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Saturday, November 26, 2005

My Lost Friend

I was at the local blues club last night, and it was rocking. Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater was holding forth, carrying the crowd higher and higher. The house was packed; people with dough were making the liquor flow. It was a scene that we don't see often enough here in Evanston - a large group of people, enjoying live blues music and a few beverages.

I was watching the door while the proprietor hit the men's room, taking cover charges. My old friend, "Duke," crossed the street and came to the door. We go back over seventeen years; we worked at the same company for eight years. He is a good man, a family man looking after a brood that includes a son with "special needs." And as he walked into the joint with his four buddies, I could tell that he was toasted. I also remembered that, for the past couple of years, Duke has been toasted everytime I have seen him after 7:30 p.m. Duke greeted me enthusiastically and called for drinks. He set up shop with his friends at the back of the club. Over the course of the next ninety minutes, Duke got deep into his cups. I looked up from my conversations with neighborhood acquaintences to see Duke hitting on younger women (in spite of their horrified reaction to his drunken state) and watched him flail about on the dance floor.

The Chief ended his fabulous set of blues and retro rock and roll at about 11:30 p.m. After the band left the stand, Duke decided that he needed to make an announcement over the P.A. system. He staggered up on stage and turned to face the audience, clutching a microphone. He started to speak. He swayed. Then - BOOM! - he fell backwards into the drum kit, upending cymbals, snare and tom-tom. Duke is a big man - six foot five and about 250 pounds, I would say - so it was hard to pull him to his feet. It took three of us to get him untangled from the drums and off the bandstand. I grabbed the designated driver in Duke's posse and told him to get the guy out of the club and to his house in the 'burbs. So Duke essentially got bounced out of the blues club for being a drunken idiot. I am sure he woke up this morning with no recollection of his tumble - he was working on an alcoholic blackout last night.

As I pulled at Duke's arms, trying to get him off the floor of the stage, he looked up at me. The look in his eyes chilled me - the look of a desparate, lost person. I left the club shortly after Duke was hustled away, and slipped into bed next to my lovely wife. I couldn't sleep - couldn't sleep. Yes, Duke has slipped into a bad state; he needs help for his alcohol abuse. And I thought about my own consumption of booze, and the way it pervades most social settings that I frequent.

I stayed away from all forms of alcohol today.


joe said...

The Chief is a national treasure. About 20 years ago, he played 5 nights a week at a bar in Lombard called Jeremiah Sweeneys. I saw every show. The Chief is a great performer and a sweet guy.

I hope your friend will seek out help. I'm sure he doesn't have an easy road to hoe.

Anonymous said...

Yup - the Chief is awesome. I have had some monor business dealings with him, and he is a great partner in that world, too.

Mr. G