Steve Weyl (as in ‘wile away the day’) was the most potentially dangerous friend I’ve ever had. He was my big brother Steve’s friend first, part of the tribe of fake Indians that used attacked the train at Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad as part of the old Wild West show. The Steves and some of their friends preceded my generation of fake Indians by a few years.
I call Weylman ‘potentially’ dangerous because he talked a dangerous game, and he always had weapons. Never used them on another person, that I know of, but he had them. And if I had a nickel for every time he threatened to put my head on a pike or impale me or skin me alive or just plain shoot me, I could have bought the presidency. And if he had a nickel for every time I threatened him in similar fashion, he would have died a very rich man last Saturday, when he took his backstage pass.
If there is such a thing as a backstage pass to the universe, as my friend Marlin Geiger promised, then Steve Weyl is no doubt using it to meet some of his musical heroes, like Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, or Chris Squire, or George Harrison, and definitely John Lennon. The only time I can remember seeing Weylman cry was while listening to Lennon’s song, “Woman.”
It was two or three weeks after his mother had died, maybe three months after John was murdered. I was visiting Weylman at his old hobbit hole, probably March 1981. We were on our way to a place that made Chinese calzones (“you have got to try this place,” he said, pointing the way while I drove). The song, still new at the time, played on the radio. We listened for a few seconds before he snapped it off. “Goddamn that song,” he said. “It’s beautiful and it reminds me how much I miss my mother.” He wasn’t one to wallow.
Steve, who rarely had a job, played trumpet and flute. He once played in a band with my brother Steve (bass/piano) called Guerilla Ontologists. Their lead singer’s name was Spaz.
If my family was an ongoing Seinfeld episode, than Weylman would have been Kramer, without the hair. I can’t tell you how many Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthdays, and other gatherings he crashed. It was just implied. On the one hand, Mom or one of the other grown-ups in charge (i.e., not the men of the family) might grumble, “why didn’t you tell me he was coming?” On the other, in those rare times that Steve didn’t show, you might hear, “I made extra calamari, where the hell is he?” The man lived for the calamari and spaghetti we had every Christmas Eve.
He became so close with our clan through the years that he was basically part of it – he was treated like everyone else. He called Mom, “Mom.” He was one of us. For years, Steve, and my brothers, and I went on annual weekend trips, usually to some Civil War battlefield or state park. We took many hills together, picked off many fantasy generals waving plumed hats. In the end, he had his priorities straight – his last thoughts, I’m told, were all about the health of his old dog, Guinness.
Steve’s dogs were always old. I think they were born that way. The first one I remember was Socrates, who lived to be about 18 and shambled around Steve’s tiny hobbit hole (that’s what we called his house, set back 100 or so yards from Highway 29, between Lilburn and Lawrenceville, in the back of a lawn surrounded by woods). It was part Shire, part Neverland, and back in the day we ingested the kind of chemistry that added all of the appropriately fantastic colors. He had the best, undulating lawn for frisbee, football, and bottle rocket battles. Most of my first ‘other-worldly’ experiences, back in the 1970s, were had there.
Some were had at the Stone Mountain railroad Wild West show. You’d never see such a show today, and for good reason. We were too young, stupid, and high to understand how racist it was. But that job left its mark on all of us who worked there – I mean, hell, we got paid (got paid shit) to play Cowboys and Indians! This truly was Neverland, a bunch of overgrown boys (teenagers mostly, plus a few ‘old’ guys, college students in their 20s), running around with guns and fake tomahawks, playing poker and drinking liquor between shows.
Many years later, we’d have occasional unofficial reunions. Our last pilgrimage, sometime in the early 1990s, ended memorably. All of us had passed the age of 30 by now, so we definitely would have been tried as adults if we’d been caught, because we definitely broke some laws – sneaking into Stone Mountain park after midnight, hiking up the back side of the mountain, then breaking into the old Wild West show set.
It was mostly façade buildings, the fake town broken in two by a covered bridge over a rain pond (where Weylman used to comically bathe himself as a train filled with tourists pulled into town – that gag always got big laughs, while mayhem and murder was happening all around him). This particular night was around Christmastime, and the set was decorated for the holiday. We could see the candy canes and Santa dummies, the doused lights strung across the buildings, our eyes now accustomed to the 2 a.m. gloom. The set, the the park, the world was cold and quiet.
Then my brother Steve noticed a switch that had been installed on one of the posts in front of the barbershop, the only real building on the set. I can see it all in slow motion, the other guys reaching out, trying to stop my brother from flicking the switch as we cried, “noooooooo …” Too late. There was an explosion of light and sound that would have given the Grateful Dead seizures. “You better watch out …” came screaming from the speakers hidden inside the barbershop.
We stared at each other a moment, overgrown Lil’ Rascals. Someone, probably Weylman, yelled, “Run!” Then four or five grown men sprinted down the train tracks like punks as Santa Claus is Coming to Town continued its admonishing, ear-splitting loop. And here’s the thing. All of us, except for Weylman, were in reasonably good shape. Weylman’s knees were mostly destroyed. He’d had injuries and surgeries, had even broken his neck once while working the Wild West show. He was always just barely stitched together, and he was a large man – tall and wide, not fat really, not then. Just large.
My brother Steve, brother-in-law Will, and I were all pretty fast, pounding those cross-ties four at a time, in a full sprint. But here came Weylman from behind, gathering steam like a locomotive, huffing and moving like rabbit in flames on his two wrecked knees, screaming, “get the fuck out of my way!” And he burst through and past us, bolted down the tracks, then suddenly dove left into the woods, yelling, “follow me!”
We could hear the police sirens by then. Moving from tree to tree, like cartoon characters, and hiding behind walls, we inched our way to safety through the woods by the faint glow of our cigarettes.
Steve Weyl, I remember you.