Eighteen Month Catch Up

Gomez Addams

Making Gomez Addams sound GOOD…

Back in April of 2017, I wrote about how I didn’t know how to proceed with this blog when it meant not feeling comfortable discussing things that were coming up in ETGB, when ETGB isn’t just me, but four other guys, as well… well, at the moment, that isn’t a problem any more. I have plenty going on all by my lonesome.

It’s been an interested eighteen months or so.

Last thing first:

I’ve written thirteen songs so far. THIRTEEN. I am a little dumbfounded by this fact. Sharon, the lovely woman I met last year when ETGB stepped in at the last second to do music duties at the gig she’d booked is now my writing partner and composer. Sharon is freaking brilliant. She not only hears the chords, she not only hears the harmonies, but she hears layers of music. She’s almost too good – keeping her from writing entire symphonies based on my lyrics is my biggest challenge these days. The best part of her composing the music is the songs I felt may be too weak to put on an album are suddenly sounding like potential singles; so now, instead of being worried I didn’t have enough songs, I’m finding myself cutting songs. We can actually pick and choose. It’s an amazing turn of events from a couple of years ago when I kept asking folks for help, folks would say “Yes,” and then bail on me when it came time to get down to the doing – since we started collaborating, I finished a song I started but put on the back burner, and wrote another less than a week later. We’ve got all but one song charted, Sharon is talking to a rhythm section, and she may even have a line on both a rehearsal space and a recording studio.

Aunt Pearl

One of my characters from Tuna Does Vegas… and I make a very unattractive elderly woman…

It took until a couple of months ago to get really started on composing for the album because the holidays and last fall were horrible. My poor partner had just started a brand new day job when she lost her beloved mother out on the east coast. Even without all the time she spent flying back and forth for the illness, service, and family affairs, Sharon was too heartbroken to consider jumping into music. She needed months to heal. While she was dealing with all that, I was bedridden: first with a bad back; and then with not one, but two bouts of the flu, one case over Thanksgiving, the other over Christmas and New Year’s. While I was trying to get my voice back all January, I also started rehearsals for Tuna Does Vegas, a two-man show where I would play eight different characters with at least ten costume changes. The play and rehearsals would eat up all my free time from the second week of January until the start of the second week of March.

My back gave out because I had spent all summer being not just the music director and voice coach of the Terrell musical, The Addams Family, but the lead actor portraying Gomez Addams, as well… a task that actually started the second week of March, when I started giving voice lessons to the lovely young woman who wanted to play Wednesday. My voice lessons later expanded to the woman auditioning for Alice and the comedian/TV host we nabbed for Lurch. I learned all the songs to the musical, taught everyone the songs, voice directed as necessary, and then still managed to not make a complete fool out of myself playing the lead. 

Before I was the lead in Addams Family, before I was giving voice lessons to the cast, I was the voice of Audrey Two in the Mesquite production of Little Shop of Horrors. The lead was out sick the first couple of weeks of rehearsal, so when I wasn’t singing my part, I as filling in as Seymour vocally so the rest of the cast could learn their singing parts. I was also behind the scenes, so I sang with the rest of the ensemble during the crowd numbers. All in all, it was a solid nine months of preparing for and performing musicals last year. I knew I was worn out, I knew what I really needed to do was make an appointment to see my chiropractor… but I kept putting it off. Finally, I put it off one day too many, and my lower back said “Screw this noise – I am taking a vacation.” It had been years since my back had just plain given out on me – usually, I have really good habits and I know when I’m pushing my luck – so I felt like a complete idiot when it happened… an idiot in agony, no less. Lesson learned just in time to come down with the flu.

I have done two singing gigs at the First Presbyterian Church out in Terrell. I have a voice made for hymns, it seems, and some of my best friends are usually in attendance there. Hoping I can do more church singing in the future.

I am still with ETGB, and that won’t change. Paul is my brother, and I will be his singer until he gets sick and tired of me. I do now have another couple of opportunities to get my Rock Star on without being dependent on ETGB, though… and that means guilt-free fodder for the blog.

Also means getting my weight down and instruments learned is back to being Priority Number One. So Operation: Rock Star is still a GO.


New Year, New You


For Dallas, this is the winter apocalypse…

It’s the start of a new year, and this particular weekend, it is cold. Not “Yay, it’s Winter – better grab my festive scarf!” cold, but “OMG! Are you freaking KIDDING ME?” cold. North Texas doesn’t get too many hard freezes, and we rarely fall below 20ºF, but Saturday morning I checked the news and it was 15º where I live. And before you Yankees start yapping about how that’s nothing, where you live it is routinely in the minus digits, remember I live in a state that routinely hits triple digits during July and August; and not the dry heat you get in Arizona, but the humid heat you get in the Congo, that sweltering heat that means you’re drenched in sweat by the time you walk from your front door to your car. 107º in the summer and 15º in the winter is a bit much for a temperature swing.

(I knew a girl from Minnesota, we waited tables together at the local Tex-Mex restaurant – her first winter here and she was all “It doesn’t get cold like this where I’m from! This is that cold that seeps inside your clothes and into your BONES!” So yeah, our humidity creates hellish winters when those Blue Northers come barreling into town. So shut up.)

It is a new year, though. Grand things are on the horizon. Which means the possibility for drama has also increased.

double-neck guitar

Proof that my bandleader did not kill our drummer…

The band is doing its best to rehearse. The holidays and family obligation got in the way, but that always happens November and December. Our bassist has to spend some time away for work a couple of weeks in January, then I’ve got a personal project the last two weekends of February and the first weekend of March – we’re doing the best we can to get together when we can, but sometimes even the weather seems to be fighting us. When we have gotten together, we sound pretty darn good – not quite to where we were before everything blew up, but we are getting there. Hoping to be able to books shows in March, we should definitely be able to book in April.

I have some personal projects this year, the first of which is I’m reprising the role of the voice of the killer plant from outer space, Audrey II, in the Mesquite Community Theatre production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Rehearsals started the first week of January. I am thrilled – I was hoping to get to do some work with the lovely folks at MCT, and being asked to play the part was a dream come true. The cast is wonderful, the director is fantastic, and the music director is amazing. It’s weird to be with a new group of theatre folks, but it is also exciting and invigorating.


My new crew with the Mesquite Community Theatre – this is the ensemble.

As it stands right now, I am supposed to be in my friends’, The Vagabond Players, summer musical in August, as well. It’s a wonderful role and an opportunity to be out on stage, showing the local theatre scene what I am capable of. The dates are the same as an out of state venue for ETGB, however, so I am waiting and hoping the dates can be resolved – if the dates can’t be moved, I am stuck disappointing some good people and close friends. Which sucks – as much as I want to do more music work, pursuing more possibilities always came with the threat of conflicting dates. I used to tell myself I was just over-exaggerating the possibility, and yet here it is: my first “Can’t Be In Two Places At One Time” obstacle, and I haven’t even started auditioning for more stage work.

I am so hoping my friends can work this out. Both opportunities are too good to pass up.

I did a benefit for a teacher friend a couple of months ago – she’s taking her theatre kids to New York, needed some help raising money for the air fare, so I sang a couple of show tunes for her. I had a blast – I also made a new contact in the local music scene. Once I’m done with “Little Shop of Horrors,” I’m hoping I can catch up with him, hit an open mic night he frequents with a bunch of the local musical theatre scene, and make even more contacts.

benefit performers

A bunch of pros and semi-pros raising funds for theatre kids to travel to Broadway… Yeah…

I have been writing some lyrics the last few years; a few months ago, I managed to corner my guitar phenom nephew and had him write me some backing music to what I considered to be my best chance at a hit. He added in some rhythm tracks, and I am pleased to say my nephew did a good job – we now have a solid demo of a song we have written. It’s rough, it could use some tweaking by folks who know what they are doing, but it shows real potential: the makings of a hit song are all there.

Now that I have actual proof I can do my part, I’ve been showing lyrics off to friends, and so far, even the cheesy songs read pretty good to them. I’ve got the beginnings of one song started with my good buddy and band leader; I’ve got another sent off to my phenom nephew; I’ve got another sitting with a keyboardist friend; and I waiting to hear back from my other guitarist about maybe taking on a pop rock ditty I’ve got rumbling around in my head. With a fair bit off luck and some hard work, I might be able to get all my lyrics set to music in the next few weeks.

What to do after that is another obstacle.

I wrote last summer about how the band was pushing up against that invisible line that separates one professional tier from the next, and what that might entail. One option is to become a tribute band, which are big in these parts these days; another is to add more variety of songs to our sets, become a full-on party band, which are also big in these parts; and the last option (and my personal favorite) is to start writing and producing our own songs, start marketing ourselves as both a cover band and an originals band. But that’s IF the band wants to try and make the jump up to the next tier. That next tier comes with a new set of responsibilities: an increased workload both out front and behind the scenes, the possibility of needing to bring on a manager and side players, a harder push with the band’s marketing, and on and on and on. Playing the bike rallies, playing the dive bars isn’t all that lucrative, but it is FUN, and more than a good enough time to make all the hassles to book the gig worth the time and effort – that isn’t a guarantee when you’re looking to book festivals, outdoor stages, and bigger bar venues. It definitely means it’s now your full-time job, regardless of how well or not well you are getting paid.

the rhythm section

The Rhythm Section teaching us how it is done…

Every indication, every conversation I’ve had with my band leader says he’s happy where the band is, and he’s still cool with the amount of hassle he has to put up with to keep us there. He may change his mind about writing original songs at a later date, but if he does, it will be for the fun of writing original songs, NOT with a mind to move the band up to the next tier. Playing the rallies, playing a dive bar here and there is where he wants to be. Honestly, I don’t blame him – the band has proven time and again that is what we excel at.

I’m ready to grow as an artist, though. I’m ready to add “Songwriter” to my resumé. If I find myself with a dozen songs ready to be recorded and my band isn’t in a place to cut them… I’ll cut them myself. My band has first dibs – the demo I made with my nephew was produced with my band in mind; my band is full of amazing musicians – if I do record the songs myself, they’ll be the first people I ask to help me out in the studio; but one way or another, my plan for 2017 is to have at least an EP (preferably a full album) of original songs co-written by me and my music buddies ready by Christmas. What comes after that is a worry for next year.

The band is getting closer to hitting the rallies and bars again. I hopefully have two musicals scheduled. I have one new contact made, with the possibility of more down the road in eight weeks or so. I have people saying they are on board with helping me complete my songs. It’s the first week of January, and so far 2017 is already looking pretty darn good.

A Living Entity or Brushing Up Against the Invisible Line

Keith, Kelly, and Tim

Me showing off my brother, Kelly, for Tim’s obligatory selfie. Photo courtesy of Tim Lovick.

There’s the band as a marriage metaphor, which works when all or most of the original band members are still in place; and then there’s the band as a living entity metaphor. I tend to go with the living entity metaphor personally. In my marriage, I have an equal say in things, and while I tend to take a back seat in decisions concerning things like how to decorate the house, my lovely Lady Fair knows my tastes and tries to keep that in mind when picking out colors and designs. As Paul likes to say, “I don’t run my house, but I have veto power.” That’s not the case with the band. I can make suggestions, I can ask questions, I can push for certain decisions, but I don’t actually make those decisions, and I certainly do not have veto power. That’s Paul. The band is Paul’s band. Now, Paul is smart enough and wise enough to take everybody else’s strengths and preferences into account when making decisions, but at the same time, the final Yay or Nay is always his. So no, the band is not a marriage – it is a benevolent dictatorship, and we are all free to leave if we don’t like Paul’s stewardship of the band.

This band is a living entity, though. Paul is the brains, Super Dave is the heart beat, JC is the back bone, Tim is the imagination, and I am the voice. And like a living being, the band has ups and downs, peaks and valleys. There are times when the band is on all cylinders and just unstoppable… and then there are days when the band cannot get it’s act together to save it’s damn life. Sometimes, the peak and the valley are on the same damn week.

10th Anniversary Cancerian poster

One of our favorite gigs of the year…

The band has never had a period where it could just cruise, rest on its laurels and enjoy the view – the band has always been in some kind of transition. Before Paul brought me onboard, the band experimented with having two female back up singers. This did not work, mainly because the females in question used a little too much liquid courage to psych themselves out enough to perform in front of a crowd. Not long after they ladies were cut loose, I arrived… so technically, I was brought on to be the ladies’ replacement, singing the pretty back up.

It was unthinkable that we would need to replace Patrick, the drummer… and then suddenly, we did. Seven kids with a vicious recession on was too much stress on Patrick and the entire family, so the band had to go. JC was brought in, and even though he was half the age of the rest of the crew, he got along great… until we had to replace JC, who had decided to move to Los Angeles. Patrick came back, life got too vicious again and he left, and then JC moved back to Texas and he rejoined the crew.

Jon co-founded the band with Paul. Jon is brilliant. Jon is an amazing bassist, with a jazzy kind of interpretation of classic songs. Jon also had very definite ideas about the direction he wanted to go with the music the band was doing; when that didn’t happen, he decided he just wanted to show up and play… but soon, he didn’t want to do that, either. After not returning phone calls or emails for weeks, Paul brought in Super Dave so the band could start booking dates again. Jon found out he’d been replaced by social media, and we haven’t heard from him since. Not our finest hour, and whether he admits it or not, it still haunts Paul.

When Gary’s carpal tunnel took him out of the band and Tim came on board, the only original member of the band Paul created 12 years ago… was Paul. The brain was intact, but everything else in the body had be replaced with a transplant.

The band at Chaser's

The crew and Little Brother, taking care of business. Photo courtesy of the wonderful Michele Moore.

It sucks when you lose a band member, even if it happens with a minimum of fuss, as in Patrick and Gary’s cases. The upside is, though, with the infusion of new blood comes new song ideas. When JC settled in and became THE drummer, the band got a lot better. When Super Dave came in and brought a new wealth of songs, the band got a lot better. When I discovered the meaning behind the songs and found my voice, the band got a lot better. Now that Tim is on board with his tenor harmonies and lead guitar licks, the band has gotten better once again.

With all the transplants in the band, with all the improvements the band has made over the years, The East Texas Garage Band is poised to make a big leap.

There’s a line no one can see, but everyone who deals with any kind of creative, artistic pursuit knows it is there and it is real: it is the line that separates amateurs from professionals. A lot of times, the division is really easy to see: go to a comic convention and take a walk around the art show, you will see a definite difference in quality between the amateur work and the working professional’s art. Some times, the division is almost impossible to see: go online and read some of the fan fiction out there, some of it is as good – if not better – than some of the published novels on book shelves. When you are really lucky, you catch an amateur actor or dancer just before they hit the big time, and you get to say “I saw them when no one knew who they were.” Well, a band faces that same line. It takes a certain amount of time and energy to get to the top of the amateur level, to be the best an amateur can be… and then you stall there. Because the difference between the “extremely gifted amateur” and the “working professional” is incredibly small, yet almost impossible to bridge. A lot of the time, it’s the X factor that separates the two categories, that indefinable ingredient that you know when you see it or hear it. The real bitch is it’s a band – nearly all the members have to have that X factor or be so close to having that X factor before the band as a whole is ready to make that leap to The Show.

With my singing, with Tim’s leads, with Super Dave’s playing, with Paul’s leadership and showmanship, and with JC’s outside the box syncopation, as of just a few weeks ago, The East Texas Garage Band was knocking on that line, poised to make the jump. Which, in our case, being a cover band in DFW, meant potentially leaving the B-level of acts and joining the A-level tribute bands. Also meant doubling our fee, and being able to get that. We’d need to have a serious conversation about where the band wanted to go at that point: being an A-level act in DFW means either being a tribute band (which we don’t want to be), adding dance and party music to the repertoire (a possibility, just not a strong one), or create some original tunes and try to go pro (my preferred choice).

JC wrecked his truck.

me at Chasers

Trying to see where the hell the guitarists are going with this song… Photo again courtesy of the lovely Michele Moore.

Just days after our last gig, just over a week until our next gig, and JC lost control of his vehicle while heading home from a concert down in Deep Ellum, woke up in ICU with two broken arms, two broken wrists, some broken ribs, and a cracked bone in his playing foot. One wrist required surgery, his playing foot required surgery. He is laid up for weeks, possibly months, and until he heals up enough for physical therapy, JC has no idea what effect this will have on his ability to drum: could have no effect at all, which is the hope; could be done drumming for the rest of his life, which is a panicky worst case scenario, but is still a possibility.

I took JC flowers from the band a couple of days after they moved him from ICU into a private room. His foot was still swollen like a grapefruit then, the doctors hadn’t gone in after that bone they were worried about. It was the first time I had been to a hospital since Sherry had died almost two years ago, and I was not digging the sensation at all. As his singer, I’m pissed as hell that JC has done this to himself… but as his friend… damn it all… I am just so grateful he’s still alive. Had he been going just a little faster, had the wall he hit been just a little taller, and that might not have been the case. When I couldn’t force out any more words of encouragement, I got the hell out of there… I was wiping away tears by the time I got back out to my car.

I’ve just buried too many people lately. This cut it a little to close for comfort for me.

My brother, Kelly, drums for a local cover band and knows most of our songs; more importantly, he’s all about the playing and doesn’t have time for any drama, his real life is dramatic enough as it is. Paul quickly gave him a call, we scheduled an emergency Friday night rehearsal, and we went out to the middle of nowhere to play the private gig that had been on the calendar for months. We weren’t as tight as we’d been the couple of weeks before, but Kelly is a pro, Paul and Time are pros, and with Super Dave keeping everybody in the mix, we were still pretty dang good. Two weeks later, we showed up at Chasers and did it all over again with the same result.

We just don’t know what’s going to happen with JC, so Paul made the executive decision to go on hiatus for the foreseeable future, which means Chaser’s gig was probably our last of 2016. He and Tim have been getting together to mesh their guitar grooves; hopefully, I’ll get a call soon saying they guitarists are ready for a vocal rehearsal, work on some harmonies. As for what I’m going to do to get my performance fix, I haven’ decided yet. Upside to all the drama the last month? Lost ten pounds. Say what you want about the stress diet – it works.

It also means that invisible line we were just brushing up against has retreating out of reach again.

Somewhere That’s Green

Doo Wops rehearsing

My lovelies, The Doo Wops, during rehearsals: Tracy, Crystal, Becka, and Cheray.

I was planning on writing a small novel about performing in Little Shop of Horrors, but once again Life has a way of changing my plans. So while I am commenting on the musical, this post is about being at the crossroads.

The musical was amazing. It had been a while since I last acted, so it was a joy to stretch those creative muscles. It was also extremely fulfilling to work with folks who didn’t consider themselves singers, helping to show them that the same artistic choices that go into drama are the same choices that go into musical theatre – as the artist, you’re attempting to convey a message to the audience and create an emotional reaction; the difference is you’re using song instead of prose. Helping turn actors into singers and singers into actors is an experience I won’t soon forget.

I’m looking forward to doing more work with Erin, our piano player and music coach during rehearsals, as we are already putting a show together. My Doo Wops – Tracy, Crystal, Becka, and Cheray  – all stole my heart with their enthusiasm and energy. Our Audrey, Sherri, may be the single most talented person I’ve met in a long time: amazing voice, amazing range, amazing ability with accents, and the single best cold read of a script I’ve ever heard. Our puppeteer, Hayden, never failed to tickle me with his backstage anecdotes, and never failed to make my vocals look good out front. I finally got the opportunity to work with two very talented gentlemen, Mitch and Dorman, a personal dream of mine come true. I am so looking forward to seeing Hannah act, having adored her as our Assistant Director. The Vagabond Player’s founder and my buddy, Ron, gained a whole new respect for what I do as a vocalist as he learned basic singing techniques; while I got to peer behind the curtain to see how the magic is made as he produced mayhem into a show; experiences that have deepened our appreciation of each other. Our director, Jeff, trusted me far more than he had reason to, an act of faith I’ll always cherish. And the remarkable young man Ron and Jeff found to play Seymour, Austin, not only stunned me with his talent and incredible work ethic, but he is rapidly becoming one of my extended family even while he’s off at college. You can never have enough brothers, and Austin quickly became one.

The set

The absolutely stunning set, with my alter ego center stage.

The musical didn’t go off without a hitch, but after six years of performing live, I didn’t expect it to and it didn’t throw me. The rehearsals also didn’t go off without a hitch, but after a lifetime of dealing with creative people, I didn’t expect it to, artists have a reputation for being temperamental; this did throw me a bit, though. I wasn’t prepared for the reaction I would have to certain events – the intensity of my feelings stunned me. I started one of the early rehearsals with a talk about how being an artist meant making a choice to create something where once there was nothing, and how you couldn’t do that while being a victim – you could only do that by being a warrior. That was a particularly interesting week.

I also wasn’t prepared for my reviews once the musical finally opened – evidently, I did great.

I’m a singer, and Twoey the killer plant is mainly a singing role with the least amount of dialog out of anyone in the main cast. I never really had any doubt I’d nail the songs – my worry was always my speaking parts. Bobby always said as an actor you need to know why you’re walking into a scene and why you’re walking out of a scene – you came from somewhere and you’re going to somewhere, and there’s a reason why. He called this “doing your homework.” So I did my homework: I asked myself “Who is Twoey, really?” Answer: a manipulative con man who convinces other people to do things against their better judgement, all to benefit himself and his end game… or in layman’s terms, Twoey is a pimp. I read and reread my sections of the script, comparing my dialog to the dialog of my fellow actors in the scene, asking myself how a pimp would attempt to sell these lines. I did my best to listen to how my cast mates were reacting to my lines and react to them in kind. I did my best to tailor my songs to best suit the dialog instead of showcasing my voice, which immediately improved my delivery.

When it came time to open the show, I was no longer worried I was going to embarrass myself, which meant I could concentrate on doing what I felt I’d be hired to do: knock Twoey’s songs out of the park. When opening night was a success and the cast was meeting with the audience, I was expecting compliments on my singing – I wasn’t expecting compliments on my acting. Yet that night, and every performance afterward, my acting was as praised as my singing.

For a month, there was nothing but the musical, either rehearsing the entire show or performing the entire show. Then it was the last performance and BOOM! Done. Set torn down, everybody heading their separate ways, and Ron and his wonderful wife, Gayle, moving on to their next show set to open in October. I went from 110 mph to zero in the span of about 90 minutes – my mind and my creative soul were not ready for such an abrupt stop.

Keith as the Narrator

I doubled as the opening narrator; I later came out to sing “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” – the looks on people’s faces when they realized it was the dude in the tux who was voicing the plant – PRICELESS!

I never considered myself an actor. I can deliver a line when I need to, but I’m no Olivier – my first art of choice is singing. With this sudden influx of unexpected praise, my definition of myself was thrown into turmoil. Maybe I’m not a singer who can act; maybe I’m a singer AND an actor. Maybe I always shied away from acting because that was Bobby’s domain, and I could never be the artist he was. Maybe I’ve been limiting the ways I could be performing by adhering so strongly with the vocalist label I’d slapped on myself.

The last few weeks have required a lot of soul-searching, a process that is not yet done. I am still considering more acting – I’m not, however, seriously considering television or movie work. Amazingly enough, that possibility actually came up in a couple of conversations and meetings over the last month or so; with my age, my look, and my open schedule, the consensus was I could be doing some non-union acting gigs if I was willing to do some traveling. I’ve decided against that – if I’m going to spend a few days down in Austin earning next to nothing, I’d rather spend it singing in a bar than standing around on a set. And I still don’t see myself as an actor as much as I now see myself as a performer – while I certainly wouldn’t turn down an extras gig if it came my way, I’d much rather do my acting on a stage, preferably in a musical. I want – I NEED – that audience.

Right now, the pressing matter is what to do about my days. Just found out I missed out on a temp-to-hire job because I didn’t have the latest buzz term on my resumé – had all the skills the buzz term encompassed, mind you, but since I wasn’t acquainted with the new technospeak, I was passed over for someone who was. I am very good at what I do, but evidently I have fallen a step, if not two, behind the times. So the question is: do I swallow my pride, dive head first into the newest technologies and coding to get me up to par so I can get a corporate gig? Or do I chuck 20 years of experience and put all my energies into crafting a performing career that is artistically fulfilling but lacks any kind of financial security or even certainty? And how do I get my head and my heart to agree on a course of action?

Because at this moment, I am truly torn. I don’t know what to do.

And The Hits Just Keep Comin’

Bobby's sister, Sherrie

Bobby’s sister, Sherrie

I’d hoped that by now I’d have written about the July wedding reception the band played, the open mic nights I’d been attending every other week, or the music my crew and I had planned on recording and why that hadn’t happened yet – that’s what I’d hoped, but that’s not what I’m writing about. Because that’s not what’s on my mind.

2014 is kicking my ass.

Not personally, mind you. In Keffusland, everything is actually doing pretty well: got a day job helping keep the bills caught up; still doing a little freelancing on the side from time to time; singing strong, making new fans every time I do; band has a couple of rallies coming up, that will be major fun and garner us some major exposure. Life isn’t perfect – could use some benefits, could use a little more money per hour – but all in all, not too shabby. A hell of a lot better than last year or the year before, so yeah, the personal life has no major complaints.

Bad things keep happening to people around me. A lot.

Started back in January: my email got an alert from my Monster account about a possible job fit – lo and behold, it was a position at the job I’d left two years before. I texted my friend at the old job:

“Hey! You’re looking for a graphics guru – who left?”

The text came back. “OMG! We didn’t tell you! The senior graphic designer died.”

Over the next few minutes, my friend texted all the details: the senior designer got sick, but refused to go to the doctor until he attempted to drive into work and had to turn back around, he’d gotten too dizzy to continue. A trip to the emergency room revealed double-pneumonia – he was quickly admitted into the ICU and put into a medically-induced coma. While he was under on the antibiotics, he had a stroke. And then another stroke. After the third stroke, there was nothing left of my old co-worker. His family took him off of life support over the holidays.

The senior graphic designer had been with the company since its founding – all the original logos, package designs, spec drawings were all his; all the early catalogs were produced by him. And he wasn’t that much older than me, in his early to mid-fifties at most. I liked him – he was a little crusty, he didn’t like working a second extra minute if he didn’t have to, but we shared the same dry sense of humor and love of heart-clogging gas station snacks. I’d have gone to his service had I just known what had happened in time.

A month later, and I was sitting at his desk, temping while the president of the company looked for a new senior graphic designer – I’ve been there ever since.

Just about the time it was decided I needed to take on the late senior designer’s old job of laying out the new catalog, I got the call from my mom that my cousin had passed away. He’d been a hard-drinking chain-smoker since his teens, so the news wasn’t as surprising as it was just unexpected – last I knew, he’d been forced into early retirement from his failing health, but he wasn’t in horribly bad shape. I was wrong. My cousin had a reputation as a party hound with a penchant for extremely dirty jokes when he was young and spry; he was also always to first to show with his tool belt on when someone in the family needed a helping hand; and if he was on the job, the job got done right or it didn’t get done at all. We were thankful he wasn’t in pain any longer, but he was beloved and would be sorely missed by us all.

It was barely six weeks later that I got the call from Bobby’s family he was in a coma. It was barely twelve days later I’d deliver his eulogy. It’s been seventeen weeks since we all lost him, and none of his friends and family have recovered – there’s this pall hanging over everything, like a cinematographer leeched the scenery and all the players of some of their color. The world just isn’t as bright.

In late June, a good friend and former co-worker at an older job called my cell phone while I was heading into work. “Are you sitting down? Because you are not going to believe this: the Marketing VP was found dead, sitting in her car in a parking lot on Saturday. Last anyone had ever seen her was leaving work Thursday – she’d been missing two days.”

Had my buddy not warned me, I could have driven off the road, I was so shocked. My old Marketing VP had been a stunningly attractive, wonderfully charming woman of amazing competence and capability. She’d revamped the department, understanding early on the key to getting materials out on time was not just more hands on deck but better organization: she hired more account managers, then delegated authority to long-term designers that played to their strengths. In short order, the department was cranking out more catalogs and collateral materials with fewer designers on staff.

Bobby; his mom, Mary Ann; and his sister, Sherrie, around 1979-80

Bobby; his mom, Mary Ann; and his sister, Sherrie, around 1979-80

I’d screwed up: I took something personally that was only business, reacted with hurt feelings when I should have been more pragmatic, and I ended up losing that freelance gig. She was the only bridge I’d ever regretted burning down, and I’d still held out a small measure of hope that if I couldn’t salvage the professional relationship, I might someday repair the friendship – finding out she was gone hit like a mule kick to my chest. The funeral was for family only, so I hung my black tie back up.

Finding out about my old boss was the last straw: too much bad emotion had a physical response. I had a fever by the end of the day; by the end of the week, I was home sick with a upper-respiratory infection. I was still taking antibiotics, still hoarse at the July Fourth wedding reception the band played for one of our biggest supporters. The next weekend I had all my voice back, but only about half my lung capacity for our last bar gig of the summer. I took advantage of the band having the rest of July and the first weekend of August off to rest and heal up.

About a week before Labor Day, a buddy posted up on Facebook some horrible news: rather than explain to his parents he’d rather keep working the family store than deal with the stress of college, my buddy’s very intelligent, very sensitive son had taken the pistol stashed in the office for security and taken his own life. I was at work the next day, making the arrangements to take off for the service when I got a text from Barbara Ann, Bobby’s sister-in-law: “gm keith sherrie is n icu not good machines r breathing for her”

Sherrie was Bobby’s sister. I left the office, found a semi-quiet corner of the warehouse and called Barbara Ann for the details. Sherrie had been out running errands with her boyfriend when she started feeling bad – she asked if they could head back home so she could get a breathing treatment for her COPD. Her boyfriend complied and took them to the house – he heard the breathing machine hum on, heard Sherrie say, “Call 911,” and then he heard her hit the ground. She’d stopped breathing and soon went into cardiac arrest. The EMTs had resuscitated her twice on the way to the hospital, but she remained in a coma. Bobby’s mother, Mary Ann, was with her in the ICU, Barbara Ann would be down with her husband, David, when they could swing it.

I thanked Barbara Ann for the information and ended the call. I couldn’t breathe and my head swam – the similarities to Bobby were unavoidable. I wiped my eyes, got my act together, then told my co-workers what was going on and that I had to go. I got in my Mustang, hit the road, and then called my lovely Lady Fair, filling her in.

The Kaufman hospital was a breeze to get to compared to its Bedford counterpart, just a quick left turn after leaving the highway. Mary Ann saw me and honked her horn as I was walking towards the doors – she needed nicotine and it was too hot to stand outside, so she was sitting in her running car with the air conditioning. “Thank you so much for being here,” she sniffed, squeezing my hand. I shrugged, holding up my arms. “Where else would I be?” I answered. Bobby had been my oldest friend – he hadn’t just been adopted by my family; I’d been adopted by his, as well. And since he couldn’t be there for his family, I damn sure would be.

One request for information landed me in the third floor ICU in no time. Sherrie’s son, Justin, was in the room with her – except for the breathing tube down her throat, Sherrie looked asleep. She also looked gorgeous: good color, plump cheeks, eyelashes impossibly lush, as is her big blue eyes would flutter open at any moment. I hugged Justin as he tried to put his thoughts in some semblance of order – as desperate as he was to hold on to any shred of hope, Justin had experienced too much life not to be pragmatic. Against his will, he was already planning for a future without his mother, worrying more and more about his grandmother – two children lost in less than four months was more than anyone should have to bear.

I made plans to head back in the morning – the results of the EKG would be ready, and I wanted to be with the family when they received the results. I hugged my folks good-bye and headed for the car.

“Are you ready to do this again, Keith?” Mary Ann called after me. The question had a double-meaning – she trusted that I caught it.

I shook my head. “No!” I called back. My answer had a double-meaning – I was afraid she’d ignore it. I climbed into the Mustang and headed home.

No one was completely sure how long Sherrie had been without oxygen, but it could have been as long as fifteen minutes – the EKG would hopefully let the family know how much hope to hang on to. I got up as if I was going to work, put on clothes I could wear with my sports coat even in the summer – I always feel more confident in a sports or suit coat, and I’d learned a long time ago professionals take you more seriously when you wore one, even if it was matched up with blue jeans and gym shoes. I headed back to the ICU waiting room, welcoming family members as they arrived and we waited for the results. It was after lunch before the attending doctor and the hospital chaplain finally met with us.

There was definite signs of brain damage – how much no one would know until Sherry woke up. Sherry was showing signs of wakefulness, an improvement from two days before. But that was all the doctor could tell us for sure – the recommendation was to just keep Sherrie under observation for a few more days, see what developed. The family was frustrated – we’d all hoped for more definite news. Mary Ann heard what she needed to hear – she heading back to Sherrie’s room, asking her baby girl to please wake up. I hugged Bobby’s pretty niece, Doniene. “I’ve got to get back to my life. If I can make it back up here over the weekend, I’ll see you then.”

She squeezed me back. “Thank you so much for being here.” The tears came back to my eyes. “Where else would I be?”

Sherrie and Bobby two years ago, maybe the last photo of the two of them together

Sherrie and Bobby two years ago, maybe the last photo of the two of them together

I’d missed most of Wednesday and all of Thursday at work; Friday was the day before a holiday weekend, so I made sure I was at the job all day so the regular full-time employees could start their vacations early if need be. Saturday was a band rehearsal that lasted most of the day. The practice went great – new songs were coming along, old songs were sounding better than they had in months, and my lung capacity was almost back to normal. The practice room had been like a sauna, though, so once we were done, we were done – I headed home to a much needed shower and a good night’s sleep.

Sunday brunch with my mother-in-law fell through, so I headed back to the hospital to see Sherrie. In the two days I’d been gone, her appearance had completely changed. The breathing tube was gone, with just a cannula in her nose providing oxygen. Someone had pulled Sherrie’s hair up into a pony  tail on the top of her head, exposing her terribly frail neck. She didn’t look as plump – the skin of her face seemed to be pulled tighter, sinking in her cheeks a bit. Most striking of all was her lower jaw which had fallen open, as if all the muscles had gone slack, as if she had no sense of self-awareness at all. My chest got tight – I’d been in too many ICU’s, I’d seen that look before, I knew what came next. I started asking the Universe to not let her linger too long.

Monday was Labor Day, so I went back to the hospital – my Lady Fair and I were in between the rotation of family members, so we sat in Sherrie’s room for a little while. Her eyes were open, but she didn’t see me – she didn’t see anything. Tuesday, I went back to the hospital. Mary Ann was coming in just as I was leaving, so she filled me in on what the kids had decided on the day before: they were moving Sherrie to Oklahoma for in-home hospice care. Mary Ann wasn’t going to fight it, which told me she’d stopped asking her baby girl to wake up. I walked her down to her car for another smoke break, hugging her close when we made the parking lot. Mary Ann was even smaller than a few days before – she hadn’t been eating. If I had to guess, she probably hadn’t been sleeping; just chain-smoking and crying and praying. “When it’s time, will you take care of things?”

My heart sank. “Mary Ann… sweetheart… I’m not a minister.”

From a million miles away, her tear-filled eyes stared up at me. “But, Keith… you’re the closest thing we’ve got.”

I couldn’t say “No” again. Bobby had been my oldest, my closest friend – I’d be there for his family.

I didn’t go to the hospital Wednesday – I needed the break, I needed some time with my Lady Fair, and I needed to process what I’d just promised Mary Ann I’d do. My phone buzzed – I had a message from Bobby’s close friend and former roommate, Loretta. “Sherrie has passed. Please don’t post. Waiting to let the kids know.”

All the air left the room as tears trickled down my cheeks. I told Kristi, who cried. I texted my mom. I texted my sister. I called my brother. I texted my band leader. I went to my office to check Sherrie’s Facebook status – soon, words of condolence started appearing on her wall. The kids knew. I wiped my eyes and went to bed.

Over the next few days, I helped plan my second funeral, wrote my second obituary, and wrote my third eulogy. I didn’t know Sherrie as well as I’d known her baby brother – it wasn’t writing Bobby’s eulogy that was so difficult, it was editing it down to just ten minutes that was the challenge. Sherry’s obituary was a challenge from start to finish, fighting me the entire way – it took me part of Thursday and all of Friday to compose, barely finishing before I needed to get ready for the visitation. My lovely Lady Fair and I took separate cars to the funeral service Saturday morning – she wasn’t sure if she was driving with me to Oklahoma, she might stay back and spend some much-needed quality time with her mother. The funeral home’s chapel was packed, mostly with family and friends, but with some of Bobby’s friends making the drive, and Justin’s Dance Moms rounded things out (among other things, Justin owns and operates two dance studios in Dallas specializing in drill teams). A little after nine in the morning, I stood at the podium and welcomed everyone to the service. I outlined what was going to happen, then I officially began things by reading the obituary I’d written. Sherrie was survived by so many people, and I’d been asked to name them all, some of the grandkids were old enough to notice if they hadn’t been mentioned – mother, brother, sister-in-law, niece, five kids, two stepkids, seven grandkids, seven step-grandkids… so many people… but only three names remained.

“She was preceded in death by her father, David Wesley Laye; her nephew, David Wayne Laye, Jr.; and her brother…”

My voice broke as tears suddenly appeared. I’d practiced the obit, but I’d never actually said it standing at the very same podium, wearing the same shirt, wearing the same sports coat, as I had sixteen weeks earlier; and it suddenly hit me full force that Sherrie’s brother – my brother – was dead.

I forced his name, “Bobby Lee Laye,” then choked out “She was 53,” and sat down as a long-time friend of the family said a few words. I dropped my head and pulled myself back together as he led the room in a prayer.

I delivered my eulogy without a problem. The service didn’t go as smoothly as Bobby’s, but it still went fine – at least, I assume it did; I didn’t get any complaints. I got the chapel cleared and the casket loaded into the SUV for the trip on time, which made me a hero in the eyes of the funeral directors who still had back-to-back services to go. My mother-in-law didn’t need my lovely Lady Fair, so she decided to make the run to Oklahoma with me. Nine hours later, we were home. I skipped the drinking I had planned for the evening and went straight to bed, tired and soul-weary.

Sherrie Ann Johnson

Sherrie Ann Johnson

The day after Sherrie had passed, I’d gotten a note that a former officemate of mine, a wonderful young woman I still miss working beside, had lost her mom. I was tied up with Sherrie business, so I shot a quick condolence; now that the service was over and life almost getting back to normal, I shot her a longer note apologizing for being so distant and asking her how she was holding up. I’d just gotten back her reply when another note appeared on my screen: Bobby and my old friend and former roommate, after years of watching his mother decline, was letting us know his vigil was over, she had passed just that afternoon.

I stared at the screen, numb. I quickly typed out “Oh, my dear sweet brother… I am so, so sorry. Love to you.” I then turned off my computer, went straight to the bedroom, crawled into bed and pulled the covers over my head. My Lady Fair turned off the light and shut the door for me – that was ten hours ago.

Since I first got the news of my old senior graphic designer, I’ve been doing what I can not to complain. Going to visit someone in the ICU is stressful, but way less stressful than if it was your sister, your mother laying in the bed with a tube down her throat. Attending a funeral is depressing, but no where near as heart-breaking than if it was your brother, your child laying in the satin covered in roses. So many people I care about are dealing with such loss, I’ve been doing what I can to focus on them, keep this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year about them and not about me…

but I am so tired. I can’t process one piece of bad news before another piece of bad news arrives. Gravity seems to have gotten stronger, I feel so heavy and sluggish. There is this band of stress that lives right across my eyes – I’m a second away from crying all the time. And whatever progress I made coping with Bobby’s death is just gone, wiped clean – it was exactly four months today that I did everything I could to honor him right, to bury him right, and it feels like it’s still happening today, that I still have that eulogy to deliver. I just want to go back to bed, pull the blankets up over my head, and stay cocooned there for a week. A month. Until New Year’s Day and this damn year is over and done with.

I am truly blessed to have people who think the world of me, and bless their hearts, they are seeing the cracks in my armor and doing what they can to send me love and support. I’m trying to listen to them, I’m trying not to hurt their feelings, I really am… but I’m just so raw and worn out. This year can’t end soon enough for me.

Bobby Lee Laye

Bobby, right after moving to Talhina

Bobby, right after moving to Talhina

When I was around eight years old, a classmate followed me home one day. And he never really left. I buried him last month.

His name was Bobby (or “Bobby Lee,” as his sister would call him), and I didn’t know it at the time, but he’d recently lost his father, a victim of a murder. His mother, Mary Ann, was a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks in a little bitty podunk town in Oklahoma, and was in no position to suddenly be a single parent – on more than one occasion, Bobby would find himself being shook awake at four in the morning. “Get dressed and get packed,” Mary Ann would whisper, “we gotta be outta here by six, before rent’s due.” One of the few jobs she could get that would pay enough to support three kids was cross-country truck driving; she’d get the call and she’d be criss-crossing the nation for the next few weeks. Seeing how her family was up in Nowhere, Oklahoma, and her late husband’s family had never approved of her in the first place, Mary Ann had next to no support system in place for such a job; more often than not, the kids were left to their own devices while she made some much needed cash. Bobby’s brother and sister, David Wayne and Sherrie Ann, were older, teenagers by this time, and could look after themselves if they had to (and they did) – Bobby, on the other hand, was still in middle school and needed a little more attention. So when Mary Ann would disappear for a couple of weeks, Bobby would come stay with me, sleeping in the floor of my and my brother, Kelly’s bedroom, washing his clothes in our laundry, and eating with us while still going attending West Mesquite Junior High.

When Kelly and I started camping in the Boy Scouts, my Dad just naturally took Bobby along; when we heading to Summer Camp, Bobby was in tow, as well. Even after Mary Ann remarried and moved to Duncanville my sophomore year of high school, Bobby was still over at my house every other weekend (how he got a ride to Mesquite remained a mystery). After we got our driver’s licenses, Bobby’s visits became even more frequent; a couple of times, I’d wake up in the middle of the night to find Bobby and a couple of his Duncanville High Friends in my bedroom – he’d been bored and convinced his friends a midnight drive to my place on a school night sounded like fun. Of course, with Bobby involved, it was fun – Bobby could make mundane activities an adventure.

Where Bobby had never fit in at West Mesquite, he excelled at Duncanville High where the Arts were a bigger part of school life (as opposed to sports at WMHS). Bobby had been born a ham; now, he blossomed into a gifted actor and intuitive dancer. Bobby thrived in the spotlight and made friendships that would last the rest of his life; Bobby also discovered he was a cheap date – about one drink was all it took to get him inebriated, then the party would get really crazy. I wasn’t there for his seventeenth birthday party, but I saw the pictures and later heard the stories; dancing buck naked in the living room (he’d gotten hot, so he took off all his clothes); hiding behind trees, then jumping out in front of passing cars to get them to swerve in an insane game of “Drunken Chicken;” and my favorite, bazooka-barfing on the fur coats in the back bedroom after some foolish person thought that would be the perfect place to let Bobby sleep it off.

His inability to handle even the slightest bit of alcohol became both a running joke and the easiest button to push to create an epic party; we’d later find out it was also evidence that Bobby had inherited more than his father’s good looks.

Mary Ann had pushed the Mesquite school system to accept Bobby as a student even though he had an October birthday; because of this, not only would Bobby be one of the smallest kids in class for years, but he was still five months shy of his eighteenth birthday when he graduated high school. On that fateful day, while his friends were being handed the keys to their new BMWs along with their diplomas, Bobby was handed instead his walking papers. “You’re a high school graduate now,” his stepfather told him. “Get out of my house.” Bobby came and stayed with us for a while over the summer until I started college that fall, then he couch surfed until moving in with my ex-girlfriend the next year. State university wasn’t working out for me, so when I returned to Mesquite, Bobby soon returned, too. We got an apartment together, not the first or last time we’d be roommates.

Our friend Roxanne; my Lady Fair, Kristi; me; Bobby, my ex, Carol; on the way to tube down the Quadalupe River over Memorial Day weekend

Our friend Roxanne; my Lady Fair, Kristi; me; Bobby, my ex, Carol; on the way to tube down the Quadalupe River over Memorial Day weekend

It was around his eighteenth birthday that Bobby came out to me. He wasn’t my first friend to do so (David had beaten him to the punch the year before), so it wasn’t like I was shocked to find out I had gay dudes in my life. It did mean that a second creative, sensitive man I knew had come out as gay, so my being a creative, sensitive hetero male was being exposed as a rarity; it also meant that there would now always be a part of Bobby’s life that I would never completely be a part of. I’d understand certain aspects – the being singled-out for ridicule by the so-called Moral Majority I’d certainly experienced – but no matter how accepting of his sexuality and lifestyle I could and would be, I’d never fully understand what it was to be a young gay man in Dallas in the mid-to-late ’80’s. And I told him as much that night at my house – I also told him I didn’t care: he was my best friend and brother, he’d always be my best friend and brother, and I would always love him, no matter what.

As much as Bobby hated school work, he loved the school atmosphere, so he was already performing at Eastfield Community College plays and musicals when I finally got my act together and returned to school as the voice major I’d always wanted to be. Whenever I was nervous, whenever I was ill at ease, I’d ask myself “What would Bobby do?” Then I’d do that. It was doing my interpretation of Bobby reciting song lyrics as poetry that I caught the eye of a lovely young woman in my voice class – Kristi had a soft spot for intelligence and glasses, and she thought my kicking over the music stand and falling to my knees in mock exhaustion hilarious. We’d later start dating, and Kristi and Bobby became fast friends – that my soon-to-be wife and oldest friend had so much in common wasn’t lost on me.

Around the time I joined the Army and eloped before being sent off to war, Bobby moved to New York. Bobby loved the Big Apple, taking to the Five Burroughs like a duck takes to water. He was there with college friends; and Wendy, Cheryl, David, and Bobby would be there own little version of “The Big Chill.” David went into publishing, Cheryl would work on Broadway, and Wendy and Bobby would pursue their acting ambitions while working day jobs. It was in New York that Bobby found he had a knack for management even without business schooling; he also learned how to let those a little too proud of their credentials get hoisted by their own petards while he toiled away in silence on the sidelines. Even though he’d finally landed a role in an off-Broadway play that got him rave reviews and the attention of several important people, Bobby’s success as a recruiter convinced him to make what I considered to be the biggest mistake of his life – he took a job in San Francisco, leaving New York and his New York support system behind. He hadn’t done his due diligence and had no idea the amazingly-well paying job was for an extremely socially-conservative company, an oddity in such a liberal city. Even without wearing his sexuality on his sleeve, the religiously oppressive atmosphere of the work environment took a heavy toll on his soul – soon, it became too much, and unable to return to New York, Bobby heading back to Mesquite, his self-confidence in shreds.

Bobby lived in our spare bedroom/office for about a year; when Oklahoma City and learning web development didn’t work out, he moved back in with us, this time spending a year in the room behind my garage. Kristi’s grandfather had originally built the space as a workshop, with a solid floor and drop ceiling; it also had it’s own phone line. We had the cable company come out and hook the room up, and with an ac unit in the window for the summer and a space heater next to the bed for the winter, Bobby had a mini-apartment.

It was after Bobby met Randy and started spending more and more of his time with his new boyfriend that we had our last big fight. Bobby was suppose to be paying rent and wasn’t; while he was away getting his love life back in order, I was keeping the lights and ac on to keep his pets happy and healthy. When I called him on it, Bobby got incensed that I was telling him how to live his life. After he stormed out, Bobby came back five minutes later.

“What just happened?”

I sighed. “You do what you’ve always done when you’re ready to move on but you feel guilty because you don’t feel like you lived up to your end of the bargain: you managed to make it all about them instead so you could justify leaving.”

Bobby blinked, then frowned. “Yeah, that’s exactly what happened.” Tears filled his eyes. “I don’t want to do this with you.”

Any and all anger I’d felt vanished at the sight of his pain. A light bulb turned on in my head.

“You know what? Let’s don’t. You’ve got a new love in your life, you’re ready to move on from here and start something new – just say that. Say ‘Keith, brother, I love you, but it’s time for me to move on. I know I owe you, and I’ll pay you back when I can; but I’ll be happier someplace else. I’m getting to the point where I’m resenting the help, and I love you too much for that. So thanks for everything you and your lovely wife have done, I so appreciate it, but I’ve got to go.’ And I’ll say “Bobby, my brother, I completely understand. All I’ve ever wanted is for you to be happy, so go do what you’ve got to do.Pay when you can, and don’t sweat it when you can’t – that’s what family is for.’ And we’ll leave it at that, with no judging and no resentment – just love and acceptance.”

Bobby stared at me with tear-streaked cheeks. “Can we do that?”

I smiled through my own tears back at him. “Why not? We’re family, right?”

Bobby hugged me like I was due for the gallows in the morning. “Yes. Yes, we are. You are so my family, and I love you so, so much. Thank you.”

The was the last time Bobby ever lived with me – he would bounce between his own apartments and sharing spaces with Randy for the next fourteen years.

A few years later, Bobby would come work at Heritage Auction Galleries with me, again amazing people with his innate management skills as an consignment co-ordinator. It was at Heritage that Bobby got sick for the first time: late-stage Hepatitus he’d more than likely picked up from a dirty tattoo needle. He’d end up going through two rounds of what was basically chemo-therapy to finally get healthy, eventually losing the job at Heritage from too much time off, but he’d would get a clean bill of health.

Then his kidneys started failing.

Bobby had discovered years earlier he’d been born with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a hereditary disorder he’d gotten from his dad. It meant that his being a cheap date was a symptom, not a genetic perk; it meant while his kidneys still worked he’d be plagued with kidney stones every four to six weeks; and it meant that his kidneys would flat-out give up on him at a relatively early age. Bobby joked that he was meant to be born a woman, seeing how once a month he’d get cramps and bleed; what wasn’t a joke were the trips to the emergency room, his blood pressure high enough to cause micro-strokes in his brain. Randy would get him to the ER, the attending nurse would take Bobby’s blood pressure, see the numbers and immediately turn white – seconds later, a doctor would show up with a hypodermic needle full of Morphine. “How about we take the edge off?”

“Yes, please!”

A few seconds later, Bobby would get a happy, goofy smile as his BP would start coming down. A couple of days in the hospital to pass the stone and watch his BP, and the doctors would send him on his way.

After a while, Bobby’s BP would just stay too high – that started the first of his daily medication ritual, a rite that grew more and more elaborate as the years went by and his kidneys got weaker.

I was never more disappointed than when I found out Bobby and I didn’t share the same blood type – I couldn’t donate a kidney to Bobby. Neither could Kristi. Neither could my mother. Bobby would have to go on the transplant list. He was practically a perfect candidate: the only thing wrong with him other than the fact his kidneys were garbage was the high blood pressure, which was a symptom of the PKD to begin with. The transplant list for Oklahoma was far shorter than the one for Texas, so Bobby made what I considered to be the second biggest mistake of his life: he up and moved to Talihina, Oklahoma to be near his brother and sister-in-law, Barbara Ann, sit through dialysis three times a week, and wait for a kidney.

The good part of being in an Oklahoma town the size of a postage stamp was the slower pace of living. The first couple of months were a vacation, as Bobby got to know his big brother in ways he’d never dreamt possible as he soaked up the fresh air and sunshine. The bad included being bored out of his mind after the luster of country living wore off (right about the time he’d seen every movie at the local rental store), and being over an hour away from a hospital on those nights something drastic happened.

Such as congestive heart failure.

With his blood pressure meds keeping his body slightly out of whack, Bobby had trouble sleeping, so some doctor prescribed him Ambien – right on the label, it says not intended for people with kidney disease. In his drug-induced stupor, Bobby was sleepwalking into the kitchen and drinking water and juices to the point of overloading his system. Bobby was only allowed around a liter of liquid a day – he was drinking twice that all at once in his sleep. Basically, he was drowning; and the fluid build up around his heart kept it from expanding as it should, causing it to shut down – congestive heart failure. I don’t know who I was madder at, the doctor for not reading Bobby’s chart, or Bobby for not checking the damn label – either way, I was quickly becoming convinced living in Oklahoma would be the death of him.

After an Oklahoma hospital not only put in the wrong type of stints into Bobby’s heart, but put them in backwards to boot, Bobby became convinced of it, too. He headed back to Texas and moved in with Randy.

Bobby hated being on a diet; Bobby hated having to restrict his fluid intact; Bobby hated being forced to do mild aerobic exercise instead of the weight lifting he wanted to do – so he didn’t. He’d made token efforts to live right, but more and more often he’d eat what he wanted, drink what he wanted, and go do what he wanted. And as if on a schedule, about once every four months, he’d end up back in the ER with congestive heart failure. It wasn’t long that Bobby would demand that Randy not let anyone know he was back in the ICU – the official reason was he didn’t want anyone to worry needlessly, he be back up and about in a week or so; the unofficial reason was Bobby didn’t want to hear the lectures he knew he had coming from worried friends and family. We wouldn’t hear from him for a few weeks, then we’d get a phone call out of the blue. “Hey. Just got out of the hospital. What’s up with ya’ll?”

When my old friend and Boy Scout mentor, Donny, passed away two and a half years ago, I wrote about what he meant to me on my Facebook page; his sisters were so taken by what I’d expressed, they asked me to speak at his funeral as well. I worked on the eulogy all week, then delivered the speech from memory that Friday morning – when I was done, I sat back down on my pew and was just devastated, choking back the tears that threatened to engulf me. As soon as I could, I went to visit Bobby.

“Brother, I just gave Donny’s eulogy and it destroyed me. I’m not ready to give your eulogy – I can’t do it. You have got to take care of yourself, you have got to do whatever it is you’ve got to do.” I blinked back the tears. “I can’t lose you. Not yet. I can’t handle it. Promise me you’ll take care of yourself. Promise me I won’t lose you.”

Bobby smiled and hugged me. “Don’t worry – I’m going to be around a good, long time. You can count on it. I promise.”

Three months later, Bobby was back in the ICU. Congestive heart failure. Bobby’s promise was shit.

I didn’t go visit him, even after the one week turned into two, he’d developed an infection that had to be dealt with before he could go home to start his now four-day a week dialysis ritual. I couldn’t. I was heart-broken, livid to the point of wanting to do him physical harm. I frankly didn’t trust myself to be in the same room with him. After he started asking people where I was, after he started questioning why I wasn’t coming to see him, I finally sent him a text.

“I’m in a really bad place, so bad I don’t trust myself to do the right thing, and you need positive energy and support around you more than ever. When I can trust myself to do what’s right for you, I’ll be around; in the meantime, believe me when I say I doing this for your good, not mine.”

Bobby stopped asking about me. He’d been home about a month when I finally went to see him.

“I wrote your eulogy.”

Bobby’s mouth fell open. “Oh, God, don’t tell me that!”

“Listen to me!” I snapped. “I wrote all but the last two paragraphs of your eulogy. Those last two paragraphs are all up to you, what you do now. Because I can write one of two things:”

“I can write about how, when confronted with the unthinkable, you never flinched when dealing with the insurmountable odds, a shining example of grace and courage in the face of adversity for all of us;” my eyes narrowed in anger, “or I can write about how, when confronted with the unthinkable, you chose to deny your circumstances, pretending you were Peter Pan and you’d be young and pretty forever, and your inability to face up to the severity of your situation directly resulted in you dying several years early.”

Bobby let out a half-cry, half-moan. I ignored him.

“It’s up to you, brother. This is your new normal – you can either deal with it head on and make something of this time; or you can continue denying it and kill yourself. The choice is all yours. But whatever you choose, THAT is what’s going into my eulogy, and THAT will be your legacy.”

We didn’t talk about it again. Three months later, he was back in the ICU.

At the start of the year, Bobby left Randy to move in with his old Duncanville friend and confidante, Loretta. I was cool with the move: Randy had done all he could to keep Bobby healthy, saving his life on more than one occasion with his quick actions; but the relationship was turning toxic despite their love for each other – Bobby hated being told what do do, and Randy hated constantly being put in situations where he felt he needed to tell Bobby what to do. Loretta had lost her husband to cancer a few years ago, so she both needed the emotion support Bobby would provide while understanding the unique position being roommates with someone with a chronic medical condition entailed. Bobby needed a new environment; Loretta was the obvious choice. So I wasn’t surprised when I hadn’t heard from him in a few months – Bobby would be busy settling into his new digs on the other side of Irving.

Late on May 5th, I got a phone call from Barbara Ann.

“Bobby was out and started not feeling good, called an ambulance – he went into cardiac arrest on the way to hospital. The EMTs resuscitated him, but he didn’t wake back up – he’s still in a coma in the ICU. I’m heading down, his mom is heading down, the hospital told us to call people.” Her voice quavered. “Keith, it doesn’t look good.”

I thanked Barbara Ann, then immediately called my mother – Mom called Barbara Ann, got Bobby’s location, room number, and password, then made plans to go see him in the morning. I went to bed with a pounding heart, a condition that was still in place when I woke up the next day. It didn’t feel right. His heart had stopped before, but he’d never been a coma that hadn’t been medically induced – this felt different, and the more I reflected on how much different this felt, how wrong it felt, the more I knew I wasn’t going to work. If he died and I wasn’t there, I’d never forgive myself. I wrote a note to my coworkers, then wrote notes to people I thought needed to know what was going on: Bobby’s old friends Carol, Cheryl, and Michele. I then threw on some clothes and headed to the hospital, fighting Dallas rush hour traffic the entire way.

Bobby had woken up by the time I’d gotten there. He was groggy from the amazing drugs they were pumping into him, and he couldn’t communicate with the breathing tube crammed down his throat; but his eyes were bright, and he acknowledge us when we got there. He recognized me, he recognized Mom, who got there soon after; he recognized Carol, who bolted from work as soon as she could. Carol made plans to come back the next day, Cheryl made plans to go see Bobby as soon as she could, and we all thought Bobby had dodged a bullet. ICU removed the breathing tube the next day, intending to move him to a room on another floor the day after that.

Bobby coded. He was dead two minutes before the crash time resuscitated him. The decision was made to leave the breathing tube in place until after the experts figured out why Bobby’s heart was stopping.

It was the next day that Carol finally got a chance to speak to the internal medicine specialist, who’d only just seen Bobby after four days in the ICU. It wasn’t the high level of potassium, it wasn’t congestive heart failure, or anything else we’d grown accustomed to being told – in the internal specialist’s opinion, it was Bobby’s heart, pure and simple. He had the heart of an eighty-year-old man. Worse, the medication they would normally give Bobby to strengthen his heart would damage his liver… which again, normally wouldn’t have been a problem except the last round of resuscitations had finally damaged his liver. Bobby was between a rock and a hard place, and no one had a clue what to do.

Bobby had been “incident-free” for a couple of days, so the decision was made to remove the breathing tube again. The doctors were waiting until after his dialysis, they wanted as much space around his heart as possible before he was allowed to breath on his own again – seeing how he only had an hour left on his treatment, I stuck around. Bobby was awake and alert; his wonderful nurse, Abby, had given him a marker and some paper so he could write to Carol and me. Even drugged up with a tube down his throat, Bobby was still making jokes. As I’d always been able to do, I understood everything he was trying to convey.

Scribble scribble.

“I woke up with blood on my ass and we got high. Good times, good times!”

Thumbs up.

Carol left. It was just Bobby and me. Dialysis had another fifteen minutes.

Scribble scribble.

“Difficult question? Sure, shoot.”

Scribble scribble.

“Am I going to die?”

I looked at the tech. “Nope. Not today.” I looked at Abby. “Not if I can help it. Bobby’s going to be fine.” I shrugged and smiled at Bobby. “They say you aren’t, and they should know. Not your time, brother.”

The last really good picture Bobby took... later photos show the toll that was being taken on his heart

The last really good picture Bobby took… later photos show the toll that was being taken on his heart

Bobby closed his eyes. I left the room so they could unhook the dialysis machine and finally pull that tube out of his throat. I went to the waiting room to turn my cell back on, text my persons of concern Bobby’s status. Loretta and Bobby’s mom, Mary Ann arrived, and I filled them on on our day… though I left out the part about Bobby asking if he was going to die; I did mention Bobby expressing he’d marry Carol if he only wasn’t gay.

I went to check on Bobby – tube was out and he was talking with no trouble. His memory was swiss cheese, though, which distressed him – he didn’t remember moving to Irving with Loretta or than he’d been there for over four months; he thought he’d been in the hospital since January.

“No, you’ve been in the hospital a week – you’ve been in Irving since January. Don’t sweat it – they’ve been pumping you full of the good stuff for days, bro; give yourself some time to filter the drugs out of your system, your memory will come back just fine.”

I squeezed his hand, told him I loved him, and made plans to come back after work Monday. Monday, a small monsoon drenched the metroplex and destroyed rush hour, so I took myself home and recommitted to going out to Bedford Tuesday. I was in a morning meeting in the conference room when my cell phone vibrated on the table.

“What was that?” asked my acting Marketing Manager and friend, Aja.

I didn’t look down – I didn’t have to. “That was my phone letting me know I just got a text informing me Bobby took a turn for the worse.”

Aja blinked. “Okay. Moving on.” She resumed the meeting. I took a look at my phone – I had a text from Carol. “Loretta says Bobby coded again.”

The meeting ended. I looked at Aja. “I was right. It’s bad. I’m leaving.”

“Do what you have to do. I’m praying for you.”

I ran to the car and texted Kristi. “Bobby coded again. I’m heading to Bedford.”

“Work was slow, so I’m off – come get me?”

“Absolutely – on my way.”

I ran by the house, picked up my wife, then reminded myself to obey at least some of the traffic laws as I sped across Dallas to get to the hospital. Kristi fielded the texts that came in while I drove like a maniac. I pulled into a parking spot and headed toward the doors.


It was Mary Ann, sitting in a wheelchair, crying as she smoked in the parking lot across the street from the entrance. “They say there’s nothing left we can do.”

I turned and made my way to the ICU; there was Loretta, tears in her eyes. “He coded again this morning; they brought him back, but every time his heart drip stops, he codes again. The doctor says Mary Ann will probably have to make a hard decision soon, but if he keeps coding, the decision may be taken out of her hands.”

I hugged her. I texted my parents, who were still on the way. I texted my friends. I squeezed Kristi’s hand. We filled in Carol and her stepdaughter, Lauren, when they arrived. I checked on Cheryl.

The doctor came back out and stood next to Mary Ann. “There’s nothing left we can do. At this point, the only thing keeping him alive is the medication, and eventually that won’t work. You need to make the call.”

Randy was standing behind Mary Ann, his hands on her shoulders. She let out a sound that was just louder than a moan, just a little more quiet than a cry – she let out the same sound Bobby had when I told him I’d written his eulogy. “I can’t. I can’t say it.”

No one moved. She sobbed once, hard, then coughed. I left Kristi’s side, knelt down in front of Mary Ann, and took her hands in mine. I looked up into her eyes. “You have to be strong. You have to be strong for Bobby. He needs you to say the words. He needs to rest. We have to let him go. You have to say it.”

Mary Ann cried again. “How can I say it? Loretta, help me say it.”

Loretta’s amazingly steady voice came from behind me. “Do it. Turn off the machines. I’ll take responsibility.”

The doctor frowned. “It has to be her.”

I squeezed Mary Ann’s hands. “You have to say it. Let him rest, sweetie. You have to let him rest. Say the words.”

Mary Ann cried, then softly made out something the doctor could use. I stood, texted my parents, then made my way back to Bobby’s room in the ICU. Randy was seated on Bobby’s right, holding his hands as I’d held Mary Ann’s. I made my way to the left side of the bed, placing my hand on his shoulder. There was no light in Bobby’s half-closed eyes – he’d already left us, we were just allowing his body to catch up with his spirit. The heart monitor slowly counted down to zero. I stepped back just as the room’s curtain swung open – Cheryl looked at Bobby, then looked at me. “Is he gone?”

“Just this second.”

She fell into my arms. I squeezed her gently, then let her go to stand next to Bobby. I looked around the room: Randy, from when he’d come home from Oklahome the first time; Loretta and Ty from Duncanville; Cheryl with her partner, Natalie from New York; Kristi, Carol with her stepdaughter, Lauren from Eastfield; and finally me, from Galloway and West Mesquite. Bobby’s closest, oldest, most beloved friends from all the different periods of his life – the family he started creating for himself after his father was taken from him forty years earlier – all by his side as he’d gently gone to his final sleep.

I did and didn’t keep my promise to Bobby a few days later. I delivered most of the eulogy I’d written two years ago, but those last two paragraphs I said were up to him to finish, I used expressing what Bobby had meant to me instead. I didn’t need to talk about how Bobby had dealt with the last few years of his life – Bobby had died as he had lived: on his own terms, doing what he enjoyed with the people that he loved. He was the impetus that had brought so many of us together, and he was the glue that held so many of our relationships together; and when I wrote Bobby’s obituary and later delivered Bobby’s eulogy, THAT would be the legacy I would impart to the people who loved him so very much.

If I have the confidence to stand in front of a room full of strangers and perform for them, it’s because Bobby gave me the confidence that I could and the courage to try. This next phase of Operation: Rock Star is dedicated to him, my oldest friend and brother.  I owe it to myself to be the success he always saw I’d be.

I miss you, Bobby. And I will love you forever.

Nothing to Prove


Cosplayer at the 2013 San Diego Con. Photo courtesy of http://www.mtv.com/geek

I’m a Geek. Even though I stopped collecting, I still call myself a comic book geek – I have Steranko‘s autograph, I have Stan Lee‘s autograph, I have Julie Schwartz‘s autograph, I have Martin Nodell‘s autograph; I’ve seen every episode of Star Trek: TOS and Star Trek: TNG; I was standing in line at the butt-crack of dawn for Return of the Jedi and at midnight for Phantom Menace both opening days; I have every Harry Potter book in hardback; I watched Firefly on Friday nights, then gave copies of the DVD to my friends; I’ve seen every Highlander movie, including the bootleg Director’s Cut of the first sequel; I have a copy of the translated Crying Freeman manga in trade paperback; I can tell the difference between a Ditko Spider-Man and a Romita Spider-Man; and I have original artwork from Stangers in Paradise framed and hanging in my dining room. No one doubts my Geek Cred.

Spending whatever meager allowance I could muster up for comic books when I was 8 or 9 was cool; making weekly treks to the comic book shop when I was 16 or 17 was not. I caught a lot of grief for my passion, up to and including losing a letter-grade off of a paper when my English teacher didn’t consider X-Men #137 a viable source material, and being tossed over a table by a football player who didn’t appreciate my wrecking the Bell Curve in Art VI with anatomy studies of Colossus. Now that The Avengers is the biggest movie in the world, Harry Potter is the biggest movie franchise in the world, Game of Thrones has been nominated for an Emmy for Best Drama three years in a row, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won the Oscar for Best Picture, being a Geek is suddenly cool. Very cool. So cool even the hipsters are wearing their Justice League t-shirts ironically with their hoodies and black rimmed glasses. I was never un-cool – I was just thirty years ahead of my time.

Now that is finally mainstream to love comics and manga, animation and anime, Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon however, there’s a bit of a backlash from the Geeks who withstood the stares, the name-calling and the bullying for so many years – they’re not ready to be amongst the normals, they still maintain their self-image through exclusivity. Suddenly, it’s all about the True Geek versus the Johnny-Come-Lately’s: you’re not a true Whovian unless you were watching the Tom Baker years on Saturdays at midnight on PBS; you’re not a true Avengers fan unless you knew who the purple alien was at the end of the film without Googling Ain’t It Cool News; you’re not a Potterhead if you don’t know which of the Marauders was Harry’s father; you’re not a true Geek if you’re a girl into Cosplay; you’re not a true Geek if you’re a girl at the Con just for the Twilight panel; you’re not a true Geek if you’re a girl, period.

Again and again, boys, young men and adults; amateurs and professionals alike, are complaining that the press shows up and spends too much time filming the Cosplay hotties, the Booth Babes, and the Geek Girls in their Team Jacob t-shirts and over-sized glasses. And because there are a small number of attractive model-types showing up at events in revealing costumes and bikini-ready bodies, the True Geeks have labeled all females Un-True, only there to garner attention to themselves, attention they couldn’t get somewhere else. Girls aren’t real Geeks.


25 years ago, I started dating a beautiful, amazing young woman. Since I wanted to spend every waking hour with her, I introduced her to comic books – I started her off with my original run of Elf*Quest. When that didn’t run her off, I took her to my comic book shop and asked the clerk for a suggestion: needed a comic book for a girl who wasn’t into long-underwear characters. The clerk said a new series had just started a couple of months earlier, was dark, gothic, more fantasy-based and was getting amazing reviews, might just be what she was after – soon, my Lady Fair was dragging me to the comic shop every month to pick up the next issue of The Sandman.

My wife is a Geek – a bright, talented, friendly, lovely Geek. My wife took to being a Geek like a fish takes to water. The Sandman statues in the house belong to her. She introduced me to Harry Potter. She introduced me to The Guild. It’s her Strangers in Paradise original artwork framed in the office. She stood in line seven hours to buy tickets for the opening night of the new Star Wars movie. She’s read every Sookie Stackhouse book. She’s read every Anita Blake book. She’s read Mists of Avalon. She owns every season of Buffy on DVD. She wrote Mobile Suit Gundam Wing slash fiction. We stood in line at midnight together to get our copies of Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows. We stood in line together to see the final Harry Potter movie in 3-D at midnight.

Does she know who Lamont Cranston is? No. Has she ever played Skyrim? No. Does she know the difference between Jor-L and Jor-El? No. Does my wife know who Spider Jerusalem is? Yes. Has my Lady Fair beaten every level of Portal and Portal 2? Yes. Does the love of my life read Joe Hill and John Scalzi? YES.

My Lady Fair has nothing to prove. The PFC from my reserve unit who introduced me to Ender’s Game has nothing to prove. My ex-girlfriend who introduced me to Robert Aspirin and Myth Adventures has nothing to prove. The high school marching band member who introduced me to Elf*Quest has nothing to prove. All the intelligent, warm, amazing girls and women I know who are unapologetically enthusiastic about the comics, novels, movies, games, music, and television shows they love have NOTHING. TO. PROVE.

And as for that meager handful of hotties that show up and steal all the thunder, two things:

1. Remember the old adage “All publicity is good publicity.” If that amazon with the belly so tight you could bounce a quarter off of it in the almost-perfect Witchblade costume means the Con gets that much more time on the evening news, then that’s a Win-Win for her AND the Con. Quit yer bitchin’.

2. Remember what it felt like when the Cool Kids wouldn’t let you in their club. Then grow the fuck up.

Because here’s the thing: if you spend your time excluding people from your “club” because of their gender, no one will think of you as a  GEEK – they’ll be thinking of you as a DICK.

The Doubleclicks, who said it better than I. And the stuff I didn’t link to? Go look it up.