Tag Archives: eulogy

Farewell Pierre Ketteridge, Prophet of the Great God Glub

Pierre was what any generation would call a Character and a world-class raconteur. He was what my grandfather’s generation would have called a pen pal and mine calls an Internet friend–someone I knew semi-intimately through their writing first on USENET and then later, on a private mailing list. I knew him for close to thirty years but only met him one time on a group video call.

The first adventure of his I recall reading about was his participation in a North African car rally. My faulty memory wants to believe it was the Dakar Rally and that he was engaged as a photographer, which was another one of his creative outlets. His dispatches then and until the end of his life had a Hunter S. Thompson-esque flavor and I recall his hilarious narration of mechanical breakdowns and the trials and tribulations of journeying in a desert where you don’t speak the language.

At one point he included a selfie shot of him and the driver in the desert. His thin frame looked dusty and dirty. His curly hair was an unruly windswept nest atop his head. Underneath his bushy moustache was the smile of a person who looked like they were having the time of their life. I’m certain he was.

Pierre lived in the UK and was a keen observer of regional and cultural dialects and class distinctions as he travelled across the country for work. He had a knack for meeting or observing interesting people and I always envied his characterizations and ability to transcribe their patois. His missives through the years were a delight to read. A more memorable story of his from a 1994 trip to Brighton recounted witnessing some London businessmen out to dinner with sex workers:

They were loud, and brash, and drunk, and they were loaded – and wanted everyone to know it. … Sleazebag was trying very hard to look like John Travolta in his cream linen suit and dark open-necked shirt. His gleaming pate and greased-back remains of dandruff-encrusted hair spoilt the effect a bit, though. Both were dripping with ugly, chunky jewelry. … My main course, and a carafe of wine, arrived, and I got stuck in. I could still hear them though, singing and shouting and giving the restaurant staff hell. “Oy, Angelo! Gessanuvva bottla wine! An’ none of that fuckin’ Shyanti crap like before. Gessa bottla Valpollywotsit, pronto!”

The story unfolds in a way that would make Guy Ritchie blush and concludes with his vicious hangover the next morning.

Many of his stories orbited around alcohol-fueled behavior, either his own or others’. His last home was in a live-aboard in a marina surrounded by a cast of other characters who lived there and in the local pub. He recounted plumbing problems, bodies alive or otherwise in the water, motorcycle crashes, dating adventures, mentally ill neighbors, and the drama that would spill from the pub and end up on his boat and vice versa.

There’s no sugarcoating that his final years were rough, physically and mentally. It was distressing to watch from afar. He lost his high-tech career and worked a variety of odd jobs. He suffered from a number of physical ailments that caused him great pain at times and limited his mobility. The UK’s medical system has been trending towards the US’s for over a decade, and he was chronically under-treated.

His stories, which used to be torrents with hundreds or thousands of words, shrunk to a few sentences of tantalizing vignettes or cryptic hints of more to come that never came. When he was finally diagnosed with cancer and ended up in hospital, that trickle of words turned to drops until his tap ran dry.

One happy constant in his restless and unpredictable life was his love for his boys. He was very proud of the men they had become and it came through whenever he wrote about them. I send my heartfelt condolences to them.

Pierre’s is a peculiar grief to me. I have lost a favorite author and I grieve not only the loss of his life but the loss of his words. As much as watching him from afar could be maddening when he made sub-optimal decisions, I will miss the unbridled joy and piercing insight about people he shared through his stories, like when he was hired to photograph Grace Jones at a club and described her and her entourage in devastating detail or detailed the eccentricities and travails of local village inhabitants.

Farewell, Prophet, you mad motherfucker. Send a letter from the beyond, willya?

RIP Chris Wicklund

Chris was one of those people for whom sitting still and keeping quiet was hard. Very hard. A mutual friend’s father who needed a bit of prodding to remember who he was famously said of him, “Oh, the mouthy one.”

In his defense, Chris was not unkind, cruel, or particularly foul-mouthed more than other people – he was just loud.

Sound, more than anything, defined his life. We were housemates in college in the late 80s, and again later in the late 1990s when he was between relationships and housing. He almost always had loud music playing, or was talking loudly, or was laughing loudly.

He laughed a lot. At full volume, his laugh was a barking snicker that would erupt out of him. In quieter moments it’d be a more gentle, “Heh.” Chris was a comedian, with an almost endless patter of one-liners, snark, wry observations, and pantomime, which often made other people laugh, too. Trained in and a student of the dramatic arts, he would put his whole body into it, with arms waving and torso thrusting; anything for a laugh or reaction.

Chris was also a musician, and when I met him he was playing bass and backup singing in a band called The Look. They played cover tunes at frat parties, schools, and the odd event, and I worked crew for the band for a spell. He played a black Steinberger, (for those not familiar, it’s a very blocky looking instrument, with the tuning keys at the base of the saddle,) and its New Wave look stood out for a rock and roll band.

Chris’ setup was always pretty easy. It was a microphone and stand, plus a monitor speaker. The crew, of course, always tormented the talent, so his microphone stand would almost always be set up for sound check just a little bit too low or a little bit too high. He’d bitch at us while adjusting the height and then tell the person running the soundboard to turn the bass up in the mix. Being good crew, the sound person had already been forewarned, so knobs would be twiddled that didn’t adjust the bass volume at all until he was satisfied with the mix. Sometimes we’d catch him at the board later and have to turn it back down.

The Look went on to record a CD in 1991, Big Fruity Wet Bongos, to showcase the talents and range of the band and hook a record contract. I was fortunate enough to attend and observe a few recording sessions, and it was inspiring to see Chris pursing his artistic dreams. But 1991 was the year of the grunge explosion, and The Look’s pop-rock with metal-inspired guitar didn’t stand a chance and The Look eventually disbanded.

But throughout his life, Chris was almost always in a band or getting a band together, and I remain impressed he was a gigging musician throughout his life. He moved from bass to lead singer, and years later he was forced to hang up the guitar for good after a semi-trailer rear-ended him and damaged his playing arm. He expressed his sadness and frustration after that at not being able to play anymore, but he also talked about how much he loved singing.

When he lived in my basement, I got to know the quieter side of Chris over a chessboard. It was one of the few activities where I would see him sit still and be quiet. We’d talk about everything and nothing, and it was a respite for both of us.

Chris moved around later in life and we drifted apart. But a few years back he texted me about chess, and we had some back and forth there and over the phone. We tried to make plans to get together but they never gelled. The last time I talked to him was in January this year while visiting mutual friends in Moses Lake. I hand’t heard from him in a while, so it was a pleasure to hear his voice and laugh.

It hurts to know that voice and laugh is now gone. I miss my friend.

Farewell, Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy was the assistant manager at The Fish Store when I worked there during college and also my boss and landlord/roommate for a while. I just found out this morning from a friend that he died a few days ago. I referred to Peter when I wrote about Frank Lull’s death in 2012. It was Peter’s bad back that Frank helped out with the mattress.

Peter was a thin man, some might say drawn, tallish, with brown hair he always wore long to his shoulders and combed straight back, and riding above his hawk-like nose were his large, round glasses. More often than not, a lit bent pipe stuck out from between his beard and he would be wreathed in a lazy cloud of puffed tobacco smoke. I think he was in his mid-to-late 30’s when I met him.

Mischievous at times, you could mistake him for Santa’s younger, skinnier, darker cousin by the twinkle in his eye. Peter loved to tease, and his personal narrative of emigrating westward from the East Coast prep world of his father’s urological sphere where he had trained and worked as a chef, and landing in Montana as a cattle driver before coming out to Seattle was hard to verify. He did wear cowboy boots everyday, and a duster and leather rimmed hat in foul weather, and walk like he had just gotten off a horse, and he was a very good cook, but who knows?

I spent many long hours alone with Peter in the store, scrubbing algae, changing water, pulling dead fish from tanks, facing shelves, and all the other shopkeeping tasks that must be done when commerce slows, and we talked. Frugal with words, our conversations were often brief, staccato exchanges that punctuated long silences. He didn’t talk too much about himself. He seemed content to leave his past behind him and listen bemusedly to the trials and tribulations of the mostly college-age staff.

When my roommate, Dave, and I sought a cheap place to live because the place we were at sucked, he offered us two rooms in the house he was renting in Ballard. His only condition was that we remove the semi-feral cats his previous roommates had left behind. We jumped at the chance. The rent was cheap and Ballard back then was a more funky neighborhood, with a gun shop and four-star restaurant in the adjacent block right across the street from each other, not the condo-strewn hot spot for youthful tech people with money it is today.

It turned out there were five cats in various levels of domesticity that had taken up residence in Peter’s basement. There was a window missing a pane that Dave quickly blocked up and we scooped two right up and put them into milk crates for safekeeping. Two more took sincere effort to catch, mostly requiring us to run around the house shutting doors behind us to section off and corner them.

The last cat was probably wild. When we went looking for it, we couldn’t find it, but we knew we had seen it. A careful examination of the basement discovered it wedged deep between the joists in a hole in ceiling. Dave and I both donned leather gloves, and while Dave used some sort of stick or rod to prod it out, I was to catch it on the way out.

In theory, this was a solid plan. In practice, when a wild, angry cat, hissing and bearing teeth and claws is barreling towards your face your resolve wavers, and decide discretion is the better part of valor and you half-heartedly attempt to grab it to protect a shred of your dignity. It quickly vanished upstairs, and we ran upstairs after it, shutting the door behind us. Prepared, we had the rest of the doors shut and we figured it a simple matter to corner it.

We went looking, but couldn’t find it. It had vanished. We checked all the doors. They were secure. The windows were shut. We triple-checked underneath the couches and chairs. It was gone.

Had we missed it? Had it somehow feinted running upstairs? Impossible. We took to overturning the furniture, looking for tears in the upholstery it could have wormed into. And lo and behold, in the very last chair we overturned, a recliner, we discovered it wedged up underneath the seat, claws splayed and hooked into the fabric and unable to free itself. Hissing and spitting, Dave went for the cat, it deeply scratched him, and then leapt upstairs to the landing where we pursued and secured it.

It is only in retrospect that this folly was an omen of future events.

Peter was an alcoholic. We often rode home together after closing up work, and every night without fail, he would stop and pick up a six-pack of Rainier Ale, which Peter would call Green Death, for the green bottles it came in. Upon arriving home, Peter would disappear into his room for a few minutes and then emerge, bottle in hand, and for the rest of the night he would nurse it.

He had a dog named Coo he would call Coo Dog, an ill-trained setter-like animal that he loved. Coo would put his paws up on the counter when we would cook, and Peter would only gently scold him. Once, Dave made a sandwich and sat down with it to watch a television show and then remembered he forgot his drink and went back to the kitchen for it. By the time he had returned, Coo Dog had eaten his sandwich and Peter was sitting there laughing at Dave’s misfortune. Words were exchanged, with Peter taking umbrage that his dog did something wrong. It was clearly Dave’s fault for leaving his sandwich out for Coo to eat.

When Peter drank, he could get angry. He also blacked out. There was one night where Dave and I both came home late from our respective jobs on Peter’s day off to find him shuttered in his room as he often was unless his favorite show, McGyver, was on. It was late, and we went to bed.

In the morning, we awoke to a faint burning smell and Peter swearing in the kitchen. He had made a burrito the night before and placed it in the oven to warm, but he had passed out and it had cooked all night. Coming downstairs to investigate the commotion, the slightly charred burrito sat on the stove and Peter immediately lit into Dave for leaving the stove on all night and chancing a risk of fire.

Not being a morning person, Dave did not take this well and pushed back, having me to verify his alibi and pointed the finger back at Peter. Peter became even angrier until Dave pointed out that even if it had been him, there was no way he could ever make a burrito as good-looking as the toasted one on the plate, (and it was perfectly shaped and folded, well beyond Dave’s skill.)

Dave proceeded to suggest that perhaps someone had broken into the house after Peter had gone to bed, decided to make a burrito and pop it into the oven before starting to steal things, and then done the dishes before being scared away by some noise, locking door behind them.

Peter fumed at this suggestion, and knowing he was in the wrong, stalked out of the room. The burrito sat untouched on the stove for a day and a half before disappearing.

The Burrito Incident was shortly followed by the Recycling Incident, where Dave and I discovered and recycled the huge trove of empty Green Death bottles in Peter’s room, solving the mystery of why we never saw more than a single bottle a night in the recycling bin, which led to much shouting. Then there was the Rent Incident where we discovered he was skimming our rent, the Stereo Incidents, where Steve Vai and country twang battled mightily, and then finally, there was The Incident.

I was not home for The Incident.

My girlfriend and I were out to dinner and returned to the house to find Peter sitting uncharacteristically quiet on the couch watching TV. He didn’t even turn his head to acknowledge us as we entered, just monotonically intoning that there was a note on the dining room table for me. It was from Dave’s girlfriend, and I read it with increasing shock and frustration as I realized what it meant.

I walked around to talk to him about it, and he didn’t move his head a fraction of a millimeter to acknowledge me when I came into his field of view but just quietly said, “I want you two out by the end of the week.”

There wasn’t anything to say, so I left him and his black eye and went upstairs to grab a bag of clothes to spend the night elsewhere.

Dave and Peter had gotten into an argument about something that escalated to a fist fight so severe, Dave’s girlfriend called the cops to pull them apart. The cops arrived, discovered a really drunk Peter and an angry Dave and let Dave grab some stuff before decamping.

Work the next day for me was uncomfortable to say the least, and since there were other things about The Fish Store that I had become increasingly uncomfortable with, I tendered my resignation to Frank within a week. I regret I never told Frank about Peter, because Peter’s behavior at work had also become erratic, and Frank fired him just a few months later for performance issues.

The last time I saw Peter was at Frank’s memorial. He had not aged well. He walked with a cane and tongue cancer had robbed him of that organ and speech. He carried a small, hand-sized notepad, which he scribbled words on to communicate.

We are not our demons and in the forced silence, I apologized to him for the things that had happened in years prior, and we made our peace. I knew I’d never see him again.

He and I did have some good times together as friends, and I will remember the twinkling smile when we was deep in a personal joke.

And the Burrito Incident. I’ll never forget that.

He laughed about it, too.

Farewell, Frank Lull

Friday, I found out that Frank Lull of The Fish Store, died.

Upon hearing of his death, I experienced that abyssal emotion of losing something precious and unrecoverable. While I hadn’t seen or talked to him in years, I cannot fathom the person I would be had I not met him and spent some time as a recipient of some of his kindness, wisdom and humor. I most certainly would have made many, many more mistakes with my own business and taken much longer to learn how to interact with different types of people.

From hiring a gangly nineteen year-old with a bum knee on crutches whose most recent tropical fish husbandry skills were as a twelve year-old to hiring a burnt-out thirty-two year-old going through a divorce and the seeming implosion of his business, Frank was fucking awesome in a, “Wow, I’m really glad I met this guy,” sort of way.

As an example, Frank had pretty clear rules for staff and for customers.

The customer policy was posted in black in white in several locations around the store. When I was bored at work, I would read it just to kill a few seconds, and to savor the power they gave me to deal with unreasonable customers.

It spoke of guarantees and water tests, and refunds and exchanges. Often enough to be memorable but not so much as to forget it in its repetition, the store policy would be duly pointed to, and a dispute would be settled, sometimes grudgingly, and very rarely, angrily.

I remember one of the angry ones. He was a man deep down in a righteous well of high, agitated dudgeon, demanding the return of his money for some item he either didn’t want or didn’t need and he didn’t have a receipt. Policy be damned, he wanted his money back!

Frank, as I recall, was sitting upon one of the rusty, metal-framed with plywood tread stools, working on the schedule or an order sheet, with a pen in one hand poised above the paper and cigarette in the other, held aloft like he couldn’t decide if he was going to put it down again for a bit or take another drag right away. He looked up at the commotion, set his cigarette down on the many times over previously-scorched edge of the wood-grain patterned formica of the counter and stood with a smile, saying, “I’ll take care of this.”

Mister Angry shot a triumphant, subjugating look to the berated and flustered clerk, his eyes glittering with smug, anticipatory satisfaction of being made whole.

Frank inquired if the customer was aware of the store policy. He was.

Frank inquired if the customer understood the policy. He did.

Frank further inquired if the customer absolutely needed his money back instead of an exchange or credit. He demanded it.

Shrugging his shoulders, Frank said, “Okay,” and proceeded to open the cash register, count out the money into his right hand, stand up straight and then hold it up and out with arm fully extended and parallel to the counter. Mister Angry didn’t quite know what to do with this.

Now, the next time you’re in a store returning something and receive cash in exchange, notice how and where the money changes hands. It’s usually a transfer a few inches above the counter with arms bent or the money is counted out onto the counter.

Unsure of this new protocol, Mister Now Puzzled tentatively brought his hand up underneath Frank’s, likely expecting Frank to drop the money into it. Instead, Frank placed his money-fisted hand into the customer’s outstretched one and looked him in the eye while saying quietly and levelly, “Before I give this back to you, you have to promise me something.”

Confused and taken aback, “Uh…okay.”

“Don’t ever fucking come back into my store,” Frank said conversationally, firmly placing the funds into the man’s hand. Then he quietly turned and walked away, retrieved his cigarette for a quick drag, and sat back down to work like nothing had interrupted him.

From that, I learned that some customers aren’t worth the trouble.

Belying that gruff exterior, Frank was a very generous spirit in word and deed with a great sense of humor.

As an example, one of the assistant managers had been complaining about back pain for months. This same person had been using Frank’s loaned car, a 1970’s beast of a Cadillac, which made him the on-call person to swap for Frank’s van and head down to SeaTac to pick up overseas shipments on a moment’s notice.

One day, after a very long and very busy day, Frank came downstairs, (he lived behind and above the store for many years,) and tapped this guy on the shoulder a few minutes before closing and told him to grab the van to pick up a delivery. It was plain to see he was crestfallen at not being able to go home to relax and wasn’t looking forward to hefting around boxes filled with water, but he dutifully took the keys from Frank and headed towards the back door.

As soon as the door shut behind him, Frank started to laugh. “He’s in for a surprise.”

Moments later, the assistant manager rushed back in and thanked Frank profusely for the new mattress that was stuffed in the back of the van. Frank had heard him complaining about his bed and how it had been slowly exacerbating his back pain.

Frank was like that that way.

So Frank, thanks for hiring me, twice, and teaching me so many things about how to run a business, be kind to people and deal with idiots. You were a great man, I miss you and I wish I’d had one last opportunity to thank you personally.

I am forever in your debt and a better person for having known you.