Vacation, as a rule, especially in New England, involves going to some sort of shoreline and dipping your toes in some sort of water, be it fresh, salty, moving or still.
I did not do any of these things on my vacation this summer. Last summer’s trip to upstate New York to see my entire Hart family and Troll relatives was so much fun, it only makes sense that this year’s vacation would be a little bit of a letdown. We do the family reunion every other year – makes sense, really, for balance’s sake. Makes you miss it when you don’t have one.
Anyway, I spent this vacation in Bristol, Ct., doing lots of things I needed to do – shopping, cleaning, paying bills, going to the doctor/dentist… and trying to rid my house of the stench of a skunk who crossed my dog’s path on the first day of my vacation.
I kind of had a blah Friday. A doctor’s appointment wasn’t very enlightening, and I was just all-around feeling down. No real reason. When I got up, I realized I had Grateful Dead’s “Bertha” randomly stuck in my head. I didn’t really acknowledge it.
Then on my way to the doctor, I was flipping through the radio stations and lo and behold, one of the “high 80s” stations – you know the ones, the experimental and NPR-ish public stations – was playing a live version of “Bertha.” Weird, I thought, but was so wrapped up in getting to New Haven for my doc visit that I didn’t pay it much mind.
I go to the doctor, leave and head back for a dental appointment in Farmington. Teeth cleaned, I head back to Bristol for home. Again, this time on my mp3 device, Grateful Dead reared its head. It was “Cassidy,” which is my favorite Dead song. I started taking notice then.
The Dead makes me think of a lot of really great people in my life – my cousin John, my old roommate/gay husband Erin, and Clark Brown, may he rest in peace.
We lost Clark in early June to a freak health issue. I was supposed to go to a Yankees game with him later in June. He was there one day, the next gone.
So yesterday, when I heard all the Dead songs, I realized I hadn’t truly dealt with Clark’s sudden death. I like to think of myself as someone who deals with her problems and moves on. But my tendency is to compartmentalize these types of problems into “deal with this later” moments. Clark happened one day, and the next, ESPN laid people off. It was a double whammy and I just kind of pushed it aside.
But emotions have a propensity to need to be expelled. “Cassidy” made that happen. Clark made that happen.
A bit about Clark, who can’t be summed up by a lowly writer like me – Clark was a cool guy. That’s the easy way to put it. Clark was friends with literally everyone who met him. I never heard him disparage another person. He defended those who were being disparaged. If anyone embodied Good Guy ‘til the end, it was Clark.
Clark was both friendly and mysterious at the same time. Not a jaded kind of mystery, but one where you were always surprised by what he knew, the depth of his feelings and understanding, what he’d been through in his life.
He didn’t wear his problems on his sleeve. You had to roll up his sleeves – up to the bicep – to get him to talk about himself.
We had a rainy afternoon in Manhattan a few months back where we talked about his family. I learned things about him I’d never thought to ask. It made me ashamed for not asking him more about himself. I felt selfish.
It wasn’t the first time I’d felt selfish around Clark, like I was using him for something and not being a good friend in return. Clark could get you… things. Concert tickets, backstage passes and beyond. One Thanksgiving, when we were all still in our early 20s, I threw a Thanksgiving feast and invited Clark. Oddly enough, it was the first time he’d come to one of my real parties as a guest. He was always invited after that. He came to all our reunions – including one we had in 2011, which was the last time many of my friends saw Clark.
But he’d made so many plans to see us all – he was really close to a lot of us, and we all have this weird arc of Clark friendship. One minute he’d be in Oklahoma visiting Amy Lee at a wedding, the next in Colorado with Gretchen Crowe. He’d tried to convince me to come to a Leon Russell concert in New York, but I was too lazy to go. I regret that.
We all had our Clark experiences. Mine came, surprisingly, in New York City. When I first moved to Connecticut, I was stunned to learn Clark had moved to the area after he’d lived in North Carolina for years after leaving Oklahoma. He met me in NYC for my maiden voyage to the city. I was terrified, but Clark knew his way round and took me anywhere I’d ask to go. We had real Spanish Harlem tacos and real Malaysian food in Chinatown.
The next time I visited, we had Katz’s Deli pastrami. We walked in hot August drizzle all over downtown Manhattan, telling stories and stopping to look into store windows. There was nothing but a platonic friendship between us, and it was so comforting and wonderful to talk to someone who not only sounded like me, but had the same friends as me, had been to many of the same parties as me, etc.
We went to shows, texted and got to be really good friends again. It was just pleasant having him around and so close to me. We’d planned a few outings once the weather warmed up and I was to be in Manhattan for a week in June, so we had some plans in place. Unfortunately, those were not to be. And I felt like I’d lost not only a friend, but someone who was on the same journey as me in a new land.
I think he bridged the gap for me between Oklahoma and Connecticut. He – again – was there for me without asking for anything in return.
Clark was more into live music than almost anyone I know. He wasn’t just the guy at the show – he knew the bands. He did work for them. He and I went to see Jane’s Addiction in 2011 and he was passing out information, posters, stickers, etc., to fans because he was working with the record company. He was the king of the odd job – but they were cool odd jobs.
When Clark died, I didn’t believe it for a day or two. I even dreamed that the whole thing was a joke. I woke up hoping I was right. Sadly, I wasn’t.
When Clark died, everyone went to his Facebook page demanding to know what happened.
Since Clark died, the messages on his Facebook page haven’t stopped. Bands that he’d worked for held memorial concerts, and still do. Tributes sprung up all over the place and I’ve been truly amazed again at his reach – how many people loved him. It made me realize how many lives he’d touched and continues to touch.
I don’t know if Clark was controlling my radio yesterday or just trying to get me to pay attention. All I know is, after the Bertha and Cassidy incidents, I played the Dead all day and I felt better.
And when I went to bed, I guess I’d accidentally turned on my music player, because just when I was lying down, “Estimated Prophet” started playing through my Galaxy speakers. I couldn’t help but think he was behind that.
Clark, I get the message. Life is to be lived. You lived it, man. You were a wonderful, pure soul and you made your way through this life collecting friends, experiences and memories, not battle scars. You were beautiful. And I hope you are watching us down here telling tales of the great Downtown Clark Brown.
They won’t make another one like you. And not to get cheesy or switch bands midstream, but to borrow from Neil Young, if you were a miner for a heart of gold, Clark’s would’ve been a place where you’d have been rich.
I miss you, buddy. More than I ever expected to – then again, I thought we’d all die at 80. Thanks for showing up in my day yesterday. We will continue to honor you because you deserve it.
Here’s some of the lyrics that made me sure Clark was in my stratosphere yesterday:Estimated Prophet: My time coming, any day, don’t worry about me, no Been so long I felt this way, I’m in no hurry, no Rainbows and down that highway where ocean breezes blow My time coming, voices saying they tell me where to go. Cassidy Lost now on the country miles in his Cadillac. I can tell by the way you smile he’s rolling back. Come wash the nighttime clean, Come grow this scorched ground green, Blow the horn, tap the tambourine Close the gap of the dark years in between You and me, Cassidy… … Faring thee well now. Let your life proceed by its own design. Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I’m done with mine. Jack Straw We used to play for silver, now we play for life; And ones for sport and ones for blood at the point of a knife. And now the die is shaken, now the die must fall. There aint a winner in the game, he don’t go home with all. Not with all. Attics of My Life In the attics of my life, full of cloudy dreams unreal. Full of tastes no tongue can know, and lights no eyes can see. When there was no ear to hear, you sang to me. I have spent my life seeking all thats still unsung. Bent my ear to hear the tune, and closed my eyes to see. When there was no strings to play, you played to me. In the book of loves own dream, where all the print is blood. Where all the pages are my days, and all the lights grow old. When I had no wings to fly, you flew to me, you flew to me. In the secret space of dreams, where I dreaming lay amazed. When the secrets all are told, and the petals all unfold. When there was no dream of mine, you dreamed of me.