The truth is, I never really liked going to the bar. I hate beer and I’m an introvert—crowds make me uncomfortable.
But I went because Gary was going with or without me. And he expected me to come by and get him. I didn’t want to disappoint Gary. So, for years, most Fridays I’d swing by Gary’s place, and we’d go to the Dive Bar together.
In the dim bar amid the din, I’d watch and listen to Gary and, at his prodding, give some of my opinions. He was interesting to watch and hear. He’d go from person to person, greeting those he knew and introducing himself to those he didn’t. And he’d drink. I was there to try to slow him down, but I rarely succeeded. I like to tell myself he’d have drunk more if I didn’t go along with him, but I really don’t know.As much as Gary flourished in a crowd, he chose to spend a lot of time alone. He seemed to think that he was in the way with other people and he didn’t want to be in the way. He was (mostly) wrong—Gary was fun, at least sober. And he worried us when he wasn’t sober.
Gary was an artist, something I didn’t know until I’d known him many years. He’d create works on paper and sculptures of a sort constructed from found objects. Much of his work looked coldly geometric, but a lingering look would reveal his work was full of feeling. Much of what he never expressed in words could be found in his art. Someone—a professional artist—told me Gary’s work reminded him of Suprematism, a pre-Soviet Russian school of art that centered on geometry and a limited palette of colors.
Gary displayed his art at DaVinci Gallery but none of his work was for sale. He’d give away his art but never sold it.
Sometimes I’d walk around the neighborhood with Gary, usually on one of his beer runs. He would talk to all kinds of people who he seemed to know. Sometimes we’d be invited in a house and Gary and his mysterious friends would talk some more. I’d politely introduce myself and then disappear into the background and watch the interaction. Then we’d continue walking to Washington Avenue and get a 6-pack.
Gary would also stop by smoke shops and seemed interested in pipe tobacco. Yet I never saw him smoke anything. He was attuned to the sights, smells, feel and sounds of the physical world. Despite his occasional intrigue with the digital (he’d sometimes think about getting a smart phone and he did use a computer at home), Gary was analog.
For perhaps three decades, Gary had a common-law wife, Kathy. They seemed completely different—she was cultured, and fit in at her workplace; Gary was plainspoken, unpretentious and would never have fit in at any workplace. But the two were somehow perfect together. Then she died of cancer a few years ago. Gary was deeply affected but went ahead with his life, learning to handle the things that Kathy had been handling. At least well enough.
A few weeks ago, Gary brought over some books about vintage race cars. I wasn’t particularly into race cars, but we had gone together to the Simeone Foundation Automotive Musuem some months earlier and Gary thought I’d like to see them. He was, of course, right. The pictures was compelling and the vehicles beautiful.
But it was time to return the books. I couldn’t get him on the phone. I would ring his doorbell and he didn’t respond. I did see his light go on. He just didn’t want to talk. That’s something that would happen from time to time.
As it turns out, his health—which was always precarious due to his heavy use of alcohol—had turned worse. Perhaps he thought the problem would pass as it had before. But one morning just a few days ago, he was carried out of his apartment on a stretcher. He never returned.