By HENRY BENDER
I’m guessing now you’ve settled into your new digs up there, so I thought I’d drop you a line.
March weather was pleasant, the nicest anyone can recall, but I’ll always remember this year’s third month not for its sunny skies and balmy temps but as the time when you embraced life’s only guarantee.
Shortly after you checked out, I was sipping an attitude adjustment at the Club when a handful of my buddies expressed how sorry they were about your passing. They bought me a backup and said: “Here’s to Charlie.” They knew we were close – I’d told them I was your best man when you married Kit – and that I was flying to Austin to see you, and they felt bad we had missed saying our final farewells.
The moment, though brief, echoed loudly and brought to mind a line from a Springsteen song – Atlantic City – which I’m sure you know: Everything dies baby that’s a fact / But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.
On the off chance that ever happens, look me up mate – you know where to find me – because I got a long list of do-overs for us – starting with some striper trips.
Like that one in December we took down in the Rips. When the hell was that ‘97 or ‘98? You, me, Karen horsing in stripes aboard Prime Time with Capt. Bob Drake out of Cape May. It was your first time fishing the Rips and I can still picture you now, standing aft, your knees braced against the transom, your rod bent, and screaming like a banshee: “My God! Please! No one tell Kit, but this is better than sex!” Ha! You always had a way with words.
And too, when you showed up alone visiting us in Marathon – your first trip to the Keys. We enjoyed some good days then. Catching Mahi-mahi, yellowtail, grouper. And that afternoon out with Jack, reeling in snappers, and him yelling, “Charlie, keep that rod tip up. That fish’s got shoulders.” And a few minutes later you sitting there, wearing a porpoise smile, proud as can be, and holding up the biggest damn Mangrove snapper I’ve ever seen. Yeah, Charlie, how could I ever forget?
And down in Key West, doing the Duval Street crawl, you wearing your Red Sox cap, your shirt askew, the two of us puffing on stogies out front the town’s oldest bar; then wandering about Mallory Square where con artists and street artists all performed as the evening sky bled red beyond Sunset Key; then navigating our way into the Green Parrot, where you threw down some greenbacks for a parrot t-shirt that said “A shady place for shady people” and you changing into it right at the bar, then turning to me and saying: “Henry, I don’t ever want to go home. I could live here forever.”
Yeah Charlie, the list goes on. It’s funny how it was the writing that brought us together: all the articles we penned for the same papers, you acknowledging me in your book Rusty Dearest, me acknowledging you in my book Stirring the Dust, but you know it’s funny, too, that whenever we were aboard Chapter I nailing spike weakfish out front the Ferris wheel, or hooking up flounder off Lucy the Elephant, or sailing Just Us to Atlantic City and Cape May we rarely talked about our craft. Not even during our many dinners together. No, we were too busy – What was that Buffett line? – “spilling wine and sharing good times”; that’s it. And goodness, we certainly did enough of that.
Yeah, like you said to me when we talked on the phone for the last time, a few days before Monday March 5: “Henry, we certainly didn’t leave anything on the table.” Well, you’re right about that, Charlie. I just wish we could do it all over again.
So, until our paths cross again mate ... let me say this one last time: Charlie, thanks for being my friend.
PS: Kit called the other day. Says she’s hosting a community gathering late Wednesday afternoon May 2 at the Bayside Center in Ocean City – where you of course, will be the center of attention.