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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

My best friend (1952-2013)

Those who have been indulging this web site since it first went on line sometime during the Clinton Administration and who have a knack for retaining detail will recall a few mentions of my childhood best pal Eric.

He was always the one person on earth—outside my immediate family—of whom I could unambiguously say I had known him my entire life. Our friendship and bond began when we were both literally in diapers. As a toddler, if I vanished out of our backyard, my mom knew invariably that a phone call to Eric’s mother would verify that I had run around the block and across the street to his house.

Among the many things we shared was an early and endearing love of comic books. And that where the first of several schisms arose and was healed. We both started out being loyal to Superman and other DC comics, but then Eric changed sides. He became an adherent of a newly revised line of comics called Marvel. His favorite was a title called Iron Man. Traditionalist that I was, I resisted. But before long I was won over and acknowledged Eric’s wisdom. I have been a Marvel loyalist ever since.

Eric had gift for drawing, and he spent hours drawing Marvel superheroes, as well as some he thought of himself. I had a million ideas for superheroes and for stories, and we began collaborating on the adventures of heroes like the secret agent Wellington Noble, the blind adventurer Dr. Dark and the mysterious hero known as The Wraith. The plan was, when we were old enough, to move to New York and get hired by Marvel and dominate the comic book business. In case you hadn’t heard, it didn’t happen. Eric and I finally did make it to New York, though, when we were in our 20s, and we had some adventures there—but that is a tale for another time.

Another thing shared by me and my best friend—as I have always referred to him since I was old enough to speak—was a love of the movies. We were blessed to grow up in our little San Joaquin Valley town during the last years of its last movie theater. We had the luxury of being able to walk out our front doors and meet downtown to go to a movie all on our own. By the time we were in high school, seeing a movie on the big screen would require a 20-mile drive to Bakersfield. By that time, Eric was living in Bakersfield anyway, and our excursions to the small town State Theater had evolved into afternoons at the big city’s Fox Theater.

The list of movies we saw together would be a very long one—if I could even remember them all, which I can’t. We were probably way too young when we put our 35 cents through the box office window to see Hitchcock thrillers like Psycho and The Birds. Psycho was the first time I had a movie seriously spoiled. Eric divulged that our friend Chris had already seen it and that it was about [spoiler alert!] a guy who dresses up like a woman and kills people. He would also spoil the hilarious western Cat Ballou, which I hadn’t realized he had already seen. We thrilled to many westerns, like The Magnificent Seven and The Hallelujah Trail, and to war movies like The Train and also Roger Corman horrors like The Raven. We marveled at Ann-Margaret’s assets in Bye Bye Birdie. We laughed our heads off at It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

We saw the Beatles movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help!. We marveled that a guy so incredibly old as Charlton Heston (he was in his mid-40s at the time) could display such a fit body in Planet of the Apes. We had our minds blown (Eric had the advantage of drugs) by a very different science fiction flick, 2001: A Space Odyssey. We were creeped out by Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. We had our heads warped by Catch-22. Eric and I did not see Easy Rider together, but I can testify that it had a profound effect on him. The movie outraged him. He had a job driving a truck at the time, and he was convinced that if his route ever took him into the South, his long hair would mark him for spontaneous violence.

At the age of 19, Eric entered into a brief, ill-advised marriage, and that put a crimp into our joint film viewing. His bride had a tendency to freak out at movies that were at all violent or scary. He went to the drive-in to see The Exorcist with me because his wife had insisted they leave when the two of them had attempted to see it. I had experienced this behavior firsthand a couple of years earlier when we all went to the drive-in to see a swashbuckler with Kirk Douglas and Yul Brynner called The Light at the End of the World. Pirates swarmed over a young woman, Eric’s missus screamed, and we had to leave immediately.

In the late 1970s Eric and his family moved to western Washington, and before long I followed. His first marriage by now well over, he was free for visiting the cinemas in Seattle. We suffered shark fright at the hands of new director named Spielberg with a flick called Jaws. I saw Ridley Scott’s Alien before Eric did, but I went with him to see it a second time just to watch him jump. But having already seen it only made it worse. I jumped more than he did. We saw just about everything that got released, even stinkers like Irwin Allen’s killer bee movie The Swarm. Movie excursions invariably ended with dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Edmonds and margaritas for me and whiskeys for him.

As time went on, Eric’s and my paths diverged. We never lost touch and we never stopped being best friends, but the stuff of life just kept happening. He had three more marriages to go through and a serious alcoholism problem to hit rock bottom with. At the age of 35 he suffered a devastating workplace accident that left him with a damaged spine and months of physical rehabilitation. Around the same time, both his parents died, his father by his own hand. A lot of people would have given up and, frankly, Eric nearly did a few times. But it turned out he was a survivor. He got himself into shape so that he could lift himself in and out of his chair with no problem, and he went back to driving his car way too fast.

He and his fourth wife moved to Oregon and took custody of her three daughters. The marriage didn’t last, but the family Eric had made did. It fell to him to raise those girls and he did a heck of a job. After decades of battling demons and addictions, in his mid-40s he found redemption as a father. It wasn’t always easy, but he delighted in that role and, eventually, in being a grandfather. All the time, he would be tormented by the after-effects of his injury. Health crises became a regular challenge, including his miracle survival after being infected by flesh-eating bacteria. In between he was engaged in what seemed endless battles with the Washington state bureaucracy to keep getting his workman’s compensation.

I rarely saw him after I moved to Ireland but, thanks to email and the telephone, we never felt that far away from one another. We had known each other so well and so long that we didn’t have to waste time “catching up.” We could always just pick up where we had left off. As the long-awaited serious Marvel superhero movies started coming out in 2000, beginning with X-Men, we lamented that we could not go see all of them together—especially the Iron Man movies.

The years of being chair-bound and the strain he had to put on his arms and shoulders plus all the infections inevitably took their toll. His body wore out. A couple of weeks ago, his daughter let me know that he had been brought home to receive hospice care. I rang him up, and we said our good-byes. Yesterday she informed me that he had passed away, peacefully in his sleep.

He was my best friend, almost literally since the day I was born. There is now a big hole in my life. I learned early on not to be surprised by anything he did. Still, I never expected that, in the end, he would wind up being an honest-to-God hero. He showed me and everyone else who knew him what courage was all about.

-S.L., 9 September 2013

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