At the end of March I moved to a newly purchased home and have taken my time since unpacking. The necessary things were out of boxes and organized soon after arriving. The kitchen, bedroom, den and my office are organized and fully functional. For the rest I have been slow to unpack as I am intentionally taking my time sorting and lightening my load.
Often after work on weekday evenings I unpack a single box. Last night the box I cut the tape on was one filled with assorted and unrelated stuff that collected in a cabinet over time. There were record covers I need to find the mates for. Several small containers of photography accessories were the only organized items in the big box. There were photos from a trip to England and Poland, of my father and some old publicity photos of me. In a manila folder were several unrelated things: certificates from training I completed, a few random photos, a small newspaper article about an old achievement of mine and three folded white pieces of paper. When I unfolded them I saw at the bottom of each “Dayton, WS, August ‘90” that had been typed on a typewriter.
I smiled as I thought of a man who had not entered my mind in a long while. He was an odd duck, but a kind and interesting man about 20+ years older than me. We were friends once upon a time. WS was for Wayne Shockley or Wayne Shayne. Both names were for the same person with the former being his legal name and the latter his stage name. Wayne had been a successful radio announcer “in his day” but was nearing the bottom of the curve of a downhill slide when I knew him. He had “lived the life” when younger that many in the entertainment industry do and enjoyed himself fully to the extent of his ability. Having never saved, nor realized that down the road age would catch up with him he lived a hundred yards from destitution by the time I met him. He had a family once and talked about two children in California he felt guilty about not having been a better father for. I know they had reconciled and he was very happy about that.
Wayne and I worked together in Dayton, Ohio. Saying I was his boss feels odd because he never needed a supervisor. He was a competent and dependable employee, but due to age was looked upon by most as “over the hill”. Yes, his style was old-fashioned, but for what he lacked in current “hipness” he made up for with dedication and the quality of his humanness. Everyone liked him, but due to his uniqueness most did not take the time to get to know him labeling him “weird” instead of becoming more acquainted with him.
My friend suffered from very bad juvenile diabetes and more than once I got a call from a police officer saying they had picked him up disoriented and lost. Thinking he was driving and acting goofy due to alcohol, they’d test him and find no booze on his breath. Then they’d start to believe his story about his out of whack blood sugar being the cause and would call me for confirmation as he suggested (my number was on a note he carried in his wallet that explained his condition to anyone who took the time to look).
After a few years of us working together, an old buddy of Wayne’s became the manager of an oldies station several hundred miles. The friend invited him to come join as a drive time DJ. Wayne saw it as a last chance to be on top again and play those oldies he loved so much. I know he disliked leaving the security of the job he had working overnights, but felt he had to try to make it just one more time.
After he moved on, he called here and there. Over time the calls came less and less. Then after a year they did not come at all except the last time I talked to him. We made small talk for a while and then in a quite tone he began to explain. The radio station had failed and the job was long gone. He’d been staying with a friend in Atlanta. Wayne said he was very sick and just wanted to make it home to California to see his kids, but had no money. He apologized for asking, but said he was asking a few friends to help him with gas money so he could head home to the west coast. I feel sad even today just recalling that conversation of over 20 years ago. I sent him $200 and the next I heard about Wayne was from St. Louisa few weeks later.
The call came in from a mutual friend who Wayne had stopped to stay with for a couple of nights on his way to California. What I heard from the other end of the phone was St. Louis was as far as Wayne had made it. He had died the evening before. The diabetes finally got him.
In my heart and mind Wayne was more unique and memorable than any character you might see in a movie. He was real, distinctively and completely himself. As a tear rolls down my face there is certainty my life is richer for having had Wayne play this stage I call my life. I am grateful to be one of the few he trusted to let read his poetry and thankful the copies of three of them he gave me. Thank you, Wayne, for being my friend and for the spot of color you painted into my life.
Conversation in the Afternoon by Wayne Shockley aka Wayne Shayne
On a snowy windy afternoon
I fell into conversation
A pretty librarian at the check out desk
Who regaled me with the inner workings of minds
Such as Dickens and Steinbeck
We spent our late afternoon before dusk
Two travelers locked away from our homes
Held in the wheels of the storm
Lying on smooth white sheets
Eating melted ice cream from the pint carton
Drinking warm beer
Warm and cuddly down at the old downtown Windsor
When our play concluded
She sat up with her back against the oaken headboard
Fished into her plastic purse for a bent Camel light
Lit up and smiled
She began to talk about the new set of clothes
She had put away on layaway
Life without a friend is death without a witness. Eugene Benge