by D.J. Palladino
He was happiest, I think, pointing out
some ridiculous tissue of lies created by the systems surrounding
us. Now that Steve KirkPatrick is dead, so young at 53, I see him
in my mind’s eye with one facial expression: a large smile and an
incredulous look, laughing and shaking off some preposterous farce
he’s punctured with sheer rationality. Not that he wasn’t a regular
guy — he loved his children, had great friends, and played a mean
game of poker — but he was also my first friend in high school who
took an active interest in the American economy, frequently
laughing and offering critiques of administration foolishness like
the Whip Inflation Now stratagem. His bite was hardest during the
Nixon, Ford, and Carter years.
Steve’s ideology was antiestablishment, but not the hippie brand
of rejecting materialist rewards. He may have done a long stint at
the Renaissance Faire, partying after-hours with crafts folk, but
he was also an insurance agent through the 1980s. And that’s a
unique late act, even for a baby boomer. A lot of his spiels began,
“Look, this is a material world and you need …” He used the phrase
to preface the obviously natural desire for accumulation of
security and property. He liked stuff. He bought paintings.
Still, he never accumulated much in the way of material goods.
In his 40th year, Steve made another role change after what most of
his friends assumed was a classic midlife crisis. Besides going
through a painful divorce, he also abruptly left the insurance
industry and eventually returned to college to get a degree in
environmental horticulture. He was working on an advanced degree
when a long bout with stomach problems, first diagnosed as
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), turned out to be pancreatic cancer.
He then married his girlfriend Kristi Pullen, and they traveled to
fulfill last wishes, like people do.
He told me it wasn’t so bad — at least at his age he had truly
lived, and he had two children. Dying at 50 was better than giving
it all up a decade earlier. Then he got sick a few weeks ago upon
returning from Hawaii. The cancer had moved into his lungs early
and a case of pleurisy proved fatal, even though he had outlived
most of the doctors’ expectations.
Steve was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent his early years
in the Palos Verdes peninsula. His family moved up here to the
Hidden Valley tract, where his parents and wife still live. Steve
started at Bishop Garcia Diego High School late in his sophomore
year, 1968. We were classmates and became close friends
immediately. In those years, debate was a second language in
liberal Catholic schools, and Steve held his own in discussions
with nuns, priests, and lay instructors. We had a favorite English
teacher, Ralph Bliquez, and often classroom discussions would spill
over into Ralph’s house near Birnam Wood, usually starring
He was my first roommate out of high school. We were committed
adventurers in an era of indoor exploring, which meant long
discussions about logic, music, film, and Alan Watts, amid other
unofficial, uncharted psyche experiments. My favorite afternoon
with Steve, though, was a long breakfast of talking at the
delicious Charlotte’s Coffee House on De la Vina. We suddenly
realized we had chatted all morning while being entertained by the
amazing Charlotte and glumly hilarious Max, her husband. Steve
looked at his watch and laughingly suggested that we order lunch
too. So we did.
We traveled a bit. We liked the same girl for a while. We once
roasted a whole lamb at the Plaka where we hung out for years it
seemed. (Those were the days, my friend.) Besides his skepticism,
the thing I liked best about Steve was his intensity. It bordered
on the melodramatic, and there is no disputing the fact that his
temper could have a hair trigger at times. He made mistakes, but he
had the courage of even his crazy convictions, and I bet he
would’ve been a great landscape artist or engineer or
In Steve’s mind, there seemed to be a sharp distinction between
the things you did to survive and those acts he liked to call
“altruistic.” He adopted certain older people whom he liked, and
sometimes spent days helping with deplorably hard chores like
moving. He was involved in hospice and other charities. It wasn’t a
socializing thing, or enlightened self-interest. He was a
materialist and an altruist.
But Steve’s life had many facets, and it would be wrong to say I
understood what made him tick. He was a carpenter, a diver, a
property management person, and a financial adviser. He was raised
on fancy sailboats between Los Angeles and Catalina, and he joined
his parents briefly during their long vagabond sail through the
hemisphere. He was a lot of fun at sushi restaurants.
The irony of his end was that the animated skeptic in him did
not awaken when his stomach problems were wrongly diagnosed. He had
gone back to school at a time when his contemporaries were
softening into land-owning burgher roles. But Steve in his fifties
was living in a San Luis Obispo trailer, working the system the way
grad students must, and that includes public healthcare that
doesn’t have the time to take time, I guess. I don’t mean to reduce
his life to a sad complaint about what’s wrong with the class and
health systems in this country (talk about tissues and lies), but I
think he would be laughing hard if I suggested that lots of
American MDs don’t know how ironic the acronym IBS sounds coming
out of their mouths.
I’ll miss his laugh.
Besides his friends, Steve is survived by his children Ryan
Carlson and Kieren KirkPatrick, wife Kristi KirkPatrick, his
parents Kenneth and Elizabeth (Micky) KirkPatrick, and his bother
Ken. To everything, the Byrds song drawn from the Bible says, there
is a season. Steve lived through many seasons keenly, though he
left too early in his last.