Monday, March 7, 2011

Because I Miss You

Robin Stuckert was a musician. His hero was Neil Young. His music a mixture of bluegrass and folk. I wouldn’t call him tall, but he was taller than me, and much – too much – smaller framed. His humor was dry and witty, sculpted by years as a host of old-school talk radio. He loved books, particularly old, historic ones, and vinyl LPs and The Love Doctors and coffee with a touch of honey and milk. He especially enjoyed sitting with good friends on the couch, listening to records, chain smoking, talking about nothing, and swapping ideas about the universe and karma and why success changes people. It was one of the things I loved most about him.

His talent and intellect went largely unnoticed and unappreciated, but I don’t think he cared, though it seemed to make things harder on him. He rented a house on the street adjacent to the art museum where he and I worked. Whenever the band practiced, the night usually turned into a block party of sorts. Sometimes I wrestled myself away from the kids and the husband, sometimes the husband came along. Robin played drums on a song or two, but Muscadine Wine was essentially comprised of three guitar-banjo-mandolin-bass players, an occasional keyboard player, and periodic “guests” on bongos, tambourines, and what not. There was always a house full of warm, down-home people. It was a good time.

He’d come from parts of Ohio that still idolized and admired John Chapman, a man the rest of us remember, if we remember him at all, as Johnny Appleseed. In addition to the hours Robin and I spent talking about talk radio and free speech and vampires and how I could bring comedy to an otherwise serious novel, he told me stories about John Chapman and how the things he’d done had changed the course of the country. With his apple orchards, he’d not only spread goodwill, he’d sprinkled the countryside with the main ingredient for the settlers’ beverage of choice: cider. Yes, the “good” kind. He also helped establish towns that eventually became cities, banded people together in times of war with restless natives, and shared wealth and knowledge to all who came in contact with him. In essence, he spread love. Whether Robin consciously strived to be like Chapman, or Neil Young, or John Lennon, it was a vibe I always got from him. Love. Peace. Hope. That was another thing I loved about him.

Robin had heart and lung trouble in 2007, the year I spent in my own hell with kids and book signings and family issues. We talked as much as we could. Another friend and I went to see him shortly after he was released from the hospital in early 2008. I sat across from him at the table, but, even at that distance, he said the cigarette smell on our clothes made it hard to breathe. We didn’t stay long. It was agony saying goodbye, for all of us. I saw him once more after that, heading south near Congress and the airport. He was driving his van. We waved and gestured that we’d call. A couple days later, he collapsed, and the world lost a friend.

To be accepted for all my flaws is all I’ve ever hoped to gain from this life. Robin offered that to me in spades. I never felt threatened or judged, only embraced and understood. When you come across someone who touches you like that, they stay with you. It’s been three years, and I still forget sometimes that I can’t just pop in on a Monday morning like I used to and pour a cup of coffee and sit and laugh at The Love Doctors and talk about how, when we make a lot of money, we’re going to give it away to schools or public radio. I really miss that. I really miss him.

Someday I hope to write the screenplay for the movie Robin always wanted to make about Johnny Appleseed. I took notes. Until then, this small, overdue, virtual remembrance will have to carry forth his message. It’s not nearly enough, but Robin would understand. I think he’d even blush. And give me a big hug. Then he’d pour another cup of coffee, turn on the radio, light one up, and smile…

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