“Way to go, Kid”, I said under my breath.
The casket lowered, while the devout Catholics in his family started madly crossing themselves, a few homies dropped various things into the grave over his “Ataúd”.
There was just a light sprinkle of rain, but enough to make me smile, remembering our mutual love of rain and stormy weather. Growing up together, during times when we had no money, we would walk all the way across East Oakland, to Lakeshore, where a friend of his worked at the donut shop that stayed open late nights, eating hot crisp doughnuts under the awning in the crashing rain, talking about how we were going to play the big crowds, practicing our dance moves, and writing down lyrics on colonial donuts napkins, and ballpoint pens. We were always hungry.
Standing over the remains, of my lifelong friend, being put to rest, at a nondescript northern California cemetery , somehow didn’t have the sadness associated with it that one would normally associate with a funeral or burial.
Only a few people showed up, the vast majority of people who he had known, not even knowing he had passed away, or for that matter what he’d been doing for the past 20 years, since he quit music, and joined the “ranks of the living”.
He made a great go of it. He had a beautiful kid, married a wonderful wife who became a guiding force in his life, and eventually saved up enough money to buy a small house on the other side of the 13, (The 580 freeway to all you who are not from Oakland) up the hill from where we used to stay on 73rd and MacArthur.
I remember some of the first gigs we did together, with wildly experimental, punk, rock, ska, funk bands, and sharing a mutual fascination with early drum machines, and the Mirage, the first commercially available sampler, (which we could not afford).
Later, when we would deal a little weed, and make a little money, we would go raid the second hand stores for vintage 1940s clothing, a full five years before it became popular, and started dressing old school 1940s gangster style all time. Girls loved it.
Then, cocaine hit Oakland in a way that I can only use science fiction analogies to describe.
Cocaine always been in the Bay Area, but suddenly, it was everywhere, and I mean everywhere.
Suddenly dozens of my friends began dealing, dozens of their friends began using, and within two or three years, entire neighborhoods of people I’ve known my whole life, became separated into two distinct groups. People who were using Coke. And people who were not. I did.
Like the story goes, it was just for fun at first, then a got little more serious. Then I realized tons of my friends were always asking me for it, and I tried my hand at dealing it, but I was never a good dealer, and never good gangster, because I simply could not beat somebody up for money they owed me. That inability probably saved my life.
My friend on the other hand, who I will not name, was better at it than me.
We stopped playing together, and on occasion he would pop up out of nowhere at one of my gigs, with either a huge bag of coke, or a fistful of cash. He was super generous with me, and always pressing a hundred dollars into my hand any time he had money. He remembered.
I always put him on the guest list for some of my most important gigs, until later on, he started making members of my band, and their friends nervous. Then came a noticeable weight loss, and he stop showing up looking sharp, with money and Coke, and would hit me up regularly for money, which I didn’t have a problem with. I remembered. Later on, he asked me to hide a weapon one time and I refused, and we stopped talking for years.
I would see him occasionally, once on tour in Texas, once at the exotic erotic Ball, and once at a Huey Lewis and the news concert, that we had been inexplicably booked to open for.
Next time I saw him, was at my first 12-step meeting, in 1999. He looked better than I’ve seen in years, greeted me warmly, and said, “I knew I’d see you here”. Being at the place where I was at the time, I found it a little insulting, and acted like a miffy little bitch with him.
I remember marveling, at the amazing regularity he seemed to achieve. He had a car, he dressed nice again, had a regular job, and was now speaking some bizarre foreign language that included words like “health insurance” “401(k)” and “Roth IRA”. All concepts I was completely ignorant of at the time, since I had pretty much kept my cash under my pillow my entire life, next to my gun.
As sobriety set in and did its job on me, calming me, and giving me a chance to rebuild my life, his moved forward, taking him to another city, where he met his wife, and settled into the role of being a father, in a way that impressed me.
Looking back on it all, I think he was not really cut out for life as a full-time musician, the same way I was really not cut out for life as a coke dealer, but now here we both were, on the same road headed towards sobriety and “middle-age”. (I love using that expression. Sounds like Lord of the rings) I started gigging again, and writing, and when my head cleared enough to do the math, and realized I was owed a bunch of back money from a couple of unscrupulous people, my business sense started to kick in, and hasn’t really gone away since. I was “still at the tables” as gamblers say.
He was a really special person to me. He had a great sense of fairness. His timing was impeccable. On a budget, he could dress sharper than anybody I’ve ever met. He taught me how to do things like my tie in a Windsor, or “four-in-hand”.
He taught me how to put together a serious shaving kit, and turned me onto Kohl’s skin care when my face would break out.
Over the years we knew each other, when one of us did something really sharp, or cool, we’d tell one another, “Way to go, kid”. I think we got it from a movie somewhere.
I didn’t hear from him for years, got an invitation to attend a party one time that I couldn’t make it to, and then, a few months ago, received a summons from his wife, now a widow, to please attend his funeral.
I am an old hand at funerals, having buried most of my friends, and tend to be very formal, and just try to be helpful, and not make it about me, when I attend functions like this. Stay out of the way. Let things be what they are.
I saw his kid, who looked just like him, his beautiful wife just now beginning to grieve, some of his family members surrounding her and supporting her, and this life that he had built, and thought about his house, his 401(k), is Roth IRA, his barbecues, his pool parties, and all the other exotic, strange, otherworldly experiences he had had, since leaving the music business, and for the first time, I envied him just a little and smiled. He had escaped with his life intact.
I remembered the those hungry times walking for miles in the rain, and how much we enjoyed one another’s company, and all of our dreams of fame, and success, all of them secretly containing inside of them, a simple desire to feel like we belonged somewhere, the simple comfort of your own bed, somebody waiting at home for you, a love that we didn’t really feel enough of as kids, but were determined to find as adults. And we did. I still have not embraced the domestic life as anything other than a bachelor, and do all this bachelor type stuff every day, keeping my room perfect, making sure my kitchen is up to date, shaving out of the same leather shaving kit he gave me in 1980, perfecting my cooking techniques, and being a little more domestic than I ever thought I was capable of. He left me his old school straight razor, and Some cassettes from the 80’s, demos I had never heard, and I am busy transferring them to digital.
He walked away from the whole life, and made a new one, a happy, settled, and productive one, and still, he remembered. I think he will be missed greatly, though I still regard him as here.
Now it’s my turn to remember again.
Way to go, kid.
Piero Amadeo Infante, 2015, for the Tao of Gigging™