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James R. Stout

One of Life's Mysteries

            Life is filled with mysteries. Some of them are fascinating and thrilling to ponder, while others leave a burden, no matter how small, for us to consider for decades. It’s one of the latter that I will tell you about today. Maybe you’ve had something similar in your life and you can enlighten me on why this mystery exists. But first, let’s go back to 1982. I was still 26 years-old in the spring of that year and my then bride was 23 years-old. We did not have children yet, but we had been married for 5 and ½ years. Yea, we got married young. Too young it would seem. But there we were having bought our first home. It was extremely modest despite being new. It was a tract house built by a well-known home builder. Did I say very modest? It was a wood frame home, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, 1 car garage, two trees, and only the front yard sodded. But it was exciting for us to own. I say own, but the reality was the mortgage company owned the darned thing and the then interest rate was unheard of before or sense. 14.5% interest was the best we could get at the time. The house was 25 miles out of Houston in a new addition in Hockley, Texas.

            One of the first person’s that I met after moving in was our backdoor neighbor. They moved into their home about a month after we moved into ours. They had just started a family and had a son that was about a year old at the time. I watched as they unloaded the rented truck and filled their house with worldly possessions. I was perhaps most impressed by their two cars. A 1973 Ford Mustang and a 1970 Ford Ranchero. I would later learn that Mike was an excellent mechanic and worked for a well-known auto repair chain. He maintained their two cars beautifully. We had a 1981 Chevrolet Chevette (I have since referred to it as a “Shove-it” because it was a horrible car made poorly by Chevrolet) and a 1972 Plymouth Fury III Station Wagon. The latter of these two cars looked great and had low mileage on it, but it was constantly needing repairs due to age related issues. But it was the right size to carry my musical equipment, PA system speakers, and all my gear when I would play gigs.

            Over that first summer Mike and I began a good friendship. We had similar interests such as baseball and music and while our wives planned Home Interior parties and oohed and awed over their little boy, we would play darts in our garage, play catch like two kids playing catch, listen to music (he had a few rare LP’s that we enjoyed as well as my extensive collection) and Mike would come into my little home studio to see how music was recorded. We’d all four order a pizza and watch a movie together. In other words, we became great friends. Then in the fall of 1983 my wife was pregnant with our first child. However, it was a difficult pregnancy for her, and she spent most of the first 5 months with severe morning sickness and all that goes with that. She would go to bed early every night (before dark) leaving me to having to be as quiet as possible. Recording was severely limited for a while for obvious reasons. I had been given a game system for the TV that Christmas. It was called, “Intellivision”. It was quite antiquated by today’s standards. It was on par with the Atari 2600. I had one of those too. My son has it now. But that Intellivision had one game that Mike and I came to enjoy very much. It was the baseball game. It was far better than the Atari baseball game. We got into a habit of Mike coming over after dinner and playing a full 9 inning game every night. We were evenly matched in our abilities and it was a lot of fun. Often, it was pleasant enough outside to have the windows open and a slight breeze wafting in and giving us the right atmosphere for a baseball game. We had to be quiet though so as not to disturb my wife in the other room.

            Mike and I did a few other things together such as a weekend hunting trip to my parent’s the year that they lived at the old farmhouse. Mike had a great interest in handguns and the one that was most impressive to me was the .44 magnum just like Dirty Harry’s. That thing was LOUD too. In the spring of 1984 we were still good friends and fortunately my wife was feeling better. She was expecting our son in April. I wanted to get some songs recorded before he came along, and it was a pleasant surprise to learn that Mike owned an Epiphone Violin Bass that had belonged to his father. Mike couldn’t play it, but he let me borrow it. I put some new strings on it, and it was good to go. During March and April, I managed to get 13 songs recorded. I had a friend come in and while I played a ghost guitar, he played the drum tracks that I showed him I wanted. I would then lay down separate tracks for guitars, bass, and vocals. Mike would come over most evenings to hear what I had finished the previous night.

            Then the baby was born. What a change that brought to our lives! I was immediately thrilled with being a father and my music started to fade into the background for a time. There were diaper drills, 3 a.m. formula runs, and all that goes with having a newborn. Over the next year Mike and I continued to do things as friends, and he was a great friend to have. He was a bit more experienced with babies which helped, and he had an ear to lend to my questions about fatherhood etc. We went to an Astros game in the spring of 1985 and he got to hear all about my worries of how I was going to support my growing family. My daughter was on the way by then and would be born in August. Yes, the two kids were only 15 months apart.

            It was in the fall of 1985 that one of life’s mysteries began. For reasons still unknown to me, Mike started to beg off on getting together. There was a decidedly cooling off of that friendship. I didn’t do anything that I know of that could have offended Mike and the whole thing was a mystery to me. By early 1986 we were barely talking. It was like we didn’t know each other at all. I asked him if I had offended him or caused him to not want to be friends anymore and he said no. We ended up moving back into Houston in May of 1986. By that time, it was as though I had never been friends with Mike. He wasn’t hostile or anything, but he didn’t seem to be interested in talking to me at all. One day in the summer of 1986 my wife and I went to the S&H Green Stamps store to turn in stamps for several items that we needed for the kids. My mother had given us a huge jar filled with stamps and books of stamps and it was like money in the bank. The store was in the same center where Mike worked, and I walked down to say hello. He acted as if I was the last person in the world that he wanted to see. It was very awkward. That was the last time that I ever saw or spoke to Mike. I have no idea what ever happened to him. But it left me with a sad feeling knowing that someone who I had been pretty close friends with didn’t want to have a thing to do with me. I didn’t and still don’t have a clue as to why. It’s one of life’s mysteries. I can only guess that he changed and just didn’t want to be my friend anymore. Well, I got over it of course, but it still raises my eyebrows a bit when reminded of those years. I’ve had other friendships that ended or cooled-off and the reasons were truly clear. We all have some of those during our lives. But to lose a friend and not have a clue as to why is a mystery. I played the game of “what did I do?” or “was it my fault?”, but the truth is I don’t believe I did a thing to cause it. Mike just decided he didn’t want to be friends anymore and that was that.

            So, it’s one of life’s mysteries. Did you ever have such a mystery in your life? If so, then tell me what you learned from the experience. Perhaps you can enlighten me and solve the mystery. Or not. To all of my friends out there now, don’t just go away without saying anything. Tell me if I have offended you and I bet we can work it out. If not, then at least there won’t be another mystery in my life!

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