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Jim (1946 – 2013)

June 26, 2013

In 1964 I started college so wet behind the ears that I could have irrigated the nearby cotton fields with my head.  Another freshman, street-wise Jim, volunteered to help me with my off-campus education.  Most of the classes were held at Mom’s Pool Hall and the Trianon Lounge.

That started a friendship that bounced from Monroe, Louisiana, to New Orleans to Southern California to Vietnam and back to the world.  We worked as editors on the college newspaper, then as reporters on the Monroe daily.

One night after extensive tutoring at the Trianon, we decided to hit the road in pursuit of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.  En route, we staggered to the middle of a bridge in the middle of the night.  Realizing that the moment called for dramatic symbolism, Jim threw his wedding ring into the Ouachita River.  I threw my dorm key.

Further realizing that we needed some sleep and sobering up before we actually drove off into the sunset, Jim went home and I went back to my dorm, waking up my roommate to let me in.  Fighting off gargantuan hangovers the next day, we acknowledged that perhaps we hadn’t really thought things out.

When I joined the Marines in ’66, Jim joined a few months later.  For my 22nd birthday, I rode shotgun on a truck convoy just below North Vietnam so I could have a beer with him.  The Viet Cong honoured me that night with a mortar and rocket attack.  It was the most terrifying time of my life, but Jim got me through it.

About a year later, Jim shepherded me through another seminal event in my life, my first acid trip.  He had gone AWOL and I was a week away from being released from active duty.  We met up in Atlanta with another jarhead friend who had just gotten out.  He took us to a party in the large hippie community.

A seasoned psychonaut, Jim told me what to expect and guided me through it.  When I was well into my voyage and its infinite possibilities, I thought “so this is what it’s all about”.  I looked at Jim, who was sitting across the room.  He smiled and nodded.  It was fucking freaky.

Contact between us tapered off after that.  In 1994, I was in Shreveport, Louisiana, for my high school reunion when I learned that Jim was back in nearby Monroe.  I drove over to see him and his wonderful wife Dora.  He’d had a rough readjustment to civilian life and wasn’t in good health.

Ten or so years later, he got a liver transplant.  He was within a few hours of dying when a donor was found.  I don’t have any details yet, but I believe that his gift organ gave out.  About six months ago, doctors told him he had just a few months left.  With each call after that, I could tell he was letting go.

During one of them, he said that he wasn’t following LSU football or the New Orleans Saints anymore.  That is unheard of in any Louisiana male two years or older.

He died last Thursday.  Dora called and left a message in that unmistakeable timbre of voice.  I dropped the phone and sobbed.

Jim was not a model citizen.  He could even be a genuine SOB at times.  But I felt his pain and knew where it came from.  He was the dearest of friends.  If there is an afterlife, I’d wager he’s there sipping a brew at the ethereal version of the Trianon.

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9 Comments
  1. John Bozich permalink
    June 26, 2013 10:51 am

    AP-this is John. So sorry to hear of your loss of a dear friend. I cannot recall if I told you I lost my old Army buddy to suicide just a couple of months before you came to PHS graduation last year. Our stories probably have a lot of differences (in addition to being soldiers vs marines) but the crux is the same–loss of someone once central for your life. Peace, old friend.

    • June 28, 2013 8:32 am

      JB, I’m sorry it took so long to answer. Heavy rains here stranded me in cyberspace. Of all the topics we covered, I don’t remember you mentioning your friend’s suicide. My heart goes out to you for your loss, and you’re spot on about the crux of it. Buddies are buddies. I feel that Jim is a casualty of the war, but his name will never be on the Wall. Peace back at ya, bro, and my best to the Colonel.

  2. June 26, 2013 8:43 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss. I hope he’s sipping that brew at the ethereal version of the Trianon and holding a seat for you in the distant future.

    • June 28, 2013 8:34 am

      Thank you very much, Ashley. Jim’s not only holding a seat for me, he’s expecting me to buy the next pitcher of beer.

  3. June 27, 2013 2:30 pm

    It must be very painful to lose a friend. I haven’t had that experience yet, but my heart goes out to you.

    • June 28, 2013 8:37 am

      Ah, Kate, it’s so good to hear from you, despite the circumstances. Thank you for sharing my grief. Are you near any flooding?

  4. Gordon permalink
    June 27, 2013 3:04 pm

    Hoping he’s waiting there at the Trianon and that you’ll have the chance to introduce me.

    • June 28, 2013 8:41 am

      Gordie, you’ll always be welcome at our table to swap swamp tales, but bring some cash to buy some rounds.

  5. Gordon permalink
    July 1, 2013 3:45 pm

    Absolutely! Of course don’t want to hurry things too much.

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