Long’s last laugh


My friend had a square jaw. When he laughed, his features became more pronounced. Already taller than most, he carried himself above the fold.

Not all kids in my school went to the Conservatory. You had to have talent. For that brief year in 7th grade, he joined us at music practice. “Can you play bass?” I did not know better, nor did I know what would become of us years later.

Long went on to play keyboard for the Crazy Dogs (w/wig and all). Power Trio.

In Senior High, when we each had gone our separate way, I went to the zoo for our version of Woodstock, not knowing he was up there on stage.

I would have been proud. Then years later, in California, we got to meet again, I found Long’s head all shaved (cancer). He had a career in music teaching and performing, most recently at the Hyatt lobby in Ho Chi Minh City.

Top of the line. Last Christmas for Long, as I woke up this morning thinking.

Requiem for a dying friend. Mozart’s style.

Last month, we had a long talk over the  phone before I boarded the plane for Saigon.

Like the story of the Last Leaf (to cheer up a dying man, the boy climbed up the opposite wall to paint a leaf on the tree to give the illusion that only when that last leaf fell that our infirmed person is allowed to die), I challenged Long to see who was going to die first.

That got him a huge laugh over the phone (I used reverse psychology).

Suicidal, like a song goes.

Vietnam‘s favorite English song, according to a study, is “Yesterday”.

In fact, in English class, we used that to illustrate Simple Past.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.

Now, kids are into “I am on the Edge of Glory” Gaga, Gaga, Gaga.

Ah Jude, Ah Jude, Ah Jude.

The anthem of youth has always been some refrains such as “Wild Thing, you make my heart sing”, or “We will rock you”.

Something to unite the crowd or to ignite a revolution.

Long taught me one thing: sit back, relax, and let the energy loop from the problem in your hand to your subconscious, then you may find calm in the storm.

Our Western world in crisis can use this very simple advice.

France is now ranked the most pessimistic country as it comes to economic outlooks.

What happened to the innocence of the 60’s, of “Belle de jours”.

Bonjour Tristesse then.

To think of next Christmas when at the mention of my friend, whoever are left in our group will look back in sorrow and sadness.

But from that last conversation with him, I did not feel that way.

He seemed to take it with an air on the G-string.

He even told me “not to eat all that is placed in front of me” when in Vietnam.

I heeded his advice a couple of times when greasy food suddenly appeared in my bowl, at a wedding reception for instance.

I will probably go to the zoo today. The last time I set foot there, Long was on stage without my knowing it. We were rocking, with various bands competing for the same song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.

I hope somewhere in time, I will hear “Goodbye to you my trusted friend, we ‘ve known each other since we were nine or ten”.

I told Long I would be fearless against the wind, when it comes to conspicuous consumption for instance: spending the money one doesn’t have, to buy things one doesn’t need, to impress people one doesn’t like (Black Fridays? Yew! Walmart guard got trampled over in Long Island, or shoppers got pepper-sprayed?).

Even when Long began his quiet withdrawal to a hospice, I know he would pull up a chair, place his fingers on the key board just as I am now, albeit his covers the 7 notes, and mine the Alphabet, then he would inhale and let go.

The loop from fingers to feelings and back. The circle of life, his and ours.

Long’s last Christmas? Yes. But then next year, perhaps yours or mine.

That square jaw of my bass guitarist (sitting down, short sleeves) though seemed so far away, yet as near as Yesterday. I will never forget Long’s last laugh before my long flight East.

P.S. I am very saddened that Long has passed away and will be cremated in New Jersey (I hope his last Tet gave him ample time for closure). R.I.P. Long.

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