I know his real name. I know his voice. I know what he would say. I know where he has been. And now that he is on his way to heaven, I don't want to go to his funeral. I know I'm being selfish, and I don't want to face the fact of his death. It wasn't that he seemed invincible, but you figured the old bastard would be around a lot longer. This is not a eulogy. This is just something I've got to say.
It hasn't been quite a year, I don't think, since the last of my online gamer buddies died. And now here we go again. It's breaking my heart, just breaking my heart.
His tag was 'Lethalme'. Three syllables, with the accent on 'me'. He was leader of the Cult of Sun Tzu, a scabbarous wag with a salty tongue and the conspiratorial honesty of old men. No. He wasn't our leader, he was our heart and soul and center of gravity. We loved him. We loved him like a crazy uncle, like a man too wise for words who never bothered to lecture us. I would call him by his name but I never met him in person. It doesn't feel right. We lived in dozens of virtual spaces communicating in real time, but I never shook his hand or bought him a drink.
I met him about six years ago in Moscow. We were driving our Ferraris in circles around Red Square and he was cursing out some kid. And the kid said how old are you? and you must be high. He said I'm old enough to be your grandfather and I'm smoking a bowl right now. Four months out of the year he smoked bowls of weed. We would notice the change in his attitude when he was off the stuff. I thought he just enjoyed it, and I liked his discipline. He'd go out to the garage and light up because it wasn't allowed in the house. I didn't know it was because of the cancer until years later.
One day, out of the blue, we talked about USC. He went there some time around the sixties when there weren't many black folks around. We talked about old black LA, for about 90 minutes. I can't remember a minute of it, but I could tell he was a man about town. He was a musician, and got a full ride on scholarship. I forget what he played, but I know he got himself a new guitar in the last days. It was the only picture I had of him. He was happy to be learning, and it was a good expensive guitar. He said it was easier than he expected.
There's a popular commercial about the Most Interesting Man in the World. The Lethal One was the most interesting man I ever knew. He was a real life hot rodder back in 50s Los Angeles and he ran with the street racers. He played golf with Mamie Clayton's family. He was a railroad engineer. He was an air traffic controller. He was the kind of man who lived by his wits when it was necessary. He didn't dwell on the past. He made his avatar a woman who looked like her name would be Mabel or Flo. He liked drivers and shooters. He liked us.
He lived on the eastern edge of the City of Angels on the western edge of the desert. Every night he would sit out in the garage and turn on the wheel. It wasn't easy to piss him off and he wasn't arbitrary, but suddenly somebody would be on his shit list and we'd never hear the end of it. That happened to TapDancer. That happened to Ferfer. That happened to Volvo. But Ferfer got back into the fold somehow. The Lethal One wasn't vengeful.
Lethal liked me. He always spoke highly of me. He used to call me 'Six'. Said I was a good looking dude with a good looking family. He said I was pretty smart. I spent many weeks thinking about how I'd make my way out to the desert and cook up some steaks with him. Last year we all promised to get together at the Long Beach Grand Prix, but he had family in for the weekend and pulled out at the last minute. So that summer when I got tickets to Return to Forever, I tried to get him out. But he couldn't make it. I figured that I'd catch up to him sooner or later.
He was beyond discipline in the way that men who get away with it are. So I never heard him complain. Oh sure he had his moments when we talked politics and he was even into a conspiracy theory or two. But he didn't try to get people to do what he wanted them to do - he would just tell you plainly.
You could go through two lifetimes and never meet one such as the Lethal One. He was one of those characters you'd expect Rudyard Kipling to write about. A man's man, a lover of people, a disciple of a few glorious callings and a rascal as constant and faithful. He had a beautiful charisma. He never lied. He never faked the funk. He never changed his accent. He might have done several things for no good reason but he was passionate like that. He explained himself, but didn't make excuses.
I never met him in person. I never will.
And there I am again, this gamer, this virtual presence with my virtual friends all so near and dear to my heart disappearing. I have a thousand mashed up memories from a thousand hours with The Lethal One and our friends. And I'm a loser. He's off the grid.
Ooooh baby! He would say. We'd be swinging around the last corner on the Washington DC circuit in AC Cobras and he'd be in 6th or 7th place. Kudos in jeopardy! Or we'd be at the first hairpin turn at the end of the downhill straight at Mugello and everybody would want to stay clear of his havoc. Or we'd be at the old neon sign graveyard outside of Vegas and he would play Dickstepper with the shotty. He used to stand outside the near door at the Presidio and toss grenades. That was always his entrance - predictable every time. He used to drive the Mouse Mini Cooper for the Red Team on the Ring. He used to love that stupid beach map on Island Thunder. And he always used to get caught in the hallways in The Vault or coming up the ladder from the basement tunnels at . We battled together at the train stations of Black Arrow, the casino rooftops in Vegas 2, the tank field at Modern Warfare, fighting Nazi zombies in a beat up old building with a sofa in the middle of a staircase and a hundred other places. Fake soldiers dying fake deaths together, friends until the end.
The lobby is empty. The adventure seems hollow. I won't be able to draft him, pass him and let him spin out challengers on my six. I won't be able to hear him tell me for the 55th time how much better Forza is with the wheel.
I'm all disjointed. The friends on my friends list were friends because Lethal was a friend. The death of Fastlane Ken was the one of the one two, and now Lethal is dead. That's the other shoe dropping. That's the end of the era. That's the last straw. There's almost no reason to go back online to XBox Live. I'm never going to meet anyone like him again. Anywhere. Ever.
I don't know what stage I'm at now. Anger I think. Lethalme was one of those men whom if you had them as a friend, and I did, you would never need a psychiatrist. I feel the planet one man lighter. Less alive. And I feel that somehow I have to be part of him now that he's gone. I have to let some of him live in me beyond the effects I experienced. But I have to move on. I can't sit here and regret that I don't have a voice recording all transcribed for my library. I have to be that guy. I'm angry at God. That's what kind of man we lost. The kind of man whose absence makes you mad that you have to live post-.
I have to wring out all of my sentiments. Death comes to us all. Cancer. Well you only temporarily beat any disease. Sooner or later something kills you. We're all in remission. We all relapse. Life itself is a bedside vigil.So you do right while you're alive. You make your mark. You love your people and you make them remember the pride and the joy and the energy and fortitude of your life. The Lethal One did all that and I am glad to have known him in the narrow way I did, through this electronic network that augments our ability to cover distance and time. His life came through it and he touched me on this side. It was a human encounter and it came through in his voice and through his transmitted actions. It was a friendship that lasted for years. It has produced fond memories that will be with me until my end.