Friday, January 1, 2010
News comes to me second hand that someone I held dear and who always brought a smile to my face has died.
I cannot tell you how horrible I feel. I am sad for him, his lovely wife, and his son and step-son, both of whom he loved dearly and helped mold into fine young men.
Mostly though I'm sad because of me. I have spent my whole life trying to avoid "heavy shit". This includes confrontation, life's inconveniences, and deep feelings and/or love. I guess that's cowardice.
I flee from things that might make me feel something real.
A few months ago, I learned he had cancer. I called him and we chatted for an hour, while he waitied in a doctor's office for his weekly chemo. He sounded great, and assured me I hadn't heard the last of him.
We made nebulous plans to get together, and although I knew he was sick, I didn''t take the time to drive down to the Bay Area and see him. One of my dearest friends.
Dan Cotler had a hell of a good life. Too short, of course, but full nonetheless. I met him many years ago when we worked in the Tower Books Warehouse in the corporate compound in West Sacramento. I was the defacto manager of the place, and Dan was the guy who bought remainders (cheap books).
We often ate lunch together, and found lots of common ground. He was smart, and knew all there was to know about the book business. He taught me a lot. He'd been a bigwig with a major book company, but retired when his first wife Carol took ill with cancer. He took care of her as the disease took its toll and she finally passed away. He went back to work as a sales rep, in which capacity he met his second wife, Heidi. Heidi was in charge of Tower Books, and was a single parent. They courted over release books and cocktails at the legendary Candlerock Lounge, a few steps away from the Books office on Watt Avenue. Eventually, they married, and as all good couples do, complimented each other perfectly.
At their beautiful Sacramento home, they hosted legendary 4th Of July parties, weddings, funerals, demolition derbies and all manner of bacchanalia in the back yard. People came early and stayed late.
Some of my most treasured memories are of small gatherings on the deck for al fresco supper, wine flowing freely. Kinky Friedman, Sue Grafton, and Wavy Gravy all hung out in that yard at one time or another.
Then came the move to Benicia, and the visits became less frequent but still wonderful---sitting on a smaller, chillier deck and watching the sunset and the lights come up on the Carquinez Strait. Dog parks and Point Isabel with Dioggi and Chet. Then unemployment for me, and visits from The Big Black Dog, and no visits to the Cotlers.
As I lay in bed last night, trying to remember everything I could about Dan, wishing I'd gone and seen him, I found myself laughing more than crying. But crying too.
* When we first worked together, he had examples of young Aaron aka Sparky's artwork hanging near his desk. The pride he took in Aaron and the genuine kick he got out of his son really made me love him.
* His dad was Ben Cotler, and he grew up in rural Jersey. No, I don't remember which exit. Ben loved newspapers, and Dan shared that love as well. When we travelled together, our morning coffee would feature Dan reading me items from the local rag, which he usually read cover to cover.
* Dan was in Korea, and drew hazardous duty----climbing to the top of water towers to check if they'd frozen over.
* Dan muttered to himself a lot. He had an eternal internal running dialog between "Clear Headed Dan" and "Confused Dan", which often became external via audible mutterings. Our mutual friend Javier once said "Heidi put a muddle-spell on Dan, and he failed his roll." One of my favorite memories of being his cubicle neighbor at Bayside involved one such argument between Clear Head Dan and Confused Dan. Dan came in to work, set his keys down, and began a long discussion with himself as to whether he remembered to turn the stove off at home. "Wait, did I?....I thought I did because....No, of course I did...I think I did....Did I?" He slowly worked himself into a lather that included newspaper headlines that went "HOUSE BURNS DUE TO OWNER NEGLIGENCE" ... Finally, I heard the swoop of him picking up his keys and marching out of the building. An hour or so later he returned, and went about his business. I said "Well?" and he said, quietly.."Oh yeah, it was off..."
* In 1962, Dan and a friend drove from Detroit to California and Tijuana, living out their own Jack and Neal fantasy.
* Dan lived in Detroit during the 1968 riots.
* Dan hated peaches. This was because in his youth, he worked the Jersey peach orchards and couldn't get the itch of the peach-fuzz off of him.
* Dan called Heidi "She Who Must Be Obeyed", just like that British guy on that one show.
* Dan loved the Oakland A's, and made an annual pilgrimage to an early A's game with Hal, Pally (Glen Shelton), and Ken Krieg. Pally and Ken are both gone now too.
* Dan knew Forrest Gump would be a huge hit movie, based on the way he used to sell the paperback version of the novel years before.
* Dan taught me about "Salesman's Luck", which is when you find a parking spot right near the door of the customer you're calling on.
* Dan loved hot dogs. I remember how his face lit up when he bit into a good one, and he'd wink and say "Nice crunch..."
* Dan and I once drove to Fresno in Heidi's car, and got a Tom Waits tape stuck in her player, and spent almost an hour and a half on our knees trying to remove it, lest she kill us both.
* I was with Dan the first time he died. We were in San Diego opening up the La Mesa book department, and staying at this pricey hotel in Mission Bay. We finished work and rushed back to the hotel, had a quick drink and went up to my room to watch the series finale of "Cheers". That makes it 1993. We were watching the show, enjoying it, and at one point, Dan stopped laughing. I looked over at the other bed where he was lounging, and he looked dead. Not asleep, Dead. His chest wasn't moving, he didn't appear to be breathing, and I began to panic. I thought he was dead. I imagined Heidi calling (She was supposed to call after the show) and me having to tell her "I'm sorry. Dan is dead...at least he died watching a show he loved..." I thought how lame that sounded, and was trying out alternative dialog when the old bastard snarked and woke up. My adrenaline was going, and he got a little ticked that I thought he'd died. "I"m not THAT much older than you, Koch. And I'm in better shape."
* Dan got yelled at by Gene Simmons on the phone once, making me instantly hate Gene Simmons.
* He liked a good vodka martini. I didn't, and don't, but last night I drank several because he couldn't.
I will miss the man for the rest of my life, his type don't come around all that often.
As I wait for 2009 to enter the past in just a couple of hours, I send my thoughts to him, and my Stepfather, who was every bit a father to me as my own. I lost two good men this year.
Resquiat In Pacem, old friend. Hope you're laughing wherever you are.