Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Telluride

I'd just gotten home from a disgusting day of making and hauling crates for the Great Gift Company of Milwaukee. I was looking forward to one of the Milwaukee's Best's sitting in the fridge of the Eastside apartment I was temporarily sharing with my brother, Dan.

            I took off my shoes and put on the Soft Machine album that we'd picked out of a 50-cent record bin. Neither one of us planned to be in Milwaukee very long so the only pieces of furniture we owned were two $12 patio loungers. Ever since the trip across the Bridge to Venice, Dan and I had gotten used to a rigged form of comfort - nothing in our lives was permanent.  We picked up a flat on the east side after both of us had spent most of the previous 18 months abroad. Compared to the train stations and multi-bunk hostels we'd stayed in, the tiny apartment was pretty damn nice. Things may not have been exceptionally glamorous at the $250/month Pulaski St. pad, but they were definitely functional.

            Just after I'd put down my first gulp the telephone rang. I usually got home from work an hour before Dan did, and sometimes he'd call for a ride.

            "Dude, can you come and pick me up?" he asked.

            "Sure, 5 o'clock cool?"

            "Now," he said. "Listen - Paul Wolfert skied off a cliff in Telluride. Derf's dead."

            The words hit me like an anvil. "Our Paul Wolfert?" I asked, "Derf? You sure?"

            "Yeah, man," he said, "You gotta come get me outta here. I can't take this here."

            I tried to collect myself, but the emotional surge was overwhelming. "Alright, man," I said, "I'm on my way."

            I hung up the phone, took a couple swigs of my beer and jumped back into my rusted out Horizon to navigate the snowy streets of downtown Milwaukee. Rush hour was just starting, and I was out of control behind the wheel. I may as well have been drunk on a bottle of tequila. My mind was floating as I missed two stop signs and twice had to jam on the brakes. It was simply inconceivable that Derf, one of the most vibrant and active members of the Casa, was no longer with us.

            The Casa was out to conquer the Earth, but the Earth had decided to take one back.

I finally made it to the front doors of Discovery World, the children's museum where Dan gave tours and made sure kids didn't destroy exhibits. Dan was leaning up against a pillar with barely enough energy in his legs to support his body. He wobbled over to the Horizon and flopped himself in the seat as if he'd been shot in the arm. I'd been holding back tears, but with the two of us looking at each other with weeping faces, we both let go. A van behind us honked at us to get a move on and we simultaneously screamed at the guy to fuck off.

            I put the car in gear and pulled away but I had absolutely no business being behind the wheel of a car. I took a back route out of downtown and as soon as we got out of heavy traffic Dan started in.

            "Barb (our sister, a TV news producer in Milwaukee) got the news over the Associated Press wire --  'A 23 year-old Milwaukee man, Paul Wolfert, died yesterday in a skiing accident in Telluride, New Mexico.' Barb called Mom and asked her what Paul Wolfert was doing. Mom told her he was skiing in Colorado.  Then she called me and asked if I knew the name of the town. I told her Derf was in Telluride. Next thing I know she's reading off the AP wire and asking me if it was him. I'd love to tell her that there's a town in New Mexico called Telluride and it ain't Derf - that the AP got it screwed up. But it's him. He's dead. Townshend's alive, Keith Richard's alive, Jerry's alive - fucking Syd Barrett's even alive. Derf is dead."

            Derf arrived on scene during our youngest brother Bagus's junior year in high school. His father had been transferred from New Jersey to Milwaukee, and Derf roamed the halls of Nicolet looking for Deadheads. We'd been to Dead shows before, but we didn't really know the intricacies of the scene. Derf  had been to dozens of shows on the East Coast and could recite set lists from tour after tour. He was the first one we ever knew who had a massive bootleg collection, and he could whip off the lyric to any song on any tape. He taught us all how to be Deadheads.

            We knew he was smarter than he let on, but he was the quintessential high school stoner. He enrolled at Tulane after high school and proceeded to flunk out of his first semester because he kept going out on tour. This didn't sit too well with his parents who strapped him down for a summer and made him study. When he went back to school he still took the occasional 2,000-mile solo drive to go on tour, but he started studying. He graduated from Tulane in four years and got a 4.0 his last two semesters.

            Telluride was just a transition before he would start working for his father. The Wolferts had high hopes for their son, but those hopes had been swept away by an avalanche in the Rockies. We assumed they would call us for a memorial service when they were ready, but it never happened. There were dozens of questions to be asked and answered, but we were left in the dark with just a press clipping. We needed to know more.

            After returning from France I resumed a correspondence with Chloe, a girl I'd been seeing during the summer with the Lake of the Ozarks Water Show. She was going to grad school at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. After a couple of letters, we decided we wanted to see each other again. My diving show bank account was getting thin, and I wasn't sure I would be able to make the trip. When Derf died I looked at the map and found that Telluride was just on the other side of the San Juan Mountains from Durango. I was running short on cash but only a few weeks away from returning to Les Avenières and a paycheck. I was coaching a local diving team, and as soon as the high school swimming season was over I booked a train to Colorado.

            The California Zephyr pulled out of Chicago's Union Station just before sunset, and I floated across the Great Plains with someone else at the wheel. Amtrak was like a luxury liner compared to the cramped second-class trains I'd taken in Europe. I had plenty of room, and they even offered movies for the long two-day trip. But as nice as the coach was, this was still an American train which meant I would be dropped off miles from my final destination. I read myself to sleep and woke up with the first peaks of the Rockies dominating the Denver skyline.

            I transferred trains in Denver and moved into a bubble car for a nice, slow, eye-jarring afternoon over the Rockies and along the Colorado River. As the terrain switched from high mountains to wide-open plateaus, the Zephyr pulled into Grand Junction just short of the Utah border. There were no trains to Durango, but I figured it had to be a fairly easy hitch. It's a three-hour drive with just a few towns in between. Most people would be driving straight through. I walked out of town to US Highway 50 and made a "Durango" sign out of a Dominos Pizza box I found on the side of the road. I started hitching at 4:30, but by 6:00 was losing daylight.  Nobody was heading to Durango.

            When the sun finally set, my appearance changed from an honest-faced hitchhiker to a shadowy figure on the side of the road. I was hungry and anticipated crashing somewhere in the desert. There was an IGA just off the exit from where I was hitching, so I tucked my sign away and went in to buy some groceries. As I stood at the checkout line a thirty-something mustachioed cowboy asked me if I was the guy trying to hitch a ride to Durango.

            "Yup," I said, "That's me." I pulled out the sign tucked into my bag and smiled hoping he was on his way there.

            "I'm not on my way there," he said, "but I do know there's a Trailways headed that way, and we might just be able to make it."

            "Hey, that sounds great," I said. "How far's the station?"

            "Don't worry," he said. "I'll give you a lift. Paul Preston's, the name."

            "Tom Haig," I said. "Thanks for the offer. It was getting cold out there."

            We walked out to the parking lot, and I tossed my bag and guitar in his pickup. "Hey, you wouldn't be watching the basketball games would you?" I asked. It was the weekend of the NCAA semifinals and after years of getting bonked out in early rounds, the Illini were playing Michigan in the Final Four.

            "My boys are crazy about that stuff," he said, "Seton Hall just beat Purdue. Illinois and Michigan just started."

            "I'm an Illinois grad," I said. "We've been so close so many times. I think this is our year."

            "Michigan's tough," Paul said. "But I gotta agree, I think it's your year."

            We pulled into the bus station, I thanked him for the ride and pulled my gear out of the back. The station was closed, but he assured me that buses came and went all the time whether or not the doors were open. I walked up to the schedule on the door and discovered I'd just missed the last bus. The next one wasn't until 2:00 the next afternoon.

            "Damn," I said. "Well I'm going to find a bar and try to catch the end of the Illinois game. Might as well get something out of this."

            "Hold on," he said. "I got three boys at home who've got their eyes glued to the TV. Why don't you just come watch it with us?"

            "If it's no bother," I said. "I'm dying to catch the second half."

            Paul didn't think twice. He threw my gear back in his truck and drove me to his house on the outskirts of Grand Junction. We pulled into a fenced-in yard enclosing a one-storey bungalow and a garage with a well-worn nine-foot basket dangling at a slightly forward angle. Paul led me through the front door where his three sons were glued to the TV and his wife was making dinner. "One more for the table tonight," he said. "Tom here is on his way to Durango. He missed his bus, but he's an Illini. I just couldn't let him sit out on the road with his team playing in the Final Four."

            "You're from Illinois?" his ten-year old crew cut son asked pulling the collar of a Denver Bronco shirt out of his mouth.

            "Yup," I said, "I spent five long years there - all for this. How we doin'?"

            "What's Illinois like?" he asked,

            "Flat!" I said. "How we doin'?"

            "It's real close," he said. "Ain't very flat around here is it?"

            "Thank God no," I said. "I can't stand flat."

            Paul had walked into the kitchen to explain the situation to his wife who didn't seem too thrilled with unexpected wild card company. I sat down on the couch between the boys and focused on the game. Paul's wife came out with cheese and crackers and the boys jumped all over it.

            "Now mind your manners boys," she said, "Tom's likely to think we're a bunch of trailer trash. Jimmy, ask Tom if he wants some first."

            Jimmy offered me the tray, I took some and thanked Paul's wife.

            "Lynette Preston," she said offering me a coke. "Sorry to hear about your misfortune. We're just having hamburgers tonight. Is that all right?"

            "Hamburgers sound great," I said. "Can I help out in there?"

            "If you can just baby-sit the boys here that'd be all the help I could ask for."

            "Sure thing." I said.

            As it turned out the boys were baby-sitting me. Illinois and Michigan took the game down to the final minute. I got off the couch and moved up to the front of the TV. As it got down to the final seconds the boys (who were now loyal Illinois fans) and I started screaming at the set. Just at the buzzer Michigan's Glen Rice tipped in a loose rebound and once again, the Illini were toast.

            "God Dammit!" I screamed. Then I looked at the room and the boys were all silent with Lynette standing in the doorway to the kitchen. I could tell that kind of language wasn't allowed in this house. "I'm very sorry, I just lost my cool - it's just such a hard way to go down - to Michigan and all."

            Jimmy's face was smiling ear to ear as I tried to explain myself. He was about to crack up when Lynette said, "Now those things happen. Let's just get to the table."

            Jimmy knew if it had come out of his mouth he wouldn't be waltzing over to the table for hamburgers.

            We sat down to dinner and Paul had us all hold hands for grace. The grace was a long solemn speech taking in the events of the day and the lessons we had all learned about hospitality and emotion.

            "God has lessons for us every day if we are wise enough to accept things with an open mind and a contrite heart. So bless this food, Jesus, and shed your divine light towards us so that we may accept your coming. Amen."

            "Amen."

            After Paul's sermon my verbal splurge didn't just seem unwelcome, it was downright blasphemous. I ate my hamburger on best behavior and was quick to pick up the plates and do the dishes. Naturally Lynette wanted to intervene, but I insisted.

            "So are you on vacation, Tom?" she asked.

            "Kind of," I said, "I'm really just between jobs. I've got a job in France that starts in two weeks."

            "France," she said. "That's sounds exciting." She didn't pry more and I figured she didn't need to know she was housing a circus clown.

            "Now why are you on your way to Durango?" she asked.

            "I've got a friend living there and I haven't seen her in a long time."

            "An old friend who's a girl or an old girlfriend?" she asked.

            "Yeah, she's an old girlfriend," I said, "but it's been a couple of years. Nothing serious."

            "Sounds romantic to me," she said, "You're coming all the way from Illinois on the train just to see her - she must be someone special."

            "Oh, she's special," I said, "but I'm not going there with any expectations. I just want to see her."

            "Did you call her from the train station?" she asked. "I bet she's worried sick."

            "No, I…"

            "Well what's her number?" she said, "You men are always leaving us women in the dark. I bet she's sitting at home looking out the front window for you right now."

            I gave Chloe a call and explained the situation. She said she thought I might not make it down and wasn't really expecting me. She'd be waiting tables by the time I got in so I should just go to the bar where she worked instead of her house. By the time I'd hung up the phone Lynette had fixed me a bed on the couch.

            "You're staying with us tonight," she said. "No reason for you to find a motel. They're all disgusting around here."

            "Wow," I said, "That's incredibly hospitable of you. I really hope I'm not putting you out."

            "Not at all," Paul said. "Now suppose you play us some guitar."

            "Yeah," the boys screamed. "Do you know some country tunes?"

            I had to think about that one for a while, but I came up with a couple Grateful Dead cowboy standards that did the trick. The only problem with the Dead's cowboy tunes is that they're not about God-fearing Christian people, and I was definitely in the midst of God-fearing Christian people. The boys got a kick out of me singing about whisky drinking, card-playing gun-toting cowboys but I could tell Paul and Lynette weren't exactly comfortable with my set list. I finished off with "Ripple" and they seemed to be much happier.

            "We'll be up early," Paul said. "We go to church on Sundays. You're welcome to join us."

            "Sure thing," I said, "Good night." I hadn't been to church in years, but my bus didn't leave until 2:00 and I didn't want to put them in the position of trusting me in their house with them gone. Church it was.

            I woke up with the sun and showered the train ride off my body. Paul's family already had breakfast on the table by the time I got dressed. I apologized for not having any church clothes with me but Lynette assured me that this wasn't a very dressy church group.

            We drove to the church and everyone greeted Paul and Lynette like celebrities. This wasn't any simple Paul. I had been staying at the home of Pastor Paul of the Grand Junction chapter of the Western States Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul introduced me to his gathering as a young man traveling the country in search of his future. I took that as a sure sign that he thought I needed saving.

            Before services started we split into groups for Sunday school. I went with Paul's group which was talking about St. Paul's travels into Greece and what is now Yugoslavia. When Paul pulled out the map, I told our small class that I had traveled much the same route as the Apostle Paul had. I started to describe the mountains and the coastline, but when I got to the part about sleeping in the car in a communist country I could tell that was a little too much. I let Paul finish.

            Paul concluded his lecture, then we gathered with all the other Sunday school classes for services. Paul led the congregation in song and scriptures while they still wondered who the hippie was sitting with his family. Paul finished the service, but I still had three hours before my bus left. I told them that they could just drop me off at the bus station, but they wouldn't have anything to do with that. Lynette had made some sandwiches for lunch, and Paul insisted I see the Grand Junction National Monument before I left.

            We packed a cooler into the pickup and they drove me deep into the plateaus and canyons of the Grand Junction National Monument. I'd never been in high desert before, and I imagined Road Runner and Coyote zooming out in front of us at any moment. Paul asked me what I was doing in Europe so I pulled out some diving show pictures and described the show.

            "Well I'll be damned," he said. Lynette slapped his hand on the wheel and told him to be polite. We pulled over to picnic high above the Colorado desert, and Paul insisted he take my picture in front of an old Indian monument. Soon enough it was time to catch my bus. We dropped back into Grand Junction and stopped off at the house so Lynette could pack me a dinner for the ride.

            "God be with you on your travels, Tom," Paul said.

            "Thanks," I said, "You've been incredible hosts - I don't know how I can repay you?"

            "One day you'll be rich and the lord will send you a hitchhiker," Paul said. "Take him in."

            I shook their hands and stepped up to the bus. They waited at the curb until the bus pulled out. I waved out the window as if I was saying goodbye to old friends. Ever since dropping Catholicism I've had a real tough time with proselytizing Christians, but the entire time I was with this pastor he never tried to push anything on me at all. He simply laid out his life for me to examine. I could take from it what I wanted. I assumed I was going to get a speech somewhere along the line but he never went for it. Paul was everything that was right about religion. A preacher who didn't preach. The Prestons were a rare spiritual gift but only the first of the long week to come.

            The bus ride to Durango from Grand Junction is probably the best bus ride in North America. I felt like I was in a John Wayne movie as I passed through Montrose and Ouray, summited the 11,000 ft. Red Mountain Pass, then slid into the gold-mining town of Silverton before the sun went down just outside of Durango. With the sun gone, the temperature dropped to near freezing so I hustled my way to Chloe's bar before my fingers got too cold to hold my guitar case.

            Chloe said she'd be working, but it was a casual bar and she'd have plenty of time to visit. I walked in the door and saw her standing at the bar. She dropped her tickets on a tray and ran over to give me a great big hug and a kiss.

            "Listen," she said, "It's getting really busy. We're having an open mic night and it gets pretty packed. Throw your stuff over there and I'll put you on the list. You're going third."

            She pointed over to a pile of instruments lined up on a small stage. Without even asking me she ran up to the chalkboard on the stage and wrote my name down. The only reason I brought my guitar was to play at a campfire. I wasn't really sure I wanted to go on stage with a bunch of kick-ass mountain guitar pickers.

            "How good are they?" I asked.

            "Oh, they all suck," she said. "You'll do just fine."

            Dan and I had been playing quite a bit in our cramped apartment, and I actually had 15 or 20 tunes worked up. The last time she'd heard me play was three summers ago in the Ozarks. I'd done a lot of busking in Holland and Germany since then so I figured I was ready. I'd never sung into a microphone before though. I was more nervous than I was jumping off an 80-foot ladder into the Persian Gulf

            Chloe ran around taking orders from the bar as it began to fill up. I was tuning my guitar when she slid a beer onto the table next to me. A couple of minutes later she dropped a burger and fries on the table and said, "Eat this but don't burp when you sing."

            Almost every guitar case on stage had a Dead sticker on it, so I knew I was in the right crowd. I was just hoping nobody would steal my set before I got up. The first guy got up and proved to be an obnoxious crooner who tried to pull off a Roy Rodgers set. He was a faux-cowboy, and it showed with every note he sang. The second act was a duet, a guitar player and a woman singer. Had they rehearsed they would have been really nice, but she kept choking on the lyrics and was even more nervous than me. Chloe was right - they did suck. I wasn't going to be much better but at least I wasn't out of my league. 

            I borrowed an acoustic pick up from the first guitar player and did a sound check into the mic. "Check, Check 1, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh, Check." I didn't know what I was doing with a mic, so I just did whatever I'd seen other people do. I strummed the guitar a couple of times and the guy at the soundboard gave me a thumbs up. "How's everyone doing tonight?" I said. "I'm Tom. I'm a friend of Chloe's from Wisconsin." I pointed to her and she waved with a pitcher of beer in her hand. She looked a whole lot better with a pitcher of beer in her hand than the rotund servers I'd seen at Oktoberfest in Munich. "I just got in from Milwaukee and she put me up to this so if it sucks, it's her fault."

            "Blame it on me!" she yelled across the bar.

            Dan and I had worked out a great version of "Jack Straw," and I had it down cold. It didn't sound nearly as good without his leads, but I played right through it and didn't crack once on the lyrics. Chloe walked by the stage and told me to sing louder. The music teacher nun I had in third grade told me my voice was so bad that it might be better if I pick up a horn instead of singing. Pushing that voice over a house system almost paralyzed me with fear, but I had no choice. Next up was "Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire on the Mountain." I turned up the guitar and tried to project myself through the mic. A tiny stage monitor below me let me hear myself sing. As long as I kept my voice within the volume of the guitar I was okay; if I tried to belt it out it was gonna really suck.

            Three songs down the tube and time for my finale. I could have stayed conservative, but it had been going well enough so far. I gritted my teeth and went for the long version of "Terrapin Station." It's a long complicated tune with a pile of lyrics and three, big, completely different sections. I figured if I made it through the guitar parts correctly at least they could forgive my singing. I rarely played it through at home without choking on one part or another, but the crowd scared me straight and I made it through without missing a note.

            I looked up at the bar clock towards the end and saw that I'd been up there for a half an hour. That was plenty. I closed the tune on a soft note then leaned into the mic and in my best Elvis voice said, "Thank you very much." I didn't get any standing ovation, but the full crowd applauded and a couple of Chloe's friends looked over at her and winked their approval. I got off that seat as fast as I could.

            Chloe came over to my table, gave me a beer and big hug and said I was the best act so far. "How'd the singing sound?" I asked.

            "Oh that whispering you did under the guitar parts?" she said. "It was fine."

            I turned red and slammed my beer. I was happy to have gone when I did. The next two acts were polished performers singing original tunes. They were the reason for the full house. At least I didn't chicken out.

            Chloe poured me a couple more beers and waited for the dining crowd to finish eating. Her boss let her take off early, so we piled my gear into her pickup and headed to a one-room cabin she was sharing with a ski instructor from Purgatory. We cranked up the space heaters, smoked out and got to know each other again. If I was going to make any moves on Chloe this wasn't the place. I'd been up and traveling since 6:00 and I was ready to crash anyway.

            In the morning the ski instructor took off, and we had the cabin to ourselves. I climbed in bed with Chloe and we started fooling around, but she put a hold on it before it went too far. "Can we just go slow," she said. "I'm just a little screwed up right now and now that you're here I just need to take things slowly."

            It wasn't the best news I'd heard, but who was I to push anything. She'd just ended a long-term relationship and needed to be independent for a while. We chilled out and made breakfast then she took me on a tour of Durango. I always picture a city before I get there, and I'm generally incredibly wrong. Durango, however, was exactly how I'd imagined it - lush forests and high mountains with wide western streets. The John Wayne movie I started on the bus from Grand Junction was still working for me.

            Chloe had to go to work, so she left me with a key and a mountain bike. I'd never been on a mountain bike before and was kind of pissed off at how slow it went. I went for a big climb high outside the city and wondered why in the world anyone would want such a slow toddling bike. I dropped from a mountain pass back into town but couldn't get any speed at all. Mountain biking was new in 1989, and I didn't get the idea that you were supposed to ride on trails. I was riding in one of the top mountain biking areas in the world but taking the thing out on highways as if it were a road bike. I'd love to have that ride back right now.

            When she came back that night it was clear that she wasn't in the mood to do anything but talk. I was hoping to kick-start something and invite her to come stay in France for a while, but it just wasn't working out. And I had other things to concentrate on too. I had to find out what happened to Derf.

            The next morning I dropped her off at work and took off in her pick-up past Mesa Verde National Park to Telluride. I turned north from Cortez and drove along the Delores River with 14,000 ft. peaks on either side of me. Although the train ride through Northern Colorado was pretty, it wasn't anywhere as dramatic as the mountain routes I was used to in Isère. But as Colorado State Highway 145 climbed its way up the sides of the San Juans the roads got narrower, the switchbacks tighter and cliffs sharper. Before long the valley dropped far below me, the trees gave way to sheer rises, and I was feeling the drama of the Alps

            A few miles past the 10,000 ft. Lizard Head Pass I took a right and turned towards Telluride village. I came across a young athletic woman walking on the side of the road, and thinking what Paul Preston told me, pulled over to offer her a ride. She wasn't hitchhiking, but the road dead-ended into Telluride. There was nowhere else she could be going. 

            "Need a ride into town?" I said.

            "Sure," she said. She took a second to size me up then figured I looked safe enough. I opened the door and she climbed in.

            "Hi,' she said, "I'm Janice."

            "I'm Tom," I said. "This place is incredible. I've never been here before."

            "Yup," she said, "Telluride's the best. Ski season's over, and I gotta leave tomorrow. I'm really gonna miss it."

            "Hey, you don't know where I could find Cassidy's Bar?" I asked. "I've got a friend who used to work there, and I want to see if anybody knows him."

            "Cassidy's?" she said. "That is so freaking weird. That's where I'm going. I work there. I've got to pick up my last paycheck before I head out."

            "No shit," I said. "How long have worked there?"

            "All season long," she said. "And it's been a long season."

            "So you knew Paul?"

            "Paul who?" she slowly said.

            "Paul Wolfert - from Tulane - he died in an avalanche last month."

            "Who are you?" she said.

            "I'm a friend of Paul's from Wisconsin."

            "I was Paul's roommate." She said.

            We stared at each other with dropped jaws. I almost ran the truck off the road. 

            "You were Paul's roommate?"

            "Yeah," she said, "I was going out with his friend - he was going out with my friend. We all worked at Cassidy's. The four of us shared a condo."

            "We never found out what happened!" I said. "His parents never called us. Nobody in Wisconsin ever knew the story. What the fuck happened?"

            "Holy shit," she said. "This is really weird Can we pull over?" I pulled the pickup over just before entering the city. "You're really Paul's friend right - you're not a cop or anything."

            "A cop? Do I look like a cop?" and then in my best Milwaukee accent, "Do I talk like a cop?"

            "No, but Paul's friend is on trial for manslaughter, and we don't want any more shit to come from this. Here's what happened. It was the day after Valentines Day and we were all super hung over."

            "And I'm sure Derf went for a little wake and bake," I said.

            "Wake and bake?" she said. "I did, but he didn't. Paul never smoked. And what's this 'Derf' name."

            "'Derf' is Paul," I said. "I don't think I ever called him Paul in his life - and what's this you're telling me? Derf wasn't getting high?"

            "Nope," she said, "He drank with us, but he never got high - not while I was with him, and I was with him all the time."

            Apparently Derf's academic turn around came at the heels of quitting dope. He was a perpetual stoner, and apparently he'd had enough. The last time I saw him was at the Hampton, Virginia Dead shows two years earlier. He was definitely smoking then. Apparently he'd changed quite a bit.

            "So anyway," she continued, "We were all hung over, but the weather was starting to warm up, and he knew the big out-of-bounds bowls were going to get dangerous in a couple of weeks. Paul, a Kiwi he used to ski with, and our friend Billy had made a pact to ski Temptation Ridge before the season was out. The three of them took that lift over there (she pointed to a lift at the far end of the cavernous Telluride horseshoe valley) and hiked up to temptation ridge - over there. You can't see it from here. It's on the backside of the mountain."

            "So they got to the top of the ridge, ate lunch then got ready to go. The three of them jumped off at once, and it knocked a big chunk of snow off the cornice. Billy skied to the side of the trail, but Paul and the Kiwi were stuck in the path of the avalanche. They tried to get out, but it caught up to them. They tumbled and screamed all the way to the bottom. Billy went for help, and the ski patrol found them frozen stiff. I was still in the condo when the news came on the radio. I couldn't believe what I was hearing."

            Tears were welling up in her eyes then we both started to cry. I reached over and gave her a hug. "Sorry, I had to make you do that," I said. "In Wisconsin we didn't know anything. He was a really good friend, and we didn't have any closure. I think we'll all be much better now. Thanks, from all of us."

            "God, that sucked," she sniveled. "I haven't thought about it for a couple of days. I thought I was over it. I've never lost a friend. You know what I mean - it's not like you can pick up a rule book and deal with it."

            "I think that's the only rule," I said. "You have to deal with it. You can't just pretend it didn't happen. It won't go away until you give it some peace. Now we've got some peace."

            "You want to go for a hike?" she asked. "I've got some stuff to do in town, but I was going to go up the mountain one last time before I took off."

            "Sure," I said.

            I hadn't even entered the city of Telluride and already had gotten what I'd come for. I drove Janice to Cassidy's, and she gave me a breakdown on what the place was like in high season.

            "Everyone's gone now," she said, "but when this place is hopping, it's a mob scene. Everyone here is rich and they'll throw money around like it's confetti - Sting's house is right next door."

            "So this was Derf's hangout," I said.

            "And this is where they had the memorial service too," she said. "It was really upbeat. His parents and his brother flew in, and they had what I guess you'd call a funeral right here at the base of the mountain. We were all crying, but then at the end it was really sweet and hopeful. Paul's gone but we're not going to forget him."

            Janice picked up her check then asked me if we could do one more errand before hitting the mountain. She had to pick up the mail for a friend who was house-sitting for some locals during the off-season. The friend was out for the weekend, and she said she'd watch the place until she got back. We went to the house, but the door was wide open. She was a little freaked until she saw a young guy installing a ceiling fan in the living room.

            "Hi," she said, "I'm Janice. I'm supposed to pick up the mail for Carolyn."

            "Go ahead," he said, "I work for the owners, I want to get this thing up today. I'm outta here tomorrow - Hey, you work at Cassidy's don't you?"

            "Yeah," she said, "I thought I recognized you. This is my friend, Tom. He was a good friend of the guy who died in the Valentine's Day Avalanche."

            "The Kiwi or the guy from Wisconsin?" he asked.

            "I knew Paul Wolfert from Wisconsin," I said.

            "That's weird, man," he said. "I work ski patrol. I pulled him out."

            "What?"

            "Yeah," he said, "I was working ski patrol that day. My dog and I went up in the helicopter. The dog found him and I dug him out. It wasn't pretty. I don't need to…"

            "No," I said, "go ahead. What did he look like?"

            "He was a frozen bag of broken bones," he said. "Completely pulverized. The hill didn't spare one bone in his body. I don't think he suffered though. Avalanches do quick work. He probably rode it for a while then got hit in the head by a rock."   

            I'd been in Telluride for less than an hour and I'd only met two people.  One was Derf's best friend and the other was the person who pulled his body out. If I'd shown up a day later I never would have met either of them. Derf had to be hovering above the ceiling fan. I could just hear him say, "Psyche!" - then giggle with his stoned red eyes barely open.

            Janice and I said goodbye to the ski-patrol worker and walked out of town high above the valley. She was as freaked out as I was. We smoked out in a deep canyon where the four of them used to bring beers and build huge bonfires. The fire scar and log benches were still there. From on top of the canyon we could see Temptation Ridge and the gigantic bowl that took Derf's life. I'd solved my case before I'd barely even opened it. In two short hours I'd seen it all. It was time to head out; I had a story to report back at the Casa. Paul died pushing the envelope - just like the rest of us always tried to do.

            Janice and I hiked back to town, and I drove her to the condo unit that she'd shared with Paul.

            "I won't be renting this unit next season," she said. "I don't even know if I can come back here. Maybe I should just to exorcise the demons."

            "It's not Telluride's fault," I said. "I can't think of a more beautiful place to die either."

            "We'll see," she said. "It's a long summer. Life changes."

            I gave her one more hug, and we exchanged meaningless addresses. I waved to her as I pulled out of the driveway and headed back to Durango. As the sun started to drop off in the desert it threw a radiant glow onto the peaks turning them into crimson thrones for the gods. I reached over into Chloe's tape box and fumbled for a tape. Chloe always listens to great music so I plucked out a loose unmarked tape and tossed it in the deck. Derf and I were the only ones there to verify this fact but I swear to you these are the first words that came out of that tape deck:

 

Now he's gone...

Now he's gone... Lord he's gone

He's gone.

 

Like a steam locomotive rolling down the track,

He's gone, he's gone and nothing's gonna bring him back.

He's gone.

 

Nine mile skid on a ten mile ride.

Hot as a pistol but cool inside.

Cat on a tin roof, dogs in a pile

Nuthin Left To Do But Smile Smile Smile.

 

Now he's gone...

Now he's gone... Lord he's gone

He's gone.

 

Like a steam locomotive rolling down the track,

He's gone, he's gone and nothing's gonna bring him back.

He's gone.

 

Goin where the wind don't blow so strange.

Maybe off in some high cold mountain chain.

Lost one round but the prize wasn't anything

A knife in the back, and more of the same.

 

He's gone...

 

(He's Gone 1972 Hunter-Garcia)

 

  

Friday, May 25, 2018

Diary of a Mad Bootlegger

With all apologies to Matt Scotty and Ken Magee, who invited me into the 10 albums meme, I have broken the rules and posted albums with quite a bit of editorial comment. I just couldn't help myself. These records meant the world to me. They are the main reason I've been a musician for 35 years and spent thousands and thousands of hours trying in vain to match their brilliance. 

But there's one more rule I have to break and that is by listing my No. 10 Album -  the SONY Walkman Pro 6 bootlegging deck. After just my first few Grateful Dead shows, I found my way into the tapers pit and discovered the wonders of recording live concerts. All you had to do to join the club was buy one of these tiny recorders and any of the guys with the huge rigs and 17" mics would let you plug right into their box - provided you hung around to flip the tape when needed. You didn't necessarily have to be straight to do this, but if you were too zodded out, or if you uttered a single sound, you would be dismissed from the pit. It wasn't as fun as running wildly around the venue and screaming all the lyrics, but if you did your homework, you left the show with a nearly pristine recording that would be the envy of all your friends once you landed back at your home base.



Our group of Dead Heads had aquired one of these high-quality recording units and everytime we went out on tour, it was assumed you would take one night to keep your shit together and watch the deck. It also proved to be home base for everyone we were traveling with as it was the only consistent location at each venue - directly behind the sound board.

Quite quickly, the Dead shows became routine to bootleg and not much of a challenge. But I put my bootlegging feet to the flames in 1985 when I decided to record the entire 16 hours of the first Farm Aid Concert, which took place just a few blocks from the Chateau Relaxeau, my college home in Champaign, Illinois. I borrowed the deck and a mic, stuffed it into my trousers and limped into Memorial Stadium using a crutch which would become my mic stand for the day. I dished off 12 blank 90-minute Maxell  UDXLII tapes to all my friends who easily walked them in one at a time. (Actually the security guards had no chance against us. The Diving Illini used Memorial Stadium as our training center. We knew every inch of that place, and the night before we stashed a cooler with beers and dry ice to make sure we were well hydrated throughout the day.)  By 8 a.m., I was rolling as When Willie Nelson and Neil Young took to the stage and opened up the marathon festival with "There Are No More Real Cowboys in This Land." We all took turns holding the crutch in the air and flipping the tapes. The end result was an incredible audio document of 50 of the greatest rock and country acts in history.*

I was desperately poor in college and had no resources to purchase a Pro-6.  But just three years after my first stint in the tapers pit, I found myself in the bowels of the Kowloon electronics market, with a fresh wad of cash from my first job and a garden full of brand-new 1/2 priced, tax-free electronics. I threw down the equivelant of $150 and grabbed a taxi back to my flat holding the first big purchase of my new adult life - a bootlegging deck.

I was also talked into buying a SONY MC3 condenser mic which was the perfect mic for the Pro 6. I spent the next day walking around Hong Kong recording sounds and asking people to talk into the mic. When I got back to my room, I listened to the tape and discovered the mic to be crystal clear. The tape, which I eventually foolishly recorded over, was as clean as any tape I'd ever pulled out of the tapers pit. It was magic and I was hooked.

For the next five years I traveled around the world recording every band I saw.  I bought the deck to record Dead shows, but as it turns out, my job kept me out of the States for years at a time and I didn't get to see many Dead shows. In their stead was a golden four-year stand at the Jazz a Vienne festival, 30-minutes south of Lyon, which was tantamount to receivng a degree in contemporary jazz. The Pro-6 and EMC-3 recorded all the greatest active jazz players on the globe. Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Stanley Jordan, John McLaughlin, Al Dimeola, Bireli Lagrene, McCoy Tyner, Bob Berg, Herbie Hitchcock, Stan Getz, Lee Ritenour, Carlos Santana with Wayne Shorter (1:45 - no vocals), Joe Zawinul, Ron Carter, Lena Horne, Betty Carter... and finally on my very last night in 1991, Miles Davis. (10 weeks and 5 shows after I recorded him, he was gone.)

And aside from Jazz a Vienne, some memorable recordings were Pink Floyd and Joe Jackson (both in Grenoble), Paco Di Lucia (Lyon - he signed my bootleg tape!),  Leo Sayer (Surprisingly amazing - Abu Dhabi), Leo Kotke (Amsterdam), Hot Tuna (Milwaukee), Hunter S. Thompson (Smoked out with him - Marquette University) and of course 20+ Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia Band shows.

And then finally, the day I was leaving France after the best four years of my life, one of my closest friends STOLE my bootlegging kit. While I was at work finalizing the end of my contract, he doubled back to my house and stole the black leather satchell that I bought at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul that held the Pro-6, the ECM-3, all the patch cords and batteries and the last 2 recordings I'd made - Lena Horne and Miles Davis.

I've since encountered the theif on many occassions and he explained to me that he had a drug problem (he did) and he was young...  I forgave him. But when I asked him what he did with it he said, "I threw the tapes out and sold the Walkman..." I unforgave him. For a few years.   Now we're friends again.  Kinda.

I ended up buying another Pro-6 a year later, and made some great recordings (Pearl Jam w/Neal, Phish [x3], 10,000 Maniacs, Allman's, Blues Traveler - My last Dead shows at Portland Meadows), but it wasn't quite the same. And then concerts got too expensive... and I got divorced and I moved 20 times... and now I have no idea where that deck is.

But without doubt the No. 1 Album on my list is my Walkman Pro-6. 

*AlabamaHoyt AxtonThe Beach BoysThe BlastersBon JoviGlen CampbellJohnny CashDavid Allan CoeJohn ConleeCharlie Daniels BandJohn DenverBob DylanJohn FogertyForeignerVince GillVern GosdinArlo GuthrieSammy HagarMerle HaggardDaryl HallEmmylou HarrisDon HenleyWaylon JenningsBilly JoelRandy NewmanGeorge JonesRickie Lee JonesB.B. KingCarole KingKris KristoffersonHuey LewisLoretta LynnRoger McGuinnJohn MellencampRoger MillerJoni MitchellNitty Gritty Dirt BandWillie NelsonRoy OrbisonTom Petty and the HeartbreakersCharley PrideBonnie RaittLou ReedKenny RogersBrian SetzerSissy SpacekTanya TuckerDebra WingerNeil YoungDave MilsapJoe ElyJudy RodmanX


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool #22: Lincoln City Community Center, Lincoln City, OR

I've developed a serious problem with this swimming pool fetish. It's starting to affect everywhere I go. When I was a biker, I had no problem leaving home for a week then picking up my training where I'd left it. Although I did haul my hand cycle with me on some pretty long roadies, if I didn't need it, it was better to leave it at home. If I was traveling for a race or heading out to Eastern Oregon to ride for a few days, I made the effort. But for the most part, I left the hand cycle and the training at home.

But I've got no such excuse with swimming. There are public pools in nearly every city in the country. You just have to find them and call to see if they offer lap-swim as opposed to open-rec swim - which is just a splashy free-for-all.

Last fall I got an email from the Portland Sports Authority announcing a big-wave surf competition in Lincoln City, a small Pacific Coast town of 8000, a little over an hour from Corvallis. Surfing is one of my all time favorite sports and anytime I see it on TV, I just stare at it like eye candy. Had I grown up in a coastal town, I never would have become a diver. I would have been on the board for hours on end, dropping out of school and spending my adult life happily homeless on a beach in Costa Rica or Fiji.

Although I've seen plenty of surfers in California, Oregon, Australia and Hawaii, I've never seen an actual surfing contest. And this one was a legendary "Big Wave" contest where sponsors fly participants in from all over the world on  the drop of a hat due to idyllic competitions.The Oregon Coast was churning up some massive surf and I was going to drive out and check out the best in the world take on the best conditions in the world!

Just one problem... I had some nasty stomach pain the day before and I skipped my workout in the pool. Skipping two days in the middle of the week would wreck my schedule and I just couldn't justify it. So it was off to the Interwebs to see if Lincoln City had a pool.

In today's America, even the smallest towns not only have swimming pools, but ACCESSIBLE pools. I found the Lincoln City Community Pool and they a lap swim every night from 6-7 p.m. I hopped into my van and took off for the coast.

When I used to pack my hand cycle it was a two-person job requiring all sorts of lifting and bungies. But all I had to do for this trip was throw in a change of clothes. My suit was already drying on a line I've set up in the back of my van. I busted down to the coast, grabbed a cod sandwich and fries, then found the LCCC just off of Hwy 101. The changing rooms were 100% accessible and the life guard on duty had lots of experience with the handicap lift. Lincoln City is a retirement town so they've got plenty of geriatric swim classes that use the lift daily.

The LCCC swim center has a super-clean six-lane 25-meter pool with water slides and both a 1m and 3m board. I plopped into one of three open lanes and pulled my workout while a water aerobics class took up the rest of the pool. I splotched through my workout using the lane lines to count laps. Six lanes; 60 laps. Each time I knocked off ten laps, I moved my eyes to the next lane line and counted off ten more. It's little games  like this that allow you to space out and avoid the monotony of lap swimming.

When I was done, the guard brought the lift over and scooped me out of the pool without hesitation. It was just that easy. I had to marvel at how far disability awareness has come over the past 50 years. In 1970, they may have not even let me into the pool because of my "disease."

I went out to a few pubs in search of anyone connected with the Big Wave surf contest, but I couldn't find anyone who even knew it was taking place. In the morning, I went back online and found a location for the contest in an obscure coastal neighborhood a mile south of the city. There in a tiny 10-car parking lot along the beach were two pop-up tents, one announcing the contest and another a sponsor tent pushing the kind of sugary sports drinks I abhor.

I parked the van and peered out into the Ocean but couldn't see a thing except the waves, which unfortunately had died down a bit from the day before. A few other spectators drove by asking me if I knew what was going on, but I just shrugged my shoulders. The event tent was empty and the sponsor tent was manned by a woman who knew absolutely nothing about the event.

After 20 minutes of frustratingly staring into the ocean, a forest ranger drove by and told me all the spectators were up on a bluff about a quarter mile away. I rolled up the hill to discover 40 or 50 people looking over a hedge that was too tall for me to see anything. I asked people if they could see the action and their answer was a resounding "meh?"  The surfers had gone so far out into the ocean that even with binoculars, they still looked like ants in syrup. I moved further up the bluff where I could finally see some surfers, but they weren't doing much surfing. In an hour I'd only seen four runs - and from that distance I couldn't even tell if they were people or sea lions.

I was pissed off that I'd driven all the way out  to the coast with great anticipation of seeing something I'd wanted to see my whole life. So I had to make a quick attitude correction. I was on the Oregon Coast with huge waves on a beautiful sunny day.  All was forgiven.

And then I went back to the pool and caught the noon lap swim. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool #21: ACAC Fitness Center, Charlottesville, VA

The last post was a bit of a tear-jerker and although this post also stems from a cancer incident, it's a story of a community coming together to basically tell cancer to fuck off - in much the same spirit that the subject of the post, Victor Benshoff,  often told deserving idiots to fuck off.

Over the past decade I've had the great luck and privilege to get to know the town of Charlottesville, Virginia. My brother Dan and his family were whisked there in the aughts of the 21st Century to help make sense of the University of Virginia's Tibetan Digital Library Project. That topic could easily be the genesis for a more interesting read, but I'll let Dan do that at his leisure.

This is about the fickle, famous and fabulous music scene in Charlottesville. Dan is as fine a rock and roll bass player as you're going to find so it wasn't long before he ventured into this scene landing a gig in a surf unit with one of the best band names ever: Surfzilla. Surfzilla was put together by Will Rourk, an IT guru with the UVA Tibetan project and a staunch Dick Dale disciple. He also had a hankerin' for Irish music and played a weekly Irish jam session at an Italian bar just off the Charlottesville mall.

In 2010, I was hanging out in Charlottesville waiting for marching orders to head to Dharamsala, India to work at a Tibetan radio station, when I was invited to join in Will's newest project, Tied to the Mast - a combination of surf AND Irish music. It was my first introduction to the Charlottesville music scene and its rotating cast of loons. Tied to the Mast never played a gig, but the idea of such a concoction, and the fact that there were some damn fine musicians involved in it, gave me a taste of the eclectic nature of the beast.

A few years later, I was summoned to Charlottesville as His Holiness, the Dalai Lama would be speaking to a massive throng at the Charlottesville Mall. Dan and his new band, Jam Thicket, were hosting a concert on the eve of the talk. Headlining the event was Jhola Techung and Rinzing Wangyal, two of the finest practitioners of Tibetan folk music in the world.

The rehearsal was staged at the home of Victor and Susan Benshoff, not far from my brother Dan's house out in Charlottesville's horse country. Victor was the keyboard player for Jam Thicket. Along with Dan on bass, guitarist Dave Hersman and drummer Warren Jobe,  they formed a kick-ass, super-tight rock and roll unit that easily could have broken out of Charlottesville if they'd struck it up in their 20s as opposed to their 40s.

Victor had worked sound for big acts all around the Charlottesville and Richmond area and had the ear of a seasoned studio producer. Whenever I was allowed to sit in with Jam Thicket, I made sure not to wail around on the guitar like a jack ass. Victor had no patience for unwarranted noise and it made their unit sound like they were on a record even when they were just dicking around in his basement.

Mixing the Tibetan sound with the rock music didn't work all that well, so we decided to split into two acts (actually three as my friend Michael Bathke and his amazing daughter Mia opened the show) and pulled off the show actually sounding quite good.

The next day there were 4000 spectators at the Charlottesville Pavilion, where Techung and Rinzing played before the Dalai Lama spoke. Oddly enough, this was the spot of my favorite Victor Benshoff moment. Victor came up to me before the talk and told me he'd worked with the sound company and they didn't know what the hell they were doing. As I settled into my seat on the grass towards the back, I could see Victor about 50 yards away with his arms folded looking furious because, as he had predicted, the sound for Techung and Rinzing was awful - nearly inaudible.

After their performance, the Dalai Lama began his talk and Victor was incensed. Victor was far from a southern red neck, but he was by all means, a salty southerner who did not bother to hold back his opinions. I caught his attention and Victor, reacting to the horrendous sound, looked at me from under his derby and angrily flipped off the giant speakers in front of him.

I knew exactly what he meant, but to the couple hundred people surrounding him, they saw a redneck flipping off the Dalai Lama. I motioned for him to put his finger down; he immediately removed the offensive gesture, and the two of us shared the kind of uncontrollable laughter that gets one in trouble in the middle of church sermons. And that's how I remember Victor

In 2015 Victor Benshoff succumbed to cancer. Even though I'd only played with him a handful of times and we only shared a few conversations, I felt a tight kinship with him. There's something that happens when you fall into a group of tight, competent musicians. You don't have to say much to each other. If you're grooving, you've spent the time with your instrument to get to the same level as the cats your playing with. Sometimes it all disappears when you put the instruments down, but for that time when it's all working, the relationship is thicker than blood.

And that's what brought me out to Charlottesville on a 100 degree September day. It was the second annual Victorfest. The first was Victor's wake a year earlier. The entire band of Charlottesville musician lunatics were out in force - 6 bands and 10 hours worth of some of the best Virginia had to offer. I was able to hop on stage with the members of Jam Thicket at the end of the night where we played a pretty nasty set that Victor would have scoffed at.

But that was the thing - we were all still thinking of what Victor thought. And I'm sure that outfit always will.

Oh yeah - two days later I swam at the Atlantic Coast Athletic Club Fitness Center in Charlottesville. It was the most expensive ($14!) and by far, the shittiest pool on the list. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool #20:Wilson High School Outdoor Pool, Portland, OR

I don't often get to Portland's west side unless I'm on my way out to the Pacific Ocean. And then it's usually a sprint past the neighborhoods on US 26, which is as wide as an interstate. And I'd never been to the campus of Portland's Wilson High School, although oddly enough, I was once their diving coach. When I first moved to Portland I coached all the teams in the Portland Interscholastic League, but we trained all the schools out of the Portland Community College pool five miles away.

But I'd visited this neighborhood just a few days before leaving for Nepal. And as I hopped in the crowded lunchtime lanes to knock out my mile, all I could think of was the reason I had ventured into this section of town. I was there to interview Jay Edwards, my boss from my days as a corporate writer for the sportswear giant, Adidas.

I've told this story many times before, but on the day I broke my back, Jay Edwards leveraged the entire Adidas America health insurance contract against the provider Great West Insurance, who was refusing to pay the claim on a technicality. He told them if they wouldn't pay this claim, he was going to hang up and immediately call Blue Cross and tell them they had a new giant client. Great West caved, and I was saved a lifetime of debt.

I didn't know of this story until years later when a coworker told me what had transpired. Once healthy again, Jay hired me to start writing for the fledgling Adidas Internal Communications department where I stayed for the next three years.

As I was wrestling for space in the center lane of the pool, my mind began drifting back to those days, most of which were spent bent over laughing as we had to cross off story ideas that would be absolutely fantastic, but would get us all fired. I could feel an energy surge into my stroke and I had to keep myself from laughing because it was messing up my breathing.

Eventually I left Adidas to go live in the Himalayas, but when I came back, one of the first people I visited was Jay. Throughout the years he shoveled me some nice contracts that kept my struggling web & print business afloat. We met once every four months where he would buy me lunch and float me a job. So not only did he save me from my accident, he kept me afloat for years afterwards.

Every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving a group of former Adidas workers would get together for lunch which often times resulted in what Jay called "pulling a shift." When you pulled a shift that meant that you stayed at the pub longer than the waitress who served you.

After 34 laps, I pulled up at my halfway point and looked at the tall trees surrounding the school. I caught my breath and thought of about a dozen things I'd like to tell Jay the next time I saw him. I'd been doing that as a force of habit for years. If anything really sardonic or acerbic crossed my path, I'd mentally put in the "Jay" file for the next time I'd see him. I still do it to this day.

But now I have to keep them to myself. The week after I got back from Nepal, I emailed Jay and asked him if we could get together because I'd picked up some goofy statue from Kathmandu for him. His email was short, "Can't make it this week. I've got a doctor's excuse: new experimental drugs . Let's try again in a few weeks."  

Before I'd left for Nepal, Jay told me he'd been diagnosed with liver cancer, but said his doctor's gave him a strong prognosis. I kept my chin up, but when I did some research, I discovered liver cancer is one of the most deadly forms of the disease and he most likely did not have much time left.

I responded to him with the same kind of humor we always used, "Hey - make sure you tip those doctors - you don't want them slipping you the placebo!"

"I'll take that under advisement," he responded.  

And that's the last I heard from Jay. The reason I was swimming in the West Hills was that I had a meeting to plan for his memorial service. I flopped back in the pool and gutted out the last half mile rotating between laughing and crying. I've never actually cried underwater before, but there was no holding back.

When it was time to hop out I was a wreck,, but there's no way any lifeguard could tell.The red in my eyes just looked like chlorine burn.  They brought up my chair and helped me out of the pool (no lift in a Portland Public Pool?). Normally I'll chat up the lifeguards, but not on this day. I just thanked them and dried off. And then kept on thinking of the things I will tell Jay next time I see him.