Sunday, December 11, 2022

Randy's Choice

It’s the heartbreaking tale of two friends whose brotherly bond is tested by a newly arrived force-of-nature who holds all the cards and ripped the fabric of a deep friendship. As I watched the story unfold, I sided with the good and true friend while recognizing the cold truth. Randy had no option. He chose what he had to have. He picked the caregiver he’s known for a year over the friend who slept at his dying wife’s bedside and would take a bullet for him.

“It’s him or me,” was Ann’s ultimatum.

The story is complicated. It seems that everyone but the new face lost something in the transaction. It’s a hard not to cast blame. It’s too easy to see the caregiver who became Randy’s partner as an opportunist. Reportedly she asked, “Who’s going to take care of me after Randy has gone”?

Last Wednesday I reminded Jack, the friend that Randy had to evict, that years ago he told me that Randy was his best friend in the world. He responded, “That’s the truth. He is my best friend. He has loads of friends like me, maybe dozens, who see him as their best friend. He’s the most loved man I’ve ever known.”

I watched the rift between Ann and Jack deepen for months. Ann disparaged Jack every time I saw her.

“He’s just a boarder. He’s useless. He doesn’t take care of Randy. I do it all. And he’s a classic sociopath. I know his kind. He hates women.”

She said the same to all of Randy’s friends. Ann’s influence on Randy was the subject of every conversation. We were worried about Randy’s infirmities but just as concerned about her growing power and motives.

Jack called me two weeks ago to get my advice on supplemental health insurance. He was asking, he said, for himself and for Randy. I made my opinion of Medicare Advantage Plans clear. “Don’t do it. It’s just a way to privatize health care. Plus, you can’t choose the doctor you want. You have to use an approved provider. That doesn't work for me.” He seemed to agree.

Then out of the blue Jack revealed his heady years as racehorse owner and, even more riveting, a professional gambler who bet enormous sums of all manner of sporting events. I asked him how much he’d bet in a given day. “I think I bet $700,000 one time and $500,000 fairly often.” I was dumbstruck. I knew he was a horse lover and was involved in racing, but I didn’t know the magnitude of the enterprise. It was big league stuff until a writer for Gentleman’s Quarterly interviewed Jack for an exposé on the underbelly of sports betting in Las Vegas. Apparently, it wasn’t all legit and Jack decided it was a good time to exit Sin City.

But the real shocker was when he told me he was moving out of Randy’s house. Shock is the wrong word. Disappointment and sadness are better descriptions for what I felt. We all saw it coming for months but when it happened I was speechless. We'd all heard that Ann was demanding that Jack leave. But we'd heard that Randy told her, “That’s not happening.” We were glad Randy stood his ground. Until he didn’t.

Jack told me “I talked to Randy yesterday and told him I was moving out of the house. I didn’t want him to have to tell me to leave. So, I beat him to it. The writing was on the wall, anyway. Ann wants me gone. Hell, everybody wants me out of there. She hates me. Randy’s daughters don’t like me. His family and his lawyer are on Ann’s side. She’s got him over a barrel. He needs the 24/7 care that I can’t give. I wish I had made him take his meds. I put them out for him to take but I didn’t make sure he took them on time.” Jack took the rap. He didn’t want Randy to feel guilt for casting him out. 

“You know they’ve been a couple for months. They share one brain. I think the women’s a sociopath. Funny. That’s what she calls me.”

She does. Every chance she gets. Even after he’s gone.

“I’m sad to hear it, Jack. I think it’s unfair. When do you leave?” I asked.

“I have to be out by the end of the month.”

“Where will you go?”

“I’ll go to Phoenix where I can stay with Stephanie, my old girlfriend from Vegas. Or I’ll move to San Diego where I can work at the track in Del Mar. You know I love horses. I owned them, raced them, and bet on them all my adult life. Did you know I buried on of my thoroughbreds  on Randy’s property? He was 30 years old.” He pressed his fists into his eyes.

Jack Taylor was a Salida legend, first as the owner of the tavern that he manned from noon to close seven days a week then as the town crank who suffered no fools and savaged miscreants of all stripes. He was the Quixotic figure brandishing signs decrying price fixing, corrupt politicos, the Supreme Court and all manner of religion hypocrisy. Jack singlehandedly reduced gas prices when collusion at the pumps was obvious to anybody with eyeballs. And any guy who names his jackass Bobby after our intellectually challenged mayor gets two thumb’s up from me.

We met for four hours on two occasions in the last three weeks. I got writer’s cramp I took so many notes. Usually, I remember the nuggets and make up the rest. Jack spewed a nonstop stream of consciousness. His commentary had a life of its own. I learned way too much about the mechanics of sports betting and not enough about Jack the human being.

As noon drew near during our first session at the Bean Jack said he had to meet Salida’s four sitting judges for a burger, fries and a brew at the Ore House. Their treat in fact.

“They’re all my good friends. I’ll miss them. I’ll miss Salida. There’s no place like it.” he told me.

His lunch with the judges put Jack’s slot in the annals of Salida luminaries in better place. He was more than a combative septuagenarian jousting with windmills along West Sackett Avenue. And he wasn’t on the lunatic fringe that some thought. He was an undaunted speaker of truth to power.

He will be missed. He deserved better than we gave him.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Your blog response to last week's tease is a heartfelt and eloquently written piece of prose, Esteban. A nasty and unfortunate end to what possibly could have been a nice triangle of friends. Perhaps it is our relative ages. Perhaps it is one of the unanticipated results of COVID. Or the environment of hate in which we sometimes find ourselves living, but this is not the first story we have heard like it in our broader circle of relationships. They make us think and ponder about life and its inner workings, for better or worse, but I am certainly pleased that you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to write about it. If for nothing else but catharsis and working through what happened. Sorry that it did but thank you for feeding us such excellent food for thought.