Old friends – both living and dead | SummitDaily.com

Old friends – both living and dead

Biff America

The long and short of it is Joey drank himself to death. The sorrow of his fate was magnified by the fact that, for the must part, he enjoyed good life. He had all the advantages that a middle-class family could provide -born into a good home, two kind parents and three beautiful older sisters who doted on him. As an adult he made a fine living, and his only health concerns were self- induced. Though he lived and died 2,000 miles away, I probably had 10 calls and e-mails within hours of Joey’s passing. Almost all who wrote or called offered similar observations. “The guy had it pretty good, if he could have only stopped drinking he might have been happy.” Joey’s situation was better than many; he owned his own business and was reasonably successful. He wasn’t overworked and had lots of free time to golf and socialize. Despite that he never seemed particularly fulfilled or happy. I can remember when that was not the case.

We met in kindergarten and were playmates until junior high school. He was on the small side, but was a good athlete and the neighborhood girls thought he was “cute.” He seemed to be happy, silly and mischievous. We played lots of sports together – church league basketball, little league baseball and daily sandlot contests; he was always one of the best athletes. He had an easy coordination and confident grace; perhaps it was because he was growing more slowly than the rest of us. Granted this is a gross speculation, but I can remember one incident that occurred when he was not yet a teenager that, in my opinion, caused Joey to lose much of his self-belief and innocence. We played on the same pee-wee and little league baseball teams for five years (seven through 12). For the first four, Joey, one of the smaller players, was a stand-out. The last year, which should have been his crowning glory, a new coach took over the team and for no reason benched Joey. At the time I was probably one of his better friends, and to me he displayed his devastation. But on the surface he pretended it didn’t bother him. He played when allowed and practiced hard. It might be my imagination but he appeared much changed; 40 years later Joey still resented that coach. Now obviously, when you consider the sorry state of many children today in the world, what happened to my friend was inconsequential.

But to Joey it was not. Did that incident cause Joey to become the man he was when he died – of course not? But that event, many others, a genetic predisposition and some might say a weak will – did. But I do contend that one event left a scar that my friend carried to his death. As I type this, I’m listening to a CD by “Blind Dog Hank,” a blues band from Traverse City, Mich. The lead singer is another friend of mine named Hanzi. In the space of nine months Hanzi lost both parents, his dog (after which his band is named), some of his vision, and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Those nine months could be turned into a sad blues song. His father was dying in the hospital. Hanzi’s mother had recently left to go home to shower when his old man took a turn for the worse. Hanzi called his Mum to tell her she might want to return to the hospital to say her last farewells. On route she had a head on collision and was killed. My friend was watching for her when he saw an ambulance pull up; inside was his mother. Hanzi’s dad died a week later, almost to the hour after he was told of his wife’s death. Hanzi sat by his father’s bedside playing guitar until he passed. Six months later Hanzi was diagnosed with MS. Despite all that, Hanzi still loves to laugh, play music and I’ve never heard him complain.

He still plays weekly gigs in bars and roadhouses, skis, and recently recorded a new CD. Should Hanzi be lauded for his courage and resiliency and Joey condemned for his inability to enjoy his life, and conquer his demons? Not as far as I’m concerned. I’ll leave the judging to those who’ve never felt pain or showed weakness. Our job is not to judge but to love and try to forgive and understand. Both of my friends were born with certain strengths and weakness and dealt different hands of good and bad fortune. I can’t begin to guess how they felt, what they thought and how much they hurt. All I know is Joey is gone, and Hanzi is still making music. One plays the blues the other has found peace.Jeffrey Bergeron under the alias of Biff America can be seen on RSN, heard on KOA radio and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at biffbreck@yahoo.com Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.

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