I’ve mentioned Reruns before; it was a small bar on Warren Avenue that functioned as part watering hole, part clubhouse and, to a lesser degree, band venue. The Westside group that had peed in all the corners and marked the place as theirs was made up mostly of Dearbornites, a good number of them had graduated high school together. Frank, the owner, had always been liberal about both the state’s drinking age and his policy regarding tabs, many of us had our 21st birthdays there. I think it was Kevin P’s 21st birthday the night that I met one of the best friends I’d every have, LJR.
Festivities were still going strong when she came into the bar. I remember the moment very clearly and I don’t know how to describe it without cliché or hokeyness. Everybody was going about their normal business; Guy was at the Galaga machine, Blocko was holding court at the end of the bar nearest the door, I was sitting with db a couple of the Karens at one of the tables when LJR entered. See, some people would just come in, LJR entered. She was beautiful and had presence- I think I fell for her a bit right then. She couldn’t have been there for more than 10 minutes, just long enough to say hello to a couple of the guys, wish K a happy birthday, do one shot and leave. I’d never experienced a woman like that before and only two or three more since- men had to look at her and women weren’t too happy about it.
I didn’t actually get to meet her until two weeks later when db introduced me to her. She told me about her band and said she’d bring a demo tape down to my club the next night. Although I should have been in the position of control, she wanted to play my club after all, I gibbered like a fool anxious to get her approval. The night her band the Vanderbilts played she blew me away again- the band was good and she was larger than life. Of course, this was all the surface stuff. It would be a year or so later that I found out she was solid to the core.
At twenty-one my concept of tragedy was limited to the loss of a friend to a car accident and, to be honest, I was immature enough that the drama may have exceeded the reality. True tragedy happened when a plane crashed on takeoff at DTW taking over 200 hundred lives, including LJR’s brother. For weeks the crash, and the miracle child who survived, dominated the media and conversation. Late, late one night I was at FUN magazine’s office and the guys started in with a bunch of jokes about the crash along the lines of all the space shuttle jokes that had been so popular the year before. When the next issue came out I was surprised to find that someone had worked up a whole article full of jokes about the accident. The same night the magazine hit the bars was the first time LJR ventured out to her regular haunts again. When she came into Paycheck’s I grabbed the stack of FUNs and pitched ‘em into the bin. We talked for a few minutes, I could clearly see that she was holding herself together, a pure exercise of will, and again she overwhelmed me. After my few meager words she went in to see some others and I bolted out the door. I went to Lili’s and the Pub making sure that all the magazines were out of site, hoping to spare her any further hurt.
A year later her band had broken up and the only times I saw LJR she was on television. I saw her on a Channel 7 news feature about local comedians and twice again in relation to her work with the surviving families of the crash. One day db told me she was married and on her way to California, I figured I’d never see her again.
We saw each other again out here in SF when db and the boys toured to support their first release on a Warner sub-label. Here I was a bit of a jerk. LJR came up to me and we talked for a good while, at the end of the night she gave me her number and I promised we’d get together. I didn’t call. I was uncomfortable- here I’d moved to a world class city and felt I’d grown up a whole bunch and when I see her I’m a gawping 17 year old again. Six months later we met again at a show, this time db’s band was touring with the Goo Goo Dolls, and she called me on being an ass and blowing her off. This time I didn’t fold, we made plans to hang out and two weeks later were drinking in a strip club on Broadway.
Since that time she has been a great friend to me and I’ve tried to live up to that.
This year has been one long kidney punch for her, filled with loss, depression, and hurt. And again she has amazed me with her strength through it all; from the broken pieces she’s found love and continues to move forward in a straight line. Tonight, New Year’s Eve, we are having dinner at 1550 Hyde and then catching Sandra Bernhard’s late show at the Alcazar. Not gonna lie about it, it’s a personal thrill that I’ll see other men looking with envy when they see a shlub like me with such a beautiful woman, a woman who still radiates that presence I first saw eighteen years ago.
The first champagne toast tonight is to you, my friend.
Go in Peace