Monday, October 4, 2010

To My Best Friend, by Jeff

To My Best Friend
by Jeff

I have it on good authority that it's unseemly for men to cry in public.

Not this day.

I first met Baz in 1984, at a party organised by a character of not-inconsiderable peculiarity (anyone remember Fabian?). When Baz walked in, I looked him up & down, just as I had every other person there, and my immediate thought was 'Hmmmm, potential threat ...'.

Back in the day, I was prone to categorising people as to how much of a threat they would represent if it came down to a hand-to-hand situation, who would be worthwhile to have in my corner, who I could forget about, who I had to be wary of. There was always a definitive answer, something along the lines of 'threatening - pay attention' or 'non-threatening - ignore', a very Terminator-centric way of looking at people but that was just what I did. Baz was the first 'Maybe' I ever met and that pissed me off no end - every single person I met was one or the other, 'maybe' was not an option! It was a snap judgement, more of a hunch than anything real, but it was that first assessment, that head-to-toe once-over and spider-sense tingly brain-itch 'Maybe' which pretty much set the ground rules for our friendship. And, of course, we never discussed it! That first meeting eventually developed into a good-natured rivalry which was never spoken about but always observed at just about every turn. And I know for certain, even though he was the only one ever, if I had told Baz that he was in the 'maybe' bucket, he would have gone mental - because outwardly he would have liked to have been thought of as 'non threatening' while secretly wanting to be labelled 'very threatening'. Complex, but it worked for us. And really, I should have told him, and I probably would have told him at some stage, later in our lives as we mulled over a good single malt.

Not this day.

It's difficult to define a person like Baz. When you knock around with someone for so many years, when you have so much in common and you do so many things together and you have adventures and and and ... you get to know that someone at a fundamental level. Baz was the twin brother I never had, we shared more common ground than most, he would even get mistaken for me at parties and various events (which pissed him off no end - probably karmic backlash at that initial threat-level size-up). We had similar thought patterns, our business lives were almost identical, we even shared a few of the same women; no, not at the same time, it was more a sort of musical-partners thing, everyone takes one step to the left when the music stops and then the game continues. We lived together on many occasions, for yearly stretches, amongst groups and by ourselves, and I am fairly confident at stating that I knew him very well. But can I define him?

Not this day.

As a very good friend and business partner of many years, let me state this for the official record, clearly and succinctly so there is little ambiguity - Baz was a bullshit artiste.

Note that I didn't use the word 'artist', because that implies someone who is doing something creatively as a profession, or at least would like to get paid for their creative efforts. That was not Baz. No, Baz was a bonafide artiste at bullshittery because it wasn't actually something that he did - the concept of sputing bullshit was something that defined him from top to toe. If there was ever to be a PhD of Bullshit awarded, he would have written the syllabus and then taken over the university.

There's a movie called 'Thank You for Smoking', which revolves around the life of a guy who works as an public relations and positive marketing advocate for all the tobacco companies. Our hero is being interviewed on a daytime Oprah style show with a chain-smoking 15 year old who has lung cancer, and the audience is baying for his blood, a near-frenzied lynch-mob of vitriolic anti-smoking housewives keen to string up this icon of corporate evil; within 3 minutes, they were totally sympathising with him and laughing at his jokes, just because of the manner in which he could spin bullshit. This shameless PR man describes himself as 'that guy who can pick up any girl at high school', but on speed. It is my firm belief that the character in question was based on Baz.

It's a very interesting feeling to go into a verbally combative discussion (argument? meh) against someone and have your position completely turned around, deconstructed and then dumped on your head hard enough that you plead to join the other side, and you only tend to think about it later when your brain has processed everything which just happened and you swivel around to raise a finger and cry "HEY!" only to find your verbal assailant long gone. And that was how Baz worked normally, without so much as a single bead of perspiration clouding his un-furrowed brow as he weaved his sorcerous monologues to the merriment and not-so-occasional detriment of others. Not many people can spin a line of utter drivel that sounds so plausible it attracts an audience of appreciative listeners; Baz could. Not may people can take a single line of bullshit and then weave it in amongst enough half-truths to build a convincing story which would be taken as fact once enough people began nodding; Baz could. Not many people could refute the claims of a dozen onlookers without getting physically flustered, mentally incapacitated and emotionally bedraggled; Baz could. The modern day equivalent of a bard, Baz was a sagacious story-weaver par excellence, able to impart tales of such depth as to hold you completely enthralled, the words subtly yet inexcorably surrounding and enveloping you like a downy-soft duvet or the coils of an Amazonian python as he wished it. If spewing forth un-mitigated yet believable bullshit was comic-book worthy, then Baz was a bonafide modern superhero.

I am comfortable to refer to Baz as a story-weaver as opposed to a storyteller, because he did not ever tell a story - he would interlace a complex selection of fact and fiction with such proficiency and flair that you never thought to question which was which. When bullshit is delivered amongst a stream of truth without missing a single beat, the bullshit can and does appear as the truth. And this was the world in which Baz lived and breathed, as a weaver of reality according to him.

Ever so occasionally though, such tales would be interrupted with a muffled comment or a veiled remark relating to Barry's seemingly factual vacuum. At some point along the meandering stream of verbiage, a metaphoric hand would be raised as someone honed in on a discordant note, a single word or phrase which refuted everything studied or experienced, and that catalyst would be enough to verbally interrupt the flow, usually along the lines of "That sounds like bullshit, Barry!" True to form, Baz would engage such a comment as he would an errant bug - depending on the person foolhardy enough to doubt the integrity of the tale, they would either be swatted away gently (and subsequently treated with the ignorance they thoroughly deserved), else they would be violently squished (and treated with the contempt and derision they obviously deserved) - and that would be the end of that. For those who attempted a continuation after being brushed aside, those who actually felt they could level the verbal sparring playing field by injecting points of fact to the dialogue, woe betide their ignorance! Baz relished in the thought of adequate partners with which to fence commentary, all too often he was dismayed that nobody actually measured up to the task; to the casual onlooker, a veritable wasteland of shattered egos and vacant expressions litters those byways where the expansive words of Baz traversed.

I confess, I couldn't compete with him. Yes, okay, I *tried*, oh HOW I tried! But I long ago learned that to do so was sheer folly. To his credit, Baz recognised that to continually verbally spar with his close friends was a surefire recipe for increasing his loneliness quotient, so between the two of us we worked out a very subtle code, a safeword if you will. If, during the course of a 'discussion', one of us went too far, and all other possibilities for polite interaction had been exhausted, the other could call an immediate halt to the 'discussion' with a single word, and that person would automatically be given the honourable exit. Much to the chagrin of not-a-few others, that word was 'faggot'. Yes, a somewhat derogatory and outdated term for a bunch of sticks. And, to be totally effective, the word could not be delivered quietly, not whispered or muttered as if in defeat - a forceful expulsion of breath was required to effectively deliver an end to one of these dialogues within which we had become firmly entrenched with no sign of egress.

J: What about x?
B: No, x doesn’t matter because of y.
J: Hang on, y doesn't even exist!
B: Well, you see, y does exist because
J: ... ?
B:Here's the thing -
B: Oh! I’m sorry, didn't realise I went that far, my bad.

Just because I couldn’t compete, doesn’t mean I didn’t make countless attempts. I dare say I have deluded myself into believing that I chalked up a few wins without invoking our rather clandestine codeword; but most times, I received (like many others) a not inconsiderable verbal bitchslap to which my only recourse was to safeword out. With fervent gusto.

It dawned on me that I have just, in effect, delivered this as the last of our quarter century verbal melee, my own personal harangue during which Baz will have no recourse to safeword out or respond with something of fiendish cleverness. And normally, I would take immense pleasure from his complete inability to reply.

Not this day.

Baz told stories. Thus, I think it fitting that he not be sent on his way via dot-point lists of features and attributes more akin to the multitude of gadgetry he used to covet and fawn over, as that is neither my style nor do I believe it was his. I feel it a more suitable endpoint to share a story or three, those which portray him in the light I was accustomed to seeing him in, and perhaps illuminate a long-term friendship from my perspective. To that end, I have three specific tales to recount, one SCA, one business, and one just as friends – skip to the end if you’re not interested.

The ‘SCA’ story

No shit, there I was, Prince of Lochac. Baz was my resident aide de camp, a faithful sidekick most days and a very loyal and incredibly vicious doberman when I needed him to be. I could go on about how he shocked an entire crowd into stunned silence by throwing very real 1 metre fireballs from his hands towards the ceiling of an ‘absolutely NO fires’ hall as a prelude to Margie’s laurelling, I could comment on his political acumen relating to who should be awarded what and why, or his sundry ramblings on twang-jocks versus armoured thug heavies. Instead, this will be a short but poignant battlefield anecdote. Tromping through the trees at Tara during the woods battle, I had lost most of my entourage except for a few heavies and archers, including Baz (aka Karius of Lochford who, in all honesty, was an absolute cracker of an archer …). Out from behind a semi-large copse stepps HRM Garrick, with no entourage at all. My guys square up, the archers raise their bows and I say “OI!”, give them all a look and shake my head, they relax and I walk towards the king for the single combat thing. Baz sidles up close as I pass and mutters “As soon as you hit the deck, he’s a dead man.” I stopped, turned and said “Trust me.” The non-commital grunt I received was only slightly insulting, so I flashed him a big and very toothy grin, then walked over to the king. We chatted, we bowed, we squared off as you do in these situations, and then he stepped in and threw the first shot. I blocked and threw three shots in rapid succession – snap straight to his leg, shield hook offside into his ribs, then another snap to the head – all of which hit good and hard. And during that milli-second of me killing him, he took my leg. He saluted, said “Nice shots!” we chatted a little more, then he walked off to the resurrection point. My guys were doing the happy dance and congratulating me, I swore a lot because I’d been legged, and told them to join the main group over yonder because it would take me some time to hop over there and I didn’t want to prevent them from getting some play. Off they all went, except for Baz. He was just standing there staring at me, an expression on his face that I had never seen previously displayed – his mouth betraying sheer incredulity, while his eyes were shiny with complete admiration. I squinted somewhat quizzically, cocked my head at him in question and he just started babbling: “That was brilliant! I blinked and you threw 3 shots and he was dead and and … that was incredible! How did you DO that? Jesus christ you’re fast! I’d nocked but there was no time to shoot! Oh my god, awesome!” Inwardly, I was basking in the glow of this un-fettered awe, the first tangible pat-on-the-back from my best friend for about 13 years; outwardly, as calm as a refrigerated zucchini, I shrugged: “Nothing awesome about it! Fucker legged me, now I have to hop!” He kept shaking his head, mouth open, spouting tributes at my prowess. I stood up, put a hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye and all serious-like I asked: “Now do you trust me?” He didn’t flinch, didn’t avert his gaze, didn’t try to laugh it off or destroy the moment with a flippant remark – he nodded, and in a rock-solid voice said “With my life.” Interesting in that the forest and sounds of distant combat had disappeared and the only worthwhile thing I recall from that moment was a bond between the two of us which had never been spoken of, but which became all that more real and tangible at that exact point in time. There’s a large amount of backstory, far too much to go into here, suffice to say it was that particular setting which clarified many things for both of us on a very deep and personal level. So, an SCA story the point of which had nothing really to do with the SCA. Meh. Come to think of it, do I really care how this comes across?

Not this day.

The ‘Business’ story

As a friend, Baz was peerless; as an organised and productive person with relation to matters of finance, he was a perpetual train wreck, his personal financial situation was a consistent source of nuisance and dilemma to himself and he shared it with others infrequently because he was so embaressed by it. In matters of business, we fed off each other and did some Really Good Things ™, however when it came to the vagaries of different IT contracts (or, rather, the lack thereof …), our fortunes went down just as far and as often as they went up. In order to save ourselves much trouble, in February 2010 we decided to liquidate our 6 year old IT consultancy company. Many discussions with accountants and financial types were held to work out the how’s and why’s and such, all the while we were going about our daily business and still deciding as to whether this was the best option. Finally, crunch time came in March and we had to act. One final conference call at stupid o’clock in the morning with our accountant and the liquidation principle, and it was game on – our company was being shutdown and all assets frozen. Heavy sigh. Baz had an amazing penchant to remain totally clear-headed and of a completely dispassionate countenance when discussing things which were well over both our heads, and I deferred to his fast-talk skills several times during the conversation which, in hindsight, was definitely the right thing to do. The liquidator gets off the call, and we chatted some more to our accountant, all is cool and froody, everything is going smoothly and we all hang up. Almost immediately, my phone rings. It’s Baz. It’s still quite early, I wanted to sleep a little more before heading into work, but there’s something in his voice which alerts me to the fact that he’s out of sorts. Puzzled, I ask what’s up. He beats around the bush a bit, I quizzed him some more, he beats around some more, I swear at him, he apologises and then came out with what was on his mind (which went something like): “I don’t care if you blame me 100% for this, I’ll take that on the chin. I just never want this to get in the way of our friendship.” It’s not often I am struck speechless (no, really …), this was one of those times. It was inconceivable to me to think that money would ever get in the way of ANY friendship I had, let alone that of my best friend; but more than that, I had been under an assumption that Barry was my best friend and I didn’t want to lose him, and this was the first real spoken evidence that he thought of me in the same way. Being who I am, the only suitable response I could deliver was a stream of invective – loudly, profanely and extensively did I go on about how fucked up that was and how stupid he was and the high regard in which I placed loyalty and how friendship is way more important than money and how we had gone into business 50/50 and this was at least 50% my fault. We laughed, there were a few cries of “Faggot!”, all was sorted to mutual satisfaction and then we both went off to work. Friendship happens, it’s not generally something you have to work at – you don’t speak about it or set rules and guidelines, nor do you have ‘give & take’ scorecards, because true friendship goes way beyond that and just doesn’t need the angst associated with such peripheral bullshit. I have never been shy about speaking my feelings, and Baz knew that he would get a straight answer no matter the question (the ‘Deadwood’ quote by Sol Star during an argument with his partner Seth Bullock has relevance here: “If you keep this up we're going to fight, and you'll have to work by yourself while I convalesce.” because in closed circles I was looked upon as the straight-up though emotionally crippled Sher’ff Bullock, and Baz was definitely my emotive and overtly intelligent Sol Star hardware store partner …). Though, in making that comparison, Baz was probably closer in demeanour and sheer mental cunning to Al Swearengen. Scary, but definitely closer to the truth. I never admitted that to him, that I believed his capacity for manipulation both covert and obvious was akin to the most creatively strategic-thinking character in history. Maybe I should have? Nah, he just would have crowed about it for the next several years. Do I regret not telling him?

Not this day.

In sharing that tidbit about TV characterisations, and as strangely close to the truth as all of those characterisations might be, I volunteer the fact that in over 25 years of tightly bonded camaraderie, including not a few stand-up & tear-down arguments and altercations of various sorts, not once did I physically taken to Baz in anger, nor did he to me (though, somewhat predictably, one would probably have followed the other in super-luminal succession). Even though, on occasion, we both really wanted to. Probably.

But that’s not to say we both didn’t physically traumatise each other on at least a few occasions, one of which I am about to relate.

The ‘Just As Friends’ story

This story was unreservedly butchered when eulogised at the funeral, thus I find it necessary to set the record straight by delivering it in the approximate manner of its creation. And while it should be delivered with high-volume outbursts of passion and riotous hand gesticulation at various points, as any good tale should, please accept this written account as a viable substitute until such time as you hear it in person. The story is about friendly rivalry. And, perhaps more importantly, it is about revenge – a sweet-and-freezy-cold-in-all-its-glorious-goodness type of revenge.

Baz was getting hitched. Hoo-rah. I could make mention of his bride-to-be, but the abuse would come across as cruelty to animals and likely prove unpleasant to some; I could go on about how he was falling from our noble bachelor ranks, but I was already quite happily wed; I could comment on the lead-up to the day, but it’s all irrelevant garbage. The decision was made to provide Baz with a bachelor party he would never forget, and that involved 5 days. Minimum. We ran him ragged, and tag-teamed him solidly in 16 to 20 hour slots, leaving him little time to recuperate prior to his next flogging. Many and varied were the activities, trials and tribulations all, but by far the one needing the most attention is that stalwart of bachelorhood, that most sacred of activities - the ‘Night Out on the Town with The Boys’.

The ‘Groomsmen of the Apocalypse’ (as we were self-styled), plus numerous hangers-on, were out eating and partying. And drinking. With a capital ‘D’. Quite a bit of alcohol had been partaken of and the night was coming to a close, so there we were all wandering (shambling? staggering? rolling somewhat drunkenly?) down Little Collins Street to our final destination. Our hero, the intrepid groom-Baz, wanders to the left of the footpath, towards the road. Thoughts of his mangled corpse rag-dolling off the bonnet of a wayward taxi as he staggered uncontrollably were alleviated by a quick head check up the street. And then, as I turn back, I notice that Baz has paused mid-stride, leaning forward and to the left, one leg still in the air, facing down into the gutter. He is in the this pose for no more than a second, but, in that time, he spits.

Men spit, it’s what we do! We grunt, we hoick, we make weird sounds with nose and throat, and in the end we expectorate whatever is in our chest, lungs, throat, mouth and sometimes even our nasal passage. Normally, it’s phlegm, saliva, mucosa of some description, and this is what I was expecting to see – a small gobbet of whatever being shot from mouth to gutter. Baz had something in his mouth that he wanted to be rid of, so he was spitting it out. Meh.

But actually, no. What I saw was a large mass of whatever being ejected from my friend’s mouth, a fist-sized lump of something being almost dropped straight down in no particular hurry other than as gently dictated by gravity.

And then, as if he had briefly paused to observe an interesting pattern of cobblestones, Baz continued on his way. Wiped his mouth, kept walking, more fun to be had, ho hum.

I was a more than little confused at what I had just witnessed. Many thoughts were running through my head, first and foremost amongst them: did Baz just vomit? Is that what that was? He is quite obviously drunk, but surely he just spat, because that was not a vomit!

I ran over to the gutter, crouched, squinted, managed to focus my slightly inebriated eyes, and carefully scrutinised the mess in the gutter. A fairly hefty chunk of semi-digested Asian food mixed with alcohol stared straight back at me. I blinked. This was no mere collection of spittle.

“OI!” I shouted.

The posse halted, turned, looked at me. I was standing firm and tall, one hand on hip, the other pointing straight down into the gutter. The look on my face could have been read as anger, I was actually more bewildered than anything.

“What the fuck is that?”

Baz craned his neck forward, dropped his gaze to the offending pile, then looked back up at me as he dropped into the posture and calming voice of someone explaining art to a physicist.

“It’s vomit.”

The crowd surged toward me, jockeying for position to see what I was talking about. Nods, a general murmur of agreement, everyone pretty much agreed it was vomit. Then they all looked at me as if I am retarded.

“I know what the fuck it is!” I growled. Pointing down once more, I then levelled that accusatory digit directly at Baz. “Did that come from you?”

He looked around, a little confused. “Yes.”

There was a chorus of confused murmuring, Baz shrugs and says “What?” and continues on his way. The lads are now discussing the concepts of being drunk and vomiting, in addition to making general non-specific comments relating to both my somewhat dubious intelligence and my questionable parentage. The common theme though is vomit – the whens, the hows, the whys etc. They continue, I am now lagging behind, pondering what I had just witnessed.

And then, out of the crowd Baz does carefully manoeuvre, and once more the tableau unfolds in exactly the same sequence – he moves towards the road, he pauses mid-gait, then he drops another load into the gutter, carefully, fairly precisely and, above all, serenely, as if he is merely spitting out an errant morsel of garnish stuck between his teeth. But it’s not a small morsel, just as it is not merely a garnish – it is a full mouthful of recently digested food.

And this time, he has an audience.

Baz turns back towards the group and stops cold. Everyone is staring, many eyes agog and mouths agape. There is a stunned and not entirely comfortable silence. He turns to me, then turns back to the group.

“WHAT?” he shouts.

Heads swivel, and now all eyes are on me. Including those of Baz. And nobody utters a single word.

Because I. Am. Furious.

“You bastard …” I parrot back to Baz one of his favourite phrases. But it is delivered low and growly, there is more than an undercurrent of menace in those two words. And it is noticed by all; someone pipes up.

“What’s wrong? He’s drunk, he vomited, I don’t see the problem …”

And now, to put it in the vernacular, it is on.

I begin to draw a crowd of non-wedding participants, because I am beginning to get a little vocal with my displeasure.

Displeasure? Nay, I am fucking livid. I have not been that angry in a long time, and I feel it my solemn duty to spout exactly why my ire has been invoked. And I do so, vociferously and righteously.

I don’t care that he vomited, I don’t care why he vomited, I don’t even care what he vomited. I stand there in Little Collins Street bellowing volubly, and with much wild gesticulation to make various points about exactly HOW Baz vomited.

When I vomit, I am that little ball of painful exertion crying into the tiles as I hug the toilet bowl for comfort. My insides involuntarily remove themselves from my body, my throat cannot elicit even a momentary shriek of pain because it is too concerned with forcibly ejecting the entire contents of my body, from sphincter to front teeth, and hurling them as far and as wide as inhumanly possible. When I am violently sick it is not a pretty sight, my head splits open, my armpits bleed, my toes curl and my back buckles, nor is it an experience I wish to ever repeat. For me, upchucking is damn hard work, it is not something I do on purpose as the entire act is a torturous series of accidental spasms which cause me incredible amounts of pain, and which I felt much more loathe to do as I grew older. I am lead to believe, from experience and various stories, that most people feel as I do during this sort of event.

Most people, except for Baz.

And THAT is why I was a somewhat irate. And that is what I was, at the top of my lungs, advising all and sundry of. How dare my best friend so casually eject the contents of his stomach in front of me with such composure and tranquility!

My ranting was attracting quite a bit of attention of numerous passers-by, and I did not care because I was definitely on a roll. I was providing large quantities of good quality vitriol on the subject of why Baz should be punished for his inability to behave like normal humans when sick, of how he should be curled into the foetal position surrounded by his friends as he moaned about the pain of his complete lack of technicolour yawning.

And during my lengthy tirade, I made a vow that I would do whatever it took, as only a good and close friend should, to subject Baz to the rigours of what I would be going through in his place were I to be sick. I vowed it in front of many witnesses, both known and strangers passing by, and I was most sincere in my desire to see this occur.

Fast forward several years.

No shit, there we were, the New Year’s Eve cocktail party at the house of Baz. As the evening began, Baz was gently reminded of his buck’s turn and the infamous ‘Boy’s Night Out’. In true confrontational fashion, the gauntlet had been tossed by me and Baz promptly took it up, put it on and gave me the forks. With a smile.

I recall quite distinctly that I smiled in return and then uttered three words: “Game on, fucker!”

There were others partaking in this mano-et-mano duel, and they all fell by the wayside as the night wore on (and I do mean wore on…). Except I.

Baz had a drink, I had the same drink at the same time. Wherever he went, I followed, usually with several full glasses in hand so both of us would be dutifully and suitably pickled. Shots? Many and varied. Full blown cocktails in all their paper-umbrella and swizzle stick’d glory? Quite a few. Cocktail shots? Oh my, entire trays of cocksucking cowboys, brain haemorrhages and B-52’s were each downed in 60 seconds. It was a war of attrition and I was not giving in. I was staggering, I was beginning to slur my words, I was even at one stage having fairly lucid hallucinations – but I did not falter. 1 for 1, matching quantity and concoction, for the entire night. For him it was a game; for me, it was for honour and dignity.

Finally, after a long and arduous journey of alcoholic gullet cleansing, sometime in the wee hours of the morning Baz collapses. Literally, I mean he just drops straight down on the spot, his muscles apparently no longer capable of holding upright. I look down and notice, somewhat elatedly, that he has naturally curled himself into the foetal position. I stand over, swaying slightly, but still quite lordly, my arms resolutely crossed over my chest, my eyebrows are raised. He looks up at me and shakes his head.

“Baz,” I ask, an expression of concern completely failing to cloud my features “Are you unwell?”

“You bastard …” he whimpers.

He rolls over and makes several feeble attempts to get up, eventually managing to haul himself into a crawling position. As the dutiful friend, I stay by his side, steadying him as he gingerly makes his way up the front steps and across the entrance to the toilet laundry area. At the door, I watch as he makes his way inexorably toward the porcelain bus.

“Do you want help?”

“Not want,” he croaks, “Need.”

I step forward, shut the door and move inside to provide whatever assistance is required. Which, to be fair was very little other than to hold him upright as he bent forward over the bowl.

Then he threw up. Again. And again. And again.

And it was not a gentle spit, not a polite little ‘hoik’ and merrily on your way type of vomit. No, this was in the order of magnitude which sagas are written. Baz was not merely tossing his cookies, he was evacuating his very soul from the toes up. In between raggedly gasping for every painful breath of air, he would lean forward again and the spice did flow. And flow. And flow.

And I laughed! Oh my god, fuck how I laughed [NOTE: I am laughing right now remembering this event as I write, it’s not good …] None of this light tittering or the occasional chuckle – this was full out belly-aching laughter, those side-splitting guffaws only occasioned when someone you know very well is suffering horribly due totally to their own stupidity.

And he tried, oh how he tried to abuse me; but because he was throwing up so much and so violently, he had absolutely no chance to. I continued to laugh, he continually spewed, it was a wonderful situation. Well, it was for me.

Time passed. The neverending torrent that was Baz’s stomach contents seems to have ebbed and flowed to it’s completion. Numerous dry retches later and I pronounce that he is now ready to have some water and attend to his thoroughly destroyed oesophagus. Baz pauses and declares that he needs to actually use the toilet for what it was meant. I state that I am going to leave, and he yells at me.

“You stay, I need help!”

I shake my head emphatically.

“Hey, fuck you! I’ll be outside that door! It’s none of my business what you do AFTER I leave, copraphagic fucktard!”

“Bastard, STAY!” he yells, pointing at me.

“Ok!” I yell back, pointing at him. “But I’m not looking and I’m definitely not touching you while your pants are down!”

I grumble and make some noises about men in toilets, then turn away to allow him to do whatever it is he needs to do, making loud small talk the whole time so I don’t have to hear anything. The toilet flushes and he croaks at me.


I turn around, squinting, a little scared at what I might see, but all is mostly well – Baz is now being propped up by the wall, underwear thankfully holding everything in place but his pants still stuck around his ankles. He mumbles something about dignity and pants and again asks for help. For the assistance he required related to helping him retrieve his pants from his ankles, so as to affect a reasonably decorous exit from the toilet in order to make it to his bedroom roughly 10 steps away. I moved forward to render this assistance and, ultimately, that was his undoing.

Amongst the confusion of two drunken lads attempting to sort out the trousers of one, balance becomes a very nebulous concept. For some reason, possibly to do with the earth’s rotational cycle, Baz starts sliding downwards without support. I attempt to arrest his fall, and in so doing am taken along for the ride. Baz turns as he falls, neatly cushioning himself with the floor, while I, movement hampered by a washing machine, a wall, the toilet and my now helpless friend moving somewhat ungracefully downwards, fall with him. Naturally, my arms shoot out to grasp hold of something, but to no avail as handholds are in extremely limited supply. Thus, I end up cushioning my fall with Baz, one knee firmly implanted in his ribs, while the other sinks with some finality into his groin, an vigorous “Oooof!” of pain as the connection is made. I made it reasonably safely to the ground, while Baz is now grunting semi-quietly in agony, possibly with broken ribs and a mashed testicle or two.

We are in this position for a few seconds, and I start laughing (just as I am right now as I reminisce while penning this – oh yes, it was the best of times, for at least one of us …). Baz is just laying there, probably not enjoying my knee placement but unable to do anything about it. I laugh a little more, then extricate myself, much to his relief.

“Ouch,” he says, calmly and without malice. He opens his eyes and looks at me. “You win.”

I smile “I know. But it could have been worse.”

Baz raises his head to peer at me quizzically. “How?”

I shrug. “Well, I could have hurt my knee.”

Eyes closing, he drops his head back to the cold lino and mutters “You bastard.”

For years following that event, Baz would continually bring it up during moments when he felt a little fragile.

“… and then there was the time you almost broke my ribs and kneed me in the groin …”

Invariably, I would usually laugh at that point and state that it was his fault for getting drunk. I never apologised. Maybe I should have.

But not this day.

To this very day, when someone asks me for assistance, I think back to that episode and respond that I can’t promise they won’t get hurt in the process.

Barry never had a nickname. I mean, many of us called him Baz, or Bazrick, Bazza, The Baz, for a period of 6 months I even called him Bumface (his ex-wife's dog, people look like their pets, it's a long story), and to be fair there were truckloads of far more interesting names which aren't really suitable for repeating in front of his mum. But nothing really fitted, there was no single label which really encapsulated the essence of what he was or represented.

Except the word ‘ronin’.

I can't recall anyone actually calling Baz ‘ronin’, but that was his name for himself. He named his first IT business ‘Ronin Systems’, he had a slew of email addresses and chat names and social media contact information all identifying him as Ronin, he would name his personal items with the word.

His affinity and association with the word ronin goes a little deeper than many would imagine. A ronin was a masterless samurai, someone who was adept at both the combative and more peaceful pursuits connected to the feudal Japanese warrior class, yet had no master to serve, either through choice or due to circumstance. The attributes personfied by the samurai, whether masterless or not – attributes of honour, courage, benevolence, loyalty – were traits which typified Baz about his daily life. Baz was truly ronin, he was mastered by nobody yet conducted himself through those qualities proudly.

But more than that, Baz was more a ronin because of its actual meaning. The literal translation of the word ‘ronin’ is: wave man, one who is tossed about like a wave in the sea. There were no plans, no major goals, no grand adventures to escape on or challenges to conquer - Baz just went where life took him, up or down, left or right, forwards or backwards, just like a wave. Always with purpose, occasionally without direction, never pausing or standing still, just continually moving with the tide of life. When the final accounting is done, it can be said that the true measure of Baz was that he actually lived his life – he didn’t wait for something to happen, he didn’t force things to occur, he didn’t engineer circumstances such that others were inconvenienced so that he could do whatever it was that he wanted or needed to do; he always went with the flow of his own life.

And he lived.

It’s taken me almost 4 months to do this. Not because I am slow or lazy or for any other lame excuse. It has taken this long because I was lost for words, and that’s not something I am readily accustomed to. Losing Baz has been like losing an appendage; probably worse, because I could make do with a plastic arm or titanium hip joint, but I will never get another opportunity to have a best friend like Baz, and I wanted these words to reflect that my life with a man of his calibre was worthwhile, and I wanted them to stand as testament to the things we shared, both good and bad. Encapsulating two lives so fundamentally intertwined for over a quarter century is not an easy thing to do, and doing it with grief clouding my thoughts was impossible, hence the delay.

It’s difficult to let go, because there’s this hole where he used to be. And the day I was told he had died, the same day that cavernous void appeared inside me, I was lost because it really needed to be filled with something. I tried despair, I tried rage, I tried many different emotional combinations, none of them up to the task of filling this gaping pit. The funeral did nothing but make me angry for a variety of reasons, and then the aftermath of attempting to assist his mother attend to the business portion of the estate while vultures picked off his gadgets was just making me sick and feeding that inner turbulence. For those of you who chose to make off with whatever choice pieces of gadgetry as Baz was want to purchase, and indeed to those who took it upon themselves to provide advice as to the keeping of said assets, I give you fair warning – with regard to these ‘missing’ business assets, I took the time to investigate, I was nice about my enquiries, and I was given the run-around and lead astray, so I moved on, meh; the ATO and the liquidation company employed by them to recover these assets are not so forgiving. If you have never borne the brunt of a government sponsored financial audit specifically designed to retrieve money, I suggest you get your affairs in order because you’re in for one hell of a rude awakening. And, to be perfectly honest, you brought it upon yourselves and thus you thoroughly deserve it.

I feel no regrets now that Baz is gone, as there was nothing left to say, no hidden secrets between us, no words or feelings or anything that needed to be shared that hadn’t already been. Baz and I were totally comfortable with each other, and while there was always a friendly rivalry between us over the most inane things (the Colin McRae DiRT ‘Pike’s Peak’ track immediately springs to mind), we were both content that equanimity within the relationship was satisfied. Neither of us was leader or follower in one area without the reverse being true in another area, and within those areas it was definitvely clear who was who and for exactly what reasons.

I’ve come to accept that the hole inside me will never be completely filled. It’s gotten smaller over these past few months, the edges are a little more rounded now so it doesn’t feel so sharp and jagged when I get near it. Truthfully, I guess now that I don’t want to fill it in, because that means I would lose that part of me which feels grief at not having Baz in the next room or on the other end of the phone. I can and always will cling to those memories of a life shared, rejoicing in the fact that I was able to share them for so long with a man whom I was honoured to have as a business partner, and a kindred spirit that I shall forever be grateful to for being my closest and dearest friend.

The adventure was everything it should have been Baz, and so much more.

Thank you Ronin.


YsambartCourtin said...

Amazing piece, Jeff. Wow.

YsambartCourtin said...

Now that I have had a while to process it, the thing that is so great about this piece is it's brutal, Jeff like honesty. A lot of people write to explain or cause a reaction - you are just letting it all out and telling stories with a really close / raw link to your thought processes. Really great.

Milady Red said...

Thanks so much for writing this Jeff, I've read it several different times on different days and each time I've gotten something different, something special from it. Thanks for your bravery in sharing it