I only have one friend who died. We called him Dewey because he got pulled over at just the right spaced intervals so he narrowly kept his license. D-U-I: Dewey. He worked at Exile with me and Phil. We knew him from our baseball team. He’d drink during games, just taking a piss out there in the outfield.
He had mullet-long hair and he’d go through these different phases of different drugs. It was said you could drug test different lengths of his hair and figure out when those particular follicles had sprouted by which drugs they tested positive for.
Anyway, we worked together at this little bi-monthly music magazine The Jungle, maybe you’ve seen it around town? Basically we covered north of New York, but still in the known world: Westchester, Orange, all the way up to Poughkeepsie.
Dewey said things like “reckon” and “I do believe so” even though he was a half-Jewish kid from Fishkill. He’d go to different shows all the way up to the Northern Lights near Albany, passing out copies on will-call lines and swinging around his press pass to get a chance to hang out with the bands. He called this “work.”
But Dewey had been renting a few dozen lower-middle-class apartments near the train in Mt. Kisco and then subletting them for two times what he paid. It was so illegal. He used the “The Jungle” office as his “Property Management” address.
The office was the editor’s parents’ basement in Bedford, a cul-de-sac mansion behind a punch-code metal gate. Round fountains with underpants floating in it when his parents had wild parties. And a finished basement with a sixty-inch TV before those were flat screen.
The letters from angry tenants writing to “Property Manager Dewey” kept coming and he kept stuffing them into an old LL Bean backpack with his law school rejections. Disgruntled ten-ants even climbed over the gate to complain. Their A/C was busted. Their ceiling was leaking. Dewey wasn’t handy, but anyway these tenants were suddenly unable to contact him. Something was wrong because we couldn’t either.
What happened was that we threw a fundraiser for the magazine. We needed only a bit of dough. Phil showed up and I said, “Hey,” and he said, “Hey.” And then as though I should have known already, he said, “So, Dewey jumped off the Bear Mountain Bridge, how about that?”
This wasn’t really a shock. This was the kind of person Dewey was. They found an identical backpack with his initials on it, wet and decayed law school rejection letters. Phil figured he’d killed himself over law school.
So you can imagine my surprise a few days after when I saw him in a bumper car at New Roc City. I was on a date with this chubby chick who was also a model. I tried to race up to Dewey but I’m no good at driving. I spun out. A bunch of broke teenagers stood pointing, pulling out their purple hair, laughing at me.
I tried to run to him. His face had always been full of acne and acne scars, and his hair fell past his knees and was full of knots this long. Now he had short, dyed blonde hair, his skin had cleared up. He was hard to pick out of the Saturday crowd and I lost him.
At the next The Jungle meeting the day after, I dove for the backpack. We sat in a circle on fold-out sun chairs, still muddy and sandy from a recent flood, examining the contents. There were paper clips, a green-frog-kerokerokeeropi pencil case from when he was a kid, erasable pens and then his ledger books. Dewey was making seventeen grand a year.
We found his last will and testament, printed on special old-style stationary from Staples he seemed to have stamp-notarized himself. I forgot to mention he was a notary public. He wanted all his assets donated to the NAACP, and he insisted his gravestone say, “Catch You on The Flip Side.”
There was also filthy, hand-written love letters to someone named Al. They were signed by Dewey. By far the dirtiest pieces of pornography I have ever read. There was the one make-up letter, said something like, “You know I love to serve, that I may be nothing more than a pathetic little doll who desires only for you to whip me, but that doesn’t mean you can just show up and expect hot dinner with candles and wine and everything! That’s just disrespectful.”
I will spare you the rest. Dewey might have killed himself because he was embarrassed of these letters (if he was indeed dead). Were there more? Had someone else found them? Did someone expose him, blackmail him? We agreed not to tell anyone about the letters and I volunteered to burn them.
Of course I didn’t. They were too rich, and anyway, I wanted to keep the return address on all the envelopes and check it out. So I drove up to the sticks, all the way past where Metro North goes. I pulled up at the return address from the letters, and there Dewey was, as I’d seen him at New Roc City, with his clear skin and short hair, leaning on a rifle.
I got out of the car and held up his backpack by the top like bait. He ran up and snatched it out of the air in a hug. Before he finished unzipping, he said, “You read them, didn’t you?”
He took me through Al’s house. Al wasn’t home though they were living together. He had owned a local little bakery and coffee shop, the kind that stayed open because the white people in these tiny towns only let mom and pop stores and gas stations stay afloat through contrived zoning laws. His famous $27 babka was shipped up from Brooklyn even though they claimed to bake it on premises.
Al’s house stank of mold, and there was a kind of old barn extension on the end of it they used as a tool shed and junk shack. Old toy hobby horses, torn up couches, infested, gold painted picture frames, giant dining tables with three legs and all the way in the back actual stained glass in the shape of the Virgin Mary.
We walked to the backyard. It was overcast, but warm and muggy for the spring, and it felt better to be outside. We had a couple of beers and a 24-ounce energy drink each.
“Basically, I’ve just been living up here, working at the Mobile station,” he said. “In the quick stop. Mostly hicks getting beef jerky and Bard kids buying cloves. The most exciting thing that happens is that every couple weeks this really tall Adirondack mountain hick girl shows up and asks me for two ‘scrawberry’ Phillies.
“’You mean strawberry,’ I always say.
“’No,’ she insists, ‘scrawberry.’”
He took a sip of his beer and looked into the woods. “Al owns all this,” he said. “It’s hard to believe I ever lived anywhere else. Reckon you understand.
“You know a few months ago I started looking for dates on craigslist. All those craigslist girls are fat losers. It’s hard enough to find a girl on there who is willing to meet up for you know, whatever. In the first place. But one who isn’t on a drug hunt. That’s rare.
“Anyway, I started dropping these hints in my craigslist ads, like asking people if they knew my friend Roxy, showing I had drugs. That tackle caught a few more fish, but now my stash started to run low. Needed to find a new drug source and a new source of income. You know I had money from subletting those apartments. That ran out once the pills got to being consistent.
“So I went to my dad for money, saying that I just ain’t able to find a job in this economy.” He trailed off. He heard a rustle and turned. A line of three full grown deer tread lightly on the damp ground in front of us. He looked at me and shushed me, disappeared for a moment while I remained there under the shade of an old maple. I wanted to warn the deer somehow.
Dewey came out with his rifle and began to train on the middle one. “How’s the magazine going anyway?” he asked me.
“Same as it always was. Except we’re a hundred sixty-three dollars short for the next issue. It’s crap because the circulation is the same. Advertisers won’t pay as much so we lost some revenue.”
“Reckon you needed me after all,” Dewey said. He fired his rifle.
What Dewey identified as a doe collapsed. “The first thing to do with a deer you’ve just shot,” he said, “is to make sure it’s dead. You don’t want to get kicked.” We set out onto the grass to the deer. I leaned down and went towards her, but Dewey pushed me back with a hand, and shot her in the head.
He took out his cell phone. “Yeah, it’s me,” he said. “Got one.”
I saw how this might be my last opportunity to talk to him, despite the horror of the dead animal and her two relatives galloping away. “I heard you jumped off the Bear Mountain Bridge. I don’t get it. Everyone thinks you’re dead.”
“I jumped all right,” he said. “I had gone on a real bender with those pills. Used to do 90 milligrams a day to feel normal. I met Al on one of my internet dates and he took me in. I know it’s strange to say,” he looked down now. “Reckon you did read those letters. Well, we had a special kind of relationship. He was totally in charge, you know. I never knew I’d be into that. I’d never guess that even a man…” He looked around, as though someone might be coming.
“Al taught me to respect him, to respect myself. He taught me discipline. You know, what I said in those letters. It was silly, I admit. A lot of what I wrote was just having fun. You must think I’m a pervert.” He said this next part with pride. I think he wanted to be judged, so he could act chided, like he was over-coming adversity. He said, “Maybe I am. Maybe I am a huge pervert, but I stopped doing pills be-cause of it. I found a way to take this anxiety, these problems and deal with them in a healthy way. I owe Al my life.”
“Then why did you jump? Or did you?”
“About a month ago I was visiting my dad. I had run out of money completely. I had stopped using but I had built up debt, and Al was in no position to help me.
“I had to beg Dad for money. I mean, I don’t mean to be a bitch but he’s standing on the purple rock floor of the new patio of his McMansion telling me he can’t spare seven thousand dollars. He shouldn’t have to, I’ll agree, but what a hypocrite? Why accumulate that wealth if not to protect your own family? And not just your new wife? I told him as much. Somehow that made him cave and he gave me five hundred dollars cash. Said he’d send me a check for the rest.
“Far out, you know? I drove straight up here to my shift at the Mobile station. You know I had a few of these different backpacks. LL Bean has been making the same backpacks forever. I had bought one where I kept the stuff from my life up here in Rhinebeck, which I always kept in the car, and then another for down in Bedford. I was going to go over my love letters in the car, read them out loud in elation. My backpack was in the passenger seat and I opened it up and it was my new one, with my old law school rejections, the one with all my Bedford stuff.”
“Which meant you’d left the one with your love letters in Bedford,” I said.
“Right. I started getting these calls from my dad. I didn’t dare to pick up the phone. I thought he’d found the other backpack with the letters, he’d read them, and now he wasn’t going to give me any money and he was going to curse me out for being a queer.
“So I freaked out. Obviously I had just left them with you at the Jungle meeting. Never got Dad’s check. He musta known something’s up. Why he called. I realize that now. But on the way home I broke down, called my dealer in Brewster and got everything I could with the cash Dad had just gave me.
“I relapsed hard. I was sitting in my car strung the fuck out for hours. I decided to drive to the Bear Mountain Bridge. It must have been three a.m. when I showed up. Two strips of light appearing, like night setting in. Mighty high on pills, a sweaty beer in your hand, accelerate up to fifth gear. Close your eyes and let the wheel go. Feels like flying.
“We used to sing that song, ‘the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see,’ when I was a kid with my family on the way up to West Point games. My dad would always point out where the chain had been that Washington had used on the Hudson to stop the British during the revolutionary war. The cliffs on Route 9, the Olive Garden right across the river. I remember get-ting stuck for hours in traffic on those roads while they were blasting the cliffs to make Route 9, playing Gameboy, driving to pick up my sister from musical theater camp. It was as though I had forgot about all these things and suddenly remembered them. Like I was coming out of amnesia. I stopped the car and stepped over the rail.
“I could hear the sploosh of the river on the shore. Cracking, honking. I had had my chance to get straight and fucked it up, right? But I didn’t feel remorse at all. I wanted to feel something and I looked over the edge and pushed my weight over.
“Wasn’t immediate regret. It was like, living in the humiliation that would come to me would still be living, you know? I could just scream out I was a pervert and a drug addict, and if nobody wanted to talk to me again, so be it. Since I’d relapsed, I wondered if Al would even want to stay with me. It was just shame. And I wished I hadn’t slipped over as the waves came back and forth and closer and there was a crash and then quiet.
“Slowly the waves began up again. I thought that was it. It was lights out. Thought I’d wake up in hell. But when I came to, I was still on the sidewalk of the bridge. It was dawn. Someone had stopped, prodded me with a flashlight. I apologized and drove off. I took off my plates since I got back here. I don’t know if that person called the police or not. I think they would have found me by now if they were looking. Dad doesn’t want to bother, reckon. Or he’s waiting for me to crawl back, begging. I haven’t talked to anyone but Al about what happened. I guess, and you.”
There was the sound of an engine and crunching on the gravel at the front of the house. I thought it would be the police, but Dewey didn’t seem concerned. It was this white 4 Runner. A tall, tanned man with a rectangular brown leather bag and a weathered leather apron jogged around the house. He zipped open the bag, that zipper was so thick it’d cut your hand, and took out a bunch of rusty knives. At first, I have to admit, I thought this was Al. I thought he was about to carry out some ghastly kinky act on Dewey.
The guy sprinted over to the deer, skinned it, drained the blood, cleaned the cavity and butchered it. He took the meat back to his truck piece by piece, slung over his shoulder like he was carrying a sleepy child upstairs to bed. When he was done, he wrapped up the backstrap cut from the doe in heavy, blue plastic painter’s tarp, or maybe it was a cut-up pool cover, and handed Dew-ey two crisp one-hundred-dollar bills. They didn’t say a word to each other. The guy was going to sell the meat to restaurants who charge a ton for it. He was probably making hundreds more off that animal. Which is also so illegal.
Dewey gave me the money. He insisted I use it for the magazine. I didn’t think we needed it, but he just threw the bills up in the air. As they glided to the grass I said, “fine!” He asked me not to tell anyone what we discussed. Oops.
Yeah, well, of course I didn’t give the two hundred dollars to the magazine. I kept it. I don’t know what I spent it on. It doesn’t matter what. The editor always has to dip into his own pocket to pay the printer, anyway.
The strangest part is that when I told all this to Phil, he said he didn’t believe me. I met up with him at Borders after his work. Before they shut down. Bobbi and his daughter came to pick him up. It’s so weird to think of him as a father, you know, but now he has a toddler. Can you imagine? You know sometimes I meet these families. Phil isn’t smart, but I’m not sure he’s sharp enough to be anything but a good father.
So I was telling him this story about how I saw Dewey again and he just brushes it off, like it doesn’t make any sense. “No, no,” he says. “Dewey’s dead. He jumped off the Bear Mountain Bridge. They found the body. Someone fished up an LL Bean bag with his initials. Know more than one person who went to his funeral. Doesn’t matter anyway.”
I told him that it did matter. He’d tried to end his life over these letters. He figured we’d ostracize him for being gay or something. Had we all let him down somehow? Should we have done something differently?
The more I thought about it, though, the more I agreed with Phil. I mean I had to admit I was kind of proud of Dewey. He did what Phil and I couldn’t. Self-scrutinized inside and out so ful-ly he had to sever himself off like an appendix. A part gone from our magazine, but no harm done to the overall organism. Dewey successfully escaped his responsibility to the world he inherited. My hero, right? So, okay. So he had a vast social system to keep anything from going too wrong, and he lived in a progressive era where his rights as a strange sexual fiend were de facto defended. If he admitted to being one of the luckiest humans in all of history, did that then give him the right to complain?
“I don’t know why you and everyone else is always exaggerating these stories. What I think is we try to stretch the truth and get excited over nothing because we are bored,” Phil said. You know that’s Phil, totally uninterested in debating philosophical questions. Honestly, I’m jealous.
“Why he even bothered with those shitty LL Bean backpacks,” Phil said. “Straps are way too thin. Not enough compartments.” He turned to his daughter. She squealed and hopped into his lap.
She took a sip from his absurdly milky iced coffee. “Some people, you know, they just aren’t meant for their times. It isn’t our place to dwell on it. You can’t call it a tough coming of age if he never makes it.”