Tuesday, September 21, 2004

LA Stories (Part V)

Friends (continued)
Among all of the friends I hold dear, two stand out as the most influential and most longstanding. The one you’ve met one already, Cindy, was a consistent companion for years between my Senior year of high school and the time I became involved with Michelle. Naturally, I began seeing less of her individually as I spent more time with Michelle, although I still saw her often, in group situations. By the way, as somewhat of a Cindy postscript, just in case anyone was wondering about how Michelle feels and has always felt about her, there has never been any problem. I think she may have been a little “ify” at first, but it didn’t take long for Michelle to see why everyone else who knows her loves her so much. It’s actually harder to explain than it is to understand, but there you go.

The other friendship I want to talk about here is easy to explain, but is made complicated by yet another.

Note: I feel it necessary at this point to inject somewhat of a disclaimer. I have already experienced an uncomfortable episode (which I will write about in some detail in the future) with a family member over what was perceived to be a misrepresentation of that person in one of my previous stories. Happily that situation has been diffused, but I will talk about it and publicly apologize to the offended party following the conclusion of this current series. That being said, the reason it happened was because, one, I was not careful to think of how my opinions would paint that person before I wrote them, and two, because I never thought that person would discover my blog and read it in the first place. However, “two” did in fact happen, which led to “one,” which led to an angry phone call. But as I said, we talked it out, and the problem has been resolved.

With that as the backdrop, I need to recognize the fact that the Internet is not a private forum for anyone. This blog has, for the most part, taken on a larger role in my life than I ever imagined it would when I started it back in May of this year. As I continue to write about my life and the important people I have known and loved, there will be times when I make an observation that while accurate, might not be complementary of a person or persons. And while I have, and will continue to avoid bringing up subjects that would make those occurrences likely, there will be some that are completely unavoidable, IF the story is to be told truthfully from my perspective.

I DO NOT believe in political correctness, but I DO believe in being fair. If the truth hurts, it hurts everyone involved, not just the person who is the subject at hand. That’s life; that’s reality; and that’s what I will always endeavor to deal with here.

I hope no one is disappointed in the fact that I’m not getting ready to dish up a bunch of dirt about my friends in the following story, but I think you’ll understand why I made this preamble statement when it’s finished. I’m making it a blanket statement for future posts as well, because I know there will be other streams to cross in this regard.

On with the story…

Bee & Dee
One of the other life-long friendships I made during those years of early adulthood, was with someone who played perhaps the most significant role in the development of my personal tastes. My friendship with “Bee” was a casual one, and I would say, was much more one-sided than most that I hold in a similar regard. We have never really ever spent a serious amount of individual time together. Back in the day, nobody had Bee to themselves, really. He was one of those guys who was so well liked by everyone that it was odd to ever see him out anywhere, and not be surrounded by at least two or three other people. The other obstacle to my spending much time with him was the fact that my roommate, “Dee” was Bee’s best friend, and had been from childhood. And I’m sure we’re all familiar, if not intimate, with the “horning in on a friend’s friend” dynamic in our inter-personal relationships — it’s just something you don’t do. So I was content to lay back and engage Bee as a “group friend.” It still gave me the opportunity to get to know him, to observe him, to admire him.

Bee is a gifted musician. He plays guitar like a professional, and could easily have made it his life’s work if he had pursued it. My ex-roommate Dee is an erstwhile professional picker himself, and largely supported himself with music until he got into his current profession as a SoCal radio ad executive (which pays a little better than Youth Camps and Coffeehouses). Bee played in his band when they were teenagers, but got married young and went to work for a SoCal public transportation entity. Dee has been married three times and has no children of his own. Bee has been married to the same woman for 27 years and has three teenagers, all of whom could be models, particularly his daughter, who is one of the most stunningly beautiful girls I have ever seen.

The great thing about Bee is his heart. He is as warm and kind a person as you’ll ever want to know. He’s basically a shy person, and isn’t necessarily the life of the party; but engage him in conversation, and he could easily be the most interesting. He has the soul of a poet, but the passion of a linebacker. He throws his entire self into his art: music and photography, and it shows. He is amazingly conversant in anything having to do with Rock, or Bluegrass music. Bee is the one person I hold responsible for pointing me in the direction of being a music aficionado. He was the person who introduced me to artists like Poco, Jackson Browne, and Dan Fogelberg, long before they were mainstream (and in many cases, sold their souls to “the Man”) in the 80s. Most of Bee’s influence on me was sort of by osmosis; I received them just by hanging out with the crowd that always seemed to follow him. However in recent years, on a few occasions, I’ve been able to see him on individual business trips I’ve taken to California. Those are rich times in my memory, because of the opportunity I had to pick his brain about music and find out what new stuff he was into. We e-mailed occasionally as well, but as is the case with long-distance friendships, the work required to maintain them can easily become swallowed up by “more-pressing” matters. Years passed, I stopped going to SoCal on business, and Bee became increasingly difficult to get a hold of.

So when it was decided that Michelle and I were coming out to California in this past May, I called Dee, who offered to host a barbecue get-together of some of the old gang, at his place in Dana Point, and urged him, “Make sure Bee is there. I really want to see him.”

Dee replied something to the effect of, “That may not be easy, AJ. I think he’s mad at me. He never returns my calls or e-mails. He just doesn’t seem to want to get together anymore.” Sure enough, Bee was non-communicative with Dee (or anyone else, including me, who tried to get a hold of him) in the weeks leading up to our arrival. Not surprisingly he was a no-show at the barbecue.

Fast-forward a few weeks to June, after we arrived back home from California. I was talking to Cindy on the phone, making arrangements for those Angels baseball tickets for my return trip in August, when I asked the question. “Does anybody really know the story about this apparent one-way feud between Bee and Dee?” I asked.

“Oh, I do,” Cindy replied. “I was there. I’ll tell you all about it when you come back out.” And so she did.

Without going into a lot of unnecessary detail, suffice it to say, Bee was offended deeply by a remark Dee once made which made light of what was a very painful subject — his financial situation. Unfortunately the incredibly high cost of living in Southern California had put a strain on Bee, as it does and has done with so many others. And with three teenagers, that’s certainly understandable. Dee on the other hand, has had the great fortune to build a very good living out of shrewd business dealings and being at the right place at the right time. He built the foundation for his business before even having step-children to support, and certainly no one can have anything but admiration for his success. He is truly a self-made man, and is to be respected and congratulated for it.

But remember that little disclaimer at the beginning of the story? Here’s where it comes into play. With all of the good things I can say about my ex-roomie, having lived with him, I’m also familiar with some of his flaws (as I’m sure he’s familiar with mine).

While Dee’s comment was certainly ill conceived, it was surprising to me only in that he wasn’t better aware of whom he was teasing. Bee is a sensitive, thoughtful man, and in recent years has been under the financial stress of raising a family in a difficult economy. Dee is a great guy, but for as long as I’ve known him, has had a remarkable tendency for insensitivity. But that’s Dee, and most people who know him accept that about him. However the fact that he would say such a thing to a guy he’d known since grade school, someone he should know inside and out, is inexplicable. He should have had a better idea how Bee would react to a teasing comment about his financial struggles. You don’t have to be Mother Theresa to have the compassion required not to do that to a guy, particularly in a group setting as was the occasion when it occurred. So when Cindy told me about it, I finally understood the reason for “Bee’s Boycott” of any group occasion in which Dee might be present as well.

Cold Call
On Sunday afternoon I attended the Angels game with Cindy. As we were leaving of the parking lot, Cindy began suggesting contingencies as to how we might be able to “run into” Bee, knowing how badly I had wanted to see him, if but only to just say hello for a few minutes. She suggested we first take the direct approach and just drop by his house. If he wasn’t there, we’d try his church, where he usually volunteered his musical talent, playing guitar and leading worship songs during Sunday Evening services.

When we pulled into the driveway, it certainly appeared that there was somebody home, as there were two cars in the driveway. As he greeted us at the door, we were surprised to hear Bee say that he was home alone. It was great to see him, and we sat in his living room, catching up on everything from his job situation (he had just been layed off), to his kids, his wife Denice, and then to my family news. I pulled out the pictures I had stashed in my notebook. Bee called my attention to his daughter’s picture near the fireplace. I marveled at what great-looking kids he and Denice had been blessed with.

Soon the conversation directed itself to it’s inevitable destination: music. Bee pulled out his guitar and began to play. I don’t think I could have stopped grinning if I had to. So effortless, so skilled his fingers worked the strings as he continued to talk and play simultaneously, as if the man had two brains.

We talked about some of the concerts we’d seen recently. I told about the DVD taping/concert for Poco I had attended in June. We talked about the great musicians and stars that band has spawned: Richie Furay, Rusty Young, Jim Messina, Randy Meisner, and Timothy B. Schmidt. We talked about the recent battle with prostate cancer that one of our old heroes, Dan Fogelberg, was undergoing. He talked about how great he thought Dan’s latest CD was.

Bee told the story of how he traded his vintage (i.e.: old) peddle-steel guitar for a banjo. He brought the banjo out and began to play. More pickin'. More grinnin'. My cheeks were starting to cramp.

This was the good stuff. This was the Bee I remembered. Cindy was just as involved in the overall conversation as I, but (with no disrespect to her, of course), I couldn’t tell you a word she said. It was just as if Bee and I were the only two in the room.

It became so apparent as the conversation progressed from life to music, which part made Bee come alive. Not to indicate that he doesn’t love his family, which he certainly does, but the fire that sparkled in his eyes while he talked about and played his music was pretty astounding to me. I so wish he could have found a way to make it his life’s work. Perhaps he still will. Nothing could be a happier ending to his story, the way I see it.

About an hour or so of great conversation, Denice and the boys arrived home. She joined us in the living room and the conversation returned more to family and the collective lives of our children. As we talked on, the sun started going down. We soon found ourselves practically sitting in the dark. Denice stood and announced. “Well we can sit here in the dark…or I could go make us some dinner. Anyone hungry?” We’d been there talking for two-and-a-half-hours. I was starving. Dinner it was.

Denice got up, flipped on some lights, and proceeded to prepare some very tasty meatball sandwiches while Bee, Cindy and I remained in the living room talking. It was then that I discovered another part of Bee, one that I in one sense already knew, but had forgotten; but in another sense, because of the years that have passed, it was a part of him I never knew existed. When we first sat down in Bee’s living room I was reminded of Bee’s love for the art of photography, both by others as well as his own. The wonderful Ansel Adams print displayed above his fireplace jogged my memory. I also remembered that he had done his own work and was getting fairly accomplished at it 15 years ago, when I last saw him on a regular basis.

Cindy called attention to a small 12x12 framed photo that was leaning against the wall, indicating that she had finally decided where she wanted to display it in her house. She announced to Bee that she was ready for her to make her a print, and they discussed the size and cropping of the picture, a wonderful scene of an old building with a red door which Bee had taken when in Montreal on business several years earlier.

“This is one of yours? I asked. “Wow!”
“Oh you should see some of the work Bee’s done, AJ. He’s really good!”

So I asked to see more. I was amazed. Over the last 15 years, Bee has taken the virtuosity of his music and applied it to his photography as well. He went out to the garage and brought back several more large framed prints. He has too many to hang on his own walls; wonderful stuff. Nature landscapes, still-lifes, more street scenes from old Montreal, all images that anyone of taste would proudly display in their homes. I hope to be one of those people eventually.

After dinner, we finally had to tear ourselves away. Bee and I exchanged current phone numbers and e-mail addresses so that hopefully we’ll be be able to stay in touch a little better than we have in recent years. We said our so longs and I drove Cindy back to her house, where she insisted Michelle and I would be staying the next time we visited SoCal (remember earlier I said I was roundly chided for staying at the motel?). We said so long and I headed back to my friend’s place in Long Beach.

What a great day it had been. Hours of time spent with two of the most important friends of my lifetime, and another Angels victory to boot!

For me it was one day that was just about perfect.

Next: Et Cetera
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