Remembering Mike Penner/Christine Daniels
Penner passed away this Thanksgiving weekend of an apparent suicide, and most of the remembrances posted around the Web mention personal demons he faced. I knew none of them. I knew he was one of our own--a graduate of Western High School and Cal State Fullerton, former scribe for the Bulletin before starring in the Times' Orange County bureau back when it was a bureau--and a wickedly talented writer. He was a close friend of former Weekling Steve Lowery, and I'd always get a kick out of Lowery describing what a great guy Penner was and knowing a writer I admired greatly.
Now, imagine my surprise when Lowery told me one Penner wanted to meet me--or rather, Christine Daniels.
We met at a restaurant in Old Towne Orange, Christine wearing a modest dress and a glow of happiness, the type people wear when they have no worry in the world. She jabbered with the restaurant owner, laughed authentic laughs, and was just a wonderful person--everything Lowery said of his friend and more. She wanted advice on how to deal with the media hordes who wanted a piece of her, media hordes I had previously navigated before the year before due to my ¡Ask a Mexican! column. We talked, ate great food, and promised to keep in touch.
We didn't. A year later, Christine switched back to using Mike Penner as a name. I sent Penner a letter wishing him well around that time but didn't receive a response. I kept up with his columns, of course, and they remained as sharp as ever. But I always assumed that Penner was in a good personal spot, the same spot I saw him as Christine in Old Town Orange.
Only Penner's closest friends and families know the pains their loved one faced in life. I'm not part of that circle. But I do feel lucky to have met Penner/Daniels once, to meet someone I admired greatly, and to have come out of that meeting knowing I met someone honestly, truthfully wonderful.