One year ago, my friend Fred died at the V.A. Hospital in West L.A. Fred had a hair-trigger temper, the nervous system of a rattlesnake, and a heart that, miraculously, had not quite been hardened by an abusive childhood, the tour in ‘Nam, a career as a bronco-rider, and his years as a Skid Row drunk.

Fred could be difficult. But if he was in one way shut down, in another his spirit made him vulnerable in a way that more “well-adjusted” folks–however kind and generous–never have to be. He suffered to an extent and for a period of time that would have felled a “normal” man, and if that made him unusually sensitive to people’s faults, it also gave him an unusual capacity to see and accept people for what they were. He knew I wasn’t as nice as I like to make myself out to be, nor as self-assured. He accommodated my tendency to focus on the unattainable, my sappiness; the way I talk about God. Perched on his wheelchair at the V.A., I’d sometimes start crying mid-conversation; he’d ignore me. I’d grope to articulate a memory or feeling or yearning; he’d acknowledge me without engaging or much responding, which is really all I wanted. I don’t know what it was in Fred that invited or allowed this level of trust. Maybe illness is the great leveler. Maybe in silence we share the wounds that are never going to heal.

I think of his bachelor apartment with the smoke-stained walls, the bills lined up in military rows on the dresser, the packets of ketchup from Taco Bell in the fridge, the pinup rodeo girl tacked to the wall of his closet, the paper lunch bag on the floor by the bed filled with spent cigarette butts–he died of complications from emphysema–the drawer with the SSI checks that had been accumulating, because he’d been in the V.A for over a year.

I think of the afternoons I spent in Building 215, with the waning rays of the sun bathing the San Gabriels. I think of how you have to be in almost unbelievable pain to sit in silence with another person; to endure that level of ineffectiveness, of poverty.

We were able to share our loneliness, and I miss him.


  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    What a lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing Fred with us (which is a little like sharing Fred out among us).

  2. Robyn Lees-Stavrand says: Reply

    I fell in love with Alfred Davis the third. A guy (as he liked to call himself)who shoots right from the hip, "I don't sugar coat nothin" A cowboy he was and a gentleman and a drunk (but no longer drank). He was just what I needed…. a starry eyed girl from Michigan here in LA to make it big. I wanted to be a star. I met Fred and we became instant friends, the kind that lasts…til death due us part. He was genuine. And if you live in LA…..Genuine is so precious and few. I needed that. Fred is still with me he lives in my heart and when I think of him I am instantly reminded of who I am and what really matters.I hope to meet up with him one day face to face in a place that is far greater than anything we have ever known. until then, thank you Heather for reminding us all of the great AlFred Davis lll.

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    Ben G said:

    Fred & I shared the same apt building in Silverlake for 4 years. It was my first apt. out of the Crenshaw/Jefferson Blvd. area of LA in years, after I sobered up. Fred helped me find my first permanent job in sobriety, at Mickeys plant shop. Fred taught me invaluable lessons in what to expect in recovery as well as the consequences of picking up that first drink. I did my first AA panel with him. Fred was a true friend… didn't always tell me what I wanted to hear… but a true friend.

    15 years ago this morning I had my last drink.

    Thinking of you with love and respect, old friend. I'm doing alright today. I do miss our long distance phone calls, but I know your in a better place now…

    I celebrate life today. Thanks for helping me live to see it.

  4. Thanks for these beautiful reflections: I'm still amazed by all the people Fred knew, shored up, and touched…his spirit lives on.


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