TAXI TO ANOTHER WORLD
In my dream of helping to create the album cover photograph for the bassist Rich Sallee’s record, there is this tall guy. A snap of my fingers does not help to reveal his identity, nor does a quick scan of my memory banks. Despite a wordless, familiar camaraderie between us, I simply cannot place him or put a name to his face, although instinct says I know I know him, that we’ve met. He catches my attention twice in this first dream.
In the corridor of my and Marcia’s studio, a gaggle of extras crowds round us at the beginning of the photo session, and the tallest of the bunch from the back of the crowd rising on tip-y toes gets my attention and silently mouths what I lip-read as “Remember me,” a request that doubles my anxiety, for I already know I cannot place who he is, even as his facial expression conveys an extreme concern that I do. A little later in the same dream he sits exhausted amongst the cast at session’s end, amongst all who are happy to have been part of the shoot: the actors, musicians, models and hanger-ons who are chattering and glad-handing each other, while he, Mr I Cannot Remember Who You Are, sits on the concrete floor of the workroom, his legs splayed as if useless, maybe intoxicated or paralyzed, his upright back against an exposed wood frame stud, his face intent, his eyes as focused as a cat’s, telepath-ing me that I must remember him. I must.
But I can’t. Not even after the next dream wherein he is sitting in the front passenger seat of a car across from my ten year old son Zenith. Mr I Cannot Remember Who You Are is wearing a Jeff cap. It’s another very anxious dream because the car is quite strange and my ten year old is driving. I am in the seatbelt-less backseat and my mystery man is in the front, and we are about to enter a busy two-way, four lane, industrial and warehouse area highway that is as dreary with midnight street lamp light as it is wet with rain, not to mention dangerous with speeding busses, semis and cars. I think of hydroplaning bus rides in Dylan’s drizzling Renaldo and Clara. Not only is the available light haloed and diffused, but Zenith’s only read on the approaching traffic that he hopes to merge with is via a relic of a side-view mirror, awash in rainwater, on the other side of the rivulet-streaked drivers side window through which he peers. This large sedan, I come to realize, is a taxi, sort of, a strange taxi, from a different time and place. In the back seat, where one might expect to find a side dome light on the frame between front and back doors, there is affixed a Day of The Dead display paying tribute to Mary, the “mother of God,” complete with snake beneath her feet. The alabaster Mary is attended by miniature festive skeletons, some of which are wearing straw sombreros and holding fat guitars, skinny drums and accordions. There is a tasseled sunshade of strung rosary-like beads hung across the back window. The upholstered back seat I sit on is made of pleated vinyl, mirror-like with a glossy finish, as in the interior of a West-side tricked-out low rider automobile cruising 15th Street on a Saturday Denver summer night, while in the front seat, an illuminated running time and money meter, the hanging clipboard clasping ride sheets, the Colorado PUC license inlaid in the visor, the corded handset phone, and oversized rearview mirror affirm this short is at least half-taxi. Oddly askew and of no help to Zenith, I see in the large interior rearview mirror there is but one image: the face of I Cannot Remember Who You Are. He has my eyes pinned as my take on the mirror fills first with his desperate and imploring eyes and then his full visage, his face a-fright with desperation as his head lurches forward and back in reaction to Zenith’s hesitant, un-practiced and incompetent use of the gas and brakes. His neck like his legs in the earlier dream seems useless, of no help in controlling his head. I am frightened for my life. Something dreadful is going down. Zenith can’t possibly drive this car, on that highway, under these conditions. I am aware that I am dreaming as I wonder: Why is this cab driver in the passenger seat and not driving? Panic and dread is what the method actor in me remembers of this second dream. The first dream had given me a taste of the nepenthe of what it is like to be unable to remember.
A week or so after these dreams of Mr I Can Not Remember Who You Are, I am on a hospital elevator. A man enters and throws me a rather ambiguous smile, as if he’s glad to see me and sorry as well, before extending his hand to shake.
“Ed, how are you? Remember me, I’m Michael Klahr’s friend, Ronnie? We met at one of Michael’s literary soirees. You read with Brad at the Kerouac tribute.” His half glad, half sorry expression fades to complete sadness as he asserts, “You know about Brad, yes.”
In a flash I remember who exactly Mr I Cannot Remember Who You Are is: Brad, the poet and cab driver with whom I have crossed paths on four or five occasions over the course of the last few years: at Michael Klahr’s twice (Michael had middle-man-ed getting me my gig as host at Café Nepenthes) and a few times at The Mercury Café where I host the Friday Night Poetry readings. Late night Brad would, if a fare took him near The Merc, pop into The Jungle Room for a poet or two to break up the tedium of ferrying Friday night drunks around town, and once, leaving a hotel wedding that I had conducted and Marcia had photographed, Brad was curbside waiting on a fare and had helped us load Marcia’s equipment into our van. Our conversation on the times we met after our initial acquaintance always began with Brad saying, “Ed Ward, Denver’s Dean of Poetry, I know you don’t remember me but I am Michael’s friend Brad. We met at the Kerouac party.”
Now I’m not sure why, but I do have poor facial recognition skills. Maybe its my vanity that dissuades me from wearing my glasses, maybe the visual memory area of my brain was affected by the encephalitis that didn’t do me in at fourteen, or perhaps decades of hosting literary events has filled the available RAM of my frontal lobe with more than enough poet faces. I mean you’d think I would remember the tall dark and handsome Brad and that I would remember his poetry, but as in the dreams, I could not place him, not until he spoke, because, you see, my auditory recognition skills are as acute as my visual recognition skills are lame. In a loud and boisterous night club I will recognize above the din a voice on the other side of the room of someone absent a decade in my life. I would remember and recognize Brad as soon as he spoke, not because of his reference to Michael Klahr, but because of his voice and its fingerprint uniqueness. In my dreams he never spoke aloud and, hence, my failure to remember who he was.
Ronnie reads my perplexed expression to his assertion that I had heard about Brad to mean I knew nothing, and so he haltingly tells me of the tragic death of Brad some weeks ago, the same weeks during which I had been so involved with a life and death crisis here in the hospital that I had paid the rest of the world no-never-mind.
Brad had been murdered by a fourteen year old kid from Aurora over a ten-dollar taxi fare. The would-be gang-banger was in the company of two suburban teeny-boppers and he wanted to impress the girls with his bad ass-ness. As Brad turned to receive payment for the taxi ride, the kid, having no money and not wanting the girls to know, shot Brad in the head, point blank, instead.
The elevator reaches the lobby. Ronnie and I step out. I am shocked and aggrieved and confounded by this unimaginable and horrific news. Brad was such a nice guy, an artist, so friendly, caring and hip. His murder proves the falsity of karma as an operating principle. No one deserves such a fate. Certainly not Brad.
That Brad had been murdered around the time of my dreams, dreams he more or less starred in, dreams wherein he implored me to “Remember him,” this strange knowledge, I keep to myself as Ronnie offers to comfort me with a hug. He tells me the funeral has already taken place, within a few days of Brad’s murder, and that many of Brad’s friends have not heard of his death. The funeral had been sparsely attended as the newspaper report concerning the murder had used Brad’s full given name of which “Brad” was but a diminutive, and only the cab license photo of Brad (not exactly a revealing portrait) accompanied the printed story. Had I read the story – which I had not – I most likely would not have realized the victim was my acquaintance and my good friend Michael’s best friend Brad. So, Ronnie informs me, “Michael is planning a memorial sometime later in the year. He wants time to contact all of Brad’s friends. I’m sure Michael will let you know.”
So, some six months after Brad is buried, Michael hosts a memorial for him in his home. There are cabbies and poets, oil field workers and professors, waiters and waitresses, people from the diverse eras of Brad’s life. Everyone tells a little Brad story or recites a poem they have written for the occasion. Women speak of their fondness for Brad’s kindness, and oil field workers from Brad’s days in Wyoming spin yarns of hard work and hard drinking. The poets and poetesses celebrate Brad’s craft. When it comes my time to speak, everyone is expecting a classic eulogy from, as Brad would say, “The Dean of Denver Poetry,” but, instead, I tell of the three times that Brad starred in my dreaming around the time of his death, including a description of the car with the Day of the Dead statuary, the dream machine that was half cab and half tricked out low-rider cruiser.
And from the other side of the room, a friend of Brad’s from the Seventies who had worked with Brad in the oil fields outside Rock Springs exclaims, “La Bomba, Ed, you are talking about La Bamba,” before explaining further.
A year into his Wyoming Days, Brad and four other oil field workers had gone in on the purchase of a party car for rides into town and elsewhere on the weekends. Living in company housing gets old, as do drinking and gambling as pastimes, and they wanted to spend weekends adventuring. They had purchased the former low rider pimp mobile from a rigger from Mischoaca who was cashing in his savings and returning to Mexico a rich man, relatively speaking. Brad and his buddies had driven La Bomba as they called the car all over Wyoming in the mid 70s, to Laramie, Rock Springs, Wheatland, Hawk Springs, Guernsey, Jackson Hole, Casper, Cheyenne, Cody, Buffalo, Yellowstone, Fort Laramie, you name it. Bumper stickers to all their destinations covered the trunk. The Dia de los Muertos assemblage and pleated vinyl upholstery and beaded curtain that I described had been part and parcel of the La Bomba package. Brad had loved the car as he did his days in Wyoming and had, according to the pipe fitter, even written some poems about it.
So, you can make of it what you will, my dreams of Brad and my knowledge of the trappings of the vehicle he was ferried to the other side across the River Styx in, the implication being that sometimes the dying get a last request fulfilled via an open dream window between the worlds of here and gone, for, indeed, I remember Brad. Always.