Tag Archives: suicide

A happy death?

Mental illness and threats of suicide


“If one of these dogs dies I’m going to make an art project out of this ceiling by blowing my fucking brains out,” Kevin said.

He waved his hand with a flourish, like a painter, above and around the living room where he kept a double-sized mattress on the floor behind a couch facing a big flat screen on the wall where he watched the news and endless rounds of music documentaries and concerts.

He slept on the floor, he said, because it was easier for him, the dogs, and the women who ventured to sleep with him, to crash there rather than climb into bed in another room. And the big screen was always turned on.

We had just finished smoking a joint in this living room in a house he rented in Cayucos, and began trimming some of the marijuana he hauled out from a back room dedicated to an indoor grow operation, a typical set-up with lights and pop-up grow tent for up to 12 plants.

CITY LIFE.KEVIN LAWRENCE mugHe grew pot, he said, to bring in a little extra cash flow. His disability payments weren’t enough to cover his expenses, which consisted mostly of caring for his dogs, dining out and women he met on the internet. He grew decent weed and I helped him on a number of occasions, trimming, getting his product ready for market.

Jeesus! You’re slow,” he said. “That’s the best you can trim? I could hire a retard who’s faster than that.”

“Dude, I’m a bit older than you. These fingers don’t work so well anymore.” Invariably, one of his three dogs would come around the coffee table upon which we worked to get some attention. He brushed up against one of the big 32-gallon bags of finished trim on the floor and put his head on my lap.

“He’s the sweetest, dog,” Kevin said, snipping away. “Always looking for love. Watch out he doesn’t jump up on the couch behind you!” And sure enough, the dog climbed up and squeezed himself between me and the couch, nuzzling his head into my back.

His dogs were his best friends, like beloved foster kids he’d raised, and had been for many years, through the best and worst years, through the prosperous porn years when, he claimed, he made millions and owned a lakefront home where he and the dogs could swim and play all day; and through the devastating loss of everything he ever owned—except the dogs—through a bitter divorce, which jaded him.

“My ex is a fucking bitch, dude. I gave her everything she could ever want and she just turned around and fucked me in the ass with it.”

He had a medical with one of his dogs, trained as a service dog and companion, who wore a vest indicating to all concerned Kevin’s most serious health issue—a mental illness that he freely admitted.

“I’m fucking crazy, dude, and this place is only making it worse.”

Kevin’s not the first Cayucos resident with a mental illness. There have been several. He was refreshingly honest about his, even though at times it got unbearable to hear him talk about how fucked up his life had become, how he’d gladly kill himself, and eventually would if he didn’t get out of this town quick. The only thing that stopped him, he said, were his dogs.

“I’ve gotta stick around and take care of these knuckleheads.”

He talked of moving back, with some desperation, to Santa Monica, where he had “true” friends and the world felt more familiar and real, less parochial and small and elitist and phony than Cayucos.

“This town’s so fucking small, dude,” he’d say, followed by a litany of complaints about the weakness of some men here, and the eagerness of some women, including their wives, who would come to his door in the middle of the night to fuck.

“If you don’t like it so much,” I said, “move! Go someplace where you can be happy!”

“As soon as I get enough money, I will. I’m fucking outta here.”

He loved the macabre, and the deep-felt poetry of the outcast and the malcontent and proudly displayed his parrot-sized tattoo of Charles Bukowski’s grizzled face on his shoulder and arm. He’d share it with anyone who showed an interest in the author.

“You like Bukowski?” he’d ask, rolling up his sleeve. “Here, check this out.”

He scanned the internet for possible hookups with women half his age. Periodically, he’d start an online “relationship” with one of these various exotic and sexy women who sent nude photos, and long, heart-felt notes of endearment, and eventually requests for money. He showed me the Facebook account of one of his twenty-something lady friends.

“Check her out! She’s gorgeous, fucking beautiful,” he said, pointing at his computer screen. “Can you believe it? I can’t believe a girl like that would be interested in a guy like me, my age, fucked up as I am. She’s asked me to pick her up in LA next week. All I gotta do is send her five-hundred bucks.”

Each one, of course, was a scam. He’d lost hundreds of dollars sending money to fake Facebook accounts claiming to be women who said they couldn’t wait to meet him in person. I tried to warn him, “Be careful,” I’d say, “save your money.”

I never quite knew what to believe from Kevin, who kept busy with a variety of schemes, always looking for an angle to make some extra money, or score a fuck-buddy, or even a steady soul mate. He never quit, although he regularly threatened to end it all by blowing his brains out.

He had a generous spirit, offered to help when he could. “I’ve got a route of about four or five mow-and-blow accounts,” he told me once, when I needed to earn some quick cash. “They’re shitty accounts and I hate fucking doing them. They’re yours, if you want them.”

We used to meet at Top Dog coffee shop in Cayucos for occasional conversation. He’d spend hours there sitting at the bar, eating a bagel, talking to the baristas, always pushing the limits of propriety with come-ons and sexual innuendos, never doubtful for a moment that one day one of them would come home with him.

Eventually, the owners built a barrier at the bar, making it impossible for whoever sat there to converse with the baristas. “What’s up with the wall?” I asked one day.

“The owners put it there so that guy, Kevin, won’t harass the baristas anymore.”

I helped him compose a letter to Bukowski’s widow, asking her to consider collaborating with him as a promoter, and website facilitator, of her late husband’s work. He’d developed other sites, he told her, including a dating website aimed at locals, which he hoped would go national, and a porn site.

He had the contacts too to make it happen, he said, and if he could just land this gig with Bukowski’s widow, he’d be set. “If she’d agree to something like fifty-thousand a year, I’d be just fine.”

He delivered the letter through an attorney, a lifelong and dear friend in LA. We never heard back from Bukowski’s widow. The attorney, whom Kevin considered one of his closest pals and confidants, who frequently visited Cayucos to commiserate with Kevin, committed suicide in February, 2014.

“That fucker! I was supposed to be the one who killed himself.”

It was a devastating blow and he appeared to decline even faster. I saw him less and less, and we talked less frequently as he became embittered and morbid, and angry at everyone in town, including me, just another Cayucos phony.

Sooner or later, Kevin figured, one of his schemes would take, and get him out of the month-to-month doldrums of collecting disability checks. He couldn’t wait to relocate, and all his energy went into moving back to LA, where at least he could tell the true colors of his neighbors.

I felt bad for him, didn’t know what to say and wished him well, not quite able to decipher truth from fiction any more. Kevin’s world, it seemed, had turned into a dark and morbid nightmare.


Rapidfire band members: Bill Bailey (Axl Rose™), Kevin Lawrence, Mike Hamernik, Chuck Gordon.

His most recent project, before moving away from Cayucos, was his lawsuit against Bill Bailey, later known as Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses fame. They had performed together in a band called Rapidfire, Kevin claimed, before Bailey made it big.

He had filed suit to make public some unreleased recordings, an EP, Ready to Rumble,  that he and Axl made together. His plan was to turn a mint selling the new releases of Axl’s early, pre-Guns ‘N Roses career. He guessed millions, if only Axl would let them go.

“Axl’s being an asshole about it,” he claimed, “won’t release the tapes, so I’m suing the fucker.”

I listened with half interest, not knowing whether any of it was true, but wanting something good to happen for Kevin. HIs much-heralded Cayucos conquests, frequent online disappointments, and braggadocio over and scorn for the community, jaded me.

“That’s great, Kevin. I hope you it works out for you.”

Meanwhile, he pursued his usual routine, mostly sleeping in late, grabbing coffee mid-afternoon, growing pot and taking his dogs to the pool for exercise. Occasionally, he’d swing down to the Tavern or the Old Creek Ale House and inform anyone who would listen about his early days playing lead guitar for Axl, and how fans would be blown away by the quality of the tracks.

“They’re gonna shit, dude. When they hear this stuff, they’re gonna shit their pants. Axl’s early work, never heard before. Do you have any idea how much that shit’s gonna be worth?”

Toward the end, he seldom washed, his hair dirty and matted, pugnacious face grimy and oiled, but claimed he was regularly getting laid at all hours of the day, nearly every day of the week.

Eventually, he went back to Southern California, where he hoped to connect with old friends, perhaps with Bukowski’s widow to offer his services. Not long after he left Cayucos, however, in January, Kevin Lawrence died from heart failure and pneumonia. He was 51.

I learned of his death through an online heavy metal magazine, Metal Sludge, that confirmed, in fact, Kevin’s claim to fame, that he’d cut an unreleased album with Axl Rose.

At first, word of his death came as a shock only because he’d convinced me that one day he’d kill himself. It was just a matter of time. After one of his dogs died and he hadn’t taken his own life, he said: “I’ve got these two other guys to look after. But I guarantee you that when they go, I go.”

Death by pneumonia seemed the most artless way to go, at least for a guy who wanted to exit with a bang, for someone who wasn’t ashamed to admit his mental illness, and had a plan for how he was going to end his days.

I still have the book he loaned me, “A Happy Death,” by Albert Camus. I never finished the book. I doubt that death through pneumonia is a happy death. I wish his had been a happy death, but who ever heard of a happy death?

I would rather he had taken his life in the dramatic way that he first described, even though it made me sick to hear him say it. I can’t bear to think the real suffering of slowly, painfully losing your breath and drowning in your own fluids as the world closes in and turns dark. He deserved better, even if he suffered, as he freely admitted, from a serious mental illness. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. Comments, inquiries and contributions are always welcome. He can be reached at roguewarde@gmail.com.


I’m a little more careful now when I hear someone claim this as paradise. Photos by Stacey Warde

I’m a little more careful now when I hear someone claim this as paradise.

by Stacey Warde

I walked head first into a tree limb at work this week. It threw me back hard, flat on my ass, and stunned me. Shaken, embarrassed, flattened, rolling on the ground, a huge gas blower strapped to my back, blasting leaves every which way as I tried to shake it off, I thought: “I don’t want to do this any more. I don’t want to be a middle-aged gardener sucking gas, eating dirt and picking up other people’s dog shit.”

I like garden work and much of what I do, at the farm and with the landscape outfit, but some days events like this can put things in a different light. It can set you on a downward spiral if you get too much of it. Or, you find some humor.

Nonetheless, I need to be working smarter, not harder, as my dad used to say, doing more of the things I like to do, like this magazine.

I’d flooded the customer’s back yard. I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the water. I had just patched a water line, which was easy enough. Then, I had to test the patch, run the water,  and check for leaks. The line was fine but it took me 20 frustrating minutes to turn the damned sprinklers off. By then, there was a nice pond forming under some trees and in the grass.

After shutting off the sprinklers, I threw the blower on my back, flustered, and began blowing back excess water from the tile patio so no one would slip or fall. I started on the leaves and they scattered everywhere. I couldn’t get the leaves to go where I wanted. They went up, they went back but never where I wanted.

I hate blowers. They’re a nuisance and they stink and they scatter dust. I wear good ear protection, the kind that look like headphones. They can be awkward at times, they feel clunky and heavy, especially when worn over a ball cap but they do a great job of keeping out the noise.

I put my head down and went at it, ears covered, eyes blind to low-lying tree limbs, feeling badly about the high-pitched whine of the blower and flooding of our client’s back yard. Soon, I made a trip around the perimeter of the yard going between rose bushes, shrubs—and trees—blowing leaves until I walked headlong into that one limb. It snapped my neck back and left a big red gouge in my forehead. My neck, shoulders and back still hurt.

“Maybe you need your eyes checked,” said Ray, my workmate. It’s the second time I’ve heard that. Not long ago, when I started washing windows for the Dutch Window Cleaning Artist, he chided me: “You must be going blind! Look at that!” He pointed at a window that I had cleaned that had a large smudge line running down the side.

“In a different  light,” I said, tilting my head as if looking at a painting , “you can really see it.”

Indeed, in the past year my eyes have been more faulty than ever. I probably need to wear glasses more often. It might also help to pay better attention to events as they unfold, like aging, retirement and working smarter.

The previous week, while tricking out a client’s garden, I got bit in the ass—twice. First, by the client, then by her skittish dog, a medium-sized mutt that had it in for me. Dogs like me. The only dogs that don’t like me are the ones that shouldn’t be outside. I might have seen it coming, had I been paying better attention. The lady was mad and rightly so, I thought. The boss had been avoiding her calls.

“I’m not mad at you guys, I’m justing venting…” she said tensely, and right about then I saw a flash of black out of the far corner of my troubled, middle-aged eye and before I could react, I felt the sting of a dog’s bite on the back of my thigh.

“Gawd!” I yelped, grabbing my lower right butt cheek, which had been punctured by the sharp point of that mid-sized mutt’s lower canine.

My workmate guffawed and the lady failed to hide her sadistic enjoyment of her dog biting my ass. She didn’t put the dog away and I grabbed fast hold of a rake and shovel. The dog eyed me from its owner’s side. I set the rake like a spear on the ground between me and the dog.

“Don’t think I’m going to let you do it again,” I said to the mutt, “I’ve got my eyes on you now.”

When I got home, I took tweezers and pulled the black fabric of my work pants, dried blood and skin out of the puncture wound. I cleaned it out the best I could and called the doctor the next day. He ordered a five-day regimen of antibiotics.

“This prescription can give you a bad case of diarrhea,” he said, “so be sure to eat lots of yogurt.”

Between running into a tree, stepping in dog shit, and getting bit, I’ve been thinking a lot about what else I might do for a living. I want to publish, run a magazine, write stories, shake things up again, just the way I did when The Rogue Voice was a monthly print journal. I want to grow my own garden, one that doesn’t have to be trimmed, mowed and blown in 30 minutes. I want to open a brewery and grow my own weed.

So I started this online magazine. The Rogue Voice 2.0. The Rogue Voice on steroids. The Rogue Voice online. Finally. Now, if I step into a pile of dog shit while working, I’ve got something to look forward to at the end of the day, something to cheer my spirits.

Not everyone’s happy about it. Readers might not like what they see here, but our content will always be relevant. In less than two weeks, we received nearly 1,000 views, about half of which, including a few complaints, were directed at a poem titled, “Small Town Gossip in Paradise” by Ibrahim Ahmed. The poem puts a different spin on a refrain we hear often in these parts: “We live in paradise, don’t we?” “We sure do!” Which would be mostly true were it not for a few people who live here, and for a recent murder, several suicides and a handful of drug-related deaths.

Photos by Stacey Warde

Photos by Stacey Warde

You could say, there’s trouble in paradise. Troubles that go beyond getting bit by dogs and running into trees. Suicide, murder, and drug overdoses—in a town of less than 5,000 people, living otherwise peaceably and happily between the wide open spaces of green hills and the vast blue Pacific ocean, where there’s presumably hardly ever a care or worry, no traffic, noise or big-city mayhem. Still,”the little town that time forgot,” despite claims to the contrary, appears to suffer from many of the modern-day plagues and problems of LA and San Francisco that people come here to escape.

I’m a little more careful now when I hear someone claim this as paradise. I’m not sure what they mean beyond the weather and spectacular scenery, none of which has to do with the people who live here. The food can be heavenly at times and there’s plenty of it, lots of farms, produce, fish. And the people, mostly, are great. They work hard and like to celebrate. Some are givers. Others are snakes. Still, others are deeply disturbed.

“It’s people,” I’ve been reminded more than once, “who make or ruin ‘paradise.’” It’s not the place, friends have said, it’s the people. They’re the ones who create the problems and the misery. Maybe these big-city problems like murder and suicide are not that uncommon for small communities around the country. They sure make for some interesting conversation, some of which is featured in Ibrahim’s poem:

“Did you hear
about the guy who hung himself from the pier?

At the crack of dawn there
he was hanging from a rope

dangling between the
pile ons like a shadow

above the ocean where
the pigeons leave their droppings.

Did you hear the lady
from Fresno who, after

several drinks shouted,
‘You guys are so lucky; you live in paradise!’?”

I’ve never been able to confirm whether anyone actually hung himself from the pier, although several residents have assured me that it’s true. Since then, there have been other suicides, and overdoses.IMG_4091

“Killing yourself is pretty fucking selfish, if you ask me,” said a fellow laborer at Schooner’s Wharf, which overlooks the same pier, a kind of icon for our little paradise, as we drank a beer and discussed the passing of Brad Marz, a local contractor, whom I considered a friend, who would have loved that poem and was a frequent commenter, not always favorable, on the content of The Rogue Voice. By most reliable accounts, he put a nail gun to his head and ended his career. Hardly a week later, a young man named Jesse put handgun to his head. “You gotta suck it up,” my bar mate continued, lifting his glass, “or get some goddamned help.”

I wouldn’t be so quick to pass such judgment and was too ashamed to admit that I’ve been so demoralized at times in my life that thoughts of suicide have erupted in my mind too.

“The only people it hurts,” he added with finality, “are the people left behind.”

He’s right about that. I’m one of those people. Brad’s decision to take his own life floored me, as it did others. It got me thinking about what I’m doing and why. If nothing else, his death is a reminder that for all of the dog bites, piles of shit that I’ve stepped in, and tree limbs I’ve run into,  there will always be trouble in paradise, which is more reason to do what I love, be with the people I love, and work smarter. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.