|Inevitably John's phone calls opened
with, "Hey! You watching the soaps?" And his last comment in an e-mail
or phone con was "Who loves ya?"
John and I had never served together
on a boat and our actual contact consisted of when he and Lynn stopped
by our place a couple of summers ago in their camper - plus a couple of
meetings at SubVet events in Groton.
But like boat sailors do we managed
to stay in touch. I could rely on at least one phone call every month,
more or less interspersed with occasional e-mails. Most of these
electronic-comms were the result of John's re-reading some of the crap
I have on the internet about the passage of time, youth and the boats.
He loved reading Dex
Armstrong's stories. He relished the poems and writings of my late
Bob. In fact as far as I know there is still a Christmas decoration
that John had made and hung on the tree at 40 School St. with Bob's name
The stories by any submarine guy about
times-gone-by was like catnip to John. They moved him. And so he would
call and tell me how he felt. John was a sentimentalist. He hated
the aging process and the loss of strength, youth and the cruel passage
of time. (And don't we all.)
He would go on a surfing/reading spree
and then my phone would ring: "Hey, you old fart you watching the soaps"
he would yell at me. I would respond with the same words "Nope! Too busy.
I leave that to you old guys". It was almost a ritualistic exchange.
Then, without breaking stride he would rapid fire launch into something
he had read on my website or some story from a Submarine BBS and his thoughts
We'd kick around some sort of disjointed
sailor-speak about what it means and the brevity of life and the good times.
All the while, like two drunk high schoolers who had just discovered deep
thinking, we jumped from point to point. Most of the time never fully
completing a thought until finally one of us would say, "Well I gotta go".
Followed by his signature sign-off: "Talk to ya later. Who loves ya?"...
During the past several months our calls
were less frequent. He was not doing well and I knew it. But a few weeks
ago we talked for the last time on the phone. I could understand
him a little better as he was talking slower. I asked him how he was doing.
His quick response was, "I got COPD. I'm hooked to an oxygen tank and I'm
dying here. How the hell do think I'm doing? And when are you gonna come
down? Got plenty of room."
That last conversation of ours focused
on a couple of pieces called "Tears in the rain" and "Sweet Bird
of Youth". He had just re-read them for the umpteenth time and they
were really working on him and he wanted to talk. I had a hunch where
he was coming from.
When I hung up the phone my wife asked
me how John was doing. "Talking slower." I said, " I could actually understand
him better. He's really dwelling on the end of it all" Then as I felt my
eyes starting to get that hot feeling I pulled on my jacket and went for
I'm missing those conversations already.
Good bye my friend... its raining.