Citizen Legislation Dedication

A Good Friend, John Berry ... A Foolish Death

John Berry was my first friend. For many reasons, I did not make any friends in school--see Murder My Mother. I had a number of good acquaintances with whom I did some wild and crazy things--see Banner Boy. But the lack of free time from working over 40 hours and a phobia from my mother kept me from  making friends. Also, I suffered from an inferiority complex and did not want anyone to know my insecurities and inferiorities.  A friend is a person who you trust. A friend, I used say, is someone you could discuss when you started playing doctor with the girl next door.

Despite a rough beginning, John and I became friends. When he came on board, he bunked below me. Left his cigarette butts standing up next to his bottom bunk, butts on which I stepped when I exited my bunk. A trusting guy, he left his locker unlocked and his billfold anywhere. One day, I took it upon myself to absconded with his billfold to teach him a lesson. I gave it to the division officer with an explanation of my intent. John did not initiate any queries about his billfold. Two weeks later, I asked if he could lend a few dollars. "Nope, I don't have my billfold, either I lost it or someone stole it." "Aren't you upset?" "Nope, apparently I didn't need it or someone else needed more." At that point, I gave him his billfold. He laughed and as he placed the billfold on closest surface, nowhere his bunk or locker, "You wasted your time if you think you were going to teach me a lesson." Humm. Interesting person. Maybe I should get to know him better.

John was a pacifist. Joined the Navy like a lot of people to avoid being drafted to fight in Vietnam. John had many problems based on having a good heart and lacking the means or motive to meet his perceived responsibility. Repeatedly, I told him he was not responsible for things for which he did not have the ability to respond. I told him he could be sad but had no right to be depressed about events beyond his control. Like the billfold lesson, my teaching was wasted. John didn't sweat the small stuff. Unfortunately, he sweated stuff beyond his means as if suffering from a messianic complex.

John knew, but did not live, the serenity prayer.  Some of the things he did had nothing to his quixotic sense of responsibility. Some of his craziness was simply drug-induced. For instance, I wasn't sure whether it was principle, heat stroke or psychodelics that prompted him to hitchhike from Lexington, KY, to Cincinnati, OH, in the nude. Didn't get far. The officer thought his response warranted no ticket and no jail, just a trip to the psych ward: "God told me to do it."

One cold wintry day, he protested what he regarded as a racist incarceration of a black person by stretching out on driveway used by the paddy wagons to deliver inmates to the courts for trial. Arrested, he was sentenced to six months for civil disobediance. Brought before the judge after 30 days, he refused the offer of early release by agreeing to not do it again. After six months, John was out. I did not like how John put his protests before his wife and children. Nonetheless, I tried to help his family. Heating his home with a woodstove allowed me to deliver loads of cutup whiskey barrels from a local distillery. Interesting lesson was learned: In the cold, whiskey barrels don't smell but when burned, they exude a smell that was funny to encounter in a home where John's wife was a devout Catholic.

There were many other stories. John was always keeping journals, filling up pages with perspicaious perceptions. Repeated urgings to shape his musing into saleable forms were met with a laugh and a look like the time he just put down his returned billfold.

One always hates to lose a friend. It is worse when that person commits suicide in a horrible, painful way. Claims that John was a victim of bipolarity ignores the greater fact that is not a world for caring people, bipolar or monopolar.

For the world, John wasted his life compared to what he could have contributed. In my road to elucidating timism, John was not a person on the sidelines.  At a crucial intersection, he argued for and convinced me to take the fork of ideas instead of the love of money. He reinforced the teachings and exampls of another gatekeep, Jeff Patton. Whatever the tools of timism achieves, John could claim some leverage in lifting them up for others. But knowing John, he wouldn't care to claim anything. And, while I would like to think that he might have lived if he had had brainbees to channel his concerns, I might just be deluding myself.


  1. Death Announcement March 22, 2007, John Berry

  2. Suicide linked to war protest; memorial slated here today, John Berry