I’m looking at this grinning photograph of myself at the age of twenty-two, holding a pint of beer at Lenny’s Nosh Bar, and standing next to a very familiar profile to the regulars at Lenny’s. It’s the ursine figure of James Wyant, known to us simply as Madjym, and he worked the night shift at Lenny’s for many years. Mad was the definitive face of the place in the evenings and early mornings, after the boss went home, and he was the closest thing to a manager at the Nosh Bar without actually having the title.
Lenny loved MadJym and he trusted him to keep things going smoothly. Especially when Hershel and Denise were going nuts in the kitchen.
The last time I saw Mad was almost a decade ago, during my annual family and friend visit to Eugene. I was hanging out with Joe Lewis in the courtyard of The Bijou Cinema late one night after a film, drinking coffee and riffing on one damn thing or another as we usually do, and Madjym came out to join us for a smoke. I hadn’t seen him since ’97 or so, when he worked as a clerk at a video store in the Friendly neighborhood, so we had a lot to catch up on. We made tentative plans to go on a road trip to Phoenix to visit Lenny, but I think we both knew it was just idle talk.
It was Joe that told me Madjym died. Details were sketchy, but it seems he shot himself a few days earlier at his home in Eugene. Stunned by the news, I swiftly put out a message to the members of the Lenny’s Facebook group, breaking the bad news as gently as I could, and soon got a phone call from April, a friend from high school. She said the last time she saw Mad he still seemed depressed over the death of his parents a couple of years earlier. April had also spoken to her friend, Eric, and he told her he was recently at Mad’s house and “it was a disaster area.”
Madjym’s college roommate, Bob, confirmed April’s assessment that our old friend was still grieving for his parents. They had kept in contact over the years since Mad had played guitar years later at Bob’s wedding. I’m giving all these details about Madjym’s depression for a very specific reason: If you were Mad’s friend and if you feel even the slightest bit of guilt for not being able to save him, let it go. Because even Robin McIntosh, Madjym’s former girlfriend in the eighties, will tell you that she was never able to pull him out of the deep despair she usually found him in—though she often tried her best. Robin loved him deeply and even she, who had known him so well and had with him what she called a “short, wonderful, white hot romance and a long, deteriorating friendship,” knew—as she had to accept in the old days—that she couldn’t have done anything except get “sucked down to the depths along with him.”
No one was more shocked to hear about Madjym’s death than Katy, Lenny’s daughter. She had no idea he was in such dire straights and had spoken to Mad the year before after her Dad died. He seemed to her much like always. He probably still listened to The Beatles—his favorite band of all time.
Anyway, as I sit in my writing lair in California this afternoon, reminiscing about an old friend that is also a character in novel I’m writing, I’m finding that I have a rich history of the man behind the character based on the memories of a half a dozen people, including myself, but I’m having a difficult time remembering details of what was going on in his life in the eighties. In fact, I doubt I ever knew much at the time because Mad had a Lenny’s persona that was actually an exaggerated version of the madcap self that he showed his friends. In many ways he was a performance artist at work; part carnival barker, part ringmaster.
I think I’m ready to ask some of Mad’s other friends for some anecdotes, now that six years have past since I first heard the news that he died. For the novel, it’s now or never, since the draft is almost completed and I’m planning for publication in April. Time to collect the rest of the raw materials to flesh out the fictional Madjym. Maybe even give him a moment of the happiness he couldn’t find in life.
In an alternate universe, James Wyant would be a creative juggernaut.
In the universe next door, Madjym is the fifth Beatle.
Cheers to you, Mad. Here’s the send-off song I played for you at your virtual wake a half a dozen years ago.