By George

I was maybe sixteen years old, and I was running my ass off. Sweat poured down my face. My heart was battering its way out of my chest. My legs were begging me to stop, but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.

Fifteen minutes earlier, a friend had called me on the phone.

“Dude, do you have HBO?”

“No, why?”

“I saw on TV Guide that a George Carlin special is playing.”

“No shit! Who do we know that has HBO?”

We only knew one. She lived about a mile from me and would be happy to record the show for us —but she didn’t have any blank tapes. I grabbed the first VHS I could find and bolted out my door.

I was ten minutes late, but I handed her the tape and limped back to my house, looking forward to another hour of Carlin. I never doubted that it’d be worth it, not even after puking on my way home.

That’s how much we loved George.

In my house at the turn of the millennium, George Carlin became Aesop. He was Plato. He was Mark Twain. He was the funniest man we had ever seen, and the smartest. My brothers, my friends, and I—a precocious and rambunctious bunch of artists and musicians—studied his every bit and routine. The cadence of his speech. The viciousness of his attacks on hypocrisy, irrationality, and greed. We were drawn to his honesty and intellectual integrity. His wit and charm. His filthy, filthy mouth. And we always, always split our sides laughing.

Listening to George was when we first heard our side of the argument. It was the first time these feelings inside of us—this bubbling mire of anger and disenfranchisement, of being maligned and misunderstood—were articulated.

We’d sit and listen to him and feel edified.

We were not alone.

George Carlin knew.

In the ensuing years, I became fearless and honest. I challenged my superiors. I challenged the rules. I challenged religion and god. George lit a fire. He influenced my politics and my moral philosophy. He reinforced my love of language and my loathing for its misuse. He made me feel that there was no need to be afraid, and that speaking the truth to power was a virtue. There didn’t seem a subject or issue that he hadn’t tackled and found the perfect words to encapsulate his thoughts on. I admired his command of the language, his craftiness, his poetry, his mind. I hung on his every word, hoping to squeeze out his intellect and absorb it. George was my guru.

When he died, I wept as though I’d lost a father. Even at 71, it was too soon. I wasn’t done learning yet. I knew he had more to tell us, and I wanted to hear it all. My single greatest regret was that I never got to meet him. Over the years I had thought long and hard about what I would tell him if we ever crossed paths.

I recalled an interview, where Jim Norton asked George if his goal was to make people think. “No,” he said. “I don’t care if I make people think; I just want them to know that I’m thinking.”

What I would have told George, if I’d had the chance, was this:

“I just want you to know that I’m thinking, and that it’s all because of you.”