Arlen (left) with Joe and Wiggles.


Thoughts on Arlen Lazaroff‘s Life and Death

To lose a close friend, one even in poor health at a fairly young age is very hard--especially one I’ve known and loved for 20 years! Arlen was a very unique free spirited creative artist--although a bit eccentric by many folk’s standards--a gay activist who loved his art, poetry, music and friends--the few he had at first--the loyal small but growing circle towards his end. He especially loved (besides his 5 cats--one which a former girlfriend of mine gave him, “China Doll”--now about 16 years old), his job he had nearly 2 years part time at Kanesville Kollectibles, one of the nation’s best, biggest record and memorabilia stores. There he sorted through hundreds of old records, incoming ones, organizing them--as he learned to do library books when he worked for the main branch in Omaha, by artist and music style category. Arlen loved Mother Earth and believed in saving the environment and picking up trash daily--not just making a fuss on Earth Day.

Arlen wrote hundreds of poems during his life time as a late teen or adult--nearly 30 years I estimate. Especially in the last 15 years he published several chapbooks full--some with illustrations. He was fascinated with the cowboy culture used in art, music and films and used their image & other cutouts along with many found objects for his colorful collages--with paint added. He and Margery Coffey were censored of course for the most infamous one, “End of Sex...” in Fremont in 1990. He received his 15 minutes of fame (quote from his idol Andy Warhol) then. IF he had lived longer he probably would’ve more over his poems-especially the ones that John Chafe of Council Bluffs put in song last year in his “Take Five”--of his best poems set to John’s music. I plan my own CD in his memory with over ten this year to record.
Arlen himself played mostly by ear in at least 2 bands part time-one in the late ‘80’s with Bob Garfield and Dave Nordin (also Heidi & Suzanne) called “Eddie’s Child” and made 2 tapes with both--although of not professional quality as John’s still revealing. Arlen was also fascinated with the Jet-O-Space ruins in NW Omaha. Not sure but think it was an old car hop type drive-in modeled after the Jetson’s cartoon of the late 1960’s--built in 1975. Both Arlen and Dave Nordin took photos of it before it was dismantled--in the mid 1980’s-- and wrote poems about it. I later--soon after I met him took him there to see the ruins and from the old photos his brother Lauren made a nice model that he gave me after his brother’s passing.

Arlen worked part-time as a volunteer at Mystery Manor, Omaha’s oldest and best Haunted House. The year before, 2004, I had played my “Wolfman Jack” song there while he read some of his scary poems and played a tambourine to musician friend Joey’s music along with good poet and musician friend Jim Daniels on his harmonica. Then last year he volunteered and was asked by owner Wayne Sealy to play the “Theremin” a weird sound effect machine used in scary movies of the ‘50’s-with a “Mad Scientist”. But Arlen’s health was declining then and he was only about to be there about half the time he wanted to be--still trying to keep his day job beforehand. I did see him shortly before Halloween--which he last worked, but he didn’t have his glasses on and didn’t see me--also a lot of kids there then. He did feel a little better when I took him to Rosalie to see good friend Margery Coffey and took a last photo of them together in front of her antiwar broken window at Black Prairie Dog Woman Studios.

But his health started declining more rapidly afterward and when I took him to read at Mick’s Acoustic Music Bar for “Natty’s Crosswords” poetry reading his wasn’t allowed to read--perhaps as told later due to the fact he looked so ill and in fact his headache and weakness were evident as he held his head throughout most of the reading. We left about 9PM never to return again together. The last time he stayed with me was a few days before he passed away and he was pale, in pain and looked and acted old beyond his years. I told him he needed to watch his diabetes--his diet and take his medicine (insulin shots) since I loved him as the brother I never had and wanted to keep him around along time. He said, “Yes, I know,” then went to bed here the last time.

Four days or so later, he called from the Blair hospital where Tony had rushed him the night before having suffered a heart attack that was soon to worsen with his organs failing soon afterward. Since it was early morning and I was getting ready for work we talked briefly and he said he didn’t think he could make the trip to Kearney to see brother Lauren, or his mother or father in a care home there for Thanksgiving. I told him to take care and hope he would feel better soon and see him after my trip. Wednesday before I was eating with two good friends, Stephanie and Mr. Bill and didn’t realize his condition had worsened, as told to me by Lauren later and that the Blair hospital was about to move him to Immanuel for emergency care. I was later told that his heart had stopped and been restarted about the time he arrived there and he was put on a respirator but soon afterward found it uncomfortable and tried to remove it. He was told if he did so he soon could die which he did and passed away soon afterward without successful revival efforts. Very sad and perhaps somewhat suicidal some would say but Arlen’s condition was much worse than most of us realized and if he’d lived he probably would have had terrible health problems the rest of his life. He didn’t have to be on dialysis (least long) or lose his limbs or eyesight or be an invalid.

Arlen chose not to live this way--he helped to end his life as he lived it--bravely and on his terms. Yet his legacy of creative work, his love for his family, friends and cats live on--always in our hearts! Arlen, forever young at heart, now forever free, no longer misunderstood or “Shattered on the Plains,” but indeed a true poet of the Nebraska and Kansas Plains, forever a truly unique son, a “Prairie Poet”--as on his gravestone does read. Thanks for the wonderful memories and your living legacy, dear friend!

-- Joe Mette

February 19, 2006


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