December 18, 2011 – When a friend dies in the arms of winter, icy air and gray, motionless clouds seem apt pallbearers for the coffin of our desolation. And so it is today.
Yesterday, while seated at a pub, where my friends regularly gather to share the day’s stories or watch a sporting event over beers or martinis, a cellphone call came in to Barry which seemed ordinary enough but for the words he spoke after hanging up. He said: “RJ’s dead”. Flush with doubt and denial, I half-seriously asked him if he was joking. Barry, portly and scot-complected, turned ruddy and looked me in the eye. “RJ’s dead. He’s at Henry Ford, Dearborn. Gotta go to see Amy. She’s over there.”
I paid my bill quickly, finished my Jameson’s even more quickly, and followed Mark the Professor to the Hospital. It was a day like today, cloudy with intimations of sadness I had not detected until they hit me straight in the face. The parking lot was curiously empty, as if to underline the singular nature of this tragedy. I walked into the emergency room and saw no one prepared to give me assistance; so I thought: I can find Amy and Barry by myself, but instead, would up sauntering up and down empty corridors in this department and that until I doubled-back to the ER where a nurse with little on her mind allowed: “He’s down that hall to the right with some people. Who are you by the way?” I told her I was a close family friend.
Despite the frown of the disapproving school principal seen in this picture, RJ was a chipper sort, with a sardonic sense of humor attendant to an unforgettably shrill laugh.
Randolph J. Dubitsky, Esq., was a good friend and colleague. I have known him for over three decades. We were almost the same age with RJ (as his friends affectionately called him) having a few months on me. He was 61 years old when an abdominal aneurysm cut him down whilst he exercised at an health club less than two furlongs from the hospital in which he now lay lifeless – in a room across the room in which I was then seated with his wife, Amy, Barry and Mark. I did not know at the time he was so close, across the hallway. It was a Saturday, for Pete’s sake!, no one dies on Saturday, let alone Saturday afternoon! It was also Christmas, with friends throwing parties as was the case that day with my wife and I invited to Tony the Greek’s and Laura’s annual event at the Ikaria Club.
RJ was on the tread mill when he suffered the explosion in his chest. The EMS took ten minutes to arrive and administered the team’s best service. He was DOR at the Henry Ford (Fairlane) Hospital ER with doctors having no bags of tricks, miraculous medicaments or liturgical incantations to revivify him. As I wrote, he was only 61 years-old, at the outer ring of his life’s prime.
RJ standing with Barry, Barry’s daughter, Hannah, and a gentleman whose acquaintance I have not yet made. RJ is second from the right sporting his iconic Brook’s Brother’s tie.
RJ retired from his work with the Wayne County Friend of the Court some years ago, no doubt amassing a pension fund destined to provide him with a comfortable life, if he were only destined to outlive the pension. But he was, at his young age, unwilling to simply play golf and wait for the Grim Reaper. He began to work with Barry at the charter school called Advanced Technology Academy in Dearborn where he was legal advisor and administrative assistant. Barry, RJ, Mark, this eulogist, and even Amy and Hannah, were seen frequently together at “The Bar” where there was always talk of the school and some of its colorful, humorous happenings.
My memories of RJ are the pangs which motivate the sense of loss endemic to the living. I will now have to live without his strident, put-on-British accent extolling of the virtues of a “good whipping”, “a good flogging”, “a good thrashing” – and the almost whimsical impersonation of Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh ordering his boatswain to “whip him with a will” on the Bounty. I always followed up with Laughton’s amazing admonition to Fletcher Christian, fist in the air, barking out something about “hanging from the highest yardarms in Portsmouth”. Besides that, the subject of T.E. Lawrence always came up, especially the scene with Jose Ferrer as the Turkish colonel who was bent on satiating his lust for the blondish Circassian whom he thought Lawrence must have been. This was always concluded with an ear-splitting rendition of the Lawrence of Arabia theme composed by Maurice Jarre for the cinema (but not for the tavern).
With RJ gone, I will have no one to belittle me at the bar with the mere flip of a tie showing a Brook’s Brothers pedigree. The flaunting of taste is an admirable trifle in life, and I do appreciate it. Without my friend, RJ, it will be an oft-repeated memory. Few people I have known love big-band music – a genre to which I inevitably gravitate when sipping whiskey – but RJ did, and ever-politely played it on the jukebox to avoid its monopolization and plunder by perfervid mavens of rap-crap and nihilo-decibelism just to vex the few refined amongst us.
When Mark asked to view RJ, I had no idea he was supine on a bed within earshot, across the hall.
We were allowed in where I, once again, saw the difference between a body in comatose sleep contrasted with a body without life. The difference is stark. I recognized my friend despite the mask of intubation still clinically protruding from his jaw and wondered in a span of compressed moments how recent it was that he was among the breathing. Amy did say earlier that, despite the devastation of his passing, she was happy he went so quickly, spared the suffering of so many with chronic, slow, appetitive diseases that might give comfort to the clinging survivors but which gave little comfort to the departing. I did have flashes of Christopher Hitchins as she said that. I remember also that a sacrilegious thought dashed through my mind: maybe God wasn’t so great, really. I also recited quickly the last stanza of W.C. Bryant’s Thanatopsis.
To Amy, his wife; Warren, his son; Eric, his youngest son and Jim, his brother: our condolences straight from the depths of our heart. We wish RJ a serene voyage into the churning vortex of transmigrating souls in preparation for his return to us. Ziad