ON THE AVENUES: Magic and loss.

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For one who is accustomed to recording his thoughts on paper, because he has always understood in his particular case that writing is the very best way to make sense of things, it follows that once properly ordered, thoughts can make the leap from written to spoken language. 

Not before.

In short, if I cannot articulate a topic in writing, chances are I’ll do no better trying to explain it to you in conversation.

Some might say this process is bass-ackwards, given that the implications are broader than the enumerated recipe for Cincy chili or a description of what happened on a certain day in Moscow in 1999. Also involved are feelings and emotions encompassing far more complexity than the norm, which must be retrofitted in writing so I can convey them in chatter.

Naturally small talk can proceed without pre-authorization. That’s what it is: small, mostly inconsequential, and how about those Packers? An absence of forethought has fewer implications when little more than the meaningless passing of time is the goal.

But as the far too often maligned band Chicago’s keyboardist, singer and songwriter Robert Lamm once observed, “Time passes much too quickly, when we’re together laughing” (Beginnings, 1969), and later, “Forever is a long, long time – longer than we ever realize” (Forever, 1986).

“I wish I could sing it to you,” crooned Lamm during Nixon’s first term.

I’d settle for being able to write it, and now I’ll try to do so.

A close friend from high school died recently. In itself, while profoundly sad, this isn’t unusual. It happens in turn to all of us, and with each of us.

Every rose has its thorn, and every beginning an end. We are finite creatures. We come eventually to a conclusion. In Lamm’s 80s-era ballad, he spoke of “forever” not as the cosmic duration of his love; rather, the active element of love ends with his death or his lover’s.

Consequently, Lamm promised, “I’m going to love you the rest of my life.” Life spans are the delineation of love, and a terminus. The word “forever” then is repeated, but ignore this. It is necessary for the song’s musical arrangement to make sense, not the sentiment itself.

After all, this is a pop tune, not theology.

When I say we were close friends in high school, it’s a statement of fact. We were very tight then. And, factually, our friendship did not survive for very long after high school. Alas, it wasn’t merely the expected usual happenstance that we went our separate ways, although geographically, we surely did.

There was a rupture of some sort. It definitely was an estrangement. A point came when he left no doubt that we were no longer friends. I’d run into him here and there, at reunions and occasion visits home. He’d acknowledge me, but a stiff Arctic breeze ran through the courtesies. I cannot recall having a substantive conversation with him literally in four decades.

Happily, by all accounts he lived a vigorous and productive life in California during the past 30-odd years, both professionally and personally. A lovelier family would be hard to imagine. To me, they’re his greatest achievement. His career in the film industry was stellar. None of it comes as a surprise to me, because we all knew he was destined for great things. There was no doubt.

And yet, those decades are Lindsey Buckingham’s second-hand news to me. My high school friend chose to exclude me from his life. My affection was unrequited. In the words of the Hoosier novelist, so it goes.

It puzzled me greatly for all those years, and always will. It also hurt tremendously, because to be brutally frank I idolized him, from the moment we became friends in 1974-75 all the way to the present day, even two weeks after he was claimed by cancer, far too young.

It’s an injustice, the c-word. I’ve been in pain and anguish, mourning his passing as intensely as that of my own two parents. My eyes are wet writing this. I feel so bad for his wife and kids – and one grandchild, I think.

Obviously, there’ll be no resolution now. Lamm was right. Time passed much too quickly; the laughter stopped too soon, and forever remains a long, long time.

But I will say this.

A few years ago it occurred to me that I’d always blamed myself for committing the offense, for doing “something” – whatever the hell this really means – to prompt the estrangement. Evidently it was easier, or maybe simply less painful, to carry this burden of guilt with me than admit that maybe my hero was anything less than perfect.

So, finally I stopped blaming myself. It wasn’t easy.

Life’s a mystery, and human beings are not mathematical formulas. We all are flawed, each and every one of us. Kaka can and will occur. I have dark patches, and the black dog has been known to come around. Maybe with him, too.

I’ll always dearly love my friend, and smile when I think about the old days – good, bad or otherwise. We were a good team, while we were. I’m sure he had his reasons, and I respect them. In the end, our separation was as much his loss as it was mine, a 50-50 split.

You did good, Mikey. You absolutely rocked it. I’ll always miss you. I’ll never forget you.

Goodbye.

It’s funny, but for a very long time I resisted the urge to refer to myself as a writer, perhaps because we’ve grown up in a dysfunctional society that can’t fathom a person “being” something if it can’t be measured by time sheets or a tax return.

That’s bogus, of course, but it’s precisely who we are.

I’m the first to concede that four decades of purported adulthood spent writing sentences probably haven’t earned me a single year’s poverty-level American wage. Fortunately this isn’t the only way to look at it. Writing is what I do, irrespective of other considerations, and it’s been a part of what I’ve always “done.”

As far back as my package store days, stocking the famous “import door” of the walk-in cooler in the barren physical and intellectual wasteland of early 1980s downtown New Albany, I photocopied sheets at my own expense with beer prices and descriptions, and handed them to regular customers in lieu of a web site.

For the first ten years of the Public House, I wrote, edited and published the FOSSILS homebrewing club newsletter on basic sheets of paper with staples and stamps. The club was non-profit, but since our business hosted the majority of meetings and club members also were regular customers, there was a tangential and mutually beneficial relationship with revenues.

There you have it. I’m a writer.

I think and process information in terms of writing.

Most of the time I follow my muse from sheer compulsion, not in pursuit of pay. At times, the money comes. To me, it’s all good. We shouldn’t be asking people what they do for remuneration, anyway.

It’s gauche.

In closing, here’s a snippet of dialogue from Warren Beatty’s epic film Reds (1981). Beatty, as journalist/socialist John Reed, is meeting with factory workers trying to unionize when the cops arrive to break up the “unAmerican” gathering.

Cop: This is an illegal assembly.

Reed: Excuse me, Officer. These men have the legal right to assemble. That’s all they’re doing.

Cop: We know what the hell they doing. What the hell you doing?

Reed: Me?

Cop: You.

Reed: I write.

Cop: You write? You wrong. Get him out of here!

Let the record show I have NOT so much as implied or suggested in the slightest that the policeman is employed by the city of New Albany.

In any event, my name’s Roger, not John. 

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