Good friend Salvatore Dieli
We were ambling up Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, having just finished a feastly meal. Sal was feeling pretty good, better than average that day. I had met him and Judy at Union Station, where we had hopped the Gold Line.
A few blocks on, looking for a coffee sit down, Sal snapped into song, and in moments he was Salnatra (my nickname), singing his old standby - Fly Me to The Moon! Being a retro punk in a Frank stance, his pipes blowing out the musty dusty notes of a long hibernation produced by too many ills. Maybe too many pills. And again, Sal was back in full swing. He had the beat, the pulse, the rusty polish, the ATTITUDE ... Strangers in the Night! ... I’ve Got You Under My skin!
Judy and I exchanged victorious glances. The guy was alive again.
Alas, for one last moment before a long slow sleep, getting ready, it seemed, to face the final darkness.
The year was around 2007.
Sal crooning in a Carlsbad, CA karaoke
Slowly, Sal lost his will, tossed and torn by inner demons. The still resilient Judy moved herself and Sal up to Santa Rosa, where, refusing to settle for institutional gloom, she found for Sal a nice cozy home of assisted care. He had his own small bedroom. There, peacefully he settled in under a heavy cloud of detachment. Whenever I went out with Judy to visit, I’d find him on the bed, sleeping or wanting to sleep, sometimes having to be wrested into a sitting position. Feebly, he’d host us. Sometimes we’d talk for a little bit, and he might become animated, gifting me with a hint of the Sal he no longer could be. Once or twice, I got him to sing a few lines or two, and he felt good about it. Sometimes when the mood (or the right medication) hit him, Sal, from what a charmed staff reported to Judy, would saunter about the place giving concerts. And then he'd crash, back onto a morose bed of resignation.
Steadily, as if preplanned, Sal lost his will almost completely. He was in the hands of doctors and drugs and medicare red tape, endlessly for Judy. She’d visit Sal almost everyday.
And then, on St. Patrick’s Day, following more hospital and rehab runs and doctors issuing conflicting prescription orders, on and off, then on again, Sal finally silenced into his last sleep.
When Judy notified me in a phone message, I felt a wonderful relief. So had Judy.
This was a guy who had served his country for 20 years as a medic while stationed in China, Korea, and Guam, among other places. A guy who had taken up tennis at age 50, had taught driver ed in Los Angeles schools for 15 years, had boxed, had coached a boxing team for the USAF all the way to France. Had taken up photography. And had enjoyed public validation singing in many piano bars.
For me, a long oppressive cloud had been lifted, such that I was able to find a way back to the face of Sal, the soul and smile of Sal, the life of Sal ... the Sal so full of song, humor and attitude.
Welcome back, Salnatra!
The three of us in the best of times