Dean Clough

March 30, 2022

Portico Darwin: It's Just Steven and Me Now

Shocker, but being here on the East Coast makes me nostalgic.

But having COVID-19 and being quarantined at Murphy Manor all this week has given me some extra time to go on and on even more than normal!   I mean like holy shit on and on.  Here, in a blog post nobody (and I mean nobody) is asking for, is the story of the breakup over time of my group of high school friends. 

Those of us that stay in touch are now down to two, from an original 7 (at least).  40 + years on from our graduation from Colonie Central High School in Albany, NY in 1981, I remain friends with only the Chicago golf bum Steven Simon.  He's my oldest friend now and happy to say, also a fan. 

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You see, the wonderful cornucopia of friends Julie and I have now has a precedent.  We called ourselves the "Immediate Family", or I.F. for short, and it was our high school group.  The I.F. took pride in being separated from the rest - derisively deeming the stereotypical football stars and their cheerleading acolytes as "The Happy Days Gang" and shunning traditional high school mores overall.  Steven and I were even on the varsity golf team, which only solidified us as iconoclasts.  But we certainly had the best taste in music and set a standard for high school partying of which I am still very proud.  And it is fact that I tapped a small working beer keg in my public speaking class, for "speech to instruct".

The I.F. coalesced around the 9th or 10th grade, and while I was bounced ("ruled out of the clan") for a short period (a very difficult 11th grade), it was mostly a unified group throughout high school, and into college.  Many of us stayed in touch for years.   

Here is the original I.F. - some names are real, others fake, in the order in which we've fallen out of touch.  Some may dispute this list - there were people like Jay Slingerland (real name), Danny Bologna (real name!), and George Bunyan (half fake name) and several girls that were kinda sorta in the I.F.  But this list was the core, at least as I remember it. 

Glen Doherty
Always a bit aloof, he became more so after high school graduation:  none of us have ever saw him again.  I literally don't know if this guy is even still alive.  Quite strange, but it makes sense in hindsight.  He probably wouldn't remember my name today, in fact.

Joe Fowler
Oh, Joe!  He and I were very tight through high school and in to adulthood.  For example, his wedding in 1989 (to which my parents were also invited) was one of the best I've ever attended.  As a bonus, I also always idolized Joe, right down to following him to Florida for college in the fall of 1981.

But while becoming a partner at KPMG (I didn't think he had that in him, but I was wrong), Joe made some very questionable personal decisions.  It was during the breakup of his first marriage that he came to San Francisco and made a drunken fool of himself.   Which of course is fine - I do that myself on a fairly regular basis.   So we never officially broke up - but I've never had a conversation with Joe since, and that event in SF took place in the late 1990s.

My only take is that he was embarrassed for what he had done - not in SF, but in his own personal life overall - we're talking some pretty outside-the-lines behavior.  Otherwise, I really don't understand why we don't connect occasionally.

Brooks Nazarian
An even bigger bummer.  You see, Brooks was my best friend for a long time, and he was Best Man at our wedding.  We stayed tight for years, in fact, until a fateful visit by him to SF in the early '00s. 

Now, Brooks was always a bit prone to acting up in bizarre, unpredictable ways - one of his nicknames growing up was "The Heel".  But that was in high school, so I figured by the time we were in our 40s, Brooks had matured to some degree.  Wrong. 

He's is a big baseball fan, so I wanted to show off Oracle Park during his visit.  I scored us very fancy seats and we bar hopped our way down to the Giants game.  At a drink stop, Brooks blew his nose, and put the dirty tissue on the bar, to leave for a bartender to pick up.  I told him how gross that was and his response was to take the tissue and rub it on my bare arm.  But that's not why we broke up.

We broke up because he went on to be a total dick at the baseball game that night, and then did the tissue trick again at a bar afterwards.  I threw him out of our apartment.

At Steven Simon's wedding in 2005, we kissed and made up - but we've not spoken since.

Here is a photo I took in Boulder in 1985 of Joe Fowler and Brooks Nazarian, during a wild visit by Joe from Miami.  Brooks and I were roommates at the time.

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Kevin Murray
I'd say this is the saddest story.  Unlike the rest of us, Kevin has always worked with his hands, and didn't care for college.  He works in his family's construction business, where he's had varying degrees of success over the years.  It was funny - there are not two people more different than Kevin and I, yet we always got along great.  I went to Albany from SF in 2003 for his 40th birthday surprise party, for example.

But we've grown apart mostly because Kevin went full-on right-wing nut job, and long before he could buy a MAGA hat.  During a visit in 2007 in SF, he said President Jimmy Carter should be killed (I was reading his tremendous "Our Endangered Values" at the time, and mentioned it), and that Al Gore is a moron who should also be taken down (I had just finished Gore's prescient "The Assault on Reason").  I believe he was joking, but still.  Julie later shared some Facebook posts of Kevin's in the Trump era that were horrifying.

So that, and his jailing in Albany after repeated DUI arrests set us on divergent paths.  I don't think we've spoken in over 10 years.  I hope he's OK.

Here is a photo of me, Joe Fowler, and Kevin Murray, in my dorm in Daytona Beach, in the spring of 1982.


Jay Howling
This break-up just happened recently, and it motivated me to write this long post.  Jay was always among the smartest of our group.  He's very accomplished, has a nice family, and has made millions as a partner in a successful private equity firm.  Until just a couple of years ago, Jay and I would speak and see each other frequently.  Especially during my Casa Integration years, I would seek Jay's wisdom often, which he would dispense with generosity.  His advice would almost uniformly be correct, BTW.

Jay's claim to fame is that, despite his myriad successes, his decidedly blue collar roots kept him grounded.  "Jay from the block", so to speak.  But over time, that changed.

Because now, Jay's ego has gotten larger, to the point of distraction.  I could not be happier for his good fortune and his swish BMW sedan and his nice house in the fanciest neighborhood in Houston, River Oaks.  But do you know what?  I have a lot of great friends that have stuff like that, and I live an OK life myself.  Jay's head has gotten quite large, and I fear there's no one left in his life that can tell him that.  

But that was not the cause of the fracture in our relationship.  In fact, I had already called him on his big-shot persona BS a couple of times.  

The real issue is that Jay has taken to aggressively evangelizing his devout Christian faith to me, despite knowing that I am an atheist.  It began in the early 2010s, when Jay returned from a trip to the Middle East, where he had visited territories some consider "holy".   He showed me a photo of an empty field somewhere, I would guess in Israel, and exclaimed with complete surety "This is where Jesus Christ will return when he comes back to Earth."  I changed the subject.

It's only gotten worse from there.  After I left TEECOM in 2019, I saw Jay shortly thereafter.  I have no doubt he was trying to help, but here's what he sent me after we hung out for an evening.  Again, Jay knows as well as anybody that I am a proud atheist.

"I pray the scales fall off  your eyes?"  I have scales on my eyes because I don't believe in your own personal faith and belief system?  Sorry, but no. 

Let me clear:  I am not a total jerk, and I 1000% understand his intent is pure and benevolent.  But this was too much.  To me, it was rude.

I sent him a strongly worded email at the time, saying how presumptuous and self-righteous this all was.  His smarmy response did not indicate he understood what he had done.  Pushing one's religion on another?  Especially when you know the other person is not a believer, and never will be?  He barely apologized.   

In fact, he doubled down.  Since then, he has made a couple of outreaches via text.  I've always replied but kept it only cordial.  But our last text exchange, which occurred earlier this month, was the clincher.  I asked for a no-holds barred, clear-the-air type of discussion via Zoom - where I could be honest with him about the above and together, we could put our friendship right.  I can not pretend the evangelizing doesn't bother me, and I wanted get it out in the open, and frankly, get it to stop.  His response:


Except I never said he was seeking my approval.  Frankly, you can see how far gone he his:  he didn't take my "At least you have the Lord on your side" comment for the real f-you it absolutely was.  Or perhaps that was him turning his Christian cheek? 

Regardless, I doubt either Jay Howling or our friendship can be saved.  I am sure he feels that I will burn for eternity in hell as a non-believer.  It's hard to find common ground when one of the parties has that as their starting point.

(Editor's Note:  the book I asked him to read to which he references was "The Divide", by Matt Taibbi.  It is a scholarly book of nonfiction on judicial inequality in America among different races and income classes.  So it's not even apples to oranges.  It's apples to unicorns.)

Some of these folks no doubt are still in touch with each other - the always-diplomatic Steven Simon still sees some, and I think Brooks and Joe still connect occasionally.  If by some chance any one of the above reads this and wishes to get together, I'm right here. 

Which begs the question:  why don't I do the reaching out?  I don't really know.  I have never had such an absolutely incredible group of friends as I have right now.  So maybe I am being a touch lazy?

And why share this whole thing in the first place?  Some narcissism (duh), but I am mostly hopeful some can relate to having people in your life that once held real prominence, but whose presence fades to black over time. 

And that's OK - I think I finally figured that out by ruling Jay Howling - his real name is Greg Houghtaling - out of my own personal clan. 

(Because of Monday's Taylor Hawkins tribute, this section has some catching up to do.)

A number of readers had comments regarding my nausea from the post 9/11 era.  Arthur, my muse for that post via a recent boozy day-drinking Monday in my Man Cave, had these nuggets, but did not agree with my take:

"FYI I always remember the 90s very fondly.  10 years of mostly peace and prosperity, great music (grunge and alt rock), and my flannel shirts and Timberland boots were finally in fashion?  I do recall appreciating it at the time."

He went on to add:

"I nearly forgot the best part.  The worst political revelation was Bill Clinton's penis!  If the choice is insurrection vs. erection, I'll choose the latter ever time . . ."

The man speaks the truth.  Later he went from nostalgia to an awful reality:

Why do Putin, Trump, Tucker Carlson and the Republican party sound so alike? | Robert Reich

I'll wrap with this from Dr. Doreen Downs, always on the lookout for cool new ways to travel:

"If you discover a time machine that can take us back to the 1990s, at least temporarily, please let me know."

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.

Only a few of us will understand this reference.  Here is Rush on what is probably their worst album, "Caress of Steel".  So why is it here?  Well, "Bastille Day" kicks ass, but it's the lyrics to another song on the album that will always strike a chord with some of us from the I.F. days.  As Geddy says, "This is called 'Lakeside Park'". 


As I listen to this, I realize it was a mistake not to include Joe Fowler's periodic gal, Stacy Nichols, as a member of the core I.F.  Stacy was a real cutie and was with us almost always, when she and Joe were right.  She and I and Joe also share quite a story, but I'll leave it at that.

Secret message to Hunter Deuce:

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About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.