It has been one year since you made the journey to wherever you went beyond this earth. We should have had so many more years, as you said when brother Mike Vaught left the earth, “this was not the plan”. We evolved together, we could piss each other off, but more often we created some of the greatest moments of our lives.
In our pre-teens we thought it was hysterical to raise our hands in Mr. Sergenian’s class and tell stories about our friend, “Bob Gina”. We were of that age where anything close to vagina was simply hysterical to us.
We would sneak out of HC Crittenden Middle School, through the bus yard, past the duck pond, hit the ground, as if we were behind enemy lines (it was a daring mission) and go have lunch at Pizza Land whilst those other poor schleps at school ate cafeteria food. When we got home we listened to The Doors and talked about music. We watched this new MTV thing, then we would often walk around the lake. You really liked Duran Duran and I recall you singing, Rio at the top of your lungs wearing your black leather jacket with your mohawk and earring as it echoed across Windmill Lake.
As or our teens began, you got that Led Zeppelin 2 cassette. It was an English release or something. Side 2 started with Thank You and it strangely included, Your Time Is Gonna Come from Zep 1 on it. We listened to that cassette so often that I still incorrectly hear that tape as the official Zeppelin 2 order. Fridays we drove your BMW 2002 or my lousy 75 Mustang to Mt. Kisco to get beer. We thought the guy who worked there looked like Jimmy Page and then you would steal Boone’s Farm from The Shack. You always liked stealing things. When we got back to your house I would try to nap, you wanted to start drinking right away. You would crank Bowie’s, Sound And Vision full volume and shove a drink in my face as you sang the lyrics even louder than the stereo. “John, wake up!” you yelled in a frustrated and slightly annoyed growl. I would try to pretend not to hear you, but I secretly enjoyed the whole song and dance.
We eventually got jobs at the A&P and stole so much beer that we didn’t have to go to the distributor for a while. We used to enjoy kicking over the product displays at the end of the aisle that the other was stacking; ya know the kind where the coffee cans are piled up twenty high or so? We were spiraling out of control. They fortunately fired us just before we were going to put a piece of shit in cellophane and sell it as a piece of liver in the meat section…a disaster narrowly averted. I remember after we got fired, your mom cooked us city chicken and klops while we made her laugh and convince her we weren’t so bad. Ya see they arrested us the same day we got fired. We came back to the A&P parking lot to do evil things. We used Mike Deluca’s station wagon; if you pin a shopping cart against a brick wall, and then hit the gas, it crushes it like an accordion. We did that to a few and each time, we laughed so hard that our stomach muscles hurt. So when your mom came to pick us up from work at the normal time (she didn’t know we had been fired yet), we were being put into a police car. I can still hear you, “Ma, we’re not really that bad. We just like to have fun!” The charges were all dropped as well. So, it was all worth it. The only casualties were 3 to 5 shopping carts.
On more innocent summer days, we would occasionally go over to Tim Halpern’s house and swim in the pool. We were always supposed to help with some chore in exchange for swimming privileges and we never lifted one single finger. One time Tim had laid out some gardening tools and was readying for the labor, he looked around and groaned, “Hey, where is Tom”? That’s when we heard the cannonball. I laughed and jumped in as well.
In our twenties we got our apartment, The Grand Lounge, with the fellas. You and I named it after wandering around extremely high on that ball of kief at Radio City Music Hall whilst Bob Dylan gave a lackluster performance. There are several lounges with names all around Radio City. We sat at them through the night and held mini-talk shows with confused passers by. But as one exits the venue, it spills you into The Grand Lounge! Our apartment was on Grand Street ya see, but when we saw that name… you woulda thought we had just discovered a cure for, well, what you were gonna freaking die of at 50.
We soon began following The Grateful Dead. Nitrous, LSD, Marijuana and Blatz Beer were all flowing freely. We really only traveled with the Dead for a few bigger runs in 1988 and 1989, peaking with the acclaimed, Alpine Valley shows. When you and I got to our first Alpine show, The Dead were playing, Sugaree. It was a beautiful day with lush trees, rolling hills and smiling, dancing people all around. “Let’s grab a beer” one of us said. The Beer Garden was facing an area of tall trees. You and I looked out at them and suddenly you grabbed my arm, “John, Look at that guy”. I turned and there was this fella looking so awestruck, that his jaw was convulsing. You could tell he was in deep and could not believe how fucking amazing this tree was. You and I laughed while we respectfully enjoyed his convergence with nature. The next day it was getting to be pre-show party time. We were enjoying Blatz Beer with our friends, getting excited for the evening. You approached me with his devilish grin, “John, we have acid, are you ready?” “I don’t know if I wanna take LSD and come back to this half baked campsite in the dark, Tom”, I replied. Well, eventually you convinced me and within an hour it began to take effect as we made our way into the concert. You and I were at the top of our powers making everyone on the line crack up “who needs a ticket to the future?” “I have 3 tickets to the past, I’ll trade for one front row future”. Someone put necklaces on us and gave us handmade Jerry shirts to wear.
We came over the hill and the Dead were playing, Tennessee Jed. It sounded so sonically satisfying and the acid was surging through our veins. “Let’s grab a beer”, one of us said. We went into the Beer Garden and the beer tasted soo refreshing. “Look at this, The Dead’s speakers are weaving through the woods and exploding right here by this sunset!” “Hey Tom, check out that tree, look at how all the branches have organically stretched to the sky, reaching for the sun”. You replied, “You can see the years of old that were once grinding in the soil”. We gazed silently for a while, completely engrossed. Suddenly you shouted, “Hey, we’re that guy from yesterday!” Yes! It turned out we were standing in the exact place “nature lover” had been just 24 hours earlier.
Around that time, I moved to Vermont and you mailed me a grilled cheese and tomato from Mexico Joe’s from the neighborhood. Yes, I did eat it.
A few years later, I moved to Colorado and started, Steak. You joined us in Colorado after your time singing in Ropes of Sand was over. It was the first time in your life I ever saw you “off”. You were struggling. But you found love and by the time you left Colorado, you were whole again.
Twenty three years later you moved to Colorado again. You were searching for what was next. During that time we met in South Dakota for the eclipse. You were uncharacteristically candid about your confusion of which way to go in life. You stole something from the store. You always liked stealing things. We had some fun. But we both had perhaps grown weary of the song and dance routine we had developed over the years. We still did it for folks. But it felt like a band reunited, playing the hits they no longer identified with. When we parted in South Dakota, it felt strange. I remember staring at your car driving away wanting to cry for some reason. It was the last time we would see each other not being aware of the cancer that was going to kill you. We did get together in Colorado after the bad news had arrived. Our interactions were fresh again, beautiful and strong. We sadly knew we no longer needed to evolve our style for our elder days. But I know, that if you were still here, we would have found that new path and done so gloriously as we did for so many decades.
You made it clear that you preferred to depart from Colorado and found a special beauty and tranquility there.
My, what an exceptional human being you have been. I am so proud to call you my friend. I will do my best to carry on in the way we do. “You know how I like it”.