Bye, Tuff Guy
I learned a lot of things from Coyote, one of the first things i learned from him was about death. In 2001, a few years after i had moved to Twin Oaks, a long time member Kana died. Coyote said an insightful thing about him. “When someone like Kana dies, you have to become stronger – because they leave the kind of hole in you that you can only fill with yourself.” Today i find that i have to be stronger for Coyote is irreplaceable to me.
But were he consulted, he would choose a different story to be remembered by, one i heard him tell with relish a number of times.
In the summer of 1982, a handful of armed FBI agents arrived at a cabin door in Indiana.
“Are you John Steven Fawley?”
“Would it make any fucking difference if i said ‘No’, officer?” asked Coyote in a most respectful tone.
“Absolutely none, Mr. Fawley”
“Then please come in officers, mi casa su casa” Coyote offered with a wave of his arm in greeting.
Inside they found 1254 marijuana plants growing.
Coyote would admit his role in the crime of growing these plants, he would take full responsibility and tell the judge that he was changing careers and the money would have allowed him to transition from teaching to what would ultimately be taking care of special needs kids.
In his contemporaneously delivered speech to the judge he would promise that “i am not a troublesome individual” the judge believed him, Coyote did no time in jail.
Coyote’s birthday was the day after Christmas which is also Chairman Mao’s birthday. And while he had myriad critiques of how the Chinese tried to implement communism, Coyote did have a deep respect for the vision of this revolutionary Chinese figure. Perhaps 50 years ago, and perhaps under the influence, Coyote and friends called the Chinese embassy and wished Mao a happy birthday and commented on the coincidence. The embassy staff person said “Chairman Mao and all the people of China wish Mr. Coyote a very happy birthday as well”.
He wanted to be nimble in his thinking, he did not want to be stuck in habits over substance or ethics. Coyote taught me everything i knew about baseball, about the shortstop being the soul of the team and what kinds of things to say in the club car of a train to sound like you know what you are talking about with respect to baseball. Coyote was a big Yankees fan, had been for decades, had cheered them on as they won numerous world series. We even donned nicknames for a hot minute, with him being Yankees owner Steinbrenner and me being the couch Joe Torre. The idea was he was increasingly stepping away from managing the communes affairs and i was stepping in to replace him.
But then in the summer of 2004, Dick Cheney was invited to Yankee Stadium just before the Yankees beat the Boston Red Socks. He was photographed with Joe Torre and sat in Steinbrenner’s box seats. That was it, Coyote retired as a yankees fan, threw out the baseball hats and other memorabilia and never went back, he dropped baseball as well, and since then i stayed away from club cars conversations about baseball.
But it is another parable of Coyote’s life that taught me the most, a parable i failed to tell him, tho i am sure he would deny it.
Coyote was a smart, literate and articulate guy. But as he grew older he seemed to drift towards being a curmudgeon, people annoyed him, the commune bureaucracy did not function as smoothly as he would have preferred. Having been a high functioning person for his whole life, it bothered him when others seemed to show up with weak effort. Those of us on his informal “care team” spoke about his growing resentments and if there were ways we should try to push him away from them, as he was needing increasing care from the community and all caregivers are volunteering.
And then over some weeks he seemed to chill out and become more grateful and less curmudgeonly. Oh he still had complaints, but they were toned down and less personal. He found his place in the collective which encouraged him to have a different voice.
Unlike most people, Coyote decided he would not become a curmudgeon and instead would be mostly grateful for his circumstance (“i’ve painted myself into a perfect corner” he used to say) and not let his furstrations poison his interaction with others who he was becoming increasingly dependant on.
Coyote was an avid reader and writes to his favorite authors. He wrote to the poet and revolutionary Wendell Berry who sent him back the powerful poem HOW TO BE A POET (to remind myself). Which includes the lovely lines:
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
And desecrated places.
Coyote’s funeral is this Saturday at 1:30. His final resting place will be sacred for us. It is possible for non-members to attend, but you need to follow the strict rules about social distancing and processioning. Hawina is coordinating outside guests coming to this event. You must contact her (at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are not a current inside the Twin Oaks quarantine bubble and are interested in attending.