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I missed lunch, I miss Dane

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

David Sherman

Dane and I were to have lunch. We met every few months, each driving 45 minutes to meet equidistant from our homes, but I fractured some ribs and put it off. We played phone tag, then emailed to meet again when I came back from a winter escape to Portugal.

In the Algarve, listening to the sea charge the beach, I received a short note. “Dane’s in hospice.” Later, over dinner, a follow up: “Dane died a few hours ago.”

It was inappropriate to eat, but timely to silently watch the sea rush in under a full moon. Who’s the arbiter of the grieving process?

I would never see him again. How was that possible? Dane had, unbeknownst to him, changed my life. In multiple ways. I couldn’t thank him. I couldn’t say goodbye. He was gone.

The rumpled, limping, creased man I had grown to love would never sit across the table from me again. The long lunches where conversation and laughter was never in short supply were no more. How was that possible? At our last lunch, his medical issues were irrelevant. He was fine, he said.

I really barely knew the man. Men’s friendships are capricious. This started before I even knew him and ended with heartbreaking finality and surprise.

We’d only known each other for five. But, in some ways, it began close to 50 years ago.

In my late teens, with no crystal ball in hand, I could imagine no better life than writing for a newspaper. And none seemed better than The Montreal Gazette under Lindsey Chrysler. The paper was everything it should be, enterprising, progressive, aggressive.

And I read and admired, along with James Duff and Juan Rodriquez and John Fitzgerald and Herbie Aronoff, a guy named Dane Lanken. He was literate and funny and wrote about anything and everything in entertainment. A dream job. A role model.

A handful of years later, working my 10th month at the Sherbrooke Record, the Gazette asked me to come for an interview.

I drove my $400 orange Datsun to meet the late city editor, Claude Arpin, happily overweight, feet on desk, who’s first words were, “How much you want, kid?” Seems Dane Lanken had resigned to tour with his wife, Anna, and her sister Kate McGarrigle and his job was now mine.

Fast forward a decade or two, the newspaper in my rearview mirror, to the closing matinee of a play I had written on the destruction of the newspaper biz, The Daily Miracle. A handsome, tall amiable man with a thicket of curly hair approached, shook my hand, and introduced himself.

“I’m Dane Lanken,“ he said, and went on to praise the play. This stranger’s kindness – he had driven in from Alexandria – a man I had admired for years – meant more than the gracious reviews from the critics.

Dane, from the first, was warm and confident, curious and happy in his skin.

Another decade goes by and I was putting together a series of essays on “the good old days” of the newspaper biz for Guernica Editions — Fish Wrapped: True Confessions of Newsrooms Past – and reached out to every journalist I admired. There were many. I had no budget, nothing to offer but two free copies and the right to write anything you wanted. One of the first calls went to Dane. I found his number on Canada 411.

As always, he was gracious and soft-spoken and, in a mock senatorial tone, thought it best if we discussed this over lunch. So two relative strangers agreed to meet halfway between our homes at an execrable Chinese dump in Hawkesbury called Dongs.

And we talked for two or three hours about I know not what. And we continued to meet at Dongs until Covid shuttered it and we moved to an equally minus-star joint called Chez Carole’s, the typical Greek-owned diner that served everything from Chinese to Italian to Canadian, all of which equally bad. But it never mattered.

Conversations started where we left off and continued for a couple of hours or more and we went our separate ways — he habitually disheveled to an equally disheveled Toyota, me to an old one thing or another.

He limped. We shared arthritic knees but he canceled an appointment to discuss replacing same to have lunch. His time-worn joints had him listing to one side like a masted schooner taking on water. He never complained.

We brought gifts to our lunches, though the occasion was gift enough. He brought books, magazines, weed. I reciprocated. We never spoke of meeting outside the boundaries of our lunches or inviting others.

He was Danish, of course, and spent time going through family archives, pictures and letters. The latter he couldn’t understand. He knew no Danish. He had lived a sort of rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle touring with the McGarrigles but rarely mentioned it. It was yesterday’s news. We sometimes talked hockey. We sometimes talked Gazette.

He asked what I was working on and despite several years of lunches I can’t expound on anything we discussed over the barely edible cuisine. He was generous with praise for my latest efforts. It was genuine. I felt he was happy for me, and it coming from Dane, like the play, made it most authoritative.

He still seemed comfortable in his skin. His sister-in-law Kate’s death had stopped the music but he expressed no broad ambitions, other than getting down his driveway in winter.

I can’t say I knew him but I did. I don’t know how or why. Only that those lunches were of outsize importance and seeing him always made me smile. Those midday meals were always looked forward to. Invitations always began with the formal salutation, “Dear David,” as did the notes that followed, expressing his pleasure of the hours shared. I reciprocated in kind. We agreed we looked forward to the next.

I write this listening to the sea in the village of Sagres, the most southwestern tip of Europe. Some moments I enjoy, others are irrelevant. Jewish people have sat shiva down through the ages for a reason but my mourning is private and intermittent. Peter wrote from home suggesting I bury a coin for Dane. So, we walked down to the beach and did as suggested, whispering, “Rest in peace, Dane.”

A friend wrote that Dane was Dane until the end. Dane will be with me to the end. But, the end came too soon.

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1 Comment

Beautiful tribute to a great friend ... and to friendship.

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