Reliving the summer of ’92 with Ramón

by Brian Clarey

The clouds hang low over the San Francisco Bay late this morning, softening the cityscape across the water and lending a chill to the rarified air.

It’s beautiful here, the high hills rising abrubtly from the water’s edge on my side of the big drink, salted with scrub trees and peppered with bedecked homes each worth more than the Kress Building.

I’m in Tiburon, one of the finest pockets of beauty I’ve ever walked, for the occasion of what is likely the last wedding I’ll go to in a long while.

Ramón Ramone is the last holdout among my group of old friends, and though it involved great personal and familial sacrifice there was no way I was going to miss this one.

We were dirtbags together in those great fin de siecle days in the city of New Orleans’… before the flood, before the careers and the rigors of adulthood stole the free and easy treasures of our hearts’ content.

We were roommates more by necessity than design: I was not always the pillar of the community I am now, and as distasteful as some in Greensboro find me today, I can assure you I was once an even more loathsome character, walking through life without care or regret and leaving a trail of unsatisfied debtors, disgruntled employers, dismayed professors and scorned women in my wake.

It was the same with Ramón. He may have been worse.

We shared several on-the-cheap apartments together, beginning one summer with a joint on Valmont Street that eventually became overrun with fleas and tearing through similar dives on Adams, Broadway and Robert, usually moving under the cover of darkness and with as little noise as possible.

Our tenure together lasted about four years, I guess, and in that time we tested the limitations of our tolerance for controlled substances, witnessed hundreds of remarkable musical moments in the gritty bars of the city we loved, traded thousands of insults and degradations and more than a few punches in the arm.

We became brothers of the spirit in a short span, an indelible bond that even all these years later still resonates.

Almost everybody is out here: the Dicks, Chewbacca and his wife, the Amazing Bundini – but nobody knows Ramón like me. And vice-versa.

Here’s a story:

One summer we met a couple scumbags at a bar in the French Quarter who hired us on for a job they were doing at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Gentilly, rebuilding the steeple. They were steeplejacks, these particular scumbags, guys who worked on church spires without the benefit of scaffolding, relying instead on bo-sun-s chairs and thick rope to ascend the peaks. We were without any real skills, me and Ramón, but they put us on the payroll to justify their bill.

It was a great summer, spent tuck-pointing the brickwork at the base of the steeple and in our off hours whipping unshelled pecans at each other’s heads hoping to raise welts. One afternoon I got out on one of the chairs outside the steeple 175 feet off the ground, literally holding my life in my hands by the thick braided rope.

When it rained the steeplejacks would drink. And we with them.

It rains a lot in New Orleans during the summer, and on one of those wet mornings our boss took us on a tour of the scummiest bars in Slidell (and I should say that qualifying as a scummy bar in Slidell is really saying something). We hit one after the other, bars in trailers and forgotten patches of countryside and after the fifth (or sixth) one we got back on the highway to the city with our boss, John, who I remember as a deeply disturbed man and somebody I would be surprised to learn was still alive.

As we drove along the rain-slicked highway in Ramón’s girlfriend’s car, John climbed out the sunroof and onto the windshield.

“Don’t slow down,” he said.

He took a stance on the hood of the car, the heels of his cowboy boots scuffing the bonnet, and proceeded to surf as we sped down Highway 90 with fat raindrops pelting the glass and me and Ramón hysterical as loons, looking at each other and our new friend thinking, Can you believe this shit?

Looking back, it’s hard to believe. Just like it’s hard to believe that we’re not the same asshats we once were, that time and duty have sculpted us into beings resembling, more or less, actual citizens of our respective communities.

These days Ramón runs his own business in this beautiful city where he lives. He owns property; he pays taxes; more than likely he votes. I myself have surrendered to the life the Fates chose for me with few regrets. But for now, this weekend, we’re together again. There will be merriment, though it will pale in comparison to the days when we lived like wild animals in the city of New Orleans.

And that’s cool with me. We’ll always have Slidell and the summer of ’92.

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