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CLEVELAND, Ohio — It was just the three of us out in the backyard on Monday. I was there with the 3-year-old Finny and Hecky the black muscle mutt. We were raking leaves. I was, anyway. The other two were just jumping in the pile.
Jim Gaffigan does a funny bit about leaves in the fall. He says people love to look at the foliage, the beautiful colors. But what they are really seeing is the leaves dying. He says that if leaves could talk, they would be screaming in agony during the fall. “Aaaaggggh. I’m dying,” they would shout.
It had been a long day already. I woke at 5 a.m. to read my phone about the shootings in Las Vegas. Now, by the afternoon, the toll was 59 dead, 527 wounded. I was glad that neither Finny nor Hecky knew about the shootings. It was depressing. Finny was riding his plastic fire engine through the pile of leaves. Not a care in the world.
Then my phone dinged again. It was more bad news. Tom Petty had died of a massive heart attack at age 66. More death. I’d seen Petty in concert a bunch of times. I saw him at Blossom Music Center and out at the Greek Theater in Berkley, California, where he and his band, the Heartbreakers, opened for Bob Dylan. I’d never met Petty. But I always enjoyed his music.
I decided to honor Petty and the victims in Vegas by burning the leaves in a hole in the ground where a tree stump had been. It was my funeral pyre for the lost. Finny was thrilled. Even though he has a limited vocabulary he said, “This is cool. I like this” over and over again. I got the hose out and brought it over near the fire just to be safe.
I texted my pal, rock ‘n’ roll photographer Pat Johnson, out in San Francisco. He’s a former Clevelander. I asked him about Tom Petty.
“He was a genuinely nice guy,” Johnson wrote back. “He treated my kids like kings. Signed a guitar for my 12-year-old son, Casey. Took photos with my daughter Nicole. He hung out and talked to us. He was just like you expected him to be. Kind, genuine (seemed like he had a nice buzz on). At first he didn’t want to sign the guitar. Then he saw it was for a kid so he signed it. I think he got my Cleveland sensibility.”
After the bonfire died down, the fire department showed up. Neighbors must have called. Finny was thrilled. Real firemen! He showed them his fire engine. They could not have been nicer. They even complimented me for having the hose out. Safety first! That’s me all over.
I didn’t tell them the bonfire was in honor of Tom Petty’s passing and the people in Vegas.
This morning I went out in the backyard and stirred the cold ashes. Sometimes life is sad beyond measure.
But Finny had the best day of his life meeting the firemen.
So there’s that.