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Flatbush Flashback


I found out this weekend that my friend John Babbs died on April 12. I’d been out of touch with him for a number of years, but we’d reconnected last summer after I saw a screening of the film Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place. John, an original Merry Prankster, was in this documentary about the momentous cross-country, LSD-fueled journey the Pranksters took, in 1964, in a customized school bus driven by Neal Cassady, who served as the model for Dean Moriarty, the main character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The film motivated me to write to John. That’s when I learned that he had pancreatic cancer and the prognosis was terminal.

My friendship with John—whom I referred to as Babbs to distinguish him from other Johns in my life—dates back to the mid-1980s, when I was editing men’s magazines and buying, on a regular basis, his hilarious and often psychedelic-flavored erotic fiction. John would occasionally visit me in New York and I’d occasionally visit him in Springfield, Oregon, where he was living an idyllic post-Prankster life that mostly consisted of trout fishing and playing basketball.

Unfortunately, when I stopped working for the magazines in 1999, we had less reason to communicate, and aside from an exchange of Christmas cards or an occasional letter—yes, John still wrote letters—we began to lose touch.

I don’t know why, exactly, I Googled John yesterday, but I did, and what came up was his obituary.

I will miss John. I will regret not having made more of an effort to keep in touch with him the past several years. I will treasure his two books, Yellow Leaves and Prankster Memoirs. And I will always look wistfully upon the watercolors he began painting in his later years, which adorn a shelf in my apartment.

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