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¿Por Que, Lupe? September 16, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Friends.
1 comment so far

Someone was so thoughtful as to write an online memorial for Daniel Rilleau, for whom my son was named. I never met that Daniel, but he was one of my husband’s best friends and I was really touched to read all of the wonderful memories people associate with him. Another friend of mine recently wrote about how the ages in obituaries seem younger and younger to her. It’s time to contribute an online memorial for an old friend.
I used to work as a personal banker for Bank of America in Sarasota, FL. Before that, I worked as a waitress in a few restaurants around town. One of the restaurants where I worked was a waterfront seafood house called Bart’s Bayside.

There was a line cook who worked there who never failed to crack me up. His name was Lupe, and he was a teddybear pothead, always easygoing about the frantic pace of the kitchen and with a grin like a five year old’s. I remember one of the first conversations we had. Lupe must’ve just finished smoking a joint, because his eyes had that happy-sleepy red tint to them. I was walking by him in a hallway, and I stopped and said, “Lupe! You look sooooo….


I know he was expecting me to say he looked high. But when I said ‘tired’, he just grinned with relief in his shy goofy way and said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m really tired.” We both knew he was stoned. But it was a funny little moment, the kind that you never forget because the moment is just so sweetly silly.

I worked with Lupe for about three years. Sometimes we’d drink beers together after work at the bar, but mostly we just worked together, me goofing up, him just fixing the problem, then clean up, clock out, and Lupe was off in his Buicky low-rider.

Some maturity bug was biting at my ass about two years into my employment there, and I started realizing that if I didn’t stop drinking so much that the bartender would regularly let me pass out in the bathroom to sleep it off, I was going to be one of those fifty year old waitresses with the husky voice and the gin blossoms. I have always had a devil-may-care attitude toward life, but I KNEW fifty year old waitresses and they all carried huge purses to accomodate the mind-rattling number of prescription pill bottles necessary for them to function.

No, thanks.

So I started working as a bank teller at age twenty-two, mostly to curtail my blossoming alcoholism. Don’t let the twenty-two fool you. I had a fake ID at 18 when I lived in Las Vegas, and I left for Italy, where there was no legal drinking age restriction, at 19. I moved to Florida at twenty and turned twenty-one four months later. Every restaurant I worked in had a bar where I’d drink every day I worked. I’d been bar drinking for a good long while by twenty-two.

I surprised myself by being good at responsible office jobbing. I was good enough at it that I was promoted after a year of tellering to teller manager, then to personal banker. Personal bankers are the ones who sit at the desks and open accounts. In a town like Sarasota, it was really easy to get to know the same elderly people who came in every week to open a new CD or roll over an old one, and it was our practice as PB’s to read the obituaries in the papers in the breakroom, since Sarasota is second only to St. Petersburg in earning the nickname “God’s Waiting Room.” EVERYONE in Sarasota is grandparent age or older. So you read the obits to keep up with your customers, and you know to expect the estate paperwork and unfamiliar family members.

I was working as a PB at a bank inside a grocery store, and, since it was a nice day, I had decided to take my lunch outside. I was eating a sandwich and reading the obits, not really thinking about what I was reading, when the name GUADALUPE SERNA jumped out at me like a nightmare terror.

My thoughts were competing with the panicked thunder of my heartbeats for dominance in my brain. “It can’t be Lupe,” I thought. “Maybe it’s his dad?”

No. Guadalupe Serna. Born 1977. My age. My friend.

I saw the name of the funeral home and the date and time of the memorial service. I was sure I wouldn’t know anyone there. But I knew I had to be there to find out what happened, why Lupe. Bart’s Bayside was where I picked up a lot of my early Spanish, and I remember I used to have a little catch-phrase poem to greet my friend: “Hey hey, Por Que, Lupe?”

¿Por Que?

I got to the funeral home as most of the mourners were arriving. The parking lot was full of dark Mexicans, so sad, though the little children were playing together gleefully in their Sunday Mass best. To my relief, the first person I recognized was another server I had worked with at Bart’s. She and Lupe had been the closest of friends, and it was she who told me what had happened.

Lupe had been playing football in the afternoon with some friends. Midway through the game, he said he didn’t feel well, so he decided to drive home. As he was driving, he had an aneurysm and lost control of the car. His car crashed. He died on impact.

The funeral was only the second one I’d ever been to. I had never seen an open casket, and the shock was tremendous. Lupe was in his white football jersey, and he looked for all the world like he was in the middle of a sweet dream. I don’t remember the priest’s words at the funeral. But I do remember a friend of Lupe’s, whom I’d never met, sang and played one of Lupe’s favorite songs to say goodbye.

I still tear up and smile when I hear Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”