One night my friend Dennis and I sat outside talking. We did a lot of that then, back in our 20s or 30s, still trying to figure out this crazy world and how the hell two Texas boys fit in it. I looked up and saw what remains the brightest, most spectacular shooting star I’ve ever seen; it’s still imprinted on my brain, though it lasted a millisecond. Did you see that? I asked. See what? he replied. He had his head in a book about Smile, the Beach Boys’ lost masterpiece of an album, a continuing fascination for him. I did what any friend worth his salt would do and busted his chops about missing this celestial masterpiece. It was particularly ironic since Dennis was a man so in touch, so copacetic, with the natural world that he made his living with it, first working as a landscaper, then helping the Botanic Garden bloom, among other endeavors to turn passion into vocation. Dennis was one of those people you meet rarely after you leave the melting pot of college: A friend who doesn’t share work or family life with you. We met almost by happenstance but shared a love of movies, music and our roots in the more rural Texas wonderland that existed in our childhoods. He was more of a small-town boy, growing up in Glen Rose, then coming to the bright lights, big city and carnal temptations of Fort Worth. Dennis was painfully shy in that small-town way. But this wallflower was listening. Oh yes, he was listening. I know this because I would often drive him home after a concert or a party and he would eventually, slowly, meticulously and sometimes excruciatingly get to the point, some observation that he wanted to give voice to, though at his own pace. We would sit in the car outside his house, listening to some piece of music. Sometimes I thought he’d drifted off to sleep, lord knows I wanted to, as it was usually about 4 a.m. But then he would spring forth with his observation, after he’d rolled it over in his mind like one would a smooth stone. “You know, I think the best part was the harmonies on ‘Like A Hurricane,’” he’d say, referring to a Neil Young song we heard at a concert. “They were much better than on the album version.” And he’d be right. It was this intense listening that I eventually incorporated into my reporting. A gift from Dennis. Listening, I found, was just as much an action verb as speaking. It certainly led to deeper, more intense conversation. Friends do that. Give you gifts you didn’t even know you needed and didn’t even know they’d given. Dennis would joke about the methodical, deliberate cadence in which he lived his life. Call him up to see if he wanted to go to lunch and he’d say with only a slightly exaggerated Texas accent: “I was just fixin’ to begin to consider thinkin’ about ponderin’ the idea of maybe decidin’ on gettin’ something to eat.” But he was no county bumpkin, though he admitted he sometimes felt like one. He was passionate about the natural world and music. He knew the natural world. I once went on a hike with him and there was very little hiking. We’d take a few steps, then stop as he examined a plant or flower and explained its history. I learned a lot about Texas horticulture during the hike, but cardiovascularly speaking the Cooper Clinic would be disappointed. Music was another passion. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Beatles and the Beach Boys were his favorites, the ones who spoke to him in Glen Rose through the radio, like gods from Mount Olympus. We could sift through their songs for hours on end, examining them with mystical reverence, seeking cryptic chordal clues into the secrets of the world and our place in it. We went to see Bob Dylan once in Dallas, at Starplex. At this concert, we sat on the lawn in front of some particularly obnoxious students, one of whom kept yapping through the concert about how he didn’t see what was so great about Dylan and about how he’d been drunk at his girlfriend’s house and her parents didn’t even know ‘cause they weren’t cool at all and on and on. Dennis leaned over at one point and said, “Stop me if I start to beat this guy to a pulp.” “I’m not sure I will,” I replied. The guy droned on, oblivious to the rage rising around him and then suddenly stopped. What followed were the unmistakable sounds of the Technicolor yawn. “Oh, I guess I drank a little too much,” he mumbled before gathering up a rather soiled blanket and leaving with his friends. All of us around him clapped, a victory over the philistines. I hadn’t seen much of Dennis lately. Time, distance and the fact that we’d both finally found some footing in the world for two guys who remembered Texas as a rural wonderland. Dennis left this world he loved so passionately last week; like that shooting star, his time was too brief. The world lost one of its finest advocates. Selfishly, I’m left to ponder how I’ll learn to understand this crazy world without him. I can only wish his journey takes him where he can finally gaze upon that shooting star from so many years ago, hear those delicate chordal harmonies of the lost masterpiece, Smile, and still feel the presence of that crazy world we struggled for so long to understand.
In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.