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five and five

There's all this metaphorical emo shit I want post about that I've been writing in my head for days. (I know, that's not writing. That's just thinking. And thinking about writing is like swimming about bicycles. I know, I know. Hush.)

I had this necklace, and... well, I'm a big believer in ridding yourself of / archiving artifacts as they pertain to painful situations. Whatever they are. You know, so that they're not looking you in the face every day. Give your ex-girlfriend her clothes back. Use a different desk chair than the one you sat in at the job you hated every day, for months and months before you left. Burn the maps, if you will. So some things I archive. And some things I break. And some things I set on fire in the front yard.

And some things I throw out the window. Literally.

So I had this necklace. And it wasn't from a person who loved me and left, and it wasn't once worn by a dead relative, or anything like that. But there was just a lot of stuff tied to it, most of which was a mirage. Catching sight of it in the mirror would fill in a whole page of longhand in my mind. I'd wear it with other necklaces, and they'd get all entangled. I took it off for a while and hung it on my vanity mirror, and put it back on. Then I took it off and hung it from the mirror in my car, and put it back on. Lather, rinse, repeat, and finally I just sat there looking at it the other morning, knowing I was done with it. I'm in a place where I need more blank pages, more real estate, more bandwidth. Less weight. And so driving to work I was holding on to it, all knowing it was the end of having the weight of it with me. It was weightless though, really -- the necklace, I mean. All shiny and tiny and delicate and great. And as I got closer to one of the bridges I take to get to my job, I rolled down the passenger window, knowing I could fling it out the window (with a flourish) and that it would wind up sailing off over the edge, all free and cathartic and what have you.

And so I let the necklace go. And the weight of it was gone and I had a little smile right behind the corners of my mouth for a moment, and then I suddenly noticed the absence of the weight. All rushing in, this no-necklace, not being present in my sight or my hand, between my fingers or my fingertips. It was just gone. I didn't even hear the clink of it hitting the metal railing as it sailed away, nor was I able to see it anymore the instant after it left my hand. But suddenly, there was this huge dent from it left behind, an impression in the proverbial cement, that I only noticed because of how much it wasn't there anymore.

And so there's so much metaphorical emo shit in there, right? About letting go and that Califone song that I love endlessly and the tangible, implied, and unknowable-until-you-let-it-go weight of things. And lack thereof. And I wrote and thought and I waxed-on, all faux-poetic trying to take it from said metaphorical emo shit to real-time, meaningful, well-penned prose.

And then I got a ping on my phone:

Subject: Duff

Vic.....bad bad news on Duff....he died Tuesday night in LI at his mom's house....D. just called me. Sorry sorry for the shitty news C.

All walking through Fred Meyer, to buy a shower curtain. A shower curtain that I'm only breaking down and replacing because I have guests coming to stay. For whatever that's worth. Anyway, while I knew this day was inevitable, those words looking back at me from the screen stopped me in my tracks. Duff. Bean.

Bernie. Sigh.

Duff is was Gregory Duff, Greg Duff. Better known as Bean and/or Bernie. A veritable Viking-sized man, who knew everything about everything and smoked more pot than any other fully-functioning office-job-holding adult I've ever met before or since. He was sweet and busted up and hysterical and loud and everyone loved him. Duff. Very frat-aggro to-go last name and all, I know. But he was totally an alright guy. Really. I think he was (possibly) a world history major at some point? He'd done a ton of school, and had this way of challenging people and throwing down the aces. One minute, someone would be charging on about some faux-nonsense; the next, Bernie would be throwing out statistics and comparisons that were undebateable. He made you back up what was coming out of your mouth. He made you think. He trumped everything.

Trumped. Past tense. All this writing in past tense.

He had a dog named Pippy that he'd have conversations with in a voice that rivaled a dolphin's pitch. He drove a station wagon and did bong hits with me in the parking lot in the morning before we went to work. When he took the ferry to Long Island, he'd sweet-talk dumb blondes with Beatles lyrics, and would convince them they were his own with amazing conviction. And not obscure stuff, either -- like, straight-up "Norwegian Wood" lyrics. He gave old-man lectures about life and theory and right and wrong. He had a little house by the beach. We'd get baked and pop pills and zone out. He never cleaned, and didn't mind that I'd grab a throw from the back of my car to sit on when I hung at his house. He'd make dinner. He lectured me about lousy dates I went on. And he did the five and five rule.

The five and five rule was  ridiculous and brilliant, simultaneous -- not unlike Greg himself. See, out here in the Northwest, there aren't many Italian people. So you don't run into any legitimate, off-the-b0at, my-grandmother-lives-in-Brooklyn kinds of types -- and as such, there aren't as many posers. But back East, everyone thinks they've got it down. They'll drop a 'moot-szarrel' or a 'scoon-jeel' or a 'shviadel' and do the palm-up, fingers-pinched-together, "what are you talkin' about?" gesture withtout giving it a second thought. Everyone has a Bada Bing! story, everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who has an Uncle Vinny who will come fuck your shit up if you even think about implying any kind of disrespect.

Out in Seattle, well. Not so much.

So Greg, in his insane-yet-consistent way, was as loud and as boisterous about keboshing that whole movement as he was about everything else he held as his truth. The minute someone threw some vaguely Italian words into their dialogue, he'd call a timeout. He'd stand up, or talk over everyone, or do a dad-whistle and shut down the entire room and call for a five and five. To which the offender would query, "What the hell is a five and five?" And Bernie would surface. "Five and five. Five fluent sentences in Italian before and after what you just said, or you're saying mozzarella and ricotta like the rest of us." And invariably, the person couldn't pull off the five and five. And invariably, Bernie would have taken over the room / party / office again, and would be off on some storytelling jaunt or ribbing the offender with a playful headlock.

Five and five. Which I still call, to this day. Along with timeouts, Pippy-voice, and switch-ups.

Bernie, Bean, Bean-o: this Greg's name for his alter ego that surfaced when he had problems remembering things, or got too baked. "Greg. Where were you?" "You know. Bernie can't find his keys." Which was mostly endearing, and marginally heartbreaking, but then all of his awesome would overpower the thin patch and you were off and running right alongside him. To do bong hits while the dog slept in the back of the station wagon, to rage another hysterical day at work. To listen with rapt attention at some party-stopping, supersized story. To bask in the glow of Bean. And it passed.

As time went on, it was all a little less shiny, a little less sexy. Bernie was still Bernie, but the circumstances shifted. We left that job we knew each other from. My bad choices took a turn for the worse and Greg would still be lecturing me, but it would be as we divvied up prescriptions and kept slightly shadier company to get what we needed. The visits got less frequent.

Then I cleaned up, and the pills and the bong hits took a backseat. I don't know what Greg's life was like for a few years there, although I heard he'd sold his house and was working as a camp counselor, and then doing some kind of animal control stuff back in Long Island. We finally caught up after not being in touch forever -- about three months ago or so. I was on my cellphone outside of Liberty, up on 15th. He asked how my mom was. I told him that she had died a few years ago. He asked me how smoking cigarettes was working out for me, and I told him I'd been quit for seven years or so. I can still hear his voice in my head. He sounded fine. Huge voice, larger than life. As usual. The connection was choppy. I smiled the entire time we were on the phone. And that was the last time we spoke.

And then, like a bad ending to a chapter in a cheesy book, someone reaches across the country and puts a hand on my sleeve and tells me he's gone.

So this is the part where I circle back, right? Where I tie in the tragedy and the hope and the metaphorical emo shit and how we don't notice the weights of things until they're gone. Where I tell you about how big Greg was but how small he was inside, and how I didn't see the spaces he filled in and the weight he took up in my world until I felt that capacity by the weight of his absence. And something brilliant ensues, and we all choke up a little, and wonder who's taking care of the dog, or what he took that killed him, or if he was alone, or if he ever tried to get help, and maybe I should have said something, and on and on and on.

But I can't. I can't fake the shit any more than I can say 'ricotta' any way other than how it's spelled. Heart attacks and car accidents and sudden unexpected deaths like this, they leave you little room to fuck around, little room to decide how you want to handle something. Which is how I pick for it to be, having had the experience of my dad literally dropping dead and my mom going through a three-year disintegration from the onset of ovarian cancer to her eventual death in a Hospice facility. I say this having had good last conversations with all three of these people that I can look back to and feel good about, but had there been a fight or a falling out, who knows what I'd pick. Maybe I'd be longing to have the time back. But no matter how you split it up, it sucks. For me, for Greg's mom, for my old boss who I cherish who gave me the news today over Facebook. For the fact that I can't take a redeye right now to JFK on the assumption that there will be a service tomorrow, since they found him on Tuesday.

(In case anyone's wondering, same-day cross-country flights are $2300.00.)

So here I sit. Typing out all my emo bullshit because it's a layover behavior from growing up achy, blogging my emotions, spilling a four-foot post for the six people that are reading, so it can come up two years from now in casual conversation with someone I barely know. Like the "my girlfriend reads your blog" thing that happened at that Wrens show a hundred years ago.

This is terribly penned and not at all how I want it to sound, but it's out. In something-point type. And I've got to go back to work now.



Victoria Uhl