Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You? (R)

TRY, TRY, TRY TO SEPARATE THEM


I got a postcard today. In one of those instances of convenient synchronicity, this morning, before sitting down to begin these last chapters of remembrance, I trekked out to the mailbox (a typical writer’s avoidance tactic – it was that or do laundry) and opened it to find a colorful picture postcard of Venice Beach at sunset. On the flip side was Daphne’s instantly recognizable handwriting, tiny, perfect, and precise. Her print being that small, she was able to work an im­pressive amount of info onto that paper square. There are the standard inquiries into my well-being. How is my father? Am I seeing anyone? She lets me know that business is going well and the boys are doing great. Travis is entering his second year of law school and Justin’s band was recently signed to a major label. It was a wel­come update on the lives of people I love who are very far away, comforting in its banal details. Until, and here Fate takes pity on an aging memoirist, Daph trumpets in big(ger) block letters, “HAVE I GOT AN ENDING FOR YOUR STORY!” And as I read on, I felt the physical intersection of past and present like a hydraulic lift under my breakfast chair. Everything clicked, happy and sad falling together in a jigsaw-puzzle moment.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I seem to remember we were on our way to a wedding.

Two disasters occurred on May 4, 1970, and I was only present for one of them. While four student protesters were dying on the grounds of Kent State, brought down by National Guard bullets, a cluster of free spirits in caftans stood barefoot amongst the ruins of San Francisco’s Cliff House as the spring tides slammed against the rocks below. I had come with Valerie, my first serious girlfriend. She was the bass player and percussionist in a gimmicky, one-hit wonder bubblegum pop band (does anybody remember Josie and the Pussycats?) but, more importantly, she was black and beautiful. We were truly in love, but even better, we were making a Statement and in those days it was hard to tell which aspect of the relationship was more important.

In the absence of her disapproving father, Daphne asked me to proxy. It was an odd honor bequeathed to me, but I accepted. So, as two mandolin players and their friend on conga drum performed a unique instrumental version of Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” I walked Daphne into the circle of loved ones and, with appro­priate gravity, placed her hand in Fred’s. Do you, Red, take The Chin to be your lawfully wedded husband?

In retrospect, it was a truly beautiful ceremony. The sun glistening off the Golden Gate Bridge just beyond the cliffs. The melodious voice of the Unitarian minister as he spoke of the union of souls. Scooby Doo in bow-tie for the occasion very obediently sitting on his haunches and only sporadically eyeing the tables of food awaiting the reception. Even Fred and Daphne’s handwritten vows (which both had, secretly, asked me to proofread and polish) left many an eye misty. Everything was going smoothly, the day quickly taking on a dreamlike dimension, right up until the minister asked Shaggy to present the rings. Eight-miles high since the day began, Shaggy just swayed on his ankles and blinked heavy-lidded eyes at us; it’s doubtful he knew where he was. When Fred reached out to steady him, Shag took a defensive step backwards, in the process releasing a sudden spout of vomit and collapsing into the food table. He was still down there, convulsing, when the ambulance arrived, everyone holding him and forcing his head sideways, Scooby just feet away digging happily into the 3-tiered wedding cake that had been Fred and Daph’s only nod to convention.

It was the first time Shaggy OD’d. It wasn’t the last.

After the last of Shaggy’s breakfast – amphetamines, hash and whiskey – had been pumped from his stomach, the wedding party was allowed to look in on him. Most social historians mark the disaster at Altamont or the Tate-LaBianca murders as the end of the ‘60s dream, the point where the innocence of an entire generation was irretrievably lost, but for me it was that day in Shaggy’s ICU. It shouldn’t have surprised any of us, Shaggy had always pushed his own boundaries, and, though I would never point a hypocritical finger, there was most likely not a voice of moderation amongst his new family in the music scene. Our friend had been away a lot of the time, on tour with the band, and each time he returned he was a little farther away. His personality never really changed, it just dimmed, detached. That’s why, when he finally awoke in that hospital bed with a clarity I hadn’t seen in years, awareness and fear plainly written in his eyes, I started sobbing uncontrollably beside him. The newlyweds linked arms around my shoulders and even Shag tried to soothe me by clumsily patting my hand with his own. It was a cold, bony thing.

“Hey now, sister,” he croaked, his voice a little abused by that morning’s show, “No more of that. It, like, gets better from here.” I never wanted to believe anything more in my whole life.

Shaggy did get better. Then got worse. Then even worse. Then better – for a while. Then he just vanished. One morning in the fall of ’72, he got up early, packed his bags and called for Scooby. The two of them headed out the door like they had done dozens of times whenever Sly hit the road. I groggily told him goodbye. “Send me a postcard,” I said and he smiled. It was a running joke between us. Even after touring England and Europe, Shaggy had consistently failed to drop us a line – he claimed he could never figure out how many stamps he needed. It wasn’t until two weeks later, after running into the band’s road manager, that I realized that there was no tour and that early morning send off was the last glimpse I would ever have of the boy and his dog. It turns out Shaggy had been kicked off the crew five months before for reasons I never successfully divined. This was disturbing information and the three of us spent months quizzing any and everybody; had they heard or seen any­thing of Shag and Scoob? But I soon found my real-life detective skills somewhat lacking. After a while I even stopped checking the obituaries for the name “Rogers, Norville.”

And then there were three.

Considering the start they got, the happy couple actually did very well for quite some time. Perhaps in reaction to the scary trail Shaggy had blazed, Fred and Daphne took small steps backwards into safer, more conservative territory. Fred stayed on at the bank, becoming a shift manager, while Daphne took on temp work with a realtor’s office. They reestablished contact with their parents and were able to use those family ties to their advantage; with a little finan­cial aid, the lovebirds were soon able to lease a little house of their own. I knew the day would come, and, to be honest, the last thing I wanted to become was a live-in lesbian auntie for the uber-off­spring they were already planning. Still, I was over for dinner every other night and I watched with morbid interest as The Joneses of Pacific Heights began settling into a sitcom simulacrum of married life. “Honey, did you burn the roast again?”

It all started to go so fast. Travis was born in ’74. Justin followed in ’76. I watched my friends change diapers and put bikes together on Christmas Eve. I saw pounds add on and drop off, I saw hair thin and dull with gray. I watched them argue and drink too much and hurt each other with words and glances. I was witness to the various infidelities, big and small, on both sides. And I was there when the divorce papers were signed, standing squarely in the middle, trying to give support to both friends equally, friends who could no longer support each other. It was 1983 and they parted ways with the sort of sad sureness and grudging amicability that only beautiful people seem to get away with.

I was always a little jealous of them, what they had, even if it ended on such a false note, but I had little reason to complain.

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