Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Recollections from the rue Larry, Moe and Curly

Don Lacoss is gone? One year ago today and I’m just finding out? I had a feeling that something was wrong in the moral fabric of the universe. I’m just terribly sad to find that we’ve lost Don.

My thoughts turned to Don in the past few days and I wanted to check his email address when I saw the obituary and the lovely recollections on the blog here.

It was last week that Jo and I were walking in Paris in the rue Larrey, just off of the Place Monge, and we looked up at the apartment where we had once lived, where Don and Carolyn had once lived. (It was Don, I think, who told me that he was redubbing it the rue Larry, Moe and Curly.) I didn’t have much trouble remembering the yellow wallpaper, the tiny bathtub, the balcony, and picturing Don in the impossibly curved bed with the bookshelf full of abstract sculptures.

I can’t think of Ann Arbor without thinking of Don. He was a fellow traveler in French history but so much more than that. He lit the place up with his personality and his wit. I can still see him in the corner of our living room or deep in a chair on our back porch, sitting on the floor caressing (our dog) Maddy, or curiously looking over (our newborn) Margot. He knew everything I listened to, everything I’d read, everything that was going on, and had a wisecrack or an insight about all of it. He made the whole thing – graduate school, French history, ideas – seem like a glorious adventure.

Random thoughts come to mind: Don’s picture of himself standing in front of “Foucault’s Furniture.” Don’s remark that he would never write the same after the arrival of hypertext – Everything connects to everything, no? – and Laura Down’s comment that she couldn’t imagine him ever having written in a linear fashion. Our email exchanges. While I was in Paris studying French sensationalism of the 19th c., Don sent me weekly updates on the O.J. case. The conference panel we did together a couple years after graduate school. It was performance art – Don could play the academic better than most of us.

I’ve felt at a loss that I haven’t seen more of Don in the last years. I’ve missed him. We exchanged emails every year or two and shared updates on kids, writing projects, misanthropy. But especially kids. I haven’t seen Benjamin in the flesh, but I felt the immense power of Don’s paternal joy every time we wrote.

This news leaves me terribly sad. But I can’t deny the pleasure it has been to read all of these recollections and see these pictures and remember how much love and friendship and wit and charm and intelligence Don spread. My thoughts go out to his family and all of his friends. We miss you, Don. Greg Shaya

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Farwell to Don-from Melissa

My husband Ray Spiteri and I met Don and Susan in 2003-when we were living in the States, having moved from Australia a year earlier. Don and Susan welcomed us into their home, put us up, were kind and generous, and we very quickly became friends. Don and Ray were collegues, with a love of Surrealism in common and they had enjoyed a close collaboration in this field for many years.
My first impressions of Don were of a big man with a big personality and a warm heart. He always made me laugh. He was witty, charming and self depreciating at times, something intrinsically part of Australian humour (easy for us to understand). I knew within an hour of knowing him that Don would be our friend forever-some people are just like that. Geographic distance does nothing to end such friendships.

When we stayed with him, Don put on some old films-something I find very comforting after a long journey. He put on a Barbara Stanwyck movie-one of my favourite actresses-and we bonded over that. Of all the beautiful actresses of the 40's and 50's - Ava Gardener, Marilyn Monroe and countless others- Barbara seemed to be Don's favourite-and it's not that surprising. Her life had been hard and her work was mesmerising. She was an abandoned child, self made, diciplined and intelligent- and she never gave up. She stood her ground. The characters she chose were often difficult, troubled women, fierce and distainful of authority. Double Indemnity was a film we both counted as a favourite.
Don quickly worked out my achilles heel-sure, I was raised by a Hippie Mum but all my childhood crushes were on Cops-in various films and tv shows- slowly, he got the information-I loved Jack Lord in Hawaii 5 0-Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force (Mum nearly disowned me over that) and the two MI5 guys (Bodie and Doyle) in the British cop show The Professionals. He laughed heartily at this, exclaiming dramatically-"What is it with you and cops, young lady?" Don concluded I must have been rebelling against my anti-authority, peace loving upbringing-and I think he was right there.

It's hard to accept Don has gone-harder to write about it. I still wish he was here. His impact on my husband's life was profound-they had a very positive, creative relationship and Don's passing leaves a huge void. I feel an immense sense of loss for him as a friend and wish so much he could have lived longer for Susan and Benjamin and others, near and dear to him. I'll never forget his generosity and kindness.
It has been an amazing gift to have known such a wonderful, spirited and dedicated person. We'll always hold him close in our hearts. Sending love to you, Susan and Benjamin xxx
Your friends,
 Melissa and Ray

Friday, February 25, 2011

Letting Go Of Our Friend & Wordsmith Don LaCoss

Don LaCoss could write brusquely and bluntly, with an almost baffling bite.  With wordsmithing as revolutionary bile, his essays could burn power’s miserable bitterness.

Don LaCoss was a big man, with an even broader imagination. For a small man like me, the stunning size of his stature always struck me not as intimidating but as comforting. I felt him like a big brother or a mother bear; to me, his large presence reflected a larger vision.

My favorite Fifth Estate memory of Don LaCoss doesn’t involve typesetting one of his many articles in Quark Express or InDesign, even his excellent treatise on darkness that decorated our “Revisiting Primitivism” issue. It doesn’t involve discussing theory or action, surrealism or the sadness inherent to American politics.

On more than one occasion, I allowed my emotions to get-out-of-hand when dealing with an editorial dispute within our collective of hard-thinking anarchist intellectuals. This particular time, I have no idea what I was all riled up about. But as my former colleagues can attest, I could really stoke my publishing agenda with ideological fires that then fanned my personal and interpersonal passions.

In any case, Don decided to calm me down this particular day with an uncharacteristic use of  a folksy maxim, particularly uncharacteristic for an atheist-surrealist. This time, Don talked me down by reminding me to “let go and let God.” Yes, those were his exact words—they really stuck out coming from him.

I have my hunch why he chose these words, but in any case, they worked to help me unwind my mind and take tasks one at a time. It was a gesture of love and brotherhood and friendship that really tugs at me now that he’s gone from this world.

To me, someone like Don LaCoss was both spiritual and spirited about his atheist-surrealism, and even his most critical tones reserved for the most obnoxious among the world’s elite were tempered by a humor and warm-heartedness that reflected Don’s enormous character.

There’s just not enough of the kind of wit and wisdom that Don brought us in the world today, and for the last several weeks, from my home in Tennessee, I have grieved and celebrated with Susan and Benjamin and all of Don’s friends and comrades. It breaks my heart that he died on the eve of a workers’ struggle in Wisconsin in which he undoubtedly would have been a visionary and vocal ally. ~Andy Smith (Sunfrog)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My crush on Don

Don is one of the first people I remember meeting at graduate school, at an evening mixer for incoming students in the grand, formal Rackham building. He, Ian McNeely and I somehow found each other as historians in a nervous crowd of students from many departments. I was immediately drawn to them both, but especially Don – I wanted a piece of that! He was charismatic and handsome as hell.

I’d come to graduate school through a slightly unconventional path and was worried that I’d be hanging out with a bunch of over-privileged preppies at Michigan, and I would feel weird and out of place. Don quickly illustrated that wouldn’t be the case; plus, there would be opportunities to flirt with fascinating people like Don. I remember thinking later that night, “I think I’m really going to like it here!”

I never got a piece of Don. Instead, Ian and I ended up happily coupled through my graduate school years, but I was fortunate to know Don as a friend. He teased me about things like coming from a family of communists and dating a preppy. We commiserated about misspent youths. He helped me with a project I did for a video production class by talking on camera about his definition of God – I’ll see if I can find that somewhere.

Ian and I visited Don and Carolyn in Paris while they were all doing their research (I was along as an Americanist tourist). I remember Carolyn explaining how to eat stale baguettes for breakfast and Don explaining how Parisians dug up the street’s cobblestones to use during riots.

I’m so sorry and sad that he’s gone.

-- Mary Margaret Wheeler-Weber

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Don's Colloquium

Here is Don's flyer for his colloquium from a couple year's ago.

A Special Dad

Fran Swift wrote the following for the "Parent Pulse" blog on the Family Resources website, and asked me to post it to Don's Blog as well....Susan Fossen

February 6, 2011

A special dad

It’s easy to become a father – but it takes hard work and intentional commitment to become a dad. This past week, a very special dad, Don LaCoss, died unexpectedly.

It’s hard to think of a young boy growing up without his dad – a dad who was hands on in the most significant ways – just “being” together, sharing insights, having conversations, discussing, explaining, asking questions, laughing, learning from one another, enjoying interests, exploring ideas and adventures, setting limits, having fun.

But that’s the way it was for this dad/son team.

Much has already been written about Don’s excellence and brilliance in the university classroom, in his extensive research and his amazing intellect.

But I want to acknowledge and celebrate Don as the special dad he was – and the caring friend, to me personally and to many Family Resources parents and staff.

One of my favorite memories of Don at Play Shoppe was on one of our winter outdoor adventures – sledding, on a very slick hill. No matter how we tried to position the sleds, they ended up heading straight for several trees at the bottom. Don volunteered to be the “protector” as he saved the day by darting from one sled to another catching the children before impact. No easy feat!

I know his son Benjamin’s six and a half years have already been packed with gifts galore from his Dad. And I know these treasures will remain a part of him as a source of comfort, joy and encouragement as the years go on.

But he will be sorely missed.

Our hearts go out to Susan and Benjamin.

An Appreciation of Donald

Don was a great mentor and friend in the academic life. Over the past few years Donald and I shared a great many ideas on our common interest in Egyptian radical art movements in which both of us had books that were to be published soon. Don was completely selfless and a dedicated colleague who inspired us all with his original insights. My most heartfelt sentiments are with Donald's family.

Patrick Kane Ph.D.
Instructor of History
Clatsop Community College
Astoria, OR