A suicide story about a one man’s admiration for another and how he couldn’t reach him.
“Is this Chris Hoffmann?”
“Yes it is.”
“Your name was on a list to call with forty other guys. Dave Lee is dead”.
I could hear myself stammer the question, “How?”
“They found him in the bathtub with the barrel of an assault rifle in his mouth.” We were silent for a moment. The guy on the other end of the phone — I never got his name — asked if I could help track down another guy on the list in Portland. I said sure. Before we hung up, I asked if there was anything else I should know.
“Yes,” he said. “At the top of the list of names was scribbled a single sentence: “Nobody knows how sad I am.”
I hung up the phone, turning to walk into the dining room, but only made it three steps. I keeled over on all fours, overtaken with convulsive grief. I couldn’t remember ever crying like that in my entire life. I couldn’t stop. I sobbed for a long time, the kind where your mouth just gets stuck open, your abdominal muscles contract uncontrollably, and no sound comes out. My daughter came running in. She and my wife looked at me from a distance, not knowing what to do.
Every time I saw Dave, he made me feel like a million dollars. He was an entertainer, a lover of life, and a force to be reckoned with. I recognized early in our friendship how we shared a similar sense of lust for life. I’d never been better understood or had my outlook on life captured quite so eloquently by a man, before or since.
I first met Dave on the set of an independent film. I was doing the soundtrack. He was an aspiring screenwriter at the time. Over the years, I watched him get closer and closer to his dream. He boasted he was going all the way and didn’t have a plan B. To make cash, he did cold calling for the Yellow Pages. I can’t imagine what those over the top Dave-style calls might have been like but apparently he was good at it.
He would send me ten page letters in the mail sometimes: a big fat bread-loaf of a read. Here’s a sample of the last letter he wrote after a phone call in which we kicked around the meaning of life:
Adventure just for the…. sake of adventure? Doing shit just…. to prove we’re not afraid?
My reaction & thinking in regard to such thinking?
Is: right on, brother. Life is short. And right on.
It was refreshing to hear somebody say such — — in its simplest, straight-up form. There are all kinds of reasons to pursue variety, experience, Adventure. To push the envelope (from one side of the desk to the other with, say, the nub of an old golf pencil). To bring on the most powerful drug in the world (adrenaline).
To personally ‘stage’ and set up unique Niagaras of honest to God stimulation — — and to live actual, new realities, and outcomes.
To me, that sounds about right.
I think we spend too much time in our lives mired in the stressful, time consuming calculus of “what adventure is ‘right’ for us?”
…. when life is short.
I don’t think ‘what’ adventure is nearly so important as ‘that’ there be adventure.
Because, among other things, there’s always that one, beautiful, altogether reliable living-formulation to fall back on: One Thing Leads To Another.
I fuckin’ love (and hate) that formulation, that fact, that reality.
I hate it because if you’re prone to obsessive pursuit, as I am, one thing will, inevitably, and often damnably, lead to another. And another. And before long, you’ve burned yourself down, and out… without “getting there.”
But by, and large, it’s a beautiful, and damned refreshing thing to be reminded of.
Dave Lee — 2008
I remember going down the last time to visit. I hadn’t seen him in a few years since he left Chicago. He said he’d be waiting at LAX between terminals two and three. There wasn’t much traffic, so I walked between the terminals looking for him in the sweltering afternoon sun. I kept passing a parked beat-up Volvo station wagon with some creepy-looking, unshaven dude napping in the front seat, windows down, head back with a wet towel on his forehead. I eventually walked up to the window, and hesitantly asked, “Dave?” He snapped his head up, took off the towel, and yelled, “Hoffbrau!”
We were planning to go out that night. At the last minute, he said, “Let’s go see Last Tango in Paris at this little theater that sells drinks. I’ll get us a date.” He went over to the big six-foot wide mirror in his living room. Tucked in the frame, all across the bottom, was a row of actress business card heads shots. He scanned down the row of faces and pulled one out.
“Let’s call Sally.”
Just looking at all those business cards made me wonder why Dave would have them displayed like that. Did he actually have all these women in play? I never asked.
Next thing I knew, we were pulling up in front of Sally’s cute apartment building. She piled in, and I immediately liked her — fun, witty, vibrant, and silly. We roared off to the movie.
Dave was always seemingly at ease with women. There was a confident “dude’s dude” way he interacted with women which made it so fun. I was fifteen years into a marriage, and really had no idea how to hang with single women. Once Dave showed me how it was done, I was an awesome wingman to keep women we met around town or at sidewalk cafes rolling with laughter. I felt alive and free, attractive and smart — a way of experiencing myself I rarely felt in my home life.
Being the middle of the week, the theater was totally empty. We took three seats at the center of one aisle, Sally in the middle. Even though I was married, I found myself on full flirtation alert. Not just touching lightly, but intellectually challenging her every chance I got. Dave was a master at filling the air with funny light conversation. He had her falling into the aisles with one-liners, one after another.
Whomever was in the projection booth must have been laughing, too.
During the controversial anal sex scene, our conversation tapered off and became quiet. Not knowing the non-consensual truth about that visceral scene at the time, there’s still nothing quite like sitting together and watching a man smear a stick of butter on a woman’s ass before entering her to bond three people together as if they actually shared a potent physical experience together.
Afterwards, we went and played pool a block from Dave’s apartment. The flirting continued. Dave was a guy who would get so much going for himself, and then blow it at the last minute. He had a deep insecurity — just like me, he had a dark lack of self-worth. However, he created a wild and entertaining persona that he felt guaranteed people would like him. The problem was, he couldn’t turn it off when someone just wanted to hear “the real Dave” speak.
On that trip, watching Dave over-compensate for his insecurity was the first time I realized how my own lack of self-worth was impacting my life. I wanted intimacy but I didn’t know how to get out of my own head and ego long enough to be my real self.
As we walked back to his apartment, Dave pulled me aside.
“I need you to get lost for a few hours,” he said. “You know, get a coffee or something.”
Sally overheard and yelled back to Dave, “Wait, we’re all together tonight.” I tried to whisper to Dave, “Dude, what are you doing, man? We could all go in, and, you know, light some candles, have an awesome threesome.” Dave was adamant he wanted to ask her up by himself. By this time, Sally was getting annoyed. Finally, she became exasperated and in her own frustration said, “Just take me home, Dave.”
Dave told me of another time he blew it. This time, he’d met a CNN journalist at a party, and kept an email conversation going with her for months into her assignment in Turkey. He would spend days crafting her funny, thoughtful letters, and then he’d go back through and actually add typos and grammar mistakes to make it look like he’d just pounded it out in one sitting. He said she wrote that she was falling in love with his mind and couldn’t wait to see him. After she got back she only saw him a few times, and dumped him. He never said why.
When Dave told me this story, I was curious about what went wrong. Because of how out of touch I was with my own emotions, I didn’t think to challenge him but it was a wake-up call for me. I knew if I kept alienating people with my bravado, I was running the risk and danger of isolating myself from real connection. I would tragically learn later that this isolation could prove lethal, costing my friend Dave his life.
On the last morning of my visit with the LA heat already radiating in the windows, Dave and I were wandering around his apartment making coffee and bumping into each other in his small galley kitchen. We finally settled into the two big overstuffed chairs that faced each other in the living room. His shirtless athletic body was slouching, and I couldn’t help admiring how fabulously fit a man he was.
At his core, Dave was kind of a jock. No matter which city he moved to, he would always find some dudes to play basketball with.
There was a peace hanging in the air that morning. Dave wasn’t filling it with stories or chatter, just cradling his cup of warm coffee, and looking out the open window. Outside, the sparrows proclaimed the day like a Disney soundtrack. I suddenly felt all his struggle to be a screenwriter, all the schmoozing, cocktail parties, the pitches, the waiting. I knew what it took to be a creative person, to really live it, but unlike him, I always had some other path I could take. For Dave, that wasn’t an option.
The morning light through the window fell across his lap in a way that highlighted the bulge in his pajamas. A confusing whisper of an urge came over me to go kneel in front of him and take his cock in my mouth. I had never even thought of doing such a thing, but was immediately aware of the immense chasm between thinking it, and actually doing it.
In the gripping confusion of that moment, the idea of putting his cock in my mouth seemed no more radical than actually using words to just tell him how I felt; to offer an honest reflection of how I truly saw him, how I felt his emptiness just like mine, and how much I admired him. What would he have done with that information? Would he even have wanted to know that I loved who he was? I realized I was at a complete loss on how to actually reach him. Like so many men, I was completely stuck in a stalemate, paralyzed from stating the truth of our emotional isolation.
I profoundly regret not having the awareness at the time to have grabbed the “real Dave” by the scruff of the neck and drag him out of the desperate confines of his Hollywood bravado. It also enrages and devastates me to this day that he didn’t stick around. I would have loved to know him now — such a tragedy, such a loss of a great man.
A few months after his death, I bought a beautiful gilded picture frame, printed my best photo of Dave with a big smile, and framed it with the following words printed above it:
David Robert Lee, March 6, 1961 — February 1, 2008
Dave, I loved you, man . . . sorry the demons in your head got the best of you . . .
I didn’t know how big a place you held in my heart until you tore it out.
I wish the world we all live in was closer to the one you imagined.
You would have always been my best friend . . .
Then I built a bonfire, set the framed photo gently in the middle, and watched it burn.
Chris Hoffmann - www.heartingear.com