Doug and St.Petes

Last Saturday night, I read this at Artistry in Singapore, as I was the last reader at StorySlam. I read it in a hurry and it was written in a hurry. I am late, but happy birthday, Brian Buckley.Cheers, Doug.... Dub Rogers. Brian Buckley. Doug Geoffrion. University. High School. Grade School. So... I attended the Rochester Institute of Technology, where one of my best friends was Dub Rogers. Dub and another great friend named Eric Nelson and I did the things that people seem to do only when they’re in college, things like rebelling, celebrating life and pushing the limits of everything. Dub was from the South and decided to transfer to a school there. One result of that decision was that he was living in New Orleans. I missed Dub and Mardi Gras was coming up and I didn’t have any money... So, I decided to hitchhike from Rochester, New York to New Orleans. I left on the first day of Spring in a snowstorm. Made the trip in less than three days. Yes, there were adventures in New Orleans and Dub and I had a memorable time. But these are stories for another day. After Dub and Mardi Gras, I walked out onto the highway near the SuperDome and started hitchhiking to Florida. There were gunshots as I walked up the entrance ramp. But I made it to Florida with no visible scars, and connected with Brian Buckley. I met Brian in high school. Central Catholic, one of several educational bodies I attended but did not wear a cap and gown at... But these facts are deviations, more stories for later. So... Doug Geoffrion: my best friend in grade school. Doug was a character. Once, in third grade, we all had to take a math test, the kind that you answer by filling in a circle with a number two pencil. Doug was the first one done and he received the highest score in the class, the highest score in the entire state of Ohio. Maybe he was #1 in America. He was hailed as a genius. The special attention lasted for about three days when it became obvious he knew nothing about math. Doug had just filled in the dots without looking at the questions. In seventh and eighth grade, we were on the basketball team, benchwarmers almost always. The one time that I started was in a play-off game and I scored 14 points. My scoring spree surprised everyone, myself included. Our team was able to advance in the tournament, which most of the school was pretty happy about. Except for Sister Thaddeus who taught English. Sister Thaddeus was unhappy because, for at least a couple of months Doug and I had been on another team, a team that was rehearsing for something like what we now call a Poetry Slam. Once a week we got out of English class and went down to the gym and worked on our presentation of a poem by Stephen Vincent Benet, a poem called The Mountain Whippoorwill. So... the day of the poetry slam was the day of our playoff game. Doug and I choose basketball over poetry. The fury of Sister Thaddeus did not hide her broken heart. She pulled Doug and I out into the hall. “It isn’t right that you’re drop out of the poetry competition. Why didn’t you tell me you were going to be in the tournament?” Doug looked at the nun. “Sister it’s a miracle from God. Black scored 14 points and the final score was 17 -11. And besides, if you ever saw us play you’d know that there was no way in hell that we were gonna make the playoffs.” We went to different high schools but we still hung around together. Doug drove his mom’s car, something we called The Rocknroll Falcon. It was dull green; a boxy little two-door with an AM radio. Doug and I went to a lot of parties. Once I bought a bunch of tickets to see Van Halen and Doug scalped them and we split the money. Once, my dad drove us up to Pontiac to the Silverdome to see Ted Nugent and the Cars and we stayed in a hotel. The legal drinking age in Michigan was 18 for a while… The cops came when Doug had his birthday party. Girls. Doug went pretty far with girls earlier and faster than I did. He told them he was sterile. Maybe he was. Doug was born with cystic fibrosis. He had an oxygen tent over his bed. He coughed constantly, was always trying to spit up phlegm. Sometimes it was frightening. Doug should have avoided smoke and eventually he did. It got to the point where even perfume and the occasional smell of Toledo’s air pollution became life-threatening. When we were kids, most people with cystic fibrosis died before they became adults. There is no cure. Once, in second grade, Doug had a really bad attack. The nuns led us down to church and a mass was said. Doug had been given last rites the night before. Though I went to a catholic school, my parents never forced me to go to church and I rarely did. That mass, though, I did everything a good catholic is supposed to do; my heart flooded with sadness and worry. Doug survived. So... University. High school. Grade school. As I said, I hitchhiked down to catch Mardi Gras with Dub, then I hitchhiked to St. Petersberg to see Brian. Brian was as crazy as I was and soon we found ourselves in the very very cold middle of Florida. We had thought it was a brilliant idea to hitchhike to the east coast of Florida. We gave up and turned back. The Detroit Tigers baseball team do their spring training in Lakeland Florida. A coach or scout for the Tigers picked us up and gave us a ride back to the outskirts of St. Petersburg. Brian and I saw a club from the highway and walked down. It was happy hour. So... we walked in, and who was on stage setting up gear, but Doug! He called me a punk and I said he was a hippie. Went outside and sat in a truck and talked. He told me he moved to St. Petersburg because the air was clean. That was the last time I saw him. But one day in 2003, when I was in Singapore, Doug sent me an email. Said he’d just heard the song by the Who called Who Are You? I bought that record the minute it was available and called Doug over. We listened to it together. Doug's email brought us back. We started talking on the phone. He asked me about Japan and my daughter. We talked about Taoism and girlfriends and the technicians at the hospital. The Rocknroll Falcon and hanging out at the pizza place that was in the field by my home. Once, he told me that he pretended he was a tax auditor for the government and called my dad to ask him questions about his “so called truthful declarations”. I was looking out a window onto Emerald Hill Road when Doug told me he was finally leaving. He was in his room downstairs, away from all of the people who’d gathered to say goodbye.He wasn’t sad, just wanted to be alone. We didn’t talk about grade school or Van Halen or girls. I listened to Doug talk about a chariot and the sky and a wheel of fire. Then Doug said goodbye. (The image used for the header of this post is an album cover by Pablo Cruise. I just saw it for the first time, though the "branding" of their other albums is very familiar to me. They had one song that had a line, something about "it's alright (alright), once you get past the pain". AM radio played that song a lot. Doug's version was "it's alright (alright), once you get past her pants...." It is an interesting co-incidence that the turtles are playing ping pong in something like this., project I am very familiar with.

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