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The Ape and The Snake

The men who planned and carried out the bombings in Bali in 2002, the ones that killed one of my oldest and dearest friends (but only after he suffered with burns over most of his body for nearly two weeks) along with 201 other people, were executed last month.

You’d think I’d be happy about that.

Let me tell you a little story that may not seem to have much to do with this, but does, somehow, in a way that’s not entirely clear to me. Maybe in the telling, I can work it out a bit.

It was the mid-70s, I think, another glorious short clean summer in Northern BC, one of the ones that stay with me in my memory, and my aunt, uncle and two cousins were visiting us.

We had taken our river boat ten or fifteen kilometers up the lake, up to one of the rocky beaches under the ridge of Mount Pope, inshore from Battleship Island. We set up our outpost on a long expanse of thumb-size pebbles rattling under a broad unclouded vault of sky, stands of jackpine and spruce at our backs clustered beardlike around yellow stone cliff outcroppings. Clear deep dark green water, hot dogs cooked on whittled birch sticks over a fire pit. It was the kind of day that makes you feel glad to be alive, especially when you’re 8 or 10 years old and all is right with the world.

I remember at one point my cousins and I were ranging up the shingly beach, just exploring, when we came across the biggest snake I’d ever seen. It was glistening and black and in the water, and it took off like a shot as soon as it saw us, undulating frantically as it headed along the rocky verge, trying to escape.

We were curious, or at least I was, and we started throwing driftwood and rocks in its path, trying to get it to turn around, or slow down, so we could get a better look. I’m not sure, of course, what my cousins were thinking, but I don’t think they had any more malicious intent than I did. We were curious. The missiles we hurled at the poor beast got progressively larger and we got more excited, and the inevitable happened. One of the rocks or sticks landed square on the snake, and killed it. It uncoiled and floated, light belly up.

As we’d been hollering and chasing the snake, my uncle, presumable alerted by our excitement, had come up behind us just as the fatal stone did its work. All he saw was hooting boys killing an innocent creature.

He wasn’t furious, he was disgusted, disappointed. I still remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, the look on his face. I don’t think anyone had ever looked at me like that before.

Several people have sent me links to news items about the execution of the Bali bombers in the past few weeks, and each time, I’ve had to tell them that I just didn’t know what to feel about it, much less what to think.

I find as I grow older that every year I am certain about less and less.

I’ve said to some folks who asked that although I do not believe that more killing is a good response to killing, if I were handed the gun, or set down in front of the switch behind the one-way glass, or just put into a room with the bastards, I wouldn’t hesitate to exact vengeance for the death of my friend. Pull the trigger, press the button, beat them with my fists. I’ve said to my friends that I am an ape masquerading as a man.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, I really don’t. It sounds good, I suppose, and I’ve always been about the dramatic pronouncement over the measured interpretation.

My old friend Rick, killed in 2002 by the bomb outside the Sari Nightclub.Is the world a poorer place without my friend Rick Gleason living in it? Yes, it is, and the same is no doubt true for the friends and family members of each and every of the other 201 people killed in the bombings. Is the world a better place without their killers living in it? I think it probably is.

A killer named Amrozi who set the bomb, now also deceased.We tell ourselves a lot of stories about ‘the sanctity of human life’. We seem to mean the lives of those we know and love when we talk about it, and that’s not surprising or wrong. We find it hard to care about strangers, and harder to care about strangers whose tribe is different, and even harder to care about those strangers who would do us harm if they could, or leave us to die without compunction. People get all misty about their Jesus and his injunctions to love one’s enemies and turn cheeks.

But we don’t really believe that human life, in the abstract, is sacred, even if we’re willing to go the extra mile and define what we mean by sacred, do we? Not really. We make war, we ignore the roots of violent crime and turn away, we spend millions on blood-fiesta movies and video games and tell ourselves that it’s about catharsis. The best we can reasonably claim to believe is that some human life is sacred.
We’re not bad people, of course, most of us. Actual, personal violence we find shocking, unacceptable, abhorrent. We are traumatized by the headless corpse behind the steering wheel sitting in the puddle of blood and piss in the twisted plastic and metal of the Friday night wreck. We’re dutifully frightened by the TV news items about violent crime that are intended to keep us dutifully frightened and at home watching the sponsor’s messages. But we do love our serial killers and the movies about them, we love our torture porn, we love our Schwarzeneggerian one-liners before the shotgun skullpop, even while we guard our vulnerable citizens against violence domestic and corporal and sexual and even emotional. We righteously and rightfully do our best to end the social conditions that allow such things to happen. And we support our troops. You know, if we have any. We compartmentalize.

I don’t think most of us are all that clear on these things, and I suppose I’m no better than anyone else. See, if we admit that by executing those bastards, and we accept that violence has its place in our attempts to make the world better, we have accepted that violence has its place. This has consequences.

And if we’re not trying to make the world better, then we’re just acting out another episode of the woeful old Jehovahriffic vengeance.

I’m not against vengeance, though I’d rather be a man than an ape. I have to admit that there are times when I want to bare my yellowed fangs and rip out a throat and feel the hot pulse of blood wash across my cheek.

Thirty years later, having returned to the memory many times over the years, I don’t think I wanted to kill that snake. But I’m not certain that that was actually the truth at the time.

Death and Bali, A Year Later

It’s been exactly a year since the bombing in Bali that killed my old friend Rick Gleason and 201 other people.
Is there a statute of limitations on mourning? Should there be? If we stop feeling that skip in the heartbeat and stab in the gut when we think of someone we loved who was killed, have we stopped caring? Should guilt then rush in? Should we try to leave behind our grief, and get on with it? What is left of the dead one, a year after they’ve gone, in the world? What do we learn from their lives, what can we learn? What have I learned?
A year on, I wish I could say confidently that I’ve consciously changed my life for the better after Rick’s death, taken the lessons his life and his sudden death taught me, plowed up some fertile ground. I wish that in the decisions I’ve made in the intervening twelve months, a reflection could be seen of some nebulous tribute to him, and the things we both believed about life. Maybe it’s there, and I can’t see it. When you’re too close to the mountain, you can’t see how high it really is.
I’ve lived my life with death all around me — not in the way that the billions of poor people on this planet do, perhaps, with family members dying slowly in the corner of the shack, or ripped apart under American bombs — but with frequent visits from the reaper, until he became a familiar presence in my life, neither feared nor hated. I have no fear of death, but I resent it, and the curtain it throws around our brief little lives.
My father died when I was about five years old, my younger brother, right in front of me, a few years later. Aunts and uncles, great- and otherwise, died with regularity through my teens, as did my dearly-loved maternal grandfather. The rest of my grandparents were gone by the time I was in my mid-twenties, and then my step-father, who’d married my mother not long after my father’s death 20 years before, also died. I have friends who never lost a family member or dear friend until their mid-thirties, for whom Rick’s death was a shock more singular, and I always wondered how they thought about death. Did they fear it? Do they hate it more now, or less? Do they put it from their minds, and go on with the humble daily things, keeping the stink of terror well hid?
Scars were left on me in the wake of those deaths in my young life, furrows and welts in my brain some of which are even now just working their way into the light. This is as it should be. My great and abiding love for the drink, moderated and benign as it has become in my later years, as much passed on genetically and nurtured environmentally as it may be, certainly has some roots there. My fear and loathing of the very idea of having children, absolutely. My carefully-chosen expatriate existence, yearning contrapuntally as I sometimes do for the deep, cold coniferous forests of my youth. The vigour with which I counter those who I perceive to be attacking me, yes. All of these and more. I have made my peace with the ghosts, made it many years ago, and carry my wounds with awareness and a quiet understanding that what happens is good by virtue of the sheer fact that it has happened, and that to claim otherwise and rail against our experience is to refuse life, and shrink from it. To say no, rather than yes.
But Rick’s death marked me, more than I could have expected. I still feel that weightless skip in my heartbeat, that stab in the gut, when I think of him. One year on, there are more questions than ever, about what my life is to mean to me, and what it has meant. About what is important, what is indispensable, and what is good. About how to reconcile a love for individuals with a deep, heart-squeezing loathing for humanity, and particularly for the sort of people that knocked down the World Trade Centre, that set the bomb in Bali, and that ordered the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. About the preachers and the haters, the ideologues and the god-fearers, the killers and the martyrs, and about how deeply stupid and damaged, greedy and afraid they must be.
And in the end, of course, I’m left with more questions, and I’m left with a rising knot of choking rage and resentment that I consciously push down, squeeze back, and try to transform into something useful, into words and actions that don’t feed the killer monkeys, that keep the bloody chaos at bay, and I’m not usually very successful.
I said this, about 18 months ago, long before my friend’s death :

To regard the death of those you know and love as a natural thing, to turn the painful experience of their loss into something that enriches and strengthens your own life (because, face it, they ain’t got one anymore) – that’s the mostly truly reverant eulogy and memorial one can make. Which is trite, perhaps, but people seem to forget it, again and again.

and I suppose I still believe it to be true.
But Rick’s murder marked me, more perhaps and nearer the surface than any death I’ve lived past since I was very young. I suppose I am a better man because of that mark. I would be a happier man, and one less uncertain and questing, if it had not happened. Would that Rick were still walking around in his loose-limbed way, falling in love at the drop of a hat, laughing and drinking and seeing. Would that he could share a drink with me tonight.
But that is not the way it happened, and I’m still not sure of how to live with that.

Another Hiatus

Edit : Rather than spend another second here, I recommend without reservation that you go have a look at some of the photos of Japan taken by my friend Christopher Domitter. They are gorgeous, and deserve an even wider audience than they already enjoy. Here, here, here, and here. I had promised Christopher that I’d link to the galleries, but totally forgot. My apologies.

Uncharacteristically for a language-drunk bastard like myself, I find recently that I have very little to say. Life itself seems a great deal more important to me at the moment than the world-wide circlejerk that is blogging. Not to say that I won’t fall back into the filthy habit again, of course. But right now, I think I’ll leave off for a while.
I’m happy to have been able to do something that was actually important with this weblog over the last month or so, though I curse the events that enabled me to do so. There are literally thousands of people out there who know and love my friend Rick now, people who didn’t even know that he existed before that f–king bomb went off. There are people for whom the evil that is afoot in the world has been personalized. And I’ve got to think this personalizing was a good thing, if as a result even one more of those people declared to himself or herself ‘no more killing, damn it.’
I am inclined as a result of having done what I hope is some tangible good with this site to rethink what I want to achieve with it. You know, beyond wanking.
If you’ve come here to read or re-read the awful events of last month, and the outpouring of love and support that they triggered, the posts are here.
It’s Remembrance Day in Canada tomorrow, and I think that’s a fitting time for me to fall silent for a while. I thank everyone who has been so supportive of me and my friends, and of Rick’s family over the past month – I thank you with all my heart. I’ll be back when I feel like I have something worth saying (or when I get drunk and decide to tell more stories).

Uncle Tupelo – Life Worth Living
This song is sung for anyone that’s listening
This song is for the broken-spirited man
This song is for anyone left standing
After the strain of a slow, sad end
It seems everybody wants what someone else has
There’s sorrow enough for all
Just go in any bar and ask
With a beer in each hand and a smile in between
All around’s a world grown mean
We’ve all had our ups and downs
It’s been mostly down around here
Now this whole damn mess is becoming quite clear
Looks like we’re all looking for a life worth livin’
That’s why we drink ourselves to sleep
Yeah, we’re all looking for a life worth livin’
That’s why we pray for our souls to keep
There’s nothing left now but broken pieces
Of one man’s broken will to care
And in the end before all is said and done
How many others might follow him there?
This song is sung for anyone that’s listening
This song is for the broken-spirited man
This song is for anyone left standing
After the strain of a slow, sad end
Midnight is comin’ ’round
Still mostly down around here
Now this whole damn mess is becoming quite clear
Looks like we’re all looking for a life worth livin’
That’s why we drink ourselves to sleep
Yeah, we’re all looking for a life worth livin’
That’s why we pray for our souls to keep

Peace.
– Chris (aka Stav)
Reluctant Edit : I went back and read these threads from Metafilter tonight – when I heard about the explosion and the MeFi gang helped me track down information, and the thread that was started when one of my Meta-friends found out that Rick had died, and people bowed their heads in silence. I think I should point to them, and offer my thanks.

Goodbye

[If you would like to read about what happened when my friend Rick was caught in the bombing in Bali, and the grief and hope of the people who loved him, in the order in which it all happened, start from the bottom of this page and read upwards.]
This site will go dark for technical reasons for a few days on or around Monday November 4th, but should be back not long thereafter. Before that happened, I wanted to write and post something more about my friend. Here it is.

“…I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”
– Jack Kerouac

Nineteen years is a long time. Half a lifetime, for me. For half my life, I’ve counted Rick as a friend. Think of that – 19 years. I had a brother who died when he was about 5 years old. Rick was my brother for four times that long.
I met Rick in the fall of 1983, when I’d first arrived at UBC. I was wet behind the ears, a boozy hayseed smalltown boy whose expectations of university sprang primarily from repeated viewings of Animal House. He was a year older than me, and though it seems an odd thing to say about Rick, who was determinedly uncool, he was not only boozy and friendly, but downright cool, by my lights at least. He was so approachable, uncomplicatedly kind, and totally unconcerned about how he was perceived that he was cooler than hell. We became friends quickly, and he showed me the ropes, and bought my booze for me before I had ID.
The next 5 years or so, those UBC years, were an idyllic time, the academic component of which I have almost completely managed to block from my mind. We drank and we talked and we learned some, more about being friends than about economics or math. We chased women, with an almost complete lack of success. Rick and I, Barry, Oliver, David, Chris D, and later Derek and DV and Alana and Chris R and Jen, and many others – we adhered into a loosely-bound group of groups that drew together again recently, years after some of us had last seen one another.
Rick knew retro-cool before it was cool to be retro. He had a ’64 Mustang for a while, which I worshipped. We’d take it down via the ‘scenic route’ to Spanish Banks and park beside the beach and drink. One time I begged him to go to the liquor store on 4rth Avenue, outside the Endowment Lands, to buy some rye. He protested that there was absolutely no brake fluid in the car – none – and the brakes were inoperable. I pleaded. He shrugged – a complicated, nuanced, truly Rickesque gesture – and we went anyway. When we got there, I had to hop out while we were still in motion and brace myself (as nonchalantly as possible) against the hood to bring the ‘stang to a stop in the liquor store parking lot.

‘Song of Myself’
I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents
the same,
I, now thirty seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
Walt Whitman

Rick and Chris Domitter went to Paris for a year, when Oliver and I were in our third year, and by now living in Gage Towers, from which we were later evicted. I remember sitting in my room with Oliver and Barry, drinking and smoking, exhausted, inebriated 4 a.m dorm room conversations, nights after the bars closed, music playing low in the background, red gel over the desk lamp whose beam was pointed out the window into the falling snow, drinking tea, putting out our cigarettes in the pot where my fig tree, Stoatgobbler, lived; feeling with a sense of pleasant lassitude every single world-weary minute of our 22 or 23 years, and listening to the cassette tapes that Rick and Chris had recorded and sent back to us, dreaming of Paris. Listening to their voices from half a world away, dreaming of getting out, going somewhere, seeing the world, living a life less ordinary.
I think it was that trip that turned Rick into the inveterate traveller he later became, and his letters and tapes to me that year inspired me to become a traveller too. His stories of sitting in a park in wintertime Paris, freezing, smoking to keep warm because his tiny rented room was equally cold and was ugly and depressing as well – these tales fit in with the books I was reading at the time and merged into a mythos that I knew both of us wanted to inhabit. I think it was around this time too that the swashbuckling part of Rick’s personality began to bloom. He was always fearless, it seemed, in an unostentatious way. Quietly, determinedly fearless. Terrified of women, of course, but fearful of nothing else. Thinking about Rick so much in recent times, of how to characterize him, how to sum up such a complex man in a phrase, I hit on ‘a combination of George Costanza and Doc Savage’. Rick of course, unlike George, didn’t have a meanspirited bone in his body, but those of you who knew him might undersand what I mean. Anyway, I think this might have been the time when Doc Savage started to appear.
The books – this was one of so many ways that Rick and I were of one mind. We both wanted to write, and we both did, a bit, and neither of us could stop compulsively reading. When we both lived near King’s Cross in Sydney, Australia, years later, we used to meet up at the library on MacLeay Street by chance, as often as we met anywhere else by design. (I remember when Rick got mugged in the Cross – by a ‘bunch of Arab guys’. They took the watch his Dad had given him, the one with gold nuggets embedded in it. That was one ugly watch, but he was incredibly upset by it, so much so that he developed a weird skin condition for a while. I remember his little bedsit room on Tusculum Street on the edge of the Cross, with his slightly threadbare grey suit in the closet, and empty Yalumba wine boxes, and stacks of books.) Books were more important than eating, and if not more important than booze, at least on a par. Rick didn’t actually talk about the books much – we weren’t so much into Literature as we were into learning about every possible way there was to live a life.

“Christ, I have read your classics, I have wasted a life in libraries turning pages, looking for blood.”
Charles Bukowski

Rick’s letters to me over the years were the most memorable correspondance I’ve ever received in my life – uproariously funny, human, and luminous with his love of life. It will be my eternal regret that we’d stopped corresponding as regularly in the past couple of years as once we had, but I am thankful that a few months ago, we resumed our more regular correspondance via email.
One of the first trips Rick and I took together was to Long Beach, on Vancouver Island. It was cold, bitterly cold – September, I think it must have been – and the water was freezing. We rented surfboards for the weekend, scorned wetsuits, carried a fat-bellied bottle of Carlo Rossi red wine down to the beach in front of our campsite, and went surfing. We were in the water for nearly an hour, I think, and when we climbed back into the shell at the back of his pickup truck – Truckasaurus – he couldn’t stop shaking. He was blue. Skinny bastard had gone and gotten himself hypothermia. Utterly oblivious to the consequences, though, young and indestructible as we were, we drank some more wine and went to sleep. He woke up in the morning feeling fine as always, and I woke up with a debilitating hangover, as always.
Rick loved the sea, and the mountains. The places of power – where the sky meets the land, and the land meets the sea. He loved the world, and the people in it (particularly the female people).
For the decade after we finished our stint at UBC, in ’88 or so, we met up at least once every year or two, somewhere in the world. New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, back home in Canada. I travelled around the world clockwise, and Rick went counterclockwise, and our paths crossed as often as we could make them.
Scotland was the first, and maybe the most memorable for me. About 4 months in an ancient Scottish house beside the Firth of Forth in Edinburgh, a boarding house run by an ancient Scottish couple, almost completely surrounded by innumerable piles of ancient Scottish dogsh-t. Stiffy was there – Stephan Summerer who had lived in the same quad in residence for the year before I got evicted – and Barry, who came over the Atlantic after he had an accident and got some insurance money. Rick was working at a department store, Stefan had some sort of laboratory job, and I was drinking Bulgarian red wine, and when Barry arrived, we scattered again across Europe.
Other times, other places – literally thousands of nights and days making a beeline for nearest body of water whenever possible, time spent joking and consciously enjoying our lives, spent drinking or not, but rejoicing always, digging the marrow out of life.
Rick loved nature, and he loved film and art. He loved music, but in the stubborn, contrarian way he had, was always scrupulous in his disdain for….well, for things he disliked. His tastes were eclectic – he loved jazz, and music of the 60’s and 70’s, he loved ‘power pop’ (‘if it’s crunchy it’s good’), and anything lyrical, well-crafted, and authentic. Not to say that the schmaltzy Vegas stylings of the Rat Pack, or the rich, tasty cheese of Burt Bacharach were beyond the pale of his tastes – but his love for the music was less ironic than it was sacramental, and that somehow made up for it. For years we’d go to punk rock shows, me self-conscious in my leather biker jacket, and him unruffled in his grey melton UBC Commerce jacket. He had no need and no desire to don protective colouration, to look the part, any part. People underestimated him because of this, as people do. I respected him for it – realizing that I didn’t have the same strength of character to not give a good goddamn what people thought of me.
Authenticity. If Rick hated anything, and he was foremost a man who loved, not hated, but if he hated anything, it was lies, dissembling, falseness, pretension. He refused to be a part of anything that was false, that was anti-life, anti-love, but he was loathe to talk about it in terms like that, not wanting to trivialize it, to make it sound trite, as I’ve done by talking about it here. Instead, he’d talk about how important it was to say “yes” – yes to life, yes to life in its infinite extravagant abundance, yes to everything, yes whether it brought you pleasure or pain. When I came back one year from 9 months in Greece, and explained that I loved it there because I found it filled with people who smacked themselves lustily on the chest and declared “Christo like!”, he knew exactly what I was talking about. It became shorthand for us for this idea. He accepted with equanimity whatever life might bring him. He lived a life that both in its broad sweep and its details embodied the things he believed.
Think about that – how many people have you met whose lives embody their beliefs, who live according to the ideals they’ve set for themselves? Far too few, would be my regretful answer, at least.
Beyond all the other reasons I had for loving Rick, beyond the simple fact of years of our lives shared, beyond his kindness, his irrepressible sense of humour, his enthusiasm for life and his determination to enjoy it and cause no hurt to anyone in the process of doing so, it was his sincerity and his goodness that I will miss.
He was a good man. He shaped my life in ways he will never know. The world is a darker place without him.

And now, as I’m absolutely certain he would want, I’m going to shut the hell up about it.

Stories

The memorial service for Rick will be held in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, on Saturday, November 9th 2002 – Canadian Remembrance Day weekend. Rick’s brother has asked me to point to Air North, who may be providing special rates for those of us who can make to Whitehorse, and the High Country Inn who may be doing the same (both subject to confirmation).
(Update : Air North confirms that they will be offering a discounted fare of $390.00 Vancouver or Calgary or Edmonton – Whitehorse return. People will need to contact their reservations number and ask to speak with Sharon to get this discounted rate. Toll free in Canada 1-800-661-0407 and 1-800-764-0407 in USA. Regular line is (867) 668-2228.)
Thank you everyone for your outpouring of love and kindness, thank you from myself, and on behalf of all of Rick’s friends and family. Out of heartbreaking tragedy, the best of human nature can sometimes come.
This morning, I’d like to share Rick-stories, and I hope it’s not too early to do so. The truth is that one of the reasons we loved him so is that he could always make us laugh. His determination to get the best out of life, to push himself and others to savour and enjoy every moment, his sense of humour – and his ability to drink debilitating quantities of booze without any apparent ill effects the next day – these things inspired me. I know he’d want us to smile and laugh as we miss him, even if it must be through tears. He didn’t much care for tears.
But I don’t want to eulogize him. I just want to tell and hear some funny or touching or ‘yeah, that’s Rick all right’ stories about him, or just some anecdotes or happy memories, from people who knew and loved him.
I’ll start, with two stories I’ve already told online. The stories tend to be booze-soaked, but with Rick and I, that’s to be expected. The first one is from my userprofile at Metafilter, where it’s been the story I’ve used to tell people about myself and my goofy nickname there for two years now :

In the winter of 1992 (I think), Rick and I had just finished the Mumbles Walk. This is the pub crawl along a seaside stretch of watering holes in Wales, near Swansea, that apparently used to be a regular night out for Dylan Thomas. I’d like to say we were appropriately reverant, but we were just shambolically pissed, basically.
At some point, we stumbled by a phone booth that looked out over the mud flats and dejected-looking rowboats that had been stranded by the outgoing tide, and decided it was a simply great time to give our buddy Derek, back in Vancouver, a collect call. When the operator asked for a name to give for the call (this was back in the last century, before this stuff was automated), the name “Stavros The Wonder Chicken” just bubbled to the top of my brain, with no precedent whatsoever. The operator balked, but we begged, and when we overheard her telling James, his roommate, that she had a collect call from “Stavros the Wonder Chicken”, we laughed like the drunken poets we were.
A few minutes after his roommate James accepted the call, we found out that Derek had returned to his hometown because he’d found out that day that his father had died.
We went back to drinking.

Rick claimed that he came up with the ‘wonder chicken’ monicker (which I’ve used online for years), and it’s possible that he did. I didn’t change the story, though, mostly because I wanted to annoy him.
I wrote another Amusing Tale of Rick and I here during the World Cup :

Just finished watching the Ireland vs. Cameroon match, and though I’m far from an expert in such matters, I enjoyed it a fair bit. Averaging one goal every 45 minutes : I guess that’s major excitement in the soccer world, huh?
The reason I mention it is that it was more than a decade ago, during the World Cup in 1990, that the Wonderchicken was born, the uncreated conscience of my species, forged in the smithy of my liver. A couple of days after this blessed event, Rick and I were in a lovely little B & B in Aberystwyth, Wales, and watching the match between Cameroon and Ireland. Our viewing was made more enjoyable, if indeed that were possible, by the presence of a Large Bottle of Vodka. This we drank (which is the primary use to which one puts Large Bottles of Vodka, other than bonking people over the head, of course), and cheered lustily for the underdogs, Cameroon, who ended up the victors.
Although my powers of recollection tend to suffer when battered by such oceanic quantities of booze, I seem to recall that we ventured out into the night at the conclusion of the game, wobbly but under our own power, navigating by the bottle, and ended up in a pub, where Rick also ended up swapping saliva with a nubile young lady. This was the time in our lives when this sort of thing still happened, albeit irregularly.
The next morning, the proprietress of the B & B, waggling an admonishing finger as only middle-aged Welsh matrons can, suggested that we should find alternate lodging.
She must have been an Ireland supporter.

Update : The Rev. A. K. M. Adam said beautifully what I wanted to say. Thank you AKMA.

…But I also hope that the spirit of companionship that Chris’s loving commitment to Rick bespeaks will engender some furious memorial rejoicing, some thanksgiving for good things Rick meant to his friends, some conviviality that perpetuates the generosity of spirit […]. I hope that the loyalty that Chris has been demonstrating for the last two weeks cuts loose now with some of the joy that keeps death’s power at bay. I hope that though friends move on, that friendship endures and thrives and through a web of one-or-two-degrees-of-separation wraps us together in a loyalty and friendship that beats cruelty and violence.
I hope that gentleness and affection win in our response to maddening loss, and that vicious brutality loses, it withers away and leaves kind souls to celebrate their friendship—in peace.

The loyalty and loving commitment to our friend of which he speaks is felt by many, more people than I had ever guessed, and is a testament to Rick Gleason, and the man he was, and is.

An End To Pain

I don’t know how to say this – Rick’s family members have authorized me to say it, but I don’t know how.
Rick’s gone.
About 6 hours ago, as I understand it, the hospital in Melbourne asked Rick’s parents for permission to ‘let him go’.
I don’t know what to say. We loved you, Rick. We love you still.
You loved this world with a fierce, beautiful, kind-hearted passion, and now you’ve left it, and we are left to grieve, and care for each other, as much as you cared for us.
I love you, my brother. Thank you for everything you gave me.
Goodbye.

No News

No real news for you today, which may well be a good thing.
The family has decided a Paypal account for donations won’t be workable, due to potential tax-related problems with maintaining the integrity of the Trust as a non-profit fund. I understand little to nothing of these matters. Anyone who wishes can still send a donation the old-fashioned way, though, of course, and it is my hope that folks will.
I’m told that many prayers and masses are being said for Rick and his family today, and I know there are people all over the world this evening who are keeping our friend and his family in their thoughts, and striving to send love and strength their way. I join them in their prayers.

True Canadian

A new article in the Vancouver Sun this morning (thanks to Chris Domitter and Derek Adams). Also in the Sun, a piece about Rick from Simon Crum, a great and good friend of Rick’s that, being an expat and away from home for so long, I haven’t even met yet. Simon’s kindly permitted me to reproduce the article here in toto.

Read More

God Bless Australia

I said it a few days ago, and I’ll say it again : God bless Australia, and Australians. This from Jonathon via email this evening.

It has just been announced on the evening news that the Australian government will pay the medical expenses for non-Australian victims of the Bali bombing.

Please keep fighting, Rick. We’re with you.
[Edit : I should clarify that the government assistance for Rick’s medical bills and those of other non-Aussies will not pay all the bills, but at least it will ensure that they won’t be as enormous as they might otherwise be. Please don’t hesitate to send what you can spare to the trust account. It’s going to be a long road.]

Update

This latest (from the comments in the last post) from Aaron includes the text of a Melbourne Age article about the treatment that Rick and others are receiving. Warning : this may be a little disturbing to read, but it is reassuring that Rick’s receiving the best of care. It seems that this is a very dangerous time, after a week or so, for people with injuries like Rick’s.

From the Melbourne Age - Thanks Aaron
Skip and I visited Rick this morning. Rick did not have a good night. Skip has been there all day and will no doubt give a full update later when he returns.
This is a big posting (sorry about the size) but there is no weblink to this. This is the transcript of the article on the Doctors and Nurses who are caring for Rick. Rick is mentioned fairly extensively towards the end of the article.
The healers
Author: Liz Porter
Date: 20/10/2002
Words: 2900
Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: Agenda
Page: 1
Last week Thomas Kossmann spent hours in theatre operating on burnt skin and comforting the distraught relatives of the six Bali bomb victims in his care. As head of the Alfred Hospital’s trauma unit, Kossmann has just endured the week from hell. Liz Porter spent the day with him.
It’s 7.25am as Professor Thomas Kossmann turns his silver four-wheel drive off Commercial Road and into the car park adjoining the Alfred Hospital’s helipad. Within moments he is striding through the emergency department entrance. It’s Thursday and the six victims of last Sunday’s blast have just begun day five of their ordeal, lying bandaged in the hospital’s intensive care and burns units. The next few days will be crucial for them. Between day three and day seven patients who have previously seemed to be doing well can go into a dramatic decline when septic complications set in and stressed vital organs begin to fail. “People feel well in the first one to two days,” the surgeon says. “They have been resuscitated, they feel fine, and then after three to four days, they deteriorate and they can die due to septic complications.”
Kossmann, 43, has been in a state of high alert since the moment he heard the news last Sunday. At midnight on Monday he was on the phone organising a list of surgeons for the following day.
At 6.30am on Tuesday an ambulance carrying Canadian national Richard Gleason, 38, the hospital’s first Bali burns patient, arrived after being flown in on a Lear jet fitted out as a mobile ICU. Gleason, a business analyst, had made a last-minute decision to holiday in Bali instead of Mexico and was walking around the island with his backpack on after the blast. The adrenaline and shock kept him going, but now he is critically ill with burns to half his body.

Read More

A painful week

It’s been a week since the bomb went off. It’s an artificial milestone, but I feel confident that Rick’s going to be OK, now. All the strength and love that is being sent his way has got to have helped.
No specific news about Rick this morning. There is this, though : “Indonesian police are closing in on a woman suspected of having detonated the car bomb which killed 181 people in two crowded Bali nightspots a week ago.”
Update : More information on the Red Cross and Worldvision appeals. The money received by both will go to Australian and Balinese victims. Rick, being Canadian, may well fall through the cracks, here.
It may be disturbing to view, but this is a gallery of pictures of evacuees arriving in Melbourne and the Alfred Hospital. He is not visible in any of the pics, that I can see, but Rick must have been among them.
Update 2 : via email from Roanna, Rick’s sister

Rick’s condition hasn’t changed as of today [..] He has maybe one more skin-graft surgery left and they should be finished and hopefully letting him come off of the sedation in the next couple of days

Donations

Over at Shelley’s weblog, she’s reproduced the information for donations to the Trust Account that has been set up for Rick’s medical bills (thanks Shelley!), and ruzz has suggested in the comments on her post that perhaps Paypal could be used to collect donations for the trust from wired folk, and further that if there were a Paypal account he’d donate. I have no idea how to do this, and I probably couldn’t do it from Korea anyway. Would it be sensible and safe to do this?
Is there anyone out there with experience in this sort of thing that can help set it up? It would be wonderful if someone could help…
Update : A major update from Aaron in the comments attached to this post –

Dick has given me his permission to write this. He is overwhelmed by the support that Rick is getting from his worldwide friends;
Rick survived the blast and was actually found by an Australian consular official wandering around the site, still wearing his backpack. He was quite conscious and coherent but in obvious shock. He was running on pure adrenalin. His must have been facing away from the blast as his face is relatively unburnt although the back of his head is. He has lost most of his hair and also has scalp lacerations. The other burns are to his arms, legs and back. It seems his backpack may have absorbed alot of the balst. He does have a small piece of shrapnel in his back which has not yet been removed. It is no where near his spine and is not serious.
Rick was able to talk calmly and gave his name and Dick’s contact details to the officials. He was one of the first 30 airlifted to Darwin by the RAAF. He was conscious thoughout this. It was in Darwin that he started to decline. He started slurring his speech and had what appears to be a minor stroke caused either by an embolism or heart trauma caused by the blast. At this point he was sedated and sent to Melbourne via air ambulance. He has been sedated since and was unconscious while I was there today.
Rick also has burnt lungs, some cracked ribs and had some damage to his spleen. He has 1 perforated eardrum. Apart from the burns and the possibility of neurological damage caused by the stroke the most serious issue seems to be the heart trauma. He has a loose flap of muscle on his heart which is probably the result of the blast (apparently they can happen naturally). They may have to operate on his heart to rectify this.
While in Bali the Doctors think Rick may have had a blood transfusion (Balinese records were very poor). They were very concerned about this as Indonesia has very low blood collection and screening standards. They have performed the obvious battery of tests and he showed all clear.
He has been having skin grafts from unburnt skin on his abdomen. He has also had a tracheotomy to assist with his breathing.
He will be in ICU for at least a month and will remain at The Alfred for probably at least another m onth after that before returning to Canada.
I have also spoken with the nurses and one of the Doctors caring for Rick. In my amateur opinion he is going to pull through this. It won’t be easy but he will make it.

Aaron adds :

Today has not been a good day for me. Apart from seeing Rick in his banged up state for the first time. I also learnt this morning that another friend of mine, David Kent died in the blast. David was a colleague of mine and to some extent a mentor in my career. Like Rick, David was a great guy, keen to smile and joke around and he enjoyed a beer. He and Rick didn’t deserve this.

Aaron, all of us who are pulling for Rick are sparing a thought for you and for your friend David’s family and friends as well.

More Info

Here’s some new information that should be up on the front page. This is an excerpt from a press release (via Aaron) from Dick Gleason, Rick’s father :

Rick was the first patient to arrive at The Alfred and is understood to be considered as one of the five most critical of all the patients airlifted to Australia.
He has received burns to 45% of his body and also serious injuries to his lungs, head and various other organs.
He has had several operations already including skin grafts, and is expected to have more. It is anticipated that he will be in hospital at The Alfred for 2 to 3 months, before returning to Canada for treatment.

And from an email from Rick’s sister Roanna, via our friend David MacKinnon :

The family has arranged to open a special trust account for those who might wish to make donations to help in offsetting some of Rick’s medical expenses while in Australia and upon his return to Canada. The Trust Account has been opened through the law office of Brian L. Morris in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Donations may be made by sending a cheque or money order to:
‘Brian L. Morris, in trust for Rick Gleason’
c/o: 202-100 Main Street Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Y1A 2A8 Canada
or by sending it to:
‘Brian L. Morris, in trust for Rick Gleason’
c/o Bank of Montreal, 111 Main Street, P.O. Box 4400
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Y1A 3T5 Canada
Transit #0998

Update : This from Chris Domitter in Japan, via a friend in Melbourne

If you would like to send a fax to Rick you can do so at: (61-3) 92762928
or you can send an e-mail message if you go to http://www.alfred.org.au
No flowers are allowed because of the risk of infection.

Update : How you can help other victims – the Red Cross Bali Appeal.

Day 5

No new updates on Rick so far this morning (I just woke up about an hour ago). I will continue to post any new info that is sent to me, or that I can find elsewhere, though.
(Update : see the comments on the post from yesterday for some news from Aaron, who’s been to the ICU unit, and spoken to Rick’s nurse.)
I would like to thank everyone for your emails of support and comments posted below. For myself, I was despairing a bit last night, and I wasn’t sure if writing about this in real-time was a good idea or not, but I hope and think now that it has been. And for Rick, I hope when he’s further down the road to recovery, he’ll be able to read this and see how much support there was out there for him, from people who know him and from people who don’t, yet.
I’ll keep you updated.
Update 1 : Not about Rick specifically, but a couple of links. Joe lives in Indonesia, and is following the story of the bombing closely. Tim Blair is a journalist for The Australian and has been blogging the tragedy in detail. He is clearly angry, but stops short of howling for vengeance, so far. There are others who are raging and calling for more blood and death. I won’t bother linking to them as well. There’s been enough killing (although, and I know it doesn’t make much sense, please understand that if I were put in a room with any of the bastards who put this bomb outside the Sari, they wouldn’t walk out of that room).
Via Jonathon in Sydney, Margo Kingston says in the Sydney Morning Herald :

I think finger-pointing and blame and jumping straight into anger and visions of revenge is dangerous displacement of feeling before feeling is fully felt. It also ignores the absence of facts upon which to analyse what has happened. This is our experience, and those who wish to define it for us and appropriate it to their cause can get stuffed.

Another link : For those who’ve never been to Kuta, this animated ‘infographic’ is good, to get an idea of where it all happened, and the extent of the destruction. It’s incredible that anyone made it out.
Later : My dear friend-that-I’ve-never-met Shelley writes, more eloquently than I am able at the moment :

As people who knew Rick leave comments, the person who Chris knows becomes someone we know. He isn’t faceless. There is no insulation from the pain and the horror of the Bali blast through emotionless news broadcasts, and political speeches.
Our sorrow and our grief for the families of those impacted by this act against humanity transcends old, stale borders of “warblogger” and “peace blogger”, and when I read Meryl and Dawn I am reminded that we all ultimately want the same thing in the end: peace.

I hope that she’s right. I hope she’s right.

Update on Rick

I guess this will be the defacto clearing house for info about Rick’s injuries for the next while. Welcome to old real-world friends who haven’t been here before (and my mom, if the satellite is working). The site is chronologically arranged. You can add comments to a posting by clicking on the ‘x comments’ link at the bottom of each post.
Some distressing news from the Bearman this morning Korea/Australia time, via email :

I talked to Rick’s cousin Derek today, and found this out: he burned about 40% of his back (arms too, I think) and an artery[‘s been] severed, causing bleeding in his brain. He’s on life support, and they think if he comes out of it there’ll be brain damage.

They said the same thing about our pal Oliver when he had meningitis, about the brain damage, almost exactly a decade ago, when Rick and I were in London with him, and Ol’s OK…
A prayer for him, if you’re a praying person.
I’ll keep you updated.
Update : More detail from The Bearman via Rick’s cousin, and it’s good news!

Rick has burns on his back and probably his arms. An artery was severed and he suffered bleeding in his brain, which caused a stroke. He was put on life support for a while, but is off of that now. They are keeping him sedated because of the burns. It seems at one point they thought there would be brain damage if he survived, but they’re more optimistic now.

Update 2 : The incredible Google news has started to index news stories with Rick’s name. Click here to check on the latest.
Update 3 : For what it’s worth, it looks like a Canadian government official leaked Rick’s name to the press, against his wishes.
Update 4: Fairly detailed piece on Rick.

“He’s tough,” Dick Gleason said in an interview just before boarding a plane for a flight to Australia. “I’m not sure if I raised him to be tough, but I know that he is. That when it comes down to it, he has the toughness he needs.”
Gleason said his son, who has four degrees, including one in economics from the University of B.C., is extremely intelligent and speaks five languages.
“He went to school completely on scholarship,” Dick Gleason said. “He’s just one of those people who has always done well in everything.”
Rick Gleason had just completed a contract with a financial services company and decided to travel before finding another job. The former naval reserve officer is the second oldest of six children.
Gleason said he is comforted by the image of his son from a favourite photograph.
“He’s in his naval uniform and he looks great and proud,” Gleason said.
[more…]

Odd to read about him this way. This is the first I’ve heard about burns to his face, and trauma to his heart.
I’m going to bed.

Good News

Rick’s definitely alive, and conscious. According to Foreign Affairs Canada, a representative of which I spoke with this morning, he’s been evacuated, and is in Royal Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. They can’t tell me the extent of his injuries. His family has been informed, and is in transit, apparently.
I’ve made this request in the Metafilter thread as well, but if any of my readers are in Melbourne and are so inclined, I’d be forever grateful, and I think Rick would too, if you could pay him a visit and pass on my best wishes, and maybe send me an email about how he’s doing. That sounds so lame, but you know what I mean. His name is Richard (Rick) Gleason, my real one (in case you didn’t know already) is Chris Kovacs. I’ve known the bastard 19 years now, and he’s not going to get away from me so easily.
I’m so f–king relieved that he’s in good hands in Melbourne. God bless Australia.
Update : It sounds like he’s been taken to the Royal Alfred because the burns unit there is one of the best in the country. One of the surgeons was quoted as saying that he was expecting patients with ‘burns on 15-50% of their bodies, shrapnel wounds and injuries to the hands’. Damn.
The best up-to-the-minute news source I’ve found is the Sydney Morning Herald.
Another update : Some pics of my buddies, my brothers, one of whom some people tried to kill a few nights ago. The next time, the drinks are on me, goddamn it.

Rick and Bosco with a drink - Edinburgh.jpg
Rick and I, about 13 years ago, in Edinburgh, in one of our classic poses. Me in the middle of a drunken soliloquy, Rick going ‘oh, hell, not again’.
party at the bearman.jpg
A party a few years back at the Bearman’s house – Rick, Bearman, some guy I don’t know, and me, in hairier days.
bearman and ric0.jpg
Rick and the Bearman, recently, outside a pub, predictably.

Oh shit

My buddy Rick, one of my oldest friends and dearest, has been in Bali for a few weeks. My mate the Bearman got an email from him a couple of days ago, and apparently Rick was partying it up in Kuta last Friday night. The bomb went off on Saturday night, and we’ve been trying to get in touch with him since. So far, we’ve heard nothing.
Reading the reports of mangled, burned bodies and of limbs scattered around is, to put it mildly, difficult, but I’ve been cruising Google News nonstop nonetheless for the last couple of days, reading every new article that pops up, in hopes that his name will appear. So far, there’s been (variously) a Canadian Ricard and a Canadian Richard (presumably the same person, but one might be French Canadian and the other might be Rick) reported amongst the injured. The profoundly useless Canadian news media have talked about two Canadians being injured, one of them male, and he refused to give any information about himself to the media, apparently. That sounds like Rick. But I have no way of knowing if that might be him or not. And I am aware that only about 20% of those who lost their lives have been identified so far.
This isn’t the way my life-loving brother, my peaceful drunken poet of a pal, was meant to go out, so I’m pretty confident he’ll turn up, send me a ‘what’s up?’ email soon, after which I’ll call him a complete bastard and all will be well. I’m sure of it. Meanwile, there’s nothing else I can do but wait, and hope, so I’ll keep trolling the news sites.
Update : via the MeFi thread, here is a list of wounded (including ‘Ricard’ from Canada) and the dead, which are being updated as new information is released, I think. It is encouraging that ‘Ricard’, if that is Rick, hasn’t been evacuated to Darwin, which I take to mean his injuries are not critical, a hope which jibes well with the information from articles in the Canadian press which describe the injuries of the two Canadians known so far to have been hurt as ‘non-life-threatening’.
Update 2: (for anyone who knows Rick, and cares…it’s more efficient than sending emails) On the other hand, this article says that the injured Canadian man (‘Ricard’ from the links above, or someone else?) was evacuated to Darwin with burns, and that his ‘parents are from the west coast’. Could that be him? And if it is, does that mean his injuries are grave? I don’t know. I’ve got to get some sleep.
Update 3: Just woke up. He’s alive, and on this list as ‘Richard H. Gluosom’. No idea yet what his condition is, though.