Goodbye, Old Friend

 

rhythmning anticipation of his eminence

we await the monk of midnight

criss-cross the bandstand

 

charlie hollers - hey man it’s time -

twisted we can see the sartorial legend

look down upon our humbled heads

 

not tonight, man -

get the drift

shake out your disbelief

 

maybe nica can turn

a brilliant corner and

change his mind

 

not tonight, man -

get the drift

shake out your disbelief

 

That describes the night in the 60’s Gus Kearney sat at the bar in the Showboat Jazz Lounge in Philadelphia to see and listen to the Thelonious Monk Quartet with Charlie Rouse. For whatever the reason Monk decided not to play that night and went on back to NYC with Nica, formally the Baroness Pannonica de Konigswater and Rothschild heir, his patrroness. We wondered together what happened that night recently before Gus passed away.

We met on City Line Avenue at a late afternoon college seminar on William Faulkner in Philadelphia. That was Philadelphia, PA, not Philadelphia, Mississippi. It took Gus quite a while to visit Bill’s house in Mississippi - Rowan Oak in Oxford - almost 50 years if memory serves.

Except for that seminar, we spent the next 2 years grousing over the inadequacy of university life as commuters to a city school. Faulkner was a hero and the prof, Father Loughery a Catholic priest, who really knew his shit had done his dissertation on one of Faulkner’s lesser known works at Notre Dame.

Back then, neither Gus nor I said much about our dreams to write the next Great American Novel. With English language skills developed in Irish Catholic neighborhoods known for their use of “yo” as a pronoun we had inferiority complexes, especially when we attended a graduate seminar in “Finnegan’s Wake” at Temple University.

The night Gus called with the news our mutual friend and rugby team captain, USMC LT. Tom Dineen, had been killed in Vietnam we walked the streets of suburban Philadelphia until 3AM. We knew his team spirit and bravery from the rugby pitch would get him killed. Still it was hard to accept that he volunteered and his son would never know him.

I got married in 1967 before Gus became a flower child and went to San Francisco. We lost track of each other for about 40 years but found each other through the Internet. I was retired, living in Oakland, Gus retired, living in Sonoma battling cancer. I visited him and his cats for a week. It was clear that our paths had been different - me a computer consultant and university teacher, Gus a psychologist/English teacher with an advanced creative writing degree from SF State - but some things never change. We could sit for hours and talk intensely about the NBA, the NFL, MLB, rock’n’roll, jazz, movies, art, our Irish roots and writing. We both had been writing fiction as a hobby, not really a hobby, it was a full-blown passion for both of us.

It took me a while before I learned how meaningful Gus’ teaching had been to young people. He was ‘the man’ for so many, mostly because he had such pride and feelings for the kids he taught. When I saw his FB page it was clear there were disciples in the church of the Big Kelt, his Email name. That was his way of being paternal; the same feelings I have for the two men I call Bill and Mike - my sons.

Gus and his sister were in my wedding. One of the wedding party made the comment, “the crucifixes will fall when we walk into the church.” It wasn’t Gus, but it’s accurate when it comes to Gus’ attitude to religion. He was a good person but not a religious one.

My 70th birthday was celebrated in Los Angeles. Gus flew down from Sonoma and enjoyed a goodly portion of soft pretzels imported from South Philly. I was pleased to make him happy since he did the same for me by traveling to his hated CIty of the Angels - the only way he could be, given his love for the Dubs, Giants and 49ers.

As I’ve gotten older I have lost much of my passion for professional sport, not so my friend. We watched the Padres in San Diego and the Giants at AT&T. Gus felt badly that I didn’t enjoy the Giants’ win when somebody spilled their beer on my lap in the left field bleachers. I felt badly in San DIego when the Padres wore uniforms with a military camouflage motif.

My biggest disappointment as Gus’ friend was not being able to attend his reading at the Lansdowne Theatre of his book “The Education of Joey G.” I was recuperating from open heart surgery. He had asked me to read an early draft and I told him the obvious. He had discovered a voice, the voice of Joey G.

One of my fondest memories of the Big Kelt comes from being his teammate on the Saint Joseph’s College Rugby Football Club. There are moments in rugby when as a ball carrier you can be tackled by the opposition and need help. Gus had asthma. There were times when I was in the arms of the enemy and heard deep asthmatic breathing behind me. The sound alone could scare the shit out of anybody. Probably did scare the shit of the guys holding me down. Not me, I knew who was coming. Gus had come to my rescue. Thank you, old friend.

Probably, the best thing my old friend ever did for me was to encourage me to move to Mexico. I was 71, unhappy in Los Angeles, living on Social Security. I investigated the ex-pat life and found that I could live well in Merida in the Yucatan on $1800 a month. The problems were being 71 and unable to speak Spanish. Gus and I spoke on the phone. He urged me to do something since I was not happy. “We only go round once in life’ weren’t the exact words, but they were the message.

Ten days after I arrived in Mexico, I met Vicky Carrasco-Silva who is now Ms. Snyder. We live in Denver. Gus never met her. We had talked about getting together this spring, but it was not to be.

As a taoist, I accept the way.

I miss you, Gus. Rest in Peace, old friend.