Saturday, June 30, 2007

My Truest Best Friend

11:30 a.m. I have had seven and a half hours of sleep. Good Saturday morning. Time for coffee and a toasted bagel. Watching the coffee drip, drip into the glass pot, waiting as the percolation slows, drawing to a finish. I get one of those memories. The kind that I don't normally conjure up. But at the spur of a moment, it pops into my mind, clear as day.

I'm scrubbing, scrubbing. Standing at the utility sink in my childhood friend's father's hardware store, I'm laboring to get the pot clean. "Man, this is one dirty coffee pot." My job on that morning, to make the coffee as we prepared for a morning of squirrel hunting. Doug stepped into the room. "Man, Doug. This pot is really filthy. I can't get all of this crusty old coffee off of the sides of the pot."

His face aghast, "My Dad's gonna kill you!"


"He NEVER washes that pot! It's 'sposed to be like that. Crap, let me look. He doesn't allow anyone to clean that pot. It makes the coffee taste better."

He looks. There is enough residue left on the insides of the old percolator that he is somewhat relieved. "Maybe he won't look."

*** / ***

I thought I was holding up pretty well. Actually I was in a kind of shock. My wife and I had arrived at the funeral home. We approached the casket as soon as we had entered the viewing room. Doug didn't look the same. He had endured a massive head injury. It was a motorcycle accident without a helmet. He lay there in repose, dressed in a suit and tie. Doug was like me, hardly one to ever wear a suit. After paying respects, I crossed over the room to his mother Mary, sitting, surrounded by friends and relatives, giving consolations. When she saw me, she reached up for me from her chair as I knelt and hugged her. And the tears began to flow like a flood. The emotion finally engulfed me and I shook with grief crying like a baby on her shoulder. We held each other a long while, weeping, but not saying more than a few words. Our grief melded into each other's.

Mary had been much like a mom to me for the amount of time I spent at Doug's house. His name was actually David, but everyone called him Doug.

"The nuns call you David in school," I said to him one day. "but why does your family call you Doug?"

"They call me Dug because I used to dig a lot when I was little", he smiled. Somehow I didn't believe that reason.

We went to the same Catholic school together. Immaculate Conception. Whenever the kids from the public school would ask what school I went to, I never said "the Catholic school". I always answered proudly, "Immaculate Conception".

"What's that?" They didn't know the term. Then I'd explain to them about the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus.

Doug was a free spirit. He introduced me to skateboards back in 1966. Sidewalk surfing. Seventh grade. Slot car racing. And girls. The girls in his neighborhood where so pretty. I began to hang out with Doug at Debbie's house. It seemed that his whole neighborhood hung out there. He introduced me to his summer friend Mark from California. Mark was a surfer. He had that sun bleached blond hair, and a real electric guitar. A Sears Silvertone. The kind that came with the case that also was an amplifier. That year Doug's parents bought him the same kind of guitar. Black and white Silvertone with single silver bar pickup. A real nice jangly sound. Good for Beatles or Beachboys music. Doug brought me into his proposed rock band...The Surfers. We weren't really a band. Doug was the only one who had an instrument. But the thought of being a rock star back in the 60's was overpowering.

Mary and her sister Sylvia were staunch Catholics. You could always see her at morning mass every day. Sitting over there on the left with all the other old Italian women and Nanas. She was a new kind of Catholic, long before the term became vogue. A "Charismatic" Catholic. She'd gone to a Kathryn Kuhlman healing service and received what she believed was a miraculous healing for a problem with sciatica. I remember her witnessing to me, at age 11 or 12, telling me the glories of Jesus and faith healing. At that time, it was a little scary to hear. I mean, I was already a faithful Catholic, going to the Catholic school. Mass every morning before school. Frequent confessions and holy communion. But Mary had this Jesus that was beyond the typical Catholic Jesus.

The summer before eighth grade, I worked at the carnival with my other friend Steve. I worked for three weeks, and made half of the money I needed for my own new electric guitar and amplifier. My mom and step dad kicked in the rest of the money. Mine was a Harmony, wood-grained single pickup electric. Shiny chrome metal, I was elated. And I didn't know how to play a note or even how to tune it. It was Doug who taught me how to tune my guitar.

Doug and I were inseparable. If he walked to my house, he'd have his guitar strapped on, slid across his back like some kind of archer's quiver. I did the same when I walked to his house. It soon became common to see us walking the streets of Wellsville, with our guitars. I remember the first time he called me on the phone to play the guitar.
"Here, listen to what I learned today," He played and the sound of the guitar was clear, loud and bright coming through the phone.

"How'd you do that?" I thought he'd hooked up his phone somehow to the amplifier.

"Simple, I just bend down, with the phone touching the guitar. I hold the phone between my ear and the guitar. The vibrations from the guitar go into the phone".

Brilliant! I thought. I began to do the same thing. And we would sit on the phone for hours, playing the guitars together. Teaching each other new guitar licks. It was mostly him showing me.

Going into high school, I started to hang out with a different crowd than Doug. I got in my own band. I'd surpassed Doug in guitar playing prowess. Doug began to hang with "The Fellas", a different group of friends than mine. But he was always in the background.

He disapprovingly wondered about me, getting into drugs, turning into a hippie. I went through a whole other life, through LSD, esoteric religions, then back to Jesus. It was only a few years, but it sure feels like a lifetime had passed between us. Then when I was eighteen years old, I became a "born again" Christian. Somehow I convinced Doug and our other friend Mark T. to go with me to Cleveland, to hear Billy Graham preach. While at the Crusade, Doug and Mark answered the invitation and we all went to the front, to pray the sinners prayer. I was happy that Doug, too, had met a Jesus that was beyond the typical Catholic Jesus. But in later days, the conversion didn't stick with Doug. He drifted off in another direction. He joined The Gladiators, a local motorcycle gang, grew his beard and hair long, wore leather and jeans and his colors, and rode a Harley Trike. I went off and joined a religious cult.

After Three years of wandering the country, I called my mom to tell her I was coming back off the road. She was delighted. The first thing she told me was that "Doug became a Christian". That was a big consolation to me. I came off the road an emotional and spiritual wreck. And Doug was there to catch me. He still looked like the biker I'd left. But his spirit was gigantic with love and friendship. He took me into his circle of friends. He took me to his church. And Mary smiled widely to see her son and his best friend back together. Now again, I would spend hours with Doug. This time, at his own house, drawn into his family life with his wonderful wife and his new son.

Doug was my best friend. And I miss him.

I dry my eyes. My coffee is ready.

Friday, June 01, 2007

ticket to write

some times, artistic, carefully constructed
at others, it flows from mind to the paper

some times a struggle to explain and define
other times just wide spaces, in between the lines

at times with care and concern of what you may think
but then wild abandon when these words are for me