathalon a few months later. At the time I was pretty proud of the t-shirt idea, although I rarely wear mine.
In August of 2013, my new fraternity—Richard Page, Greg Post and I—had our first gathering at the Torrey Pines Lodge overlooking the magnificent Torrey Pines South golf course, the site of the 2008 U. S. Open, and the Pacific Ocean. It is a spectacular piece of real estate owned by the City of San Diego.
The three of us quickly slipped into the heavy conversations that only dads who have lost kids can have–those subjects you just can’t discuss with someone who hasn’t experienced this kind of loss and suffering. At some point we got around to talking about tattoos. I was telling Richard how Greg and I were back-to-back presenters at the Torrey Pines Awards night, and about Marinee Payne’s tattoo. Richard put down his glass of Petron tequila he had bought for the three of us and rolled up the sleeve of his shirt. On the inside of his upper arm in black ink is a tattoo of the letters AP, the initials of his son Alex Page. I had not seen that before. Richard explained its significance.
“Alex was home for the summer in 2001 after his first year at UC Santa Cruz. It was a hot day and he left his a note that said “gone surfing.” The tattoo is of his signature on that note—a wave ending in his initials. The next day we lost him.”
Richard excitedly observed that “AP” are also the initials of Greg’s daughter, Amanda. As if that was his cue, Greg proceeded to roll up the left sleeve of his shirt revealing a tattoo of a bold capital A, a red apple and Amanda Post—precisely the way she signed her name.
Their eyes turned to me as I pulled out my cell phone and scrolled to a photo. I explained to Greg and Richard that I’d been thinking about this off and on, and when Marinee sent me the photo of her tattoo any doubt I may have had evaporated. Having made up my mind I was anxious to do it right away. I was at first disappointed when told no appointments were available for quite some time. It looked like the first opening would be the evening August 8. “Will that be OK,” proprietor Dave Hartman of Big Fish Tattoo in Solana Beach asked me? I smiled, “That will be just perfect.” The unveiling took place the following day at the beach in Del Mar where we go to remember that day the rest of Jimmy left us to bound up the next hill. I couldn’t very well take off my shirt—we were in a nice hotel—so instead I showed this photo to the boys.
I guess it’s a fraternity thing.
My tattoo was unveiled on August 9, 2013, Jimmy’s 5th Angel Date. Check it out.