New Years Eve, 2014

New Years Eve is a reflective day and this one is no different. I woke up wishing my pal Carl Bidleman was here with me so we could reflect together. Carl was with me through many a day like this back in the 70’s and 80’s and other times when God knows we really needed each other.  That we were together on a day like New Years Eve generally meant that neither of us had a woman in our life. This was more often true than not. What we did together on those nights was sublimate. Its a word we learned at Sacred Heart Seminary.

We met at the seminary in the fall of 1968. He was no longer a seminarian having quit after high school and I was a first year college student. He came by to visit his pals; one of my roommates, Greg McCaffrey, in particular. I loved his “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke” attitude and we became friends fairly quickly. He played the role of the cynic while secretly optimistic while I played the role of Mr. Silver Lining while secretly despairing about nearly everything. It worked. Greg sensibly left the seminary after the first semester of college to be with May Ellen, the woman he loved, but Carl kept coming back. We invented a game we named “Dog Leg Lemonball.” It was sort of man on man soccer but with a plastic lemon instead of a ball. Because my seminary  room was el shaped there was a dogleg to navigate. My two remaining roommates, Steve Krupa and Jim Krieg were  challenging obstacles. They were very studious and tried to ignore us even when we knocked them out of their chairs.

Carl introduced me to the United Farm Workers struggle to form a union and the grape boycott that was a means to this end. We once stayed up all night making signs for a demonstration. Viva la Huelga! Unfortunately we used poster paint and it rained during the demonstration. It was not to be the last of our well intentioned gaffes but to our credit it never stopped stopped us from trying yet again.

I decided to leave the seminary on a leave of absence after one torturous year mainly because I was in love with a woman named Diane. Just writing her name all these years later makes me shiver. A week before my final exams a seminary drop out, Nick Kowal, walked down the halls waving a bus ticket to LA. It was one way and expired the following week. I took it. I jumped on the bus an hour after my last exam and freedom ensued. Freedom of course is usually qualified by the kindness of others who aide us and this was no exception. My Aunt Simone in Whittier California took me in and gave me a place to stay in the camper in her driveway. I negotiated for Carl to join me a week later. Both of of us were in desperate need of an adventure.  God bless Aunt Simone who never stopped saying yes, who trusted me beyond any evidence that I should be trusted this much.

We roamed the hills and went to concerts, saw James Brown, the Supremes, and other acts. We both got jobs at Russ Basset’s, a small, metal office furniture factory. I worked the day shift and Carl worked the night shift. Because we were broke we only could afford one pair of steel tipped shoes. As I headed home from my shift I met Carl halfway and we exchanged my steel tipped shoes for his mere mortal ones. On it went until one day at lunch a fellow worker from the day shift, Phil Olsen, spun a  tale about a friend who went to Alaska to fight forest fires. I told Carl that day that I was going to Alaska and that he could join me if he wished. What the hell was he to do? He joined me.

We spent 16 epic, futile days in Fairbanks. It rained and rained. The day we arrived I saw a prophetic scribble on the men’s rooms stall wall that read, “Glen Green from Tucson, Arizona came here in June 1969 to find work but alas there was none to be found.”  The handwriting was literally on the wall.  The Cheat River rose every day. We found odd jobs that lasted a day or so. We went to the Malamute Saloon and heard a recitation of the Cremation of Sam MaGee. We helped prepare for an impending flood. There were no jobs fighting forest fires. Every day I said today is the day we find work as Carl rolled his eyes.  We wended our way back to Whittier. We stopped in Puget Sound and stayed with Carl’s uncle’s family . We stood on a cliff and watched the moon as Armstrong landed on it. We slept on benches in San Francisco. We hitchhiked through the blazing heat of the San Joaquin Valley. One night we found ourselves hunkered down in a park in Fresno. I talked about going back to the seminary and Carl told me that this was the stupidest thing he ever heard. Diane was out there in the world! What was I thinking?  On cue the park sprinklers went on.

We stopped in Delano, the home of the United Farmworkers. We met Caesar Chavez. I drew his dog Boycott. By the time we got back to Whittier we were spent and soon returned to Detroit.  It was a grand adventure, maybe the loudest of our lives together but not really with the most to say. That would come more quietly as the years unfolded.

We worked together at Focus: HOPE. We had adventures like sketching and photographing Tigers at spring training. We started a super 8 movie together in 1973 with our pal Dave Klapp as Nick Danger and me as the villain Bruno Lagoon. It is one long chase scene that involves many of our friends. Someday we’re going to finish this damn thing. Carl is the director/producer/cameraman whose movie moniker is Max Bidlefield.  He has been producer/director for me personally for much of my life. He stood beside me when I married Diane and he stood beside me when she left me.  In and out of relationships we always had each other. On lonely Christmas Eve’s and New Years Eve’s past we would get together and play a game called Two Cushion Bumpershot. We would slide these little pucks off rubber bands that redirected them into the wee hours of the morning. We forgot about what our lives might be missing and focused on what we had. We had each other.

For more than the last twenty years Carl has been living in Mill Valley California with his wife Karen who I also love. We see each other when we can and are no less important to each other.

This New Years Eve I woke up missing him a lot. My lady is out of town and I was feeling alone. Around noon a package arrived at my door. It was addressed to Bruno Lagoon. It is the Two cushion Bumpershot game. The same game that Carl and I played and played a lifetime ago.

I’m not alone.

Thank you Carl. I love you.