It was on my 54thbirthday that I got the dreaded call. It was a call that I had imagined I would have gotten at least a month of Sundays ago, yet in classic “Slick Rick” style, he cheated death’s door long past his appointed time. And in that sense, Chuck Norris quotes really have nothing on Rick, as in “(Rick) doesn’t cheat death, he wins fair and square”. In fact, if you were to look at a picture of “The Man” in the dictionary, it was Rick and not Chuck that was grinning with that “shit eating” smile he had from ear to ear. He was the Fonz, James Dean, and a little smidgeon of Jack Nicholson all rolled into one package; and for anyone who knew him, to be near him was for sure to be in “the fun zone”.
The Day I met Slick Rick
It was somewhere around 1972 I supposed when I first met “Slick Rick” as I affectionately called him. He was sitting in the back row of Mrs. Lyles Sunday School class, the one person I felt surely sat in for Jesus as He was off perhaps saving some other planet. But there was something about Rick’s demeanor and in his eyes that somehow immediately endeared me to him. He seemed, at least to me, to have that “Andy Dufrane” approach to life. He walked as if he hadn’t a care in the world, and he could take what seemed like the worst situation, and in a millisecond, turn it into a laughable matter or a lesson in the power of positive thinking that would have given Norman Vincent Peale and Joel Osteen a run for their money. I guess you could safely say that from that day forward, I knew I needed to enter the Ricky Turner School of Life class, and I was all too eager to get started.
Then as fate would have it, or as best as my “teenage wasteland” years could remember, it wasn’t until the tail end of Middle School in 1977 that we became “thick as thieves” shall we say. But to be sure, he was the leader of the outlaw band and I was the understudy, and as far as I knew it then, quite appropriately so. Consequently, the fact that our collective parents were not too thrilled with this new-found bond we had forged was an understatement. They both presumed that each of us were essentially bad for each other, including the Juvenile department of the Sumter County Police department as they wrote it into law; even though unbeknownst to them, both Slick Rick and I were kind of “Madea-like” in that we could do bad actually all by ourselvesJ. Case in point was the fact that we were both in and out of principal’s offices; reform schools; military academy’s; last chance academy’s and of course the county jail; and ironically, we both seemed to get there on our own! Now to say we were troubled in many facets was blatantly obvious, but at the time, we thought we were “living the dream”; some kind of rock and roll fantasy of our own construction, minus at this particular time most of the sex that went with the drugs and rock and roll, and of course the lack of gangsta money that was merely a temporary and minor technicality.
He Brings the Party
To say “Slick Rick” brought the party with him at all times, was to essentially say “The Pope is Catholic”. No duh. And never was there a dull moment when Slick Rick entered the room, even though he had a father wound the size of Texas beneath his very Matthew McConaughey-like persona. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was Rick and not Matthew who coined the term “Alright, Alright, Alright”, and “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age”, but I could be mistakenJ. And boy did he help us out in the Jack Daniels department. With a full beard and mustache at the age of 14, our weekends were much more noteworthy for sure, and afternoons after school (or not) were often spent with a good pint and a coca cola underneath one of Sumter’s many bridges, or in the woods somewhere in Crosswell with a few bong hits, some Old English 800 and a bag of white doughnuts, sharing dreams and plans such as how we wanted to have girls, girls, and well…more girls. Now that’s what dreams are made of don’t you think?
Lessons in “Game”
You could say I didn’t have much going for me back then beyond being a dark-haired blue eye boy with really nice hair. I was a druggie who wore preppy clothes and could run with both crowds, but always more comfortable with the hippies, which made me kind of stick out in both good and bad ways. But one thing I lacked was what we call “game”. But never fear, “Slick Rick” was more than happy to take me under his tutelage in that department, and I learned it with sheer wonder just from watching his mere words make women swoon, or leave the room. What a legend he was to this young, impressionable, girl-crazed mind! In fact, he could talk more shit than a Japanese radio, but somehow it came out like “You complete me” in a sort of cool as Hell Barry White voice. This particular life lesson was instrumental in brightening my ability to “get the girl”, to which I owe him greatly, and my ability to this day to make my wife laugh and talk eloquent smack to anyone who dares listen, I’m pretty sure I owe to my entrance into the Ricky Turner School of Cool, and for that I’m forever grateful. So in essence, when we would go out, you had this Pretty boy with nice hair, and this James Dean/Jack Nicholson dude who leaked when he walked, “I’m bad to the bone”. I mean what more could a naïve hot girl want, so we thoughtJ?. This is of course why choosing between us was hard on young maidens, so occasionally they decided it was a package dealJ. Don’t read into that too much. The truth is, we made a great combo of innocent trouble (unless you talked to the police or our parents of course), and a whole lot of frickin fun, while the meaning of life and both of our lackluster realities were still just a stone’s throw down the road. Yet somehow, Rick and I were beginning to realize that the relationship might somehow outlast the freakin weekend (R Kelly).
Going to California
And then came 1982. I was fresh out of the Teen Challenge program for wayward lads (do the Math), but the Jesus I had found was losing its grip as life continued to offer up promises of more and more fool’s gold in the guise of a short dress, or a promise of a weekend of drug-induced forgetfulness or the win-win combo. And then on one particular day, I got the invitation to the excursion that was pivotal in my first entrance into becoming a man with thick skin, and mine and Rick’s graduation into a bond that went deeper than Friday nights at the Ice Cream Shoppe.
It seemed as though Rick had discovered his Dad’s magic credit card that he wouldn’t miss for too long he supposed, and invited me to take a trip to California. I thought about it for about two seconds, as I then packed my bags, and off we went 3000 miles out into the great unknown. As we traveled down the road, I was introduced to Rick’s new found love of Ronnie James Dio, as the Holy Diver album played and played until we had both memorized every riff and every line. I was still stuck on AC/DC and Tom Petty, but Rick had discovered the new Heavy Metal, and man to watch his excitement as he sang it as we traded driving time along the Ventura highway was a sight to behold.
Upon arrival, we were educated to a different kind of Hollywood than we had seen in the movies, and became acutely aware of what Don Henley meant when he crooned the words to Sunset Grill. So in between the working girls that walked on by and the basket people that walked around and mumbled, we drove past Beverly Hills and experienced sights and sounds in this brave new world, that before only our teenage naivety had dreamed about. But as the money ran out, the stark reality was that of two homeless guys sleeping in an old car in the neighborhoods of Hollywood, waking up in the morning to noble prospects of tin cans of SPAM and whatever else we could muster up from a quick visit to the Salvation Army. We faced incredible odds for several weeks, which became climatic to young minds when we were down to our last 6 bucks. And then, as an episode of sheer teenage brilliance, we concluded that the only logical thing to do was to spend it on Jack Daniels and coke of course; as we drove out our last fumes of gas down to Malibu Beach to park our asses on an unsuspecting rock and drink and possibly dieJ.
As we got there, and as Rick climbed up the rock on the beach where we would sit for a while to drink away our final sorrows, I then wrapped the two half pints in a t-shirt and handed it to Rick. Then, with what was sheer alcohol abuse to be sure, those two precious bottles slipped through his hands as that picturesque brown elixir dissipated across the rocks and into the white sandy beach, as the notorious “nowhere men” thought life was pretty much over. It was that day that I guess I graduated from the Ricky Turner School of Life class and acquired the mental toughness that he seemed to possess in his very essence from birth, as we pulled up our big boy pants and hustled our way back home, with new “street creds” as a survivalist’s badge of honor etched into our wounded hearts. As we got home, Rick would go one way, and I would go another, our paths intertwining again for several years as we then became roommates and acquired new friends and lovers, many of which were perhaps secretly giving us some family-like glue we were both sorely missing (Taco Uno Gang). And though the drinks did not absolve our sins, we were after all just looking for something to believe in, yet increasingly coming to the conclusion that perhaps “nothing” was all there really was after all.
Love, Marriage and The Man From Galilee
It was some years later after love and marriage and kids to boot, that our paths were interwoven again. This time, there was the hint of maturity in the thirty-something air, yet the “young at heart” was always the secret tonic that made us older, thicker and a little wiser thieves this time around. I would then give my heart to Christ after a lifetime of running from this new found meaning to which I once knew about, but had long since forgotten, and I answered a call as Rick quietly watched from afar. Perhaps you could say, as in all friendships, for a while there was a role reversal, and Rick somehow entered into the Mark Prince School of Who Knows What,and he simply watched for a while, and then surmised that perhaps I had found something to make sense of it all–with still very visible warts and all. He longed for it, but at that time, he was still restless.
Through my years of college and seminary and a few brief pastoral ministry flops, Rick would nonetheless come to embrace the same Hound of Heaven that we had both ran from our whole lives, yet the demons of the past were still in the back row, biding their time, secretly waiting for the next right opportunity. He too then entered the Teen Challenge program, trying to put together what had gotten so broken, with hopes of a new shot at what the myriad of malignant spirits had stolen from his new familial life. They would not go quietly, and Rick knew it. Yet Rick’s flirt with the divine after watching my new resurrected life all at once became one of full immersion. In fact, just the other day my wife read to me letters saturated in the reckless heart of someone who was much more than “shaved, saved and sorry”, but as one who desperately went after God like a dog looking for his lost bone, with dreams of helping others just like himself, so that perhaps the two of us could become a different kind of dynamic duo–with God now at the helm calling the shots.
God Disappointments and Back to the Phone Call
But like most of us on the God journey, my dear friend was faced with God disappointments that eventually caused him to relinquish the good fight of faith. He would also then witness my own persecution by the church, add some to it, and then exit out the back door of “Churchianity” where his lurking fiends were all too willing and ready to reintroduce themselves, even though he already knew their name. We would not talk for many years until we were reintroduced on Facebook, but the glue was just not the same anymore. He had much love for me, my wife and family, and I for him and his, but the bond we once had did not weather the storm the way I had supposed. I had secretly longed to reunite with my brother, but we had drifted apart in so many ways, and thus the sweet “thick as thieves” reunion would never happen. Perhaps I bear part of the blame since I was now supposed to be teaching the class.
Fast forward to August 12th, 2018, just a short few weeks ago on my 54th birthday, and I got that aforementioned dreaded call. I guess you could say I was both surprised, not surprised, and also secretly relieved that this man who had all the gifts of someone who could have ruled the world, but who was now quietly at peace and enjoying much needed rest. I know how he felt in some ways. Any of us who have made mistakes and live with regrets do. For as we age, the things we “coulda, shoulda, woulda” done, start to attach themselves like appendages to our daily thoughts, never too eager to let us rise above, or to neglect to use as a constant reminder to us that we couldn’t beat it anyway. And beneath that smiling “Slick Rick” shell of man, was a little boy who I know desperately longed to “reboot”, even as he continued to escape periodically the best way he knew how.
Strike Up the Band
You know I’m not a Calvinist theologically speaking, but many facets of their doctrine are hard to deny. One such doctrine is the profound belief in what is called “The Perseverance of the Saints”. Some think it means, if you truly walk with God, then “nothing can pluck you out of His hand” if you will. Or to put it another way, once you are His you are always His. I for one believe that profoundly. Now some like to qualify that in a lot of ways, but my take on it is this: That God can no more deny His children who once proudly called Him their Father, than we can our own wayward children, who often times cause us more pain and hurt that has no statute of limitations on it cutting like a knife every single time. So, in light of this great Father’s ocean of love, I can somehow visualize Rick coming home last August 12th finally at Peace, and in the arms of His blessed Father, who always loved Him so very much, and who has now killed the fatted calf in celebration–with Rick looking over and finding an empty seat right behind the drums reserved just for him in the heavenly worship band. Rick always wanted to be a drummer in a kick-ass band, and on August 12th, 2018, I’d be willing to bet “dollars to doughnuts” that he finally got His wish!
I love you brother!