Tag Archives: RIP

Goodbye to an American Legend

I met him once.

It was a warm summer day in Arkansas. Late July. I had just arrived at the Oghma Creative Media writers’ retreat. At the time I had a contract for one book with them and I was there to learn a few things and meet the people who had my book in their hands.

He was the big star of Oghma, with dozens of titles under their publishing banner and more than a hundred and fifty novels to his name. When he sat down beside me at the critique table I didn’t know what to do. I was nervous as all get-out and for the first critique session, I said nothing. When the second critique session came, however, I had to speak up if I was going to get full value out of the opportunity to pick some of the minds I had the pleasure of spending time with.

I read an excerpt from a book Oghma had not yet committed to publishing. It was the first time I had written fiction in the first person present tense. I spent the hour prior to the critique session rewriting what I had in the third person past tense and I wasn’t too happy with how it was turning out, but I read it anyway. When I was done the feedback was nothing short of wonderful, but there he was beside me, arms folded over his chest, cowboy hat upside down on the table beside him, legs outstretched with his feet crossed. I couldn’t tell if he was impressed, angry, or confused.He stared straight into my writer’s soul, nodded, and said, “I liked it.”

I sat down for the rest of the afternoon and started rewriting the rest of the book. After I read the next session his only feedback was to be careful with the “I, I, I” nature of a first-person narrative. I made a note both mentally and in my manuscript.

Near the end of the retreat, everyone was picking up copies of books from the people they had just met. Knowing my dad likes a nice “oaty” Western, I asked Dusty if he would be so kind as to sign one for him. He picked out a book, the first in a series he thought my dad might like and put a nice little inscription on the inside cover. Then, he handed me The Mustanger and the Lady. He said I should read it and that it was being turned into a movie.  The inscription is something nice. I won’t tell you what it is, but it is nice and I’m glad I have those words from him.

When we got back to the tables in the meeting room he handed the two books to me. I asked him how he would like me to handle payment. He smiled. It was the first time I had seen him smile in two days. He said, “You can give me a copy of your book when it comes out.” He was speaking of Bent But Not Broken, my first book and a collaboration with my wife and daughter. It’s a story about my little princess’s scoliosis surgery and all of the trials and tribulations our family had to endure throughout that journey.

For the last six months, I have been looking forward to signing a copy and handing it to him at the retreat this summer. My book officially launches in two days on January 20th, but as far as Amazon is concerned it’s available for purchase today.

Dusty Richards died this morning. The funeral for his wife, Pat, was just a couple days ago. They were both in a terrible car accident a little while ago and eventually succumbed to their injuries. No one told Dusty that his wife had passed, but I think he knew. You don’t get to be his age and live that kind of life with someone by your side for 56 years and not know in your gut when they’re gone.

I met him once, and I was really looking forward to meeting him again.

~ Andrew
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You Have Memories To Look Back On Today

Chuck Wendig has issued a flash fiction challenge. Write a story in five sentences and fewer than 100 words. Seeing as I write a little something to commemorate the passing of my brother-in-law, Ryan, on my birthday (March 13) I decided I’d use this flash fiction challenge as a means to do that.

Here’s what I came up with:


Seven years ago we lost him. Recently, Facebook introduced a memories feature that recaps your day from years past. I’ve been wondering what those memories would look like from the day he died and how I would deal with them. Turning memories off altogether, or for a specific day, is an option but that day is also my birthday. I will leave the feature on and try to create more good memories so I will be reminded of how much I am loved as I scroll … scroll … scroll towards the bottom and remember how much he is missed.


~ Andrew

Beneath the Willow Trees and Beside the Hill



Update: 
October 24, 2015

I am unable to attend the memorial for Riaz out in B.C. (if you knew him, please sign the guest book), so I decided to go back to the spot that inspired the poem and do a reading of it. Afterwards, I nailed the poem along with a picture of Riaz and a quote to the tree, then recorded a little introduction.

“The fields are green and through blue skies I soar.” – The Watchmen

You can take a look here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ujVkZdxs4w]


Update: 
September 22, 2015

I woke up this morning to find out that the friend for whom this poem was written had passed away. I’m in shock. I hadn’t emailed him in a while, but the last contact I had came in the form of a short note asking him if he was doing okay. He didn’t reply. The world has lost part of its soul and music will never sound the same. Riaz, I hope you have found peace. Namaste.


I wrote this sometime in the late months of 1994 or the early months of 1995, I’m not quite sure.  I know it was really cold.  It’s about a series of times, moments, and memories back in first year University (1993-1994) that I spent with a good friend.

I would just like to say for the record that this has been re-written at least a dozen times, and before publishing this post it was edited again.  The only time I thought it didn’t completely suck was in the 15 minutes immediately following the original draft.


Beneath The Willow Trees

There’s a place beneath the willow trees and beside the hill where two friends go to light a fire and escape the day, if only for a minute. To forget about why and not think twice about standing by the lake and watching the sun set at noon.

Beneath the willow trees and beside the hill mysterious clouds blow in the wind upstream from strangers oblivious to everyone and everything. The clouds fade to become insignificant wisps just as the sounds of nature break the silence to reveal a world which is not ours and never has been.
The ducks on the lake swim near but don’t give us the time of day, because in this world beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, time is overpowered by life, and the clock of life does not keep track of such things as hollow measures of time.

One solitary event may capture your heart in an instant, yet the time with which it passes goes unnoticed forever. Strangers in a not-so-foreign land, beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, contemplate the beauty and essence of the imagination, only to find it is time to rekindle the fire so they can wander through the darkness while the sun is still shining.

Prisoners behind walls of freedom laugh and cry but little do they know there is more to life than those walls have to offer. To be at one with your existence, you must do more than just live. You must inhale life and let it fill your lungs with the beauty that surrounds you beneath the willow trees and beside the hill.

There’s a place beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, where two friends once debated the meaning of life and the meaning of friendship, but ended up rediscovering the illusion of happiness. For them time stood still and reality was forgotten, until they extinguished the fire, closed their eyes and walked away in silence as the moon shone brightly at the crack of dawn.

Miss You, Miss You

As you may have seen in my last post (re-post, actually) I recently lost a friend. He was probably the second or third guy I met when I arrived at the University of Waterloo and it was in his dorm room on North A in Village 2 that my wife and I were first properly introduced. That was pretty darn close to 22 years ago to the day that a heart attack took him from this world for whatever is beyond.

Riaz, our daughter, and me. Breakfast at a diner in Toronto – 2005(?)

Obviously, this came as a total shock to my wife and I and everyone who knew him. I’m still kind of dumbfounded and in a daze over it. Someone I’ve known since first or second grade sent me a message of condolence and asked me to tell her a story about him. One, she said, that would make me smile. So, I did, and it made me feel a little less depressed about his passing and a little more focused on the good times we had together – and there were quite a few. I shared the story with his brother and a few coworkers, and in one of my writers’ groups, and every time I did I managed a smile instead of a tear.

So now I’m sharing it with you.

***

Riaz and I spent a lot of time together in our first year of university. We were both a couple of physics geeks with impeccable musical taste (the principal difference being he could actually play and I even suck at air guitar). Now, just a few minutes from our dorm was the upper year dorm, Village 1, and within it a glorious variety store / food place called “The Village Grill”. Staffed by upper year kids it was the go-to place for starving students and guys like Riaz and I looking for a snack. There was this one girl that worked there that Riaz was in love with. All I remember is that she was ridiculously cute and Ri was infatuated with her. I swear he burned through more of his meal plan at The Grill over everywhere else combined just because she worked there.

Riaz (center) jamming with Scott (right) and some other dude, 1993.
A rare shot without his “P-Man” sweatshirt on. His Canucks jersey was a close second 

One snowy night Riaz and I finished our homework (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and a bunch of us were going cafeteria tray sledding at the hill across the road. It was then (after we finished our homework), that I got this brilliant idea to saw a cafeteria tray in half and crazy glue the pieces to the bottom of my boots. After tray-boggoning, or tray-skiing in my case, the plan was to have Riaz pull me around the parking lot as I held on to the back bumper of his car (genius, I know).

Right about when we were all ready to go we got a hankering for some chips and we decided to head to The Grill to take care of the craving. The only problem was I had these damn pieces of fibreglass stuck to my feet. Screw it, we wanted chips, nay, we needed chips. So, off we went. We had no coats, no hats, and no gloves. We were just two guys in blue jeans and flannel shirts (this was 1993 after all) walking to the store to get some food – one of them with two halves of a lunch tray glued to his boots.

Everything was fine until I slipped off the path.

It wasn’t a big slope, but when all you’ve got is the smooth underside of a tray to walk on, any slope at all sends you in a downward direction. I slid off the path and down a small hill. No word of a lie it was only 12 feet down and had a maximum grade of about 5 degrees. Still, down I went. I tried to walk “herringbone” style up the hill but could not.

I was trapped.

Meanwhile, Riaz was giggling uncontrollably at the top of this “hill”. After letting me flounder for a few minutes while he regained his composure, he came down to give me a hand. The only problem was he couldn’t get me up the hill either. Being the physics geniuses that we were we tried quite a few things with the successful approach being I would lie on my side and he would roll me uphill like a log. To this day, I have no explanation as to why I didn’t just get on my hands and knees and crawl up the stupid hill. For certain, at the time the idea never crossed either of our minds. What should have been a 4 or 5-minute stroll ended up taking around half an hour.

We get to The Grill and we’re laughing so hard tears are running down our cheeks and freezing in the cold air. My hair (I used to have long floppy bangs) was frozen up in this crazy spike, we were soaked head to toe from all the rolling around in the snow, our eyes were red and swollen from all the laugh-crying, and I still had two halves of a cafeteria tray crazy glued to my boots.

Party in Riaz’s Room – 1993 (that’s me on top)

We opened the door and the only person in the place is the cute girl behind the counter. We just stood there scratching our heads and staring at our feet while she took a good long look at us. After a few seconds, we look up and she’s shaking her head. “Chips are over there,” she said pointing to a rack in the corner. Then, she turned around to pretend to clean something. I could see her shoulders bobbing up and down as she laughed into her dish towel. We stepped up to the counter to pay and she’s still stifling laughter. “Have a nice night, boys,” she said as we exited the store. I can still hear her laughter as the door shut.

Riaz in one of his pensive moments, 1993

After a minute, Riaz looks to me and, with his face full of Cool Ranch Doritos says, “Well, shit. What do you think my chances are now?” Without hesitation I replied, “Pretty bad, man, but I have a feeling they are way better than mine.” Riaz just nodded and we both started to laugh uncontrollably for the second time in half an hour. We walked back to our dorm without speaking, but the laughter didn’t stop for several hours.

Epilogue:
Tray-skiing was a complete failure. I spent an hour falling down a hill for real and never managed so much as one decent run. Cafeteria tray parking lot bumper hitching, on the other hand, was an incredible success (except for having to saw off a layer of my boot soles to get the cafeteria trays off).

Rest in peace, brother.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIhw267pU4Y]
http://riaz.ca/musicvideo.html

Me, Sven, and Riaz at a Kegger he threw back in 1994

Riaz completely done-in at EdgeFest, 1996