Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Half Century Of Loyal Service

One year shy, actually. I turn 49 today, a birthday I thought I'd dread, but I woke up this morning in such good spirits that I wanted to share it with you, my ever patient readers, who slog through all manner of sad sorry shit on a regular basis.

But not this day!

I suppose it stems from the wonderful dream I had last night, where I spent my final high school year at an acting school in New York, which would be the New York of the late-70s, home to a vibrant CBGB and those talented kids from "Fame." My then-stepmother, who in real life was much more complicated, to say the least, enrolled me, and I was hanging with bohemian youth, the girls wearing leg warmers and dozens of music buttons on oversized men's sport jackets (I believe I caught a Rezillos in passing). It felt all warm and safe. Aren't the chemicals in our brains something else?! Let's give them a hand!

As I age, I think about a couple of friends who died long ago, Bob and Guy. I was much closer to Bob, who was like an older brother to me, mature, solid, stable. He was one of the few people in my early life who took my artistic dreams seriously. He was always in my corner, even though, as a pseudo-conservative blue collar guy (he was a union steward in the local Jenn-Air factory), he didn't necessarily approve of some my tastes, especially when I got into Devo, Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, et al. "Gimme Jackson Browne," he'd say in response. Or The Doors. Bob loved The Doors. I'd play "Mongoloid" or "Pretty Vacant" for him, but he simply wouldn't budge. Ah well. Someone had to stick up for the hippies.

I loved Bob. And when I heard that he had died in a car crash, I fell completely apart. He was traveling through the Southwest with his girlfriend, taking forgotten two-lane highways (he followed an old map, drawn before interstates were built), exploring the lost America. Somewhere in Texas, a drunk teenager swerved across the lane and smashed directly into Bob's jeep. Bob was killed instantly. His girlfriend was thrown into a ditch, suffering bruises and a few cuts. The kid survived as well. Many years later, he looked up Bob's mother, father, and sister to apologize and ask for their forgiveness, which they gave him.

I spent countless hours with Bob and his family, in a small trailer in Lawrence, Indiana, and there was so much love present, I never wanted to leave. We would sit around the kitchen table and tell stories, jokes, sing songs. Bob and his Dad frequently arm wrestled, while his sister, Sherry, did Yul Brenner from "The Ten Commandments" or Tom Laughlin from "Billy Jack." I had never seen a family so comfortable with each other. It seemed like a miracle, given my chaotic surroundings. I soaked in as much as I could. It remains in me to this day. That experience alone makes this life worthwhile.

Bob died at 22. I still think about him, and still love him and his family. I have his Jenn-Air work shirt, which I'm giving to my son, who is 5'7" at 12 and still growing. Bob's name is stitched in bright red, and like my memories of him, it hasn't faded over time.

It's gonna be a warm, sunny day. I'm off to enjoy it. Hope you do the same.