Billy and the Bat

I suppose it becomes inevitable at some point that the losses come in waves. We’re older now. Everyone we have ever known is older now. And even if all of us were the epitome of natural health the sheer prospects – the likely probabilities – work against us the longer we endure. Every day is a roll of the dice. Every day there is a chance.

This latest loss came from a distance, but it still hit hard. The man’s name was Danny Smith, and I hadn’t had a moment to spend with Danny in 35 years. But that doesn’t mean his impact on my life, even today, isn’t felt. He was a friend to me, a guide at times, during the most formative years of my life. Strange how many memories come flooding back in the end.

The circumstances of his death aren’t important. He was sick. He had been in the hospital recently, more than once. Our mutual friend – Jimmy Lane, whom I have known since kindergarten and is perhaps as responsible as anyone for the formation of modern Tom – sent me the message yesterday morning with these simple words: “back in the hospital,” “didn’t pull through this time,” “sorry to be the bearer,” “no plans for a funeral.”

And I thought, aw dammit. And then I put the phone away and finished getting ready for work, compartmentalizing the emotion. I mean, I hadn’t seen the man since we were both kids, right?

On the way to work I decided to shuffle Billy. Danny loved Billy Joel way back when. Billy Joel and Batman. We all have passions. In private moments, in those mid-80s times, he would play for me “She’s Always A Woman To Me” or “Uptown Girl” to signify his current feelings for one girl or another at the time. He was a bit of a romantic and a whole lot of player back then. He loved the ladies and the ladies loved him. Blond hair. Blue-eyed. Devil’s grin. Swoon.

One time, at some parents’ house (was it his?), at a New Year’s party (likely unauthorized), he played a Billy Joel song at midnight for us that none of us had ever heard. It was from the Turnstiles album (1976) and the song was called “I’ve Loved These Days.” He dedicated that song to our group, and all of our extended allies. He called us the City Light Knights. “I just want unforgettable memories of now for later when we’re old,” he used to tell me.

He was fearless. Reckless.

We were in high school and church youth group together, before the change. He had given up church for parties already, and I was an atheist off the pastor-path hanging on to church for social reasons. But, from the pews, I could see the life he was living “over there.” The drinking. The girls. The parties. I suppose many of my church mates looked on with scorn. With pity. I looked on with envy. I wanted to love those days more than I did. He would laugh for years at the phone call I finally made.

“Brother, I don’t believe in God anymore,” I had said, “And I wanna drink and smoke and laugh like you.”

That very night I began a different journey, one I’ve never regretted, with Danny Smith.

He was always more open, more outrageous, and more charming than me. I tried to be him for a little while but soon realized that being me, augmented as we were, worked even better. I could never be him but there was a time, by god, that I tried. No one can be anyone else, that much is true. And no one else could ever be Danny Smith. For him, it just came natural.

I don’t know how he lived the rest of his twenties. I had moved on from the scene, mostly, by the time I was 21. I spent my twenties taking over the lawn business, buying a house, getting married. Spent my thirties selling the lawn business, selling the house, and leaving my hometown with Mrs C. I spent my forties partying again, but that’s a story for another time.

Danny was a year or so younger than me. I don’t know how he spent his time in the decades since. How could I? But the tears came flowing down on the way to work, as Billy sang. As all the moments of the most formative years of my life, and the influence of Danny Smith upon them, came rushing back like they were yesterday. I spent years trying to change him. I spent years trying to be him. And now I spend a lifetime exactly how he hoped: smiling at unforgettable moments under city night lights with him.

For all the laughter and all the tears, Danny, thank you. Rest easy now, my friend. Vienna waits for you.

Now we take our time, so nonchalant
And spend our nights so bon vivant
We dress our days in silken robes
The money comes, the money goes
We know it’s all a passing phase

We light our lamps for atmosphere
And hang our hopes on chandeliers
We’re going wrong, we’re gaining weight
We’re sleeping long and far too late
And so it’s time to change our ways
But I’ve loved these days

Now as we indulge in things refined
We hide our hearts from harder times
A string of pearls, a foreign car
Oh, we can only go so far
On caviar and Cabernet

We drown our doubts in dry champagne
And soothe our souls with fine cocaine
I don’t know why I even care
We’ll get so high and get nowhere
We’ll have to change our jaded ways
But I’ve loved these days

So before we end, and then begin
We’ll drink a toast to how it’s been
A few more hours to be complete
A few more nights on satin sheets
A few more times that I can say
I’ve loved these days

24 thoughts on “Billy and the Bat

      1. A beautiful tribute. You made me cry…

        What promise he had. What memories we made. I
        will always think of him when I hear Uptown Girl.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Tom, this is a beautiful tribute to friendship and how time doesn’t block out the impact people have on our lives and hearts. This is a celebration of life, of music and connection and reflection; it seems it is just what your friend would have loved. Thank you for letting us get to know a little of Danny and a little more of you. I hope you and Mrs. C and the boys are well. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true, Beth! If he was anything like the Taurus I knew so long ago, he’d still be too bull-headed to listen if we tried. I remember trying to “fix” him in our teens, and he’d always call or approach me with advice on what he should and should not do. He never, ever took my advice (we would laugh about that, too, for hours) but I was always there to give it. Damn it, Danny. Miss ya, pal!


  2. This is my first time reading this, I just thought it was a couple of photos posted. It’s a good tribute. He told me many stories from back in the day. Your name was definitely brought up 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, thank you, Tracie. ❤️ So very sorry for your loss. My time with Danny was a blip in history, but an impactful one. He always made a lasting impression on everyone he touched. 😊


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