Letter From Milo: Shiny Suit Man

April 4th, 2021

A couple of weeks ago I was sharing a few bottles of wine with a very good friend, who I’ll call Bruce Diksas, to spare him any embarrassment. We were mildly intoxicated, sitting in my back yard, enjoying the fading sunshine and the early evening breezes.

Later, there were steaks to be grilled, potatoes to be baked, a salad to be tossed and more bottles to be opened. There may have even been a little something to smoke, too.

It should have been a wonderful evening – except that it wasn’t.

You see, there was a phone call we were going to make and neither of us was looking forward to it.

“Should we give him a call now?”

“Let’s wait a while. Have another glass of wine. We’ll call in a few minutes.”

“Good idea.”

“Man, I hate this shit.”

“I’m not too fucking happy about it, either.”

The call we were fearful of making was to our old and dear friend, Wayne Gray, who was dying of lung cancer in Venice Beach, California. We had made the same call the week before and it was heartbreaking. His ex-wife, Mila, who had taken Wayne in when he needed help most, was in tears when she answered. She was so choked up that it was difficult to understand her, but she managed to convey the information that Wayne was too weak to use the phone. Besides, he had lost the use of his voice. He had also lost the use of his arms and legs.

“Tell Wayne we love him!” I shouted into the phone before losing the connection.

That was not a good day. When I told Bruce what Mila had told me, he sadly shook his head. Neither of us spoke for a while. There was nothing to say.

My intuition told me this was not going to be a good day, either. I had a hunch Bruce felt the same way. Between the two of us there were a lot of long silences, plenty of sighs, much head scratching and a fair amount of gazing off into the distance. Finally, Bruce broke the silence. “Hey, did I ever tell you the story about the time this mean-looking biker caught Wayne giving his girl a back rub in Oxford’s?”

“About 100 times. But I’d like to hear it again.”

“It was about three in the morning. We had been drinking most of the day and were having a nightcap at Oxford’s. Wayne spots this chick and…”

Wayne was one of the first people I met in Chicago. And, for a time, he was my roommate. In the early ‘70s, Wayne, Bruce and I shared a coach house on Burling, just south of Armitage. The rent was $80 a month, roughly $27 each. Some months we had trouble coming up with the money. Those were not our peak earning years.

It was through Wayne and Bruce that I met everyone of consequence on the North Side of Chicago. They introduced me to bartenders, drug dealers, bookies, gamblers, artists, writers, musicians, cab drivers, hot dog vendors, quite a few very attractive waitresses and a good criminal lawyer. Many of these fine folks are friends to this day.

“Should we make the call?”

“In a minute. Let’s have another glass of wine first.”

“Good idea.”

“Hey,” I said, “did I ever tell you about the time Crazy Angela tried to do Wayne in with a beer bottle?”

“About 100 times. But I wouldn’t mind hearing it again.”

“It must have been about five in the morning. I was asleep when these wild noises woke me up. They were coming from Wayne’s room. So I get up to check it out and there’s Crazy Angela sitting on top of Wayne and smacking him with a beer bottle. Wayne’s trying to reason with her but she keeps on trying…”

Wayne was an extremely intelligent man but he hid his intelligence behind an endearingly goofy exterior. As a young man he felt the call and spent a year or two in a Benedictine monastery before coming to his senses. He explained that he was concerned that his fondness for fucking women might interfere with his responsibilities at the priory.

Wayne went on to earn a Master’s Degree in mathematics and, for a time, made his living in the insurance business. His true calling, however, was massage. When he and his then-wife, Mila, relocated to California, in the early ‘80s, Wayne bought a first-class massage table and set himself up as an unlicensed, unbonded, independent, outdoor massage specialist on the Boardwalk at Venice Beach. Rumor had it that his favorite customers were women.

Bruce reached over with the wine bottle, filled our glasses, and said, “Fuck it, let’s make that call.”

“Might as well.”

When Mila answered the phone she said that Wayne had passed away a few days earlier. She told me that she hadn’t called me because she was still in shock. She had Wayne’s body cremated and planned to take his ashes back to her home in the Philippines. When she died she was going to have his ashes buried with her.

The Old Bastard in the Shiny Suit came for Wayne on the evening of August 5th, 2010. I wish I could have seen him once more before he died. His friendship was precious to me.

Well, I guess there’s no getting around it. Sooner or later, all of my friends are going to die. The Old Bastard in the Shiny Suit makes no exceptions, accepts no excuses and takes no rain checks. You come, you stay a while, you go, and you try to leave some good memories behind. Wayne Gray left some real good ones.

I believe it was W.C. Fields who said, “It’s a tough old world. You’re lucky to get out of it alive.” I doubt if luck has anything to do with it.

After I told Bruce what Mila had told me, neither of us spoke for a while. We were each sifting through our memory banks, calling up bits and pieces of Wayne’s life. Finally, I broke the silence.

“Hey, did I ever tell you about the weekend Wayne worked as a doorman at the Black Pussycat tavern on Clark Street.?”

“About a 100 times. But I’d like to hear it again.”

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