Putting things in perspective
It was Mike Royko, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who, when asked how he continually came up with material, is said to have replied, ‘“Just cut another vein.’” I’ll never play in the same league as the Pulitzer-winning Royko, but I do know how he felt; I shed a little of that metaphorical blood myself last week.
As I took the scissors in my right hand and cut the MerleFest wristband off my left, it might as well have been a vein. The pain was every bit as real, though not in my wrist but rather my heart. The difference between this year and the past 10 was that when I cut the wristband it was Friday morning and not Sunday evening. Except for a couple of hours Thursday, I missed my annual spiritual retreat. Missed the Chieftains, missed Alison, missed Rodney Crowell, missed BR 549, missed Skaggs, missed Del and the boys, missed everybody.
I missed them because it was the right thing to do.
What I didn’t miss were the funerals of two of my favorite old friends, Richard Dimeo and Richard Gay, who passed away within hours of each other Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
I got the news of Dimeo’s passing early Thursday morning and was still reeling when word came around noon of Gay’s demise. I went ahead to Wilkesboro to pick up my credentials that afternoon, holding out a sliver of hope that I might squeeze in a day of music between visitations and funerals, but by Friday morning it became apparent that it was going to have to be one or the other. So I chose the other.
It didn’t occur to me until later, but the two Richards had come into my life a few months and a few yards apart in 1989. I remember the exact day I met Dimeo because it was the Saturday afternoon in late March when the term ‘Laettner leaner’ became part of the lexicon. (For the ACC challenged, Duke forward Christian Laettner hit a last-second, off-balance, fall-away jumper that beat UConn and sent the Devils to the Final Four.) Dimeo was being interviewed by Bill Kennedy for a sales position with ESP Magazine, when I came storming into the office on Mendenhall behind College Hill Sundries screaming, ‘Duke wins, Duke wins!’
Being a Carolina fan, he was less euphoric than I over the events.
Since then our lives became intertwined like DNA strands. A couple of years later I left ESP and wound up at his former place of employment, The Chatham News, in Siler City, where I remained for five years. Then I returned to ESP and we shared adjoining offices for the next six years. Around 2000 he left ESP and returned to The Chatham News, where he remained until his death at the too-young age of 53.
We lost touch those last few years, but I always knew that one day I’d go down to Siler City to visit old friends and colleagues, walk into the newspaper office and he’d be standing there, avoiding work at all cost. I’d greet him with my familiar, ‘What’s happening, (expletive deleted)?’ And his snappy retort would be, ‘Hey there, (expletive deleted)!’ And it would be like we’d seen each other yesterday.
But it never happened. Death has its own timetable, you know.
Ironically, I met Richard Gay in April of that same year, less than a hundred yards from the ESP office, at the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant on Mendenhall. He was leading some stupid discussion group on spirituality and life skills that my wife dragged me to against my will. Richard, a poet, philosopher and retired ad man, struck me as being pompous, arrogant, brusque and pedantic. Yet, strangely, I found myself going back for a second meeting. And a third. By then I began to realize that beneath the curmudgeonly veneer he was one of the most humble, sincere, brilliant, warm-hearted men I’ve ever known. Janet and I and many others grew to love that old codger.
He eventually moved to Charlotte, living his final years with his daughter, but would take the train and spend a few days with Janet and me at least once a year, during which time we actually converted the native New Yorker into a Red Sox fan. Naturally, he took credit for bringing the Sox their first World Series crown since two years before he was born.
One of the blessings I’ll carry with me forever is that I was asked to deliver his eulogy last Sunday, at that same church, with some of those same people who’d been at those meetings all those years ago in attendance.
At that moment, MerleFest didn’t seem that important.
Ogi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. and heard each Tuesday at 9:35 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM.