Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Jeff Herles December 27, 1959 - May 7, 2006

So, my friend died May 7. I haven't written anything here yet, because I have been a bit numb, but gradually I have opened up enough. One major issue has been that his death was too reminiscent of my father's, a bright talented individual who also drank himself to death. My sister has a blog in which she has written much more eloquently about him than I ever could (even though I look like him, am his same height, weight and have the terrible singing voice). Like him, Jeff was the type you would never suspect of having a deep self-loathing, because outwardly they projected incredible confidence. I rarely ever saw Jeff be down - he was pretty cynical, but hey in New York that's almost in the drinking water.

I first met Jeff in summer 1984 when I moved back to New York (coincidentally when my father died hmmm). He was the upstairs neighbor of my sister and her boyfriend in an utterly unromantic section of Long Island City that was incredibly cheap but made up for up by having the tiniest rooms I saw in New York, which is really saying something. Although prepossessing, the neighborhood was far from uninteresting. There was a revival church across the street, a motel/whorehouse down the street, a mafia hangout around the block, Greek restaurants a trundle away, and down by the river were the Isamo Noguchi museum, Socrates sculpture park and Steinway piano factory. And that apartment provided me with the closest proximity to musical success I've ever had: Nicky Skopelitis, a guitarist who played among things, with the Talking Heads, livied downstairs.

Jeff was an incredibly ingratiating guy, very funny, very interested in all things political cultural musical sexual, full of himself, but generous and loyal. Jeff and I used to hang out a lot, drink a lot, go out to clubs, and invariably he would sleep with all the women I wanted to. At one point I stop talking to him for months because he slept with a friend of the family who was staying in my apartment for a while. I should point out that not everyone liked Jeff, and there were numerous people he rubbed the wrong way, but his circle of friends dwarfed that group.
Jeff was one of the few people I knew who managed to straddle a bohemian lifestyle with being a successful corporate finance officer. He was the "Chapter 11" guy that corporations were never happy to see because he would audit their possessions and say what needed to be sold off. Because of his work he went to Costa Rica (for Maidenform Bra), Hackensack and other exotic places. Along the way he had a series of wonderful. attractive caring girlfriends (one or two psychos in the bunch, but that's to be expected).

One of the few times I saw was really lay beneath his confidence and braggadacio was one year when I was back in NY around Xmas time and a bunch of us were supposed to get together to celebrate his birthday. I was the only one that showed up, and Jeff was in kind of a bad way. In fact, he was crying and saying things like "I'm so scared" and regretting breaking up with past grilfriends. I found myself in the unusual position of comforting and reassuring someone I had been insanely jealous of for a number of years.

All along I knew Jeff was a big drinker but like most of them he hid it well (in fact at one point we both quite drinking for two months - it shocked everyone). After I moved from NY I would see him onc a year or so, but we still managed top do things like a trip to Mexico for New Years 2000, where heavy drinking would scarcely have been noticed. I first started to get some hints that things were going wrong was in ?1999? when after a particularly wild weekend involving a wedding and a trip to Provincetown he ended up in the hospital, supposedly because of dehydration.

Around that time his brother Chris, with whom he had always had a close but conpetitive relationship, stopped talking to him, because of his drinking. Despite this, everytime I saw him he was the same old Jeff. He met and moved in with a very normal woman, Stephanie, who I thought would be good for him. One of the few pictures I have of him is from this period. He moved out to New Mexico with Stephanie, for various, none of which involved drying out as far as I know. The last time I saw him was on a visit there. Here is a picture of him on a hike I went on with Beth, my doctor friend from there, and her Labs (my Lab is somewhere out of the frame). Beth would at the end of his life be incredibly caring and attentive towards him.

So I couldn't decide if this blog was going to be a tribute to Jeff or my feelings at his passing. It has kind of ended up being neither. To be a tribute to Jeff I would have to include some of his musical work, which ranged between the brilliant and the unlistenable. I will say that Jeff was kind, warm, arrogant, self-centered, generous, creative, fun,aggravating and goddamn you, why did you have to kill yourself off.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Coming back to what?

It looks likely that I will return to the US in September sometime. And to what will I return? A dysfunctional country, about to become the next Afghanistan (theocratically), Argentina (economically) or Weimar Republic Germany (politically), or all three? A country where the sense of the body politic has become so skewed and twisted that mere involvement has become dirty, like getting caught a la Pee Wee in a porn house? I lov eAmerica and Americans, but some tendencies we have are definitely counter productive, such as the tendency to give up on society when things get tough and stock your basement with canned goods and pack away the extra ammo.

Of course there are the usual contraindicators: the economy is still growing, although it still is not up to where it was in the late 90s. Yes, real wages have remained stagnant, the deficeit is bigger than Rush Limbaugh's medicine cabinet, and let's face it, we don't *make* anything anymore, still it could be worse. As long as we can keep China buying our T-notes, we're golden! Furhter, based on recent events (the immigrant demonstrations, mostly) it seems that some people are waking up to the fact the administration isn't going to do a damn thing for them, and so they must do for themselves. And of course there's Bush's sterling 33% approval rating. So is there enough right in the US to overcome all the wrong that has wound it's way into our rugs, our clothes, the lint between our toes?

Doesn't become easier with repetition

I have a good friend who is dying (imminently) of alcoholic hepatitis. I have had friends hang themselves, OD, get AIDS, crash cars, get cancer, but this one seems more senseless somehow. The person in this case had almost everything going for him: bright, creative, funny, good with ladies, well educated, high powered career. But I saw only in a few instances (usually when drunk) how thoroughly he loathed himself, thought he was a fraud, and was scared of life. In many ways he reminded of my father who had all the above positive attributes and also drank himself to death. I keep thinking of the line from "Needle and the Damage Done":

Every junkie's like a setting sun

That to me captures the whole feeling I have now. Of watching something beautiful flare out and fade, and all you can do is watch and be sad. And in this case there will be no sunrise.

Now of course alcohol and heroin are not equivalent: alcohol is legal. So you can't even count on the abuser being busted to save them from themselves. I know there is a fair amount of romanticism attached to destroying yourself: I have not seen Leaving Las Vegas but I have read Under the Volcano. And I have certainly argued for that point (I once wrote an article questioning the inherent goodness of sobriety). But to knowingly kill yourself this way (and my friend knew he was killing himself) is an incredibly selfish act, because unless you truly are an island, you leave behind a raft of heartbroken friends and relatives, wondering what they could have done to change the outcome, even though the answer is: Nothing.