09 August 2018

Mourning in the Bluegrass State

I've referenced the following events in the prefatory remarks of a piece from 2010 titled, "How Vegas Turned Around My Life", but felt they merited further elaboration.

This is surely the most Kentucky story I've ever told in this blog, Dear Reader.

The fall of 2002 was not especially kind to me. Summer had ended well, with me starting to date a young woman I liked a lot. I was still healthy in those days, and carefree. But then came October and my then-girlfriend's grandfather died shortly before the 19th of that month. I know this because that was the night of Game One of the World Series and the next morning, a Sunday, as I went to get dressed to go to the funeral home to be with my girlfriend, I found my 14 year old dog had died overnight.

She was a collie and her name was Chancey (given to her by her original breeders or owners or whoever; I wasn't there), but after a time, I took to just calling her "Dog". Sometimes "Puppy Dog". We had a fenced-in backyard at the house where we were living at the time. Dog ran from one side of the house to the other in reaction to whatever caught her attention in the street so often and hard that she literally beat down the grass into nothing but dirt along her path. It was genuinely funny to me that she had trampled the ground so fiercely that it became barren, incapable of even growing grass.

Dog hosting a wine party, circa 2001. There may or may not be some strawberry wine on the carpet.
Once my mom bought a new house, though, without a fence, Dog and I became roommates downstairs. She was messy, shedding hair all the time, but I was also messy just being a lazy teenager so neither of us gave the other any hassle over any of our mutual transgressions. I did, however, periodically make passive-aggressive comments about how it was nice that she didn't have to bother herself with any of the cleaning. She was never moved by my needling enough to help me, though.

We knew that she had become startlingly ill in the couple of days prior. Her appetite had withered, her energy was depleted, and she had begun to have difficulty standing up by time we were able to get her in to see the vet. They volunteered to keep her for observation through the weekend, but it just didn't feel right. I've always been glad we declined, so that she wouldn't spend her final hours away from her family in a place she barely knew (and did not think well of). When we left the vet, I had her in the backseat of my car and just kinda drove around. It was drizzling that afternoon, which is something of a cliche but sometimes cliches can remind you that they became cliches in the first place because there's a certain truth to them. The truth of my afternoon was that it was very much an overcast and drizzling day, and I do appreciate that the weather didn't mock that with sunshine.

For whatever reason, I wound up driving to my childhood home. I didn't go to the trouble of getting her out of the car, and she couldn't see it through the windows, so for all intents and purposes it was an exercise in futility. And I concede that it's pure anthropomorphism to think she'd even care about seeing that house in the first place. I do remember talking with her as I drove, though, and laughing to her about the damage she'd done to the yard. We hadn't lived there in six years. I didn't get out to see if the new owners had managed to grow any grass. I like to think not.

I'd moved upstairs by this point. I've always regretted that I didn't stay downstairs with Dog through the night and that she was all alone in her final moments. I don't know how aware she was of what was going on. She never became defensive when I got near her or pet her, or even when I had to pick her up. There was what I suppose I would characterize as a serenity about her, really. In hindsight, I think it's accurate to say that she set the tone for how to behave about the whole matter, and I did my best to follow her lead. I was sad about losing her, and to this day I feel guilty for not having been at her side when she took her final breath, but the sadness was met with a confident peacefulness.

A few weeks later, that girlfriend of mine broke up with me. Sixteen years later, I still don't know why. We hadn't had any disagreements, let alone any fights. Everything seemed fine and then it wasn't. With the notable exception of the one who married (and subsequently divorced) me, all my ex's have ended our relationships within the 90 day warranty period. I've never been able to identify the reason for most of them. I've considered writing questionnaires with my therapist and sending them out, but so far I've chosen to instead behave like a sensible human being and simply accept that they'd all concluded that I added nothing of meaning to their lives and they were better off without me than with.

Much like the death of Dog, it was one thing for me to intellectually accept what had happened and something else for me to emotionally process it all. The one-two punch left me listless going into Thanksgiving that year. This was the same year in which Willie Nelson's brand of bourbon, Old Whiskey River, was brought onto the market. Being a Willie fan, and beginning to explore bourbon, I had to sample it. It was brutal in its own way, but it was a brutality I appreciated so I bought, drank, and shared several bottles throughout the year.

(Yes, astute Dear Reader, this is the same bourbon I was going to combine with a bottle of meds to end my life in 2011. But don't hold that against OWR. Each bottle comes with a guitar pick. How can you stay mad at a booze that generous?)

I got the idea on Thanksgiving to refill an empty bottle with sweet tea, which I took to dinner. It was worth it just to see the look on my mother's face when I started guzzling. I think that was the only time I laughed that week up to that point.

Some of my closest friends attended Western Kentucky University at this time, and had come home for the holiday. One of them had become a fan of Nappy Roots, who were just starting to take off around then. He'd gone to see them at shows on and around the school campus. They were playing a show Thanksgiving night at the now-defunct Coyote's Music and Dance Hall. I'm entirely out of my element with hip-hop, but in those days when I was healthy, I'd tag along to damn near anything. Besides, what was my alternative? Staying home and continuing to sulk and mourn?

Friends and neighbors, I'm here to tell you that I drank that night. I drank until my debit card was declined, and that is not an exaggeration. (Don't worry; my friend was driving and knew I intended to drink. Everything was perfectly safe.)

After this concert, I took up another friend of mine on an offer to come hang out in Vegas with him and that turned into a whole cross-country road trip, some of which is recounted in the post I mentioned at the beginning of this one, "How Vegas Turned Around My Life". But there is one little coda that I want to add here, and it concerns Nappy Roots.

In the fall of the following year, I was a student at the University of Louisville. I've always felt comfortable in what are generally regarded as "business casual" attire and would often wear things like khakis and dress shirts with ties to class. Or just to go out at all, really. I just kinda dig wearing ties. This is a minor detail, but hold onto it. It'll be on the test later.

Nappy Roots had hit the big time by then, but were still humble enough to kick it around "The Ville" (as the City of Louisville annoyingly thought to market itself at the time) and so they came to town. Governor Paul Patton declared 16 September 2002 to be Nappy Roots Day, culminating in a concert at Cardinal Stadium. I didn't go to that show, Dear Reader, largely because I was oblivious to the fact it was even taking place. I was also oblivious to the fact that the band was doing a meet-and-greet signing in the UofL bookstore until I wandered into it and found a line already in progress. It seemed no one else was properly prepared, because most of the other students were having the guys sign blank sheets of paper.

So now recall that I'm dressed like a Young Republican white dude in khakis and a tie, and I'm standing in this line. I was aware how conspicuous I was, in part because the people reacting to me weren't especially subtle about gawking. What was this yuppie doing there?

I took it a step further, Dear Reader. Having the guys sign a blank sheet of paper was entirely too boring for my taste. I did a quick inventory of my backpack. I had a textbook that was being replaced with a new edition, which meant the bookstore wasn't going to buy it back at the end of the semester anyway. I couldn't resist the ridiculousness of it, so here's what I did:



My favorite thing is the inscription from Scales, who was so baffled by the ridiculousness of being asked to sign a microeconomics textbook that he actually wrote, "What tha Hell?" They all got a laugh out of it, and so did I. I also, however, let them know that I'd been at Coyote's for their Thanksgiving show the year before, which I know surprised them and my fellow students.

So that's the story of how my girlfriend's grandfather died, my dog died, my girlfriend dumped me, I drank a lot of Willie Nelson's bourbon, and had Nappy Roots sign a textbook at the University of Louisville.