I could always rest assured that as soon as I could steal away for a quiet moment, Bud would magically appear. I grudgingly climbed into the massive car. Everything had that grimy feel which all of Bud's belongings posessed. I could smell the pungent roach he'd just tapped out, above the stifling stench of English pipe tobacco and fine cigars. Bud worked at the Tinder Box, and I
had, too, until seduced by the greener pastures of Sears.
He hit the gas, and the front end of the monster pitched up, then swooshed back down, and continued to do so in a rhythm that felt like crossing a lake in a motorboat on a choppy day.
"I got it for five hundred bucks!" he beamed. "Can you believe that? It's nineteen feet long!"
"That's long as my Lightning," I replied, referring to my sailboat.
"Then that's what I'll call it. Lightning!"
My stomach was beginning to wrench with the acrid odeur of ol' Lightning, when Bud hit the brakes. The nose of the battlecruiser plunged so hard that I thought it'd plow up the asphalt like a pig hunting truffles.
"You're never gonna get anywhere in Indiana," he said, not quite out of the blue. "You gotta marry that girl and move to California!" Bud harped incessantly about me marrying and migrating to the west coast, and it drove me bat-whack crazy. I married the girl's identical twin sister, incidentally. But that's another story.
I wrote in Uncle Arctica that there are people who are your friends, others who are jerks, and some who are a little of both. Duane Wesley "Bud" Thompson was a lot of both, and there is no short telling of our long and unlikely friendship. He was an ex-alcoholic turned Hippie-stoner, a chronically indigent poet and writer, cat eccentric, a devotee of Rama Krishna, Jazz aficionado, and above all: photographer; medium format -- Roliflex or Mamiya. Zeiss lenses. He disdained "postage-stamp-sized" 35mm negatives as being for wannabees, along with those plastic, auto-loading developing reels. Both of which which I used.
Bud was one of those amazingly cool people who paint a colorful, swerving stripe down the road of your life. It makes driving a little crazy, and takes you places you never wanted to go, at the most inopportune times--and often triggers more than your share of road rage. But in the end, your journey is somehow enriched by it.
And enriched I was. Bud badgered me into reading Moby Dick. He convinced me that Harlan Ellison was not exactly chicken soup for my young soul, and he hooked me on Antoine de Saint-Exupery. He insisted that we go see the Queens Coldstream Guards Pipe and Drum Corps. He added to my understanding of darkroom processes. I learned from him that sometimes all you have left to keep you going is to believe in a dream, even if it seems like a delusion to everyone else. His dream was to return to California and he never relinquished it.
Very few people will remember him the way I do. No one is left to tell his tale, but me. It would take a dozen blogs to relate my experiences with the old man. I hope eventually to fulfill his dream of publishing a book of his photography and writing. He could be self-sabotaging and cantankerous to work with, otherwise I might have helped him, earlier. I learned quickly to avoid getting tangled up in anything more than moving day, or picking him up from his latest stay in the coronary ward at Hendricks Regional. Yet, now the publishing process is so accessible that, had he not gotten himself killed, it would likely have been my next project.
What is more probable is that he will turn up as a character in one of my future novels. He lent his name to a cave in Uncle Arctica, and his best kite story -- The one about blacking out half of Orange County, and Summit Naval Station. Ah yes, the fireplace incident, too. There is enough of Bud Thompson to fill a novel. Six Shots at Sapphira, perhaps.
Bud's last outing took him to Greencastle with his Home Health Aid, one November day. He insisted on driving, contrary to the rules. They parked and exited the car to swap places, but the transmission slipped into reverse and the car took off in backward circles around the parking lot. Bud was determined to stop it, and he did - when he fell, and ended up wedged far under the back of the vehicle. He spent 34 days in the ICU at Methodist Hospital. He hated Methodist, blaming the hospital for negligence in the death of his mother forty years before, and accused the current staff of complicity. It would have pleased him to know that he stuck the hospital with a tab of four hundred ninety-five thousand dollars. Duane Wesley Thompson passed from this life on December 21st, 2011. I was with him.
I inherited the D.W. Thompson estate, which amounted to a box of his writing, a couple of thousand negatives, a sheaf of prints; a closet full of old photographic equipment, a Roliflex, a Mamiya 33, three ganja-altered cats, and the grungy old Pontiac that crushed him. I still have the box. The cats got good homes. The cameras went to a friend, the darkroom to Goodwill. Never mind how we got rid of the car.
Bud would not be wholly averse to the notion that the purpose of his existence might have been simply to serve as a warning to others. I pondered that, as I collected the few remaining valuables from his bedroom. His mother's beatific smile radiated love down from a crisp black and white print on the wall. It counteracted the grotesque sepia-toned photo on the dresser -- Rama Krishna's drowsy face lost in murky, sepia-toned contemplation; spent incense sticks to either side. I always hated that picture.
I remembered that Bud once confessed that he'd experimented with much of his life, and the results had left a lot to be desired. Especially where they involved Kerosene. That brought me a wry smile. But as I said, that's a another story. I'll tell you about it in the next blog.