Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Pumping Up The Karma
About two weeks ago The Bat Phone rang at Black Squirrel Run.
I was planning to leave a few days later on a road trip with my buddy Al, so when his wife called on the private line I have set aside for my closest friends it didn't seem at all unusual.
Before I picked up the phone I didn't realize that it was early, 5:32 a.m., because I was working and friends are welcome to call The Bat Phone any time. As long as I'm available that's a line I'll pick up.
The news she had, though, was both unexpected and shocking. Al had committed suicide.
The next day I caught a plane, accompanied by TheSpecialOne and The Master Baiter, who is another of Al's friends. (For first time visitors, The Master Baiter is an attorney, a psychiatrist and a championship fisherman)
I should say here that my buddy's name is Paul, but we'd called him Al since the late 80s when Paul Simon released Graceland. It was his all-time favorite album and You Can All Me Al was the song with which he always seemed to be singing along.
I'd been looking forward to taking the road trip with Al. It wasn't going somewhere that interested me, but our time together that I was looking forward to.
It had been awhile since we'd been together, so when he phoned to say he wanted to see if I could take some time to get away from work it was a great surprise and I said yes straight away.
Al had gone through cancer treatment a few years before and was, as far as I knew, doing well.
What I didn't know at the time, what not even his wife knew, was that his cancer had returned and the prognosis was not good. It was, in fact, a terminal diagnosis.
The Master Baiter tells me that when people have a reoccurance of cancer and the prognosis is bad they sometimes see suicide as a better option, to save family and friends the pain of dealing with treatment.
I was, as I said, shocked. I was also, of course, both sad and angry. I've questioned myself, whether there was something I could have done, something I should have done differently....
Some years before Al and I saw John Prine in concert. On the way home from the show we were laughing about the song Please Don't Bury Me and we got to talking about what we wanted after death. Cremation and a memorial service, it turned out, was what we both wanted.
It came as a complete surprise to me to learn that Al told his wife when his time came I would know where to spread his ashes. That's a discussion of which I have absolutely no recollection.
His wife tells me that he trusted me to make the decision and she feel's the same, that as his best friend, long before he ever met her, I'd know better than anyone what he'd want.
When Al and I talked about going on the road our plan was to go with no plan.
After much deliberation (with Al's wife, TheSpecialOne and The Master Baiter) I decided hitting the road with no plan was exactly the best way to proceed. I would carry out his wish that I spread his ashes.
TheSpeialOne took Al's wife to La Alegría and I hit the road with The Master Baiter in Al's rig. (Having it cleaned was the first thing I arranged when I arrived at their house.)
The first location I seriously considered as being appropriate to spread Al's ashes was the Badlands in South Dakota.
When I phoned Al's wife at La Alegría she asked whether I was sure that's what I want to do.
It was the first time I'd spoken to her since we hit the road and it was the only time she's questioned anything I was doing. That led me to believe it was not a good choice.
Before we left their house, I was able to convince Al's wife to keep some of his ashes. She'd asked me at the time to do the same, before spreading them wherever I felt would be appropriate. When we spoke, she emphasized again that's something it's important to her that I do.
I've never spent any time analyzing the relationships I have with my friends.
It's been interesting, over the past couple weeks, reliving good times I shared with Al, recalling battles won and lost and questioning myself about some things.
At times I've been angry that he picked up a .357 magnum instead of the telephone.
The trip started to wear a bit on both The Master Baiter and myself so we took a few days off from the road.
Before getting on with the trip yesterday morning I cooked a special breakfast, something to pump up our karma.
Perogies were one of Al's favorite foods. I can't tell you how many times we ate them by the dozen while watching Steelers games.
I couldn't think of anything better to get us to where we need to be than a breakfast of sausange and perogies, cooked with onions and green peppers.