[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.
– 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.
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
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.
– 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.