Love and Death in Charlottesville

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Photographs of Old Cville by Paul Whitehead

True Stories by Jamie Dyer

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Howard Be Thy Name

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In 1992, at 30 years old, I was sick of Hell and decided I wanted to enter a Trappist monastery for a month long retreat. That's not what this story is about but it plays into how the story starts. It took some time for the monastery to respond (what's time to a monk?) but a year later, they told me I was free to come on up and hang with the Cistercians.

The night before I left for my retreat, I went to Eastern Standard (later known as Escafe), a well known local eatery/bar, to take in a little secular life before cloistering myself away for 30 days. I sat down at the bar next to an old friend, Steve Wiener, and we proceeded to catch up with each other.

Before I continue with the tale, Steve Wiener needs to be brought to your attention.

I first met Steve in the 1980s when I was a waiter at The Roasted Bean, a coffee joint on 4th St. in Charlottesville. Steve was a large, loud, brilliant, funny, crazy, wise, obnoxious, poetic, manic, prophetic Jew from Brooklyn who had landed in Charlottesville after dropping out of MIT (his uncle was Norbert Wiener, coiner of the term "cybernetics") and then dropping out of UVa. Though I'd seen him around town for some time, my first personal encounter with him was in the commercial sphere when he walked into my restaurant during one of his low cycles. His eyes were sunken in, he was wearing one shoe and his shirt was buttoned incorrectly. He sat at a table and I brought Oedipus a menu.

"I'm looking for Jesus", Steve said to me, somewhat urgently.

"If you wait right here, maybe he'll find you", I replied.

"Well, can I have an egg salad sandwich while I'm waiting?", asked the practical seeker.

Steve and I became friends instantly. He was source of information and insight on an endless number of topics. He liked me because I brought girls to his house, one of whom became his muse. You couldn't stumble through a drunken doorway without bumping into The Muse in Charlottesville for a time. She liked it here. Back then, anyway.

Steve was really loud when he wanted to be. Really, really loud. Some mornings, Steve would stand on his exterior balcony and repeatedly yell "FREEDOM!" at the top of his voice. He was calling his cat (named Freedom) but the neighborhood didn't know this. This was all long before Mel Gibson stole Steve's riff, which I know with 99% certainty that he did. So if you lived on Belmont Ave. in the 80s/early 90s and heard "FREEDOM!" ringing through your neighborhood, that was my friend Steve.

Later in life, Steve would come hear my band, The Hogwaller Ramblers, at Fellini's on Sunday nights. Originally, The Hogwaller Ramblers were a small 4-piece group (bass/sing - Rick Jones, drums/sing - David Wellbeloved, accordion/sing - David Goldstein, your humble scribe - guitar and yellin') with no amplification. Over the course of weeks/months, Steve would occasionally yell "JAMIE IS GOD!" while my band played. His bellow would fill the room and scare people. It scared me the first few times but we learned to ignore it. Life went on and everything changed again. Bands broke up, formed and reformed, people got in fights and got married and the like.

So to rejoin our tale, Steve and I are now sitting at Escafe and I'm heading out to Hermit Hollow in the morning. Steve is intrigued by my monastic move and the subject turns to religion and such.

"Do you think God has a name?", Steve asked me.

"God's name is Howard", I responded.

"How do you know that?", Steve asked me, guardedly.

"Our Father, who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name", I tendered as proof.

Steve was thunderstruck, both by having missed the obvious joke for all those years and by the fact that God's name might indeed be Howard.

I go do the monkesque thing for a month and then come back to this version of reality. I learned that Steve had checked himself into the local psychiatric facility while I was gone, his version of a monastery. He got out about two weeks after my return. I ran into him Downtown in the parking lot that's now covered by a skating rink. He was annoyed at me.

"You son of a bitch. I couldn't get that Howard thing out of my head for days", he semi-accused.

I felt bad. But not all the way. Steve had a long history of perseverating at the drop of a name. I couldn't take responsibility for his crazy but I did feel for the guy. Life's hard when your brain is a talking roller coaster that doesn't shut up for ten seconds.

Life rolled on some more. And kept rolling. Steve died in the late 90's. And then a lot of people died in the next seven or eight years after Steve and none of the right ones either. Siblings, other family, friends, old loves...my people were leaving. By 2008 or so, your humble scribe was so beset by sorrow and heartbreak that everything seemed not very real.

I played a lot of gigs then, as many as I could, smaller and larger. While playing during one of those gigs, I heard an old, familiar, booming voice in my head, out of nowhere:

"JAMIE IS GOD!"

I think I might have stopped playing for a second. I don't recall. I do recall being both awestruck and scared by clearly hearing my dead friend Steve's voice in my audio biochannels. He was getting back at me from beyond the grave for the Howard thing. I was also scared for my own sanity. Everyone else always had been so it was about time I joined the crowd. Beyond hearing music that I could sometimes turn into a song, I'd never had auditory hallucinations before and haven't experienced them since. Pretty sure, anyway.

Who am I going to ask to verify my own senses? Not you, certainly. You're a very nice person but that's certainly not a job for you.

I haven't heard from Steve since. I guess we're even.

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