Updated: Mar 27
To Lowell, May He Rest in Peace
I had friends from a wide variety of cultures during my school days.
This story is about my friend, Lowell, who was from “the sticks,” as we called it.
Lowell and I played football together, all through high school.
We were both linemen, tall, big, and strong.
He was born tough and grew up rough. He barely got by in school. Shop class helped.
I was born soft, but I went on to become fairly tough. I was expected to do well in school, and I did.
We were from different stations in life.
We intersected on the football field, as rivals and teammates, and we intersected off the field as druggies and drunks.
Lowell and I bonded in crazy ways. In the first full pads practice of our senior year, we had a primal contest. The various parts of the team sectioned off, the linemen would gather round and get called into a one-on-one drill. Line up, man-to-man, and go on the whistle, slamming into each other as linemen do.
Me vs. Lowell was the main event.
As it turned out, like so many dysfunctional things from that era (’70’s, Pittsburgh) when it came to football and machismo (ie. not being allowed water for much of the practice, then finally drinking from buckets of disgusting water), I’d been given a helmet that didn’t fit properly. It was sliding down my face, and it didn’t have a full cage mask. This left my nose exposed.
Lowell had a devastating forearm shiver. His forearm was like a baseball bat, and he led with it, right into his opponent’s face.
Everyone gathered round, yelling, Finally, it was Lowell and me in the pit, power against power.
BAM. Super collision, primarily of Lowell’s forearm and my nose. Followed by a fountain of blood. I mean, damn, really flowing.
Some dumbass coach grabbed a roll of something and rolled it up and shoved some in each nostril, and they stuck my helmet back on me and put me back in the pit for rounds 2 and 3 of our famous one-on-one drills.
The next two times I led with the top of my helmet and we drilled each other, but it was anti-climactic.
Two things came out of that.
One, my nose bled after my first hit of the day, every day of the entire season. I got a properly fitting helmet with a full cage, but it didn’t matter.
Two, Lowell and I were bonded. I showed my toughness to the toughest.
Lowell and his local friends were not going to college. For that reason, this would be the end of his football-playing days.
I was most definitely college-bound, but I had no intentions of playing beyond high school.
Despite that difference, I hung out with Lowell and his buddies, out in the sticks. At the bigger parties, there were some angry dudes, always ready to fight. I was not a fighter. I didn’t like fighting.
I avoided those confrontations and stuck close to Lowell and his circle of friends. I was “cool” with them.
We smoked weed, drank everything we could, and we took pills. At that time, this was a solid basis for a friendship. I even went to see a Kiss concert with these guys. I expected heavy metal mayhem, but it was just a bunch of wastrels getting wasted and singing along.
The best thing about Lowell was that I NEVER felt threatened by him. I was accepted and respected even with our class difference.
You’ve heard the term Leather-Lung, right? As in “he sure is one Leather-Lunged guy!” That’s the fan at the ball game or concert who can be heard on the other side of the stadium.
I think the phrase may have been coined for Lowell’s old man. He came to our games, and what was amazing about him is that he was judicious in the use of his leather lungs. He didn’t yell throughout games, but at key moments he would weigh in like a lightning bolt and thunder from the skies.
He had a reputation as a brawler. Lowell never said much about him.
One school night, after partying, I stayed over at their house and rode the bus with Lowell and his pals to school the next morning. When we came in that evening, his dad was drunker than we were.
We were headed in different directions. Lowell eventually joined the Marine Corps, and I finished college and moved out west.
After high school, I saw Lowell a couple of times at keg parties in parks. Something had changed. The light was only flickering now.
The thing about this story is that although it fizzles out, it has a definitive end.
By fizzling out, I mean that years went by and I went through my descent into alcoholism, and Lowell and I lost touch. Somehow, I survived and I landed in recovery. And after moving back to Pittsburgh for a while, I went off to NYC, away from all of my old drinking chums.
The definitive end, however, is this: after a short stint in the Marines, Lowell went downhill, just as I did.
Instead of finding recovery, his esophagus burst and he died drowning in his own blood.
I’d heard at one point that he’d pretty much lost his mind. And he did a horrific thing. At a big party in a park, a fight erupted. Lowell was high on LSD as well as drunk out of his mind. He bit two fingers off of some poor guy’s hand.
So, when I heard that he’d died, it wasn’t a complete shock.
It was how he died.
I keep that in mind. That’s waiting for me as a possibility if I choose to pick up a drink.
Lowell, I’m so sorry that you had to go that way.
I thank you for your friendship, such as it was, while it lasted.
Rest in Peace, brother.