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Turn and Walk Away
RIP Howard Bach

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

Howard Bach is gone, having passed away a couple of weeks ago. Somewhat to my consternation, Howard used to insist that we were twins, invoking the Smith Brothers' Cough Drops to make his point.

He did this over the course of the first two or three years of our relationship, whenever we met at some public event, the Fabrica Art Walk or wherever. With us standing side by side, him with his cropped beard, mine long, it was a reliable schtick, a crowd pleaser, but Howard always had the biggest laugh.

Our relationship was, you might say, specialized. We never made plans to get together. We never did anything. But when we did bump into each other we'd fall into a great routine; exchanging, in a New York banter, jokes, philosophical nuggets, mostly cynical observations about current events, et al.

In a real sense we were twins. If not actual mishpucha (family), we were both members of "the tribe," both Jews of a certain time and place. Say what you will about tribalism, but it's nice to not always have to finish your sentences.

Most-frequently we met at the Saturday Market, where, before Covid, I worked "selling my girlfriend's clothes." And there you have the irreverence that characterized our discourse. While it is technically true that I was "selling my girlfriend's clothes in the Saturday Market," this phrasing of it suggests something indecent.

Put more properly, I was selling clothes that were woven by my girlfriend and her team of three weavers. When Howard came to the Saturday Market, and I wasn't wrapping up some lucky lady 12 different ways in a shawl (it's good work if you can get it), he and I would engage in our standard "lightening round" of socializing.

I am forever slowing down my communication with people. I have to remind myself to include the usual courtesies, to express approbation of what they are saying, rather than simply riffing off of it. Being inspired by and responding to the discourse ought to be enough without my having to say: "I hear you," "That's interesting." If I didn't find what you are saying interesting, then I wouldn't be speaking with you.

One can take the analogy too far, but after driving the sports car around town, it's enlivening to take the thing out on the open road and step on the gas.

During these, our brief, rapid fire, high speed "rides," Howard would often bring up a theme from one of my articles. It warmed my heart to know that he was reading. I'm not that good at staying in touch with people, but I do lay myself bare on these pages.

I saw Howard for the last time a couple of months ago while I was riding my bicycle up the hill of 28 de abril. I knew he lived on that part of the street, but I never knew, and I'm still not sure, which house was his.

He was out on the street speaking to someone in a car, a jeep, as I remember. Howard, tall as he was (I was the shorter twin), was easily spotted at a distance. The Mexican sun glaring off the windshield, I couldn't see who was in the jeep. Standing there, straddling my bicycle, not wanting to interrupt, I didn't have a chance to say hello. Noticing me, Howard heaved something between a sigh and a moan, made a highly theatrically facial expression, turned away, walked a few steps up the sidewalk to an open door, entered and closed it behind him.

I was taken aback. It could have been a snub, but Howard had never snubbed me before, had never been anything but friendly and happy to see me. Something profound had just transpired and, as yet, I knew not what.

There, after Howard made what was for me his final exit, I looked into the jeep and noticed a good friend of his, J., sitting behind the wheel. Rolling my bike up the sidewalk to the ground just vacated by Howard, I addressed J. through the open driver-side window. J. had witnessed the weirdness of the moment and was kind, the way people from New York can be kind. I asked him, "Is Howard alright? Is he in his right mind?" Looking into my eyes, sensing my concern, appreciating my directness, the way people from New York appreciate directness, J. responded, "He's okay as long as he's doing one thing at a time." I shrugged, thanked him and rode off up the hill.

I learned that Howard had died ten days ago when I ran into K., our mutual acquaintance, in Mercado Sano. K. broke the sad news, fondly reminiscing over a cup of tea of working with Howard in various productions over the years. I remarked that onstage or off, Howard was forever reaching down into himself, giving his best.

Still coming to terms with our last goodbye (or non-goodbye) I asked K. if Howard was in his right mind at the end. Bristling a bit at the seeming impropriety of my query, defending the deceased, he responded, "Well, I know that he was with it enough to say that he wanted to leave the hospital and die at home."

A few days ago, I was standing on the corner waiting for Gil Gutierrez, one of my best advertisers, who had just called to advise me that he was minutes away with some money for me. (There's a man who understands value.) Gil is, like Howard was, another person with whom I enjoy brief, heart-felt encounters infrequently.

While I was standing there, an acquaintance, L. drove up. Pulling over, she opened her passenger-side door and invited me in. I declined the invite, telling her that I was on the look-out for Gil.


Howard Bach
***

Her car reeked of marijuana. By way of explanation, L. asked me if I had heard that Howard Bach had died, telling me that with his sister's encouragement she had just uprooted a pair of marijuana plants that had been growing up on Howard's roof and that those same plants, as we spoke, were in the car's back seat under a sheet. I asked L. if Howard had lost his mind. "No," she said, "he was ok."

I kept asking because I was still trying to come to terms with the last time I saw Howard, there on 28 de abril. I think that now I have.

On the one hand, I would have liked to have exchanged some pleasantries with him, as usual. But on the other hand, everything was already said.

We Jews are over-represented when it comes to comedy and suffering, and there is a strong connection between the two. Comedy involves violence. The clown slips on a banana peel and we peal with laughter.

The kabbalists say that when a sadness is too great for the brain, it overflows in tears, but maybe they needed a better sense of humor. Comes a point when all you can do is laugh, or, as did Howard, groan, make a funny face and turn away.

My relationship with Howard reached its sun-drenched culmination on the street that day. All the action of our play together came to be summed up in that one enigmatic gesture of his, that has so much occupied me since. The drama resolved, the comedy surfeit, the heart and brain can hold no more. Our leading man turns and exits the stage. Dim the lights.

**************

Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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