Sunday, March 25, 2012

Some Housekeeping, and the Winning Post subject

For those of you who ran with the 25 random things theme, thanks - I hope you found mine as witty and insightful as I find yours.

For some reason, several comments you made didn't trigger an email so I only recently found them:  so to grrouchie, Carmel, Josie, and Lightning, sorry for not publishing your comments timely.

Speaking of loyal readers, my followers have jumped from a somewhat meager 8,where it had been for months, up to 14 in a matter of days.  So new followers flasherman4559 and ~cw and TBC and StatMojo, as well as Piano Man and Duggle, thanks for signing on. If you haven't commented yet, please feel free - I'm really starting to dig the sense of community here.

And it's the community which has convinced me to tell the tale I've decided to tell - about my friend Wayne, and the truly sad story of the end of his life.

We met when I applied for a job at a gas station where he was the manager: The Texaco station that I just mentioned recently, the one near the Golden Banana. It was actually a second job for him.  For you Bostonians, do you remember Charles Lacquidara and WBCN's Big Mattress morning show?  Well he was "Wayne Healey, the almost always accu-104-caster," the dude that did the weather and from whom the station got the forecast, even when the on-air talent read it. I profited from his friendship in a tangible way; he got me a pair of the station's tickets for more or the really big concerts of the time - I saw the Who from the seventh row of the local enormo-dome, I think it was called Sullivan Stadium at the time.  Saw the Rolling Stones from the ninth row - saw the wrinkles in Keef's face from way close up.

But more than that, he was a friend.  He was smart and stupid at the same time; he delighted in playing stupid mind games just to demonstrate over and over that he was your intellectual better; he had a wonderful sense of humor that would often make me laugh uproariously, over and over again.

I rented a room in his apartment in 1986-7, and in truth it didn't go well.  It was my first experience being a roommate, and I was (and am) a slob besides; his fastidiousness and my slovenliness did not mix well. Plus he would continually ask me if I was going out for the evening, or if I was staying in.  Now this got on my nerves because I perceived that behavior like he didn't want me to even be in the apartment, just being in my room doing my own thing.  One day it came to a bit of a head, and I asked him why on earth he cared that I was home or not.

Well, as you might have already figured out based on how I described Wayne earlier, as it turns out, he was gay, and came out to me that day.  I told him completely truthfully that it didn't matter one iota to me if he was gay or not, "but...you, uh, you aren't gonna make a pass at me or anything, are you?" I asked with great sensitivity.

"No, Gary," he replied.  "You're unattractive to both genders."

Awesome.  Just awesome. It also made sense that when he overslept, Charles would start in on me about the importance of having the forecast into the station on time.  At the time I wondered why he should be lecturing me like I was an idiot - now I got it: he thought we shared more than an apartment.

His taking me into his confidence about his life wasn't easy for him - and it did add a dimension to our friendship, but it did not stop him from being a fastidious fusspot (though it DID explain it some), nor did it make me a better roommate.  And things were coming to a natural end, and I got the impression that he was waiting for the end of that month to tell me he wanted me out out OUT.  We didn't speak for a couple of days at a time, and neither one were heartbroken because of it.

But that conversation never took place, because my Dad had his second heart attack right around then, his first "massive" one. And I knew that as soon as he came home that I would be home too, to help Mom out while we took care of Dad. Wayne called me and asked me if I needed anything.  I said if he was heading down my way (we lived in Seabrook NH; Dad was in a hospital in Peabody, MA, maybe 40 miles away) that I could use a change of clothes and my little wooden box. Without another word he grabbed what he needed and met me at the hospital with it - what a lifesaver!

I did in fact move out a few days later and come back home, to help Dad with whatever heavy lifting etc. needed to be done.  But any emotion associated with me leaving was dissolved immediately; he didn't really dig having a straight roommate I guess but the day of my dad's heart attack he really stepped up, going so far out of his way to supply me with what I needed that it was like nothing happened to cast any shadow between us, and all was forgiven.

During this time I worked for Radio Shack, and after I left the apartment I would send about fourteen different catalogs to the apartment; make tiny little adjustments to the address and make him laugh at the names I'd use: Wayne Hegley, Manny Healer, even Wan-Hee Lee. He'd call me laughing, telling me he got another one this month and tell me which names made it through the Shack's duplicate detection.

But now let the clock run fast, and let the pages of the calendar fly off with increasing speed.   We kept in touch from time to time, but my 1991 he had moved to Florida and our correspondence was reduced to Christmas cards and the odd phone call to explain a weather phenomenon that was in the news.

In the ensuing years, Toots and I met, fell in love, went to Umpire School, moved to Ohio and got married.  For that year's Christmas card (1994) I dropped him a handwritten note that had our new address and phone number and a hope for a good new year.

A few days later, this was maybe 2 weeks before Christmas, I get a card in the mail that didn't have a change of address label on it.  It was from Wayne, but I could tell right away that something was wrong; the lettering on the envelope was shaky and weak.

Inside was indeed a Christmas card, and inside was more of that shaky script that was so unlike Wayne's normal firm penmanship. It was good to hear from me, he said; he had finally fulfilled a lifelong dream and found his birth mother.  But other than that, "...my social circle is a lot smaller these days, since I've been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS."

I dropped the note and immediately picked up the phone and called him. It was true; he really had caught AIDS.

He was a smoker; back then we all were I guess.  It was he who taught me to smoke Winston Lights; the ones I bummed off of him were better than my Marlboro reds. And that's how he came to find out that something was wrong. It seems that he was fine until he put that first cigarette in his mouth; his first puff created a coughing jag that would at first last 30 seconds; then a minute; then two.  Every day he waited for whatever was wrong with his lungs to get better and it never did.

That, plus the emergence of purple splotches on his skin really started to alarm him (remember, 1994 had no web images to speak of, no web search, no vast repositories of information) so he went to the doctor and he confirmed his darkest fear: He had a malady called pneumocystis pneumonia, which was a fungal infection of the lungs that was found mostly always in AIDS patients.  Also the dark patches on his skin were a type of tumor called Kaposi's Sarcoma, which was also almost universally found in AIDS patients.  So taken together the doctor diagnosed end-stage AIDS and suggested that Wayne didn't have a lot of time.  They put him on AZT, which was the only drug that worked even a little bit back then.  It didn't work at all.

"So what are you going to do?" I asked him.

"They want me to try something new.  A combination of three pills - they call it a cocktail so that should be right up my alley. We're gonna start that treatment right after the Christmas break."

You know how people say things that are so insightful or moving, or so poignant, that you remember them all your life? I asked him if he thought it was going to work and he said words that were seared into my memory:

"It has to, Gary. I have no choice."

At the time, remember, I had heard nothing of the retroviral drugs and their eventual success in controlling the symptoms of AIDS. I hoped it would work but as far as I knew it was just the next thing they were trying.

I wrote Wayne a letter every single day after that.  I figured he's probably bedridden and miserable, and if he could spend three minutes reading a letter from me that's three minutes he wasn't thinking about the lot in life he was given.

So a couple of days after Christmas I decide to call him again, to wish him luck in his upcoming treatment.

His partner answered the phone, and in the years I'd known him I'd never known him to pick up the phone. I said hello and asked for Wayne, and he said, "I'm so sorry to tell you this like this, but Wayne died Christmas night."

God dammit.  You know, that was so Wayne - he was a real sucker for Christmas.  He just loved everything about it - the decoration, the idea of gift-giving, the universal chill pill the world takes. Wayne just absolutely loved Christmas, and for him to have breathed his last on Christmas night was either perfect or god damned cynical.

He was so close.  He was set to start the treatment that actually worked, fewer than ten days after he died.  If he'd just hung on a little longer - smoked one less cigarette per day for a year or two - just something that would get those god damned pills in his hands before he died.  Or if President Reagan dragged his feet for a month less than he did.  It worked, for chrissake.  It would have fixed him; made him better. And his would have been a story of triumph - "hey, remember how sick I was?  I swear to god, I bet I was two weeks away from dying.  But those magic pills - they made me better!"

Instead it's a sad little tale about how I lost a friend to an unfeeling world because the timing wasn't exactly right.

The tale of my pal Wayne, who ever since he was a little kid wanted to be a meterologist, who died on Christmas night, 1994.

Anyway, that was Wayne.  One final quick story:  I was looking at his meteorological stuff and chanced on his hygrometer (the thing that measures barometric pressure).  I asked him where normal was and he pointed to about 30.  I pointed a little ways off the dial at 26 and said "what happens if it's here?"

He says, "Look for Jesus because the storms will be biblical."

Funny stuff, Wayne.  All of us at the Rock and Roll Texaco, we all miss you.

16 comments:

  1. Wow, very moving. So sorry about your friend.

    You made the right choice for subject matter for this post.

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    1. Thanks Rob. I was surprised how much surplus emotion was still left after all this time - almost 20 years now...

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  2. Thanks for the shout out...nice read...

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    1. Oh hey, thanks to you for reading. Welcome aboard - feel free to drop by and comment any time.

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  3. Ah, Chuck-a-luck-a-ducka ... I listened to him every morning (often having not yet gone to sleep) for years. I don't remember Wayne, but I do remember Danny Schechter, your news dissecter.

    Thanks for writing that very moving story. You have a great way of describing people and telling stories.

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  4. Hello Rangoon! Chuck DJ'd my senior prom, he was a bit of a dick.

    Thanks Cranky. We are the product of our experiences and those we've met along the way, so if I tell a good story it's because I tell stories of good people. Mostly ;)

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  5. Finally, a story I hadn't already heard. Good post.

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    1. Thanks Duck. Next one's funny, I promise.

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  7. Very, very touching, Gary. I agree with Cranky that you definitely paint a picture with words that made it feel like I was long time friends with Wayne.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks JT - no more maudlin tales for a while though, I promise!

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  8. I just read your post because I wanted to give it the time and attention that it deserves. So glad that I did. I cried like a baby. Thank you so much for posting it.

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    1. Carmel, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to make you cry...

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    1. Sure, sure, but I'm a guy, I tend to view crying as a negative emotion thing.

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