Tribute to Bill Ducker, Gone but Never Forgotten

     I first became acquainted with Mr. Bill Ducker back in the early 70’s when times were not exactly prosperous or even ironically amusing for me and his then girl friend (later to become his wife), Claire.  We were House mates at the time.  She had divorced her husband and had three very small daughters, complete with the complications of a tug of war custody problem, as her husband lived out of town and was known to be less than cordial upon occasion.  At that time I was in the process of getting a divorce from my first husband, who did live in town (Austin, Texas) having a rather cozy little rat hole for sleeping and more or less existing in the style to which he wanted to become accustomed, in the loft he was renting where he was building his sailboat to head out to sea.  Although my ex-husband was in the process of selling the property we used to share, as who needs a home when the open sea called? (I’ve heard of long distanced relation ships, but the one he was building had no room for two: it was about 20 ft. long.) But for a time the lovely little cottage my ex-husband and I used to share became a refuge from homelessness for Claire and I, and I was very glad, indeed, for her company.  I had been working at the Infernal Revenue Service after college (not that my BFA in visual arts did any good in this job, or any other I could find at that time.) But the IRS offered more money for time spent than anything I could find, so I stayed in that job for 3 & 1/2 years.  The artist in me was beginning to disappear, strangely enough I had just received a promotion.  But when they handed me a book of tax law -the size of the Webster’s Complete Unabridged Dictionary to peruse, I realized the seriousness of my predicament; I was starting to become one of “them.”  So in a sudden splendorous satori, I decided to quit.  And as there is only so much room in the brain for memories, I didn’t want my head full of facts from that book, when I was supposed to be an “Ortist,” searching for truth and beauty. So I walked very quickly and deliberately into the personnel office and said: “I’m leaving in five minutes, what do I need to sign?”  This was before my 1st husband began with the ‘yo, ho, ho’s and a bottle of rum’ scenario. So the ‘Ortist ‘ in me overcame the oppressive government job, but as the days went by, I began to realize that not only was I losing a husband, but gaining true independence, though continuing in my quest for truth and beauty aside, I was (whoops) unemployed.  So I started singing and playing my big old Martin D-21 on Guadalupe, or the “drag” as it’s called,the street that ran right in front of the University of Texas — well traveled with all sorts of people who might contribute to my empty guitar case with spare change.  Which wasn’t too bad a thing to do with my time, and it required no government ID to wear like an albatross around my neck.  The money wasn’t as constant, but I was frugal and funny and young, ( the kind of young, when you never think or see danger, even when it’s standing right there in front of you.)  Claire, being a mother and a lot wiser to the ways of the world, to say nothing of having a profession that paid money (she had a masters degree in Speech Therapy)was a superlative ‘reality-checker’ for sure when need be.  Someone with this talent was greatly needed, and so in her own way said something to the affect of: “So what now, brown cow?” Which was a concept pondered not often enough, if ever, to a very naive and now single (for the most part) female composer of “Outlandish Outlaw-Country” songs… well, it was becoming a hassle to pay the electric bill with rolls of quarters.  Fortunately, my ex-husband left me a legacy of hundreds of returnable Lone Star Beer long neck bottles, that I began taking back to the distributors for the cash refund. See, there is the silver lining in that cloud too.  But it was raining all the time, so I stayed indoors and practiced my routine and continued the Street Singing, and began to play clubs when I had the nerve.  

         Any way, it was around that time that she and Bill Ducker became close friends and then lovers, so he was a constant visitor to our abode.  We would sit around my antique round table and drink coffee, or whatever, and talk or sing or play the guitar (Bill was an excellent classical guitarist, but also was a master of obscene ditty which he sang with great dignity, as Claire and I rolled on the floor laughing), and I played my own songs or old country songs or blues. So many a hour was spent in intense, silly, and sometimes serious musical study with seemingly endless conversation by the group ( that expanded…) and became the official meetings of the “Ne’er do Wells.” I would give anything for even a few minutes around that table again with such close and highly interesting friends.  At that time I did not realize how this marvelous shared creativity and companionship would soon fade away into only memories long past, as we all went our separate paths.

        Bill was a wonderful teller of stories and jokes. He had the most elegant way of speaking English even in his youth back then, interspersed with his own special colorful cursing he obtained while in the Army.  Bill enlisted in the Army, when these were the times when all young men his age where destined to Vietnam, if drafted.  After the Army he attended law School at the University of Texas until threatened with graduation.   But he realized he liked every thing about the study of Law, but being a lawyer.  So on this particular professional path,  he was waylaid by ethics, always somewhat of a problem in finding one’s calling. So the legal biz, regardless of how interesting, would not be his way… I think he saw lawyers at that time to be a bunch of “silly bastards who were really professional liars,” most having no acquaintance with ethics, but masters of twisting logic into their own desired direction and shape.  So he dropped out, finding various odd (and I do mean odd) jobs, keeping us regularly informed at the Ne’er Do Well meetings, until he became the manager of a large apartment complex, with apartment included and a small salary, which was perfect for him with his military background and eloquent language skills.  Not to mention he was absolutely huge, not just wide, but very tall as well. In the early 70’s he also sported a military haircut, which was quite a  rare thing for a man of his age in those times, as you can imagine. If you did not know him, as he was a true gentleman and scholar in every way, he was able to appear to be a rather frightening person to confront in those days, no question about it.

     Now, as I have bored you all to the bone with how I grew up a military brat, etc. remember that my Dad was an Officer, not an Enlisted-man.  Where as Bill enlisted during the Vietnam War, as in doing so he could pick where he wanted to be stationed, also his talent for languages (in this case Russian) lead him to Germany, where he listened to the Ruskies (no offence meant to those of Russian extraction) over the radio waves for Army Intelligence. (Remember that this was in the days of the cold war) Although some people would question Army Intelligence as a conundrum, Bill Ducker was one, if not the most intelligent person I ever knew, and I have met in passing, (as my father’s daughter) some famous and quite well established, brilliant scientists, but none were as well rounded in their knowledge as Bill seemed to me, through out the 30 some years I knew him.  His stories of his army experiences as an Enlisted-man always fascinated me, as what I knew of the service was from a much different perspective and experience.  My father graduated from VMI in 1941 (before the US was officially part of WWII) and at that time, before he had much of a chance to sit around a table with friends and Ne’er Do Well as did I, he was sent into the infantry but managed to be assigned to what was at that time the RAF, and then the Army Air Force when the USA was officially at war. His college degree in Electrical Engineering, native intelligence (and I’m sure his charm and authoritative, aristocratic good looks) lead him into many unique opportunities as an Air Force Officer, he was the lead navigator in the biggest air strike in WWII (and this was done in very poor weather with no GPS) and was assigned to work on the development of Radar, at MIT (very interesting I’m sure and a lot safer than Germany or France) and after the war he continued his career in the Air Force, involved from  the very first of the Project Mercury, or getting that first man in Space.  Let’s just say, he never had to do K.P. or be belittled by an Officer, as in quite the same way an Enlisted-person was likely to be.  However, the Military never was known to be a democracy by it’s very nature, as all soldiers follow the orders of their superiors, as their very lives depend on that, but a solder took his moments of personal victory where and how, a soldier could.  Which brings me to one of Bill Ducker’s better stories of life as an enlisted person in the Army.

      Bill told how his much revered Master Sargent and a particular snooty Officer clashed many times over trivial matters, and as the Officer was never to be angered by disagreement, or shown any form of disrespect from  a non com (serious business, the rank and file system in the Service). His Master Sargent developed a plan that was sure to work with a passable one-up-man-ship, to say nothing of grossing the Officer out, which he clearly had coming karmic-ly.  When “inspection time” was carried out, this Officer was always greatly displeased with the quality of cleanliness in the toilet area.  And, for all practical purposes rightfully so … But for this one particular time his Master Sargent assigned a newbie to sanitize a particular toilet (one of many).  It was first to be scrubbed down with soap and disinfected with Clorox, then rinsed with fresh water on the exterior. It was then to be drained of it’s water and thoroughly wiped inside and out with rubbing alcohol,  then filled with fresh water and finally put back to look usable, but forbidden for any of his soldiers to touch.  As his troops were greatly curious as to his intentions, but suspected a set up … all were united in looking forward to the next inspection,  and they followed the order that the one toilet be left untouched and began to prepare for this event.  As per usual, when the Officer and the Master Sargent entered the ‘throne room’, the Officer complained of the unacceptable conditions.  So the Master Sargent approaches the aforementioned toilet, lifts the lid, and rubs his index finger around the top of the toilet bowl then proceeds to put said finger in his mouth, reporting, “Well it tastes OK to me, Sir.” Naturally, all Soldiers remained at attention with serious expressions.  The Officer turned red in the face but made no further comment, although there was a report of his active gag reflex.

     That particular story was one of so many, and probably less than ideal the way that I told it, but Bill had a way of making the most mundane happenings seem extraordinary, because of his eloquence, and wonderful sense of humor which he never lost.  He converted to the Anglican Church and became a true Christian in the 1980’s, which added to his accomplishments, as well as to his wisdom.  He would always have the best and most truly obscene jokes to tell in his wonderful style all through our association.  I must say, I feared that his conversion would chop that off, but he continued to set most of his many friends into fits of laughter with his jokes. As they spread, he became legendary.  If he thought of some really strange and funny idea, or expressed some thought of a questionable nature, he often simply followed his statement with “of course, our dear Lord Jesus would not do so, however…”

     Actually, if it had not been for Bill Ducker’s encouragement, I would have never gone to Westchester, New York to be with Charles Sauer, my husband of  30 years now.  Although Charles and I were clearly ‘in love’ at that time in my life, when a decision needed to be made, I was reluctant to trust anyone after my first marriage, and felt weighted down by family and possessions.  Bill pointed out how easy it would be to have all my furniture and other stuff put in storage, by calling a company that did this in my presence.  He then pointed out how I was truly clinically depressed, that all I really looked forward to were Charles nightly phone calls. He also made the comment that I was the one who had to take action to change my life.   (I think, frankly, my situation was becoming a pain in the ass for the whole Ne’er Do Well membership.)  But he was the person with the moxie to say this to me. And he even drove me to the airport for my flight.

    Bill Ducker gave me the solution to a terrible problem I was having when my daughter was in High School.   The little idiot was chronically skipping school, and refused to think finishing high school was a must.  He explained that High School in those days and times probably did suck, and that no one would want to be a part of that.  However, she would be greatly impaired if she didn’t get her diploma, so she just had to go through with it. Then he gave me the formula for her success in this venture, which I followed to the letter:  I told her that, if she skipped even one class, I was going WITH HER to every one of her classes to see that she went.  Actually, this sounded like a decent solution, and I really looked forward to her trying my patience on this issue.   But she found the whole idea of my accompanying her to class so deplorable, that she did attend her high school classes from that day on, and this I know to be the case, as I called the poor troubled person in charge of attendance every afternoon, to see if she had attended all classes. 

     When I went through the last two serious joint replacement surgeries, Claire, and/or Bill and Claire came to visit me in the hospital.  The last being my knee replacement surgery, which was quite serious and agonizing. Bill and Claire held hands with me and prayed in a  such a beautiful manner that lifted my spirits, in a way I had never experienced before. The caring and true friendship they offered me that day was a gift I will always remember.

     Bill Ducker affected so many people in a positive way that I am humbled and so grateful  that he continued to be my friend until his death on October 13, 2007.  Bill had some serious health conditions (diabetes, as well as two heart surgeries), and tended to be overweight (another problem we shared), and although he certainly was disciplined in getting physical exercise (he loved to go long distance biking), and had even organized a biking group (largely he and his daughter, Eleanor) of which he began to write weekly hilarious ‘training reports’ sent via email, which I keep looking to appear in my “inbox” again, but alas that will not happen. Eleanor, who I’ve known since she was about 3 years old, was riding behind him the day of his death, when he suffered a 2nd massive heart attack.  She said “it was as though the lights just went out in there and he fell over.”  She called the EMS and he was rushed to the hospital but never regained consciousness. The world is a much better place because you were here, Bill.   And you will be here in the hearts  and memories of so many friends.

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