r.i.p. harry dean stanton

Yet another significant cultural figure has passed away. Harry Dean Stanton first captured my attention with his role in the cult film Repo Man. From then on he was one of my favorite actors and his presence in a film always made it worth watching. The fact that he rarely landed leading roles says a lot about Hollywood. Harry Dean was really too cool for the Hollywood star assembly line. He existed on the periphery for a very long time. Oddly I was just thinking about him earlier this week and marveling at how long he had endured. It’s a fitting tribute that his final film comes out this fall, with him front and center as he always should have been. I look forward to it with great anticipation. In the meantime, here’s Harry Dean as Bud explaining the code of the repo man to Otto, played by Emilio Estevez:

a tribute to conrad

Sometimes I look people up on the Internet, people whom I have lost touch with, yet periodically wonder about. After years of doing this, I have found that the people I tend to befriend are often not people with much Web presence. So, in general, this practice is frequently frustrating and, in most cases, fruitless. Sometimes I stop trying.

Today I again looked up my friend Conrad, a compatriot from long ago, and one whom I’ve never had much luck in tracking down before. And so I was shocked this time to find an obituary for him from almost two years ago. He was only 33.

I met Conrad in the dishroom of a large university’s student food court. We both worked there, and during my three years of periodic employment at that hellhole, he was my closest friend. We used to spend our days plotting to overthrow the management. We planned to mount towering Gothic thrones for ourselves in opposite corners of the dishroom, from which we would reign over our kingdom. We grew giddy from drinking too much Josta cola.

Conrad had a vivid imagination and a wicked sense of humor. He was generous and kind. From what I observed he was also quiet and rather withdrawn with most people. He loved comics, movies, and video games. I remember him being obsessed with Spawn. We shared a deep-seated love of the film Repo Man. He even made me a cassette of the soundtrack, which I still have. He liked Iggy Pop and Saturday Night Fever. Sometimes he would even dance like John Travolta in the privacy of the dishroom. He often wore black…maybe even always.  He was creative and liked to draw, but he was self-critical to a fault. He had talent, but didn’t seem to believe it and would viciously criticize his own work. It didn’t matter if you told him otherwise.

We goofed off a lot at work. It was a crap job and there was a lot of down time. We were young and belligerent. We’d go to the basement of the building and Conrad would do pull-ups on the pipes. He was in good shape and his arms looked strong. I remember going to his apartment once and he showed me some of his drawings. I pestered him to see them, and he finally relented. It felt to me like he was exposing some part of himself that he rarely did, and that meant a lot to me. He came to my place once, too, and played Scrabble with me and my girlfriend. I took a photo of him there, sitting on the couch, dressed all in black and scowling like Bela Lugosi at the camera.

I wish I could remember more about Conrad, the things he said, because he was so funny. But it was so long ago, what feels like a few former lives prior to this one. I have in my head a few bits and pieces of conversations we had and I still keep those close. In my online searches, I came across only a few pages referencing him: a guestbook from the funeral home where members of his family had left messages; a page on deviantART where his cousin (a noted comic artist), whom he had lived with back when I knew him, had posted news of Conrad’s death and written a bit about his interests and artistic skills; and a handful of illustration credits from role-playing adventure games. I was happy to see that he’d published some work. I hope that had boosted his self-confidence.

Conrad was one of those regretted lost companions, for we connected on a certain rare level. I used to send him my zine after he moved back home, but I never received anything in return. I even based a character on him in a crappy novella I wrote some years back. He left an impression on me, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to know him better than I did. He wasn’t easy to get to know, though; he was rather private and sort of a loner (like me, I guess), and I was also young and confused, aloof and distant from my own emotions.

I don’t know how Conrad died and I suppose it’s not that important. I don’t know what it is that makes us wonder about cause of death. I guess part of it is that he was so young. I don’t know if he was sick, or how much he suffered. Maybe some of this is morbid curiosity, from which I am not immune. But mostly it’s wanting to know how he was in his final days and wishing he was not in pain. All I know from reading the obituary is that he died at home, and I hope that means he was comfortable and with his family. But I don’t know that. I didn’t know any of his family, either, so I guess this mystery will remain.

He was a good person, a true friend, and I won’t forget him.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Repo Man Soundtrack b/w Dead Kennedys Plastic Surgery Disasters (and a little bit of Fever)

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