Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Roger Levett: All rascals go to Heaven

I spent yesterday morning with my friend Roger Levett, or perhaps I should say, I spent the morning with the last vestiges of the old guy who had expired during the night and lay resting on his bed, waiting for the funeral directors to come fetch him.

Roger had spent the night before in full rascal mode, chatting up his wife Jennette, eating a sumptuous meal she had prepared for him, watching the Blue Jays get their asses handed to them. After griping through the evening news, Roger retired to his bedroom. A few hours later, Jennette heard him padding to the kitchen for a feed of pate and crackers. Minutes later, Roger left this world to meet his maker.

Just like that, he was on his way.

The man had some explaining to do. I'm sure St. Peter put him on probation for all his trespasses, but would eventually let him through the Pearly Gates because he was so much damned fun. Like most writers with a taste for the ale, Roger was a contrarian, the guy who might find himself face-planted on the deck of the Press Club because he'd picked the wrong side of an argument.

By the time he met Jennette, he'd been married twice and had spent some time examining the dark side of life in a place he called Nightmare Avenue where all manner of illicit substances were consumed. To the amazement of myriad human resource professionals and Directors-General of Communications, he was able to get up to all sorts of bad behavior while still keeping a government job as a speechwriter.

His trademark was a cigarette-stained handlebar mustache which he finally shaved off for charity, in a moment of weakness during a charity event at the Club. We were all grateful to Pete LeBlanc for tearing that old rat off Roger's face.

Scott always said he was like a character from John Steinbeck's Canary Row, a guy who couldn't find a bar he didn't like, a guy who could walk into a gaggle of strangers and instantly become their colorful friend.

Jennette had managed to tame the beast -- she said he was under new management -- and took him down to Washington with her job. Roger spent the next four years golfing, working odd jobs and entertaining the patrons at Michael's Bar. Unfortunately, by the time the Levetts returned to Ottawa, there was no good government job waiting for Roger and he spent the past 20 years struggling to find work. Still, he continued to live his life in a state of Gonzo grace, meeting new friends at a place called Buffalo Charlie's, sitting on the deck of his awesome rental on Riverside Drive where he spent much of his time calling 911 operators to report collisions.

This was the time when I bonded with Roger, a dark period after my husband left me with three small kids. When my kids were off at their Dads, Roger's place became a pitstop on the way home from a day of tennis. We solved many of the world's problems -- including mine -- on that deck. I needed to share my insanity with someone who got me. It seems only another insane person could fit that bill.

Roger Levett wasn't everybody's taste, but he didn't give a shit. He lived his life on his own terms, getting over-cozy with a guy named Captain Morgan, mostly riding along on a pack of Camels, maybe two, each and every day of his life.

Roger paid dearly for his love of vices. He'd spent the better part of the past decade in the company of medical specialists even though he'd cleaned up his act more than four years ago. He had some weird conditions including one that made his feet and hands look like claws. We called him Lobster Man, a moniker he accepted with good humor even though the condition left him in extreme pain and required multiple operations.

By the end of it, he was on two puffers, took a boat load of narcotics and spent the rest of his CPP on vitamins, insulin and latterly, on some kind of drug that gave him the ability to swallow whole food. It meant the world to Roger that he could finally get down a real meal instead of the stuff he'd been served at the hospital, which he said looked and tasted like dog shit.

I said to the cops yesterday that we could pay for Roger's funeral with the proceeds of the sale of all the narcotics he lived on including a huge bottle of Oxy. The cop just shook his head as he fingered the wide variety of stuff that Roger had been taking to keep him alive over the last few years.

But Roger never complained, and mostly joked about his condition while sitting on our back deck drinking near beer. He didn't even complain last week when the docs at the Ottawa Hospital told him he only had a few weeks to live. He just signed himself out of the hospital so he could spend his birthday with his devoted wife.

"When is the deck open?" he asked me in his gravelly old man voice when I called to offer up birthday wishes.

"It's still too cold," I said, amazed that even though he'd been given a death sentence, he was still making plans. The night he died, he called his mum, wished her a Happy Mother's Day and vowed to get out to B.C. to see her next spring. He was going to buy a new car, maybe a Mustang. He was looking forward to getting back to the gym.

And Roger was also finally going to get his dental work done this week, hoping to be able to have a nice steak, eventually. It was on his bucket list, but it seems the Great and Powerful decided, finally, to kick over the bucket that Roger had lovingly protected all these many years. He'd been to the brink at least a dozen times, in a coma at least twice, but I guess he had finally had enough. Or it was his time.

"It should have been me," his 80 something mother Terry said when I talked to her yesterday.

"You took better care of yourself," I teased, and got her laughing.

"Oh well," she said. "At least he'll be with his Dad."

There is that.

Yesterday was a sad day for all of us. For our family, who'd lost a crazy uncle. For Terry who had lost a beloved son. For Jennette, who lost the love of her life.

I watched the old bastard being carted out of his apartment into the Famous Gold Van that I used to see when we lived behind the Jewish Memorial Chapel. Roger was under the blanket, all 98 pounds of him, taking the final journey.

Once again, Roger was under new management.

Rest easy, long-liner.

Say hi to your Dad, and Al Rogers, Jake McLean and all the other rascals. Don't forget to save a seat for me at the North End of the Press Club bar. I wouldn't want to be anyplace else when my journey ends.


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