03 March 2015

The Burney Boy or Remembering an Old Friend From the Backwoods

Beautiful downtown Burney.
You're sailing softly through the sun
in a broken stone age dawn.
You fly so high.
I get a strange magic,
oh, what a strange magic,
oh, it's a strange magic.

From 'Strange Magic' by Electric Light Orchestra

I had a roommate in college for two years named Dennis. He was from a small logging town in the far north of California called Burney. Dennis and I were great friends for a time sharing a fondness for consuming large quantities of alcohol. We went on a few road trips together, one to San Francisco for a Doobie Brothers concert. This trip included a stop at a strip club which I got into with a fake ID. We also made one trip to his hometown. On the way we stopped by the side of the road to relieve ourselves. I saw my first porcupine and being inebriated decided to pet it. Dennis discouraged the notion most vehemently and I thought better of it.

As I recall Dennis did not have a particular happy home life growing up and was out of the house before finishing high school. He was determined to shed himself of very small town Burney. He had done work logging from an early age and was determined to escape that life. This made a college degree of vital importance to him. Dennis had a fondness for women, which was not unusual for a college student, but he was what one could "successful" with the ladies, which not all college boys are. In truth most of his girlfriends were also from Burney and they were invariably younger than him. No matter, Dennis never was without female companionship when he wanted it.

Dennis and I had long chats on all variety of topics. I had just emerged from the Berkeley of the Sixties which was about as different from Burney as can be imagined. At least within the same state. There was something about our very different experiences that caused us to be intrigued by one another. Dennis and I would talk and drink and literally howl at the moon together. He chewed tobacco and I chain smoked Winstons. Both of us enjoyed a hearty laugh and we could crack each other up, not to mention other people.

But we grew apart. Quickly. Dennis had a temper and was not averse to engaging in fisticuffs. I was a sensitive lad and bristled at his extreme moods. I got into journalism and a new set of friends. Dennis focused…well, I’m not sure. I rarely saw him after he moved out of the house we had shared. I got an angry, threatening phone call from him when I was slow in changing a bill over to my name. That put the final period on our friendship. I only saw him once in passing after that and he didn't acknowledge me.

It’s been at least 36 years since I’ve seen then but I think about him from time to time. I still have many sayings and expressions I picked up from him including: “I’m going to brush my tooth,” “That feels better than a pre-party fart,” and something he  said about the size of his manhood, “I may not be able to satisfy ‘em but I can tickle ‘em to death.”

I recently googled Dennis (how did people ever find out about old friends, classmates, co-workers, ex girlfriends, etc. before the internet?). There wasn’t much. Indeed all I could find was that he was living in Burney. Damn that felt sad.  I also saw an obituary for a woman who died in 2004 from “respiratory complications arising from esophageal carcinoma” at age 41. Among the named survivors were Dennis who was listed as the deceased's fiance.

It’s been almost 11 years since the woman died but I still felt bad for Dennis. I also felt bad that he was still in Burney, though I suppose I shouldn’t. He may be very happy there. I can’t know his full story. Maybe he didn’t go back to logging. Maybe he did and found that he was happier logging than anything else. Maybe he found another love and is living happily with her.

Lots of maybes.

I wish I’d parted on good terms with Dennis. We had a friendship that was like a romance that flames very hot for short time. I guess you could say it was passionate.  Perhaps it ended so abruptly because our differences were insurmountable our we did the growing apart that is usually spoken of regarding romances. It's strange how so many people will pass through our lives and be so important to us for so short a time. Many of them we will always think of, if briefly, no matter how many years go by.

Whenever I think of Dennis its fondly. Sure hope he’s happy.

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