Once I got over the initial shock and disbelief and anger of Chris’s passing, I remembered a story he told me last year. I latered wondered why I first recalled this of all stories. It’s not characteristic of Chris, but the incident was, like his death, violent and unexpected.
I was recalling the story he told me last year about a bike messenger.A young hard case on a bike decided Chris was his problem and started hassling him. He cursed at him and yelled at him and even punched Chris’s car. He let all that go. But then he spit in Chris’s face. That turned out to be a mistake. Chris got out of the car, and I guess the guy figured this would be a cakewalk -- he’d just punch out the grey-haired old fart. But Chris was a decent boxer in his day, and he still knew how to throw a punch. In fact, last time I saw him, he was still built like a boxer: thin, quick on his feet, with short legs and a barrel chest he got from his father. Not only that, he was full of fury and regret about his failing marriage. On that day, the macho urban bike messenger had really picked the wrong guy.
By Chris’s account, It took only one punch and it wasn’t a little jab. He reached down for this one, pulled it from his shoulders and broad back, and gave this jerk-off a real haymaker, right to the snout. Broke his nose. The guy looked shocked, then pained, then spouted some blood and went down. Chris just drove away, and as he later told me, “left the little fucker there to re-consider his approach”.
Several years ago, Chris was in the Bay Area giving a reading form his book. He’d been making the circuit. This was at a bookstore in a so-so area of San Francisco, and Susie and I went and brought the kids along. It was a smallish store, but the kids section has some open space, as they often do, and that’s where they’d set up a few rows of chairs and a lectern. As you entered the store, there was a narrow aisle that led to the kids’ section. On the right side of the aisle, there was a five or six-foot long magazine rack that came up to eye level .As we walked single file, I looked at the magazines. They were all gay porn publications, all men. Men strapped into leather harnesses, surrounded by arcane-looking machinery, were being reamed from behind by their partners, grimacing as they received their just rewards for a hard day of submission. That sort of thing.
Invariably, my two young boys took notice of this, an alarming and unfortunate development before the reading had even begun. I placed a hand over their eyes and marched them a few feet away, into the relative safety of Captain Underpants andArtemis Fowl.
I pointed out this situation to Chris, who, of course, began laughing. As you might imagine, the more he thought about it, the funnier it got. Soon he was laughing so hard he could barely breathe (– a trait, by the way, he had in common with his sister, Lola.) It wasn’t just the situation he found so hilarious – it was the stunning idiocy of the store management to have not noticed the situation. The uncanny ability of humans to make truly poor decisions seemed to endlessly amuse and terrify Chris.
Chris also loved a good old-fashioned joke. He was one of the last keepers of the flame for that tradition that I was aware of. It was a habit of ours to share any new joke we’d heard. If it was a good one, we’d treasure it and tell it again over time. How many of you heard the one about the chocolate-covered almonds? He liked that one. Or the man with the bionic arm, for whom a surreptitious attempt at self-gratification goes horribly awry? One of his absolute favorites. After god know how many tellings over the years, I could still bring tears to his eyes with that one.
Having buried his mother, his father and his sister, Chris was no stranger to death. Nonetheless, he was very queasy about death, and about mortal affairs. I can only imagine his own shock and fear at the sight of so much of his own blood. Some ten years ago, when his sister Lola became so ill that it was time to circle the wagons, Chris resisted. Not because he didn’t love Lola, but because he dreaded having to be up close and personal with the mundane and hideous details of a body disintegrating, a body that housed a spirit he deeply loved. Although Chris was a professed agnostic, he seemed to harbor a grim certainty about the nothingness that awaited him on the other side. It was almost as if he had, at some point, peered over the edge and seen nothing at all. Still, refused to be an atheist. That, for him, was a form of faith.
In 1979, I was living in Portland and seeing quite a bit of Chris. One night we went out to the movies. I believe it was Chris, Mark and me. I had a 1967 Chevy van. We parked it in an empty Safeway lot near the movie house.When we came back, the car had been towed. We tracked it down to a police impound lot, and walked there in the rain. When we arrived at the impound lot, wet, tired and pissed off, it was closed. Locked up. Big swinging gate made of cyclone fence, chained and locked in the middle.
But both gates were on hinges and the whole shooting match, Chris observed,could, theoretically, if one were so inclined,be lifted off the hinges and set aside. A small grin crossed my lips at the notion, and not for the first time in nearly 50 years with my uncle I thought, “How subversive! Truly a man after my own heart”. We wondered what would happen if we got caught. In his inimitable fashion, Chris reasoned, “Hey, fuck ‘em. It’s your car.” We cogitated for only a few seconds before agreeing on the excellence of Chris’s idea. And it worked! No fees to pay, no waiting … we just jumped in the Chevy and drove away, laughing and cheering. God, those were the days.
There are so many stories, some probably best left untold. But left here with just a few physical remains of a life gone to the birds, what I remember best is a boy not much older than myself, with whom I would slip away from family functions so that the two of us could make wicked jokes at the expense of others, and cackle with glee at our own good humor.