Stan Vandale And Me


This is a tale of simultaneous stories.  It’s a tale of a single night, isolated in time and space, that’s merely one fold in an unfolded old map – weathered, creased and torn.  It’s a tale of mystics and spirits as ordinary as a couple of boys full of adolescent adventures.  It’s a tale that’s true.  It’s a tale that’s unbelievable.  It’s a tale of two kids with an indelible bond who grew up, grew apart and remain friends and strangers.  It’s a complicated tale, but this is the simplest way I can tell it.

When I lived in Arizona, one rare long weekend, I drove deep into the desert over relentless miles of further horizons, seeking a place where the city feared to go.  North from Payson, north from Winslow, north into the Navajo nation — as if I were an eager pilgrim gathering miles like holy relics.  But I ended up just being a tourist, cameraed and sandaled, sitting on a wooden bench, watching drumbeat dancers in the dying afternoon…

One time, in the long ago, Stan had a raft, and he and I and his little brother Dan decided (no, we didn’t decide – Stan convinced us) to Huck Finn ourselves down to the Pitt River, or out to the ocean or all the way to Hawaii if we got the chance.  We didn’t; the ship went down with all hands before we got 50 metres, and 1,000 years from now, archeologists are going to find my wallet buried in the mud and wonder how a foolish boy didn’t drown that day…

In the long shadows, the drums stopped and everyone clapped and snapped maybe just one more flash photo, and then it was time to exit through the gift shop, please.  But, I didn’t exit; I couldn’t exit.  One of the wordless dancers (for no reason I’ll ever understand) came and led me away — away from the crowd and the cars and the buzzing noisy neon — into the desert and the creeping night.  And there — with the first stars — I sat on a woven blanket with the women and the kids who spoke to me in guttural syllables and exaggerated gestures.  And I wondered … what?  And then I heard the drums again…

One time, in a teenage hot summer day, when the adults were full of picnic, Stan and I and his little brother and sister found a cliff face and we decided (no, we didn’t decide – Stan convinced us) to climb it — just to see what we could see.  And we climbed into the scared and the sky, crawling on the vertical rock, our minds and muscles shivering with gravity.  And I stopped once to steady Melody’s elbow and once to capture more courage and once just to curse the madness.  Then we popped over the top — a surprise of dirty children, frightening the tourists…

These were the old dances, now — the grandfather dances.  And the darkness chanted with fire — its flames touching the paint on the dancers’ faces, its light in the winking eyes of the snakes they carried, and its tongue flicking and licking sparks into the sky.  And the drums were the night’s heart, beating and breathing with the murmured rhythm of tall moccasins.  And in the night and light, the dancers slowly dusted away, swallowing themselves in the shadows — until only their spirits remained.  And time and earth and sky disappeared, and there was only now.  And for hours or minutes or days, the spirits saw me and we travelled together.  And that’s what happened.
Later, sometime, in the morning I think, the wordless dancer found me again and said, “You remember this thing.  You’re gonna need those guys.”

I don’t see Stan much anymore – weddings and funerals — but I still count him as more than a friend.  As a boy, I learned how the world works, and Stan was part of that experience.  He certainly had a confidence that didn’t rub off, and he was always fun to be around.  A couple of weeks ago, I heard that Stan was sick – really sick — and I thought about that night in Arizona.  It’s odd how that came to mind after all these years, but it made me think: maybe those spirits weren’t for me at all; maybe I was just keeping them for a friend.

So, for what it’s worth, Stan, I know this is a difficult journey, but if you want, you can walk with the spirits I found one star-dark night in Arizona for a while.  I’m absolutely certain they’ll show you the way.

5 thoughts on “Stan Vandale And Me

  1. This was beautiful in so many ways, your descriptions of the desert night and the drums beating… I can almost hear them. Lovely tribute to your comrade. I hope he finds comfort.

  2. Means so much more now that he is gone. He did make our childhood a happy adventure. Some adventures not so smart but just the same we survived them and that made us happy (until we got home and the parents found out). Thanks Bill for sharing.

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