Gary "Hollywood" Ray, 1950-2008. My "special" shoes, 1997-2007.
I'm pretty sure it's against all kinds of rules to post an excerpt from a work in progress on your blog, and I'll probably have to take it down tomorrow, but I want to show you something I wrote yesterday morning that gave me occasion to think about an old friend we haven't seen in years. I paused for a minute while writing it, debating whether or not to use his "real" name, Hollywood. I decided it would be okay, and that he would probably be tickled to wind up in a book. I tried to figure out how old he was when we were hanging out, and wondered how he was doing these days.
When I got up this morning, eleven years out from our wedding day, Patrick had placed the obituary section of the newspaper on my place at the table. Hollywood died yesterday.
If you've never had breakfast with a fully bearded man wearing a trucker cap and a ladies' silver lame blouse wholly unbuttoned, you've merely scraped the surface of life. If it weren't for him, at least one chapter of my story would be a whole lot less colorful:
...I put the word out among our drinking associates that I’m looking for something that pays cash, under the table. Our drummer friend, Hollywood, a weathered and whiskered reprobate in the mold of Levon Helm, sends me to a blues shack down by the tracks, the venerable Whitewater Tavern.
As far as anyone knows, the Whitewater has been in Little Rock longer than Jesus, and its “corner crew,” the shift of hardcore regulars who cling to the corner of the bar with the tenacity and devotion of old world Catholics at daily Mass, sprang out of the red dirt with it. Its hymnal is the blues. Hang around a while and you will hear “Stormy Monday” in more variations than Goldberg had on Bach.
The place cycles through phases of vogue. Every few years, a new generation of white college kids rediscovers it, and it becomes the fashionable place to demonstrate one’s authenticity and hipster cred. New management comes in with new ideas. Stormy Monday goes out, replaced by punk, or pop, or rap or whatever music the hot new band in town is playing. The corner crew hunkers down; smokes, drinks, waits. The band gets signed and goes on tour, the kids move on, the band breaks up, the place burns down. Someday plays Stormy Monday. Repeat. The Whitewater Tavern is the blues.
The trough between “kids move on” and “place burns down” is the place where I come in.
Thank you, Hollywood. Peace, baby.
Me and Hollywood, God knows where, 1997.