Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Like A Steam Locomotive Rolling Down The Track...
...he's gone, he's gone, and nothings gonna bring him back... (from He's Gone by the Grateful Dead).
On Monday night, unknown to me until yesterday afternoon, I lost a good friend of about 35 years. He was only 54 years old, and he apparently died of a heart attack, which was sort of surprising to me considering the life he led. No, I was not surprised that he had been a candidate for a heart attack at age 54, but rather that he made it to 54 at all - he lived life hard and fast - his own way - much like a steaming locomotive rolling down the track, and I guess I was surprised that with all his other derailments he still kept on chugging along. He seemed invincible, but of course, he wasn't; now he's gone. His brother Joe, the last surviving of 3 brothers (their brother Will passed away years ago) called me to let me know, and I went right to Joe's place to be there for him because he too is my good friend. (I spent the late afternoon, all of the evening, and some of the night with his family, thus my lack of blogging yesterday.) His name was Charlie Vaughn, or as we often called him - The Mongrel. Despite his looks he was a pretty lovable guy. He had his faults, plenty of them, but he was one hell of a good and loyal friend, and if the chips were down he would stand by you at all costs. He was also an American, a loyal one at that. He had some pretty libertarian views (he liked personal liberties like recreational drug use, the right to keep and bear arms), yet he had some pretty conservative political views too (as in hating commies, being opposed to illegal aliens, wanting stiff jail sentences for some crimes), but no mater his politics on any issue he loved his country dearly. He was also a good loving son, brother, and father.
I was always surprised that he actually encouraged me to go for a career in law enforcement after I told him I was thinking of it. Many years ago, when I went to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Charlie coined a nickname for me: Legal Aid. When I went into the Border Patrol, to enforce immigration laws, he was thrilled - this despite his own way too often run ins with the law. He thought there was nothing more grand than my busting 'illegal immigrunts' as he called them; and he once gave me a pair of handcuffs (new in the box - so not stolen from a cop) as a present to help me do my job. I am pretty sure those are still the ones I use on my job today. Even when I went over to U.S. Customs and busted drug smugglers he always encouraged me to do my job well, go figure for a guy who was as much a Libertarian as was he!
In the last decade and a half or so, Charlie changed his ways a great deal. He cleaned up his act if not his appearance (he loved his tats), stopped the drugs, and worked regularly. Heck he even went out and got a set of choppers as in false teeth. Throughout his life, he kept in touch with his daughter even though not married to her mom, though on good terms with her too. He had a son by another woman and I suppose he would have kept in touch (and maybe he did unknown to me) with him too if he could have done so. Yes he lived free; and no he was not the perfect picture of morality by anyone's standards, but he was still one hell of a good man; and he was my dear and loyal friend. We had many an adventure together. Our adventures included our other friends, his brothers, his sister and the rest of the family; and sometimes just the two of us out to have a good time. We went to an awful lot of Grateful Dead shows, in at least 4 or 5 different states together, and getting to them were adventures all their own, especially when I was employed as a fed, and I had to make sure he wasn't smuggling any drugs into my car. What a long strange trip its been (these too are the words of the Grateful Dead, from the song Truckin).
In recent years, heck for the last 21 years since I got married, I did not see my old friends as much as I should have. When I moved to Long Island about 12 years ago from Glendale, I saw them even less. I was very lucky that about a month or so ago, I saw Charlie and had a couple of beers with him, and we talked about old times, current times, and times to come. We may have been made of a different cut of cloth - him more of the outlaw, me more of the lawman - but it was the same piece of cloth from which those two cuts had come. I miss him dearly already - He's Gone.
All the best,