Farewell, My Friend

I just returned home from the memorial for Jeff Boughner.

I first met Jeff when he interviewed me for a job at Schuler Books, back in August of 1993. I was working as a prep cook at the time, and desperate to be in an environment where people actually read books on purpose. Jeff decided I was a good candidate, and in the middle of September he hired me for what turned into a six-and-a-half year stint selling books.

In a surprisingly short amount of time I became the special orders manager, which meant dealing with people who already had a problem: we didn’t carry the book they wanted. Finding books for those people was detailed, drawn-out, and often quite frustrating for everyone involved.

Something you should know about bookstore employees: We take the job because we love books, not because we love people.

Over the years, Jeff came to recognize the stormy brow when I came stomping out onto the floor preparing to commit mayhem on the nearest warm body, and he had an uncanny way of defusing the situation just as I was about to let loose on someone: He would look at me, get kind of a Mona Lisa smile on his face, look down at whatever he had been reading, and just say “Oh, John, John, John…” while shaking his head.

Somehow, it worked. He was taking the deep slow breath for me when I couldn’t.

Somewhere around ’96 or ’97 I discovered that writing poetry could be as rewarding as reading it, and this led to participating in a few local poetry readings. The first time I ever stepped on stage in front of a crowd, Jeff was behind me with his guitar providing a soft, blues-ey jazz atmosphere for my nervous stuttering and mumbling. Beside him were Al and Hugo, in a primeval version of Blue Nebula, even before the era when they were the Haje Nebula. Actually, I think those poetry readings might have been where the Haje Nebula got its start.

Blue Nebula’s website is here. Take a second to listen to the music. That’s Jeff on the ethereal guitar.

After I quit the bookstore for greener pa$ture$, I fell out of touch with Jeff a little. He worked the same hours I did, so I would usually only see him on the occasional lunch hour or Friday afternoon. I still tried to keep up with the Blue Nebula performances, but those didn’t allow for a lot of hanging out and catching up.

The last time I saw him perform was at a poetry reading in the middle of last year, where he was accompanying several of the same poets who were on the ticket with me my first time. I managed to say a few words to him during one of the breaks between poets, complimenting him on his playing and just enjoying hearing him talk to the other musicians at the party.

I was on vacation when I heard that Jeff was sick. A few hours later I heard he had died. I made sure to lift a glass for him on Bourbon Street.

There were probably close to 200 people at the memorial service at the church which Jeff had attended for so long. Family, friends, co-workers, compatriots. At one point, near the end of the ceremony, the pastor invited people to share their memories of Jeff. One of his old bandmates from a LONG time ago said “Everyone who ever had the pleasure of performing with Jeff, stand up.” And many people did. That moment, more than any other, demonstrated the breadth of Jeff’s influence on the world around him.

As we were leaving the ceremony, and I was saying goodbye to the old Schuler Books crowd, Christine — another one of the poets — gave me a big hug and said “Didn’t it feel great to be able to stand up and say you performed with Jeff?” and that’s where the tears finally came and my voice broke and thinking about it I can feel it all again.

Yes. It was wonderful.

Thank you, Jeff. You were a bigger part of our lives than anybody realized until tonight.

I will miss you.

59.941428, 30.352650

In May of 1994 I spent a month in the Hotel Rus, drinking vodka and Georgian wine, taking dozens of photographs, and generally having the time of my life. It was here that I got into the habit of keeping a daily journal, something which I have kept doing, more or less, ever since. I still pull out the photos once in a while to remind myself of what it was like to be 25 in St Petersburg.

First Book Post of 2007

Well, the past couple of months have been wild ups and downs in the book department. Over the holidays I read the three volumes of the Wild Shore Triptych by Kim Stanley Robinson. Each of the books is a possible future for Orange County, CA — The Wild Shore, which was post-apocalyptic, The Gold Coast, an urban dystopia, and Pacific Edge, an up-and-coming ecological utopia. All of them were good, but the last was probably the best read.

I have also been diving head-long into John Varley, who writes some of the most enjoyable science fiction I have read in a long, long time. Several months back I read his Gaea Trilogy — Titan, Wizard and Demon. Very good. More recently I picked up Red Thunder, which was AMAZING; Mammoth and The Ophiuchi Hotline. The latter two were good, but not great…but still well worth the read.

Robin Hobb’s most recent book Forest Mage, the second in the Soldier;s Son trilogy, came out a few months back. The first in the series took off rather slowly, and didn’t seem to have a specific direction, but this one was well worth the effort. Hobb just keeps getting better at writing fantasy novels.

And finally, one which caught me by surprise, kept me up at night, and left me awe-struck: The Terror, by Dan Simmons.

The Terror is historical fiction mixed with some gothic horror and a light touch of the supernatural. It explores the Franklin Expedition, where 128 men disappeared while looking for the Northwest Passage.

I wish I could find the words to express the wonder of Simmons’ books. If you have read the Hyperion Cantos, or any of Simmons’ horror novels then you have an idea what you may find here. It is not a quick read, being almost 800 pages, but if you do dive into The Terror you will find your time and money very well spent.