Last week I came face to face with another bout of mortality. I found out that my old friend Nina is dying of lung and brain cancer, and another friend's mother, for whom I had great respect, died of breast cancer.

I met Nina through some guys I had played with in college and through the years we did a whole slew of small "noise in the corner" gigs, played in a whole crap load of pit bands for musicals from Jesus Christ Superstar, Nunsense and Little Shop of Horrors to a little known show called Baby. In fact, it was on a trip to Mankato for a gig at a convent that I bought my Stratocaster. I learned a lot of music and a lot about being a professional musician from Nina.

She had a weekly gig at the piano bar at a place called Charlie's until Karaoke took her job away. To this day I hate Karaoke because of that, and I'm sure it wasn't just Nina, but piano players across the country who lost some gigs because of it.

She told me stories of her early years, playing rock-n-roll, folk, jazz... whatever would pay the bills. There were stories of whiskey and cocaine, of bad love affairs and a few good ones. I watched her get divorced and fall in love again, I met her mother, her sister and brother and was treated like part of the family for a long time.

Unfortunately, we had a falling out when I took a Music Director job for a show that she really wanted to do. I didn't feel like I was going behind her back, but she did and our friendship suffered. But some friendships are stronger than petty things like jobs and we eventually made up, although we never worked together again. Her moving to Hackensack, MN didn't help matters there.

As I think back I am inundated with a cornocopia of memories...

I remember sitting in a practice room when we were both in the SCSU jazz band going over the tricky unison part of Chick Corea's Spain over and over again until we nailed it.

She told me that her father had been a POW in a Japanese camp in WWII and how he refused to have anything in his house that had been manufactured in Japan. But since he had been, she was able to get her mother a ride in the POW/MIA balloon for her birthday.

There was her admission that piano tuners (of which she was one) got "cranky" from hearing the same notes over and over, which became the butt of many of our jokes to each other.

She was in the balcony of the Paramount Theatre tuning the piano one afternoon as my friend Steve and I worked on painting a set, after about a half hour of hearing first one note repeated over and over and then the next she yelled down to the two of us, "Are you guys hypnotized yet?" Without missing a beat, or stopping what we were doing we droned in unison, "Yes, master."

And the memories keep coming.

She commissioned a mutual friend of ours to make the urn for her ashes. I can't even imagine that, but it is totally Nina.

The result is that I have come to think of my own mortality again. I think of Kate and my age difference and I realize that, barring some tragic turn of events, I will make a widow of her. I wonder if I could face my own imminent death with the same composure that Nina seems to be and my admiration of her has doubled in just the past few days.

I don't know how much time she has left, and I will cry when I hear the news.


Jen said…
Muggsy, make sure to share this post with her... most of us don't have the chance to hear, while we're alive, how much we mean to people.

It's for that very reason that I live life with my heart on my sleeve, and often am the recipient of rolled eyes and a punch in the shoulder because of it. But I want to go through life with those in it knowing exactly how much richer my life is because of them.
Cari said…
How many times do I have to tell you that I love you? Do you keep forgetting?

Everyone you know someday will die. It has to be that way or we'd never get rid of the assholes. They'd just hang around forever, pissing the rest of us off.
Gretchen said…
Just because I don't ever talk about it doesn't mean I don't ever think about it. Fret about it. Rail against it.
Death is the only true obscenity.
Unknown said…
If you can, go see her.
Unknown said…
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