I think it’s sad,
can be catastrophic in ways,
that sometimes people say
long before either of them
Some of those times,
neither one actually does
They’re just not there…
I heard from a friend of mine for the first time in a few years.
Last time I heard from him was when the Giants took the Series that first time.
I knew there were problems. Deep rooted and not quite ready to be cut down at the stump.
Like that would have accomplished much.
They would continue to grow under the surface that had nurtured them, fed them, fertilized them.
Nutrients, I imagine, sink deeply into the soil, and I have never seen surface roots leading up to anything that looked strong and healthy.
A good still wind could unearth them in their entirety.
Some of my friend’s problems were like that, and to those of us who knew him fairly well, you could tell.
To those of us who knew him well, they appeared pretty obviously.
I knew him, in ways, better than anyone. So he said.
Not necessarily that I knew more of the stories or the history, but I seemed to understand what I saw.
Maybe feelings I had never had myself, but feelings I could easily see acting as my own entourage.
Just maybe dressed a bit more casually.
And different stories to tell.
But it seemed he didn’t want to be found or bothered for quite a while, and as much as I missed him, as desparately as I needed to see him, I respected that and stayed out of touch.
Hurt, but understanding out it.
We were acquainted for a while, had grown to genuinely appreciate one another.
Then one magical moment, within the first week we were working in adjoining cubicles:
DB: “You watch ‘Saturday Night Live’ last week?”
DB: “It wasn’t the new one, it was one of the old re-runs they have on ‘Comedy Central’ or one of them, but they had on Leon Redbone.”
Me: “Le-onnnnnnn Red-Bone. Yea.”
DB: “You remember him”
Me: I start up with the kind of slurred, mush-mouth, nasal, semi-drawl version of “Shine on Harvest Moon”.
It’s the only decent impersonation I can do except for maybe Bob Dylan and Walter Matthau.
DB: “That’s him. (Laughing) Yea. that’s him. And there was some other guy that sort of sounded some-….”
Me: “Mac Rebbenack.”
DB: “Dr. John, right?”
Me: “Yea. You know he used to do some work with Robbie Robertson. Was usually with some New York City horn men, but a lot of it was pure Alan Toussaint, and that gets you back to ….”
DB: “Dr. John.”
DB: “Boo-jie woo-jie.”
Me: “Leon Russell kinds of fits the shoes every now and then.”
DB: “Yea… and he kind of has that same type of voice, the kind that shouldn’t work but does.”
Me: “You know the ones. You got Leon and Leon and Mac, and ….”
DB: “Tom Waits.”
Me: “Tom Waits. (a few seconds pass) Leonard Cohen.”
DB: “But still not the panache of Leon and Dr. John and Waits.”
Me: “Never, but I’ll take them ….”
DB: “… without it. Yea. In a minute.”
We went back to work, but for the next ten minutes anybody walking by our cubies who hear these two decidedly unprofessional voices (one of them sounding like he had a mouth full of cotton after having a root canal done) crooning “Shine on Harvest Moon” just loud enough to hear each other and scare the shit out of the women working in the nearby cubies.
It had been a long couple of years. Times I wish I could have heard only his words in only his voice, just to remind me that crazy wasn’t the easy way out. But for years, he didn’t want to fight back.
One night, he decided he didn’t want to fight at all.
The gun jammed the first time, the second time the cross bar in his closed broke under his weight.
And then, for quite a while, couldn’t find him.
He texts me yesterday. Mentions seeing a picture of me “in some bookstore window. At least it wasn’t a post office.”
Signed with one initial.
The initial told me who it was, the post office comment let me know it was still him.
Spoke with him right after that, and he sounded better than I remembered him sounding.
Less rambling, more lucid. Maybe even upbeat. Swore he would stop by to see me and Liz today.
Left me a message this morning that he wouldn’t be making it up.
He woke up this morning unable to leave his room.
Early last week, he was on his way to visit his mom, got in the car, broke into hysterics, spent the next few days in his room.
Walking around the older section of town he saw a picture of me and two young ladies we worked with, in separate frames, and he described the one of me.
I have no idea why a mug shot of me would be in a shopfront window.
And he reached me last night on my old phone at the old number, the first night of the day our new phone numbers were to be activated.
Somehow the first carrier didn’t turn off our service and deactivate the phones.
But God must have liked the idea, so He worked it out we could talk. Had someone put that picture in the window, had Verizon’s machined give us one more day than we had asked for
Like He knew we both needed it to happen again.
Today, he spoke some more details over the phone, and I could hear him tearing up and shaking at times during some of the stories, but there was still the life I heard in in last night, the life you only hear from someone who is finally going toe-to-toe with some of his inner demons and is relieved, even exhilarated in the process.
There was both worry and hope my ears heard, not quite getting a hand on what it was his soul was hearing, but there were good words. Good words. Enlightened thoughts.
He knew what he was facing and he had found the way to do it.
Just couldn’t leave his room to do it this time.
And I couldn’t just go down and disrupt its sanctity.
We’ll talk again soon, I can give him country road and back street directions to get here.
He knows our four walls are always open to him, safe for him, it’s just everything in between he can’t face.
But I swear I ain’t giving up on it this time.
How can I possibly give up on a guy who can refer to Akira Kurasowa, Charlie Lucciano, and Don Cornelius in the same sentence -not just a conversation or a paragraph but a single damned sentence – and make a valid point?
And how could he survive without someone who understood that kind of thinking.
… until ….