At dinner last night I had a text from the older brother of a long-time close friend I had to finally write off not long after my father died in April, 2005. Sudden heart attack and the guy I’d known quite well since we were teenagers was gone. The brother and I agreed to talk today, and I’ll call him in a little while. I remember our last chat, after their beloved mother died.
The brother, although very aggravated by his aggravating youngest brother, was in despair for my one-time good friend. “He’s a total mess, he’s falling apart and you’re the only friend he has,” he told me, though it had been about nine years at that time since I’d last had any contact with the now recently deceased Mark.
I got a short (by his standards) convoluted email from Mark a few days before the memorial service for his mother. I should dig it up to give you a taste of how his marvelous mind worked, even though one’s not supposed to speak ill of the dead. Let’s see, ah, here it is. You know what? I’ll put it as a footnote . I had a few laughs just now reading Mark’s oldest brother’s great deadpan reactions to his brother’s long coiling, uncoiling and recoiling emails, including this afterthought:
One more thing, Mark is staying with me for a week, commencing this coming Monday evening. So, feel free to come hang out, ought to be a barrel of laughs.
The middle brother apparently simply hit delete whenever a long email from Mark arrived. Scroll down to the footnote if you want a taste of Mark’s ornate writing style.
Their mother had completely understood when I told her, more than a decade earlier, that I had finally reached the breaking point with her demanding, unhappy, angry, critical, other-blaming, eternally nickel and diming youngest son. She thanked me for staying friends with him far longer than anyone else ever had and asked me only one favor: if he contacts you to make amends, please leave the door open to him. I tried to hold up my end of that bargain, though, admittedly, I had little patience for the guy’s couple of characteristically odd attempts over the years. He’d coined the phrase “idiosyncratic riffing patterns” to describe a great guitarist friend’s unique improvisational style. It applied to nobody better than it did to Mark himself.
Anyway, I suppose it was thinking about Mark’s death, the end of his sixty-five years of mostly suffering, that led me to dream the dream I had last night:
The wife of the California harmonica player who recently wrote me off after decades of friendship had apparently put her foot down and told her husband to stop being an asshole, that I was coming to visit and he simply had to accept that she and I were going to remain friends, whatever he thought about it. He was obviously unhappy with the arrangement, but as the house, the expensive stereo equipment, the BMW sports car and everything else was paid for by his wife’s inheritance, he couldn’t squawk too loudly. So he set conditions as soon as I arrived (and his wife was out of earshot): you do everything I say, you don’t talk to me unless I talk to you first, you ask permission to do anything, etc. He reiterated these rules a couple of times during the dream visit, anytime I presumed friendship. I woke up realizing again that you can’t mandate somebody stop acting like an asshole.
Trying to overlook asshole behavior does not work in the long run. I tried it for a long time with a mentally ill friend of many years. We agreed, as a condition of our reconciliation, not to talk about his vicious wife, Hitler, who had broken up our friendship for a year or two at one point (it had a happy ending, they eventually divorced). After we renewed our friendship (years before the divorce) she crept into our conversations a couple of times and in the end, the brilliant but crazy bastard orchestrated some other escalating, irrefutable cause for our falling out and this time I had no choice but to go with it.
Mark was a very intelligent guy, also very talented– he was an accomplished guitarist– both finger style and flat picking — wrote many tunes, music and lyrics, and played the piano with some degree of self-taught virtuosity. He was an excellent photographer, with a great and unusual eye, and, out of the blue, did some whimsical small paintings at one point in his adult life. He was also, surprisingly, an excellent cook.
At one time he had a good sense of humor, some of the best laughs of our high school years I shared with him. There was one scene, in the home of our tormented friend Jeff (who eventually gassed himself to death in his parents’ carefully prepared garage), where we laughed longer, louder and more uncontrollably than any other time in my life that I can recall. And you don’t forget a thing like that. We were literally rolling on the floor laughing our asses off, ROTFLMAO! Now I’m the only one alive who can remember that hilarious scene in Jeff’s parents’ kitchen.
Good to remember these things as I prepare to call his oldest brother, a guy with an excellent, dark, sense of humor himself. Reading over our emails back and forth just now, the ones we exchanged prior to the memorial for their mother, I had a few laughs at his unsentimental and spot-on observations about his brother. It was hard to have infinite patience for Mark, though that was what was required. The only person who seemed able to do it was their mother, Sophie, a remarkable soul any way you look at her. Oy vey.
If you want a little taste of how Mark’s unique mind worked, and a glimpse at the complicated, endlessly compounded tragedy that was his life, read the footnote — written a few days before the memorial service for his mother, right before I sent him a personalized copy of my memories of his mother Sophie (linked above <– and here too, fine…). Mark’s style is probably not for everyone. And in fairness to him, you need to picture how devastated he was about his mother’s death when he wrote the sample below.