Here’s a short story (i hope - we all hope -i’ll write less) about someone who died last month.
I have not written in over a year, and that’s just fine, i’m sure. I don’t have a good reason - it’s not like i don’t think of things to write about; i’m just lazy or i forget to, or - i don’t want to. my mom passed away last year, and i didn’t write about it. i wrote a eulogy for her memorial, and i was really pleased with that, but it wasn’t “recorded” by anyone, which makes it kinda special, right?
this is about Randy Hays. Maybe it’s a eulogy.
do you ever meet someone, and become fast friends, and talk alot about life, and then 6 months later, they die? that’s what happened with Randy and I. But I knew that going in.
[long explanation here:i have occasionally served as a hospice volunteer for the past 3 years. it's something that i don't do full time, or really often, but sometimes the good folks at the hospice call me up and say, "this seems like it might be a good match for you, John" and i say "sure" assuming my heads on straight and i've got time in my schedule. it hasn't happened a lot, and i was trying to keep quiet about it at first, because - i don't know why - ok, i do know why: because when i tell people, they say all this nice stuff, and it feels weird. If you've ever dealt with hospice workers, you have probably seen amazing, truly great stuff from hospice staff. They attend to your dying loved one, doing stuff that a family can't or won't do, and help a person and their family go through the dying process in a way that can be more dignified and fulfilling than alone in a hospital room. They are paid for it, and they deserve that pay. I'm a volunteer, and I kept quiet about it because I don't do anything heroic like the paid workers. But someone (Lisa?) said, "tell people! maybe they will be inspired to become a volunteer", so i started talking about it more, and look, here i am writing about it, so all 8 of you can read it. anyways, if you ever want to get trained, hit me up i'll point you towards them.]
When I first met Randy in February, he was in a stupor. Nodding off, not finishing sentences, fuzzy thinking and talking. This was over the phone, and it was frustrating. (Our very first talk he hung up on me when i said i couldn’t fix his bed bug issue.) I decided to visit his apartment in Belltown.
Randy knew what many off us learn late in life, that “tomorrow is promised to no one”. He told me that he had made many poor choices in his life. Bad Decisions. And he knew he was going to die.
Cancer was overtaking his organs, to the point where he could not eat solid food. At times he would eat anyways - a man’s gonna die, and he can’t have a slice of pie? Or a sandwich? And it would literally tear him up. Colorectal cancer at this advanced stage will do that. So he would drink milk, eat yoghurt, pudding, eggs, soda pop. Ensure, this protein drink in a can, that some people take to lose weight, but I will always equate with dying. He also had advanced lung cancer. Why - why all the cancer? A lifetime of smoking cigs? The heroin and other drugs, that he started as a teenager? The 12 years of methadone, done up until his very last day? All the years as a commercial painter - Yes of course, take your pick.
Anyways, he said he wanted to spend his last days playing his guitar. He played blues guitar most of his life, in cover bands, and was especially proud that he could play many Stevie Ray Vaughn songs. At the time we met he had a crappy acoustic that he’d bought at a pawn shop. The next time we met I brought him frank’s guitar, and a little amplifier. Randy had a Ditto, which is a small box that you run your guitar through, and it loops whatever you play. He would lay down a rythym track, loop it, and then play his lead over it. I was truly blown away at his skills, considering what I’d seen of him up to this point. He came alive, and you could see him stretching his memory and muscles to dig back into his past, and fall into a groove.
We started meeting twice a week, me bringing my bass and laying down simple lines for him to play over (I can only do simple lines.) As we progressed, I got a couple notes from hospice telling me that he’s getting stronger, there’s renewed energy in him, etc. It was true - he would call me at 8am some days, “oh hey john, uh, were we supposed to jam this morning?”…no Randy, I told you I’ll see you in 3 days…”oh, ok, well, do you want to jam this morning?” fuck, how cute is that?
And so it would go, me hauling two amps and frank’s guitar and my bass up to his apartment - I learned a long time ago to never ever trust a junkie with Anything you care about so I would have to pack that shit every time- and us finding our groove. On days when he was too tired, I’d just sit and watch him roll cigs and joints, lighting them constantly since they were always going out. (The lighter attached to a lanyard around your neck is a thoughtful gift for addicts.) I don’t smoke, and would always leave his place reeking like tobacco. Same thing when we drove - you want to smoke in my car? Shit, you don’t have long Randy - light up!
I really liked taking him out to play guitars in stores. Guitar Center, The Guitar Store on Aurora, Emerald City in Pioneer Square, they all let us just shuffle in, pull up a chair, and play whatever he felt like. Randy, you want to play this $3,000 PRS? Have at it! Some weeks we’d take a break, because he had pawned everything again, or he fell down and sprained his hand (in front of a bus!). Or he got his dosage wrong and couldn’t really talk.
Eventually, by (you figure this one out), he had enough money to buy his own guitar. James at the Guitar Store gave him a sweet deal on a Japanese Squire, and the next week we found a little Roland microcube at Central Loans. He was stoked. He put time in every day, at least an hour and sometimes two, and all these songs from his past would just float up out of him, stuff he hadn’t played in years, George Benson, Tom Petty, Marshall Tucker. This led to me stealing a room in a warehouse that no one knew about, driving him there, setting up the gear, sometimes inviting a friend to join us on guitar, and playing until he would start nodding off, usually after 2 hours. One time we went to UMF in Fremont, and Tom and Matt jammed with him. My warehouse was great, cuz it was our secret place, until Amazon signed a lease and we had to vacate. And eventually I just brought him to my house. Like, what the fuck - this guy has been my friend now for 6 months, and we meet in this stuffy sad public housing of his? I’ve got a house, let’s use it.
We only went to the house a couple of times, and it was pretty heavy and wonderful- we were sitting outside, and he took in the view, and said, “shoot, this is the prettiest thing I’ve seen in over three years”. And that just kinda broke my heart, because it drove home how empty his life had been, living in a 1/2mile radius, taking forever to walk a block, stretching his social security check and only being able to buy liquids, no solid food. He petted my dog, and I cooked him a fried egg sandwich, and he shared it with the dog.
About 2 weeks before he died, we were driving on the waterfront in my little truck, to pick up his guitar from Emerald City, who had repaired an electrical short (for free, of course). A guy riding his bike next to us saw him and shouted his name. I pulled over, and the guy, Tom, mid-30’s, pulled up. He and Randy had worked together on the docks 3 years earlier, at a boat insulation place. “Hey Randy, been a while - what are you doing man?”. pause. “Well…i’m getting ready to die.” and that’s how it was. Tom’s face dropped. I fought back tears and explained we were just going down to pick up his guitar, and they said their awkward goodbyes.
He always talked about getting a band together, and what we would play, and I knew it would never happen, and maybe he did too, but it seemed like the right thing to dream about. I always wanted to record him, and I never tried too hard. My friend Kevin brought his gear a couple times, and it’s in this video I’ve linked at the bottom. But I felt intrusive, so my photos were always snuck in. He always talked about our band, I always thought about my mini-documentary. Oh well.
And of course, through all of this, I was slowly losing my business, our retail business of 24 years. The bank was getting testy, the numbers were going down, a general unspoken truth was in the air. It was like we’d been given a short time to survive. Still, I continued to keep my appointments with this slowly dying man.
And I knew.
I knew it was an escape for me as much as it was a treat for Randy, a chance for both of us to get away from our own personal realities. So really, whatever I gave to him, he was giving just as much back to me. And that’s pretty cool, I think.
Here’s a short video of him, with a sweet song that he sings at the end. (the opening music is B.B.King, whom he liked. you may have to turn up the sound to hear him sing because you know, lung cancer.)
Thank you for reading this. yes, it was longer than i thought it would be.
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i drive this truck around about 1/3 of the year. it’s one of the best made trucks to come out of the 80’s, a Toyota 4-banger, R22 engine (the fuel injected one) and it will just last forever. i think i paid 1200 from Andy the Welder, actually from his mate, Jimmy. So little has ever gone wrong with it. it blew a head gasket in ‘09, and a guy named Pedro rebuilt it for $500 which is insane. and then he moved back to Mexico.
it’s one of those trucks that i let anyone in the neighborhood use. dump runs mostly, or moving.
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Here’s a conversation in my car today (driving to saturday detention. 2 hours, and you have to pay the teacher $10. yep - catholic school!)
Frank: I got eliminated from the spelling bee on the word “chisel”.
Me: Chisel? c-h-i-s-e-l ?
Frank: Yeah, but i spelled it c-h-i-z-z-l-e
Me: Like “for shizzle..?”
Frank: For shizzle my dizzle!
a high-five followed, and yes i’m a bad dad.
not as bad as the dad who let Frank watch his kid! welcome to the Future - it will arrive in a text…
but of course that got me to thinking, about parenting, it’s as much fun or as much work as you make it, and i’ve written about Johan here and he’s still the General, a model that many would do well to follow, but there’s lots of others. these are some random pics on my phone, from the past couple months, all relating somehow to Parenting.
this is (left to right) an 11-year old girl, Isabella Gomez, her dad Alex, and her coach, Phil. snapped this just after she was awarded 1st place in the 11 & Under division at the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom. beat the boys her age, too! Alex is from Mexico City, and he boards, and he seems to be an awesome dad, totally supporting his daughter’s competitive and athletic nature. what a journey he must be on - Mexico City to Minnesota to Seattle. great energy.
this is a picture of Austin Buza and his Mom, Sharon. they are a great team. we first met Sharon at a Minor Threat contest a few years ago - she was a soccer mom like none Johan and I had ever seen: brought hand-made signs, just notebook paper, but with a sharpie she’d written “GO!” and “Rip it Up” and “Yay Austin” and basically stuff that would make any kid cringe -mom standing in front of you before you drop in for your run, yelling praise at you - but he’s a good sport, and wtf - she obviously loves him to death. she’s an awesome lady, hard working, teaches at the Summit on weekends, enters contests , - another kid that’s lucky to have a parent like this.
Here’s proof that’s there’s justice in this world: Mike Ranquet, a professional hell-raiser and trouble-maker, loved and known the world over for his talented skating and snowboarding, and his ability to take things a little too far (and his sweet nature, as well) - is now the father of TWINS! hell yes! about 20 months old, and he and Beth got ther hands full and people are so stoked for them, right on, Mike!
and i’ve got to include this text from my Mom, cause like it or not, we learn a lot about parenting from our parents. i thought for my mid-life crisis, instead of doing the traditional “sports car or mistress” i would learn (or try to learn) a musical instrument. been taking bass lessons for about a year, then took a group class where we got to perform live in a bar, in front of strangers. well, adoring strangers. mom’s 74, texting me that day. like the proud, supportive mom she’s always been. ssome things never change, 50 years later. i hope i’m still that supportive, 20 years from now
and here’s my happy family. me, Lisa and Frank. i am truly blessed. thank you to all parents who are out there, working hard to raise good citizens, kind & strong.
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ok, it’s been a while since i’ve written, 7+ months, whatever, and how (fill in your adjective here) that i’m choosing a rant to start things off. but i am.
what the F is it with people who live like robots? we do this at all levels. i like a cup of coffee in the morning, usually two. here in the house. then i do that pooping thing, and then i’m on my way. ok, so maybe that’s robotic, but if i break that routine, i don’t have some upside-down day where i’m always telling anyone who’ll listen how i didn’t get my coffee or BM today, and blah blah -christ, Move On! and there’s people - i’d like to say sheep, but people, that eat at regular times. what’s up with that? “oh, 12 noon - time for lunch.,” wait - are you hungry? or are you “12 noon”?
but that’s not what bothers me. it’s these people out there, and you kinda suspect who they are, but they percolate up and Blossom every Monday. maybe you work with someone like this. (i have). maybe it’s oh, i don’t know, your Bank Teller! and you walk in and you’re all friendly, and no you don’t remember their name but you still walk up and smile and say ‘hello! how are you today?’ and you hand them whatever is in your hand. and they do that slight pause, then the sigh, and the tight smile with the up-turned eyebrows and look at you, and with this weird sing-song voice say. “Oh you know - MON-DAY!” and then they make this bitter ‘i got semen in my mouth and i want to spit” kind of face. and I’m like Really? you don’t like monday? ooohhh i feel so bad for you.
Wake the fuck up, clown. from where i stand, it looks to me like you’ve got a job, you’re not crippled, you live in America, and you’re White! now what’s your problem again? how about you quit your job, pack your bags and travel somewhere far away. and then i’ll meet up with you a year from now, and i’ll say, “hello, how are you today?” and you’ll be laying in a sweat on the floor, and you’ll manage to lift your head long enough to say, “uuhhh, eehh- you..uh…know..Malaria…(sigh)…vomit…” hey. not wishing malaria on anyone. just saying , come on people, let’s show a little gratitude for what we have, alright? monday. shit on that.
oh, and while we’re on the subject of bank Tellers, when i come in to deposit cash (that’s part of my job, i’ve been lucky enough for 20 years to run a retail store and at the end of the week, i go to the bank and deposit - wait, i don’t need to explain this -) when i walk in and hand you deposits, don’t make a some scrunched-up pained expression and say “oh, (exhale) you have a lot of deposits. i have to count all this?” Hey! you work in a Bank! thats where the money goes. wtf? get a job at a car wash, maybe you can complain about “Oh. (big exhale/sigh) another car!”
ok, i think i’m done. thank you. let’s all agree to not be robots, whenever possible. deal?
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You might think you know what’s going on in this picture. bunch of kids, holding up trophies, just finished a contest or something. old guy in the back, probably a father or coach or troop leader. and that’s that.
But the truth is much deeper, much sweeter, and without getting too sentimental i’ll break it down for you. If you like heroes, read on. If you’re a new parent, stay with me - you might learn something.
the old guy, the grey-beard, is Johan Malkoski. Lives in Ballard, got 2 boys, runs a snowboard company. Johan is known throughout the industry as a ball-breaker, a sales manager who says no as often as he says yes, a guy who takes his stand and defends it, a man who speaks directly and only says it once. I call him The General. [when the food riots come in 2018, I will be reporting for sentry duty under his command, closing off NorthBeach/Crown Hill from the marauding invaders of Ballard] Most people that meet him are confused at first, then intrigued, then slapping high-fives, then telling people at work about their “new friend”.
THIS IS THE TRUTH: i have met more than one woman who has told me that when she met Johan, he made her uncomfortable, mad. that he was a pig. (a pig!) And every one of those women has come back to me and said something like, “he’s changed, he’s a lot nicer now, he’s one of my friends”. and i tell every one of them, “Darling, he hasn’t changed a bit. He’s the same as ever. YOU just learned to appreciate him”. and i stand by that. i felt the same way, and i’m a dude, i think.
I’m a-jump back here, to the time i was 8 years old. 1969. I grew up in a “small town” outside of downtown Los Angeles. Glendale, CA. population about 100,000. Glendale was a baseball town, you played 8-years, like it or not, you just did that. provided of course that you “made the cut” - back then, there was no “everybody bats”, “everyone makes the team - too many kids? we’ll just make more teams”- nope, back then we had “try-outs” and woe be the boy who didn’t make the cut. everyone else would be playing ball, and he would be sitting in the dirt, pushing a stick and singing to himself. I’m not saying it was better then, just saying how it was.
So, Glendale had 2 years T-Ball, 3 years little league, 3 years Babe Ruth. after that there was Connie Mack, but that’s when most of us dropped off. we didn’t have the skills/passion/sobriety to continue past age 15. Anyways, back as an 8-year old, no clue that my stepdad would be a deadbeat and that my parents would split up in a couple of years, my life was T-ball. 3rd grade. 8 years old. I played for the Orioles. (Back when a fitted hat was the only hat available) And our coach was an old man named Joe Rose. and when I say old, i mean he was Legit Old. Yellow teeth. Hair growing out of his ears. Hair growing out of THE TOP OF HIS NOSE! I had never seen hair grow on the outside of a man’s nose before, and it’s probably an image i’ll carry to my grave. And this image: Joe Rose, short, hunched over, and filled with a passion for the game, chasing us around the bases. Seriously, this old man would chase us from 1st to 3rd, sometimes to homeplate, yelling and scaring the living shit out of us. i would come home and burst into tears because this old man was like nothing i had ever witnessed. We didn’t have that in our house. And i loved it. (Years later, he would pop his head into the dugout, checking in. i’m 15, stoned, ashamed as hell)
And I’m guessing if you asked the kids in this photo, “do you have a parent like Johan in your house?”, the answer would be “no”. How could they? What you don’t see from the photo is all the kids who didn’t place, didn’t get a trophy. But if you were there, you would have seen Johan talk to every one of them, before every run down the course, and pump them up. Help them focus, talk to them like he was talking to his own kid: “you ready for this? you gonna send it? what are you doing on the first jump? then what? alright, go out and kill it!” Every kid got his love and support. Kids that didn’t have a chance in hell of advancing, they got the same pep talk.
And that’s love.
I’ve carried Joe Rose in my head for a long time.
I’m guessing these kids will be doing the same with Johan, years from now, when they have children of their own.
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…maybe that’s what makes them so sweet.
Thursday morning, i had to take frank to get braces on his teeth. (i know, what else was i going to do with $6800, right? fortunately, they take monthly credit card payments. it’s like leasing a car you can never drive. or even sit in) After dropping him off at school, i came home to get my bike, to ride in the bitter cold to pick up the little truck, which was getting a new windshield after EIGHT YEARS of a full crack running across it. took time to make a smoothie (fascinating story, i know) and because i took that extra time, i was home when the door knocked. and who should be there, some solicitor or bible-thumper? no, it was Juan Diaz. His full name Juan Jose Perez Diaz, of Chiapas, Mexico.
Juan is a nice guy. hard worker. illiterate, too. (i know he’s illiterate, because he can’t write down words when i don’t understand him, and also because his friend Manuel told me Juan doesn’t read or write, and only went as far as 4th grade in school). he doesn’t speak English, but i’m good enough at Spanish to be understood by him. We met back in 2006, when i was looking for some day-labor to help me with the house re-model. there used to be a small operation called - i forget, casa latina?- that was a meeting place for daily workers, on Western by the 99 on-ramp. he worked on the house off and on for about 6 months, until he left in December ‘06, to return to Chiapas to be with his wife and 2 kids. i gave him one of my many travel bags, as back then i had a bit of a bag problem.
he called me a couple of years later. he was back in Seattle, looking for work. i had him do some landscaping, but really, i didn’t have much for him. in 2010, he showed up at my door, and i took him to work with me. we were giving the base-grinder an overhaul after 20 years, and he sanded the rust for two days. he’s always kept the same phone number, so when i was tearing up my front yard this Spring, i rang him up and he did some heavy digging with me. He also brought his roommate, Manuel, who is a great cement man. he was awesome to have as a digging partner, and he and i mixed 4 pallets of cement into those little electric mixers one day, while Manuel did the finish work. (like 350+ bags?)
Juan and Manuel have been coming up to Seattle for over 6 years, arriving in Feb., leaving in early Dec. during that time, they have had to live in this in-between world, avoiding immigration agents, and taking jobs that pay by cash or check. for a check, they have social security numbers that someone gave them, that aren’t theirs. their long-time employers know this. they live 4 to a apartment, make their lunch every day, send their money home every week or two, back to their families in Chiapas.
every year when they return, they have to sneak across the border. this involves paying a guy to smuggle them, at a fee of $2,000-$2,500 all the way to seattle. this last trip, they were stuck in the desert for 4 days, waiting for their ride to arrive. that was a tough one, and they said this would be their last trip here. they miss their family, their children. the warm weather. the food. when i last saw them in September, i wished them well, and good luck and all that.
so, here i was, thursday, 11:30am, a time when i’m rarely at home. and here’s Juan at my door. why? well, he was flying home later that day, for good, and he wanted to say goodbye. he rode the bus for almost 2 hours to my house, on the odd chance that i might be here. why didn’t he call? he said his english wasn’t good enough to say goodbye properly. naturally, i was moved, and said we should have a shot of tequila.
i excused myself, and went downstairs to open up Dinky’s, a small tequila bar that pops up sometimes in the hallway. since my brain thingy, i can’t drink as often/much as i used too, but i built it when i was still crosseyed and thinking i wouldbe back to my old drinking self soon enough, obviously delusional with pain-killers. wearing an eye-patch can make you think you have magical powers.
I called Juan downstairs, and his eyes lit up. i didn’t understand anything he said, but it sounded like “holy shit, you have an electric virgin and all this tequila in the closet i built 5 years ago? what the fuck is going on, whitey?”
here’s a few shots from our un-planned ‘adios fiesta’
this is the first shot. don Julio. a smooth anejo, like nothing he’s ever tasted. reposado man, for sure, and i have to agree. anejo is always smooth, but where’s the taste? we moved quickly to reposado.
the Cimarron! for all the tequila i’ve enjoyed, you would think i knew what the horned animal on all the bottles is, what he’s representing. anyone know?
we talked about his family, he has two kids, a girl 12, and a boy 10.
now he’s feeling the fire in his belly, speech getting a little slower, more reflective. i give him my email address to write to me when he gets to Chiapas. he gives me his….name. (see above) Juan Jose Perez Diaz. i try to explain the internet to him. now it’[s his turn to nod politely and pretend he understands.
and now for some Centenario. Bueno! Que Sabor!
i think that here he’s starting to question this whole visit. “when will senor john stop this and maybe give me a ride home?”
but i was not driving because i now had to get on my bike and make my way to Hwy 99 to pick up the truck. so i walked with him up the hill to the bustop at 85th. it was really cold, and i can only imagine how much he won’t miss this weather. i made him give me a awkward hug, and we wished each other well, Bueno vida and con Dios , and he had brought a camera so we asked a stranger to take some pictures and he got on the bus, and i on my bike.
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Remember Tad? like, a 300-pound big ol’ hairy dude? we all rocked out to him and his band in the 90’s. so, how weird is it to see your son sing a Tad song, 20 years later. the low growl at 2:55 just kills me.
here’s some guitar work, with a sweet 13-year girl handling the Mark Arm vocals.
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today, October 19, is the 1-year anniversary of my brother Larry passing. (OUR brother Larry, because he was loved by many) i’m not up for writing a story or a tribute or anything like that, but i’ll share this screen-shot, which is from my son’s facebook page, last sunday. Larry was a positive guy, always looking for the fun, seeing where the good could be had. and this posting from Frank just makes me, i don’t know, proud? happy? - happy that an 11-year old kid can put something up there that celebrates the simplicity of a good day. Frank and Larry, while 30-years apart in age, connected really well. that was Larry’s gift, and Frank is lucky to have good memories of their times together. as we all are.
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Tags: Larry Addison Bortolott
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i don’t usually put pictures of myself up here, for obvious reasons, but this one captured me at a time i want to remember. i had driven a few hours to arrive at a house on the coast that my friend terry had rented, to celebrate his 40th birthday. the idea was for a surf weekend, but the weather and waves were against us, but it didn’t matter. it was a testimony of the person he is, people driving that far to sit in a house, eat a lot, and be around their friend, with none of the daily world to interrupt, just for 24 hours. it was worth it. and a bonus: his wife and two children, and witnessing the parenting they did, it’s fun to see your friend that was a bachelor for so long, now dealing with diapers and nap-time and blocking off the stairs and trying to get his friends to “please, can you talk over there, and not so loud, my boy’s trying to sleep, blah blah blah”. i loved it. terry shot this pic after we had a nice talk, standing in the dunes.
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Tags: terry farrell