To absent friends

 “I miss my friends tonight, their faces shine for me,
The clamor of their singing like some mad calliope.
Still ringing through the Lion’s Head until the morning light,
comedians and angels, I miss my friends tonight…

                                                                                – Tom Paxton, ‘I miss my freinds tonight”

My fortieth high school class reunion weekend commences tonight – two evenings and a Sunday afternoon of remembering, reflecting, reconnecting; relationships reconstituted and South 2rejuvenated. For some of us, festivities have already begun; coming into town a few days early, staying with friends:

Coffee and donuts with a friend, followed by a solitary, reflective walk through an old neighborhood.

Longtime besties and their respective spouses getting together.

A spontaneous, uproarious, karaoke outing lasting till the wee hours.

Old flames on a long-pined-for dinner date.

But tonight is our initial group outing; a mixer at a tavern near our old school. Beer and pizza, lively conversation. Scorekeeping; who is here, who isn’t, will be duly noted – some solemnly, some with a measure of relief.  Some will not be remembered by many, as it is in a large school, with over four-hundred-fifty graduates. The actual tally can be a daunting Screenshot (12)eye-opener: just over four-hundred located, 39 deceased, 42 listed as ‘missing’.

Casualty numbers from the war of time.

Toasts will be offered to those not with us, a few tears will be shed, some rueful laughter; memories will be shared.

“A song for every season, a smile in every fight,
comedians and angels, I miss my friends tonight…”

My hope is tonight will not be one dedicated to mourning, but of celebration – of what those no longer with us meant to us, individually, collectively.  We were more than classmates, not just friends. We were, in many ways true family.  Make no mistake, those no longer here left their marks.

Great anecdotal stories, heartfelt toasts, tears shed: legacies not taken lightly at this stage of life. The indifference and sadness of youth has given way to appreciation for what – who – was lost, and what gifts and opportunities those of us who have preserved, survived, have been allowed to enjoy.

“I wonder where they are now – could be anywhere
in hell, or California, or back in Sheridan Square!
They left us where they left us, so we put o ut the light,
comedians and angels, I miss my friends tonight…”

Some of those we will raise a glass to were not even members of our class, but dear friends a year ahead of us, a year – or even two – behind. Still part of us, members of our ’77 family.

“Each one drained a parting glass and sailed out to sea,
And what a crew of rogues they made, in gleeful anarchy!
They sang to the horizon a song no pen could write,
comedians and angels, I miss my friends tonight…”

Comedians and angels, indeed. Also rouges and connivers, charmers and brusque ne’er-do-wells. Not always the easiest to live with, not often recognized or saluted. The South 3innocuous, the brash; those humble, and the ego-driven that often drove us.

Like I said, family.

The list of those no longer with us is lengthy, and the names vary in memory and significance to each of us, but on behalf of all of us still here, still carrying the banner of the class of 1977.

Godspeed, my friends.

And thanks to you all.  We miss you, and hope we’ve done you proud.

“They sang to the horizon a song no pen could write,
comedians and angels, I miss my friends tonight.

Comdians and angels…I miss my friends tonight.”


Aged to perfection

I felt like such a grown up Friday night.

I’m fifty-two years old, but that’s how I felt spending time with an old friend talking into the wee hours of a July Saturday morning. My friend Mark lives in Lexington, Kentucky, and graciously opened his home to my wife, two sons and I for an evening layover as we made our way back to New Orleans from a week-long trip to Washington, D.C.

I could not have scripted a better last night on the road.

Mark and I became friends nearly forty years ago at South High School in Denver, Colorado – light years both physically and ontologically from our current home and life locales. A friendship that began on the common ground of South’s vaunted drama department has morphed over the years into something I can’t explain and won’t even try. Near daily Facebooking over the past few years, and regular emailing prior to that, has kept us in touch and even deepened the relationship.

After arriving at Mark’s condo and relaxing for a bit, we all went out to dinner at a very cool pizza place called The Mellow Mushroom, a place with a 60’s/70’s hippie motif, including wait staff adorned with tie-dyed shirts. The distinctive aromas and visuals made it easy to be mentally transported to 1977, our senior year at South. Sitting across the booth tabletop from one another was a flashback moment – our key hangout during high school was a Shakey’s Pizza Parlor – adding a certain funky symmetry to the evening even though the pizzas going by looked little like the pizzas of our teenaged palates.

While the setting took me back, the food was a good metaphor for the differences in our lives then-and-now. This was not a teenage choice between pepperoni and sausage, sausage or pepperoni; this was pizza for grown-ups! Mark ordered a red-skin potato pie topped with ranch dressing and sour cream (pretty good) while Amy and I split a Caesar salad pizza, a garlic pie topped off with (yep) Caesar salad and Roma tomatoes (very tasty). The boys played to predictable youthful form, sticking with more traditional fare; peperoni and bacon.

Give ‘em a few decades.

The conversation and great food flowed freely between the five of us, and after dinner and a tour of downtown Lexington, we returned to Mark’s place for more conversation and relaxation before a night’s rest and hitting the road back to New Orleans on Saturday morning.

As the evening progressed, son Sam turned in for the night as did my wife. Fifteen-year old Will hung around as an active participant in the proceedings, and Mark was only too happy to pick up on a couple of my memory threads and was happy to elaborate on them for my son’s benefit. Watching Will listen intently and quizzically to Mark fleshing out a different-perspective-picture of his father as a teenager was immensely entertaining.

As to any insights truly gleaned, you’ll have to take that up with Will.

Will’s evening ended (so I thought) when I sent him up to bed clutching the Samurai sword Mark had gifted him, only to find him still awake and admiring the sword when I went upstairs to go to bed about four a.m. Very cool.

Left alone to our own devices, the conversation between Mark and I flowed easily and ran the gamut; sports to politics, current geography to Internet relationships, plus our kids, jobs, dreams and aspirations. Life stuff, ‘now; stuff. Mark and I talked on into the night, each accompanied by a glass he periodically refilled with Woodford Reserve bourbon – a hand-crafted, small batch bourbon; the good stuff. No cheap-hooch harshness here, no burning or after-taste, a spirit filled with nuance. Subtle and very smooth.

This was not my daddy’s whiskey.

The bourbon flowed as smoothly as the conversation, augmenting the experience, not driving it. We aren’t twenty anymore, grabbing a twelve pack and seeing how many are left at the end of the night. This was a slow, savor it experience. Woodford is a sipping bourbon that someone took the time and effort to cultivate into something not run-of-the-mill. A conversational sipping bourbon that needed to find its own way to fruition, aging slowly to maturity, a mellow blend of flavors that goes down easy and leaves a lingering, satisfying impression.

That bourbon is a lot like our friendship.

We did very little true, hard-core, remember-when reminiscing. The here-and-now of our current lives is far more relevant and interesting to each of us; the life stories we are writing now much richer than the refined and reconstituted tales already told. We both realize that our high school experience, rich and cherished as it was, absolutely helped shape us – but definitely does not define us.

Not that we didn’t meander down memory lane a time or two – but those were brief sidetracks, mostly centering on bringing each other up-to-date on mutual friends one of us had kept closer tabs on than the other – and some of it was purely for Will’s enlightenment and amusement. We also talked about friends and teachers now departed, people who had a major impact on our lives, what they meant to us, how those experiences play out in our lives still.

Grown up stuff.

But this was not really a night about the past – been there, done that – it was mostly about today and tomorrow; what is to come. I think we both have a good appreciation for where we are in life, both know that there is still a lot more to come, a lot more to do and experience. More than what was, we talked a lot about our respective kids, a little about the vagaries of growing older. Life still to be lived.

My kind of Friday night: good friend, good bourbon, good conversation, all punctuated by an ample supply of hearty laughter. It was a great night that faded softly into an early morning bedtime, only to be rekindled again over a couple of mugs of fresh, black coffee a few hours later. Five hours or five years, we can seamlessly pick it up where we left off.

My family and I hit the road to New Orleans late Saturday morning, but not before snapping a few pictures and sharing a few more laughs. I left satisfied and grateful for the experience. My night in Lexington wasn’t so much about the memories of shared past, but the memory of that night with my friend Mark is certainly worthy of itself being remembered.

You see, special friendships are like exceptional, handcrafted and well-aged bourbon. They should be sipped, shared and savored whenever possible. With good friends, of course.

Here’s to ya, pal. And thanks for the memory.

In Memoriam: Kevin Kirke Fox, 1959 – 2010

Kirke was the first new kid I met at South High School, Denver, Colorado. It was thirty-six years ago, day one of high school. I was sitting in the first row of folding chairs in front of the small stage of room 204; the drama department. Drama was the class I was looking forward to the most in starting high school, but little did I know I was getting three decades of drama, comedy, and pathos…all wrapped up in the guise of a six-foot, one-inch cowboy – with matching drawl and quirky sense of humor perfectly matching mine.

I was hunched over in my folding chair, reading my schedule when all of a sudden I hear a booming voice; “Anybody sitting here?”
I look up, and looming above me is…a really big dude. “Nope,” I reply. He reached out his hand. “Names Fox…Kirke Fox.”

James Bond meets John Wayne; It’s how I’ll always remember Kirke.

For the next three years, we took every drama class that South offered together, participated in most every production, got into our fair share of mischief and drove a lot of people crazy.

I cherish every moment.


J. Joe Craft was our drama teacher; one of the most influential that we ever had. I know that because Kirke and I talked about that and him numerous times; he was a huge influence on our student and adult lives. A great teacher, and one that didn’t fall into the one-size-fits-all-behavior mode, J. Joe must have seen something in us that we didn’t because he rode us pretty hard at times – but also cut us a lot of slack along the way.

One of J. Joe’s rules was that if you were late to class, you had to get up on stage and act out a ‘death scene’ based on a scenario cooked up by the class. Kirke and I were both very punctual, and well into the quarter neither of us had yet to do a death scene. One day I got to class plenty early, and was talking to Mr. Craft. Kirke showed up in the doorway, motioning me to come out in the hallway. I did, and he proceeded to regale me with some goofy, pointless tale that I have long since forgotten. When I tried to get into class on time, he would grab my arm, keeping me in the hall to finish his story. Of course the bell rang, Kirke stops talking, we walk in to class, and immediately we get called on to do a death scene.

Afterwards I asked Kirke what his unfinished story was all about. “Nothin’” he said, “I just wanted to see you die on stage.” He punctuated the escapade with his trademark cackle.

Junior year drama class, we were all instructed to break up into groups and produce a complete one-act play; of course, the pairing of Kirke and I was a given. The other groups did their one act plays; our group completed two complete productions, one he directed, one I directed. Kirke’s directorial debut was a British farce called “The Still Alarm,” starring me, Tom Twining and Randy Hill. Kirke’s stage l instructions were all prefaced with playful, continual use of the affectionate nickname we had come up with for each other: ‘Jerk’.

This got to be confusing when it was more than just the two of us around, and others were drawn into our orbit.

Typical example of Kirke giving directorial instruction; “Hey, Jerk! You were supposed to pick up that book and then move to the other end of the table.” “Hey, Jerk! Why did you walk over there?” “What did you do that for – JERK?!” You get the idea.

One day after school we were rehearsing. Mr. Craft walked in, observed for a few minutes then told Kirke that his actors might be more responsive (and less confused) if he called them something other than ‘jerk’ all the time. Kirke pondered this for a moment, said “Okay” then turned back toward the stage and barked, “Hill – you’re jerk number one, and Twining, you’re jerk number two!” I was off stage awaiting my entrance, so I poked my head out and asked the logical question; “What about me?”

Without missing a beat, Kirke looked at me and said “You’re the biggest jerk of all, so we’ll call you ‘Big Jerk’!”

J. Joe just shook his head and walked away.

The one act play I directed was ‘From Paradise to Butte’ in which I cast Kirke as a lovesick cowboy from the small town of Paradise, Montana who decides to head to the ‘big city’ of Butte, Montana to find fame, fortune and love. The play was twenty years old when we did it, but it sure felt like it was written for him – which is I why I chose it.

Some years later, I was one of the few not so surprised to hear that Kirke was leaving metropolitan Denver, and moving to the western slope of the Rockies. Life imitates art, so to speak – in reverse.


Junior year found us doing a children’s theatre production that had us all as characters from Sesame Street – including Kirke as Big Bird. Picture that for a moment; it fits, right? Height, gangly presence. He had the voice down pretty good, and worked hard at his mannerisms – he nailed the part.

But in full costume, with his arm fully extended up the neck into the head so he could operate the beak, his mobility was…a work in progress. This wasn’t helped by the massive feet; big, floppy foam feet that had been attached to an old pair of his already large tennis shoes.

Small groups of us were traveling to elementary schools in the area to promote the show; for our group, Kirke was to be in costume, I was his non-costumed escort. At some old school over by Washington Park, we arrived and were sent to the boy’s restroom to get Kirke into costume. The process was just about complete, when a group of second grade boys burst into the restroom, and stop dead in their tracks at the sight of Big Bird standing in front of a urinal having his head adjusted. Having been drilled by J. Joe about the importance of not breaking character in children’s theatre, a startled Kirke began talking like a startled Big Bird; “Whoa! Hi kids! You gotta go back out…I have to go potttttttttty before coming to your classes!” as I am trying to shoo the kids back out into the hall.

The initial shock of seeing Big Bird in their john having worn off, seven or eight kids rush Kirke with delight and start hugging him, which knocks him backwards – which was a problem as the urinals were the old style, level with the floor type – which caused one of his big floppy feet to plunge into the urinal, splashing water all over. Struggling to keep his balance, and squawking and yelling ‘help’ (in character, of course) his now very wet foot is slopping urinal water all over the floor, all over the kids, me and up on the crepe paper yellow feathers at the bottom of his homemade-in-class costume.

By the time we got to our presentation, yellow feather dye was running down Big Bird’s orange-tights leg, and many of the feathers were matted and drooping. In the hugging fracas, he had also banged his hip and leg against the urinal, which caused Kirke to exaggerate his already loopy, natural and costumed gait. To top it off, the big, wet orange foot that plunged into the urinal was soaking wet, and the shoe and foam foot slapped at the floor with a ‘whap’with every step on the marble floors, while also squeaking like crazy everyplace we walked.

It was our last public road appearance as Big Bird and friend.


Halloween week our junior year, Kirke and I roomed together on the drama club trip to the statewide high school drama convention in Greeley. Our escapades of that weekend were many and varied, but there were a couple that stand out.

Arriving at our room in the Greeley Ramada Inn, Kirke popped open the door, said “I want this bed!” and proceeded to pull back the covers on it, only to discover a big, dead cockroach on his pillow, causing him to yell and fling pillow and dead bug across the room, and me to laugh. After retrieving the pillow and disposing of the bug, Kirke cautiously inspected the rest of the bedding, and finding nothing, flopped down on it – for about a second. Yelling another expletive he jumped to his feet and pointed at the plastic covering over the fluorescent light above the bed: it was ringed with dead bugs – hundreds of them.

We demanded and got a new room.

A bit later, we were at the hallway ice machine filling our ice bucket with a scoop, each chewing on an ice cube, when classmate Laure Glass walked up to us. Laure said “I’ve reading that chewing ice is a sign of sexual frustration.” Good thespians that we were, we knew a cue when we heard it; I immediately grabbed a couple of handfuls of ice, Kirke poured what ice was in the scoop into his pants, crammed ice cubes into his pockets, grabbed our bucket full of ice, and we raced back to our room – leaving Laure doubled over in laughter at the ice machine.

Back in our room, both laughing hysterically, Kirke realized he was a bit…chilled. Shaking wildly to get the ice out of his pants and emptying his pockets, ice cubes were flying everywhere; big dude, big pants, big pockets. The carpet in the entryway stayed damp all weekend.

Hotel ice machines still make me smile.


Shortly after returning from the convention, we decided to test out our new found prowess in stage fighting; something we took pride in learning in one of the classes Kirke and I attended at Greeley. We were at Shakey’s Pizza with a bunch of classmates, and as we were leaving, I stage whispered to Kirke to take a fake punch at me.

No sooner had we hit the sidewalk, I turned and Kirke lets loose with a (fake but convincing) roundhouse right, and I fall backwards onto the hood of his car. A couple of classmates got the idea, joined in on my fake beat down, and suddenly we realize a number of Shakey’s customers are at the window, staring in disbelief; somebody said that one of the customers had called the cops. To break the tension, Kirke decides to demonstrate to the pizza eaters that the whole thing was a gag – by jumping onto the roof of his car and tap dancing. In the meantime, I’m getting fake-punched, and we suddenly hear the wail of a police siren.

We all quickly scrambled into Kirke’s car and got out of there before being booked.


Kirke was also a romantic; an ‘old soul’ with a heart of gold. During our high school years, he became acquainted with some guy who sold flowers on the street corner. Whenever we were in the midst of a production at South, Kirke would stop to see this guy, buy a bunch of flowers, and then he and I would pass them out to all the girls we knew. It became ‘our’ tradition, though he rarely let me chip in on the flowers. Usually this meant a single carnation for each girl. One rainy night, during our run of Oklahoma!, the guy he knew had no desire to stand out in the rain, and sold Kirke his entire stock for $5. As we had no mob funeral to stock, that particular night, every girl we knew in the show got a small bouquet, a few got bigger bouquets.

By senior year, giving out the flowers occasionally got me a peck on the cheek from one of the girls. That, and the fact that he set up my senior prom date, means that Kirke somehow ersonally accounted for 93.2% of all the kisses I received during my high school life.

Oh that prom date thing was something else; Kirke was very concerned that I did not have a date to the prom, and kept begging – yes, begging me – to let him set me up with someone…anyone. It wasn’t all that big a deal to me, but it was to him. He knew I had asked someone to prom, and that it took a lot for me to ask her, but once she turned me down I had let it go. Not Kirke. The day before prom he found out about a mutual friend whose date had cancelled out, and insisted that we go to prom together. I’m glad he forced the issue.

One other note on Kirke’s sensitive side. At our senior year drama picnic at Mr. Craft’s cabin up in the mountains, we had a table where people could leave yearbooks, and anyone else could sign them. Late that afternoon Kirke came to me and said he saw Terry, the girl I had originally asked to prom, signing my yearbook, and thought I would want to see what she wrote.

When I read her inscription, I was very touched, and started getting a little teary-eyed. Kirke immediately grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, marched me out to his limo (yeah, his stretch limo) and threw me into the backseat, telling me to take a little time to put myself together. I don’t know if he thought I was going to say or do something that I would regret, or he just didn’t want me to embarrass myself or what – but I took some time to just lay there in the back seat of that limo just thinking.

It was a nice gesture, and I have no idea how long I stayed back there, but what I really remember was that I kept hearing Kirke’s voice outside the car; “Nah, he just ate something that made him sick – he’ll be out in a bit.” “Leave him alone! You touch that door and I’ll break your arm.” And a few other choice comments to people who were looking for me for whatever reason.

Keep in mind, we were seniors in high school. That tells you a lot about the kind of guy Kirke was.


That limousine; how his family came into possession of a 1972 stretch limo is a story in itself. Our high school friends probably remember that thing; it was quite a vehicle to tool around in. One Sunday afternoon of our senior year, Kirke calls me up and asks if I would like to go for a ride with he and two girls, one of whom was a junior I knew, the other girl I didn’t. “Sure” I said.

A short while later, Kirke and the girls pick me up and the four of us just start driving around. “Where are we going?” I ask. “I don’t know, I thought we’d just drive around” replies Kirke with a shrug. We drive and talk, and pretty soon we are on the outskirts of Denver; it seems like he has destination in mind, though Kirke says otherwise. All of a sudden, he starts engaging me in some ridiculous conversation about something, then tells me I’m crazy when I disagree with him. Without provocation he continues to call me ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’ and suddenly we are pulling into a long driveway by a sign that reads ‘Ft. Logan Psychiatric Hospital’.

He pulls the limo up in the circular drive in front of the main office, puts it in park, and tells me to ‘get out’. “I’m not getting out” I reply. The girls are just looking incredulously at each other and us as the conversation continues back and forth along the same lines; “Get out! You’re crazy!” “I’m not getting out! You’re crazy!” Then, Kirke gets out of the limo, walks over to the passenger side, drags me out of the back seat, locks the door so I can’t get back in, runs back to the driver’s side and starts to leave – all in view of a couple of guys in white coats out having a smoke.

He spins quickly around the circular driveway, pulls up in front of me, pops the locks and the window and says “Will you get in here and quit messing around! We have to go!” all while laughing hysterically, which I joined in on as we roared on back down the driveway toward the highway. Even after twelve years in radio, I was never involved with a gag that required so much set up.

Oddly, neither girl went out with either of us again.


There are so many more stories to tell; road trips that Kirke took to visit me when I lived in rural Missouri; other road trips to both my weddings in Minnesota. There were late night phone calls made and received across the miles; letters, cards and photos that he sent with great regularity. The basic human decency and friendship of a couple of good friends.

To his family: Kirke left an indelible mark on those he came in contact with. Thank you for sharing him. He will always be a part of me.


As I finish writing this, the tears, the smiles and memories are all jockeying for prominence. Kirke, my friend, I never did tell you just how much our friendship meant to me. I hope along the way I showed it to you in some way – you gave me so much throughout the years.

All I can do now is say goodbye in the most appropriate way I can think of: Rest in peace…ya Big Jerk. ;-{)