This is what we sent out instead of our usual update newsletter this month, a story from elliot(eliquate).
Because we have spent the majority of our summer writing music for a new album, I have decided to share with you a short story about an old friend of mine who passed away, and how it is one of the happiest stories life has to offer. Hope you enjoy.
I would see him pull up outside the window, past the neon “Steamed Clams” sign, and I’d know that I had exactly four minutes to pitch a rocks glass with ice and fill it with Macallan twelve year single malt scotch. I would ask him how he was doing and he would respond with a signature quick witted quip like “Well, I’m still on this side of the grass.” Shortly after that it was on to sports. We would talk about different methods of defense in basketball, or how the best QB to play for the 49ers was Frank Albert. Inevitably, he would tell me the story of how he got to swing at a pitch from Sandy Koufax, as he was prone to telling me the same stories everyday. I suspect he knew he was repeating himself, but didn’t care. Getting to relive those cherished moments of his life was far more important than the worry that he might be boring me with the redundancy of his story telling. I would do my best to never let on that I had heard the story before; instead I would use my knowledge like an answer key to a test I had already taken. I would ask him leading questions like “Did they ever let you swing on a pitch when you brought the little league team to Dodger day?” I could see the excitement on his face as he had the perfect anecdote to answer my question.
Bill became more than just a customer; he became both, a friend and a reason to come into work. As I got to know more about him, his life story became more and more interesting. I found out that he was an engineer during WW2, played basketball for Stanford when they went to the NCAA finals (though he mostly rode the bench), worked for NASA, helped build the first ever HD telescope, married the woman of his dreams, was personal friends with jazz great Jess Stacy, got to hang with Benny Goodman on multiple occasions, raised two daughters, one of which started the first cheerleading squad at the University of Oregon, lived in many different states, loved rootbeer floats more than anything, traveled the word, and attended his great grand daughters twelfth birthday. Suffice to say he had lived a very full life.
Hearing his story made me realize that perhaps dying young is grossly overrated and old age was a goal worth aspiring to. However, Old Bill was not without his hurt as well. Ten years prior to our meeting, Old Bill's wife had passed away. Every time she was mentioned in a story, it wasn't long before the subject would quickly change to details about her- what she was wearing, how she laughed, how much she loved jazz music. It would inevitably end with a long reflective pause, coupled with a sigh of lament and a desire to see her again.
Mind you, I have no authority over what happens to people after they die, but I do know that Bill was convinced he would be reunited with her when his time finally came. He also knew that she would have an earful for him if he tried to leave before his time. I had visions of him in bed hearing his wife tell him, “Don’t you think about it William- we will have our time. Right now you need to go to sleep, wake up and enjoy living every last second of your life.” And so, he did.
One day, Old Bill stopped showing up. I had seen this coming, and knew it was only a matter of time before I was informed of the reason behind his absence. No word came until about a month later while I was on tour in Austin, when I got a text from my manager that said simply, “Old Bill has passed away, thought you might like to know.” I came back from tour aware that things were going to be different now that he was gone. I tried not to let it sadden me, as I know that is not what he would have wanted, but still, I missed my friend. I asked my manager what had happened and she told me that he had been at home with his daughters and care takers, and had requested a rootbeer float. After taking a few sips, he said something to the extent of, “I think I’m done,” coughed twice and died. Hearing that, I couldn’t help but tear up. So often these stories we hear about the end of a person’s life are perforated by tragedy and sadness, however that was not why I was crying. I was crying because for once, in real life, I had heard a truly happy ending. Here he was, at the end of a fantastic journey, surrounded by the family he created, indulging in his favorite treat, ready to return to the woman he loved, complete.
I could embellish this story and make it seem a lot more profound than it was, or exaggerate his stories so that he would seem like the cliché Hollywood old man with the crazy and heroic life but that would take away from the elegant beauty that is a real life fully lived. Life is simple; we live and we die and the stuff in the middle has only as much significance as we choose to give it. In the case of Old Bill, I was blessed with an example of a man who won, plain and simple.