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Old Friends

He was a drug runner in his younger years, part of a famous operation that made headlines worldwide when it was eventually brought down by law enforcement. Books were written about this drug ring, and Double D, as I called him, was mentioned in these books, not by name, the authorities never knew his real name, only that he went by the handle The Preacher

Double D was a diminutive man who loved country music, old school stuff like Merle Haggard and George Jones. I would often find him down at the lake, sitting in his vehicle singing a Haggard or Randy Travis tune at the top of his lungs. And even though his lungs were fried from years of substance abuse and smoking cigarettes, on a good day, Double D could hold his own as a singer. He was funny as hell, too. 

Although he still lived pretty hard when we met, Double D and I became friends. Not the kind of friends that go over to each others’ houses and hang out, but the kind of friends that meet up at the lake, drink coffee and tell war stories. Of course his war stories were far more interesting and harrowing than mine. We bonded over music. Double DD had my first two records, and loved them. 

When it was just the two of us at the lake, Double D loved talking all things music and Nashville. He constantly picked my brain about Music City USA. “What is like down there?” He’d ask. I’d tell him about the legendary strip of honky tonks on Broadway and the tangible electricity that emanated from them. Double D would always say the same thing: “Maybe next time you go, I’ll come with you.”

“Sure,” I’d say, knowing it was probably never going to happen. With his health failing – his breathing was so bad, sometimes he would just sit in his vehicle and cough and hack, lay his head on his steering wheel and struggle to catch his breath (this didn’t stop him from later rolling a joint and sparking it up or smoking a half a pack of cigarettes) – Double D was never going to Nashville. 

“Would you produce an EP on me?” Double D asked me one afternoon. 

“Absolutely.” 

“I mean, do you have songs I could record? Maybe I could record a couple of my favourite songs and a couple of your songs?” 

“I have plenty of songs for you to record.” 

“How much would it cost?”

I’d give Double a price, he’d scratch his head. “Let’s do it.”

“Any time you’re ready,” I’d say. 

We had the recording in Nashville conversation many times. Double D would light up every time we sketched out plans for his 5 song EP. He wanted to press a few hundred copies. He didn’t care about selling them; he would sell a few if he could and give the rest away. All he really wanted was his voice recorded for posterity.

Although I knew we were likely never going to Nashville to record together, I humoured Double D. Not out of pity, but because I believe we all need dreams and goals; things to look forward to. Double D wasn’t a foolish dreamer, he knew the odds of the EP ever happening were slim, but it gave him something to hold on to, hope for the dreary days when he couldn’t get out of bed because his lungs were so bad and he was too weak. 

Despite his failing health, Double D would still go on hardcore drug benders from time to time. He’d disappear for a few days, and when he returned he would look and sound as if he were on his last legs. Death was knocking on his door constantly. Many times I would run into him and think he was done. He was in his early seventies, but he still had the heart of a young man. 

The last time I talked to Double D, he was afraid of Covid-19. Given his lung issues, I didn’t blame him. He was too sick to live on his own or even drive anymore. He’d been moved into a longterm care facility where he was receiving good care and being fed a proper diet. He looked better than he had in a long time. Another friend brought him down to the lake in the fall. That was the last time I saw Double D. Today I found out he passed away. 

Like Double D, Little R was small of stature but big in personality. We met through a mutual friend when were were in our late teens. He drove a short-box Chevy truck and loved to call everyone Bendecko (his take on the Mexican word Pendejo, which can be used as an insult or term of endearment depending on tone). “Hey Bendecko,” he’d say as he rolled up along side me in his truck, big grin on his face, “wanna go smoke a joint?” He was affable and had a great sense of humour.

Once I cut dope and other substances out of my life, I drifted away from Little R and many other people in our circle. It’s not that he was a bad influence or a bad person, it’s just that when you change your life so extremely – as I did when I quit smoking dope and snorting cocaine and getting wasted at every opportunity – you have to change the people you associate with. Little R was one of many friends and acquaintances I had to remove from my life for my own good. 

It’s been decades since we last saw one another. The only information I gleaned was from friends of friends or from my late mother (who was friends with Little R’s mother). I heard stories of his drug use, the hard times he’d fallen on over the years and the trouble he’d gotten into. Once my mother passed away, I no longer heard anything about Little R, until I learned of his passing a few nights ago. 

I was surprised at how hard Little R’s death hit me. Fun and funny memories came roaring out of the dark corners of my mind. It was late at night when I found out he was dead. Later, as I tried to sleep, a video loop played over and over in my mind when I closed my eyes. I thought about that fresh-faced kid who worked at the local grocery store in the small Alberta town where we both grew up. How he was so full of life and promise.

After giving up on sleep, I sat in my chair and watched television. When that didn’t work, I read for a bit, but my mind wouldn’t focus on anything but Little R. I tried listening to music, but lost focus and turned it off. I tried tv again. This went on all night until around 8am, when mental exhaustion finally allowed me to fall asleep for a few hours. I dreamt of Little R. And when I woke up, he was still on my mind. 

I imagine Little R now as he was when I last saw him in the early ’90s. Eyes red, tiny slits, big grin on his peach-fuzz covered face. Happy. We listened to some of the original music I was recording with friends. We drove around town with another buddy in tow and laughed about things guys our age laughed about back then. We were all excited about the future. 

I didn’t know the person Little R was when he died. It doesn’t matter. The slate is now wiped clean. He is no longer suffering or hurting in this world. The snapshot I will carry until my time is up, tucked away in the back of my mind, will be the one of Little R in his short-box Chevy, big grin, rolling up on me: “Hey Bendecko, wanna go smoke a joint?”

(March 2021)

Previous Blogs:

Driving Miss Daisy

Midnight Tain To Nowhere

Breaking The Chains

Shipwreck Music 2021

The Grand Tour

Christmas 2020

A Playlist For Armageddon: Best Albums Of 2020

Hotel California

A Nickel In San Quentin

The Mournful Sound

Ghosts Of The Bay

The City

When Dreams Die…

Fear

William

Mother