© Copyright 2015-2020, John Hessburg. All Rights Reserved.
"Be patient, grasshopper; there is a reward. Like a pearl way down in a gravel pit, the poem will come soon -- down in the story, deeply embedded in the rhythms of a life gone by..."
By JOHN HESSBURG, Editor, The DICTION AERIE.™
My dear ol' friend, amigo loco for 50 years, Wayne "Dizzy" Peterson has left the building. Diz escaped with his life, slipped the gloom and gravitas of Planet Earth. He is forever unavailable for comment, unavailable for a random midnight flick or a ramble down to the Thai cafe'. Unavailable for a fireside chat or a seaside jog. But a brief forever if we keep the faith, right Diz?
Man, I miss you, bro. All the guys do. We miss your warm wit, your indefatigable good cheer and the quirky innocence you somehow preserved so many years after the world made all the rest of us worn and wan and weary. Seems like an eternity flashed past in the last few days since you flew back home to the Prime Mover, the Uncaused Cause. Like that Shao-lin Kung Fu master might have said -- remember that TV character you used to quote facetiously? -- "Grasshopper, you finally have done it. You have snatched the pebble from my hand. Time to leave the monastery."
You were a man of a myriad talents, moods & monikers; and so much fun to hang with that we all contrived our own nicknames for you. Some of them stuck forever. The core gang, our "good student" clique back at Frank B. Kellogg High, called you Wayne-o or WayneBo, Dizzy or Diz -- sometimes even "Wayne-o J. Kortish-mocky" -- the origin of which not one of us can remember. Legend has it there may have been a rogue keg or a lost weekend, maybe a brownie to blame.
I simply called you WayneBo or Dizzy. And you used to tell new friends, years after college, that the nickname "Dizzy" came from your playing trumpet in the Kellogg jazz band -- because trumpet was the horn of Dizzy Gillespie. But your best bro's all knew better. We'd glued the tag of "Dizzy" to your metaphoric forehead for life about the 5th time you forgot where you parked your battered Chevy in the high school parking lot. Yet a few years later, decades before there even were computer languages like Java or C++, you helped an innovative physics prof create majestic computer simulations that showed the hot gas swirls, convections powered by the thermonuclear furnace of the sun.
With an IQ off the charts, easily north of 160 we used to guess -- you were an absent-minded professor before you'd even reached college. But you loved the gently-paced womblike life in the U of M's nerve center -- dubbed Dinkytown USA in Southeast Minneapolis -- so much that you could not bear to leave when the rest of us did. We all graduated and moved on to grad schools or med schools, world travel or jobs or families and you Dizzy, you just stayed at "The Alamo" in Dinkytown in a one-room flat upstairs, adorned with posters of Mr. Clean, coasters of Superman, and plastic action figures of Godzilla, Hulk and Mr. Magoo. There were a couple ceramic Tai Chi masters, too, which you'd brought back from a 6-month trip to China soon after that formerly fearsome land of mystery Commies first opened its doors to the West. When pressed why it took you 14 years to earn your Bachelor's Degree in computer science, you said the same thing every time with a straight face -- "Hey, I was on the 12-year plan but I decided to kick back for a couple semesters."
I will save that photo of your hale 'n hearty smile forever, the one your loyal kid brother Al posted on the hospice website right next to Teddy Roosevelt's bully-pulpit Rough Rider grin -- just for context. And every time I look at your photo I'll remember those scores of late-night chats at our bro palace near Dinkytown. You and Rich and Jay and Bob and I had dubbed that flophouse "The Alamo" -- to honor not only its rounded Tex-Mex whitewashed facade, looming two stories above Sixth Street -- but the countless "last stands" made there over the years: before finals and after finals, before hot dates or after dumping a girlfriend... or after getting soundly dumped ourselves.
None of us will ever forget that legendary mattress you flopped on the floor by your window at The Alamo and kept for more than a decade. Every time we came to visit, it was the risibly commanding objet d'art in the room, like some horizontal Jackson Pollack drip canvas. You never bothered to buy a mattress pad -- and even when summer drove the upstairs temps to the high 90s, you would sleep directly on that mattress without sheets -- until it began to acquire an ambery umber sheen like an ancient aluminum frying pan. So we labeled it "The World's First Friction-Free Surface." And like some bearded lady or five-legged goat, that mattress roamed with the traveling circus of our college lore for decades.
And I will remember midnight Frisbee at the U of M's Bierman Field; and those countless hairball "Bridge Adventures" when we Tarzanned under the High Bridge girders, gripping cross-beams with hands so sweaty we wiped them on our T shirts; and we crossed the Mighty Mississipp' with never a slip, from the East Bank to downtown Minneapolis on crazy steel catwalks that were rusty -- yet trusty and true. Frizz 'n bridges, raiding fridges; the simple things in life were all that mattered. Simple things for simple minds. Indeed...
I will remember the wondrous "Bluffers" atop those 350-ft limestone cliffs in Wisconsin, just across the river from Red Wing MN, with Bonz and Marcus... and how we ran like maniacs, literally for miles through the hot sandpapery cornfields of early September and hurled that sacred frizz, yelping with unassailable joy as we traversed the ankle-deep alfalfa patches punctuating those cornfields; and later how we scooped plump grapes from wild vines atop those bluffs; and ravenously tore into raw corn on the cob ripped from dusty stalks, then washed it all down with warm bottled beers lugged up to the clifftop in our moth-gnawed green canvas Duluth packs.
And I will remember the myriad bro-fests after a brew-ski or two-ski, in those undergrad years at The Alamo -- only a few hundred meters from the Dinkytown corner where Bob Dylan played his first open mike gigs at the old Ten O' Clock Scholar -- when we'd whip up Bohemian bachelor feasts of refried beans and hamburger, or heavenly hash-browns with a dozen eggs and great gobs of sharp cheddar cheese, cooking well into the wee hours, while methodically tackling the munchies alongside so many fundamental mysteries of the universe.
And I will remember one evening back at The Alamo, when we were gabbing and gesticulating about what it means to feel full intellectual freedom, creativity and spiritual health, and the intricate tap-dance of balancing all three soul vectors in some workaday meld. After failing for hours to convince you that there is a God who cares and communicates, I found myself desperately sober and perched on a pulpit, lecturing you about the New Testament story of Jesus and his epic 40-day fast in the desert. I said, "Diz, look at that guy, and the lengths he went to purify his heart and focus his mind for a honkin' big job ahead. He was viciously tempted by Satan, to give up and bow down, then just turn stones into loaves of bread. And he nearly did cave in. Now he was the Boss, not some flailing undergrad mortal like you and me. So you still think you can do this whole life thing all on your own, man?"
You only wrinkled your brow in that trademark ironic grin you owned, and you said "Fritz, I don't think the Devil ever would've broken him; but Jesus might've screwed up." I was shocked and asked "What do you mean?" You replied with a snarky smirk, "He should've haggled. He should've said, "Hey Devil, I'll never bow down to you, but can you maybe spot me half a sandwich if I just curtsy?" I remember how my cheeks burned at this blasphemy, thinking "Diz this is God you're messing with -- be careful man!" And there was an ancillary blush from the flame of your satire. WayneBo, you toppled my exhortation with a single quip, one instant of sacrilege as quick as the unfeeling whoosh of an executioner's blade.
And I will never forget how, two short weeks before you died, guided by a Hand that's infinitely more patient, kind and capable than mine, right there sitting on the side of your hospice bed at the Lake Johanna home, you took that Hand into your own and declared the Lord as your personal friend, best friend, for all time. Though I had prayed for this day for decades, I never had a clue how or when it would come.
And I will always remember how fast this brutal illness snatched you away from us; how your diagnosis (Stage 4 metastatic stomach cancer) came in late September then by mid-December 2015 ... wham... you were gone. Fewer than 12 weeks was all we had to say everything that needed to come out...
In this noisy, addled and adulterated world, your gifts were rare, priceless, WayneBo. After all, there is no glut of genius, no glut of creative guys who channel their cerebral horsepower into acts of creative kindness instead of showing off. No glut of guys with free-wheeling steel-trap minds who can head-jam a joke a minute for an hour, then encourage you like an older brother when you're blue. Buddies who will challenge you to try some gidd-iotic stunt like sprinting atop a long row of box cars parked on the rail siding under the Dinkytown Bridge, hurtling those gaps like a Midnight Steeple-chaser... That's why so many of us were so unwilling to lose you, WayneBo, to let you slip into the dismal shadows without a fight.
Now today I feel like a man being swept down a wild canyon during a flash flood, because it's hitting me, just how much I have lost with your passing. For weeks I was grasping at rocks and reeds on the river banks, flung headlong by the torrent of a life rushing to its end, looking for ways we could all help you hang on longer. I even lectured all the old Kellogg High School bro's on that hospice website, like some delusional school marm with existential OCD. Here was my fuss-budget screed, desperate yet sincere, clumsily in the moment, a week before Dizzy's passing...
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
PLEASE DO NOT GIVE UP on WAYNEBO. KEEP COMING to VISIT HIM. It means so much to Diz -- even though he no longer can speak his mind with words. There's plenty of wit still simmering inside the ol’ boy -- hiding right there beneath all those pain-killers. We've learned by trial and error how best to communicate with Dizzy as he drifts deeper each day into the murky world of Morpheus, Dark Prince of Remoteness. Maybe this will help...
Last week a couple guys in the old tribe phoned me, deeply sad that they'd visited Wayne several times during the past 3 weeks, and each time he'd just lay there inert, silent, eyes open but vacant, almost comatose. Good news! There's a chance we all can enjoy his good company for many weeks more -- if you will just come to visit him, share your humor and encouragement, help him sweep away the gloom of those heavy meds that are engulfing him. WayneBo is lonesome for good company, nearly every day. That's all. So let's not get swept up in our little worlds of holiday stress and stuff and traffic. Please do not forget how much Wayne needs his friends – right now – today. Not tomorrow. Today, when it's a hassle for us, the healthy ones.
Nobody ever said terminal cancer would be convenient, right?
Within a minute of our greeting him Saturday (he was wedged between pillows, lying flat in bed, facing the wall), Wayne-bo struggled mightily to get up and face us. He really wanted to enjoy a visit. Now Wayne is one big guy, still more than 200 lbs so we called in a couple burly orderlies and three of us wrestled him gently over to his left side, so he could see us. Wayne dug in, gathering incredible force of will; and he would not give up until he was seated on the edge of the bed, looking right at us.
“Way to go, Diz” I exulted. “You are strong as a bull, man. Just like when you climbed the Kautz Ice Chute with me back on Mount Rainier. Remember that nearly vertical ice wall starting at 12,000 feet? It was 300 feet of spear-sharp stalagmites stacked like some medieval fortress wall. That route was screaming for victims, or conquest... 'Member, Diz?"
WayneBo loves hearing us regale him with tales of past adventures. Revs him up, makes him feel like all those nursing home indignities have not sucked away all his manhood. Then our last visit, I picked up my old gut-string guitar, which Wayne always enjoyed -- he called it "Kozmo" -- and I played him a couple rockabilly blues tunes. Now get this… he actually started slapping one knee with his good hand and thumping one foot on the floor, keeping nearly perfect time as he sat upright on the edge of his bed.
Hey, we know it's frustrating nowadays; we get it. Stage 4 cancer is messy, onerous. It is emotionally hard for friends and family, but trust me it’s a lot worse for Wayne. He needs his friends. Now. If his suffering becomes unbearable, then we cannot be selfish and grasp our time with him at his expense. We'll have to let him go. But every day he shows the will to keep on fighting, we've gotta be there for him.
Before you know it, Wayne gets tired. So the nurses tuck him in again, wiping pudding stains off his cheeks with a fresh towel, combing back wispy patches of gray hair that the cancer's left him...
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
On my last visit, I told you, Wayne, that we had to leave for a few weeks, due to work and family exigencies overseas. Immediately, you began to mumble, struggling to speak... but no words could penetrate the Miasmal Mists of Morphine. Nearly broke my heart to see this… your eyes narrowed then opened suddenly in sadness. You looked right through me -- and I could tell you knew this was the last time.
You were right, bro. A few days later, at 5 am Dec. 14, 2015, your earth-based husk, the body phase of WayneBo "Rainbow" Peterson died alone in his bed.
Wayne, just now I'm remembering another evening when we were yacking on the front porch at The Alamo, watching the sunset over that old Dinkytown church, musing over vapid social customs -- like sending flowers to a dead friend whose passing meant zero chance of ever sniffing them. With your inimitable smile you declared, "Hey Fritz (now, you were the only person alive who could call me "Fritz" and not get punched in the mouth)... that nickname came from 9th grade German class. "Hey Fritz, I want my flowers while I'm still alive and kicking. I wanna be able to enjoy them."
So I gave them to you, bro, a couple weeks before you fled this planet's gravitational grip. And the flowers I gave you were the tribute embodied in your elegy, which I sang to you in so many rough drafts, week after week, then in final form on Nov. 21, 2015.
It grew from a rowdy frat-house anthem with throw-away lyrics like this....
Now let’s not be wary of tales legendary
Like the friction-free surface in his Alamo room
That mattress was classic – Early Jurassic
Pizza stains louder than an M-80’s boom.
The song kept evolving over the 6 weeks I came to visit you in hospice, driving numbly during rush hour across two counties to Lake Johanna, where they kept you confined like some sad melting science experiment ... in a cold gray bed with metal side-fencing.
Because I was feeling bluer each week that you got sicker, my song morphed from a beer-barrel ditty, improbably, into a kind of bittersweet folk-rock tune with a wailing harmonica bridge. I was so afraid you'd hate it and so happy that you liked it, even the roast 'em toast 'em parts. Hey Wayne, I will be overseas the day of your memorial service, thousands of miles away in the Mid-Pacific with no way to get back, so I hope that the guys in our Kellogg circle -- especially Jay, Bob, Rich & Lloyd -- will read this tribute to the rest of the old crew.
Here are your flowers again, my beloved friend for half a century.
Dizzy, soul brother, tower of power & man of the hour, here is your Wayne-Bouquet...
WAYNEBO the RAINBOW BOY
Some souls are like rainbows, they last just a while
You never know where they start
They arrive on a breeze & depart when they please
But they always gladden your heart.
Ain’t easy growin’ old in a culture this cold
Folks are so mobile & fast
Wayne filled his cup only half growing up
He made the innocence last.
Oh WayneBo the Rainbow
WayneBo the Rainbow
WayneBo the Rainbow Boy
He was clever & curious, a little mysterious
His pot o' gold was a wry kinda free-flyin’ joy
WayneBo the Rainbow Boy.
When WayneBo was young his spirit was stung
By forces & faces he never could share
His heart grew wary & he never did marry
That loyal cat Gusto was his only heir.
For 50 odd years he danced with his fears
Toy action figures were satires of Self
No need to sulk while Godzilla & Hulk
Delighted our boy from their shelf.
His hair was unkempt, his aroma fresh hemp
His jeans they were Holier Than Thou
He was Mad Hatter sweet from his smile to his feet
Maestro of the Here & Now.
Wayne's luminous brain never let him grow vain
No time for drama, no bragging, no bling
A grin lit his face when he said he got grace
From “TV Church” Sundays -- watching wrestling !
In his warehouse called “Spectrum,” no boss to correct him
Years with no windows, his work was his toy
Comic books galore, in piles on the floor
A New Never-Land for an Eternal Boy.
Ah, remember when, back at Ol’ Seven-Ten
And a house that we called Alamo
Those late-night bull sessions, we partied like Hessians
And life had a carnival glow.
( Slow a capella, tempo rubato chant… )
Some souls are like rainbows, they last just a while
You never know where they start
They arrive on a breeze & depart when they please
But they always gladden your heart...
© Copyright 2015-2020, Lyric & Music by John Hessburg. All Rights Reserved.