I got a nice email today from Gullivar on this first anniversary of his dad’s death. He read the road-trip memoir and gave me his blessing to continue, so I will soon. I’d privately intended to finish it up before now, but this transition to Central Oregon hasn’t smoothed out yet, and I’ve been preoccupied.
Over a week ago, I solicited a remembrance of Lucius from my friend Therese Pieczynski after we reminisced a bit. In 1999, she, Lucius, and I ate dinner at TJ McHugh’s near Seattle Center, and she let slip that my wife was pregnant.
“So when’s the baby due?” she asked.
He stopped mid-chew in a very pointed, clichéd way. “Baby?”
Three years later, Therese was again out from New York, and I had both her and Lucius staying at our house in North Bend. My wife was out with friends that evening, and while my two-year-old daughter slept upstairs, Lucius, Therese, and I watched Spinal Tap and a couple other shows: The Crossing Guard with Jack Nicholson, which Lucius liked, and Snatch, which he stopped halfway through in disinterest. I remember Therese sharing Lucius’ opinion of the latter two movies.
Earlier that day, we’d taken a trip into town, and ended up at TJ’s again. During the meal, I glanced over at the next table and said, “That’s Laurence Fishburne over there.”
Lucius said, “Bullsh– Huh, you’re right. That is Laurence Fishburne.”
The actor had a meaty script in hand, probably The Matrix sequel, given the timing, and was in close conversation with an older black man who could have been his father. A fan from the other end of the restaurant took notice of the pair, and came over and fawned in way that Lucius described as “gruesome.” Fishburne was forbearing and noncommittally acknowledged the young guy’s offer to “go fishing at his uncle’s lake sometime.”
During an intermission in our movie watching later, I said, “Well, it’s been an eventful day. We had dinner in the company of a talented celebrity.”
“And saw Laurence Fishburne,” said Lucius.
* * *
I spent a lot of hours in the company of Lucius Shepard and Bob Kruger. Lucius hung out with us in the dorm rooms at Clarion West, and he and Bob became almost inseparable. I’ve lost my Clarion pictures, which is sad because I had a couple of him and Bob that I could have blackmailed them with. I believe the incident involved a large bottle of whiskey, an air guitar and some tipsy Led Zeppelin crooning at two or three in the morning.
Lucius had a nun collection of which he was particularly proud. He and I went shopping for toys for everyone toward the end of our six weeks. Finally, someone who loved toys as much as I did! I believe a new wind-up nun was added to his collection on that occasion. Lucius liked to watch the religious channels on TV. “This guy was dragging a life size crucifix across the @#$%*!# US. He had the base elevated on wheels. Wheels! It was awesome.”
We both loved Kung Fu movies. We once had an argument over whether Jet Li had actually kicked a cue ball into the pocket of a pool table in a movie we’d seen or whether it was CGI. I believed it was CGI. He thought Jet Li really did it. I was right. Just saying.
But what do I know about Lucius Shepard? What can anyone actually know about another person? I know that he didn’t like to share food in restaurants. I know that he was brilliant and yet talked like a Hillbilly. I know that at parties he sat in the corner so people could only come at him two at a time. I know that he was a sensitive, caring person who worked overtime to appear to be an asshole, to say the thing that might shock or offend. When Bob was absent he’d tell me how much he cared for and worried about Bob and when Bob was around he’s say shitty things to him, as if to regain his distance, to deny his feelings. Sometimes I’d get mad and call him on it, but I always understood. Lucius knew better than most how fragile we all are, how quickly and unexpectedly what you love can be taken from you.
But on to lighter things. Sometimes I’d stay with Bob and his wife Karen after Clarion. Frequently, Lucius was there. One time Karen was traveling and had left her and Bob’s then-infant daughter Allie with Bob. Lucius and I were visiting. I thought Allie and I had bonded over Sesame Street when we sang with Ernie, “You’ve got to put down the ducky if you want to play the saxophone.” I’m just saying that we were seriously rocking.
But unfortunately, I was mistaken. Bob was cooking dinner. Something in Allie’s universe had suddenly and inexplicably turned rancid. She was crying (okay, shrieking), wouldn’t accept me, and so I pleaded for Bob to take over. He said, “Okay but you’re finishing dinner and don’t fuck it up.”
“Hmmn, what were you making?”
Apparently, I did okay because after eating no one banished me to hell.
After Bob got Allie settled down, we stayed up half the night watching movies. There was one, I can’t remember the name, but it was about a band and it was hilarious. The one line I remember is, “It’s hard to dust vomit for fingerprints.” Lucius insisted that this was a completely realistic portrayal of band life.
I think that’s the night that I gave him the glow-in-the-dark Jesus standing in a clam shell. You could plug it in and use it as a nightlight. It was awesome. I told him the nuns would love it. He seemed touched and impressed that I understood his tastes so well. We then took a break outside and did a little imbibing. Afterward, I went quickly and quietly to bed. Yes, it’s true, I am a lightweight. My only consolation is knowing that my sudden disappearance and Bob’s subsequent search throughout the house for me gave both Bob and Lucius YEARS of thigh-slapping mirth at my expense. I’ve never lived it down. Lucius brought it up every time I saw him. Bob’s still bringing it up.
Damn, those were good times. And good friends. I can’t believe that there is an anniversary for his loss. How cruel is that? Memories are good, but it’d be better if Lucius was still here for me to fight and argue with, to laugh and watch Kung Fu movies with, to help me shop for wind-up toys. I miss him terribly. I fear I always will.