Corner of Monongahela Avenue and Church Street.
I’m tucked into an entryway of the former high school along with Trunzo, who is doing his best Belushi, rambling, raving, chortling, but I’m transfixed by the traffic light as it shifts and shimmers from one unreal color to the next.
This blotter acid is coming on strong. Really strong. I’m a fairly experienced psycho-naut at this point. But damn. This is breaking down a few new doors, leading into rooms I’ll remember vividly more than 40 years hence.
Suddenly, silence. Trunzo wide-eyed in a rare wordless moment. How the fuck are we going to find our way back up to Alpine, the crumbling ice rink whose parking lot we have colonized and retreat to when parents/cops/reality intrude on our teen-age rage?
It’s the start of a magical, effervescent evening, a trip that in many senses, never really ended. We walked through Swissvale, dodging other people as if we were space aliens dropped in the middle of this working-class world. Snow falls, lightly. The sidewalks crunch under our feet. Every encounter is frightening/fascinating/transcendent, no matter how trivial the earthlings might think it. When we finally arrive at our refuge, a cracking asphalt parking lot surrounded by locust trees and subdivision-separating woods, we Yeeeeeeessssssh loudly, a sign to our fellow Alpinians that we’ve arrived home.
Just the quiet roar of the Parkway East in the near distance, cold infinite stars above, a stray dog giving two large, strange teenagers a wide berth as it makes its way through the winter wasteland. Mandalas are tangled in the leafless tree branches and we start to ease into the aftaglid, that calm, settled feeling in the wake of LSD’s initial tumult. God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world.
He called me the “Ugly Baby.” My brother was dubbed, “He of Cloven Hoof.” My dog, a portly mixed breed named Mitzie, was “Sputzie, the Half Keg on Legs.” Trunzo’s wit never waned, never hesitated, and even when it was cutting, it still left you howling with laughter. I don’t recall many dull moments when that fat-ass Eye-Talian was holding court.
He’s gone. He’s hanging out in some celestial parking lot with Shog and Glenmoe and Bilson and others of our time who have departed but are emphatically not forgotten. The Scorpions are screaming from a boombox. A keg is on the way. They’re sipping Cool Crisp Carl Colteryahn Iced Tea from a half-gallon carton while they wait. Youth Eternal.
Rich’s death was a gut punch. I started googling around to see if I could uncover details, turning up nothing about Trunz but stumbling into other painful reminders of my own mortality. Because in the end, it’s always about me, Solipsistic Shithead that I am. I find obituaries describing the lives of other departed friends, a former girlfriend’s recent death, a news story on a high school buddy’s tragic son. I’m casting around, peering into murky waters of the past, and I’m not liking the implications of what’s staring back at me. I suddenly understand why my parents scan the obits every day. I empathize with Jorma Kaukonen, whose Cracks in the Finish blog has become an ongoing tribute to the death of his peers. And I think about Trunz. Other psychedelic explorations. Visiting him after his mother died, wincing at his pain as he confronted the fact that their nuclear family of five had been whittled down to just him and his sister. His successful struggle to stay clean and sober after emerging from the clutches of a vicious opioid addiction that almost claimed him on multiple occasions. The time he visited us in Washington, D.C., where he roamed the monuments with childlike glee and proved beyond a doubt that his super powers weren’t dulled in the least by sobriety. Still funny, full tilt, drinking deeply from the chalice he’d been handed when he cleaned up. And the time we toured Carrie Blast Furnaces on the Swissvale/Rankin border, a rusting tribute to Pittsburgh’s industrial past. I wanted to visit for source material for the novel I’m perpetually in the process of writing (or, more accurately, talking about writing). I emerged with the inspiration for a short story I later wrote about Joe Magarac – and a day with Trunz that was every bit as magical as that trip we took four decades earlier.
I know Jimi Hendrix is reputed to have written The Wind Cries Mary after a battle with his girlfriend over lumpy mashed potatoes, but in my mescal-fueled musings about Trunz, after I listened to several hours of Frank Zappa while the fireplace roared and the dog and parrot watched warily from a safe distance, that Hendrix tune bubbled into my brain. It serves as a perfect tribute to Trunzo. Or lumpy mashed potatoes. And that somehow seems appropriate.
THE WIND CRIES MARY
After all the jacks are in their boxes
And the clowns have all gone to bed
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
Footprints dressed in red
And the wind whispers, “Mary”
A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere, a queen is weeping
Somewhere, a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries, “Mary”
The traffic lights, they turn blue tomorrow
And shine their emptiness down on my bed
The tiny island sags downstream
‘Cause the life that lived is dead
And the wind screams, “Mary”
Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past?
And with this crutch, its old age and its wisdom
It whispers, “No, this will be the last”
And the wind cries, “Mary”
— Jimi Hendrix, circa 1967
Rest in Peace, Brother.
August 1962-January 2023