A Small Celebration of a Big Guy
by Kevin Carrel Footer
The stories came one after the other. In each he was accompanied by a different exquisite girlfriend: Prague, the 210 motorcycles he had owned, the lecherous rock ‘n’ roll photographer, the train trip across a continent in search of absinthe.
Brian Dessin Day was, among many other things, a collector – not only of girlfriends but of antiques, of motorcycles, of adventures worth telling. And yet he disposed of these things with a carelessness that belied the collector, suggested something at odds with the possessions themselves.
“It’s just stuff,” he said.
I met him through a friend of a friend of a friend. He was in Buenos Aires for the first time. It was the fulfillment of a dream he had long cherished, to become acquainted with this city and the city had not let him down. “This has got to be one of the greatest cities in the entire world,” he gushed.
In his first days here, he had discovered Recoleta cemetery and had gone back several times to take pictures. “I think being in this metropolis so full of life was almost overwhelming for me. Hanging out at the cemetery and doing art was like a refuge.”
When we walked into a fashionable Palermo Viejo bar, people turned to look. Built like a menhir with a pirate’s gold earring in one ear, he invited attention. Rock Star or Big Time Wrestler, he exuded a destiny as big as himself. When he recounted how two boys had tried that afternoon to mug him for his camera near Caminito, I wondered at their foolishness. Might as well assault Aconcagua.
But despite his physique, he was disarmingly gentle. Through the night he drank mineral water. “I’m not the macho type,” he said. When he told of how he and a buxom girlfriend had once wandered the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona in search of absinthe and been pursued down alleys by bearded transvestites, he admitted that he had pissed himself in fear.
Once, Jim Marshall, the legendary rock ‘n roll photographer, stole my friend’s wife while he was away in Europe, but he didn’t hold a grudge. “We we’re breaking up anyway.” Referring to Marshall, he says, “Oddly, I think it brought us closer together – you know, the fact that we shared the same woman.” Then, he added, “I love him.”
He loved a lot of things: lately big two-dollar steaks, the porteñas, the cupolas of the Avenida de Mayo, but also the white sands of Cabo San Lucas, Ducati café racers, sushi, guns, antique lamps. More than a collector, he was an enthusiast. “It’s so beautiful” or “It’s unbelievable,” were his favorite expressions and he lavished them on one thing after another. About people he was the same: the ex-girlfriends, even the ex-wives, glowed in his accounts.
Life, as he told it, sounded like something you wouldn’t want to miss.
He’s gone now, swept away by the same grievous angel that pursued him through life. I miss him – he was one of the few people who ever truly saw me – and I suppose there are probably a lot of people out there who are longing to be seen again through those generous eyes.
The adventures we planned together will have to wait.
I miss him — but at least I didn’t miss him altogether while he was here.