Sunday, February 02, 2020

Happy Birthday up There...

It was with great sadness that I heard  my friend Bob Mandan had passed away.  I don’t have the words to fully express yet another loss of a good friend, so I will just repost a birthday blog I wrote six years ago. Rest peacefully, Mandan.   

I repost this article I wrote about my friend from his birthday in 2012, preceded by this editors note written today.

There are friends, there are people you have worked with and then there is a person like Bob who is both. I recall so many fun times together when we roamed with a group of actor/publicists/writers called the "Terrible 10".  We got that name because we were a terrible table of ten if you were sitting next to us at a restaurant.  We laughed the entire time and were not quiet about it.  If you were looking for a quiet evening's meal we were not the table you wanted to sit close to.
Happy Birthday Mr. Mandan. I cherish your friendship.
Nothing has changed in the way I feel about you since I wrote the blog below.

It's GroundHog Day
On my top ten list of movies "GroundHog" day is near the top.   And here it is in real life, Groundhog day 2012.  But I think the Punxsutawney rodent gets too much attention today.  It is a special day for other reasons.

Robert Mandan, Bob Campbell, Jay Johnson, Jay Sandrich
Opening night of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only"
It is also the birthday of my friend Robert Mandan: "Better Dressed!" 
Only a true SOAPY will get that reference, but it is how I know my friend Mandan. He is better known to some as Chester Tate on SOAP. 

Robert Mandan
I remember when I moved to Los Angeles I was with my  vacationing folks having dinner at the  Toulca Lake Marie Callendars. Although I didn't know his name at the time Robert Mandan was also waiting for a table.  Mandan is one of those actors I had seen in many staring roles. Bob was my first "celebrity siting" in my new home town.  Bob received the ultimate compliment my Father had for working actors when he whispered to me, "That guy has been in a gillion films." Indeed my friend has been in a "gillion" things. Take a look at his IMDB - Robert Mandan. That impressive list is only the film and television roles. There is an even more impressive list of stage productions that Bob has done, including an Ovation Award for "The CareTaker" and a critically acclaimed portrail of "King Lear", not to mention three Broadway shows. 
 I had no clue that soon I would be working with that "guy who has done a gillion films". We became friends almost immediately.  For a time we had the same personal manager, the same publicist and hung out with the same group of television actors.  We were known as the "terrible ten" because of fun we used to have at various Los Angeles restaurants. The members of the social group changed but Bob and I have remained friends all this time. 
Bob and his wife Sherry have been impromptu godparents to both my sons.  My oldest son will say, "How is Mandan?" even today.
Robert Mandan in "Barney Miller"
Chester Tate and Benson
Bob is an actors actor.  He never stops studying and learning how to better deliver his gift. He is funny and smart and yes, as piss elegant as Chester Tate sometimes. If you're lucky a working relationship turns into a real friendship in this town of huge openings and quiet closings. I am grateful to have friends like Bob and Sherry in my life. On a day like GroundHogs day when the talk is about the weather, I will be thinking about my friend Bob Mandan, certainly not a "fair weather friend".  
Note to Mandan: You are not getting older, like wine you are getting more valuable.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Mandan. We shall celebrate with a bottle of "HOOP DE HAH".

As you were,
Bob Mandan on "Three's a Crowd"
Bob Mandan on "Star Trek,The Next Generation"

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Harry Anderson- Fan Picture

This ten day creative challenge where you have to post a picture with no explanation had me digging into some old photos last week.  I am so glad I found this one. It is one of my favorites.  The story is short and the explanation is necessary.  

Livestock Productions, my company with Harry Anderson, did some work for the Disney Studio.  Because Harry was the star of the project Disney gave him a perk.  They flew him to DisneyWorld in Orlando for a week of vacation.  Harry took the Johnson family along with his own family so we could all have a vacation.  That is the kind of inclusive guy my friend Harry was. It is a wonderful memory. 

At the MGM - Disney is a replica of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  You know the one with all the stars signatures and hand prints in the concrete?  Well the replica in Orlando got modern celebrities to immortalize their hands and signature in concrete at that location.  Years before this family trip they asked Harry to accept that honor, which he did.  While the families were there we decided to visit the site.  Harry’s slab is next to Robin Williams hand prints. Robin wrote “Carpe Per Diem” - a phrase I have used ever since.

I am setting up this picture and it is taking some time to get everyone in the frame with Harry and the sidewalk. The park is open and there are a lot of people milling around looking down and reading the signatures.  The shot is framed and I hear a mother chatting with her two little girls, strolling through.  She says to them “Oh look Robin Williams... Mork and Mindy” a pause a couple of steps and “ Oh...Hal Linden...he’s from Barney Miller.” 
Just as I am ready to snap this picture the mother and her kids step right in front of my camera. She looks at Harry, looks at the kids, reads the concrete block, has no interest in the fact that I am trying to take a picture.  After a short “Stage wait” she pulls her kids along and says, “Oh...Harry....and the Hendersons” and walks away. 

I held my laughter long enough to take this picture then burst out laughing.
As you were,

PS.... Harry and the Hendersons was a television show that ran for two seasons in 1987 based on the movie of the same name. It involved a normal family who adopts Big Foot and brings him back to suburbia.  

Monday, December 02, 2019

My “connection” to the Irishman

The Real Russell Bufalino
I have told this story many times over dinner conversation.  My friends know it as my “Mafia Story”.  I never thought I would write about it, but if Scorsese can make a movie about it... I figure I am safe to tell my tale because most of the principals of the story have died.  
It is not the whole saga.  Strange things associated with this event in my life continued to play out for months in ways I only realized later were connected.  There are just too many twists and turns to cover it all in an average blog.  
For the sake of a time line here are some events that seem unrelated but connect:

Jimmy Hoffa disappears on July 30, 1975
Jay Johnson moves to Los Angeles on September 1, 1975
Show for the Italian American Civil Rights League at the Ballroom of the Gus Giancona  Motor Lodge in Wilkesbury, Pesnsylvania October 1977
                         Starring: Andy Griffith, Frankie Avalon, Glen Ashe and Jay Johnson
Jay Johnson’s first Soap episode as Chuck and Bob airs November 1977
Russell Bufalino goes to jail in 1978 for extortion - served three years
Russell Bufalino goes back to jail in 1984 for attempted murder of the guy he extorted.
Russell Bufalino dies in 1994 at the age of 90.  

I moved to Los Angeles to be represented by personal manager Richard O’ Linke.  He was a mover and shaker in television and represented, among others, Andy Griffith, Frankie Avalon, Ken Berry, Jim Nabors and Glen Ashe. I was his newest client in a decade.  The way the office worked: if you wanted to have Andy Griffith on your talk show you had to have Jay Johnson as well.  Andy was very gracious to me and seemed proud to introduce me as his “new discovery”.  We became friends and I got to travel as his opening act for a time.  Everything was new to me at this level of the show biz pecking order.  

I remember when Mr. Linke (I never called him Dick or Richard always Mister Linke) called and said he had booked me on a show in October with Andy, Glen and Frankie.  None of us were being paid,  but all expenses would be taken care of and I would be well treated.  It was In the Limo while we were driving to the airport that Dick Linke gave us the low down. It was an admonition not only to me but seemingly for Andy as well, we were both in the dark about this show.  He said,   “The show is an old standing obligation, mainly for Frankie,  but we are all doing this show as a favor.  It’s for the mob.... you know what I mean. This is the real thing so no jokes or smart ass remarks about what you see and hear.  Keep your head down, your mouths shut and it will be great.  As long as we are doing them a favor we are not in danger..... you just never want to be in a position where you owe them a favor.. Get it?”

The minute our plane landed I knew I was not in Kansas anymore.  Several large necked men met us at the end of the jetway and insisted they take whatever luggage we carried on.  A guy named Louie tried to take my case. This is where Bob’s head travels and I don’t let anyone ever carry that case.  I said it was okay, I would take this one myself.  Louie backed off and said, “So that’s the goods, huh.”
“Absolutely the goods.” I joked back. Louie did not think it was a joke, every time a new guy would try to “help” me with that case Louie would jump in and say, “No, NO. That’s the goods.”  And everyone would stand down.

  Frankie Avalon arranged his schedule to do this show every year, and had been doing so for a long time.  Everyone we met  greeted Frankie like a long lost brother.  Our show was not until Friday night but we arrived on Wednesday because we would be guests at a dinner on Thursday night.  All Andy and I knew was what they said, “Russell is Cooking”. Russell liked to cook and we were having a special recipe of roasted goat.  Russell was Russell Bufalino top of this organization. Frankie said, “When Marlon Brando signed on to play The Godfather in the movie of the same name... he wanted to meet Russell Bufalino, because he was considered one of the bosses of bosses and the typical soft spoken Godfather.”  Some of Brando’s mannerisms in the movie were some what like Russells.

At the Thursday dinner, a few women greeted us and brought out the wine and food. Then all of them disappeared.  When we got to the business of eating it was only men.  At the dinner Frankie sat between Andy and me and across the table from Russell.  Occasionally Frankie would give us a brief history the players at the table in a soto voce way.  Frankie whispered to me, “Did you notice Russell’s right hand?”  I had not noticed until then, but he was smoking a cigar held between the third and fourth fingers of that right hand. Three quarters of his thumb and more than half of his right index finger was missing. Frankie said, “I’ll tell you later...”.  Good to his word as we were driving back to the hotel Frankie began to tell Andy and me some incredible stories about the people we just met.  One was the under boss, another guy was a body guard, another a driver, a soldier, an enforcer and Russell Bufalino was the top of the top. Andy said, “One of the guys gave me a bear hug and I think I felt a gun under his jacket.” 
Frankie said, “He wasn’t the only one, probably everyone was carrying at this party.”  Then he said, “Russell’s finger and thumb? Well during a power struggle in the mid 50’s someone held his hand to a wall and shot his fingers off with a shot gun.”  Frankie said it as normally as one might say, Grandma has dentures.  He tagged the statement with... those guys were not around long after that.  

Eventually the dinner was over and Frankie had plans.  Andy and me were driven to Russells house. When dinner is involved I tell this part of the story. For now all I will say,  the back wall of Russells bedroom closet was a large bank vault door.  

The show went very well.  Everyone paid respect to Russell and looked to see if he was laughing before they enjoyed the joke. After the show most of the audience mobbed Frankie. Andy and I were a little like fish out of the water so, we decided to hit the hotel bar.  We ordered drinks and began to compare notes about what we saw, almost giggling at stereo types from old gangster movies.  The Andy said, (in the North Carolina accent that made him famous), “Did you see how everyone was coming up to Russell to say good bye? I mean everyone... and some even kissed his ring. It was like he was the Pope or something ‘ ”  At that moment both of us had a moment of clarity.  Andy said, “Did you say goodnight to Russell?” I admitted that I didn’t. Andy said, “Neither did I.”

We both knew that was a big mistake and we immediately paid the check and decided we should go back to the banquet room and make amends.  As we got up from the table in walks Russell Bufalino with three big guys shadowing.  He said, “What happened to you guys.... you didn’t say good bye. You don’t just entertain us and leave like that.”  Andy quickly made a gracious apology for both of us and said we were just heading back to find him. Russell said, “Come with us.... we are going out for Pizza.  It’s a little place Louie owns.”   With that we were flanked and escorted with Russell out to a waiting Limo.  

Waiting at the curb for the limo while Andy and I flanked Russell Bufalino there was a man who jumped out of a crowd of people and said, “Mr. Griffith, Mr. Bufalino, Mr Johnson.... a quick photo over here.” By the time we looked he had snapped the picture and literally disappeared into the crowd again. Frankie was standing on the other side of Andy.  As we are climbing into the limo, Frankie said quietly...” did you smile, that was your FBI photo.” I wasn’t sure if he was joking so I said, “Not really.”
“Really..” he said, then continued, “Did that seem like a fan photo op to you?  They didn’t call out my name. They have many pictures of me and Russell together.  This is the first time you and Andy have been seen with him.”  The more I thought about it.... SOAP had not aired yet... there really was no reason that this “fan” would know my name.  And he took just one photo not several and he was in a hurry. 

The pizza joint was a 20 minute drive from the hotel. Russell was a big fan of Andy Griffith and the conversation on the way was mainly about Andy Stories of Mayberry.  We finally got to the Pizza place. It was very low key and not outstanding nor remarkable in any way.  It was crammed full of people but, like the Red Sea,  the mob parted and a table for Andy and me was suddenly available.  Russell talked with us for a while, then he was called away.  Andy and I didn’t say much..1) Because Dick Linke had told us to keep our mouths shut and 2) It was very loud and hard to converse. Russell returned after about an hour with a big guy in tow.  He said, “I have to go to bed... besides it’s too noisy in here.  You guys stay as long as you want to as my guest.  I’m leaving the limo for you....”. He turns to the big guy and says, “Stay with them and when they are ready take them anywhere they want to go.”  The big guy nodded. 

Andy and I stayed for another half hour before deciding it was time for us to go back to the hotel. We were like two kids at our first prom as we settled into the back of the limo.  The big guy lowers the privacy window and says, “Where to Gentlemen?”  Again in that very recognizable accent Andy said... mostly as a routine for my benefit.  “Well, Jay. Russell said to take us anywhere we want to go...Well....I know this little place in New York City, 5th and 55th... it’s open all night. How about there.”  
I played along with the joke and said. “Sounds lovely.”  The privacy window went back up the driver drove and Andy and I started to quietly relive our evening. At the time Andy was like a mentor to me and I was in heaven talking to a guy I had been watching on TV all my life.  Time got away from both of us. We realized we had been driving for a very long time and it was farm land all around us, no sign of a city.  We had been in the car much longer than it took to get to the pizza place from the hotel.  I have seen enough mob movies to know something was not right.   Andy finally lowered the privacy window to the driver and said, “Have we missed the hotel? Where are we going.?”
There was a pause before the big guy answered... then he said, “We’re heading to 5th and 55th, New York City.”   
Andy, said... “Oh that was just a joke, we wanted to go back to the hotel”  Without saying a word, the driver makes a difficult 3 point U turn in a limo on a two lane country road and we drive back to the hotel.  The big guy took his orders very seriously and had Andy not spoken up we would have arrived in NYC later that day.  

I never saw Russell Bufalino again, but occasionally I would get a “message” from him.  People I didn’t know would come to me and simply say, “Russell says thanks again for the show.”  I followed the news about Russell Bufalino through the years.  Everyone who knew Russell said, when Jimmy Hoffa disappeared the FBI knocked on Russell’s door the next morning.  Until I saw  “The Irishman” last weekend, I never knew his story.  I could not see Russell Bufalino in Pesci’s portrayal on screen.  The man I met was much more low key, much more soft spoken, and with a little more of a middle age grandfather body type.  In the movie I kept trying to see if Pesci had all his fingers but there was never a really good angle to see.

There is much more to this story, but the full version has been my meal ticket for a long time.  I plan to stamp that ticket again.
As you were,

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Hi.. I’m Jay....depressive...

These are tough times for depressives.  The struggle to see the glass half full is needed now more that ever, but it has also never been more difficult.  Even when things are great, depressives have a difficult time converting that energy into happiness. That is the disorder.  Like a diabetic who can not physically process sugar, a depressive can not physically  process happiness.  If we could process happiness like others do, we would not be depressives. It is a struggle when times are good,When times are rough... it is almost impossible for a depressive to be “happy” or even neutral.    In this emotionally divided country, no matter what side of the political divide you inhabit,  these are not normal times. The tone of the news is divisive and upsetting. Those who do not have such issues with depression don’t understand, These are tough times for depressives.  

Unfortunately most people don’t know how to interact with a depressive.  With other disorders there is some sort of a protocol.  When some one sneezes you say “God Bless you”.  When faced with the specter of depression most do not know how to act or what to say.

“Just be happy”, “Get over it”, or my favorite phrase proclaimed by the uninformed, “What do you have to be sad about.... look at your life.”  

Yes, look at my life. There is nothing  I have to be sad about.  There is no disagreement that I am extremely blessed.  A list of my credits and experiences should be the penultimate of a persons life and career. Unfortunately these wonderful experiences are very much like a Snickers bar to a diabetic;  I do not process it in the same way as a “normal” depressive neutral person would. Pointing out the abnormality of a person’s depressed emotion is not helpful.  To exasperate the problem, in theTrump era normally happy people are stressing out. These are tough times for depressives.  

It is not a perfect synonym but happiness and hopefulness are connected in the depressive mind.  A depressive can feel unhappiness for any reason because of their mental disorder, but if there is a way to hang on to hope,  there is a chance of happiness.  Hopeful times are helpful times to depressives.  But, because we have an Executive branch of government composed of lawlessness, lying, corrupt individuals who seem to defy convention and law, there is no hope for the depressive.  Equality, morality and ethics do not seem to be part of the Trump administration. There is no accountability to the truth, the law or even human courtesy  and decency. We are being told that what we see and know is not the truth, and because they seem to be getting away with it, truth becomes irrelevant.  There is no hope that wrong will be unsuccessful nor punished.  To the depressive we are being shown that there is in reality no way out of our unhappiness.  There is no hope.  
The unfortunate thing is, I have no solution. I know of no way that depressives like myself can find peace and harmony in this “era”.  Politically I would love to see Trump brought down and humbled for his complete lack of humanity, lawlessness and selfishness.  My depression tells me that this event might bring me happiness and a relief of depression.

These are tough times for depressives,

As you were, 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Jimmy Nelson - Dean of American Ventriloquists

Even if you are not a ventriloquist and don’t know the name Jimmy Nelson, If you hear the jingle “N-e-s-t-l-e-s, Nestles makes the very best...Choc-Late” (from the Nestles Quik commercials of the mid fifties through 60’s) you know Jimmy Nelson.  Jimmy and his ventriloquist figure Danny O’day performed the Quik commercials that ended with that song/jingle. Farfel (a vent puppet dog) took the last line “Chocolate” and snapped his mouth closed at the end.  Jimmy’s performance on those commercials were better than any of the shows they sponsored.  They were delightful.   Jimmy parlayed a recurring role as a ventriloquist pitch-man on the Texaco Star Theater in the 1950’s to become an icon of American Variety performers.    His brash side kick Danny O’Day and long-eared dog,  Farfel,  performed in every entertainment medium from 33 RPM records to Carnegie Hall.  He became a pillar of what is now referred to as the Golden Age of Television. He was a regular on the Ed Sullivan Show, did the Nestles commercials, pitched toys, did record albums and performed in supper clubs with the “Who’s Who” of entertainment. 
I became addicted to Nestles Quik because of Jimmy Nelson. I became a ventriloquist because of Jimmy Nelson. Truth be told I didn’t want to be just a ventriloquist... I wanted to become Jimmy Nelson.  
Edgar Bergen was too formal. Some of the other ventriloquist of the day were too corny, Jimmy was the Goldielocks of ventriloquism, just right.  He did not get lost in the relationship with his characters. Danny was precocious but not rude, Farfel was deadpan but not a push over, master of the understatement, and Jimmy’s personality was so engaging he could negotiate peace between the two.
Jimmy never retired, because his phone kept ringing, even after he left the winters of Chicago and moved to Florida. Because he always had time to encourage other ventriloquist,  he was ultimately given the title of “Dean of American Ventriloquists”. To me he was my Ventriloquist GodFather.  It wasn’t that he just showed us how to be ventriloquist, he showed us how to be gentlemen.  I never heard him say a bad word about anybody and no one who knew Jimmy had a bad word to say about him.  Everybody called Jimmy Nelson their friend and I was no exception.  His devotion to God, family and ventriloquism (in that order) was as influential as his instructional album teaching ventriloquism called “Instant Ventriloquism”. Over the years our paths crossed many times. I even became friends with his son Larry Nelson for the short time we both lived in Los Angeles. My times with Jimmy were never often enough nor long enough and I never got over being a “fan boy” to my hero Jimmy Nelson. I suppose my greatest thrill was to be called a “half-Nelson”.  Betty Nelson gave me that title during a dinner at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.  We had just seen Terry Fator’s show. 

Jimmy passed away this morning after a short illness from a stroke.  
There is no way to prepare for this news. There is no way to calculate his loss to the art of ventriloquism nor fill the void that his departure has left in my heart.  I know so many people, peers, entertainers and especially ventriloquists feel the same.  My eyes glisten, keeping me from more joyous memories of my friend, Jimmy.  My thoughts are with Betty and Jimmy’s wonderful family.  Like Danny O’Day I have no more words right now.

Never the same,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

18 Years Later.....

In the years since 9/11 I have watched both my sons graduate from College, was joyful when Sandi got hired on a television show that is now premiering its 9th season in a couple of weeks; I won a Tony for a one man show I wrote and performed on Broadway. Somewhere along the way I started writing this blog. 

9/11/01 seems so long ago, until I start to recall that specific day in my life. It then becomes altogether too fresh like it only happened months ago.  In this time of memorial to all that did not see 9/12/01, I reprint what I have written before.  During this unpleasant anniversary, I find it easier to cut and paste the past rather than relive it to write about it. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

So much has happened since then.  So much has changed... but my raw emotions never seem to change.  Here is the way I will always remember it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11 Remembered...

Reprints from the past:

Those of us who did live past this day in 2001 we will never forget those who didn't.  They were all of us.  There were no blogs, no tweets, no texts, no smart phones connected to social media back then,  but it was seared into my consciousness nonetheless. It was seven years before I thought I could write about it here.

Written on: 
Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. No one of this generation will forget where they were when they heard the news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center that morning. Most of us were watching CNN by the time the second plane hit. I was in Boston, which immediately became part of the crime scene.

I was performing for an Insurance company. A week earlier they called and asked if I could move my performance/presentation to Tuesday morning instead of Monday afternoon. They had a scheduling problem and that would help. I had no problem with coming in and leaving a day later. I didn't think much about it until after the events of 9/11. My manager at the time just switched my flights around and adjusted everything by 24 hours. That change in schedule saved my life.

My traveling MO is to catch the first nonstop home to Los Angeles the morning after my performance. In most major cities American Airlines is my carrier of choice. I am a two and and a half million mile American Airlines AAvantage member and in 2001 had Executive Platinum status. It was of no help when all air travel stopped for a week after the towers fell.

Until the company delayed my performance by 24 hours I was booked on the first non stop home after my Monday afternoon show. I was booked in seat 4E non stop from Boston to Los Angeles, Tuesday, September 11, 2001, American Airlines #11. I remember at the time thinking that flight #11 on the 11th of the month seemed lucky. That plane hit the north Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 am. Because the show date changed I wasn't on that plane. I was waiting to go on stage.

Even with that graphic life changing example, I sometimes forget that everything happens for a reason. One small decision is sometimes the one that changes your life. Only with perspective do we understand it as either good or bad, and ultimately even good and bad are human judgments.

It would seem natural to thank God for saving my life, but doesn't that make him responsible for the 3000 souls he didn't save that day? There were people on flight #11 much more "deserving" to live than me, or at the least equally deserving. They prayed for protection and deliverance that morning.

I would have been sitting on the plane next to David Angel who was the very talented writer/creator of the television show "Frazier" had my show date remained as contracted. He was deserving to have another day in his life, but he rode the plane into the tower. Who did God love more, me or him? It is a stupid question.

That event does not define me. I do not count the days since I was saved. I have not used it as a testimony in Church. I don't think I was given a celestial "do over". I rarely even remember it unless prompted by some event. All I know is I am here to write briefly about it and David Angel is not. I wrestle with the name Angel trying to make it some sort of metaphor. It is as fruitless as thinking flight #11 on the 11th was lucky. It was what it was. Those who have moved on are not looking back, but here's to all of us who are left behind to try and figure it out.

We will never quite be as we were,

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Michael of Inis Oirr

In June of 2015, Harry, Elizabeth, Sandi and I engaged the services of this buggy driver to show us around the Aran island of Inis Oirr/Inisheer. It was a vintage buggy, pulled by a horse named Bob with a driver named Michael. Of the four or five other buggy drivers waiting  at the dock that day, Michael just looked the part.  Michael looked like he had been sent by Central Casting to be the perfect Gallic/Irish guide.   He had the round face of an Apple doll that hadn’t completely dried out yet. Michael was born, raised a family and lived his entire life on this Galway Bay island of 250 residents.  He retired from his career as a fisherman and was now literally a welcome wagon for visitors to his home. His lyrical accent made it sound like he was singing the words when he spoke.  In fact at one point he actually did sing to us.  As we traveled up a small hill Bob, the horse, released a loud and lengthy fart.  As the smell of digested hay reached our nostrils Michael began singing, “ Oh...The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind”.  

 Michael and Bob took us to the eastern shore of the island to the ghostly site of the Plassey Ship wreck. Grounded 100 yards inland lay the  rusting hull of the merchant ship Plassey.  Michael recalled a very bad storm as a child in the early 60’s that stranded the Plassey at that spot.  To say that Michael made an impression on us that day is an understatement.  This day would forever be etched into our memory.  

None of us would have thought,  four years later we would make a trip back to this very island to scatter Harry’s ashes.  

Harry’s death was sudden and unexpected. In his will he requested that his ashes be taken to Ireland and scattered by a couple of his close friends, and immediate family. This Ireland Ashes party of 9 included:  Elizabeth, Harry’s kids, Turk and Christy (Harry’s close friends) and my family. We met in Dublin, took the train to Galway and the ferry to Inisheer. We repeated stories of Harry along the way and observed signs pointing out the reason we were in Ireland.  Things would happen that seemed to have Harry’s celestial input.  Case in point: while all of us were  trying to find the bus station, to get to the ferry, we were led to this Galway mortuary.  

The busker who danced in front of Harry’s favorite pub wore black instead of her signature red outfit, 
and from an overcast day that threatened rain, the sun came shining through at the moment we set Harry’s ashes free on the rocky Inisheer beach. None of it was coincidental to those who knew Harry.  Eventually we just accepted everything as an occult “sign” .

Harry had specified his ashes be spread in Ireland but “where” in Ireland seemed to be up to Elizabeth, who was doing everything the way Harry would have wanted.  The Plassey ship wreck on Inisheer seemed a perfect place, because we had such a vivid memory of being there with Harry. It is also a very distinctive local landmark.  Elizabeth made plans to make that happen. 

On the ferry ride over, Elizabeth, Sandi and I discussed how perfect it would be if we could hire Michael to take us one final time to the Plassey ship wreck.  We docked and quickly scoured the buggy drivers to see if we could find Michael.  There were half a dozen buggy’s and drivers but no sign of Michael nor Bob the horse.  We had to settle for two other buggies to transport us to the shipwreck. 

Normally the buggy tour allows for a 10 minute stop at the ship wreck for photos.  We asked our drivers if they could stay for an hour while we said goodbye to our husband, father, godfather and best friend. When they realized the reason for this trip, the drivers were very reverent.  

It was a tougher job than any of us thought it would be.  Because the rocks were unstable,  just getting to the waters edge was a challenge.  It was also more emotional than we thought it would be. All of us had been to the previous four memorial services for Harry.  We erroneously thought this would just be one more, but we soon realized, it was the last one.  It is an indescribable scene watching Harry’s ashes linger in the water for a moment, and then to be swept forever away into Galway Bay. With not a dry eye in the party, the sun came busting through the over cast sky to project theatrical lighting on the occasion.  It was an exit Harry would have been proud of.  

The buggy ride back to the dock took some time, and our driver was very respectful of our silence and our questions.  I was thinking back to the time it was just me, Harry, Elizabeth and Sandi traveling this very road.  I thought of Michael and Bob “blowing in the wind”.  After a moment or two I said to our driver, “You must know a buggy driver named Michael.  His horse is named Bob.” 

 “Of course.” He said. 

I explained that Michael had been our tour guide the last time I was on this island with Harry... the person we had just put to rest. I also said Elizabeth, Sandi and I looked for him at the dock but he wasn’t there. We didn’t see him. 

“Everybody knows- him.. very nice man.” Said the driver.
“Does he still drive the buggy?” I asked. Then the driver said:

“Michael... just passed.” 

It was yet one more “coincidence” to Harry’s death. The street dancer dressed in black- the mortuary - the sunshine for the ashes ceremony -  And now one more “sign” our driver Michael also died.   I responded with some sad remark about losing friends. There was a moment of disconnect in the conversation. The young buggy driver realized - for some reason- we were not on the same page, 

He said, “No. No.  He just passed us....” as he pointed to another buggy which had just passed  by.  

Sometimes it’s not a sign..

“Be Seeing You”
My Friend.

As you were,