Thursday, December 19, 2013
I have to stop wishing Happy Birthday to people for a while; with rare exceptions, this has mostly lead to bad news.
I guess this is because people I care for or cared for always remain fixed in my memory as they were when I last saw them, like snap shots.
They never change and generally neither do the feelings I felt about them.
So more is the surprise when time catches up with these images in my head.
This happened a few weeks ago when I heard about the death of my old friend, Ralph – who I last saw in the flesh just prior to my going into the Army in early 1969, but whose memory and friendship I carried around inside of me for all these years, undisturbed even by the photos of an older man I received a decade ago.
He remained the vibrant person I dragged into so much trouble when we were young, and who learned the real advantage of a movie usher’s uniform with the girls in the balcony.
Hearing of his death shocked me. He was only a few months older than I am, and I discovered his death only after I wished him a happy birthday on Facebook.
This happened again yesterday, not with as close a friend, but one of the more talented Hoboken musicians I had written about fairly often in the 1990s. Over the last decade, he had moved out to other parts of the world, but kept in touch via email and Facebook.
Earlier this year, he posted a message about waiting on a transplant – liver or kidney, I don’t recall. But he sounded desperate. So when I wished him a happy birthday yesterday, I included a note saying I hope all had gone well.
It hadn’t. A message from his friend came back saying he had died.
All this comes at a difficult time of year since most of those closest to me were born near Christmas – including my one time, best friend, Hank, who always insisted on getting two presents, one for his birthday, and one for Christmas, refusing to get cheated out of one because he had the misfortune of being born on Christmas Eve.
He should have gotten a transplant, too, but had played games with his bad kidneys, finding a scoundrel of a doctor that allowed him to maintain his life style although he was falling apart inside.
Several years ago, we also lost one of the guitarists to our band, and shortly before that, the bass player – all in need of some repair to a major organ they could not get in time.
Ironically, the day of the guitarist wake I got an email from him – lost somewhere in the remote places of the cloud – suggesting we should work together on a video.
Such messages have been common with those lost who were close to me. Hank left several messages – appearing as a bat to Pauly, and a crimpled pigeon to me. The strangest came to Garrick a few days after Hank’s death in 1995.
A few months before Hank’s death, lightning struck Hank’s house and fried his phone and answering machine. This happened just prior to Christmas, and so we had a hard time getting a hold of him.
A few days after Hank’s death, lightning struck Garrick’s house, frying his phone and his answering machine – with one exception. The machine retained the last message Hank had left prior to his death.
Unfortunately, the last memory I have of Hank is not a good one. It came on Christmas Eve 1994, when we traditionally get together. This was a few months before his death, and he had grown old. He looked 80 or 90 when he was only 45, and acted it, forgetting things, and when we took off for our traditional Christmas Eve get-together; he drove like an old man.
I miss him, but I miss the vibrant younger Hank, and often go back to older photographs trying to restore his image in my mind.
Inside of me, each of these people, here or in the hereafter, remain alive in me, and always will – which is one reason I write about people I meet.
It’s my destiny in life.