My Friendship with Ray Haney
I’m excavating some musty old boxes buried in my closet that haven’t seen the light of day since I moved into this place years ago. I pry open a few and root around through a jumble of forgotten memorabilia and family heirlooms and silly tchotchkes I’ve held onto like a pack rat from the ancient misty past.
I’m not really looking for anything in particular, just curious to see what’s in the boxes — maybe some valuable baseball cards, some photographs, a yearbook, those precious miniature silver-plated chalices Dad brought home from China at the end of the war — who knows what I might find.
Hah! What’s this? Why, it’s Dad’s Private Black Book! I can’t believe it. I turn to the P section and — there’s Pussy Galore, her fading sepia-yellow toned face smeared and partially blotted out from when Ray tried to clean off the semen he’d spilled when he came on her all those years ago up in Dad’s bathroom jacking off with me watching sheepishly. I flip through for a quick look-see at the other by-gone sexpots and place it back in the box reverently.
Mostly, I’m in a once in a decade mood to clear out the clutter in my life, wondering if I should Marie Kondo the whole shebang.
I open a box the size of a ream of paper and pull out the contents: a dog-eared, coffee-stained handwritten draft in semi-neat cursive, and a typewritten final manuscript with a dozen brittle rubber bands securing the bundle of flimsy yellowing typewriter paper. A note is scotch-taped to it:
~ FOR MY EYES ONLY ~
My God! What have I unearthed? How could I have forgotten that all those many long years ago, when I was nineteen, I had written an account of what happened between me and Ray. I had scrawled a hasty first draft of the memoir on rule-lined paper, and then typed up the story on my old Smith-Corona in the year 1974. I’d completely forgotten it existed, and I’m certain I never shared with anyone the salient truths, salacious details and lurid aspects of the rise and fall of my friendship with my best childhood buddy, Ray Haney.
Until now, dear reader. The entire story — word for word as I wrote it — is now published on my blog. Dive in.
Reading the story over for the first time since I finished spilling my guts out — a couple of years after the “incident” — the memoir brought back some truly fond memories of my friendship with Ray Haney in the “halcyon years”, in what seems like a reliving or retelling of our Tom Sawyeresque and Huck Finnish adventures.
But all those grand times were negated by everything that went wrong, beginning with our secret and wrong-headed tryst with the grotesque monster Buford Frodge, the midnight forays to feel up my sisters’ girlfriends, and ending with the drugging and raping of Beth Mansfield and blaming the odious act on me. Sadly, the events of just a single year overshadowed and cancelled out all the good memories and fun times and precious friendship we shared over the previous eight years.
During the passage of years we never saw one another again. I never cared to know anything of him, but over time I heard from various friends the following information about Ray Haney’s post-high school happenings and whereabouts:
After the “incident” when Ray had bolted out of the house, he somehow returned home, eluding his parents and siblings, and packed a quick bag and split the scene. A genuine runaway, he no doubt got himself tangled up with some “jocker” and became what was known as a “lamb” or “Angelina” — a young boy taken under the wing of an older hobo for protection in exchange for sexual favors. Somehow, Ray was able to evade the authorities for fifteen months; a private eye his parents hired to track him down couldn’t turn him up. His name and photograph even appeared on TV as “missing” or “abducted”. It wasn’t until April 1, 1974 that a crack FBI team finally located him in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and arrested him on charges of rape and sodomy.
I was able to piece together from various reports that Ray had hopped a train the very night of the “incident” — with none other than the mercurial Buford Frodge, as crazy as that sounds. Apparently, the law enforcement authorities in our bozo town had to release Frodge that very day, after holding him for a couple of weeks, because of insufficient evidence to document his crimes in other states, and they couldn’t pin anything on him here, as he hadn’t done anything illegal in our state. Well, if they only knew. They arranged with the Chattanooga authorities to return Ray, in chains, but the Good Lord and Merciful Providence must have been on his side because the Mansfield family mysteriously declined to press charges. Rumor had it that ol’ Walt had sicced some goons on the family, threatening harm if they so much as whispered their intent to prosecute his innocent boy.
Back in town Ray proceeded to knock up a local girl named Marla Foster. They picked up stakes and moved to the bucolic town of Oxbow, population 108 — soon to be population 113 — when the third of their kids was born in three years. Out of a delayed sense of Christian guilt, perhaps, Ray finally married Marla, but ever afflicted with a wild hair up his ass, he vanished a month later, abandoning his brood and hightailing it out of town.
Rumor — nothing but rumors! — had it he fled back down south to Chattanooga and took up with a floozy Buford Frodge introduced him to, and on the run from child abandonment and child support payments, the couple skipped the country and managed to skedaddle to, so it was confirmed, the Dominican Republic, where he set up his Worldwide Church of Christ, Scientist and Ministry in a renovated barn in a poor coastal city.
As a big Chicago Post exposé uncovered, the Worldwide Church of Christ, Scientist and Ministry was a sham religious organization that bilked people out of millions of dollars through various pyramid schemes and Ponzi scams, and flooded the church’s coffers with the blood money from dozens of ingenious but phony, illicit tax-dodging enterprises cloaked in the good graces and auspices of the Worldwide Church of Christ, Scientist and Ministry.
Such was Ray’s abundance of trustworthy charisma that he was able to hoodwink first the local populace, then as things spiraled he magnificently ramped things up to pull off the biggest swindle ever by a sham religious outfit — if you didn’t count Scientology, that is.
I had gone away to college, then moved to Las Vegas for my career, got married, had kids, all the conventional stuff; while Ray was going down a very different path, leading a double life of pious Minister and secret criminal mastermind in cahoots with his dad, ol’ Walt. It was even rumored they were involved in a cabal of organized sex trafficking rings in the Far East using his respectable Worldwide Church of Christ, Scientist and Ministry as a front to recruit young children.
Things were going nicely, that is, until his arrest in 1990 brought him down and made headlines in several big city newspapers, when he was arrested, convicted and jailed for ten years, then finally released on parole. The local press had a field day trying to get to the bottom of Ray Haney’s empire. I actually remember reading about that — and remember not being too, too surprised. But still, I was intrigued to learn about Ray Haney’s comings and goings, his whereabouts and his long list of errant deeds.
Ray then took up a fairly conventional straight and narrow life with a new bride from Singapore, settling in an undisclosed location in Tennessee. Not much was heard from Ray Haney from then on — nor any further news about Buford Frodge — according to my sources, but they all said he had enough money to last a lifetime having stashed the bulk of his ill-gotten gains in a private off-shore account somewhere in the Cayman Islands — it was rumored.
As for the rest of the Haney brood, here’s what my sources told me:
Beverly Haney finally divorced ol’ Walt in 1977 and moved to Chicago with a loverboy she’d been having an affair with for a few years, a passing through trucker who treated her like a real lady, but, unfortunately, dumped her a few months later, but that was all right, because Beverly had come into her own and finally realized her dream of working for a top-tier marketing agency in the Loop, albeit just an ad rep. She retired in 1992 and moved to Tennessee to be close to her son, Ray, and her four grandkids — the previous three, born from his dalliance with Marla Foster in Oxbow before his skipping out on them, moved away and were never heard from again. Beverly lived out the remainder of her days in peace and quiet, dying in 2015 at the age of ninety-two.
Ol’ Walt kicked the bucket in 1984, somehow able to avoid prosecution for his accomplice role in Ray’s gangster-affiliated scams. He took his scandals and secrets to his grave where he was buried in a decrepit cemetery on the edge of town on a drizzly day with hardly anyone in attendance. His tombstone reads:
HERE LIES WALTER HANEY, FATHER, HUSBAND, FRIEND. MAY HIS SOUL REST IN HEAVEN IN ETERNAL PEACE.
All of the Haney boys met gruesome fates. The twins, Donnie and Ronnie, and the other half-wit, Billy — along with two other unlucky dumb fucks — were killed in a car accident in 1988 when they’d been out drinking and carousing, speeding at 100 MPH and crashing into a tree on Route 33 right in front of the long-defunct overgrown remains of Walt Haney’s Exotic Zoo and Safari Park.
Poor Junior made it to just twenty-nine, before he perished from a blood infection after stepping barefoot on a rusty nail and never going to the hospital until it was too late. I found it cruelly ironic, recalling how he’d saved Andy the Lion’s life by pulling a big shard of glass out of his paw.
Sweet autistic Becky was the only college educated — and surviving member — of the family. She went on to become a successful county D.A. One of her cases involved accusations of tax fraud, extortion, and embezzlement going back years, against her own father and brother, for misdeeds and wrong-doings on a variety of things related to ol’ Walt’s “legitimate” businesses.
And wouldn’t you know it — just today, an oversized photograph of Ray Haney appears in my Facebook feed. I’ll never understand how those algorithms work! Despite his gray hair, wrinkles and verging on an old-looking fifty-four, I instantly recognize Ray. As the full photo comes into view, I can’t help but laugh out loud. Ray is sitting at a table — same mischievous grin, now toothless, same oddball quirky eye, now clouding over — and, get this, he is presiding over a . . .
Mountainous pile of French Fries!
Some things never change.
Another odd thing happens a few days later. I come upon a little snippet in the newspaper about a truck driver who takes a wrong turn down a dirt road, overturns his semi and his entire cargo spills out of . . .
Dozens of boxes of Potato Chips!
As if that’s not funny enough, the article quotes the driver’s boss, one “Ray Haney” (not our protagonist) who drolly explains the situation as “the chips falling where they may.”
That is an absolutely true story!
A year later.
I’m on Facebook posting one of my Lost in Vegas photos when a friend request and private message alert pops up from — Ray Haney of all people! Attached is a photograph of a poster tribute he’d made, listing 305 people and friends in his life who’d made a big impact on him, 305 people and friends who meant something to him, 305 people and friends who were near and dear to his heart.
At the top of the photo, in bold and italic letters, he proclaimed:
IS MONEY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN LIFE? NO! FRIENDS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ALL THE RICHES IN THE WORLD! Friends are LIFE, PEACE OF MIND & JOY in a bankrupt world. Friends are a COMMUNITY to help one another in times of need and strife. I just want thank my 305 friends listed below who have brought me LIFE, PEACE OF MIND, JOY & ENCOURAGEMENT as I turn 54 on August 17.
My eyes then focused in on a huge block of tiny-print run-on names, many of them my friends from the old days.
Guess who is #1 on the list of Ray Haney’s 305 most important people and friends?
I’m stunned to see my name at the top of his list; stunned to realize that after all these years, no matter that we had gone our separate ways, led separate lives worlds apart in every conceivable way, never once saw or contacted one another; never spoke or heard from or cared about a single thing in either of our lives — decades after I had basically cancelled him out of my life — here it turns out that Ray Haney all along — ever since that first day in Mrs. Knuckles’ first grade class when he turned to me and said “I pledge allegiance to you, my friend, for all time” — loved me and carried me in his heart as his very best friend through thick and thin, good and bad, ups and downs. In his mind, despite my perpetual absence and our breakup and severing of relations, I was still his best friend for all time. Somehow, in his mind, I was able to bring him LIFE, PEACE of MIND, JOY & ENCOURAGEMENT to his dying day.
All I can say is:
Exactly one month later.
I’m back on Facebook — it seems the whole world is made manifest through the algorithms — and the specter of Ray Haney appears in my feed. It shows him in better days, posing on the steps of his modest home in Oxbow, population 113, holding his littlest in his arms. The post informs us, his friends near and far, present and past, all 305 of us whom he held in the highest esteem, that, at age fifty-four, my former friend Ray Haney, has died of cancer.
I choke up a bit, but can’t stop a small chuckle from asserting itself as I wonder if it was because of all that acrylamide in his veins from overdosing on too many fried potatoes.
Rest in peace, Ray Haney. May the Good Lord forgive your mortal soul for all your transgressions and sins. May we all be forgiven for our own, too.