The Last Christmas Of Mike McCarthy...Part II
Sorry folks....as I often say...LIFE get's in the way of blogging!
I've been busy.
I thought I could finish this tonight but, as usual...I was wrong. I'll try and wrap it up soon.
From now on, I'll try like hell to submit complete stories NOT installments. I really hate leaving ya'll hanging but...as I said...life get's in the way.
Due to 'real life' ...I cannot post everyday but, when I DO post in the future, I will post complete stories.
I can't handle the pressure of missed, self imposed deadlines!
I've been chastised too often!
So...for those three or four folks who actually visit this blog each day...I promise to do better!
Back To The Story....
Around two o’clock that day, I headed south for Columbia. Along the way, I called Mike, gave him my ETA and got directions to his place.
As I pulled into his driveway, I saw a tall skinny guy standing in the front yard. I didn’t recognize him as Mike but, of course, I knew it was him. I saw him smile and amble over to my car.
“You made good time.” Mike said.
“Yeah, not much traffic on the road.” I said.
We shook hands which led to a hug. As we separated, Mike stepped back.
“Not exactly the same old Mikey am I?” He asked.
“Well….you don’t look as bad as I was thinkin’ you might.” I said uncomfortably. “You never were good lookin’ any damn way!”
“Hey dude…I’m dyin’ here!” He grinned. “You’re supposed to be nice to dyin’ guys.”
I was a bit tongue tied for a second until he laughed.
“Ronster…I’m yankin’ your chain dude.” He said. “Do me a favor and lighten the hell up! Let’s have some fun.”
“Sounds good to me Mikey.” I said. “Are you ready to roll?”
“Hell yeah, I didn’t have much to pack since most of my clothes don’t fit anymore but yeah…I’m ready.” He replied. “I’ve got my guitars, a bunch of our old tapes, three ounces of killer smoke, a box full of medicine, three quarts of Johnny Walker and my cell phone. …I’m good to go!”
“Sounds like you have your priorities in order….as usual.” I shook my head and laughed. “Somehow I’m not surprised.”
“Yeah…I’m still the same ole Mikey for the most part. Would you do me a favor and haul all that shit to the car for me? I hate ask but, to be honest, I get tired pretty quick these days and I don’t wanna punk out on you.” He told me. “I gotta save my strength for the partying.”
I looked at him warily.
“Are you bullshittin’ me?” I asked. “If you’re pullin’ some ‘feel sorry for the sick dude’ shit on me, I’ll kick your ass!”
“You ain’t never seen the day when you could kick my ass but no…I ain’t messin’ with you. The meds I’m taking and the chemo pretty much leave me whipped.” He explained.
I did as he asked and within minutes, we were hitting the road.
As I drove, Mike reached over and popped me HARD on my right thigh.
“You know…the best part of being the poor dying dude is that people will do ANYTHING you ask them to do!” He laughed uproariously. “I can’t believe you hauled all my shit to the car for me!”
I looked at him. He was obviously the same old Mikey.
“Very funny asshole.” I said. “It won’t be happenin’ again.”
He looked as though he were about to burst.
“Man! This is great!” He shouted. “I feel better already.”
I looked over at him and snarled.
“Road trip rule number one asshole…don’t be beating on the friggin’ driver!” I growled. “The second rule is that I ain’t gonna fall for your shit anymore.”
“Okay, okay…you big pussy.” He laughed.
There was an incredibly uncomfortable silence for a few minutes. Mike finally broke it.
“Hey dude…do me a favor and pull off here.” He said. “I need to get some cigarettes.”
“I didn’t know you still smoked.” I replied.
“I just started back a few weeks ago….I figgered…what the hell….damn I missed ‘em.” He grinned.
I did as he requested and pulled into a convenience store parking lot and switched off the ignition. Before I could get out of the car, Mike stopped me.
“Look dude, I know you’re feeling kind of weird about this whole thing. Hell, I would too but believe me…I’m okay.” He said.
I couldn’t help myself.
“You’re OKAY?” I asked. “Damn Mikey…you said you’re dyin’.” I answered.
“I AM dyin’ man but guess what? I don’t mind it all that much.” He said. “First of all…I’m a Christian. Granted, I ain’t a GREAT Christian but, I AM ONE so, I KNOW where I’m going. My parents are dead. My brother is a drugged out skin head racist moron , my ex wife is bleeding me dry, I can’t play music anymore and Bill fuckin’ Clinton is the president of the United States! Trust me my friend…I ain’t afraid of dyin’! Heaven is looking REAL good to me.”
I was a bit shocked for a minute and then I began laughing.
“What’s so damned funny?” He demanded.
“Hell, I don’t know…I guess the Bill Clinton thing…I don’t know.” I managed to say.
“Bill Clinton is a piece of shit but…that’s beside the point!” He laughed. “I might be dyin’ but I ain’t actually dead yet!”
“Yeah…you’ve got a point there.” I said not knowing what the hell else to say.
“Do me a favor man…just treat me like you always did okay? I am so friggin’ tired of being the poor dying guy!” He pleaded. “Can you just do that for me?”
I didn’t know how to respond.
“C’mon asshole…just chill out.” He added. “I ain’t dead yet and when it happens, they tell me I’m just gonna fall over dead. No lingering for months…I’m just gonna croak.”
I thought about it for minute.
“Damn Mikey…it’s kind of like asking me to ignore the fact that you’re a big ugly Sasquatch lookin’ fucker but…yeah, I’ll try.” I said with a straight face.
“What’s bothering you big boy?” He asked seriously.
“I don’t know Mikey…I guess I’m just worrying about what I need to be ready for…hell, I’ve never been around a dyin’ dude before..it’s kind of new to me you know.” I responded.
He grinned and slapped my leg again.
“Just be ready to PARTY!!” He shouted as he opened the passenger door and got out of the car.
We went into the store and Mike bought a carton of cigarettes, two cases of beer, a bunch of snacks, and a full tank of gas for the car. He then tipped the clerk fifty bucks.
“Well, you made that little old lady happy.” I remarked.
“Hell yeah I did.” He laughed and pulled out small manila envelope full of cash. “I emptied out my bank account. There’s a little over eleven thousand bucks in here and I’m not going to go home with a penny of it!” He announced.
“Mikey…you’re gonna have to work pretty hard to spend that much money where I live.” I laughed. “We’re talking Mayberry RFD with ski slopes.”
“Well, I made up my mind that my brother, ex wife OR the government aren't gonna get a red freakin’ cent when I croak!” He said flatly. “Hell, I’m signin’ over my house to a little old gal with two little kids who’s husband dumped her and the kids.”
“A girlfriend?” I asked.
“Hell no…she’s uglier than a bad hangover but…. she’s a nice girl.” He said. “She works at Angelo’s….she waits tables there.”
“Man…that’s a cool thing to do.” I said but a thought struck me at that moment. “What if you don’t die as soon as you think you might?”
“I get to stay there as long as I live. Rent free.” He grinned. “She’s a great landlady!”
“That’s great Mikey but…if I were you, I’d hang on to a good chunk of that cash.” I advised. “Who knows dude…you might screw up and live another ten years!”
He laughed for a second and then said something that has stuck with me all these years later.
“You know what Ronster?” He looked at me. “If I could live another ten years and be flat broke and homeless….I believe I’d take that deal in a heart beat.”
I didn’t know what to say so…I remained silent.
He shook his head and let out a long breath.
“Of course…I hear heaven is lot better than bein’ homeless so….” He said quietly.
“Yeah…I guess you’ve got a point there.” I said.
“Ok….here’s the deal.” He said. “Let’s just hang out and have some fun. Just try and forget about my…problem. Okay?”
“You’ve got it bud.” I said. "But....let's stop all this 'dyin' guy' thing..okay?"
"Done deal!" He laughed.
As I pulled out of the parking lot, Mike put a tape in the cassette player.
“Wait till you hear this shit!” He announced.
In a few seconds, I heard my voice booming through the speakers and I knew it was our old band, Crystal River with Mike playing bass. It had obviously been recorded live at a bar.
“Guess where that was recorded?” Mike asked. “I’ll bet you a hundred bucks you don’t get it.”
“Well damn man…give me a minute or two and I bet I can guess it.” I snapped. “I ain’t bettin’ a hundred bucks either.”
“What’s the matter? No guts?” He asked.
“Dude…we played so many places over the years, they all sort of run together in my mind.” I laughed.
I looked over at him and saw that he had just fired up a HUGE joint and was passing it to me.
I accepted it.
“This shit is part of the reason I can’t remember things.” I said as I took a big toke.
We smoked the joint in silence as we listened to a couple of songs.
I set the cruise control and we sailed down I-77 at 65 mph while listening to a slice of our history together.
We listened to the tape while occasionally commenting on good and bad points in the performance as well as things we heard between songs which were captured on tape for posterity.
At on point on the tape, I could be heard introducing the band members to the crowd. As I heard myself introduce Mike I had a cold chill.
“And on bass is Mad Mikey…he’s the biggest and best bass player on the planet! Enjoy him while you can ‘cause he’ll be dead in a week.” I said.
Mike’s voice boomed over the sound system.
“Screw that dude….I’m gonna live forever!!” He shouted into the mic. “I believe in better living through chemistry!”
I looked over at Mike who was grinning from ear to ear.
“Oh well…Nostradamus I ain’t!” He said sheepishly. “I’ll bet you don’t remember where that took place.”
“Yeah I do and I’ll bet you a big assed steak when we hit Charlotte.” I challenged him.
“You’re on.” He chuckled. “I’m hungry as hell so….where were we?”
“You were on your THC kick and every one of us thought you were gonna keel over at any moment.” I laughed. “And we were playing on Hilton Head at that place on the traffic circle….was it Flannigan’s?”
He slapped the dash and cursed.
“Damn dude…how’d you remember that?” He asked.
“I heard that stupid bell ringing on the tape.” I said.
“Remember the cute little bartender who rang that damned bell every time someone tipped her?” I asked. “She rang that friggin’ thing every ten seconds or so.”
I could see him remembering.
“Shit!!” He shouted. “Hell yes….I remember telling her that I'd LOVE to ring her bell."
As we got into Chalotte, we argued about where to eat until we finally decided off of Independence Blvd where a lot of us used to go when in town. We ate a huge meal and I was amazed at his appetite!
Forty five minutes later we were back out on the road and within ten minutes Mike was sound asleep with the seat reclined.
The rest of the trip I listened to tapes of us in the ‘good old days’ while he slept. I was filled with a sense of dread and melancholy. I remember praying a few times when I felt sorry about getting myself into this situation. What the hell had I gotten myself into? I wasn’t up for this! I had no earthly idea what had possessed me to get involved in this.
I turned it over and over in my mind and couldn’t shake the sense of dread and pity I felt for MYSELF.
Yeah….I know, what a pathetic man I was. Here I was feeling sorry for myself while a good friend of mine was dying. To this day I feel guilty for thinking that way but….that’s the truth of it.
I was pretty much a self involved prick until we got through Lenior and headed up Hwy 321 towards Boone. Five miles up the road from Lenoir, the snow was falling and getting heavier with every mile we climbed. By the time we got halfway up the road, I realized that I should wake Mike up. After all, he had never seen much snow except as he had said, on TV.
I called his name but he didn’t respond. I panicked a bit…I couldn’t see his chest moving. I called him again, a bit louder. Nothing!
I reached over and shook his left arm.
“Mikey…it’s snowing!” I said.
I felt his arm move and I let out a breath I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding.
He stirred a bit but wasn’t really awake. I didn’t bother to try again but drove on for another mile until I came to a little convenience store and pulled in. I parked the car, called his name again and shook his arm a bit harder than before.
His eyes opened and he turned his head towards me but I could tell that he wasn’t fully awake so I continued talking to him but, after a minute or so, I gave up.
I have to admit…I was frightened. I didn’t know what the hell to do! How could I have been so friggin’ stupid? This man needed to be in a damned hospital!
The snow was coming down in buckets as I laid my head back on the head rest and thought about what to do. I decided that I was going to haul ass the remaining few miles to Boone and take Mike to the hospital. I pulled away from the store and got back to the highway and strained to watch for oncoming traffic. The snow was so heavy that I was unsure of anything beyond twenty yards or so. I rolled down my window and the snow blew in as I stared down the highway. I didn’t want to pull out in front of an oncoming truck!
“DAMN THAT’S COLD!!”
Mike’s voice BOOMED and I damned near jumped out the window!
“Why didn’t you wake me up? Man it’s friggin’ snowin’!!” He shouted like a little kid. He was wide awake and sounding as though he hadn’t been damned near comatose just two minutes ago!!
For the first time in years, I let out the clutch and forgot to hit the gas.
The car shut down.
“You sorry sumbitch! You scared the shit out of me!” I shouted. “I’ve been tryin’ to wake your ass up for ten friggin’ minutes!”
“Well, I’m awake now.” He laughed. “Roll up the damned window man…it’s cold up here!”
“Are you okay?” I asked. “Damn dude…I was fixin’ to haul your ass to the hospital.”
“Then I’m damned glad I woke up!” He growled. “Sorry man…I should’ve told you but when I take my pain drugs…..I’m prone to zone out for a bit. My bad…. I should’ve told you.”
I laid my head on the steering wheel.
After a few seconds, I sat back in my seat and looked at him.
“Okay dickhead….road rule number three!” I said. “From here on out…you’ve gotta let me know about that kind of shit!!”
“Done deal bud.” He grinned. “Sorry about that.”
I restarted the car and got back on the road. As when got into Blowing Rock, there was a full fledge blizzard going on. It was 12 degrees, the wind was swirling with gusts of over forty mph, visibility was marginal and Mike was HYPED!
“Man this is SO FRIGGIN’ COOL!” He said over and over again as we crept up the mountain.
Normally, I would have taken a turn off outside of Blowing Rock onto Shull’s Mill Road to take advantage of the short cut to Hwy. 105 into Banner Elk but on this night, I chose to go through Boone and pick up Hwy 105 there instead. Shull’s Mill is a winding, narrow road on the best days but in a fierce snow storm…it was best to take the long way around.
Twenty minutes later, we reached the intersection of Hwy 321 and Hwy 105. We took a left and started up the road to Banner Elk. Just outside of Boone the snow stopped and the skies cleared. The moon was full and it was absolutely gorgeous as the moon shown on new fallen snow and you could see the lights of homes tucked away on the surrounding mountains.
“Holy shit this is beautiful.” Mike said quietly.
“Yeah….it IS nice ain’t it?” I replied.
“Can we stop somewhere and get out?” He asked.
“Yeah…let’s get up the mountain first and we’ll stop.” I said.
“Up the mountain?” He asked incredulously. “I thought we WERE up the mountain.”
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet Sasquatch.” I chuckled. “You’re gonna love this shit!”
We continued on through the tiny community of Foscoe and climbed past Seven Devil’s. Within minutes, we had climbed a few hundred feet and the snow started coming down in truck loads. Visibility was reduced to damned near NOTHING and my tires were slipping on the road. From experience, I realized that I needed to gain speed on the last flat spot on the road so I floored the accelerater. As I increased speed to sixty mph, Mike spoke up.
“I can’t see a damned thing dude!” He shouted. “Slow down!!”
“Chill out Mikey.” I said. “I’ve driven this road thousand’s of times!”
“Yeah well….it’s my FIRST freakin’ time so slow the hell down!!” He shouted.
I laughed a bit and then the thought hit me that no matter how courageous Mike had been in the face of his impending demise…he had no desire to die.
Even though the man had been staring death in the face for months and handling it well…Mike did NOT want to die!
To Be Continued…..