Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Go in grace my brother, Steve Bennett

On the journey through life you make many friends and acquaintances. Maybe you lived next door to each other growing up. Maybe went to school, or were in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts together. You might have played ball on the same team or even just in the same league. Maybe you both swam at the ‘Y’. You might of met at college or in the service or in a bar at happy hour and eventually you have dinner at each others house, or you celebrate each others birthday with a night out. You might get together with your spouses and play cards, have bar-b-cues in each others back yard and, anyway, you call each other friend. A lot of what makes you friends is, well, you can tolerate each other and people are social beings so you do.

One day, something might happen and you say, “What the hell did I ever see in that person?” And, well, you were never friends in the first place. At most, acquaintances. Co workers. Team mates. Neighbors. But not lay-down-my-life for you friends.

But at points in your life you meet true friends. Brothers. Sisters. If not in blood, then by shared experience, similar values, maybe you both share the same cynical out-look on life. Maybe you have the same ideals or a similar sense of humor…or sense of the absurd. There’s that something that makes you able to look at each other and know what the other one is thinking, feeling, going through and you become brothers as sure as blood.

About a year ago, on Facebook, I was searching for old acquaintances. Men and women I knew from southern California, the Antelope Valley back in the early 80’s.  This was a neat time for me. I was just out of the military after nearly ten years and was learning how to be a citizen again. I met some of the coolest, most memorable folks. Musicians, teachers, bar tenders, co-workers. People that 30 years later I still thought about often.  And I found some of them. Some had changed, some were the same but it was fun catching up and sharing what we remembered of each other thirty years later.

Through these old friends or acquaintances I met other people that were doing the same, or knew the same folks. Facebook was great, I mean ideas were bouncing around, , years relived, memories shared.

And I met a brother or two. I’d love to be able to go back and ‘cut and paste’ that first exchange. I probably started between Dennis Vogt and I. Dennis is one of those friends met through an acquaintance. Turns out he’s nearly as big a smart ass as I. He also plays drums, and I’m a bass player. Another brother.

Dennis and I would throw out pieces of poetry, or items from the news and riff on them. For you non-musicians, riffing is a special kind of music. One musician states an idea in musical terms, and the next guy just kind of ad libs the next part. When you share a symbiosis, or when you are on the same wave-length, it’s a kind of magic. We did this with whatever struck our fancy., like I said. stories, quotes from authors, musicians, absurd current events. Nothing was sacred. Everything was sacred. And in popped Steve Bennett. Didn’t know him from Adam, but he knew someone that knew someone, and before you could say, Oh, geez, we were off. It was like Laurel met Hardy, or Robin Williams met Steven Wright. Maybe Moe met Curly, or Hemmingway met Bob Dylan met Charles Bukowski. Pretty soon we had some of the longest threads, the three of us.

And we found out in short order that we had more in common than a bent sense of humor, a cynical attitude, a modicum of intelligence, and a feel for the justice all men deserve or even shared geography.  All three of us had health problems. Steve was fighting cancer, or as cancer became known, Bubba. We’d take Bubba behind the barn for a little face time. Steve didn’t get chemo, he poisoned Bubba. We beat the shit out of Bubba so often that pretty soon there must have been one hundred. Two hundred people between all our friends lists that beat Bubba to a pulp. We ran Bubba over with cars and trains and Army tanks. Pretty soon, there wasn’t a one of us that thought Bubba stood a chance. Steve stopped thinking about it, except for the checkups. And we riffed, man did we riff. Funny, smart stuff that was the sum of three minds coming together and it was magic.More than one person wanted to capture our threads and publish them as a book. And, you know what. It was grand. Steve was who made it grand. That dry sense of humor. That quick quiet wit. His insights and observations. His jokes.

One day he talked to me about writing. He had some stories to tell. I am reinventing myself as a writer, seeing as how there isn’t much call for blind engineers, and he told me he wanted to try his hand at something…different. He didn’t come right out and say, ‘I want to write.’ He made me tell him, ‘man, you should write.’ And so he did. I’d started a blog as a way to make myself write and as a place to put what I wrote. He asked me questions about how to do the same and I answered him the best I could, and he did it. Steve’s Space and I remember the first story. It was pretty autobiographical. A story about the night his son, Ben was born and him trying to get his wife, Sharran to a hospital in a snow storm in West Germany in 1971 so that Ben could get born. The story is full of bad luck, good luck, bad planning and great planning gone wrong. It was a comedy of errors and you can read it on Steve’s site, just scroll down to the March 5th entry.  It is full of all those things that make a great story, especially the ability to laugh at ones self. It wasn’t great literature, just that American gift of a great honest story.

The only other story he posted, although he talked to me about many, was I Got Into an Argument the Other Night.....which was posted a couple weeks later. I was wowed. Here is a story of a man with morals and values and he tries, as most of us have done at one time or another to impart those values to another, not so enlightened person. This leads to a terrible crime and and even more terrible personal tragedy and in the end, the main character betrays those same values.

When you read this, and I urge everyone to read this story, you may notice some grammatical mistakes. You may notice some loss of flow, some almost dead ends. It isn’t polished. But it is a great, thought provoking story by a man who thought it out well. I am still awed by this story. It was obvious that by learning a little, oh so little ‘story craft’ that Steve was going to be a great story teller. He had the gift.

We talk an awful lot about writing and personal values. About people and we shared jokes. We talked about the music that moved us, the books that did the same.We both loved “the smell of absurdity in the morning.” We shared the personal struggles with our health. We shared family stories. Man, he was proud of his family. Sharran was his personal hero, and he is so damn proud of his son, Ben. Over a few short months we became closer than blood. Last spring I thought I was going to be able to make a trip, and I wanted to sit across a table from Steve Bennett and just celebrate life. Talk in person about all those things that made us smile. That made us cry. He talked with me long hours about dealing with my loss of sight. And he celebrated the memories of the things I couldn’t do anymore, that I used to live for and how to go on living. And when we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore, he’d ‘close the clam shell’ and get some sleep. That clam shell I always took to be him closing the top on his laptop for the night. It was interesting to see other friends think it was something else. Hell, I don’t know what that clam shell really was, but it became a metaphor for getting old and tired. It also became a metaphor for getting up the next day and doing something of value, like tell a story.

A few months ago Bubba came back to town, but Steve just figured he needed his ass kicked again. So did we. He gave us that faith. Bubba might have “been a contender” once, but he was a has been now. It was more Bubba poisonings and Bubba docs and Bubba treatments and he treated it like it was training for a fight. I admired him, the way he stayed positive, the way he faced the challenge. And whenever we talked, which was often until about six weeks ago, he always steered the conversation to my condition, my health. Typical. He wasn’t worried about him, he was worried about me.Then, the unthinkable happened and Bubba won one. Bubba got a lucky punch in. And I lost a brother. Many of us lost a brother. Sharran lost her husband and Ben lost his dad.

I told myself I wasn’t going to cry that day I heard the news. Even wrote a half assed poem expressing that sentiment. I think that as well as I got to know Steve over the past year, he wouldn’t have wanted tears.

But I freakin’ lied. I shed a tear for the loss of my brother. I shed a tear because I’ll never read another one of his stories. I shed a tear because he never got to share more of them. I shed a tear for Sharran, for Ben and for their loss. I shed a tear because I never ‘copied and pasted’ some of those great riffs. But, the musician in me knows that you can’t write down magic. You let it happen and marvel that it did.I shed a tear because the world lost a decent, honest, thinking, caring  man and we can always use a few more of those. I shed a tear for all of us that only knew him through Facebook because he was so much more real than that.

So, I guess the ‘clam shell’ will close one last time with this post. But, I’d really love it if everyone would post a comment with a story about your memory of Steve. maybe a joke he told, an observation he made, a lesson he taught, a memory he left behind. Then the clam shell can close one last time, and we can crack it open every now and then when we need him most.

The Dirty Lowdown

Go in grace, my brother Steve Bennett