My Dear Dead Friend, Duane, & the So-Called Real World

What better way to enter the So-Called Real World than to marry your high school sweetheart, right?

That’s what Duane did. Cheryl, the girlfriend he had journeyed to Chicago to visit in college daze ended up living with us at Thistle for a while, joining in merrily with our shenanigans. While we were sitting around in the living room, one time, somehow the conversation turned to, geez, I don’t know…shampoo? Anyway, Cheryl decided to crack an egg on Duane’s head to give him a protein-enriched egg shampoo. He sat there with egg in his hair and a perplexed look a she then added beer to help it foam up. Yeah, just another day in Thistle.

They moved down to Houston for a while and sometime shortly afterwards, announced their engagement. Having seen the two of them together at Thistle, I was not at all convinced this marriage was a good idea. Duane loved Cheryl, no doubt about that. My doubts surrounded whether Cheryl was really in love with him at all. One night, I had watched her flirt with ore than one fellow right in front of Duane and a never quite sure if that was for show or for real.

Anyway, Duane asked me & MacNaughton to stand up with him. Mike & discussed refusing to participate since neither of us thought it was a good idea. But we realized that would not dissuade Duane and besides, when your friend wants you to stand up with him, you stand up with him.

He talked about wanting us as TWO Best Men. But it was not to be — this turned out to be a nice, traditional church wedding with only 1 Best Man, MacNaughton, so I quickly dubbed myself the Second Best Man.

We joined Duane at the altar to watch him tie the knot and we kept quiet about any concerns. Up until the preacher began the selected reading, “Desiderata,” a movingly beautiful poem by Max Ehrman, made popular by a recording in 1971. It featured an uplifting chorus that reassured the listener:

You are a child of the universe,
You have every right to be here.

But you see, at Thistle, we had listened far more often to the National Lampoon Radio Hour’s 1972 parody of the inspirational poem, “Deteriorata” which sent quite a different message:

You are a fluke of the universe,
You have no right to be here.

I looked over at Mike and saw him trembling with silent, suppressed laughter as he glanced my way to make sure I caught the joke.

Sorry to say we were right in our trepidation about the marriage. Before long, divorce was on the way along with the typically divergent viewpoints of the two people divorcing. When I spoke with Cheryl about the divorce, she said she never really had a chance to live on her own, moving straight from her parent’s house to Duane’s. She said she needed to live by herself for once. My response was that I sure wished she had figured that BEFORE she tore my friend’s heart in two & destroyed his life.

Duane’s comment: by the time I looked up from crying, it was all over and she had everything.

Sorry this post doesn’t have as many funny stories. Once he lived somewhere else entirely, our visits became less frequent, so far fewer funny everyday stories. Duane kept coming up with crazy stuff all along, anyway.

At one point after the divorce, I visited him in Austin where he moved into a grungy one-bedroom apartment. “It’s not bad,” he said, “except for the roaches.” That almost goes without saying anywhere in Texas. “But I’ve taken care of that.” He pointed out a tiny roach-sized sign with roach-sized lettering posted at roach-eye-level on a baseboard by the kitchen.

“It’s a negotiated settlement,” he explained and that contained his “Rules for Roaches.” In it, he conceded the kitchen was theirs at night until 30 seconds after he turned on the light (giving the time to scurry away), similar terms but shorter warning time (10 seconds) for the bathroom, but the bedroom was absolutely off-limits at all times, subject to lethal force enforcement. When I asked how it was working, he shrugged and said, “Better than nothing.”

I also remember when MacNaughton got one of the earliest telephone answering machines, the type that recorded messages on mini-cassettes. This early model did not have automatic cut-off on incoming messages, so Duane would call Mike with book in hand. If he got the answering machine rather than Mike, he would simply begin to read something like The Hobbit until the machine ran out of tape, leaving Mike one, single, l-o-n-g message when he got home. Mike was not amused — but everyone else was.

Duane got married again, this time to someone who loved him as much as he loved her, Linda. This wedding was held outdoors in Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park on a beautiful day. I started out to drive there from Austin but stopped in to see my friend, Jim Nelson, outside of Bastrop on the way. Duane had collected more of Jim’s work than anyone I knew, so I wanted another Nelson original for his wedding gift.

Jim decided to ride along. Little did we suspect what we were in for. See, the wedding was held in the state park. But as soon as we started to open the champagne, the park rangers informed us we would have to leave to do that. So, everyone headed down the highway a short stretch to Duane’s family’s farm in Anderson, Texas for a reception.

Somehow, while we were there, someone decided some of us (yes, the details are vague) should head down to see Duane’s uninvited black-sheep brother in Pearland, so off we went again, this time in fewer vehicles. I still do not remember where we ended up sleeping that night, but it was the next morning before Jim & I got a ride back to Anderson to pick up my van and return Jim to Bastrop and me home after our 2-day moveable wedding adventure across Texas.

Visiting Duane became a matter of waiting until after his typical Saturday, sleeping in till 6. You’d also get to deal with curious, almost aggressive circling birds inside a small apartment as well as a cat or two. He described one of the benefits of his full-time delivery driver job there in Houston — “I get to see God at least once a week when some idiot damned near kills me on the freeway.”

We all knew about Duane’s drinking. We were all in denial. He’d been at it since middle school, sneaking drinks from the family liquor cabinet, stockpiling little airline bottles. The on-duty DWI and subsequent firing made it all too abundantly clear. Still, none of us said or did anything about it.

Then, one day, he dropped dead.

No one knew why. It took months to establish a cause of death. The sudden onset suggested heart attack or stroke — but neither was the case. Alcoholism was a suspected contributor but he did not have sufficient alcohol in his bloodstream to explain the suddenness. Eventually, they settled on some vague explanation like “massive tissue deterioration at the cellular level due to prolonged alcoholic intoxication.” The fact that his house was filthy with pet feces might have contributed, too.

I still like our friend, Derek’s explanation. “We all knew that Duane wasn’t exactly on the same frequency as the rest of us on the planet — and one day, that frequency disappeared.”

.(headstone) Paul Duane Prestwood (August 18, 1954 - January 16, 1986)

My Dad, having heard many tales of Duane, appreciated the absurdity of much of his humor, and found it hilariously appropriate that they buried Duane in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Again, no disrespect meant — and, believe me, no disrespect would be felt by Duane. More likely, he’d be delighted to know he still made people laugh and shake their heads in wonder, even in his absence. When my frequency finally leaves this planet, I’m hoping to hear some Odd Fellow other world weirdness from my dear, dead friend, Duane.

About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
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