In my years on earth, there has been some very good music recorded. (Of course, when one reaches my age, the sheer quantity of music around suggests that there should be at least some good music...*smile*) Recently, the ipod shuffle rolled around to this one old-school Doobie Bros. song. "Down in the Track" from the album "What Were Once Vices..." A very nice shuffle-blues-rock groove.
As always, the song made me remember a good friend from long ago. This past year was the 35th year since my class graduated. I know people have different reactions to HS reunions, but I love ours. HS was a good life season because of some *great* people there. They pulled me through some very dark days, & made me smile along the way.
Doug was one of those people. I wanted to see him at our 30th reunion (the last "official" reunione we had)...and probably would have. But then I got the news.
I initially wrote the piece below back in 2007, not long after our 30th reunion, but sort of let it lay there in the "just for Mike" category. "Down in the Track" brought this flooding back in my mind. Let me just say, that particular song sounded GREAT in Doug's black van blasted through a bunch of speakers he installed with enough power to be heard from quite a distance away. *smile*
To An Absent Friend – Doug.
Doug was a good friend from 7th through 12th grade. We played in band throughout jr. high & high school. Both of us played saxophone. Thus, I was his section leader in high school; we practiced music together. We spent a lot of time together in school, in band-related activities, and in...other activities...
We rode around in his van…when we were 14. 16 is the driver’s license age in FL. In fact, he drove himself in said van to the summer driver’s ed course we took together before 10th grade. He was 15 then, and driver’s ed was a pre-req to getting one’s license. I thought this was pretty brazen. And very cool. Which pretty much describes Doug as I knew him and remember him: brazen and cool.
He taught me to ride a motorcycle…his. (I still dream of rolling on a Harley.) He was tough; I was much less so, and thus needed tough friends. We double-dated on occasion. He had a crush on one of our friends; such that he got into a fist-fight with her older boyfriend. I was impressed, even though the guy & his friends, er, won the fight. In the frequent jr. high boys PE dust-ups that would occur, I was OK despite being one of the smallest guys in the class. I was Doug’s friend, and somehow he was never far away.
He taught me the finer points of rolling yards, and other juvenile delinquent antics. Doug knew the unpopulated dirt roads outside of town; these roads were outstanding for figure eights, J-turns, and other driving stunts one should never do. Boy, did we have some fun back then! Nothing real bad, just “boys will be boys” stupid-guy behavior. Doug was the youngest of 4 sons, with the older two much older & rather successful. Somehow I had the impression that Doug never felt he measured up. I disagreed. Still do.
But not all was “boys will be boys” behavior. Doug was a very hard worker outside of the classroom. He got me a very good job—with him—on a small garbage truck he drove for his Dad’s waste disposal company. I’ve never worked harder, nor made as much quick money. He also encouraged my musicianship by complimenting my saxophone skills regularly. He encouraged my academic pursuits of upper-level classes too. “Mike, I’m not smart enough to take that, but you are. Go for it!” I think he was smart enough.
We lost touch late in HS & more so thereafter. The last time I saw him was some years ago at a class reunion. Doug was still in northwest FL, and had expanded his Dad’s business into a rather lucrative operation. I was proud, and told him so. I’m glad I did. He told me several times, “Mike, I think of you all the time. Really I do. And I miss hanging out with you.” I think he and I had gotten our respective acts together after some bumps in the road. Mine took a bit longer to get together, but that’s another story that's been told here before.
I would have seen him that weekend at the 30-year class reunion. And we would have greatly enjoyed each other’s company. He would have told Lisa again how fortunate she was, and I would’ve told his wife—whom I never met, as they were married after we lost touch—the same thing.
But about 3 weeks before that 30th reunion, Doug died. “Unexpectedly” was the word the paper used. Nobody at the class reunion knew the details, which is for the best. (A gruesome industrial accident was the cause.) I just found out about his passing the Thursday afternoon before the reunion via an email. Tears flowed there in my office for my friend. And for his family. And selfishly, for me.
With Doug died a piece of my past. And a long-lost, under-treasured friendship. And a piece of my heart. When I was with Doug, I was tough. I belonged, even though I was 5-foot-nothing and a bit of a pansy. It didn’t matter, because I was Doug’s friend. We laughed together, rode his motorcycle fast with both of our long hairdos flying in the breeze, drove cars fast and wild. Rarely since then have I felt that free. Come to think of it, he was one of the very few classmates who never called me by any nickname. Always just “Mike.” Somehow just now, that is an important recollection.
I missed him hard all weekend at the reunion. Friday night when we classmates were all standing around swapping stories and waiting to walk into the stadium in the homecoming parade. When the band marched in, I really missed him. Saturday night at the reunion gathering at a local seafood restaurant/bar as more stories & memories were shared. Paradoxically, his absence was palpable to me throughout the reunion.
Yesterday afternoon on the way home when the classic rock station played “La Grange,” I missed him again. Doug first turned me on to Z.Z. Top; we agreed that Tres Hombres was one of the great rock albums. I still think so today. We loved them and rocked to them; their "Just Got Paid"--one of my favorite rock songs--also sounded great blasting out of the van. (Just last week, I found a collection of Z.Z. Top’s hits on sale and bought it. And the memories and tears flowed again.) So on the first few notes of the song "Down in the Track," I was transported back 35 years or so to the simple house near our junior high, watching Doug tinker with the van or with the motorcycle, laughing as his car—or occasionally, mine (sorry, Mom!)—successfully survived a fishtail or some other idiotic car maneuver. As my daughter grooved to “La Grange,” I thought of the many times I had grooved to that song with Doug back in the day.
Right now, as I sit on my deck, I miss Doug hard. Last week, before I knew of Doug’s passing, I wrote “we remember those classmates who are gone. They are somehow a part of us still today.” Little did I know how prophetic those words would be…
Doug, my old friend, through the sunset and the many tears right now, I hate that you left me. With you back then, I wasn’t the short, slow, uncertain kid. Instead, I was your buddy, and you always made me feel big. I will always cherish that when I think of you. Which I will often. I regret…oh, how I regret!... not being a better friend in the years since. I hope you somehow knew that I loved you as a great friend.
Tonight, I feel small again as I think of you not being around. Northwest FL feels slightly less like home. I hope…I really hope…that I’ll see you again on the other side. Thanks for making me feel like someone who mattered during an incredibly awkward phase of the journey on this side.
I miss you, buddy. Rock on. Thanks for everything. Especially for being my friend.
With much love from your old friend,