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The other day the iPod played “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll” by Prefab Sprout. The song, off the 1988 album From Langley Park to Memphis, reminds me of my friend Harold, even though I don’t think he particularly liked Prefab Sprout. But I bought the album one Saturday at a Kemp Mill Records store in Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, near Harold’s apartment at the time, so I dropped in on him to listen to it.
As I remember, it was a beautiful day in the late afternoon, sometime in the spring or summer, with the lowering sun bringing out the warm pastels in everything it touched. Adams Morgan was bustling, as it always was, with its mix of DC Yuppies and Hispanic immigrants. To me it always felt more like Los Angeles than Washington. Harold lived in an older building a few blocks up Columbia Road from 18th Street. It had a lobby area that might have been nice once, but all the furniture and carpets were long gone, so it had the forlorn feeling of an abandoned ballroom. The hallways upstairs were bare wood—at least that’s how I remember them—and every apartment had an outer door made of louvered wood. I assume in the days before air conditioning tenants would open their inner doors and their windows so they could get a breeze through the louvered doors without losing their privacy.
Harold’s apartment was small, but comfortable, and filled with his bric-a-brac—his albums, his presidential history books and memorabilia, a stuffed Muttley from The Wacky Races cartoon. He had a refrigerator magnet that always made me laugh. It said, “Jesus is coming. Hide your bong.” I have no doubt that we drank some beer as we listened to the album. WHFS had been playing “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll” and “Cars and Girls” and I liked both songs a lot. As I said, I don’t think From Langley Park to Memphis impressed Harold very much, but I don’t recall arguing about the album’s merits. And if you knew Harold, you’ll understand how surprising that is. Harold liked to argue.
I met him back when I was living in Boston. I was editing a little music magazine and he covered country and bluegrass for me. Every so often I would arrange to meet him in front of the Rathskeller in Kenmore Square. I’d hand him a few promo albums and he’d give me anything he had written. He interviewed Ricky Skaggs for the magazine and he wrote something about David Bromberg. Later I found out that he was going down to Washington to get his Master’s at American University. I told him I was moving down there myself to start a new job and that I’d drop him a line once I got established.
Harold moved down shortly after I did and he found a place in Northern Virginia, just beyond the end of the Yellow Line. His roommate, a girl he had known in Boston, was a competitive Frisbee player. I went out to visit one day in the fall, taking the Metro all the way to the end and then walking the mile or so to his apartment complex. Harold had a case of stout waiting and we drank the beer as we sat around, listened to albums and talked. This must have been the first time I had really hung out with him and it started a friendship that lasted for almost 25 years. We might have finished the case by the time I staggered out into the night, just in time, I thought, to catch the last train back to town. Except I reached the platform as the last train pull out of the station. So I walked all the way back through the hot Virginia night to Harold’s and crashed on the couch.
A fairly big, solid guy, Harold looked Germanic, which you could expect from someone whose last name was Schlicht. I used to joke that his name suffered from a vowel shortage. He was blond with glasses and he usually had a mustache and sometimes a scraggly beard. When he talked his hands and arms took on a life of their own. He would lean forward a little, his hands and arms swinging back and forth for emphasis, and he had a kind of stutter-start way of talking. He did like to talk. He especially liked to argue. It didn’t take much to get him going and in all the time I knew him I can’t recall a single instance when he admitted to being bested, whether the topic was whether or not the country was in a recession or the reasons why Lincoln should have let the Southern states secede. Sometimes he could get a little testy, lowering his head a little, his voice getting a bit edgier, his sentences more bluntly declarative, his hands chopping to underscore his points, but I also can’t recall him ever getting personal. He would never budge from his position, but he never nursed grievances, either. He proudly called himself a libertarian, but that didn’t stop him from sometimes arguing for more regulation of things he didn’t like. Once or twice I tried to point out this discrepancy, but he brushed it off.
Harold was a music lover with a large and eclectic album collection. He resisted the introduction of CDs even more vociferously than I did, though he eventually succumbed. He resisted other things, too. Last summer I suggested that I come down to DC so we could see the Red Sox play the Washington Nationals. “I will never go to a Nationals game,” he declared. “Washington does not deserve to have a baseball team.” He had that kind of stubborn integrity about things.
Happy hour always provided a good time to argue. Bunches of us would meet at one happy hour or another to take advantage of cheap beer and free food. For a time we went to a place called the Brickyard. Later we found out that Chicago’s on Dupont Circle put out an entire roast turkey for their happy hour. Harold turned us on to the Dungeon, the downstairs bar at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House on the corner of Connecticut and Florida Avenues. At happy hour the Dungeon had steam trays full of delicious Ruth’s Chris steak tips. Harold was a beer enthusiast, so another regular hangout was the Brickskeller, also near DuPont, which had a huge beer menu. The Fox and Hounds had a decent beer selection but it also had the best juke box in Washington. Sometimes went to the Crow Bar, or a martini bar called Olivio’s, or the Tiber Creek Pub near Union Station, which served beer by the yard and the half yard. Looking back, it seems like those years were just a blur of happy hours.
The best hangout, though, was Mr. Eagan’s, a classic dive on Connecticut just below Dupont Circle. It was a long, narrow, dim place. When you pushed though the door the first thing you saw was a large pastry case, although I can’t imagine anyone buying cakes or pastries at Eagan’s. As you walked toward the back you moved down the length of the bar, with a single line of booths against the wall on your right. The place opened up a little in the back, which had a few tables crowded over near a greasy popcorn machine. It was the kind of establishment that would make a visiting health inspector rub his hands together with glee. The somewhat frightening bathrooms were past the popcorn and up the stairs in the back. There was a condom dispenser up there too. Someone had written on it with marker, “Don’t buy this gum. It tastes bad and it is hard to chew.”
Eagan’s later added a downstairs bar, which had a place to play darts. I had my bachelor party at Eagan’s downstairs. At one point during the festivities I decided to see if I could bite through the brim of Harold’s leather Stetson. I couldn’t, but I did leave a nice tooth pattern.
We spent many hours at Eagan’s, crowded into a table or booth with a bunch of people, drinking beer, laughing, talking about music and movies, eating the greasy pub food and sometimes arguing. I met my wife-to-be there on a blind date on the night before Thanksgiving one year. (Thank you, Mr. Eagan’s!) One night Harold and I got particularly well-oiled at Eagan’s. On the way out we sat down at one of the booths, uninvited, to play paper football with the couple seated there. It was their first date. I like to think they got married and still talk about those two drunks who crashed their date at Eagan’s. Eventually we extricated ourselves to begin the long walk up Connecticut Avenue to crash at my apartment. Harold and I later claimed that we crawled across the Taft Bridge. We might have, too. I also think Harold threw up in my kitchen sink once we got to my place.
There were parties, too. We had occasional poker nights, which were always a lot of fun. Harold did a lot of house sitting for the lawyers at his firm (he was the law librarian), so he would often have a bunch of us over when he did. One house in particular, a very moderne place just over the Chain Bridge in Arlington, had a nice swimming pool out back and was a great place for afternoon swimming and barbecue parties. Sometimes we went golfing. That was great because golfing with Harold almost made my brand of hackery look good in comparison. But we always had fun. I particularly remember one time when Harold, a mutual friend and I played an early round at Rock Creek Golf Course and then headed back to my apartment to make a late breakfast of bacon, eggs and coffee.
I heard a lot of live music with Harold, too. One time we caught a double bill of Little Charlie and the Nightcats and Duke Robillard at a place on Connecticut Avenue. Its name escapes me, but I remember they played Spinal Tap songs between bands. We saw David Bromberg and his big band at the Bayou in Georgetown. Harold and I were both Bromberg fans, but the opening act was so irritating that we skipped the second show rather than sit through them again. It became a running joke.
We saw the Reivers at the old 9:30 Club, the wonderful old place on F Street that had a unique smell, a mixture of industrial-strength solvents, sweat and beer that would seep into your clothing and hair. We saw Dumptruck a few times at the 9:30, too, once when River Phoenix’s band was the opening act. Not to speak ill of the dead, but we thought they were horrible. I figured the people cheering and calling for an encore were being sarcastic, but the place emptied once Phoenix’s group finished, leaving just a handful of people to see Dumptruck, a truly great band at the height of its powers. That might have been the night that Tommy Keene jumped on stage for an extended encore that included Richard Thompson’s “Streets of Paradise” and a rousing “Route 66.”
Once I talked Harold into going to see Lyle Lovett at Wolf Trap. I could tell he was reluctant. I told him Lovett played a lot of different genres—country, bluegrass, western swing—just as Bromberg did. Lovett was touring behind Joshua Judges Ruth, an excellent album, and his band even included Sir Harry Bowens and Sweet Pea Atkinson from Was (Not Was). It was a great show. I ran into Harold as he walked up the aisle after it was over. “What did you think?” I asked. He looked grumpy. “Too much variety,” he said. “He should stick to one genre.” I got the impression he showed up determined not to like the show. I felt like strangling him.
That was Harold. But you couldn’t stay mad at him. He was a genuinely big-hearted guy and someone who truly valued his friends. There was no malice in him, just a lot of entrenched opinions. He was the kind of guy you called when you needed someone to help you move—and I did. That’s a true sign of friendship.
I didn’t see Harold all that much once I moved to Pennsylvania, but we stayed in touch. I crashed at his place when I visited DC on business and we’d go out someplace for beer. He came up for most of the Frank Sinatra parties my wife and I threw each year. It was always good to see him.
Harold loved beer. A true connoisseur, he made his own excellent brews, giving them funny names and printing his own labels. My favorite name was the Nat King Cole Porter. Once I took an out-of-town friend to Mr. Eagan’s and for some reason we were feeling under the weather the next morning, so we went over to Harold’s place—he was living in a high-rise in Arlington at that point—and he served us some incredible stout he had made. It fixed us right up. For last year’s Frank party Harold brought a beer that he said was part of a planned Dictator Series. This one was the Dick Cheney Undisclosed Ale. Harold claimed the recipe included a little gunpowder. For the label he photoshopped Cheney’s face onto a shotgun-toting Elmer Fudd. In keeping with his libertarian principles, Harold said he was going to name the next beer in the series after Nancy Pelosi. He also mentioned that one of the lawyers at the firm where he worked was talking about backing him in a DC brewpub.
Harold had been through a rough patch, but by last spring he was emerging from it. He had met a woman with whom he was obviously very happy and the two of them came over to my house the morning after the party. We got take-out burritos and my wife and I just sat around with them, drank some beer, and listened to music and talked about old times. In fact, it felt a lot like old times.
Harold died three months later, of a sudden heart attack while he was working out at the gym. I still can’t quite believe that my friend of so many years—the man who loved beer, his girlfriend, Green Acres, John Wayne movies, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Beautiful South, his job, the Mets, cooking and arguing with his friends—has left us forever. Six months later I still turn that thought around in my head a lot. It feels strange, like discovering that a tooth is missing. I wish he were still around. I wish he could read this and argue with me about everything I got wrong. I wish he could tell me about the latest beer he had discovered, or offer me a bottle of his Nancy Pelosi ale. He was my friend and I miss him.