A couple of days ago, one of my buds (I've always called him "Grap" on this blog, because that's how everybody always knew him) passed away after an almost four year battle with cancer.
I first brought this up in this blog posting, and later (after I forced a bucket list trip on him) made Grap a significant portion of this trip report from our 2010 trip to the USBC Open Championship in Reno.
Ten days before he died, another friend of his and I took him out for a birthday lunch. He had become a bit of a recluse in past years, in part because of constant chemotherapy treatments, and it had become like pulling teeth to get him out of the house. I hadn't seen him since just after Christmas, and was taken aback with how he looked. I don't know if I was a very good friend that day; on one hand I was trying to give him some joy in the day, but on the other hand... how can you not be affected yet pretend everything is OK? Not only that, but it seemed like any conversation that this other friend, I'll call her Freckles, and I tried, felt like we were bringing up subjects that Grap knew he'd never experience again... Trips to Vegas, bowling, betting on sports, etc. It was painfully hard that day, and I started mourning in advance as I could sense the end was near.
Very selfishly, I became concerned that he would pass in a time frame that would come during my recent trip to Las Vegas and Reno and I would miss the funeral. But he continued being a great buddy by holding on until I was actually IN Reno so that the funeral is scheduled for next week. But more on that later.
The first time I remember meeting Grap was in the early '90s in the Top 14 league at Kuglitsch's West Milwaukee. Because of his easy going style, I was on a team with him at Classic Lanes Oak Creek by 1994, and we were on a team every year until his retirement in 2009.
In those 15 years, we bowled city, state and national tournaments in almost every year; the first ABC Championships we bowled together was in Reno in 1995.
The set-up - The Scalper, Tattoo and The Breeder stayed at the Circus Circus on that trip. It was the opening weekend of the tournament, and the first event ever in the new National Bowling Stadium. At the tournament city, there a side tournaments in which to bowl, plus touristy locations and other "stuff" to do.
But Grap didn't care about that, except for when it was actually time to bowl the ABC tournament. (Side note; Our team squad was three hours late. During that break, he and The Scalper left the Stadium to gamble without any way to know how long the delay would be, or when we would start. They managed to get back as we were making the Grand March down the lanes.)
What did Grap do to fill the non-tournament time? He sat at the same seat at the same Caribbean Stud Poker table all weekend.
By Monday evening, he had lost most of his money, so he left the table, made a sports bet, and he and I sat at the bar near the sports book, watching the game. Suddenly, a commotion occurred. We looked over to that same Caribbean Stud Poker table, and saw an old man (with an oxygen tank... AN OXYGEN TANK!) that was sitting in Grap's seat This old guy hit a Royal Flush, and won the progressive jackpot worth $176,000.
Naturally, he was besides himself, and it was a memory he wasn't crazy about when somebody (me?) would bring it up.
Though I bowled with Grap once a week in league for 15 years, those were routine... you arrive, bowl, shoot the bull, go home, repeat a week later. But so many memories that spring forth about Grap to me all seem to happen during trips to Nationals
1998 (also in Reno) - Grap had bet heavily on the New York Yankees, and I not knowing it, I had bet about $20 on the other team (I believe it was the Twins). We are watching the game together and I am rooting on my team... which was winning. Grap gave me a $50 bill and said "There, I paid you. Start rooting for the Yankees".
1999 (in Syracuse) - The previous league year, we bowled at a dump (AMF West) and the league starting time was a little too early for his work schedule. The result was a lower-than-usual bowling average. When we went to bowl the 40-Frame Game (one of the side tournaments at Nationals, and we happened to bowl the last week of the tournament), Grap bowled a Top 5 score. The tournament director immediately called BS and questioned how his average could possibly be that low. The stream of, um, colorful language that followed was epic; and in the end, the score held.
2006 (in Corpus Christi) - Grap, Poodle, Ray Sunshine and I flew into San Antonio for our squad in mid-February (which was again the opening weekend) and drove to Corpus Christi. Someone had told us that it was legal to drink in a car in Texas - still not sure about that - so we bought a 12-pack at a gas station and finished it before we arrived in Corpus Christi. Our hotel was on the beach, so the idea was to buy more beer and hang out on this 80 degree day on the patio outside our room. No sooner were we all set, when this cold front came through and dropped the temperature about 30 degrees. Grap yelled "&#$@ this, I'm staying out here" while the rest of us went in the hotel. A few minutes later, Grap came back in. We turned on the TV, found out that Al Lewis - Grandpa Munster - had died, and Grap made us watch a Munsters marathon. We all thought this was better than sitting on the cold deck, so we gave him that one.
2010 (in Reno, again) - This was after Grap was diagnosed with cancer, and though he didn't bowl, he joined us for the trip. He didn't want to hear me say this, but I wanted to get him out of the casinos and do a mini-road trip. Maybe for me (and Ray Sunshine) too, but I just wanted to spend time with him.
We drove first to Virginia City, then to Lake Tahoe (Side note; Rehashing the trip report linked above, but it's my catharsis... allow me to ramble). After eating dinner, we started the drive back to Reno and saw that there was about 2 inches of snow on the ground, though it was not snowing at the time. As we drive up the mountain between Tahoe and Carson City, it is a full-out blizzard. Thankfully we have an SUV, but when we passed the "Tire Chains Required When Flashing" sign that was flashing - and us without tire chains - I got a little nervous. It was a horrible drive, taking us almost 90 minutes to go 25 miles. All along, Grap was laughing and joking around... it was kind of frustrating me as I was driving.
He later said "I know I'm gonna die, but if we were all going to die on that mountain, I wanted to go down laughing".
Grap could even make the mundane interesting. One week before going to Corpus Christi, Grap, Ray Sunshine and I had gone to Las Vegas to a Super Bowl party at the Stardust. At one point that weekend, Grap had found the Star Wars slots, and we sat down next to each other to play. He got a bonus round, which was Darth Vader against Obi Wan. He asked me which character he should be, and I told him "Of course, Darth Vader".
"Of course, Darth Vader, Woooooo" he yelled as Vader won the battle and won Grap a few hundred dollars. "Of course, Darth Vader!"
I got lots of those type of memories. The couple I shared above may not mean much to any of you, but they mean the world to me. That doesn't include the "shoe" story, the "Dolphins/Colts game" or "Tampa/Oakland Super Bowl". I wasn't around for those three stories; I'll let others tell them. But they are the thing of legend.
As mentioned way up above, Grap actually passed while I was in Reno for this year's National tournament... which was a bit spooky because of all of the memories that Grap and I shared in Reno. But the last conversation I had with him was so typical, and I almost wouldn't have it any other way; the Sunday before he died, I sent him a text... asking him who I should bet on for a hockey game. He said that he was in bed and didn't even know who was playing. I told him, he said to bet the New York Rangers. So I did. And it was a winner.
Grap didn't make a traditional mark in the world. He didn't have a spouse or child, didn't advance in any business world, didn't leave a lot of money behind. But he did leave behind a lot of friends. There wasn't anybody he couldn't make friends with. Just buy him an Icehouse and pull up a seat.
With so many friends, and knowing Grap's personality so well, I am sure that each of you that know him (he was raised in and lived most of his life in West Allis) has a quote or memory that you can add. Poodle has set up a CaringBridge site, please feel free to visit the site, look at some photos, and if sign the guest book. I encourage you to do so, so that in the times when we get sad or upset that we are laying my best friend to rest, there will be somewhere I can go to make me smile.
Because its also not cheap to die, Poodle has set up a GiveForward page to collect donations to offset funeral costs. Grap was not able to work for the last three-plus years, and though he lived with his mom, their savings have been stretched with his illness. Please consider a donation in his honor to help defray funeral expenses.
Godspeed, my friend.