Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Good Friend Gone

I lost a very good friend this week. Bob passed on last Sunday of a nasty, aggressive, and virulent cancer. He was diagnosed at the end of January and he died at the end of March. That is the fast track to oblivion. From what I’ve been told, his pain was immense. It must have been absolutely astonishing because the man I knew was single-minded when the chips were down. He was a winner and he was a fighter. The onslaught he experienced must have been completely overwhelming.

He and I had not been in close contact for many years. I thought of him often, but don’t know if he thought of me with the same regularity. I’ve never met his children. I knew his first wife, but not his beloved new widow. We talked a few times over those years. I called him when he had cancer the first time because mortality was suddenly a very real thing. He survived that and was able to recover his robust life, resuming his love of the culture of competitive ocean canoe paddling. When we spoke it was like we’d talked the day before, like I was calling to borrow a hammer, or something.

We were very close in high school. There was a group of us who became like brothers, but without the sibling rivalry. We hung out together, we dated together, we smoked together, we tripped together, and grew into young men together. I can honestly say that I would not have survived the 60s had it not been for those guys.

Bob was a huge part of that. He was never intimidated by my sheer force of personality. He tolerated it, enjoying it most of the time, but was always the first to call bullshit when I went too far. He helped me define the limits I needed to function properly in the world. He helped me learn how to share feelings in constructive ways. But when I lost it, when I went off the cliff and got angry and crazy and destructive he always forgave me. Every. Single. Time. He figured out how to prevent me from tearing myself up with guilt. He was a Very Good Friend.

Bob, too, had his own destructive streak in those days. We were all barely in control. What saved us was that we loved each other and supported each other. We called Bob “Wildman.” He was a very skilled driver. He had to be. Some of those rides down to San Clemente High School, through Dana Point, still raise the hair on the back of my neck. In those days, Dana Point was just a sleepy little beach town. There was no giant marina. Before the jetty was built there was a kelp bed, a pier, and, when it was breaking, some of the most amazing waves on the planet. “Killer Dana.” In reality, they were big soft pillows, but they were really fun to ride. And speaking of rides, I’m sure there are people who still remember Bob’s yellow Karmann Ghia and the strange places it would appear doing sixty miles-per-hour, with passengers whose hair stood straight up and whose eyes were as big as stop signs. Like so many things, though, when the jetty was built, all that disappeared. A way of life quietly snuck off to be pushed aside somewhere else.

I’m going to miss knowing that Bob is in the world. He lives on, of course, in the stories I have, the stories his tight-knit family has, the stories his kids will remember and share. His mother is still alive. This is the second son she’s lost to that cancer. My heart goes out to her and to his wife and children. And to all of his paddling buddies and to everybody who will miss his quick laugh and his gently sardonic view of the world.

This is when I realize that life is, indeed, too short. Welcome to the birth of philosophy. How can I reconcile my own mortality with a very close friend’s death? I’ll play guitar, write, and discover, maybe, how I feel by running these sentences together.

I can only hope.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

No Humans, No Nothing

A deep, almost unbearable sadness has transfixed me this evening. It came over me as I played with Toulouse, games we play every day. It started with me thinking of how I’ll miss him when he’s grown old and gone, or when Jessica moves away into another phase of her life. Toulouse was doing his predictable dog things, keeping the toy from me, growling as if to warn me away but watching me with hope to continue the game. I was filled with affection for him in particular and for dogs and all non-human creatures in general. And then I thought, what if there were no humans to feel and show that affection? What if we were gone from the earth? There would be no poetry. There would be no ears to interpret sound patterns as music. There would be nobody to stare out over a grand vista and feel the power of it, to rise to touch the face of wonder and to feel profoundly grateful for the privilege of being able to simply breathe the miracle of air. There would be no imagination.

This human experience has certainly put the planet’s ability to sustain warm-blooded life in jeopardy. Greed and rapacious human behavior have put everything at risk. The dark side of human nature is producing endless war as the dangerous hybrid of corporate economics and exclusionary ideology grope toward some kind of have and have-not world order. That’s been around forever. It is upon the Dark Side that poetry, music, and enlightened thought crash like waves against an impossible cliff.

If humans were not here, the Dark Side would vanish, as would all that stands against it. There would be no need to uplift the human spirit. The rest of Life would go about it’s business without the slightest hint of worry. We are the creators of Art and the only appreciators of it. If we were gone wolves would live in symbiosis with the deer and elk. Salmon would still have a heck of a time getting around the dams, but they wouldn’t be fished to near extinction. The oceans would heal, as would every thing else. Plastic would become part of evolution. Climate would shift and dance like it has since the dawn of time. And there would be no time, none whatsoever. There would only be cycles of vast complex relationships. There would be nothing to define, categorize, or understand them. Things would just be. Events would never be analyzed.

This made me profoundly sad. Both cruelty and kindness would be gone from the world. All we bring to the moveable feast is our ability to interpret it to express it to each other. We are unique in that regard and our passing would still be insignificant to the rest of the creatures here. We would not be missed. Dogs would still be dogs for as long as they could survive. Perhaps we have taken a path that is doomed to ultimate loneliness. Perhaps we could have nurtured better relationships with the other species. That is one of the reasons that I will always pay attention to dogs and believe they are worth spending time with. Through relationships with animals I can understand my own animalistic nature. Even if it becomes simply wondering about my relationship with Everything Else. It is difficult to understand a world where we are not here to attempt to understand it.

Good night.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Freedom Anniversary

Just to close a thread from the last blog, this screen adaptation of “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead” does not include Clete Purcel. And it just struck me that the name ‘Clete’ can be construed, in a high-school American Lit sort of way, as a place our hero Dave can tie himself to so that he doesn’t fall off the world.

Yesterday marked the end of the third year since I’ve had a cigarette. I celebrated with the usual two-mile run/walk through my neighborhood. I’m still packing more than 230 pounds around and last night my left knee area let me know about it. I’m not feeling pain in the joint itself, but I’m feeling a general weakness in that area. So this morning I didn’t run at all, I just walked the two miles. So far today, my knee feels darned okay.

Three years of no cigarettes is an event for me. The hard parts of the whole ongoing effort seem to come in at multiples of three. I was ravenous at three days, vulnerable at three weeks, and very wary at three months, eighteen months, and so on. At this anniversary I just warned myself to be careful and to remember that cigarettes are insidious little bastards that would like nothing better than to sleaze their way back into my life with false promises of ease and enhanced contemplation skills. They’ve done their best to kill me and would leap at the opportunity to continue that slow, measured destruction.

I have learned to separate my cigar experience from my cigarette experience. I can smoke a cigar, not inhale the smoke, and not have another for weeks, even months. It has become a nice, if infrequent, hobby. There is no craving involved. I like that.

But it is still very true that I am a recovering nicotine addict and I always will be. I smoked multiple cigarettes every day for many years. I started inhaling the smoke on the first day of trout season when I was sixteen and didn’t stop, really, until three years ago. That is forty years (do the arithmetic). That is a long, long time. I’m just extremely fortunate that I’m healing well. So far, I have no lung or system issues from my lifetime of smoking. I’ve heard that it takes seven years for all of your cells to replace themselves, so I’m not quite half-way to that blessed milestone. One day at a time. I will continue to count my blessings each and every day. The only real issue I face now is that after I quit, I put on thirty-five pounds and it’s still hanging (literally) around. That’s why I’ve added jogging to my daily routine. Hopefully, it will help me jettison some of this load and my knees will abide more easily.

It’s time to put an egg in my shoe (and beat it). Until next time, so long.