Funeral for a friend

February 22nd, 2011 / #family, #friends, #funerals

My neighbor, Gary, died a few weeks ago. When last we visited Gary on this fair blog, he was a fifty-something mailman who lived with his mother and rode his Harley for an hour each week. In the time since I penned – with very questionable sentence structure, I might add – my piece, Gary retired, sold his bike, and buried his mother.

Last weekend, we buried him. Figuratively, of course, since he was cremated, but I want to tell the story of his funeral because I’d hate for my lasting memory of his life to be a vague and fading recollection tucked away in the recesses of my mind. So, here it is.

I remember the night Gary died. It was a Saturday in January. He had only been really sick for a week, and I took that at a testament to how he liked to do things: efficiently, without making a big production of things. Only a couple days before, I came home from school in the afternoon to find hundreds, if not a thousand, large black crows flying in the crisp winter air above my block. I don’t think this was necessarily an omen, but later that day the ambulance was called out to his home for what would be the second-to-last time.

It arrived again long after nightfall that Saturday. I, like the nosy neighbor from Bewitched, watched as the anticlimactic drama unfolded. All in all, a small army of emergency response vehicles showed up: an ambulance, two large fire rescue trucks, a fire rescue pickup truck, and three police cruisers that stayed until after I dozed off. After all, I had church in the morning.

The service was on a Saturday a couple of weeks after he died. Given his lifetime of public service and his tendency to be an old school kind of guy, it was held at the local VFW post, only a couple of blocks from where we live.

Now, I had never been in a VFW before this. As a kid, I would always pass by the building and be amazed that a gigantic cannon could sit outside, exposed to the elements, and no one would try to fire it. It was a mythical place: I had no idea what went on inside there, but it must have been important.

The lodge is split into two main rooms: a hall where Lt. Dan can win a four corners payoff on his bingo card, and a canteen where he can invest his hard-earned winnings in the finest American beers. Late in the morning, everyone arrived and was ushered into the canteen, since student speakers of some sort were speaking to representatives from the State Department. I wish I could have listened to what they had to say.

As we stood in the corner of the smoke-filled canteen, I noticed that behind the veil of coziness, the canteen was in many ways a product of the protocol-driven forces that inhabited it. There were no barstools in this place; the bar itself sat no higher than a common desk to accommodate wheelchair-bound veterans. On the walls (and bar, and windows, and hanging from the ceiling) were signs declaring the bartender’s authority: “If the bartender asks you to leave,” one read, “you have five minutes to comply or 30 days to think about it!” Near the entrance of the canteen hung numerous postings of the rules of the house – chief among them the fact that you must be a member to purchase alcohol. The carpet was the industrial, textureless kind that you see in government buildings. The ceiling tiles were stained yellow from decades of smoking. This was the most American place in which I had ever been.

I’m not sure if it was a response to the smoky atmosphere of the canteen, but as we waited for the State Department to clear out from the bingo hall, some people migrated to the parking lot. There, Gary’s coworkers from the post office gathered, many of them wearing their USPS uniforms, as they were merely taking a break from the never ending postal delivery cycle. Gary’s biker buddies also showed en masse (they were the ones who looked like varying degrees of Santa Claus). After nearly an hour, we were corralled into the bingo hall for the service.

Now, the only funerals I had ever been to were in churches. So when I entered the hall, I was expecting to see some makeshift pew system, perhaps composed of a couple hundred chairs in rows. What I encountered was almost the polar opposite: rather than a bunch of chairs assembled facing the front of the room, there was a large, open area in the center of the room, presumably for when the VFW holds its heavily-anticipated singles dances. (I’ve always wanted to see how these events go, but since I’m not a veteran I assume they will remain a great mystery for the rest of my life. A pity.)

Around the periphery of this open space were old wooden tables, each with four plastic chairs. Beyond these tables were long banquet tables arranged against three walls of the room. This was no setup for a funeral, I thought, but who was I to complain? It’s how they did things here, after all.

As the crowd milled about, the service began when the local VFW Chaplain (who, by sheer coincidence, was a family friend) queued up a recording of Taps on the large wooden console at the front of the room. Then, Gary’s brother Steve was asked to say a few words about the man who has always cared for him and his family. There, below the large, unlit bingo board that hung on the wall behind him, Steve broke down.

One letter carrier got up to speak to the room full of grown men drinking bottles of beer and smoking their fifth cigarette. “I sure hope no one is waiting for their mail today,” he said, “because you’ll be waiting for a while. We’re all here.”

While we listened to the service, the color guard shuffled in. A geriatric militia complete with white gloves and black berets, this group of septuagenarians displayed an amazing amount of respect for a ritual they had undoubtedly practiced hundreds of times. We marched back out to the parking lot for the last part of our goodbye to Gary.

One member of the guard, rigid with respect and sincerity, presented a crisply folded American flag to Steve. Another member, after fiddling for a few seconds with a phony bugle that played the same recording of Taps we heard in the bingo hall, stood with the instrument to his lips for a half minute. Three members of the firing squad then shot forth into the suburban sunlight three shells each.

And Gary was gone.

Rhiannon's Birthday Song

February 5th, 2010 / #friends, #music, #video

Well, I guess since Mom’s already forwarded this to everyone she knows, I guess it’s okay to exhibit it here.

A few pieces of necessary background information:

    Our friend, Rhiannon, just moved to North Carolina to become a doctor.
    It was recently her birthday.
    She and my brother have an ongoing joke about the nonexistant “Pericardial Artery.”
    My brother and I jokingly call each other gay (in a completely non-offensive way with no ill intent toward folks of that persuasion).
    She cooked us Cuban food when she lived in Alachua County.
    This is the most complex song I could think of. I threw an Em and D7 in there just to make it not comprised of G, C, and D.
    Ian holds the microphone too close to his mouth.

I kind of knew it was going to end this way.

September 10th, 2008 / #complaints, #friends

Well, that was short-lived. About a week into our awesome hair-growing experiment Angus shaved, but didn’t have the guts to tell me he did this. I learned it by proxy from Bulgaria.

Weak, man. Weak.

The Fall Follicle Fiesta!

August 15th, 2008 / #friends, #funny stories, #hair

Well, I have been in Gainesville four days with my good friend Angus (who, to my great pleasure, has taken up blogging). We have been pretty bored this week, so we needed something entertaining to keep from going insane.

What did we come up with? A facial hair growing contest, of course! I am offering Angus $20 if he makes it until October 12 without shaving. A modest amount, yes. But the wonders that await Angus’ face will repay me tenfold.

Below is a photo taken with my (terrible) camera phone and a professional artists’ rendering of what we anticipate in a couple of months.

Clubbing Angus to death

July 8th, 2008 / #college, #friends

In the past two years of my collegiate life, I have adopted a pretty routine lifestyle consisting of various alternations of food, school, and sleep. Knowing that there must be more to life, I obtained employment during my last semester.

However, after seeing how joining a business fraternity (read: the kind of fraternity I don’t hate because it’s not completely filled with douchebaggery) allowed my good buddy James to drastically expand his social life, my other good buddy Angus and I have decided to find such an extracurricular club to join and, in turn, allow us to make love to hot women.

Trouble is, I can’t find any club that a couple of guys with completely different majors (Political science and industrial engineering – guess which one I am!) who don’t care about any issues or things beyond the realm of bacon and football would be particularly interested in joining.

There’s a list on the UF Web site, but I can’t find anything.

Maybe The Hip Hop Collective?

I will probably drop dead within a month

February 3rd, 2008 / #food, #friends, #funny stories

Well, somehow my lifestyle as an unhealthy and bored college student has caught up with me and my friends.

Lately, we have been aching for things to do on the weekends. And seeing that we are not particularly interesting or anything, we have had to create fun things to do in the absence of actual social lives. Over break, we were confined to the realm of our hometown, the parent-filled purgatory of any college student. Ergo, we made socially acceptable things to do, most of which involved wandering aimlessly in our local Wal-Marts and ending the evening at Steak n’ Shake.

Now, this is all well and good, but it can get old after about one night spent in the toy aisles, pressing the button that cues the novelty horn on every miniature Dukes of Hazzard General Lee.

So, we’ve come up with a new game: generally, I attempt an absolutely amazing feat and if I can successfully accomplish this, my best buddy Angus has to do something silly.

Last week, I was dared to eat 10 tacos and an order of Nachos Bel Grande from Taco Bell. In return, Angus allowed us to bind his wrists and ankles for the rest of the night. While this sounds lame, I can assure you that it was quite humorous – at least until he had to go to the bathroom and I was the one in charge of removing his pants. If this sounds gay, it’s probably because it is.

Tonight, I was challenged to eat a Frisco Melt platter from Steak n’ Shake in addition to three double cheeseburgers and a large order of fries from McDonald’s.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “You, Casey, are the least healthy person on the face of the planet.”

Yes, I agree. And I regret this. But friends, the payout on this wager was marvelous: Angus Wade Hill was forced to shave his arms and legs.

Petty? Yes.
Silly? Yes.
Hilarious? Unequivocally, yes.

I know that all of this sounds extremely juvenile. However, I think we can all agree that as time progresses and the hilarity of Angus’ payback grows so too will the necessity of this entire process for the sake of physical humor both in Alachua County and our lives.

That said, any thoughts on what next weekend’s challenge should entail? We are running out of ideas.

All umpires are God awful.

November 13th, 2007 / #college, #friends, #sports

Well, much like last year, the Red Devil Gators’ season has come to an end in what you would call a “less than ideal” way. We lost our playoff game tonight, but it wasn’t all for naught.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we made it into the second round of the playoffs – having played only two games. See, two of our four regularly-scheduled games were rained out. We won one of the games we played and lost one in a very close fashion. Then, the team that we were to play in the first round of the playoffs decided not to show up for our round one game. So there we were earlier this evening, with our pride and ambition almost bubbling over. Then our season ended the same way it did last year: we lost a playoff game to a team comprised of what I can only guess are thirty year old alumni in a hotly contested match up officiated by some of the worst umpires on earth.

And I don’t mean for this to sound like sore loserdom or anything, but I swear to God: the first base umpire was watching the game on the field next to ours the entire night. I am disappointed to know that my university’s recreation department does not have higher standards for such a paid position. Of course, sucking at everything in life is sort of a prerequisite when becoming an umpire on any level.

Ah well, c’est la vie. We wouldn’t have won even if Mr. I-Could-Give-Two-Flying-Flips-About-Your-Game were paying attention.

Either way, we will be back, because Red Devil Gators Softball never sleeps.

Summer fun!

June 25th, 2007 / #friends, #movies, #random

Summer is very boring in Clearwater. While I’d like to say that I love being home to the point of not wanting to return to Gainesville in the fall, I can’t do that. However, here are some of the highlights of my recent life:

  • I saw 1408 the other night. While it was the typical mediocre (and I’m being nice) spooky movie, it was made about ten billion times better with the presence of John Cusack. By far my favorite actor, he made the two hours of ghosts and loud noises completely worth it. Still, I’m more of a Serendipity kind of guy.
  • Angered by the fact that Angus was the eighth entry in my cell phone’s contacts list, I edited the name to read “Aangus.” This way, all I have to do is press two buttons to call him. I am very excited about this, despite the fact that his entry is highly inaccurate.
  • I now am a valued Fun Pass member at Busch Gardens. I rode Gwazi last Tuesday, and I plan on riding Kumba the next time I make the trek over to Tampa in the coming days. Previous to this, I was deathly scared of roller coasters. I still am, but once you get to the top of the chain lift and you can’t go back, you learn to scream and live with it.
  • I am the Sing & Play Director at my church’s version of vacation bible school. The theme is Avalanche Ranch, so I have to dress up like a cowboy. I don’t understand how John Wayne did his cowboying duties in the ridiculously hot desert of the American West. I was drenched in sweat after a half hour in an air conditioned room. Anyhow, because I’m sure you are intrigued, I will leave you with a photo of my getup (sans giant foam orange and blue hat):
    I'm a cowboy!
  • Rays lose, but I've won big time

    May 30th, 2007 / #breakups, #friends

    Trust me when I say that I hate getting like this. Tonight, I got into sort of a pensive mood; a thoughtful funk, if you will. Between watching the Rays get slaughtered, feeling badly for some friends who are pretty blue, and this pounding headache, one of my best pals gave me this fantastic tidbit of wisdom.

    Cherish your friends.

    And I do.

    The Saddest Story of the Spring Semester

    March 20th, 2007 / #college, #friends, #sports, #uf

    Well, folks, the experiment is over. Until next fall, of course.

    This semester was the highly anticipated inaugural season of what was supposed to be the world’s finest Slow Pitch Coed Intramural Softball team. We all had high expectations, that’s for sure. But, somehow, things went terribly, terribly wrong.

    We did not win a game all year. We had been outscored by as much as 19-3. I forsook my catcherly duties by throwing the ball into right field when I was trying to throw to first base. But somehow, the Gods of intramural fate smiled down upon the disappointing Red Devil Gators by helping us to recruit some great infielders. Our luck did not end there. Despite having not won a game all season and finishing the year with four devastating losses, we were granted a playoff birth by way of the wonderful caveat that you had to literally sign up for postseason play.

    There we were, without three of our best hitters in both Mikes and Stephanie. I played catcher while Angus braved the entire game, pitching the best he has ever hurled. Tim, Bonnie, Dhyana, and Heather took to the outfield. And around the horn we had Katie, Greg, James, and Bryce. It didn’t look good for our seasoned veterans, as we had to play Ad Society, a team with a heavy-hitting lineup of right handed monsters.

    But we held our own. We batted first, which is likely what led to our demise; after each of our half innings, we were leading our foes. It was just that last inning when we couldn’t hold the lead. Angus pitched beautifully. The infield was a well-oiled machine that, had the umpires not been completely ridiculous in the way they called plays at first base, could chew up and spit out any opponent. The outfield played far better than I had expected, making use of the concept of a cutoff man better than they had all season. All in all, it was the greatest game we had ever played as a team; unfortunately, we were one run short of glory.

    So, here’s to those warriors, those lonesome losers, those Red Devil Gators.

    Just wait until next year.

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