Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Ken Linville - REMEMBERING RUDY KLEINGARTNER
Rudy and I were what we called 'best friends' back then. We lived up on the hill just east of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, now known as Sea-Tac in McMicken Heights. It's unbelievable but those houses are still up there. The airport wasn't yet. They used Boeing Field and the Boeing plant was all covered with camouflage netting while they were building B-17's. It was 1944 and WWII was in full swing.
People named Kleingartner or Eichler (Larry lived just down the street from Rudy) weren't very popular in the neighborhood in those days while a maniac named Hitler was wreaking havoc on the planet. But, when you're six years old none of that matters and Rudy and I, not having any siblings of our own, took a shine to each other in the first grade at Angle Lake Grade School, (it wasn't 'elementary' school in those days. That term was only used by Sherlock Holmes) and decided we should become blood brothers. He had the most wonderful parents. I always envied his Schwinn bike, his Lionel train, eventually his '48 Ford; he always got better stuff than I got. His dad was called 'Klein' and I've never known a nicer man. His mother, Adeline, was so good to me I'll never forget her. I can still hear her screaming, "Junior, don't be s'dumb!" I often wished I could live at his house instead of mine. If I had talked to my mother the way he talked to his, I wouldn't have been able to sit down for a week.
We had a huge expanse of verdant, virgin forest from 33rd Ave. S., where I lived , in the cheap seats, down to the old Pacific Highway where we spent hours wandering around, getting lost, making slingshots, building camps, riding rope swings and getting into all kinds of mischief. That whole area is covered with hotels now. I always tell the story of how we would pick wild blackberries and sell them door-to-door until we had enough money for a six-pack, a slight exaggeration at the time but it wouldn't be long till it was true. One particularly exciting activity we enjoyed involved one of us climbing a tree and then the other would chop it down. One time I picked a tree just a little too tall and my mother had to take me in for about six stitches in my chin from the landing. But what a ride it was! Later, Rudy taught me how to smoke while we were out picking beans for a few bucks (I got so sick I wanted to die) and it wasn't long before we were drinking beer, whiskey when we could get it, and seeing how many rules we could break without getting caught. It finally got to the point where I was beginning to consider a little discretion, (albeit not as much as I should have) for fear that I could destroy any chance of a successful future if I didn't start shaping up a little. Although our interests and activities became more and more divergent, we still spent time together usually with Dick & Jerry Trisler, Frank Day, Bill Brown and a few others.
After high school, I went off to college, into the service and then to flying for Northwest Airlines. When we would occasionally get together, Rudy would come up with unbelievable stories. I never knew whether or not to believe them. He rode bulls on the rodeo circuit. All his bones had been broken and were screwed together. He ran a string of hookers out of one of the motels along the highway. He ran a gun-running operation in Central America. He was a mercenary, black marketeer in Viet Nam. He spent some time behind bars for running a load of dope out to the left coast while he was a semi driver. I could go on and on. He was drinking two quarts of Jim Beam a day. He finally had a heart attack, (I wonder why) and they told him if he didn't quit drinking, he'd be dead in two weeks. I do believe he never took another drink. When I would occasionally meet him in a hotel bar while I was in Seattle overnight, he'd always drink coffee. I was overwhelmed by it all. Rudy was way ahead of his time. When I went to see him in '68 when I got out of the Air Force, he had an earring and an Afro. When we were kids, he always tried to get me to go down to 1st Ave. with him to get a tattoo. Thankfully I always declined 'cause I knew if I showed up at home with a tattoo, my dad would kick my ass into the middle of next week.
I came to the conclusion in later years that Rudy was missing something that the rest of us had: a sense of fear. Some degree of a sense of fear must exist in all of us for self preservation if nothing else. One day, when we were around 20, or so, I was following Rudy down Des Moines Way ( Why the hell did they have to change it to Des Moines Memorial Parkway?). We were going somewhere and we needed two cars. I don't remember why. Rudy got pulled over and I pulled over and stopped about a football field behind him. Rudy got out of the car and I could see from my vantage point that he was arguing with the cop about something. The cop seemed to run out of patience and as he was turning Rudy around to have him put his hands on the roof of the car, Rudy hauled off and decked the guy with a right to the jaw. As I saw the cop lying in the middle of Des Moines Way shaking off the blow, I discreetly pulled a quiet 180 and got the hell out of there. Needless to say Rudy spent a few nights as a guest of the county after that little feat of bravery, (well, stupidity maybe, but you gotta admit, it took some stones to take a swing at an armed police officer). No fear, afraid of nothing.
It's said that opposites attract and, as we grew older, we did head off in very different directions but we remained friends for life although we only got together briefly about once a year. My old buddy wasn't quite playing with a full deck toward the end and it saddened me but I was amazed at how he could even still be alive. When I got back to Seattle in the spring of '05, I tried to call him for about a week but to no avail. Knowing he never strayed far from home any more, I drove out to his place, (he lived alone after his mother died; he took good care of her in her last years after she had some strokes.) I knocked on the door, rang the bell but no answer. I considered trying to open the door just to see if he might be in there but decided against it. A few days later, I tried it again with the same result and found a neighbor to ask if they had any information about him. They told me he had died of a massive brain hemorrhage. He had been conscious but helpless for a couple of days before they found him and he died on the way to the hospital. I can't help but believe that the first time I went out to see him, he may have been lying on the floor helpless and if I had tried the door, I may have been able to save him. No use beating myself up over that, I guess, but I'm sure getting sick and tired of losing so many good friends. The only good thing about it is that it sure makes you appreciate the ones you still have even more.