So, it’s been a while since a thing happened but that thing has been much on my mind lately.
That thing was inexorably wrapped up with the writing of my newest novel, No Harder Prison back in the early aughts. That book has just been published by Down and Out Books and for the publication I wrote a piece for the most excellent Lance at Omnimystery (most excellent writing about No Harder Prison)
The following piece is also about the novel, though at the time the book wasn’t finished nor did it have a name. This was originally published in Cemetery Dance back in 2001, and I thought it might be an interesting to haul it out, blow the dust off, and take a trip down a rocky bit of memory lane.
February 18, 2001.
About 9:00 am.
I’m in a workshop, overseeing the building of a set I designed for a musical. Lots of noise, lots of dust, lots of paint. It’s a gray day, overcast with clouds looking like nothing so much as late-term pregnant women. I hope they give birth, I love the rain.
This is the first of three shows I’ll be working on during this one day. Three different shows, three different theaters, sixteen hours with no scheduled break.
I did this to myself.
Sent: Saturday, February 10, 2001, 11:24 AM
Subject: Re: First Novel Blurb
Hi, Trey –
Very good idea to do up your first chapter as a chapbook and send it around to conventions for the goodie bag. I’d be glad to read your mystery and give it a blurb.
February 18, 2001
About 11:00 am.
I’ve left the workshop and am sitting in front of Temple Events Center in Denver. My little Ford Ranger is crammed with audio and light gear. Amps, mixers, PA speakers, a CD player, cables, lights galore, dimmer packs, more cables, colored gels, computerized light board, tools. Lunch.
My truck sits way back on its rear axle. It looks like a fairly straight laced 34 year-old white boy trying desperately to be hip with a low-slung truck.
It isn’t raining yet but will any minute. The rain is so thick I can smell it. I grew up in west Texas where it rained once a year whether it needed to or not. I can’t wait, I love the rain.
I begin unloading the mountain of gear. It’s for a dance show that’s raising funds for the earthquake victims in India. They’ve been hit twice in only weeks and it’s hard for me to imagine going through something so life changing. I can’t imagine anything other than the safe, comfortable life I lead. A little chaotic sometimes but a good life, filled with the knowledge that everything will always be fine.
A paraphrase of a phone conversation on February 12 or 13, 2001:
Trey: “…damned thing ain’t working for shit.”
Dick: “You know, sometimes when I get stuck, I go to the end. Write that last scene and then see what you need directly before it and write that. Then go right before that scene and write that.”
Trey: “Oh, that’s freakish, I never thought of that.”
Dick: “If that doesn’t work for you, send me the manuscript and I’ll give it a read. Maybe I can figure out what’s wrong with it.”
Trey: “I don’t know, I’ve fucked it up pretty good.”
Dick: “I’m sure it’s fine, it’s just hard to see sometimes when you’re that close to a project.”
February 18, 2001
About 11:15 am.
At first, I thought it was pollution. Denver had had three days’ worth of a temperature inversion. Our brown cloud would have made even LA envious. Then I thought maybe it was because I was unloading all that audio and light equipment. Lots of unloading, lots of physical exertion. Had to be one of those two things, didn’t it? This shortness of breath couldn’t be anything serious. Hell, I’m only 34, what else could it be?
It still wasn’t raining and I realized, as the first pains thudded through the middle of my chest, that the lack of rain was bumming me out. I wanted to see some rain.
I called 911 real quick. In fact, my Texas homeboys will probably take away my Texas Native Membership Card when they find out I didn’t tough out the pain.
The ambulance was there within five minutes. Then I was on the ground, staring at the sky—still no rain—and trying to tell the paramedics what was wrong with me. I think I may have mentioned something about having two heads and three arms. I don’t remember much of that conversation.
I just remember the pain.
From: <Tom Piccirilli>
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2001, 2:54 pm
Subject: Fwd: Laymon
Received this from Ed Gorman a few minutes ago.
<< Dick Laymon died two hours ago of a heart attack. >>
I didn’t see Dick when I had my heart attack, but he was there.
There was no apparition of Dick in the corner or floating over my bed or standing behind the nurses. But he was in my head. I was hypersensative to heart attacks because of Dick. I called 911 more quickly than I probably would have because of Dick. I was in the hospital, IVs and EKGs, making bad jokes at the nurse’s expense (memo: don’t make jokes about a woman holding lots of needles while she’s trying to save your life, its bad form) because of Dick.
My quick recovery is not a silver lining, there is no silver lining in death.
But Dick’s death did make me think. It did make me call 911 quickly.
Dick’s death did help me, though it shreds my insides to say that. Seems like a high price to pay for me to have suffered a mild heart attack instead of a massive heart attack.
Dick and I became—I like to think, anyway—quite good friends over the last year. Mutual friends—Tom Piccirilli, Alan Beatts—brought Dick and I together, though I’d been a fan of his work for years. He and I talked frequently about writing and publishing and similar topics that were oh so heavy and deeply thought out and full of philosophy. But after that, like a cheap beer after an expensive meal, we talked about the kind of stupid, inane bullshit that so often seems to fill phone conversations.
But it is those very stupid things that made me realize Dick was more than just a writer spending lots of his own time helping younger writers. It was those things that made me realize Dick was simply a cool guy and would have been cool whether spending his life writing or clerking in a low-rent convenience store in south-central LA.
Obviously, I will miss him.
Obviously, the world of literature will miss him.
There is no silver lining, but he helped me. And maybe my heart attack can help someone else. In a strange way, a perverse and dark way that Dick might have chuckled over, it’s what Dick had been doing for years.
By the way, it still hasn’t rained.