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Archive for July, 2009

Three days for the rest of your life

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

This one is not funny.

However, there will be funny things in here.

Billy passed away last Tuesday after a 5 year battle with Cancer.  Just typing that make me tear up.

I traveled to Jersey this past week for the services and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I took the red-eye out of SF on Wednesday night and proceeded to spend like $40 between the airport and the plane on booze. It worked and I slept most of the way. I landed and Betsy was nice enough to loan me her pull-out for the next few days.

That evening was the visitation at a funeral home over in North Bergan, not that far from where Billy grew up. I never made it in to the room for the viewing- I know what Billy looks like and that’s the memory I want to keep, him laughing at some stupid thingI said, him makingfun of Troy, him sitting out on the deck in North Carolina with a beer. One thing that was for sure,  the turn out was as much a tribute to Billy as it was to his choice in friends. The room was the largest that the home had, and it was filled to over flowing. There were relatives, friends from scouts , from grade school, from high school, from college and beyond.

For the most part, from my encampment just outside of the door to the room, I talked to a wide circle of folks and we shared funny stories and the things that brought us to him.

Billy’s Dad told a story about how as a camp counselor, Billy forbade his campers from even touching his jeep. This didn’t stop them. They threw the jeep in neutraland wheeled it down to the lake, and then covered it witha tarp*. Billy came back from whatever he was doing, realizes his jeep is gone and seeks out the troublemakers, who deny involvement. Then he mounts a search party that finally uncovers the jeep almost a mile away**. Then he goes back to these “troublemakers” and orders them to push it back and then of course respond with the sit com ultimate “But you told us not to touch it”.

For my part, I told the story about the time that Billy was the most angry with me, which was when he came out for my 30th birthday party which was at a club across town. We of course get really loaded and I end up being poured into a car to go back to the afterparty at my house. Billy is left at the party. Not on purpose, as I mentioned I was drunk. These were the days before cell phones, so he has to find people who he thinks know me and then convince them to give hima  ride back to my house. He gets there and I’m in the kitchen talking to some chick and he comes up and says “Excuse me sweetheart” and then hits me in the forehead. The to me he says “Where do I live?” and I say “Uh, Jersey?” and he says “Yes, Jersey, so how do I know where you live?” and hits me in the forehead again before walking off to the fridge and grabbing a beer. The anger bled away and it became a funny story to add to the lexicon.

The next day was the funeral which was a big Roman Catholic deal at a church around the corner from his dad’s house. I was asked to be a pall bearer and it gave me a vantage point both personally and  philosophically. As I entered the church, everyone was already seated and I got a chance to see the looks for people as I came in. They felt the same thing I was feeling “why in the world am I carrying my friend, who was my age? What god thinks this is just? How is this even happening?”  Then the bag pipes started. Jesus, bagpipes? Was this a scene from a horrible Mark Walberg movie about crooked cops and revenge? No, sadly, it wasn’t.

I spent the whole service trying to concentrate on things that would draw my attention away from the gravity of the matter at hand. Mostly because I knew that once I fell apart there would be no putting me back together. I rewrote every hymn we sang in my head to be a Bob Marley song. I read every single station of the cross (boy, you Roman Catholics are creepy). I tried to hear funny things that the eastern Europeanpriest’s accent caused***. I wondered about the tile image on the back wall of the church****. All the while the priest at the front with the beard intoned things about how we can never know god’s way, and that these things are part of his greater plan. Then after he finished his excuses, the bagpipes start again and the slow procession out of the church. It was the worst. Here was the end of something, the slow walk off and instead of a slow pull back shot from the crane and then the credit roll, our lives were going to continue. Without Billy.

Then we proceeded to the cemetery. On the way I saw what happens when you are an EMT and your sister is a cop. There was definitelysome pull with the police and ambulance world. A Ambulance, lights on full, leads us out… trailing the procession of 40+ cars were at least 4 motorcycle cops and two regular squad cars. I was in the end of the procession so I got to see the results of all that flash, people were out on their lawns, stopped on street corners, looking. “Who was this head of state? This great leader?” I know Billy was, in whatever your preferred idiom of afterlife, laughing. He screwed up traffic in two boroughsand on one major inlet to the GWB, they stopped traffic on the Palisades parkway! Screw you, people trying to get away early for the shore! 

The cemetery had a nice view, which I think is the ultimate irony: great view so we’ll stick you in the ground, we’ll see the valley, you check out all this dirt.

Slow to anger, quick to laugh, he was a guy that everybody liked. Yes, he came off as a big scary Jersey guy until you talked to him…but as soon as you talked to him you found a giant teddy bear who was a fluent in Vonnegut as he was in football. He was the renaissance man of the 20th century. No, he couldn’t play the lute, but who plays a f*&%ing lute these days?

It also made me realize how seldom we as modern day folks tell each other how important the relationships that we have are.

I spent Saturday in the park with Halle, Jillian, Betsy and Scott. We didn’t do anything. We threw a Frisbee, we drank some beers, we shot the breeze. However, it’s little moments like these that make up our lives and make them worthwhile. If there’s a lesson we can learn from this whole thing, it’s that the relationship that we have are the most important things about our lives. So take a moment and tell the people who are important to you that they are.

His family has asked that those who would like to pay tribute to him please give money to the American Cancer Society. If you want info about how to do that, feel free to drop me an email and I’ll send over the details.

Cancer sucks and we should figure out how to stop it from taking more great people from us.

*Camouflage!!??

** Seriously!? How do you decide to push a jeep a mile?

*** “Everyone”, as he lifted his hands up,”raise up your pants!”

**** Images: 1 Jesus, crucified, 2 penitent clergy people (1 male 1 female), 1 monk looking dude and strangely: a guy in business suit (who to my mind was clearly a time traveler from 1973)