WARNING - adult content, not suitable for children
a short story by Mark Kolke
August 15, 2011
We all need a friend to tell our troubles to.Tell them things that are important, and things that aren’t.And encourage them to do the same.There is nothing quite like the feeling of having good news.
But having good news with nobody to tell is an empty feeling.This is sad, and lonely.When I had a bucket of sad, I would call Steve.
He listened and often gave extraordinary advice, or he just made me laugh with his stories of dating, mating and woman-sizing his life. He wasn’t a 2 ½ Men good time Charlie. He was mad, glad, goofy and as far from normal as you could imagine – but within him beat a heart of gold and a sick-puppy sense of bawdy humor like few people walking ordinary streets. I kept telling him he should write a book about his exploits, dating mis-adventures and quests.He was, in some respects, like a never-give-up old cowboy – he’d get back in the saddle every time he got bucked off.
Sadly, his riding days are over now.
I miss him already and he’s barely cold.
From the time I got the call – from Maya last Thursday – till today, the space of five days of phone calls, emails, buying a new dark suit and black shoes, plane reservations and travel to be here in Tucson was dizzying.
As Steve’s best friend; best male friend at any rate, it fell to me to help fulfill some of his final wishes and to assist Maya in planning his memorial service. He wasn’t sure he wanted one; he left that decision to Maya, but he was certain he didn’t want anything religious, because he wasn’t, and the further away it could be from religion the better.
It was the least I could do for my old friend who had done so much for me.
Now, it was about half-way through the service when the fellow leading the proceedings, a work colleague of Steve’s …Evan was his name.Evan was a decent sort, a good speaker and who had begun by introducing key family members, close friends and folks who had travelled considerable distances.He chronicled Steve’s life – small town upbringing, an only child of average stature given he had a short father and an even shorter mother, of humble lifestyle and a work ethic planted in him by his father – transmitted, instilled in him, across the breakfast table somehow, between the juice and the cereal.Then, Evan gave me the nod to come forward to deliver this eulogy. I’d written it on my laptop during my flight – and it is just a blur now:
I got up to speak. The chapel at Bring’s Broadway Chapel was filled, standing room only – mostly women, friends of Steve’s mostly, Steve’s daughters Chelsea and Meaghan from his first marriage, their husbands and his three grand-children were there; and Maya’s two sons Chas and Phil had flown in from San Antonio and Fresno to be supportive of their mom.
I started – “Hi everyone and thank you for coming. I am Larry Floyd, Steve’s friend. I may not be his oldest or best friend – but I’m the one he picked to do this job, so here I am as he requested.
I wasn’t expecting to do this for another thirty years. You see, Larry and I had a deal – and a side bet.If either of us died first, the other would give the eulogy at the service, leaving the remaining one of us without someone to do the send-off”, and at that point I got choked up.Everyone was laughing by then, so it covered my loss of composure. I forget to tell them about the bet – which was that whoever was left, should make a play for the other guy’s wife.The bet was $1,000, payable by the dead guy’s estate to the survivor if successful; and payable to the estate if I lost. Steve insisted we each make a codicil to our wills, which we did.There was no arguing with Steve over important matters like making sure your wife had your best friend as a suitor when you were gone.
I regained my composure and started in again, “Some people flow by us in life, scarcely bumping our elbow on the way by, some bump into us – and after we get up from the fall and pick our dumped packages, we move on.Others we encounter are different beings, ones who disturb us very little and disappear into the past like old clothes we discard but leave an impression more akin to a leaf in riverbed clay you find in a fossil millions of years later, a spine and limbs left like an x-rayed skeleton unchanged, unaffected and long lost. Steve did all those things, but he wasn’t shy or quiet about it any wayHe lived life large and out loud, he worked hard, played hard and told that line to all the ladies he met – with extra emphasis on the word HARD.But there was much more than being randy to Steve.We all need a friend to tell our troubles to.Tell them things that are important, and things that aren’t, and encourage them to do the same.There is nothing quite like the feeling of have good news.But having good news with nobody to tell is an empty feeling.Most of you who knew him would agree that Steve was NOT NORMAL – not anything like anyone else you knew. Most people he met went the other direction - but if he made you into a friend, you were a friend for life, and he would never let you go.I remember so many times he said, “I want to know the truth, no matter how incredible or destructive it might be, I need to know. I want to know.I thirst for it.”, and he did, every day until his last . . . ”
At that point I went off script. The rest of what I’d written was formal, sappy and not real enough to meet Steve’s penchant for truth-telling.
In part, I was losing my composure, but in larger part because reading my script was just not going to tell the story of Steve as he would want it told. So I put down my notes, walked over to the middle of that stage riser, sat on the table where that mini-casket shaped urn sat, and began to tell this story:
“I didn’t expect to be here – not for another 30 years anyway – and the best way for me to tell you about Steve is to tell you about my experiences with him . . .
For many years in his 40s and 50s, Steve’s life was tortured and distorted from any real sense of the future he was to have.
There was a quest for intimacy in Steve. A psychologist told him once that he was in search of what he never got in childhood from his parents, and in particular from his mother – and that trying to extract some measure of that out of each woman he met along the way was never ever going to fill that void.
But he was like an explorer sailing across the horizon in search of new land in a new world – and there was that intimacy to be found there, in his promised land.
For such a short while, with Maya, it was as if he’d finally found his Camelot.
Then, poof. It was gone.
He coined the phrase serial monogamy – no doubt the cause of so many women friends in the audience his service.He explained it to me this way: serial monogamy is what you do until you stop, and then it is time for cereal monogamy; breakfast with the same woman every day of the week, and weekends too.
It all seemed so sudden – I mean the change in him, but there was a cause of that. Her name was Maya.
It was just a few years since Steve and Maya connected. It seemed like yesterday . . .
“Thanks for the note you wrote Steven, I really enjoyed reading it”, Maya’s first words, to Steven.
“Please, just call me Steve”, he replied.
Conversations like that one were wearing thin. He’d had so many great beginnings before; beginnings that did not have long-lasting relationship endings. Over the years following his first marriage, Steve had many a short or medium-term romance – and he retained many as friends, a number of whom are here today.
But since his second marriage to Donna died there were few women who sparked his attention well enough or long enough.
After many months of invitations to dinner parties from friends who were trying to set him up with lonely widows, encouragement from co-workers and jibes from his children, Steve started venturing out again.I remember telling him that he should relax, take it slow – that it hadn’t been very long.
But, what is very long?Five months, two years, or twenty - or never, seemed to be the range when he connected with others for advice, but who is to judge what is right for someone?
Steve has – had - been my friend for nearly forty years. I never got along with him all that well when we worked together when we were in our twenties. I was lazy, young and stupid. We saw each other outside work at company functions, Christmas parties – that sort of thing.He stayed in touch, but it was only after my wife Leah died that I learned that Steve had stayed friends with me all those years just because of her.
I should explain, he didn’t have a thing for her – he was married with two young kids in those early days. But when his daughter Meaghan was in the hospital where Leah worked, she helped them out and showed interest in their daughter’s welfare. He never forgot and showed it lots in those early days after Leah died. I was a wreck. I had a one-year old son to look after and, at forty, didn’t have much of a clue about being real. Steve helped me through that.After a year had gone by, he asked me when I was going to start dating.
I was horny and lonely, feeling guilty for my thoughts – learning how to be a full-time caregiver, mother and father to my boy. Steve assured me I was normal. He often commented that he was finally starting to like me.That is, liking the new me he was seeing.
He was helpful beyond belief, and wrote my first singles ad for me.Back then, in those pre-internet days, that was what you would do – put an ad in the local paper with a box number for reply. He wrote me a great one – among other things, he emphasized that I was 6’4”, blonde and a widowed father of a one-year old.There was a lot more to it than that, but Steve said those were the key elements that would get me lots of response. I got 94 letters the first week, opened six, called two, met one . . . and had the time of my life for a while. That led to my own series of mistakes and a wretched short second marriage.
Through it all, Steve coached me along.I don’t know what I would have done without him.
Now, our shoes were on different feet. He had lost his wife Brenda – to ovarian cancer.She hadn’t been sick long.They had been married only three years – 2nd marriage for both of them.They weren’t bragging about being deliriously happy – just blissfully smiling each time I saw them. Knowing what a horn-dog Steve had been before he met Brenda, I can only imagine that silent smile was an indication she was taking really good care of him in the sack and, as Steve had so often reminded me, if you get the fit right in terms of lust and appetite – just about everything else in relationships flows smoothly.And, if not, the waters are choppy in everything.He said it was more than just physical intimacy – he found emotional intimacy. If he got to that, he stayed but then, if there was not – if it was lost somehow – then there was no point staying, so he moved on.He was a one woman man. One at a time, though he admitted that the space between ending one intimacy and starting another was often as little as eight hours.
He always said he was not into one-night stands, that he always aimed for a two-night minimum, but sometimes night one didn’t go so well, so that was it.
Steve and Maya might have begun as just another conquest for Steve . . .
“OK, Steve, I’ve really enjoyed our emails the last two weeks.I feel like I am getting to know you – but the voice and spontaneity were absent. I like your voice.I want to know everything about you”, Maya giggled into the phone. Her voice was jittery. Nervous jittery.
As Steve explained it to me, their conversation went on for several hours. I was glad I wasn’t getting his phone bill.Steve lived in San Mateo, just south of San Francisco.
Maya lived in Tucson.
In the two weeks that followed their initial conversation, Steve and Maya ran up dozens of hours on the phone and, I gather, Steve ran up a decent sized bill with his new best friend – Wanda, a florist at Wildflowers in Tucson.
The phone rang one night, it was Steve, “Hey Larry – guess what?”.Before I could sputter an answer, he blurted – “I’m flying to San Diego this weekend to meet Maya.She doesn’t want to meet in Tucson. She feels more comfortable meeting on neutral ground. She booked a room at a seaside place on CoronadoIsland. All I have to do is get on a plane and take a cab-ride from the airport.”
As many of you know full well, that San Diego weekend marked the end of Steve’s wanderings and women-chasing. Maya had caught Steve and Steve caught Maya – the way you catch a cold, as if there is an invisible virus floating through the room.
The years they have had, from my vantage point, have appeared to be the best brand of love and companionship any of us could hope for.
We live, we die – and our friends come together like this, as we have today.Steve always said there would be a large crowd at his send-off; a few family members on one side, and a parade of creditors led by the tax department on the other.I am pleased to report that Steve was wrong, as your attendance today has proven – this is room full of friends and the room is full of love.
~ ~ ~
I had droned on long enough. Nobody had gone to sleep – but it had gone a little long.
I could see Evan fidgeting.
He had more of the service to complete when I was finished and time was running short.
I could see the staff at the back of the chapel fidgeting because there was another service starting in a half-hour.
I thought this was hilarious. Steve would have gotten a kick out of it. He would have laughed his ass off, if he knew his service drew a big crowd and ran overtime – thereby delaying someone else’s send-off. He would have awakened to say Thank You.
“Steve didn’t want to be buried. He thought burial is a waste ofgood real estate and an opportunity to enrich funeral home operators. He also thought it was a waster of money to have his body cremated.He used to joke, that the only circumstance in which he would agree to cremation would be if he and Maya died at the same time – so that they could have one last hot time together.
Steve donated his body to the University of Arizona Medical School’s Anatomy department with the request that they could carve up any part of him and transplant any part of him that would help someone else, but with one exception. He didn’t want his penis touched.His explanation was that, other than himself, the women in his life prior to Maya and Maya were the only ones who ever got to touch it – and he would like that, in death, as in life, no male – no surgeon or undertaker – was to have access. I am pleased to report that Steve’s dick was properly and respectfully severed by a female doctor – that it has since been preserved and bronzed.It is here, in this box normally used as an urn. Steve always said, he wanted to have an open casket funeral. Well, buddy, you got your wish. He wanted any ladies who want to file past it to say good-bye to do so now.”
With that, I cued Evan who hit the button on the CD player to start the Willie Nelson tune, To All The Girls I Loved Before.
The place erupted with applause and laughter, and women started lining up for ‘the viewing’.
I went over to Maya, gave her a hug and whispered in her ear, “Maya, Steve had a wish, and a bet with me. It involves $1000.I guess the best way for me to explain it is this – would you like to go to San Diego with me for the weekend?”
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