Hey, Solid State. How have you been?
You may or may not have noticed an appalling lack of posts lately. To be perfectly honest, I just haven't been feeling especially writerly of late. Kinda down in the dumps, really.
If you read last week's Soundbites, you know that my friend Bryan Kapschull passed away in the wee small hours of the morning on Sunday, August 17. Bryan was canoeing off Grand Isle after serving as the "Man of Honor" at his sister Jenna's wedding to Husbands AKA guitarist Sean Fitzpatrick that Saturday night. His boat capsized and he never made it back to shore.
Over the last week or so, I've tried several times to get some stuff up on Solid State. There's been a bunch of cool news I wanted to share. The surprise Smittens show at Red Square and a whole bunch of other Colin Clary-related stuff, for starters. I'll get to the latter this week, I promise. Yow!
But every time I sat down at my trusty keyboard, the words simply failed me. That doesn't happen often. I'm by no means a prolific blogger, but even if I'm struggling, I can usually fight my way through and come up with something. But this was profoundly different from mere writer's block. I couldn't write because I just didn't want to. I didn't have it in me. That kinda scared me.
Until Bryan, I had never dealt with the death of a friend. I consider myself very fortunate in that regard. My only brushes had been losing both grandmothers. And in both cases, those had been somewhat expected passings. But Bryan's death caught me completely off guard. I'm still not entirely sure how I managed to write my column on Monday morning. And frankly, I hardly remember doing so.
Anyway, I was wondering if you'd indulge me and allow me to tell you a little bit about this past weekend. If nothing else, I think I just need to get it out. Tomorrow, we'll start playing catch up, I swear. Here goes . . .
Early Saturday morning, 14 Magic Hat employees, past and present, gathered at the brewery to make the trek down to Waymart, PA for Bryan's funeral. I know it sounds stupid, but walking into the building where I'd worked with him for four years, I honestly found myself expecting to see Bry Guy atop the brew tower. Or maybe strolling through the retail store. Or harassing the keggers. Several times during the drive, I allowed myself to believe that I'd see him in PA. Maybe it was a defense mechanism. Maybe it was the fact that I was working on about 3 hours of sleep following a week of averaging less than that. Maybe I really believed it — on more than one occasion during that day, a few folks I was with admitted to thinking that the whole thing was a big joke, that Bryan was just pulling our legs and would stroll into the proceedings from around a big tree with his big, goofy smile. I guess I wasn't alone in deluding myself.
After changing into our funeral/wedding/only-dressy-clothes-most-of-us-own in the dirt parking lot of a ramshackle Lenox, PA diner — in which it's still perfectly acceptable to smoke, we found out — we finally neared Waymart. We turned onto a side street in order to get to Route 6, the last leg of the journey that would take us to the funeral site. And that's when Bryan showed up.
We stopped at a red light in the heart of some nameless factory town. But something was amiss. As we waited, several old fire trucks slowly rumbled down the cross street, lights whirling — by "old," I don't mean "antique." These trucks were still in service and likely had been since roughly 1984. They were followed by an assortment of military vehicles of roughly equal vintage. A dark sense of foreboding grew over us as more and more cars lined up behind our small caravan. "I think this is a fucking parade," I marveled to no one in particular. Just then, a Budweiser-emblazoned golf cart puttered into view, trailing a camouflaged Hummer and carrying two old men clad in Shriner's fezzes. It was, indeed, a fucking parade.
Driving the truck in front of me, my friend Jim — like me, an MH ex-emplyee — leaned out his window to inquire of two gentleman who bore an eerie resemblance to Cletus The Slack-Jawed Yokel as to just what in the name of all things holy was going on. "Flemhgf shmup dpugfs gfluph, man," he replied. Right, of course . . . fuck.
After a member of our crew pleaded with a police officer to let us through — he couldn't, because the "cheerleaders were about to walk." And what lovely ladies they were, I assure you — we broke roughly 9 separate traffic laws in turning our cars around and sped in what we hoped was the right direction. It wasn't.
We stopped at a general store to ask directions, already late. Clad in black slacks, a white shirt and a black tie, my friend Justin approached the storekeeper, who replied — and I swear this is true — "Waymart? You can't get there from here." Sensing a ruse might be afoot, Justin explained our situation. "Well sheeeit," said the shopkeep, "I thought you was a Jehovah's Witness!" He gave us directions.
I'm not really sure how fast we drove from that point. It may or may not have been roughly double the posted 35 mph speed limit. In any event, we made it — albeit 20 minutes late. And I couldn't be more grateful that we did.
The service itself was really . . . well, nice. It was at an outdoor chapel overlooking a small lake. Friends, family, teachers and old band mates relayed their — often hilarious — remembrances of Bryan. A childhood friend played an elegy on trumpet. An old man pleaded from the back row to turn up the PA ("Hey, Billy. Could ya turn it up?") Bryan's dad tried to sell the crowd Amway products — what's that saying about the apple falling from the tree? Trust me, it was funnier than it sounds. And hey, you can't spell funeral without f-u-n, right? Sorry.
The wake would actually prove to be more emotionally draining than the ceremony, which was curiously devoid of pictures of Bryan. Jenna and Bryan's girlfriend, Sarah, had compiled a slide show set to music to play underneath the outdoor pavilion adjacent to Bryan's favorite pizza joint, The Waymart Hotel and "Pizza" — the quote marks are not mine, they're on the sign out front. I watched through two songs — the first a blues tune I didn't know and then an instrumental by Devotchka. At that point, the pictures began to cycle through again and folks started to mill about. "Wait, there's two more songs," Jenna said, trying to hold our attention.
As I poured myself a beer from the keg, the first hushed strains of Bon Iver's "Flume" filled the speakers. That's just about when I lost it — it was actually the song's opening line, "I am my mother's only son, that's enough." Oddly, the tune was the first I had played in the car at 5:30 that morning, and I almost had to turn it off then for fear of crying. Combined with the pictures of my fallen friend, it was just too much. I retreated to the back of the pavilion, unable to watch any longer. When the slide show ended, Jim approached me, cheeks red and wet, and said, "I think it's time to go." Wiping my eyes, I had to agree.
We camped that night in Oneonta, NY and mourned, Magic Hat-style. Again, I kept expecting to see Bryan across the fire-pit, pounding Hocus Pocus like the rest of us. Upon arriving home the following afternoon, I slept for roughly 16 hours. When I woke up today, I still felt pangs of grief. But as I walked my dog along Battery Park, staring out at the lake that claimed my friend, I also felt a calming sense of ease. I guess you could call it closure. For the first time in more than a week, I felt something resembling normal.
Thanks for listening.