John Perry, Policeman

John Perry was one of my best friends and one of my all-time favorite people. We first met at Presbyterian summer camp when I was 11 years old and he was 12. Back then I called him "Lurch" (he was always tall) and was grateful to him for validating my somewhat odd obsession with Java. At one point during camp John showed up at my cabin with a billfold full of "Java-Ya cash and credit cards", custom-designed imaginary currency portraying our friends at camp in various heroic postures. It was then I knew I had encountered a kindred spirit. Anyone who knows John well is familiar with his maniacal giggle. He giggled that giggle as I beamed thankfully at his having bought into my escapist fantasy at camp. It wasn't to be the last and I would return the favor.
John always humored people's peculiarities and was very comfortable moving between the absurd and dead serious. After spending a summer together at camp we shared the tragedy of losing a common friend, Suzy Masters, at a sleepover party. She died of congenital heart failure in the middle of the night at the party and when we woke up all the girls tried to revive her with CPR and mouth-to-mouth, all to no avail. I saw John the next day at the intervention-thing (you know, where they try to reassure the shell-shocked) and he was so sweet and calming. The middle-aged minister didn't make much of an impression on me with his talk of god and heaven. More to my understanding was John's existential sorrow. He and I were the only ones not crying our eyes out. Normally ebullient and intense, we were slapped silent by death. Similarly, it has taken me a year and a half to write this tribute.
In college John and I stayed in the international dorm (Stage 12) at SUNY-Stony Brook. During the first couple of weeks of school John invited me to see "Flesh Gordon" at the campus cinema and when, during the first 10 minutes of the film I realized it was porno, I said "Ew! Let's get out of here!" John was such a gentleman, that he just giggled and said, "Yeah, ew! hehehe" and took me to go eat instead. While John and I never had a romantic relationship we remained friends throughout each other's sometimes tempestuous relationships, providing needed comic relief and perspective for each other.
During most of college, I dated a Russian immigrant named Vladimir who also became a lifelong friend of John's. John would swing by my dorm room with Michel Colbert (who also perished on 9/11), palavering en français avec Vladimir and moi, inviting us to parties and lectures and generally being fabulous. John joined the Slavic Club, of which I was president, and learned all manner of unmentionable Russian street slang from Vladimir, Marik and the Slavic Club gang. This was a source of amusement at parties at which unsuspecting Russian emigres would be approached by the statuesque Mr. Perry who would mutter menacingly (with a perfect accent) into their ears "Ty pokhozh na KGBzhnika." (You look like a KBG agent), and no matter their surprised reply, he would raise his eyebrows dismissively and retort, "Tagda khooey tebye!" (Well then f*ck you!) and slink away. And variations thereof. John was always up for benign mischief, especially if it involved theater or languages.
Being of complex heritage, John and I loved to dabble in multiple identities, lose and find ourselves in other cultures, foment riot for fun and fancy in foreign languages, get on stage and shake our groove thangs no matter how idiotic anyone thought we were. There's a freedom in not being one thing, in being culturally non-commital. Wistfully I look over my State Department course in Saudi Arabic, donated to me over ten years ago by John (complete with Saudi cultural guide and a full set of audio cassettes.) It holds special significance for me alongside the other materials he has given me over the years: an audio course in Esperanto (with a year's membership in an international Esperanto society), Russian pronunciation tapes, Swedish stories, memory-boosting software, a boxful of Soviet rubles, a myriad of patches and stickers from various organizations, books on libertarianism, cryonics, life-extension.
There are many John Perry stories from my college days. There was the year he wanted the Slavic Club to join him in streaking across campus to protest something-or-other (forgive my forgetting what, I'm sure it was something worthy - you all know how politically aware John was). To his chagrin, none of the girls wanted to and only one guy did (a gay guy, again to his chagrin) but he made sure to notify us as to the exact time and place for optimal viewing of this critical political action. Ever marrying fight to fancy, John jousted his battles in style. No one looked finer sprinting naked in hightops and a mini-sandwichboard splashed with slogans.
After StonyBrook, John went off to NYU Law and I went off to Yale Grad, but we continued our friendship via letters and weekend and summer parties. John made much of his friendship with "John-John" (John Kennedy Junior), with whom he was in law school, which I thought was tacky and name-dropping, but John kept insisting that I didn't understand, that J.J. was really just a sweet, underachieving guy with too much family notoriety. John had compassion for John John, poor misunderstood socialite.

John in Action!

Among the interests John developed, cryonics was probably the weirdest. John got most of the Slavic Club alumni to attend several cryonics club meetings in Manhattan and although he giggled madly at the thought of having his head frozen after death, he seemed in earnest when pushing the brochures into our hands. It was surreal - our group of Dostoyevskian Russophiles and Soviet Jewish emigres taking on the cryonicists, a group devoted to the optimal Frankensteinization of Everyman. But seriously, John was mad for scoping the limits of human potential and he sought to push himself to his limits both physically with his marathons, Manhattan swim-arounds, and weird diets, and intellectually with his studies of law, language and political philosophy. Emotionally, John simply had a heart of gold. He gave and gave, never expecting anything in return. You can read elsewhere about his volunteering with child abuse prevention services, his project collecting used bullet-proof vests from NYPD which he brought to Moscow policemen and many other examples of his genuine concern for the fate of humanity, culminating in the one that ultimately took his life on September 11, 2001.

John in MoscowJohn attended my wedding in San Francisco in 1992. As a wedding present he gave Art and me the following: a copy of Human Action: A Treatise on Economics by Ludwig von Mises (3rd edition); 2 extra-large T-shirts with the original text of the prelude to the Constitution on the front and the Bill of Rights on the back; and 3 beautifully batikked bags from Bora-Bora, full of kava-kava. After the wedding, John called, emailed and wrote us regularly, keeping us abreast of his projects, his travels, his manias, his romances. I hope to include some of his correspondence here in the future since it truly shows his spirit - so full of compassion, humor and deep appreciation of both human absurdity and human striving. When I became involved with Bastard Nation and the adoptee rights movement John showed up at all the New York City events and helped hand out flyers. He attended gatherings at my grandmother's and in honor of her passing. He has made me laugh so much. I still miss him. I always will.

Alfia Vecchio Wallace March 23, 2003

John Perry Links:

John in NYC doing Adoptee Rights Day * John on weirdos in Cryonics *

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