I first encountered Barton Segal as a moviegoer at Ron “Ronzo” Shapiro’s Hoka Theatre when he was the ticket-taker for a film that I believe was Untamed Heart, a love story between a dishwasher and waitress starring Christian Slater and Marisa Tomei. Over the next few years, Barton would take my tickets to other films like Pulp Fiction and Before Sunrise. In all those interactions I doubt there was a word spoken other than the cost of the ticket and a “Thank you.” 
The first time I had a real experience with Barton was around 1994. I was a bartender at The Gin, which was a watering hole and music venue that shared a driveway with the Hoka. The Gin was kinda run like The Hoka. Some things worked, and some things didn’t. One afternoon, as my shift began, I discovered that our ice machine was broken. I heard someone approaching and turned to see the owner, Daryl Coleman, dragging a large, plastic trash can towards me. “Go over to Ron’s and get some ice.”
I tried to do what I was told, but the task was challenging. The Hoka’s entrance was open, but none of the lights were on, and I couldn’t see anyone inside. “Hello? Anybody here?” I asked as I carried the trash can into the coffeeshop part of the building. I walked towards the kitchen. “I work at The Gin, and I am supposed to get some ice?” I heard nothing and kept walking towards what I thought was an ice machine. 
Then, out of nowhere, like a killer in a slasher movie, Barton appeared and screamed, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
 “I’m a bar…” 
“You’re a what?!”  
“A bartender at The Gin,” I muttered and pointed to the entrance. 
“Who are you?!” 
“Daryl sent me over to get ice.”
“The Gin!” I hollered and kept my finger pointed at the entrance. 
“What are you doing here?!”
“Hold on,” I said and backed out of The Hoka with the trash can, returned to The Gin, and told Daryl that he was going to have to go get the ice himself. 
I graduated from Ole Miss in 1996, moved to Los Angeles, and six years later moved back to Oxford to write and direct a film. Micah Ginn also moved back and helped me produce it. Because we were casting and hiring much of the film community in town, Elaine Abadie, who was the head of the Arts Council, asked us to join the volunteer committee that was putting together the first Oxford Film Festival. Barton was at every meeting and took an interest in us when he learned we were filmmakers. He repeatedly told us he wanted to be in a movie. He was comically hostile towards Micah and consistently asked him, “Do you know what my favorite film is?”
“What?” Micah would ask back. 
“A snuff film starring you.” 
I thought that was the funniest line I had ever heard. A couple years later I wrote it into a no-budget short film called Mantis Rhes and had Barton play the villain who delivered it. We made the film at my cabin in Taylor with a minimal cast & crew, just Micah, Matthew Graves, and Rhes Low. We had so much fun those two days that a few months later, Barton and I began another no-budget film we called Double Decker Confidential. In it, he played a detective who had to stop a cabal, led by Rhes, Ronzo, and Johnny McPhail, and their plot to overthrow the town of Oxford by burning a ghost’s fingernail while the band Blue Mountain performed the song “Hippy Hotel” during the Double Decker Festival. Ha. We made up most of the movie as we went along, pretty much just showing up at places like Kiamie Lanes bowling alley and Taylor Grocery and improvising with friends like the Willie Wallace, owner of Local Color, Sorry We’re Opendirector Joe York, and Tate Moore of Kudzu Kings. 
The farthest away we traveled for a scene was to the Hilton in Memphis, which was hosting a science-fiction convention called Midsouth Con. Barton had been to it nearly every year since it since it began in 1980 under the name, Imaginitzacon and wanted it to be in the film. To get around permissions and whatnot, I asked Andy Harper if it would be possible for me to make a “news report” for the University’s Channel 99, which aired many of the local films we were making at the time on a steady rotation as well as Hoka Talk, which was a film-related talk show hosted by either Barton or Ronzo. Andy printed out an official looking badge that we laminated and roped around my neck. Barton then asked his contacts at Midsouth Con if I could report on the event for the university. They said, yes, and we shot scenes all over the hotel and were also men of our word, making a fifteen-minute news report about the convention that still airs on Channel 99 to this day. Eleven months later, and I am not sure how exactly it happened, but Double Decker Confidential became the opening night movie at the 2009 Oxford Film Festival. The comedy was shot with zero stage lighting, zero professional sound, and zero color correction. Still, it had a good turnout and triggered laughter at the screening, mostly due to Barton’s great delivery of lines like, “Well, if you must know, without my badge, I’m just a vigilante.”  
Over the next few years, Barton just about called daily. I answered if I had at least ten minutes, which was the amount of time it would take to tell him you didn’t have time to talk. Most of the conversations lasted hours and were usually about movies. Often, calls involved either him trying to motivate me into making another film or asking me to split the cost of a Blu Ray/DVD value pack for films like Prometheus, so he could get a copy and the case for half price. Sometimes, he’d tell me a story about being interrupted while watching a television show like Entertainment Tonight by a phone call or a knock at his door. The episode always ended with Barton sinisterly pranking the intruder into a probable encounter with the police. As I listened, I’d skim through his old copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, a book he sold me every year after he purchased the new edition, and periodically I’d change the subject and say something like, “You know what my favorite Roger Corman film is?” 
“X: The Man with X-ray Eyes.”
“You seen it?”
“Of course.” 
“What year was it made?” 
I’d continue asking questions like, “Who was the star?”, while fact-checking his answers with the book. Rarely did he draw a blank or answer incorrectly.   
“Ray Milland, who won the Academy Award in 1945 for The Lost Weekend.”
“Who wrote it?” 
“Ray Russell and Robert Dillon wrote the screenplay, but the idea was Corman’s.” 
“You know that Don Rickles was in it, and he wasn’t even funny?”
“True, true,” he’d say and always pivot to, “You know I met Roger Corman?” 
“Yeah, you told me that. What was he like?” 
“Very… polite.”
In 2012, after three years of Barton badgering me about making another film, I broke down and made DVD Blues Or Thad Calls Barton About Renaldo and Clara, a movie that was rinky-dink by even Mantis Rhes standards. Its plot was one that mirrored real life. I play myself and discover that a copy of Bob Dylan’s film, Renaldo and Clara was not compatible with my DVD player. Since Barton acquired the out-of-print film for me on Amazon, I call him for an explanation. He informs me that the reason it will not work with my American DVD player is because it is PAL and made for Region 2 devices. As Barton walks me through the process of playing the movie on my computer, he attempts to persuade me to make another film with the rubber mantis he named Monty that had been a prop in our other films. DVD Blues was an accurate account of a typical phone call with Barton, and I half-jokingly submitted it to the Oxford Film Festival as a documentary, which they accepted as such and screened with a block of short documentaries that I am sure perplexed some of that day’s moviegoers. Barton, who loved being part of the Q & A’s after the films, did most of the talking. It was always fun to stand beside him during something like that. ​​​​​​​
When I moved to New Orleans in 2013, Barton was a lifeline to Oxford, giving me news when he came upon it. Whenever I visited, we’d go a Chinese buffet for lunch, usually with Jack Barbera. I’d get Barton to tell Jack the wild stories he’d tell me over the phone that involved would-be prowlers, suspicious wives, and the policemen he summoned to detain them. Then, I’d drive Barton to one of the Malco theatres, and we’d use his lifetime membership pass that was given to him personally by the Malco family of Memphis. Since he got me inside for free, I immediately got into the concession line to buy him a big, chewy pretzel and for myself, a Coke Icee. Barton always skipped past me and everyone else in the line and stepped to the cashier, shaking a large plastic cup from home that didn’t look washed, and for-whatever reason, they always filled it with a Cherry Icee that no one paid for. He’d then make his way into the theatre, being so careful going up the dark stairs that I would usually beat him to our seats, midway up the aisles, near the center, a space between us. God help any fool who spoke on their phone, even during the previews. Barton would give them a mighty earful that carried like thunder across the spacious room, startling even me who knew the eruption was coming. Afterwards, I’d drive him home and change out his light bulbs or take out his trash while he fetched my half of our bulk order from Amazon, usually movies or George Carlin HBO specials, but sometimes his quirky musical recommendations like the Best of Rolf Harris.  ​​​​​​​
I miss those days. The last movie we saw together at the Malco was First Man, a story about Neil Armstrong’s moon walk. That was in December of 2018 or January of 2019. In February of that year, I directed a Stephen King adaptation that kept me busy, as did the edit over the next few months. So, while invitations came to see movies like Captain Marvel and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I regrettably declined, suggesting he ask Jack or Tate to join him. The invitations ended in June of 2019 when Barton suffered his first stroke that left him confined to a wheelchair. 
It was at this time that I first met Barton’s little brother, Robbie, a retired neurologist from Memphis, who helped guide Barton through an often confusing and frustrating series of events that landed him at The Blake, an upscale assisted living facility a horn’s honk away from the Malco Commons. There, I’d join him for lunch and meet the staff, including cooks and barbers that Barton had befriended, and I felt good about how well he was being treated. They even let him host a screening of Double Decker Confidential in the little upstairs theatre. I was nervous about showing up and helping him introduce a film with minimal plot, character development, and production value to an audience that was used to The Blake screening Academy Award winners like Gone With the Wind. But the residents and staff in attendance were welcoming, warm, and even laughed at most of the jokes, probably, like the crowd at the Oxford Film Festival a decade earlier, because of Barton’s keen deadpan delivery of lines like, “Good luck in Hell.” ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
Barton’s last public outing was fittingly to attend a celebration of the life of Ronzo, who Barton always called “Ron”. Ron had passed away on August 19, 2021 after a brave fight with cancer. The tribute took place on the first of November. My wife, Carlyle, and I had just returned home from our honeymoon in Paris and being newborn newlyweds had not yet figured out house practicalities like where I should park my car in relation to the garage. Foolishly, I parked too close to the door, and when she reversed her SUV out of the garage, she crashed into the passenger side of my car. Because of the damage inspection, we were a few minutes late picking up Barton at The Blake. As I helped him into the front seat and set his wheelchair in the back, I gave Barton the account of how my wife “creamed my car.” 
“Oh,” he laughed. “Oh… She creamed it?” 
“Yeah, Barton. She creamed it.”
When we arrived at the Powerhouse, the celebration was in full swing. There were tables of food, live music, a movie screening, and other touches that lined up well with the spirit of the Hoka, which most of the people in the room had experienced. I pushed Barton’s wheelchair across the big, open room and was able to see surprise and joy on the faces of others as they realized Barton was present. Affection was poured on him, and it was beautiful. It was also good that Barton was there to honor Ron, who had in many ways given him a liberty he never would have known had he remained in Memphis. ​​​​​​​
Ron had also been part of Barton’s birthday celebrations the past few years in early December. The first one I attended was in 2018 at Track 61, an Italian restaurant between the YMCA and Sears. The other attendees were former UM Dean of Students Sparky Reardon, Tate Moore, Marlow Dorrough, Adam Hohenberg of Memphis, and Fish Michie of The Tangents. The following year, the party was held at The Blake. Since Ron had passed, and Marlow had moved to Colorado, the guest list had trimmed down a bit, but Sparky, Tate, Fish, and I were joined by Barton’s good friend and frequent visitor until the very end, Pam Dillard. We ate pizza, BBQ, and carrot cake in a private dining room that connected to the main cafeteria, which was also home to a piano. Fish sat down before the keys after the meal and played lively songs that attracted staff and residents within earshot. We all had fun and looked forward to Barton’s 72nd birthday at The Blake in 2020, especially Barton, who had by then cast such a spell over the facility’s chef that a special menu for the party was created that included a homemade German chocolate cake. Since Covid restrictions were still widespread in Oxford at the time, I was a little skeptical that an assisted living facility was going to allow five outsiders into the building to have a party. So, on December 6th, Barton’s birthday, I called the front desk and asked them if they knew that he had invited us to The Blake for dinner, and if so, if that would be okay. The receptionist said that yes, there were aware, and we would have been welcomed, but the party was canceled because Barton had a fever and a cough and was taken to the emergency room. There, he tested positive for Covid-19 and was also diagnosed with pneumonia and sepsis. 
For the next eleven and half months Barton suffered through strokes, ventilators, and feeding tubes that left him weak, confused, and bedridden. Again, his brother Robbie was there to help and guide, but even he with all his medical knowledge and hospital experience couldn’t get Barton back to his comfortable room at The Blake. After bouncing back and forth between hospitals in Oxford and Tupelo, Barton was eventually stable enough to live without the ventilator. He was brought to Oxford Rehab and Health Center. ​​​​​​​
Around April Fool’s Day, Barton was allowed to have visitors. His first was, of course, Robbie, and soon after Pam Dillard followed. They both prepared me for the strict health protocols and Barton’s weakened, foggy, and silent state. When I finally came face-to-face with Barton for the first time in over four months, he was bearded. I showed him a rough cut of Mantis Rhes 2, the last movie we made together. We shot it in less than an hour one night at the Ole Miss Motel while I was filming a live rehearsal for the Stephen King adaptation. Although cameraman Greg Grey captured some interesting shots of Rhes and Johnny outside the hotel, the one-minute film was lousy, even by DVD Bluesstandards, but still, it had Barton and Monty the Mantis together again in a single frame, so in some ways, it was priceless.  
“Is it too loud?” I asked as I held my laptop up above him. Barton said nothing but smiled. He smiled again when I showed him a photograph of him standing beside an R2D2 replica at the Midsouth Con from 2012. Another smile surfaced when I showed him pictures from his birthday party in 2018 at Track 61. He smiled seeing Ron particularly. ​​​​​​​
The next two times I visited Oxford Rehab, Barton was in a near-catatonic sleep, and I wondered if I’d ever hear his voice again. But the fourth visit was different. He was awake, clean-shaven, curious, and even a bit embarrassed. After a minute of small talk about the yellow stuffed animal that shared his bed, Barton humbly, somewhat boyishly said, “I’m sorry that I don’t remember your name. But tell me, do you work at the Malco?” 
“No, Barton,” I smiled. “But we went to the Malco together many times. We saw The Dark Knight and There Will Be Blood, and…”     
“Oh,” he said without any laughter in his voice. “I know I should know your name, but...” 
“I understand, Barton. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other. I’m Thad Lee. We’ve made a bunch of weird, little movies together. I showed you the last one a few weeks ago, Mantis Rhes 2: Revenge of the Rhes with Rhes Low and Johnny McPhail. Remember?”  
“Has it screened at the Oxford Film Festival?” 
“No, it has not, but..” I reached into my pocket, pulled out my phone, and looked through my photos. “That Stephen King film did screen there this past summer at the Drive-In, and before every film they screened, they showed this picture of you and Ron.”
Barton leaned closer as I turned my phone around. “Oh,” he said.
“The festival had a gift bag for you. I picked it up from an intern at a new coffee shop at the Oxford Commons.” 
“Oh,” he said and watched me pull from the bag stickers, a T-shirt, and a book about the fight over the William Faulkner statue on the Oxford Square by former Hoka employee Jim Dees. I am sure he was hoping to see salty snacks and candy, but since he was on a feeding tube, I had removed them in the car. 
“You know you just missed the Oscars?” 
“A week ago. You remember they used to have it in February?”
“Yeah.” In years past, the countdown to the Oscars was announced just about daily in the weeks leading up to the event, as was the Independent Movie Awards, which aired the day before. Since the broadcast would interfere with his normal Saturday television watching habits, Barton would record it, watch it a few days later, and then try and sell me the VHS copy.    
“Well, they had it in late April because of Covid.”
“You know this was the first time ever that I hadn’t seen one film that won anything? Been missing you and that Malco pass.” 
“Oh,” he laughed. “Right.” 
I noticed a television on the dresser on the other side of the room. It was off, and I asked, “Do you want to watch TV?”
Barton’s roommate, who had been sitting on the side of his bed and eating his lunch on a rolling table, pointed across the room with his fork. “His TV is in the closet.” 
“Thank you,” I said as I fetched the television and set it up atop the dresser a few feet away from the foot of Barton’s bed. 
The roommate, who wore a white T-shirt and black suspenders, made small talk with me as I searched for a cable. He was African American, and his father had worked at the printing shop on the Square for years. He had a calm, peaceful presence, and I wondered if he was the first roommate Barton had ever had in his life. 
“This is Barton Segal,” I said. “He was the projectionist at the Hoka Theatre. You remember it?” 
“Uaaaah,” he thought. 
“You have to remember the Hoka. It was a movie theatre and coffee shop, right across from The Gin.” As his roommate pondered, I could see that Barton’s memory was stirring and continued giving the roommate what history I knew, including his upbringing in Memphis, which reminded me that Robbie had texted me a few of Barton’s childhood photographs, including one of him with his two little brothers. “That’s you, Robbie, and your other brother… uh?”
Without missing a beat, Barton said what I thought was, “Owen.” Robbie would later tell me he said Gordon. 
Before leaving, I asked Barton if there was anything he wanted from the outside. He said, “Magazines.” 
“Which ones?” 
“How about Fangoria?”     
“Yeah, that is if they still make them.”
“I bet they do and will order a few.” A few days later I went to Off Square Books to find an issue of Fangoria, but because of Covid and the lack of foot traffic, their magazine selection was lean. I then took to Amazon and was not surprised to find the gory horror magazine for sale on their site, but I was shocked to see that single issues were going for anywhere between $29 and $44. Plan C was to check out ebay, which did not disappoint. I found eight used issues of Fangoria Gorezone for $27.81, and only two were missing their covers.  
I took Barton a magazine, beginning with one that had Freddy Krueger on the cover, about every two weeks. The final issue I gave him was on August 12, 2021 and that visit would be my last meaningful encounter with him. He was awake but weak, a bit timid but sweet. I told him about an exhibit at the University Library called Ron “Ronzo” Shapiro: Oxford’s Beloved Bohemian. He wanted to know more about the it, so I searched the web on my phone but couldn’t find a good article about the show. Instead, I read him Ron’s obituary that was published in the Commercial Appeal. After that I brought up topics I thought he’d remember, like the movies we’d seen, his DVD collection, the places he liked to eat in town and in Memphis, Fish from the Tangents, his brother Robbie, and the art that hung on his apartment walls like Dogs Playing Poker and a skilled caricature of Vincent Price that I bought him our last time at the Mid-South Con. “You know, if you get better, we can go back to Memphis for it if they don’t cancel it again.”       
 “Oh,” Barton smiled. “What have you been up to?” 
 “I’ve mostly just been home with Carlyle.” 
“Carlyle, my wife. Remember, we came to see you after our wedding?” 
“You remember? We were all dressed up?” 
“You know we have a show in December together at Southside Gallery. Her paintings and my photographs.”
“It’ll be up around the time of your birthday. We’d love for you to come if you’re up to it. Afterwards we’ll get some dinner on the Square.” 
“Would you like that?”
I knew Barton was never going to leaving that room again, so I don’t know why I presented him with an impossible scene. I am not sure if it was hopeful or cruel or if he even remembered the proposal a minute after it was offered. I regretted not visiting him more or decorating the blank walls of his room with Superhero posters. “I miss you, Barton. I miss talking on the phone to you. I miss going to see movies with you at the Malco and eating Chinese food with you and Jack Barbera.”
“Oh,” he smiled. 
“I better let you rest.” I stepped to the door, stopped and turned back to him. “I love you, Barton.” 
He muttered something back. I am not sure what it was, but it sounded like, “Thank you.” 
I texted Robbie my account of the visit in the parking lot, like I did most visits. He’d usually text me, too, especially when one of his visits upset him, like it did on June 22nd when Barton was unresponsive. “It is so sad to see him like this. He has worsened over the last three to four weeks. Barton is a one-in-a-kind on many levels,” he wrote. “I miss that guy.” Another time, shortly after Robbie agreed to allow them to put a percutaneous tube into Barton’s stomach, he wrote, “It’s really had me in a funk because I really wanted him to bounce back soon. I miss my crazy brother.” 
Robbie’s second to last visit with his big brother was one of the better ones. He was accompanied by his wife, Sally, and Zoomed with the third Segal brother, Gordon, who lives in the Dominican Republic. “He was conversational, more than usual. I played him some Halloween music.” That happened on October 30, 2021.  
Seventeen days later, Robbie called me around one p.m. as I was driving from Oxford to Hattiesburg for the reading of my father’s will. He told me that Barton had passed away a few hours earlier. He died between his nurse’s morning and lunchtime rounds. So, he was alone.
“I wrote my father’s obituary two weeks ago,” I said to Robbie, “so I have some experience with it if you want to call on me to do that for your family.” 
Robbie accepted my offer and sent me the names of Barton’s siblings, nieces, and nephews for the obituary. When I finished the first draft, I asked my wife to proofread it before I sent it to Robbie for approval. Carlyle read that one of the Segal siblings was Rana Rochat and texted me, “Oh wow! Is this Barton’s sister?” She then forwarded me a link to Rana’s bio from David Lusk Gallery in Memphis. “I have known her work for years,” she’d later tell me. “When Barton found out I was a painter, he told me that his sister was an artist. When I asked what she made, he’d always say, ‘She makes T-shirts.’” Later when we told David Lusk this story, he confirmed that, “Yes, when Rana first started out, she made these wonderful T-shirts.” It made sense that Barton, whose love of colorful T-shirts that said things like Weird Load, would remember his sister’s earliest creative venture more vividly than her lauded career in painting. 
Carlyle and I were able to meet Rana and her husband, Philippe, at Barton’s funeral at Beth Sholom Cemetery in Memphis. It was a lovely service, performed in both Hebrew and English. During it, Robbie gave a spirited remembrance that touched us all, particularly Jane Rule Burdine, who worked with Barton at the Hoka and made the trip that morning from Taylor, Mississippi. Afterwards, Robbie held a gathering at his and Sally’s home. They, their daughter, Carey Channing and her husband Zach, had a buffet lunch spread out across their dining room table, and Tate Moore played the piano while we ate. Stories were told about Barton by all, including Pam Dillard and Barton’s lively cousin, Gilbert Halpern, who, fittingly, was an audio & visual engineer and specialized in video tape duplication. It was a lovely day, and Carlyle and I felt fortunate to be accepted into the Segal world, which was warm, interesting, and regal. Barton would have loved the party. 
Barton would also have loved to read and critique this remembrance of mine. After correcting several statements, he’d get side-tracked into a story that I would not interrupt, even if it kept me on the phone with him another hour. And then, when he could tell that I had enough, he’d offer up, “And I’ll leave you with this,” which would be some other conversational detour that could last twenty minutes easily. When that route came to its inevitable dead end, most times he’d say another, “And I’ll leave you with this,” and off we’d go again. I am sad I will not travel that “one-of-a-kind” route again. Barton Segal was my friend.
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