Saturday, May 25, 2002

Memorial Day Weekend; Frank; Oregon Extension

Wow. We are doing NADA for Memorial Day weekend this year! Today I worked for catering man, made bbq chicken for a big honkin' barbecue he's doing on Monday, did prep for another thing tomorrow, and made coconut shrimp skewers for his wife's 50th birthday bash this Tuesday night. I'm actually not at all worn out or sore, for the first time in my catering man existence. Feels damn good.

I made this AMAZING chicken salad today. Before I started working for him, chicken salad was chicken pulled off a roast chicken as leftovers, mayo, salt, pepper, maybe an onion or a celery... meh. How thrilling. Now I know secrets. Six ounces of cream cheese, zest and juice of one lemon. Walnuts. Thyme, parsley, scallions, celery, [insert Homer Simpson Drooly noise here]. Oh man, oh baby! It's to die for. And there is so much more I can do now. I can properly julienne stuff. Before, it was whack and chop. Throw it in. Whatever. I feel like a pro.

We drew on the sidewalk today for several hours. What a damn good time. The kids drew pokemon characters (Geoff's idea, of course) and I drew Patrick and Spongebob. I do a mean Spongebob. Normally on this weekend we'd be dying to get away from work and life, but this year... I feel like I've been on vacation for months, Aaron and Michelle are settling into their summer schedule (Michelle is still teaching but Aaron is at Acadia, working). And going to New York seemed such the pain in the butt. So the yard, the garden, and maybe Home Depot will be our destinations this year.

We interrupt this entry for the gratuitous Geoff shot of the day.
This is from the porch yesterday in the hot sun, while we played Pokemon Battle. I have to say, this is a good lookin' kid. I love his eyes, even if they are kind of crooked. And he has really cute lips. I just wish he'd play something other than pokemon friggin' battle.


Frank passed away on Friday. I've never mentioned him here before, but upon reflection, he's quite a character and I wish I'd paid closer attention to his existence.

He was in our church choir. Sang Tenor. He was uber elderly, and had been in a nursing home for a few months. He got pneumonia a couple weeks ago, went to the hospital, was in death's hands with a Episcopal priest from the neighboring city (remember, our church has no current pastor), sitting by his side waiting for his last terminal breath to come.

And he bounced back. Out of intensive care. He'd done this a dozen times in the past few years. We'd always shake our heads and say, "Frank did it again!"

He kept stealing my choir robe, if he got there before me on a Sunday or if I wasn't there, he'd wear mine. Not sure why. Normally it would be no big deal. But he'd drool on it.

Usually with a cough drop in his mouth, so there would be a cherry red mark on the front of my white surplus.

I'd simply wear a different one, and take my dove pin off the surplus before church, much to his confusion. He'd laugh when I'd tell him time and again, "dude, you got my robe on." "Oh! At least I don't have your unmentionables on too!" And I'd crack up.

He didn't like to accept help from anyone, and if you tried to give him a hand he'd get angry. Especially if you were... me. A woman. He'd once in a while accept help from J.A., the bass singer in the choir, but me. No. And whatever he would do would take him an hour... so most of the time I'd stand and wait to see if he was about to wipe out, fall down, and catch him. Sort of like a weightlifting spotter.

A few weeks ago he was having an excessively difficult time getting up out of the pew after church. I was on the other side of the pew and stuck my hand out. Again. He eyed me and said "I'm not sure you can get me out of this seat."

"Try me, Frank." He eyed me up, steely and seriously, and then looked around for JA Not finding him, he conceded, accepted my offer. He stuck out his hand, and I yoinked him up. Not very easily mind you, but I yoinked him.

The look of astonishment on his face made my day. "Well, perhaps I'll allow you to give me a hand more often, young lady!"

He was wearing my robe again.

His wife would bring him to choir practice, and it would take him a half hour to get from the back of the church to the choir pews, and he'd always beam and smile as he came down the aisle. I would groan inwardly, because our choir practice would be held up for however long it would take him to schlep his way up to us. But deep behind the groan there was always a smile... Frank made it to practice. It was nice to see him. He had a wicked sense of humor. He was prayed for weekly by me, and I'm sure by others. He sang a lovely tenor. He loved Christmas music. I will miss his voice.

OE, focus on Dave
I got email today from a college friend I hadn't heard from in ... maybe 10 years? Not sure. I've lost track. A mutual good friend had given him the link to this journal, and he decloaked for a moment to confess to reading it and yea verily, enjoying it. He feels as if he slips into my house and goes through my sock drawer without my knowledge.

The analogy is good and I've heard it often... Most people who read online journals admit the pleasure they get at the concept of looking into a life. But it isn't quite like going INTO the house and going through the sock drawer unbeknownst to the sock drawer owner. It's more like I did my laundry and hung the socks out on the line in the yard, by the road. With a neon sign that says "LOOKIE HERE! It's my socks! Check them out!!!"

He shared his fond remembrances of Clay, which made me cry. And also reminded me he went to the same Oregon program that I did, which I'd forgotten. He went the year after me, and the year before Scott in Chicago, and one of my roommates Diane...

Can you find me? Can you find Doug?

I've blabbed about OE on several prior occasions here. Unfortunately my email sendin' friend and I weren't there together to share Lincoln, at that same moment in linear space, but once someone goes to Lincoln, you are connected with them, whether you went in the fall of 2000 or the fall of 1978. So it gave me a very warm and happy feeling to think of him, and others I've known all these years, who did the OE thing. Their motto is "Chop a little wood, read a few books." And that's what it is all about.

Thinking about Lincoln is something I do at least once a week, and my friend's email confessed he did the same too. There honestly are so many things that I see, hear, read, that point to the time I was there. With 75 other people. Sharing life. And then, after it was over it was almost like it never happened... connections that seemed so tight disintegrated. I knew I'd never see most of these people ever again.

Well, never is incredibly harsh a word. Very rarely. It's kind of a bunker mentality... you're there, shoulder to shoulder day after day for four months, and then... poof. You're home in Pittsburgh. Or New York. Back to your own college. Back to the friends you left at the end of the previous academic year. Facing a spring semester on your familiar territory, you get back into the familiar place, but part of you is still in Oregon, and Oregon is positively part of you.

I've long wanted to write about one of our friends there, who we haven't had contact with in quite some time, but think about daily. So why the hell not, right?

Dave was weird.

He was from New Jersey, and was a senior at an evangelical college in Michigan. He was very into radio broadcasting, and had an alter ego/DJ persona called "Scott Brown," which he would whip out once in a while. Ironically, there was already a Scott Brown there that year, from an evangelical college in New York State, so he was shocked that he couldn't really use his Scott Brown persona to its fullest.

He was an aggressive if not technically abusive scrabble player. "The game is NOT over. You DO have a word in there, sheathed! QUA!!!! QUA is a fucking word! I thought you were an English major! What the hell are you LEARNING at that piece of shit college of yours in Massachusetts... QUA!! QUA!!!"

He was pissed and irritated about a lot of things from the fact we weren't allowed to drink, even if we were 21, to the fact that we didn't get to go down the mountain to Ashland enough. One time in specific he pitched a fit in class about not getting to go down the mountain for Halloween. Vociferously opposed to being stuck up there all the time, we all wondered aloud to each other, "what is the DEAL with this guy? What was he thinking coming up the mountain to be here in the program when it is obvious he'd rather be in NYC or something." When we had our group picture taken on the back steps of the library, he read from a copy of "The New Yorker" Magazine rather than smile pretty for the camera. He was deeply into Nietsche and did a big section report on him. I learned more about Nietsche from him than I did in any of the philosophy courses I took in college. He was an odd duck, but an okay duck. And he and Doug got on swimmingly.

He had weird eyes. I remember sitting next to him at dinner one night at Doug's cabin, and watching his eyes as he looked down at his food. One of his eyes seemed to freely move... and it was bizarre to realize his focus on his meal was with the one fixated eye, and the other one was off on its own course. I remember that very vividly... it was disconcerting.

After we got back east, we kept in touch with Dave more than anyone else, as he was geographically the closest, and ... we knew him pretty well. He graduated and moved to Manhattan, the way he wanted to.

We went to see him in the winter of 1990, and he took us on a walking tour of Manhattan that could not be beat. He took us to see things that I've never seen again. He wrote restaurant reviews for a publication at Columbia University spotlighting Hidden Cool Shit in New York City, and brought us to the best Chinese restaurant we have ever gone to in our lives. We were incredibly impressed, he was an amazing font of NYC lore and knowledge.

He introduced us to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. He shared an apartment with a bunch of people, and his "room" was in the livingroom, and he could see the cathedral from where he slept. That was a wonderful visit. We decided to hook back up with him in the spring of 1991 right before we got married. He wasn't quite as fun, but did take us to a great trattoria in Little Italy where he updated us on life.

He took us to this unbelievably bizarre play called "The Happiness Tent," where the audience talked back to the actors. It was obvious that he went... weekly at least. And the actors knew him. And I think they dreaded seeing him there. But the experience was .... unique. As always. Spending time with Dave was unique.

The Swiss banking institution was going to be arresting him very soon, so he didn't know if he'd see us again, and he was very happy we came to see him... He knew very dangerous things from his job as a teller at Chemical Bank or whatever NYC institution he was working for, and he knew that he was in imminent danger. Very soon he was going to take two in the hat because he had written an expose, a manuscript, outlining the corruption up the ladder, to the president and congress. He had to go, but thanked us for being his friends, and he walked us to the subway so we could get to Penn Station and back to my parents' house. Before we left the cafe, he bought me a rose from a street vendor.

On the train, Doug asked me, "So, what'd you think of that?"

"I'm worried about him..." I answered quietly. Doug agreed. Shortly after that came our wedding. He had RSVP'ed, but called the night before while Doug and our wedding party and I were packing all my stuff up in cars to finish moving things down to Doug's apartment in Boston.

"I'm not coming. I'm tired, I'm cranky, and I don't feel like getting on the train," he told me. "Sorry."

I was pissed. I handed the phone to Doug, because I thought to myself, that's fucking 100 dollars worth of place setting that could have gone to another friend for the wedding... goddamnit! He didn't come. And we didn't hear from Dave for quite a while.

When Jessie was born, I sent him a birth announcement. She was born a year and 10 days after that last conversation. A few months later he wrote me at my parents, thanking me for the baby announcement... and letting me know he was not well, but was in hospital for schizophrenia.

Like I didn't see it coming, Swiss Banking Espionage Man. His handwriting was a mess, and he was obviously medicated. We spoke with him on the phone a while later, and I guess what went down the summer of 1991 was this: He threw all his belongings out of his apartment window. He walked downstairs. He put a hatchet through his apartment building main door several times, and proceeded to walk down the street naked. He was sure the limousine would be coming right around the corner. Instead, it was an ambulance, and they took him to Bedlam for the first of many hospital stays.

We kept contact off and on through the following year. One day when we were living in Marblehead, he phoned us with an exciting idea. He was MANIC with joy, and wanted us to move to Manhattan.

"I've got this deal going, I'm meeting with Disney Studios and [Jim] Henson productions to do a writing collective, and I want you and Doug to come be part of it. It is going to be GREAT!"

"Really. Move to Manhattan. Like now?" I tentatively responded.

"Yes. I've got office space which will be on one floor, and the upper floors will be the living quarters. You and Doug and the baby can move in, and it'll be like college. Like Oregon. We'll share a kitchen, and during the day we'll work, read, write, and make history with our creations. I've got a few other people lined up for the project. And you guys have to come because you're the best. I've got a meeting with Jim Henson, and they're coming over to pick me up..." etc. etc.

Jim Henson was already dead by then. So I knew he was talking out of his ass. I listened to him go on and on. He told me that the production company was going to be called HalfKing, because he was only half the king, and we completed him and made him the whole king. So without us, it was pointless. There would be no project. There would be nothing.

Shortly thereafter, he was back in hospital.

He was in and out of mental hospitals for years after that. One day I talked with him, and he told me he simply would check himself in when he'd had enough of the street and the outside world... He would stay and get good food for a while, get medicated, get stable, and then... leave when he saw fit. Because he checked himself in, he could check himself out when he thought it was time. He said that mostly why he went to the mental hospitals was the good food, and "these people are really interesting!" He would stay on meds for a while, then go off. Then the cycle would start again.

When we moved up here to the Way Out Inn, I didn't let him know our new address or phone and by Christmas time guilt and wondering how he was got the better of me. I called his family home and spoke at great length with his mom. We had a great talk, she told me Dave had recently come home for a visit and took her credit card and spent a ton of money on the streets on strangers, mentally deranged people he'd met, and then ended up arrested and back in the hospital. This time, he didn't check himself in, so he couldn't check himself out.

She asked me towards the end of the conversation the most painful question I think a mom can ask someone's friend... "Tell me, what was he like... when you knew him?" Meaning at OE... right before he went off to be the HalfKing in search of someone who would finally make him whole. I started to cry. He was great. He was crazy. He was intelligent, witty, funny. Angry. He was pretty much a haresbredth different from the rest of us in sanity. And with time that haresbredth grew to the size of the Mississippi.

I believe I talked to her in 1996. Perhaps 1997. Not sure. I've meant to call again. I send a Christmas card every year, it doesn't get returned as undeliverable by the post office, so either they are getting to him, or they are being held by his mom, in hopes of better days.

By the way, if you couldn't find me and Doug, we're smack dab in the middle of the picture on the first landing... here's the closeup.

So that's the story of Dave. It's kind of a downer, but ... if Hollywood has taught me anything, it is that schizophrenics can have great movies made about them starring Russell Crowe. I'm not sure who would play Dave though. It's memorial day weekend, and I don't know anyone personally I've lost in the military. So this spot right here is in memory of 1988, Oregon, friendship, and all the other things that count. Which matter. That have changed who I am, made me the person I am today... and Dave is a part of that. Unlike Clayton, Dave isn't dead, but... he is a memory to me.

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