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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

In Memory of Clarence Price and Bruno Joachim

Clarence checking his sea maps to plot a course of adventure for us off the Pacific Coast.

I have always found it next to impossible to find friends here in California. I’m talking about friends like the people I grew up with on the east coast. Johnny D., Dave S., Barry R. These are friends. Lifelong friends.

I don’t use that word ‘lifelong’ easily or cheaply.

I’ve had several 30+ year relationships turn sour overnight, sometimes for valid reasons, sometimes not. If you think it’s hard predicting the behavior of your cat, watch a close friend when he or she gets squirrelly and vanishes in the night.

Bruno was the easiest to understand. Bruno was one of those guys who always had your back, no matter what. You didn’t need to ask him for help, he was always there, sometimes even before I was. Bruno was ethnically a Teutonic. His father was a well-respected concert cellist, his mother an educator. I would never call the atmosphere in their home stuffy, but they took great pride in their heritage and what they had accomplished in life.

The most amazing aspect of the Joachims was that they never took themselves too seriously. Pride in having mastered a tool or a trade, yes; narcissistic indulgence in the accolades they received for their hard work, no. Like with the rest of my east coast friends, seeing them more than once a year was next to impossible.

I would wind a most circuitous route after having landed at Newark Airport. Immediately into NYC to see my friend Michael, up to Massachusetts to see Bruno, and down to Pennsylvania to see my family, Dave and Barry, and sundry others.

My last stop before heading back to the airport was to the Jersey Shore to see Johnny Rocket. Talk about recharging your battery, Johnny did it for you. While I drew inner strength and peace from all my friends, Johnny is such a positive, upbeat kind of guy, that you forget any little thing that may have been gnawing at you while you were in his presence.

These were the yard markers I would judge relationships by. Truth, Honesty, Loyalty, and Sincerity.

While most of my friends were close to my age, Clarence was older. It did not matter. I’ve never had long lasting relationships with people younger than myself. I know that this age gap tends to stretch as you get older, but there are generational limits that prevent a shared bond from developing. I know guys out at the gun club for 22 years now. There’s not a single one there I would call a friend. They are definitely pleasant guys to be around – we have commonly shared political beliefs – and all have a rousing sense of humor – they certainly tolerate my never ending stream of off color jokes.

But once we leave the range, we leave our friendship behind. I’ve repaired guns for many of them, almost never for money – That old rule about never exchanging money with friends or neighbors is crucial if you want relationships to last.

My biker buddy George and I formed a cast-in-stone friendship when I bought him an adjustable main jet and a rebuild kit for the carburetor on his Sportster. George was a welder by trade, and a sketch artist by hobby. He did both with such professional aplomb, somedays you couldn’t figure out which one he was.

The one thing George could not do was ‘wrench’. Except for something simple like changing spark plugs and keeping air in his tires, George had no knack for mechanical related work. One day I heard his Sportster coughing a bit, and since we were both running Bendix carburetors, I took it upon myself to ride the 74 miles to Riverside and pick up some parts for him. He was stoked by my generosity, and I would not accept a penny from him for the parts or my travels.

He surprised me a couple of days later by handing me an ounce of weed hermetically sealed and stamped with the country of origin – Cuba. I had only seen this once before, in West Germany back in 1970. The package was so pretty you didn’t want to open it. It looked like what we called ‘Thai Stick’ back in those days. There was some famous weed floating around, and when you scored some -- it was a big deal.

My relationship with Clarence was quite a bit different. I met him though my photography contacts, and once I found out he rode almost the same bike I did (he rode a 74 FLH, me a 70 FLH), we became instant buddies. Clarence was the kind of guy who was naturally nice, outgoing, and helpful. Nary a vulgar word ever spouted across his lips. He taught me how to be courteous to strangers, how to laugh off misfortune, and enjoy something as simple as a wee shot of Wild Turkey in your coffee in the morning.

Clarence was a big guy. He was tall and wide, with a pinkish complexion and a pixyish nature. There were never clouds in the sky when we rode. They parted out of respect for his exuberant display of helping other people in need, no matter what the cost to himself. He never took drugs and kept his alcohol consumption down to a minimum like me – no more than 4 or 5 shots of 101 proof Wild Turkey a day, usually on a Friday or Saturday evening.

If you were to ask me what forms the foundation for love, I’d have to answer: trust and honesty. This is what Clarence taught me, never by talking about it, only by doing it. He had a small boat tied to the docks at Del Mar, I’ve lost track of the countless times we’d throw a leg over the Harleys and casually ride over Hwy. 74 to the ocean to spend 24 hours at sea.

The days all began the same way. A pot of coffee. He drank an entire pot of coffee by himself, while I had no more than a single cup. My friend John, an Australian living in Los Angeles could (and I personally witnessed this more times than I can count) put down 24 cans of beer without rising once to pull the cork out.

Once Clarence had fueled himself, we could ride. I’m telling you the birds and the squirrels lined up on the side of the road in tribute when they heard he was coming. I would never describe him as s tree hugger – we never spoke of politics back in those day (late 70’s), but he had an infectious love for all life that you couldn’t help but notice. I never saw him get angry or lose his temper. He might let a grimace cross his face for a moment, but then he had a plan for coping with whatever fly found itself in his ointment, and we moved forward.

Clarence’s goodwill and sincere desire to help others was ultimately his downfall. He ran a commercial printing company in Cathedral City and all his employees had perpetual smiles plastered across their faces whenever I ventured in. One of the reasons they were so happy is because he never took the required state and federal withholdings from their weekly paychecks. He wanted to make sure that they all had every penny they needed to live their lives and care for their families.

No one ever carried a cross word about the man.

Unfortunately, defrauding the government only lasts for so long, and one day the IRS descended on his print shop and shut him down. They removed all his heavy equipment and transported it away. All his business accounts were frozen, and the employees were set adrift with barely enough time to gather their belongings and vacate the building.

He said nothing to anyone. His humiliation was so severe, he saw no other solution than quietly leaving the desert and getting as far away as quickly as possible. I heard about it when he knocked on my door as he was about to leave town. He had his wife and daughter in tow, and there was little to be said, the shock was so great.

He resettled in Seattle, but I never heard from him again. I have seen this happen before. The pain of losing everything turns people so far inward, wrapped up in such a tight coil, that they have no energy or desire to ask for help.

The same thing happened to Bruno. He was one of the three most prominent commercial fashion photographers and illustrators in the Boston, Mass. Area (in the 70’s and 80’s). I knew all three because I went to school with all of them. In the late 80’s a new generation of art directors appeared on the scene in Boston. They were all gay and they made some very unusual demands on Bruno, demands he would not accede to.

So they froze him out and shut him down, virtually overnight. He managed to slip away with one client from the Virginia area. His recent divorce left him light in the luggage department, so he relocated south and did the best he could for a while. A very short while. He was trying to make it work, but it wasn’t happening. This was the last time I spoke to him.

Growing despondent, he left the United States entirely and spent the rest of his days over the border in Mexico, becoming a well-known photographer in his own right there. Part of the nature of building a new life involved cutting ties with everyone and anything that was part of the old, and that unfortunately included me. I visited his web site frequently to view the stunning commercial work he was doing. I missed him dearly. This would not be the last friend I would lose when they became ex-patriots due to being maligned by a system that no longer found value in them.

The saddest aspect of all of this was the fact that he was estranged from his children, so when he passed away a couple of years ago, his web site was immediately taken down, I would guess out of spite. Now, he has vanished forever – no one could or can enjoy the beautiful art he had created.

Neither of these guys were failures. One was a Robin Hood who eventually got chopped of at the knees by our present day Sheriff of Nottingham. The other was a Rembrandt, whose ability to create fine works of art was cut down by a powerful coalition that required submission in a form I will not describe.

Bruno in 1972 on a shoot.

I carry my memories of both men and their families in my heart. Nary a day proceeds from dawn to dusk without some shared good time drifting through my senses.

George Harrison said it best:

“All things must pass.”

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