Words for Dru-Lord
By Brad Baronner
The way kids die in my hometown:
They don’t have enough of something to stave off the boredom and vacancy, they aren’t dedicated to a sport and they aren’t doctors’ kids and they aren’t hunters. They occupy some weird middle ground that eventually gives way to something worse. They don’t get mowed down in the streets like kids in cities, but there’s usually something criminal about it. A suicide or an illegal drug overdose or some blurry combination of the two. Or a drunk driving accident. It’s not like the people in college I know from NPR suburbs, where kids die in something purely incidental, like a regular car accident. And even then I bet they survive car wrecks most of the time, with all their mid-sized Acuras. It’s the other people that have to watch out for them.
Anyway, something between the purely incidental and the meaningful: you won’t really blame anyone, but you can’t call it an accident, either.
The first thing that made me feel something after my friend Andrew died was a written commentary on his death, about the causes of it, from another friend named Chad. Though at this point Chad was more someone I was friends with in high school and sometimes over breaks. And even over breaks, never outside of a group.
With Andrew it was the same, only worse, because we stopped talking earlier. Senior year he went to a juvenile detention center for dealing marijuana. And before that, even, he had started to get into dealing drugs in a way that made it harder to be friends with him.
Chad was one of the bigger jocks at our school and Andrew was the town rapper. His rap name was Dru-Lord. Chad’s relationship with Andrew was like a lot of people’s relationship with Andrew, or at least the way a lot of people I knew were with Andrew—they became less close the longer they were alive. They bought his drugs and listened to his music, but spent less and less time with him as a person.
The thing that got me thinking about Andrew’s death again was also something Chad wrote. It was an article on his sports blog about the Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon being suspended. I was reading it even though I think his writing is crap.
The short version of Gordon’s story is that he is really fucking good at football, but also really loves to smoke pot, and the NFL only cares if you can be really good at football without smoking pot. Chad’s article:
And that’s as far as I got. In his writer description thing he calls himself “just a journalist expressing thoughts in more than 140 characters.”
When Andrew and Chad both played sports growing up, they were close and probably equally talented at sports. My hometown is small, so you don’t specialize in one sport, you do football, basketball, baseball—so sports. One year, 8th grade I think, Andrew had a coach who didn’t like him. Like a lot of people who want power over middle school kids, the coach was a dick. He was also our geography teacher. Andrew lost out on playing time, and correctly, felt that it was because he didn’t give a fuck in his geography class. Andrew spent a ton of time in the gym, and a ton of time skating and playing guitar; he just didn’t spend a lot of time giving a fuck about geography. So he lost out on minutes to more of a golden boy type (also a friend of mine and Chad’s) who was worse at basketball, got discouraged, and quit trying at sports.
Chad, who wasn’t a golden boy, but was good at cheating in school, got frustrated and stopped hanging out with Andrew so much. I lasted a little longer, at one point taking up skateboarding with Andrew, which I sucked at even more than I did at football, basketball, and baseball. So I ended up focusing on sports people cared less about, like soccer, and later sports people cared about even less than soccer—cross country and track.
Andrew didn’t understand this, didn’t want to understand Chad and sports, and Chad and I didn’t understand the rapper/drug dealer combo as something to settle on. We didn’t understand why it meant spending time around a lot of douche-y people, we didn’t understand why he couldn’t have a backup plan (college), and we didn’t understand how anyone from our town, which is in the not-Pittsburgh or -Philly part of PA, could be a rapper. We also thought Dru-Lord was kind of a dumb name.
The last time we were together was at a party Chad threw and that we got busted at. Although Andrew, by virtue of being stoned out of his mind and not drunk at all, didn’t get arrested--you can’t breathalyze for pot. About 20 other kids did, though, including me. It went from him telling me “I can’t believe this party is actually happening, come smoke with me” in stoner voice, to him telling crying girls to calm down because their “lives weren’t that important,” in an escalated stoner voice, in about five minutes.
For a lot of people it was a moment they laughed about later, but I thought it was hilarious then, and not so much later.
A week later Andrew got busted on a major drug deal. Parents of arrested kids who knew he smoked and got away with it thought it was a form of justice.
The Dru-Lord name explanation: word play, if that’s what you’d call it, on Andrew and drug lord. He was a minor pot dealer at best when he came up with it, but that changed later.
Andrew died from an overdose of synthetic heroin. I had found out about it when I woke up the next morning from a text Chad sent me making sure I heard. Then I checked Twitter, where I got to see the display of sorrow.
No mentions of him as a rapper. I’m sure people closer to him than the people I followed made mention of how he was so talented or something, but even then, I doubt they were quoting his song lyrics or listening to him. There wasn’t a Michael Jackson effect with Andrew, which I’m sure would have disappointed him.
I mean you get better eulogies for our high school’s football and basketball players after their “careers” are over, especially for the ones that didn’t die but might as well have.
After Andrew’s arrest Chad admitted to me he invited him to the party while asking for pot at the same time. Andrew had dealt to him a few times before, he said.
So Chad and Andrew: It deteriorated, but was maintained a little by drug deals and whatever came with that.
He’d be there for you when you fucked up, or at least with you when you fucked up.
It was Chad’s tweet, and then some little picture of a write-up attached to his tweet. That’s what made me feel something.
The write-up attached to it:
“Just some food for thought.” By the time I was done reading it, grief hadn’t set in yet, but a more intellectual form of disgust had.
It happened over Christmas break, so there wasn’t even a weeding-out of who really cared and who didn’t. Everyone was home over break, so everyone went to the viewing.
He died on January 3rd, after the stuff that was fun about holiday break was over. What was left was just languishing around and eating leftovers. The break always takes long enough, so you even get to help take down all ornaments.
The funeral was on the 6th, so two days later, although I only felt comfortable attending the viewing. My mom got pissed at me the day after I found out for not telling her about it. She read about it in the obituaries.
More than once I’ve heard older people in my town saying that the obituaries are the first thing they read in the paper every day.
I just didn’t want someone to look at me and think I didn’t care, but I couldn’t look like I cared, either.
The general response on Twitter and Facebook was pretty much an abbreviated and less condescending version of what Chad said:
Thinking “fuck the people who don’t really care about this and make this into an intellectual point” might have been the extent to which I cared.
Chad’s first response, before the long write-up, notable for its hypocrisy:
Just the night before I had freaked over a TV death with another friend from high school, Danny. Having met him through running we have similar interests, but his attitude annoys me a sometimes.
His vices growing up were candy and COD. He thought I was an idiot for helping set up, and attending, Chad’s party.
We were watching Season 4 of Game of Thrones, and one of the good guys, Oberyn, had just gotten his head squashed into strawberry jelly by the Mountain, a monstrous villain.
The whole fight was set up deliberately for a devastating finish. At first, Oberyn was winning and looking really fucking awesome doing it. It was presented as a David and Goliath match-up and at the same time highlighted how much more fun watching a David than a Goliath win is. But in the end he says too much instead of finishing him, and his head gets turned into strawberry jelly.
Danny said fuck a bunch, chucked his box of skittles at me, and then pretty much attacked me. Beating me like a pillow or something, he shouted “Why couldn’t he have just finished him?”
I felt disgusted too, although my initial reaction was not to beat someone up; eventually I returned the punching, shouting “Why did he have to start monologuing?”
A lot of people react this way to Game of Thrones. You can see the videos on YouTube.
Danny had actually seen some stuff that was about Andrew’s death on Twitter. The RIPs and an “I can’t really believe this is happening” post. He thought they were about Game of Thrones they were so general.
“Twitter is blowing up about this,” he said.
“My break is ruined,” he said on the way out of my house.
Louis C.K.’s joke about masturbating and 9/11:
“You can figure out how bad of a person you are by how soon after September 11 you masturbated, like how long you waited. For me it was between the two buildings going down.”
It didn’t take me that long after Andrew’s death, either.
Louis finishes the joke this way:
“I had to do it, otherwise they would win, that’s how I was looking at it at the time. It was a strange time for all of us.”
I have my own way of redeeming myself: Andrew was the kid who introduced me to porn in 7th grade. We were sitting alone together in the cafeteria for getting in trouble when he told me about it. He was that kid, too.
From porn I quickly switched to skimming a recap of the Game of Thrones episode on Grantland by Andy Greenwald. Some things that stuck out to me:
I masturbated again not too much later.
The Dru-Lord version of a love poem, from his song “Giving the meat with the salad,” which is about the joys of being a pot dealer who also Fucks Your Bitch:
It was always my favorite thing he did, just because it was funny and absurd and somewhat self-aware. Like a lot of his songs, it also had local references. The one Sheetz in our town, adjacent to the local custard stand, was frequently referred to as the center of the universe—it was the place cops had their lunch as well as the place drug deals were made. Sheetz started near our hometown too, so calling it the center of the universe was almost defensible.
It might not have helped him make it big, but you could hear the mixtape blasting from more than one car when high school let out.
He had a lot of songs that were about Your Bitch, and as many about some girl he thought was a bitch, someone who cheated on him or broke up with him before they had sex.
Right after I got done on the internet, I was texting Emily, the girl I dated in high school. Maybe I masturbated so I wouldn’t just spend the entire time we hung out trying to get in her pants, though that seems a little noble.
Me: Did you hear about Andrew?
Her: Yea are you okay?
Me: I think so can you get lunch today?
Her: Sure I think so, right now I’m with Meg, who is a bit of a wreck.
Meg was one of the aforementioned bitches who broke up with Andrew before he got to fuck her. Although there was some lyric in a song about how beautiful her eyes were and when I asked Emily about it when we started dating, she said Andrew sent a bunch of desperate text messages to Meg. I get that, Meg was always my favorite of Emily’s friends—quiet, even though she had something to say if you asked, and smart, even though she wasn’t crazy about school. She was also pretty hot.
I bet Emily was thinking that Meg not dating Andrew early in high school made him feel shitty and low-class. She wouldn’t be wrong to think that, or at least that’s what I apparently told her in the car when I picked her up.
Her: She was pretty upset. I told her Andrew liked her a lot and that didn’t help.
Me: I guess that makes sense, she meant a lot to him sophomore year.
Her: I mean they dated for like a month over a year ago and you said he didn’t say anything about it.
Me: You could just tell. You're the one who told me that he was desperately sending texts to convince her to get back with him.
Her: Yeah but a lot of guys do that, you did that.
What was I going to say, that she meant a lot to me, and that’s why I was so desperate to salvage something when she dumped me?
Me: Being aware of someone else’s emotions isn’t bad.
I don’t remember where it went after that, she was pissy about it at first and then understanding not much later. When the conversation opened up again I went on about the Game of Thrones tragedy. Pretty sure that just fucked with her.
Later I had dinner with Emily and her mom and step-dad, who I actually liked a lot. They were professors who somehow got stranded in our town. I felt like they were an anomaly, and the more they got to know me, they regarded me the same way. I knew a lot about the movies, books, and TV shows they liked. This was important, because otherwise I was awkward around them the same way I’m awkward around a lot people, especially intelligent people over 25. Emily cared enough to cover for me on the whole Andrew situation. What she said can be condensed into this monologue, which cribs from stuff I told her about Andrew:
“When we were in Latin class I always saw Andrew doing things to get Greg’s attention. At first you resisted it and didn’t let him distract you. But that changed pretty quickly, Greg didn’t care about Latin any more than Andrew did. It was almost like Andrew was trying to help Greg be less bored in Latin class, like a lifeline or something. One day he invited Greg to help steal road signs to promote his album, which was renamed “STAY IN LANE.” after a sign they stole. They took more signs too, and splattered “Dru-Lord” onto them with neon paintballs. They had to take it down right away to get away with it, but it was all over Instagram and Twitter.”
This was all while I helped put a salad together for dinner, which was the easiest part, but kind of nice to do.
Stuff Emily’s story wouldn’t tell you:
I almost failed Latin that year.
Andrew made a bunch of hipster jokes directed at her in that class that got pretty annoying.
I still have one of the signs from the collage thing. It’s an OK U-turn sign that made up the D in “Dru-Lord.” I liked that Andrew was willing to go out of his way to help me get it, because it really wasn’t that important. We were already out at 4am on a school night to get the signs, and this one was like all the way up next to the traffic light. We had to stand on a ladder on top of a truck bed.
It was cold and windy too and even though he was willing to lend me a hand and his truck, he made me climb up the ladder and unscrew the sign. He couldn’t stop laughing when another pickup truck blew past us, having no regard for our safety or the criminality of what we were doing. I wobbled at the top, terrified.
When I finally finished the wrench just slipped out of my ungloved hand, which was nearly frozen. I did laugh after that.
The sign hangs in my room at school between movie posters. I like it because it looks cool, not because it reminds me of Andrew.
Everyone who comes into my room asks about it, and everyone who comes into my room looks at me like “you did that?” when I tell the story.
Everyone knows the dumb white kid from their hometown who is trying to make it as a rapper. Maybe the look is “you were friends with that?”
Later that night Emily and I went back to my house because my parents were out and things going marginally better than they were before. We just decided to turn on Netflix, and I didn’t lobby for a movie so we ended up turning on the Kardashians.
I remember at some point we switched to music and making out. She probably played “Everything’s Embarrassing” by Sky Ferreira, a mainstay on her romantic playlist and a song I didn’t really appreciate until recently. I just thought she was Miley Cyrus masquerading as an indie pop person who still made out with Miley Cyrus that one time anyway.
But that song, at least, is subtle and about trying too hard for a relationship that doesn’t work. There’s something there about the way that breaking up with someone makes everything that came before the break-up, and everything that you could have imagined, everything that could have been and is before you or the other person pulls the trigger to end things, embarrassing.
Also, Emily and I didn’t fuck because I couldn’t.
Dru-Lord on the girls that were just a bitch, from his song “I want my Fucking Hoodie Back,” which was on his second mixtape:
(This, the worst lyric in the song, right after our football team got caught in a hazing scandal.)
Emily has one of my hoodies still, and though I’m sure she’d give it back if I asked for it, I don’t know if I want it back. I wonder if, later, after whatever this is peters out completely, if she’ll keep it around. It’s just a Penn State hoodie, which is where she goes to school, and I don’t. Will she wear it for football games because she doesn’t have anything else sporty? Or will it stay at home in her closet because she won’t go to football games, because her friends are hipsters?
After Emily left I spent the night in the basement, alone, playing Grand Theft Auto, which was the only game Andrew would ever play. Even though it wasn’t really meant for two people, we would just trade off and on with the controller while the person not playing would direct everything and come up with new ideas on the fly.
He liked to come up with elaborate, nonsensical schemes that consisted of stringing one crazy thing with another then another, like: climb the biggest mountain in the game while attracting police attention on the way to make things more exciting, parachute down to the military base below, hijack the tank, blow your way through the base, try to make it the entire way through the city in the tank without being destroyed, go to the airport to steal a passenger jet so you can do the same thing after the tank is about to blow up on you.
A lot of the time you would just die around the first part or get distracted and do something else, but it was fun anyway.
That night I was frustrated though, and just spent my time alternating between taking a grenade launcher to the freeway and jumping off of skyscrapers and mountains sans parachute. The way the subsequent chain-reaction explosions would always kill me depressed me, and the way the character would hesitate before jumping, trying to balance himself over the edge on one foot before falling, aggravated me.
I texted Chad:
Me: What the hell is your tweet? You introduced me to pot and chewing tobacco
Chad: You sure Andrew didn’t do that?
Chad: I’m just saying these things have to start somewhere
Me: Earlier with him
Chad: His family life was fine, but so is yours and you’re still fucked up. He could have gone to college, too
Chad: And anyway, this is the first text you send to me since the beginning of break, after I tried to ask you if you’ve heard about him
Me: Andrew dying isn’t a reason for you to practice take-manufacturing, that’s what odyssey online is for
Chad: It was my natural response to what happened, sorry if it offended your tastes
Me: Not what I’d call a natural response
Chad: Like what you’re doing here is that much different. Do you do this to everyone?
Me: Nope, just to you and in the comments section on articles by shitty sportswriters
Chad: Care to share any thoughts about Andrew, something you find appropriate?
Me: Nothing appropriate, I feel bad I hadn’t talked to him in a while and I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend to him. I feel like I became so put off with his rap shit after he went to Juvy that I couldn’t talk to him anymore
Chad: Me too, after actually talking to people, I can tell you that isn’t a unique response. If you aren’t comfortable with all of that who did you think would be?
Me: I know, but I feel bad that I can’t talk about who he was, I don’t think you do
Chad: You know Andrew shit on the football team in his raps and almost got my sister pregnant once when they were both hammered and tried to get her to pay for half of the Plan B
Me: I appreciate the former
Chad: And I think Andrew was funny in spite of those things, you know I had fun with him in woodshop class right before he got in trouble. The thing is he died from a drug overdose, and called himself Dru-Lord
Me: I don’t have anyone to go to the viewing with. Danny has been the only person I’ve seen and he never really knew Andrew
Chad: I’ll let you know when I’m leaving
Me: I won’t have a car then either
When Chad picked me up he was playing Blink-182 in the car. I’d basically renounced and forgotten about the band, despite their music being a pretty big part of my life at one point. Andrew loved them and played covers of them and bands like them pretty early on. Although I usually associate his music with Mac Miller and other white rappers from smallish cities, I guess there was always some early 2000s pop punk in there. He had that whiny voice and loved the looping guitar sample thing rappers do from time to time. It’s cool because a lot of people from my hometown who were into pop punk seemed to be into that kind of rap later on.
The first song that played was “Dammit,” which is a pretty fun song. After that it was “Feeling This,” which I realized I was obsessed with when I was around age 10 or 11. The song was on one of the early/mid 2000s Madden games. You could control the songs that played on the soundtrack, and I remember taking off every song but that and maybe one more. It was all I wanted to hear. It’s actually a good song too.
Chad and I talked some. I wanted to know if it was the same Blink best-of CD he made in middle school.
Chad: Yeah, I found it in my room and drove around listening to it last night.
Me: I forgot about them, that music just kind of stopped all of a sudden.
Chad: And you can’t listen to hipster shit and Blink at the same time.
Me: There are things I still like about them. I definitely like it more than the “best night of your life” songs that are on the radio. You can’t deny that it’s easy to forget about them though, like who is out now that was influenced by them?
Chad: Twenty One Pilots comes to mind, you can kind of see where they would be influenced by all the pop-punk bands. But I don’t like them, and I know you wouldn’t.
I thought about it some.
Me: Right, there is something immature about them the way there is something immature about Blink, but it’s different. Blink is dirty and fun. I don’t know what Twenty One Pilots is, but it’s not that. I bet middle schoolers love it though.
Chad: That’s just because they don’t know any better.
Me: We didn’t either with Blink and stuff. But, I don’t know, I think Blink is better than that. Twenty One Pilots, like that song ‘Stressed Out,’ I can imagine a 7th grader equating the lyrics to his feelings about not having recess anymore.
Chad: Yeah, instead of equating it with their dick getting hard all of the time and not knowing what to do with it.
“Feeling This” is racy in a way that is weirdly direct, like “I want to go in her room / I want to take off her clothes.” And it’s a stunningly sincere breakup song at the same time; I’m not sure how it works as well as it does. If that was my first experience with something directly sexual, it was a good start for what came after. And off of a fucking Madden video game.
I remember Chad jamming on the skip button, randomly, and bringing the CD to “M+Ms.” I wondered why Chad switched to it; weirdly needing to hear a certain song at a certain moment seemed more like me than him, and it didn’t seem to fit the moment that well. I’m 65% sure the song is garbage:
At the viewing I remember grabbing a wintergreen lifesaver from a bowl towards the entrance—it was a long line—twirling it around in my mouth, thinking about the way they make that artificial green spark in your mouth when you crack them, cracking it and thinking: this is the way kids die in my hometown.
For all those reasons I said before, and the way that no matter what you do there will be a shit ton of people who never knew you at your viewing.
His mom thanked us for coming, saying “Andrew had so many nice friends.” In the line behind us, there were a bunch of random old people who had to have found Andrew annoying. The fucking geography teacher was there.
When Chad got to the body, he cried a lot. Right behind him, I did the same, thinking about wifebeaters, hoodies, and bad rap lyrics over his dressed-up body. I wondered if anyone else did the same.
I was thinking about killing myself all that break, and the whole thing was enough to convince me I should try to stop.
Chad must have been making sure he skipped over “Adam’s Song.” It would have been too much to hear a song that, in the end, is about making the decision to go outside instead of taking your toaster in the bath.
Brad Baronner is a writer and recent graduate of Allegheny College. He hasn’t spent a lot of time outside of rural Pennsylvania, but wanders all over the place in his writing. You can follow him on Twitter: @brad_bar7.