Thursday, November 11, 2010

Requiem for a rogue

A friend of mine died this morning. I got the news from my boss, who also knew him, when the funeral home e-mailed the death notice. He was almost 80 and his health had been failing, but it still came as a shock.

I've been assigned to write a memorial story on him for the Greatest Newspaper in the Northwest™, once all the dust settles and the family has time to talk. I sorta wish I could do a first-person one, but then, most of what I remember best I couldn't put in the paper anyway. I used to handle a lot of his correspondence and assorted office stuff, as well as editing his legal contracts and (at one point) sorting out 14 years' worth of tax receipts. I even typed a book he'd written, beginning to end, outlining a salmon-protection system he was trying to sell for the Columbia and Snake River dams.

It wasn't the first book he'd written. He also published a book on waterfowl that I think is still in print, and a couple of children's books, and a book on how to survive a Chapter Eleven bankruptcy, based on his own experiences.

The memories come back piecemeal. Among other things, some of my most colorful obscene phrases I learned from him. He was the only person I ever knew who could turn a consistent profit gambling. Until he turned 75 or so, I'd have bet there wasn't a skirt in three counties he hadn't chased. I remember ordering flowers for, oh, maybe five different women one Valentine's day on his behalf. I had to hand-create the cards to go with them, because several of them included suggestions that no florist in town would have accepted.

He could never find a lawyer who knew more than he did. He had an entire law library on the walls of his office. I know, because I moved those damn books four or five times. He used to hire a lawyer to rubber-stamp the papers he had drawn up himself by longhand, which I then typed up. The reason he had hired me to sort his tax receipts was that he was going eyeball-to-eyeball with the IRS. He did, and won back every penny they had seized. How many people can say that?

He had a stroke about five years ago, and had to be in rehab out of town for several months. He used to phone me to go over to his Moses Lake office and play his answering machine, then fax him the messages. Technology was never his strong suit. But he knew people. He had his fingers in real estate, agriculture and a hundred other enterprises. He didn't really need the money by the time I knew him; it was the fun of making it that appealed to him. He used to tip waitresses more than the cost of the bill, just for the hell of it. He didn't trust banks, but he carried a roll of hundreds for walking-around money. He always gave it away as freely as he made it, which was saying something.

When he closed the office a couple of years ago, Long Drink and I helped him pack up forty years of doodads and debris. He gave me boxes of stuff, including an obscenely-shaped glass flower vase. Long Drink and I bought flowers and put it on the mantel to see how long my wife would take to notice. Eventually she had to ask why we were snickering. She wasn't surprised; she knew where it had come from.

He was a charmer, a bastard, a rogue of the old school. He wasn't always easy to get along with, but he was always interesting. I'll miss him.

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