Dead Men's Tales

The trouble with choosing people older than yourself for friends is that they sometimes look at you with a wry smile, and you know they’re thinking that you’re just too young to understand _____. The condescension runs both ways. I only remember one time in my entire 40 years with Peggy that her father made an honest effort to act like my friend, and I turned him down—not in so many words, of course—on the basis of him being a member of an old, na├»ve, and completely out-of-it generation. I simply couldn’t believe that anyone who didn’t love my music, my movies, my writers, my marijuana, my hairstyle, and my slang, could possibly have anything worthwhile to offer.

Two of my best friends—K. (that’s him and me in the 1983 photo) and B.—were years older than I. Both started out as my teachers, in one way or another, but as our affection grew, the Southern-style deference that I paid them because of their age fell away. Then, we loved, drank, fought, hiked, traveled, botanized, theologized, philosophized, smoked pot, ate psilocybin, and loved some more—and no, I don’t mean sexually, despite the fact that B. made a determined attempt to rape me (I was so much stronger that I laughed as I fought him off).

While K. was awaiting trial for running the biggest marijuana farm in the history of the Southeastern United States, he and I went through a cemetery to find him a new identity, and the name we came up with that matched his birthyear was Robert _____. K. wrote off for Robert’s birth certificate and social security card, and got a driver’s license in Robert’s name. I don’t know if illegally changing your identity is still that easy. Probably not, eh?

K. and B. are dead now. B. was a likely sucide (he hit a freight truck head-on while driving at high speed in the wrong direction on the Interstate), and K. was a twice escaped felon with a doctorate who finally disappeared from my life for good 23 years ago. He was a homeless alcoholic with signs of liver failure by then; that’s why I feel sure he’s dead (besides, if he wasn’t dead, I would have heard from him by now). His letters are in the drawer beside me, but I never read them anymore because it would make me too sad. Life can sure hurt sometimes.