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INside Scoop January, 2008

The Writer at Work

Mark DeWees 1954-2005
Best friend makes me best man
By  Daryl Jung

Mark DeWees December, 1984
It's two weeks less a day now since my oldest and best friend was killed by his motorized passion.

Mark DeWees, or, if you prefer, the right honourable Reverend Marcus "C.M." DuFois (or, very early on, Garf, for reasons that elude, and I was Barf), and I were born a week apart practically to the hour. We hooked up the first day of first grade at West Cedar Elementary School in Waverly, Iowa, USA, population 8,000. It was love at first sight, at least on my part.

We lived a football field away until the first day of the fifth grade, making way for us to become virtually inseparable. I didn't have a brother, and wasn't likely to get one, and Mark's, the darling David, was an infant for most of those years. So having the DeWeeses there suited me like manna from heaven.

My stars, when he and his folks, Jim and Marilyn, little Dave and younger sister Joyce went to the relatives' for two weeks every summer, it felt like two years to me.

And oh, what a looney pair we made! Mark was the most delightfully silly kid I'd ever met. My nascent hunger for uncontrollable laughter was sated in spades by his wide-eyed, effortless, almost organic sense of humour (which he retained all through his life) and I spent half my early waking hours in hysterics.

He cracked my dad up too, on a fairly regular basis. Not an easy feat for a kid, I assure you. One thing that always got him going (and still does) was Mark's epic Dadaist poem, Hum-Buh-Dee-Coe-Dee-Coe-Dee. And then there was the Swamp Monkey -- a long, funny story.

We were perfect foils. Mutt and Jeff. Spin and Marty. Barf and Garf. We exploited each other's strengths and tolerated and buffered the other's weaknesses like a miniature Abbott and Costello. When we'd play trucks, I'd say, "Okay! I'll be Chip 'The Wild Roadhog' Henderson and you be Big Pete 'Rubber King' Chapman!" He'd look at me and sigh, "Can't we just be Joe and Mac?" I could never come up with a reason why not. Our timeless bond in a nutshell.

The Beatles came and we just had time to make replica cardboard and wood guitars and a waste-basket drum kit, and recruit Charlie Kerndt as George and Jeff Hemingson as Ringo to Garf's Paul and my John, before the bomb hit. So successful was Jim at Fred Gaylor's Super Value that he got a plumb job offer that was taking the DeWeeses to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

It was the saddest, and oddest, thing. The day they moved was, as I said, also the first day of fifth grade. What are the odds? We hugged, were too freaked out to cry, I think, and Marcus jumped in the car and I went to homeroom for my first year and a brand new crowd at the big house, Irving School, sans Garf.

My devastation then was similar to what I feel now, being so young and the world so big.

Willy Knowles, Jung, DeWees circa 1973
How big I didn't yet realize. But I was about to. Turns out me 'n' DuFois' friendship was not weakened, but rather bolstered, by miles. Which led to many visits, summers and Christmases, to the Home of the Packers and the DeWeeses -- and the consequent pursuit of all the misadventures and subtle little pleasures a big city, and a willing but careful cohort, had to offer.

Here the Fifth must be plead, but let's just say that every conceivable "rite of passage" that one pathologically curious and another pragmatic, level-headed young man can have, was had in each other's proximity, if not actual presence. The Beatles broke up and we wept. Mark got very into Bob Dylan. He took up drums, I foolishly laboured at guitar. Now I play the drums, and brother Dave is a musician. What are the odds?

One hot, late-60s summer a crazy, closeted gay Methodist minister took us 'n' Willy Knowles (our very equal third wheel) to Chicago when we were 16 to see Hair! (nudity!) and hit the notorious North Side to attend an early session of Jesse Jackson's Operation Breadbasket, now the Rainbow Coalition. And we was the only non-brothers in the joint!

My heart -- and Mark and Willy's too, definitely -- never pumped so hard as it did that summer. And it's never ached quite like it does right now.

Mark's heart would soon pound even harder, and to a different beat, upon meeting the most amazing girl named Debbie Seering. It was love at first sight, at least on his part. They were a perfect couple, such a natural coming-together of kindred spirits that it felt like she'd been around the whole time. She tolerated me like a saint. Or a shrink. Or a sister-in-law.

To this day, especially now, Neil Young's After The Gold Rush puts me in a soft, smoky, black-lit room -- with Mark and Debbie and Willy and LuAnn Parrins, Deb's erstwhile runnin' mate, and later Missy and Cher (Where are you guys? -- Ed.), Brad O. and Joyce, talking horticulture, religion, philosophy, music, mysticism and radical politics -- feeling the love flow from and over me like nothing I've experienced since. And very likely won't again.

It was Mark who ultimately taught me what it all meant, and crystallized it by making me his and Deb's best man, my first and last wedding party, except for my own (which he attended). It was an honour so unspeakably thrilling that I couldn't even believe my rotten good luck -- to have a friend and brother like Mark and to experience what I soon came to realize was unconditional love.

Oh yes! He loved The Beatles' Oh! Darling from Abbey Road and Dylan's Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands. Very important. Also, of course, Sir Elton's My Song. My whole life, if I'm asked who's my best friend, I say this cat from Wisconsin.

Well, I ain't stopping now. And if you're curious, "C.M." ain't naughty or nothin'. Chocolate Mint. A very long, and, true to form, very funny story.

There's something I think his kids, Megan and Justin, oughta know. Debbie already does. There was never anybody like your dad. He was an original. One of the great ones. The classiest of acts. A sweet, sweet soul. I cherish every moment I spent with him. I loved him. He was my best friend.

And though a huge part of me died with Mark James DeWees, he will be with me, and certainly you, forever.

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Daryl Jung
Inkwell Newswatch (IN)

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