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My Friend Jeff

Written by Briton Ryle
Posted May 11, 2020

"I said baby, I'm so far away from home, and I miss my baby so, I can't make it by myself, I love you so..." — Tom Waits, "Shore Leave"

I rediscovered two of my favorite records during this pandemic lockdown (we old people still call them "records"). Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs by Tom Waits. It's amazing stuff...

I guess I was 25 or 26, living at 307 S. Laurel St. in Richmond's Oregon Hill neighborhood with my best friend Abe Said and Jim Thomson. Oregon Hill was one of those blue collar neighborhoods that was being invaded by young, local musician/artist types. The hill itself overlooked Belle Isle in the middle of the James River, just east of Hollywood Cemetery, where presidents James Monroe and John Tyler are buried.

It was in that cemetery, beside the big pyramid that serves as the Monument to the Confederate War Dead, under the influence of psilocybin that my buddy Fred German declared that I'd be a writer. "Uh huh, sure Fred," I probably said. Fred was part-Native American and liked to make eerie declarations like that from time to time. 

But this story is really about my friend Jeff Douglas. Jeff was a Virginia Beach runaway, who showed up in Richmond when he was 15. He was taken in (and probably saved) and nicknamed "Junior" by GWAR founder Dave Brockie. 

Jeff was practically a fourth roommate at 307 S. Laurel. We were probably paying $475 a month for that house, which we renamed Java Joe's Safari Coffee Hut (I think John Durham may have even spray-painted a sign) Every morning for a year, a revolving group of natives would gather at our place to drink coffee, smoke pot, listen to Tom Waits, and play rousing games of brig rules Pinochle — a version we learned from an AWOL sailor named Mike.

Jeff (a self-taught drummer) and his band Always August put out a couple records with the infamous SST Records. And he was a great card player and really one of the smartest people I ever knew. We counted cards like true sharks. As a partner, Jeff would berate you if you didn't play a hand right. I'm sure I didn't think of it fondly back then...

Jeff ate cereal all the time, he was, at heart, still a little kid. He was probably 19 when he bought this horrible green Gran Torino. No license, no insurance, he would only drive it around Oregon Hills' 18 square blocks. One day, he got t-boned at an intersection and that Torino crashed through the wall of a street-level house... and pushed an invalid's wheeled bed across the room. No injuries. And for some weird reason, Jeff didn't even get a ticket.

I never understood that, but it was the kind of luck Jeff had...

We Need to Go to Colorado...

It used to snow in Richmond back then. One day, we had a good one — 10 inches maybe. Like most mornings, Jeff showed up at Java Joe's, but we weren't playing Pinochle to Tom Waits that day. No he had a skateboard deck that he'd bolted a couple loops of bicycle inner tube to, you know, to hold his feet on his "snowboard."

So we ventured across Belvidere Street to the sprawling, hilly grounds of Figgie International's HQ (where the Virginia State Pen once sat and where the true Oregon Hill-ites cheered when the Briley brothers were executed in the late-1970s) to try out Jeff's snowboard.

It didn't work at all. The board didn't have enough area to really surf the top of the snow. It burrowed until the rider just somersaulted forward. But we never questioned the basic concept and decided that more research was needed. So Jeff, Abe, and I vowed that we would move to Colorado that summer...

And we did. I rode out there with Always August's guitar player's ex-girlfriend Suzanne and her goofy dog Lapis. I rented a $500 a month condo in Fraser, Colorado in September, and Abe and Jeff flew out in November.

I blew out my knee in season two and came limping back to Richmond for surgery and rehab. Jeff loved the mountains and stayed, married, and relocated his middle-school sweetheart to Grand Lake. They had a daughter, who Jeff called Ange after his favorite TV show The Andy Griffith Show

Jeff lost it all during the financial crisis. And his wife left him for a former boyfriend/Otis elevator repairman in St. Louis she had rediscovered on Facebook (an all-too familiar story). So Jeff had to leave Colorado for St. Louis so he could see Ange. 

At least he was a baseball fan. Last time I talked to him a couple years ago, he preached to me about why the DH is an abomination...

Farewell Friend

Last night, I got a text from Abe. "Somebody got the bread off their bumper." My friend Jeff had passed away in an assisted living facility over the weekend. He wasn't even 50 — maybe 47?

Apparently, he had a stroke some time ago. I don't even know if he was in St. Louis or back "home" in Virginia Beach. I feel like I haven't been a very good friend, and I won't be headed to any funeral or memorial because of this goddamn virus.

I know I'm not the only one out there helplessly grieving a loved one. And I apologize for straying from my usual beat and using this forum to reminisce about good times gone by. That's all I got right now.

Oh, about that bread on the bumper...

And yeah, Tom Waits is growling at me right now: "If you get far enough away, you'll be on your way back home. Well I'm at the station, but I can't get on the train."

Until next time,

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Briton Ryle

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A 21-year veteran of the newsletter business, Briton Ryle is the editor of The Wealth Advisory income stock newsletter, with a focus on top-quality dividend growth stocks and REITs. Briton also manages the Real Income Trader advisory service, where his readers take regular cash payouts using a low-risk covered call option strategy. He also contributes a weekly column to the Wealth Daily e-letter. To learn more about Briton, click here.

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