from Volume 370 - Sabutai

 December 30, 2000

 12/25/03 Update:
 The preacher read from this essay at Sabutai's funeral service.
 I'm sitting there, cringing, hoping he'd skip the X-rated parts.
 He did.

 James Dennis "Sabutai" Clark - 1947-2000

 Dennis died today, shortly after midnight.

 I've never been the type to have a "best friend," but if I was,
 that best friend would be Dennis "Sabutai" Clark.
 I had never heard the name "Sabutai" until he bought my old computer and got online.
 Sabutai was one of Genghis Khan's top soldiers.

 I met him in 1977.
 When you have 23 years of memories, it's hard to know where to start.

 He knew a girl I worked with, and when we met, our taste in politics and music
 were similar so we started hanging out.

 I remember once at the old apartment, we had a wild cat named "Smoke."
 For some reason we had a cardboard box that a water heater came in.
 We sat it on the couch and the cat got inside - Dennis couldn't resist.
 Smoke was a huge cat, and the timing was perfect.
 Dennis would stick his fingers inside the right end of the box, and those
 razor-sharp claws would come whipping out, meaning to draw blood.
 Sometimes they found their mark, too, but he didn't compalin.
 He knew he literally had a tiger by the tail.

 Just as the claws would whip out the right end, Dennis would stick his
 other hand in the left end of the box, and those claws would come out so fast
 you'd swear there was more than one cat in there.
 Funny, that's the first memory that flashed into my mind.

 He was an extremely intelligent man, his font of knowledge was immense.
 He knew everything.
 If you played Trivial Pursuit with him, you'd better be on his side or you'd lose.
 He knew sports, history, geography, current events, Hollywood etc.
 He graduated from Tulsa University with a degree in political science.

 A long time ago, he worked for the Post Office.
 It was a great job with great benefits, but he quit to join some Democratic campaign.
 His candidate lost, (this is Oklahoma) and Reagan was in office so jobs didn't exist,
 and he ended up working Dead Animal Pickup for a year, the poor bastard.

 One year, a good friend of his, Kurt Glasco, ran against that shit Jim Inhofe.
 They were fighting for a House seat, and Glasco was interviewed that day
 by Ted Koppel on Nightline. Dennis asked me if I wanted to go to Kurt's house
 to watch Koppel interview Kurt . That was way cool.
 Of course, I had lots and lots of suggestions on how Kurt could've run a better
 campaign, and I had a list of better answers he could've given to Ted Koppel,
 but I kept my mouth shut so Dennis wouldn't get in trouble for bringing me..

 There was so much about his life that Dennis hinted at, but he never really told the story.
 I knew he had an FBI file. He was at a protest in Washington in the 70's.
 Some cop or FBI agent pushed him and Dennis popped him.
 He went to jail, but never really had to do time.
 He also went to Cuba, for a summer I think, but when we pressed him for
 details he kinda shrugged it off, said we wouldn't really be interested.

 For almost 20 years, he'd come over on Friday or Saturday nights and we'd party.
 Dennis was a big ol' boy, and he could stay with me, shot for shot - no easy feat.
 He was so funny, he'd get a few drinks in him and start getting naughty.
 I remember things like New Year's Eve, we'd sit around and watch Dick Clark or
 whatever and get shit-faced, we had so much fun just giggling like schoolkids.

 We seemed to get each other's jokes.
 If one of us made a reference the other didn't understand, we'd just stare at each other
 until it finally clicked and then the laugh was bigger than ever. It got to where we'd
 intentionally blur the reference to make the punch line harder to find.

 He was so funny, now and then he'd get real serious and we wouldn't know if he was
 kidding or not, and then he'd say his dad used to wear dresses and that's why he grew up
 "funny," and then he'd bust out laughing. We never knew if he was kidding or not.

 We did so many road trips together, I can't remember the first one.
 When we first met, he was a big REO fan. I kidded him that that was "American" music,
 and nobody in their right mind could get into American music, so he eventually joined me in
 my Led Zeppelin obsession. For years and years, we'd drink and smoke and generally get as
 loaded as two eskimo boys could get. We'd turn out the lights and light a candle and sit there
 and listen to those live Zeppelin concerts.

 In 1985, we heard Jimmy Page and his new band "The Firm," with Paul Rogers was playing Wichita.
 We scored tickets and hopped into Mrs BartCop's touring sedan and we were off  to Kansas.
 Page was insane. He'd called up the devil for a truly inspired performance that night.
 When the concert was over, Dennis didn't say anything, he just gave me a big hug.

 A year or two later, Jimmy Page was playing Oklahoma City at the Fairgrounds.
 This is a story Dennis would never forget, or forgive me for:

 It was the three of us and Gary, a guy we met at the Hard Rock Island.
 On the way down, I made a big deal out of the fact I wanted to leave right after the concert,
 and I told them I meant right after. We weren't sitting together for some reason, so I told them on
 the trip there that if they weren't at the car when the show was over, that I would LEAVE THEM,
 so they'd better be at the car right after the show.

 Oh, Koresh, this is a nightmare of a story.
 If there's life after death, his spirit will haunt me for sure.

 During the show, OKC had the storm of the century. While Page was playing
 the Foghat-covered "I Just Want to Make Love to You, " the backstage flooded
 and shorted out their equipment and they had to stop playing. After a few minutes
 they got it working again and they started the song over. There was a torrential rain,
 unheard of in OKC. When the concert was ended, we walked towards the exits and
 it was raining so hard, it was raining sideways.

 Well, no way any sane person would walk out in that rain, so we waited.
 Meanwhile, Dennis assured Gary I really would leave them, so they ran out in the rain
 to get to the car and spent 30 minutes standing next to a locked car, waiting for us.
 After just 30 seconds they were totally soaked, but they just stood there and waited.

 So, we waited about 20-30 minutes, all the while looking around for Dennis and Gary
 inside the arena. When the storm of the century slowed to a mere Niagara,
 we made a mad dash for the car, and there was Dennis and Gary.

 Dennis later told me he got even by peeing in my back seat.
 We never knew, they were so totally soaked anyway.
 We laughed about it for years after that, least I did.

 Another time, we got tickets to see The Clash at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas.
 Swear to God, they had real concerts at this bowling alley, I guess they still do.
 I forget if we paid the scalpers or just got lucky, but we had tickets on the goddamn second row,
 right in front of the stage. We were BIG Clash fans, and we couldn't wait for this show!
 About twenty minutes before showtime, the ushers came over and told us we had to move,
 because the Clash wanted the first five rows cleared so the young punkers could dance
 or mosh or whatever they called it back then.
 So they moved us to the back of the first section, about 100 feet away.
 Hey, life's a bitch, right?

 Another time, I think it was 1987, Pink Floyd was playing Dallas.
 I planned to get hammered for this earthshaking concert, so Mrs. BartCop agreed to drive the
 sedan back to the cheap-ass hotel. Coming out of the show, I was loopy, but Dennis
 always kept his head, even when he was hammered. Mrs. BartCop hates driving in the dark,
 especially in strange, big cities (Dallas freeways are like a NASCAR race) so Dennis was helping
 with directions. He told her to take some exit, but she couldn't read the sign so we missed
 it and had to turn around and come back. Dennis teased her about being blind and that
 really pissed her off.  That following week, Mrs. BC went to the optomitrist to have her eyes
 checked, since she couldn't read the damn sign, and the eye doctor told her she had glaucoma.
 She would've found out sooner or later, but his needling might've saved her sight.

 In 1985, I bought the Hard Rock Island live rock and roll club.
 Dennis was one of the few people I could trust, so he helped out a lot.

 Once, me and Mrs BartCop took off to Minneapolis and Chicago to see Robert Plant
 and Dennis ran the club for us while we were gone. Go figure, the day after we left,
 the cooler broke, so, as smart as he was, Dennis put a sign on the door that said,
 "Our beer is hot, but you can come in anyway."
 I could've killed him for that.

 I think he got off on the club more than I did, for several reasons.
 A - it didn't put him $40,000 in debt,
 B - when I was working and sweating, he'd relax and watch the band and the young girls.
 C - he was single, and the young girls wanted to go to the after parties with the band,
 and they knew Dennis was going since he worked there, so the young girls hung on Dennis
 using him as their ticket to these wild parties the bands held after the gig.
 Somehow, Dennis didn't mind being used by the young girls.

 Now, maybe you know, maybe you don't, but Dennis was a big ol' boy.
 He was bigger than anyone currently in the NFL, for example.
 One night, he was tending bar at a slow night at the Rock, and some guy at the bar
 kept looking at Dennis saying, "I'm sure I know you from somewhere."
 (You'll think I'm making this up, but it's true.)

 After trading "do you know this guy and that guy" for a half-hour, the guy slaps his
 forehead and says, "Now I remember! You and me and two other dudes rode a
 Volkswagen Beatle to Los Angeles and back a dozen years ago."

 The idea that a sentient human being could share a ride in an un-airconditioned VW bug
 with Dennis for eight days and not remember him is downright hysterical.
 But I saw it unfold with my own eyes.

 Koresh, there are so many memories after 23 years.
 Right after the Hard Rock closed, if you remember an earlier rant, I was too broke
 to file bankruptcy. Every weekend about that time, Dennis would drop by with a bottle
 of whiskey or vodka so we could get a buzz when we were dead f-ing broke.

 It's weird - there were so many stories.
 I can hear him saying, "Tell them this one, and that one" - there were so many.

 During the club days, we got real close to this one band,
 At first, their name was Bad Habit, then they became Akasha.
 We felt so sorry for these guys. They'd leave home for 8-10 weeks at a time,
 loading a huge trailer with amps and lights and drums and stuff, then they'd drive,
 swear to Koresh, 1000 miles from Alabama to New Mexico for the next gig.

 They spent all their time cramped in a shitty, $25 hotel, 3 or four to a room,
 fighting over what to watch on the bad-reception TV.  Feeling like they were
 on the front lines of the rock wars, Dennis and I thought we'd help them out.
 I bought a camcorder, (we were really abusing liquor around 1990) and we'd set the
 camera on a tripod pointed at the two of us and we'd tell jokes and drink and do
 impressions and drink and do anything we could to entertain the troops
 in the field like we were The Bob Hope Revue or something.

 Dennis was "Neil," and I was "Bob."
 We were "Neil and Bob," get it?

 Dennis always wore a hat when he was Neil.
 We'd start out fairly funny, reading from the lame script, but we were always drinking,
 always straight from the bottle. I remember one trick we did, where we put water in two
 vodka bottles and had a chugging contest. The guys in the band must've crapped when
 they saw us downing those bottles of "straight vodka."
 It was Lame City, but we thought it was hysterical.
 I directed with the camcorder remote from my La-Z-Boy.

 Matter of fact, that's probably where this web page came from.
 I'd be riding around on my collection route all week, writing down jokes.
 Then that Friday, Dennis would come over, and we'd set up the camera and
 tell these oh-so-lame jokes, drunker n shit for the band to watch on the road.
 We'd be drinking so much, an hour into it, we'd be done with the script and we'd
 just read old National Lampoons for the camera - thinking we were funny.

 I ran thru a few hours of tape, trying to find a little passage I could let you hear,
 but those tapes were more X-rated than I remember. After all, we were trying to
 be entertaining for a rock n roll band, stuck on the road in some shit motel.

 What else?
 There were so many stories.

 More than anyone I ever met, our politics were identical.
 I always joked that when I became president, he'd be my Chief of Staff.
 Remember what President Bartlet said?

 Do you have a best friend?
 Is he smarter than you?
 Do you trust him with your life?
 That's your Chief of Staff.

 That was Sabutai.

 He was my private research team, too.
 I could call him and say, "What was the name of thay guy who..." and he'd always remember.
 I don't know that I've ever met a guy with a sharper mind.

 He was real, real proud of my "success" at
 Every day, he'd send me a couple of e-mails a day with jokes in them.
 One day he asked me why I never used any of his stuff, and I replied that I thought
 what he sent me was just for my eyes. That was the first inkling I had that someone
 would actually consider it an "honor" to have their stuff published at

 He did a lot of real work for the K-Drag Democratic Party.
 I went to a couple of meetings with him, years ago.
 Whoever was in charge would say, "We need someone to run the booth
 at the State fair this year," and nobody else raised their hand, so Dennis did.

 For years, he worked the phones at the Call Rape Center or Crisis Hotline, or
 Suicide Line, whatever it was called.
 He was one of the few who took the time to make a difference.

 For the last 15 years, we called each other "Dude."
 Dennis was just as areligious as I am, but he gave more than any religious person I know.
 He also had the best sense of humor I've ever seen in my life.
 He had a great laugh, and I'm trying to find a good, hearty laugh of his on the "Neil and Bob" tapes,
 but I can't find one that's playable, if you know what I mean. He was always a good audience for me,
 writing or calling after almost every issue to share a laugh about something he read.

 Besides politics, two of his big passions were wrestling and Oklahoma Sooner football.
 I know he was looking forward to the football championship game Wednesday.

 Yesterday, I tried to get a message to him.
 They said he was fading in and out of consciousness, so I called St Johns and was trying
 to get to some nurse who could speak to him when he was alert.
 He has several friends with similar-sounding names, so I asked the lady who answered
 the phone in ICU to tell Dennis that "BartCop" wanted to know if he could do anything for him.

 The lady said, "Sorry, I'm not allowed to give out his home address."
 (Steam coming off my head...)
 Jesus Christ, why do I live in Oklahoma?
 It took all my restraint to avoid launching on this brainless idiot.
 Hopefully, that wasn't representative of the medical care they provided.

 So, a shot of Chinaco to my old friend, James Dennis "Sabutai" Clark.

 Dude, you were an original - no doubt about that.
 I'm going to miss you - I know a lot of people will.

 PS. Dude, do me one last favor:

 I'll watch the big game Wednesday with a shot of Chinaco standing by.
 If you can, try to cause a Florida State fumble in the fourth quarter
 so OU can win the game, and we'll share one last toast.

 ...bye, Dude

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