Wednesday, March 1st, 2017 – 2:41 am
Almost three ay em and I still can’t shut down the office and send the workers home. In my retirement, there is no more ugly undulating umber turning to angry ample amber, the jockeying of sun and moon and liquid black to blooze. Now I merely move metal full jackets into the red, into the dying blue buds because justice is blind and karma is deaf.
My descent down mount doom has been bolder lately. Per this manic part of my Pilgrim’s Regress, there appear my old pals all along, Apollyon, Racing Thoughts, and Sleepless in Psychotic. They were my faithful visitors and dearest Job’s Companions for much more blasphemous nights than these dirty dozen, in the headless hisses and shifting shadows of the two terrible times I got clean.
The clock burns and churns with a new efficiency when both hands are pointed at the moon. That’s when I make believe best and burn out books and ballads and beautiful, bold battle plans. I present to you a terrible tyrant to fit tracks together to tease my trains to run on time. Please pay him no mind.
I’ve been thriving on a fast of coffee and heavy metal for a couple decades now. In the days of my youth, I hurried headlong into Hendrix and shot sorrow full of Skynyrd. Life saving levels of metal and speed and rhythm and adrenaline. Rot in front of your damned screens while I rob zombies.
I met my friend Scott Lewman thirty years ago in the college age group of my church. He would weep as he talked about his love for the Lord. He knew my heart broke for those battling addiction and for the mentally ill, two areas with which I have long struggled.
On Sundays, Scott and I took his cream colored carpet van downtown for months to ferry homeless people back to the church, to provide them a free sermon and an almost free lunch.
The first day I worked for his floorcovering business, he climbed into the driver’s seat of his van and I handed him a giant mug of coffee to match my own. He set his Bible on the dash and asked if we could start the workday with prayer.
Eager amens were had all around and then he stuck in Megadeth and turned it full fucking blast. And we went on to make more money and madness than imaginable, with bodies invincible and minds unbreakable.
After a few months in Scott’s employ, my fighting with my dad came to a bloody spearhead and I found myself heading to my own homeless ends.
My dad kicked me out and Scott let me move into his attic. His wife was less eager to see me move in than he, but the arrangement helped everybody. Christian charity aside, I made Scott too much money for him to lose me to naps under a bridge.
After our long days at work, we would plug in our guitars and bass and dream of glory days in his living room. We knew we would get a band together. The metal ministered to our rage and soothed our trauma with triplets and adrenaline. We both depended on the metal, whether speed or death or black or heavy and the faster and the louder and the angrier, the better.
We also enjoyed the consumption of caffeine in experimental levels. When espresso was still a creeping fad in the eighties, we tried it and discovered we could install far more carpet with than without.
So, we tested our very limits to common chemicals. After regular espresso, we tried doubles and then to the barista’s confusion, we asked if we could get “double doubles.” Four shots of espresso with the twenty ounce black chaser. On the long sixteen hour jobs, out came the crunch and hell of surviving on yellow vivarin.
After a morning double double with a double down of a double dare and another double double at lunch.
“Uh oh, this doesn’t feel right. Does your chest hurt too? It is harder to breath. Maybe we should back off a bit?”
We relented and retreated baby steps to more sane levels of speed and fun.
Shortly after I had moved out of Scott and his wife’s belfry and into my own apartment, I got the first real whiff of Scott’s addiction and struggle with mental illness. I got a peek into his madness that bound us as brothers.
Scott called my phone far earlier than usual for work and asked me to pick him up somewhere different that morning. I pulled into the fog of early grays to find him pacing outside the mart at the base of Burnside bridge.
The skin of his face was the wrong color. Odd blotches of blue and green and sinister grays under the eyes were nature’s warning that he hurt so deeply that self poisoning pills and powders made it hurt just a fraction less.
He stunk of booze. He apologized and told me the reek was from just then chugging a whole bottle of wine, so I would be able to handle him. He had to first dim his coke and a smile. You’re fucking welcome, he offered me. After I yelled at him, my boss, and got his promise that this shit would not happen again, I dropped his strung out ass at a friend’s house and finished his carpeting job by myself. I was always making most of the money for him, for his pipe and now for his nose.
We connected on a need for speed and backgrounds of abuse and simmering rage. We both knew what destruction we each could wield and gave each other extra space and an uneasy detente. We knew if we ever got into a fight, we would never stop until one of us was leaking out precious life and not moving anymore. Nothing like dysfunction and toxic fathers to fuel the violence and addiction of the mentally malleable.
Scott was one of of my few friends who completely understood when I confided that with my violent background and endless rage, my greatest fear was going to prison for life for beating someone to death with my bare hands.
That’s typical, right?
He understood completely.
The limits of our mania meandered into mayhem. And love for pranks. I once strew his thousands of dollars in tools down the sidewalk to create the illusion someone had broken into his jobsite. He screeched his van up into the yard and ran inside swinging his double edged bloody mary, ready to slice anyone open. I had a hard time calming him down after that joke.
I would continue to mess with him by using my bloody mary to slice up his cigarettes and used carpet glue to stick them inside the pack. He always made me reimburse him out of my paycheck and once even threw my lunch onto a customer’s roof to get me to stop messing with his smokes.
There was a time we might have joked too far. He one time took a realistic toy gun that I grabbed for a buck at a garage sale and, when I dared him, he pulled it on a gas station attendant.
Then he laughed and said “just kidding, fill it up!” I had tears, I was laughing so hard. But then some of our older, wiser friends suggested that was a bad idea. Thirty years hence, I agree with them now.
But then, we could never play too many practical jokes. I’ve yet to meet someone with as wicked and quick a wit. Despite our history of fighting, he will always remain one of my best friends.
Years later, I would get together with Scott again, this time on one of my own construction jobs. We entered our uneasy detente again. But after destroying a fifty dollar tool of mine and refusing to pay for it, he got to test the darker side of me.
Out came my Mr. Hyde who informed Scott that, guess fucking what, YES YOU FUCKING BETTER BELIEVE YOU WILL FUCKING PAY ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
Clenched fists. Go time. I don’t blink. We never blink. Time goes slower here.
Guess what? He ended up paying for it.
Fortunately, he paid with money. It almost cost us arms and legs and freedom.
He claimed he was being generous and I was lucky. He swore that with his having had higher ground in the stairwell, he said he would have kicked me in the face first before using bloody mary on me. He was not kidding. I still laughed.
That was the closest we came to one of several fights. And I had known that he had spent time with bloody mary as his weapon of choice when he was a bodyguard for a big dealer in another state. He spent time in jail and in one halfway house after another.
Scott first gave up his business and van and then lost his happy home. He pushed away a beautiful wife and sweet son. He lasted more years than most coke and heroin addicts, but gave it everything.
One time, I got tired of my missing tools and went looking for Scott. I wanted my eight hundred dollars in metal that he shot in his arm or up his nose. After a lot of calls and driving, I finally found him on the floor of a flophouse with his much younger, naked, groupie girlfriend.
He said I had a lot of guts tracking him down. After we had a fake calming and cooling, we moved on to fake pleasantries. He said he was excited about managing the local Portland bands, Unspun and Grindstone. A year later, I would meet the frontman of Grindstone and listen to him scream notes around a six foot hole.
About a year later, an image of Scott popped into my head one morning and I simply could not stop thinking about him. I kept seeing his face in my mind every day until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I finally relented and prayed out loud that God would allow me to run into Scott just one more time. I only wanted to tell him he no longer owed me anything for my tools.
Three days later, I forgot something on the way to work and was forced to return home at an odd hour and down a strange street. At the intersection of 39th and SE Powell, I looked up while sitting at my red light.
There was Scott.
I flashed my lights and waved. He spotted me, put on his blinker and drove up a block to pull over and meet me.
It was bad. He looked more sick than I’d ever seen him. He said he had already died once. Just a few weeks previous, his heart stopped in the ER from an overdose and they had just barely been able to bring him back with Narcan.
I told him he did not owe me for my pawned tools and he got tears in his eyes.
The next day, I tried calling him in the hopes for one last double espresso with my oldest friend. I called again the next day. And the next. And again. I called each day for days.
On the fifth day, his girlfriend picked up and asked if I had heard the news.
Scott overdosed and puked and foamed out on the filthy floor of a long forgotten convenience store. He threw himself inside with the final hope that someone save him in time.
They did not.
Barely thirty, his pain and rage burned through his frame like a spark to dry straw.
I loved Scott like a brother.
I still miss him.
I keep trying to call and reach him in time.