One morning I woke up to the alarm, NPR and Bob Edwards were talking to a room full of static sleep, I had a slight headache not too much of a hangover but enough to hit the snooze button and see how the other end of the pillow looked. Every morning the NPR station spends a few moments announcing local news and this particular morning wasn’t any different. “An unnamed bicyclist was killed early this morning by a hit and run driver near the Ohio State Campus. A body was found on the intersection of Hudson and North Fourth Street and the pedestrian was later pronounced dead at The Ohio University Hospital.” I blinked open my eyes, “wow, that is right at the end of our street. I may know that person,” I thought as I shimmied under the blankets. My wife nudged me a little, “did you hear that.” “Yeah,” I groaned. She got out of bed, left soon after and in a while I was showered, drinking my pot of coffee and reading the newspaper.
I drove to work; I had to be there at eleven a.m., so I had a leisurely morning and ambled in through the front door of Used Kids. With one look at Ron, I realized that something was amiss. He had a stern look on his face; he mouth was taunt and flat. He glanced up at me and said “Bela, I have some terrible news….Jerry Wick was killed last night. The police just left here.” I stared at him in disbelief. I groaned a little, making some weird sort of animal noise that would have no doubt caused a grin from Jerry. “Well, that can’t be I saw him last night, we hung out here.” Ron shook his head, “I guess he got hit by a car, right by your house.” So, I did know that guy from the radio. I ran to the back room, buried my head in my hands and wept for a few moments. The tears falling awkwardly out of my body as I have never been a weeper, I felt the uneasiness of myself all round my being and wanted to be anywhere but where I was. Be anybody than who I was. I picked up the phone and called my wife. She was sweet, and said she would come home. I told her not to bother, I would stay at work. I didn’t know what else to do. It was too early to start drinking.
I then picked up the phone and called Jenny, she herself made a similar sound as I did. She was now living in Miami. She couldn’t believe it. She asked me to call her back when I knew the funeral plans; I knew she could not afford to return for the funeral. I walked back into the store, got another coffee and sat at the back counter. Staring straight ahead. Soon, many of Jerry’s friends around Columbus were phoning the store and dropping in. Dan Dow came in, looking a bit shell shocked as we all slowly digested Jerry’s death. Jim from the New Bomb Turks came by with Brett Lewis and we soon headed up to BW-3 and started drinking. Soon thereafter Ron joined us, it was quite the shitty day. Cold, gray and stupid.
Details began to surface, Jerry had spent most of the previous day at Used Kids with me and Mike Rep. We had started drinking around five and he shuffled between the annex and Used Kids until a little after eight. We were in a pleasant mood, Jerry happy to be working as a cook for a semi-upscale diner in the Short North and he had started recording again. He was making extra money selling some of his records on the ever-burgeoning E-Bay market under the moniker of Monkey-Pizza. He had recently purchased a small GI Bill built house in a neighborhood just across the freeway from Clintonville. He was patching up a long strained relationship with his parents who were helping him fix up the house and spending time with him. After a few beers at Larry’s, Jerry asked me to stay and hang out but I had designed a very strict regiment to help keep my own alcohol consumption in check. I did not drink on certain days, nor did I allow myself to be taken off this schedule. It was quite testament to my will power that evening to be able to decline his offer at nine pm as there is no doubt that I had already drank five or six beers. I drove home and had a later dinner with my wife.
Jerry had spent the rest of the evening between Larry’s and BW-3, some people said they saw him at Bernie’s but in any manner he bought himself a pizza and started to bicycle home. Balancing the pizza on his handle bars, dressed entirely in black he coasted down the slight incline of 4th Avenue onto Hudson Street. There he was met by a small compact car, whose driver having his windshield smashed by Jerry’s upper body, drove off into the night leaving Jerry paralyzed by the side of the road with a broken neck. The driver would later turn himself in; explaining to Columbus Police that he thought someone threw a rock at his windshield. Needless to say, a large swath of the community doubted this explanation while the man got off with a minor violation. He later tried to sue both Jerry’s family and Used Kids for defamation, all in all a pretty stand up guy.
I was in shock for a good while, not only had I lost one of the best friend’s in my entire life, a person who helped bring me back from the brink of death several times but someone who had the same sense of cynical humor and love of music that I had. I thought of him continuously. His death brought an immediate effect on how I lived my own life, in the decisions I had made and were continuing to make. The past ten years had come too quickly and had ended in disarray, disappointment and death. Jerry was the fourth person that I had been involved with both musically and personally who had died in a sixteen month period. His death followed the overdose of Jack Taylor from Monster Truck 005, the mysterious traffic death of Chris Wilson of Monster Truck 005 and then the suicide of Jim Shepard. Besides, Jenny had moved to Miami and had appeared to have given up on music for the lure of dive bars in Coconut Grove. My life was veritable shit sandwhich.
I had started to doubt my own drinking, it wasn’t getting the results it once had and over the course of several years it had become a glaring issue between my wife and I. I hesitated every time I ordered a drink and was unsure of myself. I had also started partaking in other sorts of unsavory and dangerous activities that were by no means helpful to my mental well being. I felt like the Phil Ochs song “The Scorpion Departs but Never Returns” with an ongoing chorus of “tell me I’m not drinking, tell me I’m not drinking” kept on loop in my mind. There was a line crossed somewhere, it was unknown and invisible but there was a space where one world had ended and another had begun. There was no known equation to determine when this happened but it was somewhere along the meandering path that we all took collectively together. Music was our map, with alcohol and sex our compass we drifted in and out of one another’s lives like the thoughts that raced in our minds. Sometimes overwhelming ourselves as we tasted one epic night after another but soon the redundancy of the chase left us tired, spent and vacant of the promise that once fueled our lives. The cyncism was setting in, shaking away the confidence that was the feature of our very beings as we beamed from barstools and from the front of cramped wooden stages that provided up the platform for us to broadcast the inventions of our thoughts. I had become as clouded as the dark beer and whiskey that powered my life, and yet I was barely past thirty and my friends were dead or dying.
There were certainties in my life, aspects that were as dependable as a new car starting up, these consisted of the love of my wife, music, alcohol and friendship. In a few short years these would all be tossed into the meat grinder of experience and I would at times come to question not only the power of these dimensions of my life but also my own ability to interact with them. There was a thread that connected all of them, I knew this to be alcohol, this and music were the constant. Although, I had by now ended such musical endeavors as promoting shows and putting out music, for the most part I was only seeing a handful of shows that I used to attend. A great many times I would lurch towards High Street with the purpose of seeing live music either at Little Brothers or Bernie’s but I usually only made it as far as Larry’s. There the allure of the bottom of the bottle was too great for me to push myself away from the barstool into a night filled with the dramatic crescendo’s of 4/4 drum beats and ringing guitars. My life had come to a slow but definitive change and my friend was dead. I was breaking by degrees.