About My Blog.

Welcome! This is "Catatonic Digressions."
Most, if not all readers don't understand my blog's title. It's an old inside joke from a forum long gone. I was going to change it, but since it's been "confusing" for so long, I decided to leave it. Don't worry about what it means, the content of the blog is what is important.

Unfortunately, my blog isn't what I set out for it to be. A disturbed and manic online stalker and cyberbully has made it impossible for me to post about family, my son, life in my part of New York...so I stopped (for the most part), and I mostly reblog and repost what I feel is important, necessary or close to my heart. As for the stalking sociopath, she can go to hell for harassing me and my family since mid-2008. You can't scare me offline with a few lame threats and dozens of pages of defamation, abuse, depravity and libel. I'm bitchy like that. ;)
(Anyone who knows me knows I'm not actually a bitch, but let's allow this psychopath to think I'm a bitch to her blackened heart's content—it seems to make her feel she has some sort of control over me…and it does not.)

If you read a story and you feel moved in any way, comment. Comments are more than welcome.

Unlike those online who lie and hide behind fake photos and insanely fabricated stories, I'm a real person. I'm real and I don't pretend to be someone I'm not. After years of putting up with online abuse by manipulative, pathological liars, attention whores or narcissists, I've had it. Don't bother me with pathetic drama. I have no time for these types of people and their need to absorb others' time and attention.

Feel free to email me if you have a story or cause you would like shared, especially if it pertains to animal rights, liberation, veganism, animal welfare, health and well-being, geekery, Macs and computer dorkiness, music, lowbrow art, kitchy stuff, skateboards, the beach, swimming, diving, NYC, beading (it's my hobby), recipes (love to cook, especially if I made the recipe up myself!), VEGAN!, ALF, Sea Shepherd, Action for Animals, NIO, 269Life and/or anything you think I might enjoy or others might—you never know. It doesn't always have to be serious. Hilarious stories, local NY, funny videos or photos, photobombs (especially if they contain pets!)...I might be partially censored, but I'm not closed down!

Please, join Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and follow them and The Barbi Twins on Twitter and Facebook.

For the Oceans,

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Animals and the Buddha

Animals and the Buddha

A film by Dharma Voices for Animals
Watch now
Animals and the Buddha
Featuring interviews with world-renowned monastics and lay teachers including Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Jetsuma (Ven. Master) Tenzin Palmo, Ven. Bhante Gunaratana (Bhante G), Christopher Titmuss, Ven. Geshe Phelgye, teachers from Spirit Rock Meditation Center and many others.
In addition to watching the film on YouTube, it can be downloaded here.
If you are interested in screening the film for your sangha or local community, please see our information sheet.  If you have any questions, please contact us at friends@dharmavoicesforanimals.org.
In keeping with Buddhist tradition, Animals and the Buddha is presented at no charge.  If you are able to help support Dharma Voices for Animals and the important work we do on behalf of animals, your donation  is greatly appreciated.  Donations are tax-deductible

Dharma Voices for Animals (DVA) is an organization of those committed both to practicing the teachings of the Buddha (the Dharma) and to speaking out when animal suffering is supported by the actions of those in Dharma communities and by the policies of Dharma centers. We want to be the voice of the animals who cannot speak our language and are unable to ask, “Why are you paying people to do this to me?” or “Why are you supporting my suffering?” We want to support those who are willing to speak out about the harm we cause other sentient beings when we eat them, use their body parts as clothing and in other ways, or use household and personal hygiene products that are tested on animals. While DVA recognizes the challenges of living in a complex, modern society, we wish to promote the choices that provide the greatest reduction of animal suffering. It is our intention to be inclusive in honoring the different views of those who sincerely intend to minimize the suffering of animals.
Dzogchen Master and DVA member and contributor, Chatral Rinpoche:
“If you take meat, it goes against the vows one takes inseeking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.Because when you take meat you have to take a being’slife. So I gave it up.”
 Become a DVA Member at no cost and support the efforts to raise awareness of the suffering of animals in the Dharma community.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Vegan Mom Project | Vegan.com

The Vegan Mom Project

What it's like to be a vegan mom: the good, the bad, and the funny!
vegan mom project
We’re not going to sugarcoat it; raising a child with a strong sense of compassion and a foundation of healthy foods is tough in a world where kids are encouraged to munch on Cheetos and taught that loving certain animals (dogs and cats) and eating others (pigs and chickens) is perfectly okay. A world where few doctors understand the nuances of nutrition, and many teachers, daycare professionals, and friends think it’s “just fine” to feed kids a little bit of cheese behind moms back.
In an effort to support all the vegan moms out there, Vegan.com has started The Vegan Mom Project. We have turned to vegan moms for their own bits of wisdom, experiences, inspiration, funny stories, and even some frustrations that you may relate to. You are not alone. We hope you enjoy reading these tidbits from fellow vegan moms!

sanctuary bistro vegan mom
“Being a vegan mama means I get to make the most colorful meals for my childrens lunch box. I love packing their lunch. It is a rainbow of fun and it is usually simple whole foods. Green Edamame, red raspberries, yellow apple sauce, black beans, purple smoothie, a kiwi. I think being a vegan mama is just being a mama with the benefits of a nutritious and delicious meal and with the added bonus of teaching compassion as a way of life.”
- Jennifer Jones Horton, Sanctuary Bistro

tiffany rose and zeke
“Truthfully, I never wanted children. I wanted to dedicate my life, every minute of it, to helping animals. Well, shizzle happens and in the middle of veterinary school, I done got myself pregnant. How in the heck could I spay and neuter every animal in the world while teaching my newborn child physics and Cantonese? I couldn’t and I’m not. Instead, I’m helping more animals than I ever imagined by working for an animal rights organization and raising a vegan child.
But, there’s a catch. I’m only 50% of a co-parenting package. He’s got a pop who eats innocent critters and there ain’t a damn thing I can do about it. Trust me, I’ve tried. My little rascal spends a few days a week with his dad, who admits that once in a while he gives him meat. My heart shattered when I learned of this. His dad knows my feelings and we have a very civil relationship, but knowing that my precious and pure child (ha!) has ingested the flesh of beautiful mother cow, destroys a part of me. But again, there ain’t a damn thing I can do about it. All I can do is live by example and teach him to have empathy for all animals so that when he must decide between the Big Mac and a vegan alternative, he chooses Field Roast. Passing the compassion torch off to the next generation is the way this marathon will be won and to do that, you have to let go. Okay, just a little bit though.”
-Tiffany Rose, Cruelty-Free Moms

Vegan Kid Ramona
“Being a vegan mom is pretty amazing and rewarding. I take pride in knowing that I am raising a compassionate and kind little girl. I will never have to have that uncomfortable talk, trying to explain that her “meat” comes from the animals she adores. I’d like to say that raising a vegan child means that they are automatically ingrained to love vegetables; however that is not always the case. Most of my time is spent chasing around a pasta-loving toddler with a fork full of green beans. That, and changing the words “egg” and “meat” to “tofu” and “tofurky” while reading her stories.”
- Jen Regan, Poison Berry Bakery

vegan mom tracy reiman
“When Jack first went to preschool, I met with his teacher to see what I could do to make sure that he got vegan snacks every day. A month or so into the school year, I asked Jack’s teacher if he seemed bothered by having something different from the other children, and she said that it was quite the opposite—they all wanted what he was having!
Like all parents, I want Jack to follow the Golden Rule, and teaching him why we eat veggie burgers instead of hamburgers is a big part of teaching him to have compassion for others. I’m glad that he is learning to respect all life, and it brings me even more joy to know that he is as proud of his efforts to help animals as I am.”
- Tracy Reiman, Executive Vice President at PETA

allison rivers samson vegan mom
“I never made “baby” food, I just gave Olivia what we were eating. I started out with quinoa for its powerhouse of nutrition, lentils for their high iron content and potent hit of protein, and finely chopped and steamed kale for its all-around goodness. To this day, Olivia’s “comfort food” is that trio with tamari and nutritional yeast!
My advice is to give your babies real food, not dumbed-down versions of food. Their palates develop the most between ages one and two and by presenting an array of tastes, they’re less likely to go through a picky eater phase. Expose them to ethnic foods to allow the flavors to awaken their tastebuds and to establish that variety is normal. Don’t give up after just one or two offerings. Olivia wasn’t keen on avocado (the first food we gave her at seven months) for quite some time. We kept serving it to her and now at the tail end of her 7th year, she jumps at any opportunity to eat an entire avocado each day.
I love that by being a vegan mom, I share the gifts of compassion, deliciousness, optimum health, and disease prevention with every meal.”
- Allison Rivers Samson, Allison’s Gourmet

vegan kids
“Vegan parenting does have its challenges, but so far I’ve found it to be much easier than so many people think. They have this crazy idea that you have to have a degree in nutrition or something. Yes, we have to do a little more research initially and think a little more about certain nutrients but so far we’ve found great solutions for everything.
We get some raised eyebrows from people who don’t understand our unconventional choices, but at the end of the day, it’s gratifying to see my toddler snacking on walnut-date balls, kale chips or goji berries and sipping green juice next to kids in the playground who are crunching goldfish crackers and drinking apple juice. Which is not to say my kid doesn’t love crackers and apple juice, but healthy superfoods are his “normal.” 
And to see his natural love for animals come through—well, it just doesn’t get better than that. What a gift to give him a healthy foundation, a more compassionate worldview, and, when he’s older, the knowledge that since before he was born he’s been part of a movement that’s making the world a better place for all its inhabitants.”
- Marisa Miller Wolfson, Vegucated

sunny vegan mom
“My two-year-old Dylan has been a vegan since conception, and there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to raise him vegan. People often ask me what I feed my son, and the answer is, he eats the same food that I do! He especially loves peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, veggies and hummus, spaghetti, vegan hot dogs with BBQ baked beans, potatoes in all forms, every fruit you can think of (we drink lots of smoothies), Lara bars, and oatmeal.
I’m expecting another baby this winter, and aside from increasing my protein intake, I’m taking vegan prenatal vitamins that contain iron and folic acid [and B12]… basically, I’m following the same nutritional recommendations as non-vegan mommas-to-be. It’s really not that different.
I know that by raising vegan children, I’m providing them with optimal, nutritionally dense plant-based foods that are going to encourage healthy growth and the development. I also have peace of mind that their foods are free of hormones, chemicals, and preservatives, and that no living being has to suffer for any of their meals.”
- Sunny Subramanian, Vegan Beauty Review

dreena burton
“It’s not the vegan part of parenting that’s hard, it’s the parenting part! Kids truly love the food they know, get them started early on real, nourishing, compassionate plant foods.”
- Dreena Burton, Plant Powered Kitchen

marla rose vegan mom
“I remember when my son was two, I read to him from The Lorax for the first time and he burst out crying at the end. My husband turned to me and said, ‘We aren’t going to have any trouble with him wanting to be vegan,” which seemed to be the most common question we were asked.
At 12 now, the hardest thing for our son has never been not having the same snacks as his friends or not being able to eat pizza at school. It’s been living in a world where something that is so common sense and so intuitive to him – this understanding that animals are not ours to use – is treated like a silly whim or attempt to get attention. The idea that he not only sees his peers but also adults come up with convoluted, illogical excuses for eating animals kind of embarrasses me for our species. On the bright side, though, all this does is deepen his convictions.
Raising a child as a vegan is not only kinder to the animals and the planet but these children also are being raised as independent, questioning, resourceful, heart-centered individuals and this is a huge advantage for them and a gift for our planet.”
- Marla Rose, Vegan Street

melissa vegan mom
“Being a vegan mom has had its ups and downs (more ups). I was amazed at how supportive my OB was of my vegan lifestyle. The same goes for my daughter’s pediatrician. However it is a struggle for some family members to come to terms with Lena being raised vegan. I’m looking forward to watching Lena grow up understanding how to be compassionate to all living beings and demonstrating how she is thriving off our lifestyle.
It’s been extremely helpful connecting with other vegan moms and learning about their experiences raising vegan kids, especially as a first time mom. I feel that I can talk to these moms without being judged. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I’m so thankful for these vegan families in my community.”
- Melissa Heffelfinger, Cleveland, Ohio

Tess Challis vegan mom
“My 11-year-old daughter Alethea has been vegan since birth (I’ve been vegan since 1991). When I was a child, my health problems were numerous. I speak about them at length in my books and talks, but suffice it to say that by the time I was my daughter’s age, I had been sick so many times that I’d become immune to every antiobiotic on the market. What’s so wonderful is that my daughter has had zero health issues and is freakishly strong – and it’s not even a struggle! 
Alethea is vegan by her own choice. I have given her the basic knowledge of why it’s a compassionate, healthy lifestyle, but have always encouraged her to think for herself and make her own decisions. As such, she truly chooses it, and completely loves it. She never wishes she could eat non-vegan food, because she feels like every possible deliciousness in the world is contained in the realm of plant-based foods—and she’s right! Not feeling deprived, and having delish foods on hand for yourself and your kiddos, is key to sticking with this way of life and loving it!”

Chloe Jo Davis vegan mom
“I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household – strictly kosher. I never once felt restricted by my dietary limitations as a child, as it was all I knew. I was being raised according to my family’s ethics. And that is how my husband and I are raising our boys – our ethics are based in the tenants of veganism. To promote kindness over cravings (though there is no craving veganism can’t meet!) is tantamount to religion to our family. 
We know healthy, happy, conscious, and enlightened families worldwide are choosing plant-based diets for their kids—and we are proud to be arm-in-arm in that mission toward a more sustainable, humane, and compassionate world. We are the lucky ones, the path has been paved by vegan parents twenty years before us who had to sprout their own nut milks—we have vegan cheese that melts, decadent cashew based ice creams, unchicken nuggets available at nearly any supermarket in the country. I always say, there’s a wealth of options and a cornucopia in veganism—not limitation.
My boys know to ask “is it vegan?” but also exactly where cheese comes from, and why it’s cruel and why we don’t eat it. How many 3 year olds know the truth about factory farms? These are wise, strong, activist little people we are all raising in this movement—and it will only grow stronger with these animal-loving, green little sprouts at the helm!”
- Chloé Jo Davis, Girlie Girl Army

Go to Vegan.com for more!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Always Leave Them Laughing | Vanity Fair

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Always Leave Them Laughing

Diagnosed with terminal cancer two years ago, and given only months to live, Sam Simon is still alive and still racing to spend the fortune he made as co-creator of The Simpsons on causes he loves, whether he is rescuing grizzly bears (and chinchillas and elephants) or funding vegan food banks. As Simon's friends and fellow activists gather for his 59th birthday, another friend, Merrill Markoe, reveals how a force of comedy faces his own tragedy.


JUST ONE MORE THING Sam Simon and his Cane Corso, Columbo, at home in Pacific Palisades, California.
It’s 8:30 on a Friday morning at the Van Nuys airport, in Los Angeles, as a Gulfstream IV is preparing to take off for the two-hour flight to Denver. The passenger manifest sounds like the setup to a joke, or a road movie:
There’s Tyson, a tattooed dog trainer, seated on a couch with his pit bull, with whom he communicates using nonsense syllables and telepathy. On one side of a polished wood table that holds a fresh-fruit basket and a backgammon board is the actress Jennifer Tilly, glamorous even in torn jeans and a pair of Converse All-Stars. The tousled-haired guy in the window seat beside her, wearing a Bruce Lee T-shirt and drawstring pajama bottoms, is her boyfriend, World Series of Poker champion Phil Laak. In the seat facing mine, looking lovely in a platinum pixie-style haircut, sits Pamela Anderson, wearing no makeup, somehow managing to be dressed up and dressed down at the same time in a short but otherwise modest black dress and ankle boots with four-inch heels. She looks up from a phone—its pink case has the words “Mrs. Salomon” written in sparkly letters on it—and grins.
We are all headed to the 720-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary, just outside of Denver, where we’re hoping to catch a glimpse of six newly born bear cubs. The two new mothers were among 17 bears, fated to live their lives pacing back and forth in the concrete holes of a grim roadside bear-pit attraction in rural Georgia, subsisting on white bread and soda thrown to them by tourists, until our host for this trip paid to facilitate their release. We will also pay a visit to Marley, another rescued female grizzly, who is recovering from the two broken legs inflicted on her as a last-minute parting gift when she was badly beaten by her previous owners. Her surgery was also paid for by our host.
He is Sam Simon, 59-year-old comedy force of nature, co-creator of The Simpsons, animal-rights activist, ardent vegan and philanthropist, art collector, poker champion, and a friend for 30 years. In the field of comedy writing, full to overflowing with the sedentary, the professionally whiny, and the proudly self-involved, Sam Simon stands out as an anomaly. Diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in 2012 and given three to six months to live, he is now focused like a laser, in a race against time, making sure that all that money—hundreds of millions of dollars—made from his years of work on The Simpsons and other television shows is being channeled directly into the charitable causes he loves.
Sitting across the table from Tilly and Laak, next to makeup artist Kate Porter, a current girlfriend, is Sam himself, completely bald from the chemo but looking fit and even radiant in a black hoodie with a rainbow appliqué and white jeans. His most recent chemo was two days earlier. That means he probably doesn’t feel all that great today. But he seems to have more energy than anyone else on board.

RESCUE ME “My doctors have never said they can cure me,” says Simon. “They are extending my life and doing a remarkable job.”
“I’ve really just gotten to know Sam personally over the last few months, when we started working out together,” Pamela Anderson, also an animal-rights crusader, tells me later. “To be able to be so generous at this time in his life is so inspiring. I feel honored to know him.” Sam has already told me about the exercises he now does, taught to him by a trainer Pam brought over to his house. They allowed him to keep walking after neuropathy hit so hard that he became unable to feel his legs below the knees.
Jennifer Tilly is Sam’s ex-wife and now one of his best friends. She has accompanied him to all of his chemo sessions since the cancer hit, even making sure she got one day a week off to fly to Los Angeles written into her contract while she was performing in a play in New York.
As the plane taxis down the runway, Sam opens up a briefcase full of medical-marijuana-laced snacks. “Mention I have a vegan pot chef,” he calls to me. He holds up a container of strawberry cannabis lemonade and laughs. Sam punctuates most of his sentences with a distinct laugh. It starts out a big deep rumbling guffaw, which longtime Simpsons writer and producer George Meyer describes as “startling, like the squawk of a macaw,” except that it keeps on going, longer than you’d expect, “until it fades into a whoosh, like the last squeeze of a Sriracha bottle.” The laugh happens whenever Sam says something he knows is funny, which is often. And also when he says something that is dark and horribly unfunny. Like when he’s talking about an undercover PETA operation that recorded one of the roadside-bear-attraction owners talking about his bears.
“If they got a cub, they would kill the adult,” Sam tells me. “The cubs make more money—they’re cuter.” Then they’d eat the adult. “They said, ‘There’s nothing tastier than a bear raised on white bread and soda pop.’”
Sam laughs.


‘I’ve got sun bears, moon bears, grizzly bears, Syrian bears, brown bears,” Sam tells me as we approach the Wild Animal Sanctuary a few hours later. “I have 11 bears in Dallas and 23 in Colorado—but they just had six cubs.” There are also two rescued chimps at a sanctuary in Florida, a racehorse in Virginia, and some 500 chinchillas rescued from a chinchilla ranch in California. If all goes well, an elephant will soon join the roster.
The last time Sam visited the sanctuary was when the newly rescued bears had just arrived. He insisted on being the one who opened the cage door to welcome one of the 500-pound grizzlies to a life of freedom.
“Why was I doing shit like that?” he asks me, now slack-jawed as he views the CNN footage of himself, from January, standing an inch from the uncaged grizzly bear. “I don’t understand. It’s extremely dangerous. Dying young, you learn that life is precious, and you think, Why the fuck did I almost kill myself?” He laughs.
Unfortunately, when we arrive at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, the cubs are off in their dens with their mothers, choosing not to make an appearance. None of us, including their benefactor, gets so much as a glimpse of them. We do, however, pay an extended visit to the hospitalized Marley, who doctors say is recovering nicely from her successful antibiotic implants. As she roams around a cage full of bear toys at the sanctuary’s medical facility, her still-crooked front legs and the places where the hair hasn’t yet grown back make her look like an enormous man in a bad bear suit.
Sam approaches her cage and crouches down so they are eye to eye. He offers her a biscuit, which she gently accepts.
“I always try to tell them, I know the past few days have been rough, but everything’s going to be O.K. from now on,” he says later when I ask him what he was thinking when he was inches from Marley’s enormous head. “I used to say it out loud, until Jennifer Tilly overheard me.”

Dysfunctional Start

Sam Simon was born in Los Angeles in 1955 to a beautiful, volatile, and occasionally violent mother who owned an art gallery in Venice Beach called the Functional Art Gallery, which featured “one-of-a-kind artist-designed home items.” Throughout Sam’s childhood, Joan Simon frequently entertained contemporary artists in their Beverly Hills home. “I did know a lot of famous artists growing up,” Sam recalls. “Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Kienholz. Definitely all the California guys, like Chris Burden and Baldessari.”
Arthur Simon, Sam’s father, played basketball at U.C.L.A. until he lost a leg in World War II. He ended up owning a factory in Los Angeles that made a women’s line of designer-knockoff clothes called Sun and Sand. The Simon family lived comfortably in a two-level, midcentury home in the kind of celebrity-filled Beverly Hills neighborhood where, when the family dog went missing, “it was returned by my neighbor Elvis Presley in a limousine,” Sam tells me. “This was during a period when he wasn’t such a big deal,” he adds, and was considered “kind of schmaltzy.”
His parents’ marriage was rocky. “I think drinking fueled a lot of it,” he says. Sam’s relationship with his mother was “tempestuous.” “My mother hit me once for not making a martini dry enough, when I was nine years old,” he recalls. “We used to fight all the time and have extended periods where we didn’t talk.” He shifts into an oversize theatrically whispered aside, “I would have to say there were no winners,” then mutters, “I have cancer. You’re supposed to let go.
“I have to be very careful about how I phrase this traumatic childhood memory,” Sam tells me, recalling an incident, when he was five, between his mother and a famous neighbor. “I walked in on Groucho Marx and my mother in my parents’ bedroom. They were both on the bed. They were fully clothed. I saw him jump off the bed into my sight line, and then she was sitting up.” Sam starts chuckling. “I don’t know exactly what happened. My mother might have been fighting for her honor.” He laughs again. “Though I think I may have overheard Groucho saying, ‘I can see you in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove. Now I can’t see the stove.’ “ He laughs harder.
By the time Sam was in grade school, he was considered an art prodigy. His carefully crosshatched drawings were so articulate for a child that he became a recurring guest on a local television talk show, where he would stand at a drawing pad and illustrate any portion of a children’s book that the hosts read out loud. Eventually his abilities landed him at a lunch with Walt Disney, who predicted that one day Sam would come to work for his company.
During his years at Beverly Hills High, Sam wrestled and played offensive tackle and middle guard on the football team. But it was his cartoons for the school paper that won him “Most Humorous” and “Most Talented” in the yearbook. In fact, for his application to Stanford he “just cut out a bunch of my cartoons and sent them in.” But as a freshman, he was kept from entering the Stanford art department. “They said I would take up the room of a student with talent,” Sam says laughing. “And that’s burned in my soul for nigh unto 44 years. Take that, Professor Richard Diebenkorn!” By his senior year, Sam was selling cartoons to the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner.
After graduation, in 1977, a friend of Sam’s parents’ showed his drawings to the owners of Filmation, a production house that made “horrible Saturday-morning animation,” and he landed a job drawing storyboards. It soon transitioned into a job writing and designing new characters. But Sam grew restless.
“I wanted to be successful, but I didn’t see it happening in Saturday-morning cartoons,” he says. “So I wrote an episode of Taxi on spec and they bought it. I got a job. And it happened to be on the best show on television.” He was 25 when he became one of the show-runners of Taxi.

To Live and Tithe in L.A.

After three years on Taxi came Shaping Up, a 1984 sitcom set in a gym that starred Leslie Nielsen, written and produced with Sam’s then writing partner Ken Estin. The show was short-lived—five episodes—but introduced Sam to his first wife, Jennifer Tilly, when she was cast as one of the leads. It was followed by stints as a writer and producer on Cheers and as a writer and consulting producer on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Then, in 1988, came an invitation from James Brooks to help develop a new series based on animated shorts commissioned from Matt Groening for Fox’s The Tracey Ullman Show. When The Simpsons launched, a year later, it was Sam who chose the writers and ran the writers’ room. He also designed the look of some of the characters. “Mr. Burns—I did,” he tells me, showing me some of his original sketches. “Dr. Hibbert. Chief Wiggum. Eddie, Lou, Bleeding Gums Murphy. All the black people.
“The No. 1 pleasure by far was how great everybody was,” Sam recalls. “It just doesn’t happen that everyone in the room is so great. So original.”
But there was oft discussed tension between Sam and Matt Groening. In The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, Groening calls Sam “brilliantly funny and one of the smartest writers I’ve ever worked with, although unpleasant and mentally unbalanced.”
“We would get into discussions of theoretical stuff,” says Sam. “I would say, ‘Guys, we’re 13 and out.’ This apparently sounded like surrendering to Matt. If I’d known it upset him I would have explained to him what it meant. I was not confident that the show would be a hit, but I always had the confidence that we could do 13 great episodes that we could always be proud of.” More than 550 episodes later, The Simpsons has gone on to become the longest-running animated show in the history of television.
“The show tore through the culture like a cyclone,” says George Meyer, who stayed with it until 2005. “But in Sam’s office, where we pitched our stories and re-wrote scripts, the mood stayed remarkably calm and unhurried. We did our work, had some laughs, and went home at six, because that was Sam’s style. He was confident and decisive, an aristocratic autocrat. And unlike many comic geniuses, he seemed to thrive on success.”
That version of Sam had a reputation for being hilarious but also combustible. “Full of passion that bled into anger” is how Sam prefers to explain his own volatility. “I was under a lot of pressure. I just wanted to make everything perfect. People who were trying to help me, I would hear them trying to sabotage me. I’d give some unclear instruction on an edit or something, and here they had stayed late to try and do it, and I would see it and get pissed off if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.
“In the pressure cooker of a TV show, it’s a little bit of a witches’ brew. I completely think I’m capable of being crazy. I probably was crazy when I was doing The Simpsons. But my pulse used to be really low, my blood pressure used to be really low, and I could be screaming at someone on the phone, yelling at the network, I might even be throwing some stuff, but my blood pressure wouldn’t go up. My heartbeat wouldn’t go up. Because I was doing a bit. Shtick. Pretending to be that mad to get my way. Which is not a good way to do it. I don’t suggest it.”
And so, in the fullness of time, it came to pass that almost 100 episodes of The Simpsons were completed, most with Sam at the helm, thus ushering the show into the lucrative world of international syndication. Then, in 1993, he left. “I can’t honestly say we were getting along as well at that point as when the project started,” he says. (The terms of his departure included a non-disclosure agreement.) “But it worked out for everyone. Everyone should be happy.” His settlement gave him a percentage of everything relating to the show—including the licensing and merchandising—worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. “I make tens of millions of dollars a year, which may not sound like a lot, but over 25 years it adds up.” Sam laughs.
“I’m an atheist, but there’s a thing called tithing that a lot of religions do. Ten percent was the minimum you were supposed to give to charity every year. And I always outdid that,” Sam explains. In 2002 he started the multi-platform Sam Simon Foundation, one arm of which rescues animals from Los Angeles kill shelters and trains some of them to be service dogs for the hearing-impaired and veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Then there’s the mobile veterinary clinic, also in Los Angeles, which offers free surgery and free spay and neuter services. But it’s not just animals; another arm of the foundation funds the Feeding Families program, a vegan food bank that offers free meals to some 400 Los Angeles families a week. “We’re on track to distribute over a half-million pounds of food to more than 65,000 people this year,” its spokesman tells me. Sam is also the largest individual donor to Save the Children, which just announced a new global philanthropic community called the Simon Society.

The Giver

With each succeeding year, the scope of Sam’s philanthropy has grown. By 2012, he had given the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international nonprofit organization involved in marine-wildlife conservation and anti-whaling efforts, a gift of a 184-foot former Japanese whaling vessel, worth millions of dollars. Renamed the Sam Simon, the ship is now handsomely detailed with a black-and-white dazzle-camouflage pattern to make it look like an iceberg from a distance.
“I was supposed to go to Antarctica with them, but I was diagnosed a week before I was going to leave,” Sam says. “I knew I was in no shape to go on a three-month sail in the furious 40s, or whatever they call it in the frozen Southern Hemisphere.”
The Sea Shepherd is the kind of hands-on results-oriented charitable organization that has been attracting Sam since he became aware that his personal clock was ticking. “With the Sea Shepherd, you don’t go, ‘What have they done?’ “ he tells me. “They made them stop whaling! They rammed a ship! They shutem down! With PETA you don’t go, ‘What have they done?’ With PETA you get victories every week.”
Sam began working closely with PETA in 2002. He eventually became such an active donor and participant in its campaigns that it renamed its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, the Sam Simon Center.
To Sam, PETA head Ingrid Newkirk is one of the “angels” who have given him hope since he was initially diagnosed. “I’d just had an emergency colostomy; I’d spent a month in the hospital. I wasn’t healing. And I got a call from Ingrid,” he tells me. “And she was very curt. She said, ‘The dedication of your center will be March 1, and you will be there.’ And the reason I say she was being an angel is that was the first time I traveled. She gave me some tough love and showed me that I can still do the things that make life worth living for me. So I go, ‘Well, I can’t fly commercial. It’s not practical. I need to have a nurse. I need to have medical supplies and emergency supplies. I need to have a driver. But I can still go around the world and keep trying to leave it a better place.’ “
“Since he became sick, it’s like his vision has expanded,” says Jennifer Tilly. “I hate to say this, but little things used to bother him. He was always a very Type A personality. And I think he realizes that a lot of things that maybe would make him crazy, they’re just not important. He’s discovered what’s important in life. Such a difference. A lot of the stuff he does he doesn’t even talk about.”

Home Is Where the Art Is

At the end of a private driveway in Pacific Palisades, just past a Rodin sculpture, is Sam’s spacious, light-filled, contemporary main residence, one of several buildings on the 1.4 acres of his compound. Upon entering the house, the first thing you see, hanging in the entryway, is a specially commissioned 27-foot Dale Chihuly blown-glass chandelier in the colors of the ocean—a brave purchase for a man who had to completely rebuild his house twice, following an earthquake in 1994 and a fire in 2007.
We are headed for the large home theater, filled with rows of cushioned theater seats that face a floor-to-ceiling screen. Sam refers to this as “the TV Room.” The walls are lined with his extensive collection of pinup paintings by Vargas and Elvgren of women who have just learned, while innocently pursuing reasonable hobbies like painting or tennis, that their clothes have begun to fly right off of their bodies. In a glass case, on the far side of the room behind the wet bar, sits a beautifully detailed scale model of the Sam Simon.
“Sam has impeccable taste,” Tilly tells me. “Every time I come over I’m struck by how beautiful everything is.” The living room has a fireplace Sam had made from a piece of petrified wood that dates back to the Jurassic period. And positioned beside it, outside the nearest window, grows a living version of that same kind of tree, imported from Brazil. The walls of the living room showcase paintings by John Singer Sargent, Thomas Hart Benton, Richard Estes, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Eric Fischl, Robert Williams, and Mel Ramos. They are only a part of Sam’s massive art collection, all of which is now destined to be sold at auction—with the profits going to the Sam Simon Foundation—when Sam has left the building.
These days, during any meeting with Sam, I’ve learned to expect at least one appearance by Nurse Irene. She’s been in residence since Sam was unexpectedly released from a hospice earlier this year. Today she appears with a hypodermic needle and a glass of fresh-squeezed green juice. “I feel like Lyndon Johnson. Avert your eyes,” Sam says as Nurse Irene injects him in the rear.
“My doctors have never said they can cure me,” he says. “They are extending my life and doing a remarkable job of it. My scans from back when I was diagnosed, my doctor said, ‘If I showed these scans to my colleagues, half of them would say you’re dead, and half would say you’re immobile and can’t get out of bed.’”
Heading for Sam’s office, in a smaller, contemporary structure, we exit through glass doors that look out onto the infinity pool. “I said I want the weirdest, most unusual stuff,” Sam tells me, pointing out decades-old camellias, a plumeria that has been grafted together so it blooms in three different colors, and cycads from the Jurassic period. “The oldest plants living on earth,” he adds. There’s also Sam’s guesthouse only a few feet away.
“You know that house is called the Bailey House. It’s a Case Study House,” Tilly tells me when we talk a few days later, detailing how Sam bought it from a neighbor and then incorporated it into his compound to protect and maintain it. Designed in 1948 by Richard Neutra, it’s a registered Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
The Bailey House abuts an enormous, lush green lawn on the far end of which sits one of Robert Indiana’s Love sculptures. And just beyond that is a casting of Rodin’s The Thinker. “I think it’s the only one not in a major museum,” Sam says, forgetting to mention that it’s perhaps the only one that has rubber snakes scattered on its base to protect it. “I used to pay a statue-cleaning company $3,500 four times a year to come out and wax the statues. And there would be birdshit on them the next day. So I went to Amazon and bought 13 rubber snakes for eight dollars. You know, as a PETA spokesman I have to talk about how smart birds are, about the fallacy of this whole birdbrain stuff. But I can’t believe they haven’t figured out that those snakes are rubber.”
As we arrive at the smaller building that houses Sam’s office we’re joined by Sam’s dog, Columbo, a 120-pound, jet-black Cane Corso. Sam adopted Columbo when he came to the attention of the foundation after he and his mother were found starving, locked in a chicken coop owned by a drug dealer.
“Walking your dog is one of life’s great pleasures,” he says as we head inside. “I don’t get why anyone would want a dog-walker. It’s like paying someone to fuck your wife.”
Sam laughs.

Simon Says

‘In many ways I’m consciously crafting my death,” Sam tells me after we sit down at his desk. Behind him are his nine Emmys, stretched out in a straight line with the exception of the one that broke at the ankles during the earthquake. That one leans. There are also other awards, on a separate set of shelves, some of which are for boxing and poker.
“The liberations of the roadside zoos and circuses,” Sam says, taking a pull on the cigar he’s been working on all day, “this I don’t see as philanthropy at all. This is part of my therapy. I’m pacing my life looking forward to these things, and I enjoy them. I enjoy bringing my friends. The arguments against doing them, which you can see on every bulletin board every time I do something like that, I understand completely. It’s not a cost-effective way of doing anything except making me happy for an afternoon. I like to live my life with these goals ahead of me. But it also has to do with alleviating suffering.”
Among his future plans is funding PETA’s purchase of land in India for the Animal Rahat Sanctuary. There’s also the ongoing saga of Sunder the elephant. Today, according to Sam, is “a crushing day. Do you know who Sunder the elephant is? He is probably the most abused elephant in the world.” Sunder, who has been beaten and trapped by spiked chains inside a dark pot shed in India for seven years, remains stuck between brutality and bureaucratic red tape. “There was a chance I was going to get him today. I had these trucks waiting at the rescue.” No less a figure than Paul McCartney has tried and failed to win Sunder his freedom.
“People say I’m trying to buy my way into heaven, which I don’t believe in. So that can’t be true,” Sam says. He paid for those atheist billboards that make news from time to time. Like the one by the Lincoln Tunnel, in New York, that read, IT’S A MYTH, on a picture of the stars over Bethlehem.

Fight Card

‘What’s your answer to the question ‘Why did you leave The Simpsons after only four seasons?’ “ I ask.
“I wanted to do other stuff,” Sam says. “Anything else but The Simpsons.” In 1994 he co-created The George Carlin Show with Carlin. Then he worked as a consulting producer on The Drew Carey Show. “I directed about 70 of them,” he adds.
It was during this period that writing, producing, and directing became only one piece of how Sam was spending his professional time. He played and won an assortment of World Series of Poker events, and in another memorable game found himself victorious after a final showdown with Jennifer Tilly, herself a professional poker player. So serious was he, so deeply immersed in becoming a contender as a poker pro, that he hired a former F.B.I. agent to teach him how to read body language.
At some point during this period of Sam’s life, I got a phone call from our mutual friend George Meyer. “Did you hear that Sam is managing the heavyweight champion of the world?” To which I replied, “What do you mean? As a joke?”
Actually, it was more of a professional hobby.
“When I turned 40, I was looking for a new type of workout, and I went into a boxing gym and loved it. And I was good at it,” Sam says, explaining how he began to fight in amateur contests, in the heavyweight class. “I’ve sparred with champions—they’re going easy on me, don’t get me wrong—and I did it a lot with this particular fighter, Lamon Brewster. And then I heard that he had managerial problems.”
Sam was part of the team managing “Relentless” Lamon Brewster when he knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in the fifth round to win the W.B.O. heavyweight championship in 2004. In retrospect, Sam thinks that his most important contribution was probably helping to negotiate Brewster’s contract. “I’m the best contract negotiator in the world,” he says. “But I had help. I had lawyers and stuff. Relative to the average person Don King negotiates with, I think we were bringing somewhat of an advantage to the situation.” Sam laughs as he recalls a memorable dinner with Don King at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “So, I call the lawyer in, and we start talking about a contract to join the stable of fighters that Don King promotes and hopefully to get a shot at the heavyweight championship of the world. We negotiated for three and a half hours, running back and forth, making Xerox copies in the lobby. I just remember how thick the thing was; even though it was only about eight or nine pages, there’s so much sweat from people handing it back and forth and all the scribbling and initialing. Anyway, Don King says, ‘O.K., we have a deal. And I’m going to have my lawyers type up everything that we’ve discussed. So: Here. Sign the bottom of this blank piece of paper. And let me get all three of your signatures. And then I will have everything else typed in above it.’ ”
Sam laughs. Hard.

Sam’s Club

‘I will possibly be celebrating my final birthday in a few weeks with two ex-wives, an ex-girlfriend, and a current girlfriend,” Sam tells me the next time we talk. In addition to Tilly, Sam’s second wife, Jami Ferrell—the January 1997 “Playmate of the Month”—has R.S.V.P.’d. “Probably, my social life is more active than it’s ever been. Astonishingly. And that’s because of my fine choice in women throughout my life. In my time of need they’ve all come back to comfort me.”
When I marvel at the precarious nature of this guest list and wonder if any feathers will get ruffled, Sam confesses that in fact that did already happen. Party co-organizer and current girlfriend Kate Porter was briefly taken aback. “But I named a grizzly bear after her. Then we were fine,” he explains.
A few days before, I had gotten word separately from Jennifer Tilly and Ari Solomon, Sam’s animal-activist partner in a weekly Internet radio show, that a surprise party was in the works. Somehow it took only a couple of days for Sam to find out about it.
The day before his birthday, Sam gets an early present: Sunder the elephant has been freed. There are pictures of Sunder departing in a truck. There are more pictures of him at a sanctuary, near a pond full of other bathing, rescued elephants.
The celebration of Sam’s 59th birthday is a wonderful thing to behold. Sam is strutting around his backyard in a vintage black brocade dressing gown he told me he had worn to a pajama party at the Playboy Mansion. There are vegan replicas of fish-and-chips, tacos, and sliders. Longtime Simpsons director David Silverman is singing and playing tuba with his New Orleans-style jazz band. Sam’s animal-activist friends are there: Captain Paul Watson, from the Sea Shepherd; Ric O’Barry, from the Dolphin Project; Lisa Lange, from PETA; Chris DeRose, from Last Chance for Animals. Celebrity animal activists include Pamela Anderson, Alexandra Paul, Beth Ostrosky, L.A. radio host Mark Thompson, and, of course, Tilly. A phone call from Dan Mathews Sr., a senior vice president of PETA, surprises Sam with a live rendition of “Happy Birthday” from Chrissie Hynde. The Simpsons contingent includes Al Jean and Mike Reiss, Tom Gammill and Max Pross, Jay Kogen, John Vitti, David Stern and George Meyer. Old friend Drew Carey is there.
Ari Solomon, his husband, Mikko Alanne, and Porter and Tilly have made a film for the birthday boy filled with video highlights from all the rescue work Sam has done this past year. There he is in Canada with Pamela Anderson, offering the guys who club baby seals a million dollars if they will just stop. There he is at Talladega raceway, in Alabama, with a car he sponsored in order to publicize the documentary Blackfish, which detailed the treatment of orcas at SeaWorld. There he is in Taiji, Japan, helping shed more light on the killing of dolphins that was first exposed in the movie The Cove. And there he is opening the cage for that grizzly at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, unprotected and an inch away from an unrestrained 500-pound bear.
After the movie, Sam gets up to say a few words. “I’ve been reflective. I’ve been looking back on my life. Don’t ask me why,” he begins, getting a big laugh. “But I’m so glad that I saw my favorite movie of my life just now.
“The last year, there’ve been some challenges,” he continues, “but I know that part of what kept me going are the extraordinary people in this room. My friends. And some of you have done things for me and come through for me in ways that I would never imagine possible. I can honestly say this last year has been the happiest year of my life because of the people in this room.”
Sam just smiles.
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