13 Jul More Than Just A River Rescuer: Writer and Dear Friend Kristine McKenna Remembers Lewis
I met Lewis in 1980 at a party for Wet Magazine, at the home of composer Paul Webster. Paul’s son, photographer Guy Webster, was part of the Wet crew, so Wet got to have a party at this fancy mansion. I was the music editor at Wet, and Lewis was new in town and had just signed on to be a senior editor at the magazine. We recognized immediately that we were of the same tribe and we became instant friends. The love and trust between us was automatically there and that never changed.
Lewis was a hipster and a poet and an incurable romantic. For forty years, the main subject of conversation between us was romantic love. Because Lewis was a poet, I think he needed to have a broken heart, and he tended to pick complicated women guaranteed to give him one.
About two years into our friendship, Lewis said to me, “I’m going to do a poem that lasts a lifetime: I’m going to bring back the L.A. River.” I told him that sounded like a good idea. And so he began. I remember going to the first River clean-up with our mutual friend, Lesley Taplin, and dragging a shopping cart out of a patch of weeds. Years later, Lewis and I attended Lesley’s funeral together; Lesley was one of the women he loved.
Lewis didn’t get straight A’s on his report card: although he was always impeccably dressed, he had money problems. Punctuality wasn’t his strong suit, and he could be hit and miss when it came to fathering his four children, who he loved very much. But, boy, was he the perfect river rescuer. It’s as if he was born to do this job.
Lewis didn’t brag to me about the great strides he was making for the river. He never stopped working as a poet, and we were more apt to talk about his writing or his girlfriend problems when we got together. He just silently persevered on behalf of the river and achieved amazing things. He never lost his humility, though, or his poet’s heart, or his lover’s heart. He hung on to those things to the very end and that is his greatest achievement.