Part 1 of a 6 part serial from Lou Aronica and The Story Plant.
I never was the kind of guy who was big on outward expressions of emotion. When you grow up in Ice Land (which in this case is a pejorative for the household I was raised in, not the place where Bjork comes from), you’re trained that way. But in the time since Daz died, I find that just about anything can bring me to the verge of tears. The outreached hand of someone I’m meeting, a television commercial advertising baby food, the guy who plays the steel drum at the entrance to Central Park (especially if he’s playing Ode to Joy, which I realize is like getting choked up over Barry Manilow, but it just happens). And the reminders, of course. There’s a city, a country, a universe full of them, any one of which could inspire another bout of melancholy.
Daz would laugh if he saw me this way. Maybe even say something to make me feel ridiculous about it. At the same time, though, I know (at least now I know) that he’d appreciate it.
I suppose at some point his passing will be easier for me to take, that I’ll adjust to the ache I feel whenever I realize for the thousandth time that he isn’t here anymore. Even though the idea is just this side of inconceivable right now, it has to happen, I suppose. I really hope it doesn’t, though. I’m not sure what I’d do if the hurt was gone too.
I guess you always find out eventually that when everything is going according to plan this probably means your plan wasn’t a very good one. Still, in the spring of ’13, the plan seemed awfully sweet. It went like this: throw together a huge bash for our twenty-eighth birthdays (a week apart in April), pick up a couple of Clios for the BlisterSnax campaign, accept lots of kudos while feigning humility, do a snappy and witty interview in Ad Week, impress the pants (literally) off of Carnie Brinks and Michelle Dancer, and get our own agency up and running and doing major billing by the time we were thirty. Tough in the current market, maybe, but all of it entirely reachable with the right level of dedication, the prodigious application of imagination, and the genuine commitment to make it happen.
Frankly, it didn’t seem daunting to us in the least. I don’t know, maybe it was just me who didn’t find it daunting. Or even consider it particularly important. That was one of the hundreds of things I never found out, though I can at least credit myself with making the effort in the end. I’m sure the subject would have come up if we hadn’t run out of time, but there were so many other things in line ahead of it. To tell you the truth, “the plan” didn’t really enter my mind at all during those final weeks.
Daz and I had been running buddies since right before our freshman year at college at the University of Michigan. I’d arrived from the Gold Card nurturance of Scarsdale, NY, an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Westchester where my parents settled when I was a little kid. He got to school on a soccer scholarship from Manhattan, Kansas, home of Kansas State University and maybe forty or fifty other people. He was long and wiry, accustomed to hours and hours of running on the pitch, a word that, before we met, I had no idea referred to a soccer field. I managed to pack all of my energy into a compact sixty-six inches and, while college-level organized sports eluded me, I stayed at least relatively trim through three or four days a week in the weight room to offset what had always been a considerable appetite.
We met at one of those initiation weekends where they threw a bunch of us together so we could bond and feel like we knew someone before stepping foot on campus. They sent us to a KOA campground in Ypsilanti (a word that I discovered Daz found curiously funny) and stuck us in four-person tents based on no criterion we could identify other than gender. After that weekend, I never again saw the two other guys who’d been assigned to camp with us. One was named Don, but Daz and I quickly took to calling him “Juan” because from the moment the bus dropped us off, he was in search of softer and decidedly feminine sleeping arrangements. I can’t remember the other guy’s name, but we nicknamed him “The Inebriator” because of his seemingly monomaniacal desire to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible. I’m definitely not a teetotaler, but it was a little frightening to watch this guy go at it. He snatched drinks from whomever he could with absolutely no concern for what the combination did to his body other than the obvious.
The weekend started innocuously enough. Daz was kicking a soccer ball around with a few guys when I approached and suggested we turn to a “real game” like football. This being the University of Michigan, others took me up on this suggestion quickly, and we walked off to get something going together. As I turned, Daz kicked the soccer ball at my head, not hard enough to hurt, but definitely hard enough to attract my attention. I looked back at him, throwing him my what the hell? face as I did.
“Thanks for breaking up my game,” he said sharply.
“You don’t play football?”
“I can kick your ass in football but I was playing soccer.”
That seemed a little intense. “Feel free to continue,” I said, shaking my head and going to catch up with the other guys. As I turned away, the ball struck me in the head again, this time just a tiny bit harder.
“You’re gonna have to stop doing that,” I said, a bit miffed, throwing the ball back at him.
“Just wanted you to know I could.”
What was that supposed to mean? At this point, I was a little concerned about spending the night in the same tent as this guy. I began to wonder if Juan had found someone with a friend.
“I’m impressed,” I said sarcastically. “Do you know any other tricks?”
Daz smiled, which totally changed his expression, and did a back flip before bicycle-kicking the ball straight at my gut. I caught the ball before it did any damage, but the entire exercise made me laugh. And I had to admit that I was a little impressed.
“That was pretty good,” I said.
Daz chuckled. He seemed to be having a very good time with this. “Thanks. I can also eat an entire cherry pie in a minute and twenty seconds.”
I had definitely never had a conversation like this before.
I threw my hands out at my sides. “I’m humbled.”
“Don’t be,” he said casually. “I’m sure there’s something you’re really good at, too.”
I heard some of the other guys joking with each other in the distance. “So listen, are you coming to play football with us or what?”
Daz shook his head. “Nah. I heard some girls were going to be singing around a campfire pretty soon. Possibilities, you know?”
I looked off toward where the football game was gathering and shrugged. “Campfire sounds cool.”
Anyway, by midnight that night we were back in our tent, having gained nothing from our campfire experience beyond a deeper appreciation of the Joni Mitchell songbook. Juan presumably was sharing a sleeping bag with someone who’d bought his act, and The Inebriator was completely passed out on the other side of the tent, occasionally twitching.
“You don’t think he needs medical attention, do you?” Daz said.
“There’s nothing a doctor can do for this guy. I hope the infirmary is well-stocked with Tylenol, though. He’s gonna need a whole bottle of the stuff tomorrow morning.”
The Inebriator rolled over, belched loudly – which caused both of us to retreat to the furthest corner of the tent – and then stopped moving again. Daz and I just looked at each other and laughed.
We hung out together the rest of the night. We’d already shared an affinity for burnt hot dogs and a disdain for girls whose singing voices were completely different from their speaking voices. Now we kicked back with a couple of beers (they were Coronas because we thought that was the brew of champions at the time) and we talked about a lot of things: music (he liked John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson, which I forgave because he also liked Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie), girls (he had a thing for tall, lanky blondes; back then I was an absolute sucker for the dark Mediterranean look), sports (he was okay with the fact that I liked watching baseball even though he thought it was too slow – which I thought was hilarious coming from a soccer player; I was okay with the fact that he liked the Dallas Cowboys, even though it went against every instinct I had as a Giants fan) and then some more about girls.
“Met anyone you want to date yet?” I said.
“I’m a pretty picky guy.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“There are a lot of really good looking women on campus, though.”
“Kind of an amazing number, actually.”
“It’s good to be picky, though.”
“I totally agree with you.”
Daz took a pull on his beer and laughed. “Especially when none of them have shown any interest in me whatsoever.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
I think I spent the next twenty minutes trying to explain to him how exciting baseball could be if you knew how to watch it. A few beers later – these scammed off the people in the next tent because we were out – things got quiet for a few moments. That made me think about the way I’d left home the week before, something that kept creeping back into my mind.
“Do you know that my mother didn’t bother to come with me to the airport before I flew out here? She gave me this leather backpack and told me she had a lunch date she couldn’t break. Of course that was a freaking love-fest compared to what my older sister did. I tried to get together with her before I left and she couldn’t find the time to fit me in her schedule. Not a single minute to say goodbye to me until Christmas.”
I shook my head thinking about it and looked over at Daz. He just screwed up his face and said, “Aw man, families suck.”
Exactly what I was thinking, even though I’d never quite phrased it that way.
“You got that right,” I said. We clinked beer bottles and moved on to more interesting topics. I don’t remember what exactly. Probably something to do with all-girl sports bands. The weird thing was that Daz’s offhand comment had made me feel better. Maybe it was his expression when he said it. Maybe it was the seven beers. Or maybe it was the way it just cut to the heart of what I was feeling. Regardless, I didn’t think about my mother or sister again the rest of the night.
Daz and I didn’t have any classes together that first year and we lived in dorms far away from each other, but we stayed in touch. As the second semester drew on, we started going out drinking more and even pulled all-nighters together at the library during midterms. It wasn’t easy to keep Daz focused on studying, and sometimes his distraction could be a little distracting, but for whatever reason, I found that I worked harder when he was around. It was probably because if I did an efficient job of studying we could grab a couple of beers and play a round or two of foosball before crashing.
It was during this time that we decided to apply to be roommates for our sophomore year. I was living with two guys, one of whom had an all-too-unhealthy fascination with controlled substances and the other who had an all-too-unhealthy aversion to showers. Daz got along fine with his roommates, but was certain that one of them would wind up in maximum security before the year was up. Rooming together was not only the prudent thing to do, but I think we both knew we’d have a great time doing it.
And we did. Whether it was playing practical jokes on the girls down the hall, taking on all comers in an air hockey tournament, or starting unthinkable line dances at a local pub, we were just about inseparable after that. Daz majored in Commercial Art and I headed toward a degree in Marketing. In the middle of our sophomore year, we volunteered to do some posters for the spring blood drive and the job sort of took on a life of its own. Daz drew a picture of a guy staggering off of a table after giving blood and I paired it with a line that read “Get High for Free!” Then Daz drew a picture of a girl with four IVs sticking out of her arms and I gave it the headline, “What the Hell Do You Need Five Quarts of the Stuff for Anyway?” We did a few more like that and when we delivered them, the woman who assigned us the project seemed a little freaked. I don’t think this was at all what the school had in mind. Somehow we fast-talked her into using them, though – and they got thirty-four percent more blood donors than they’d ever gotten before. From that point on, we became the unofficial promo people for more than a dozen school organizations, which got us invited to an awful lot of parties.
Kelsey Bonham, who commissioned us to do the cover of the literary magazine, was the one who dubbed us “Flash and Dazzle.” She threw it out when she passed us on campus one day and Daz turned to me and said, “We should have thought of that ourselves, you know.” How these things make their way around, I’ll never quite understand (it was the first thing I blamed on social media), but soon after, it seemed that everyone we knew was calling us by that nickname. By this point, we’d also adopted it ourselves. We carried it from Ann Arbor to Alphabet City in Manhattan to our fabulous co-ops on the Upper West Side to those days in late March 2013 when everything seemed to be going according to plan.
Rich Flaster and Eric Dazman. Flash and Dazzle. Flaccid and Spazman on our bad days. Strutting down the road to (benevolent, of course) world domination.
We never once thought about stumbling.
I certainly never expected to be sitting here by myself wondering how this could have happened while just about anything could bring tears to my eyes.
Daz was gone. And I missed him like crazy.
Buy Flash and Dazzle at Amazon: