Both Sides of the Galaxy…Now

Imagine that Chewbaka and Lando Calrissian grew up together.  If you are familiar with the two Star Wars characters, you picture them “in a galaxy far, far away…”. In this particular case, that galaxy is a place called the Midwest.  The planet is Ohio.  

I was in high school when the original Star Wars film was released.  “The Empire Strikes Back” was the second film in the original trilogy.  By now, over 40 years later, generations have these films firmly implanted in our cultural literacy.  These characters are now as established as Santa Claus in a red and white suit was by the time I was born.  

When Lando and Chewy left their high school years, they set off on their respective tours intergalactically.  In the film universe, there was much danger and adventure.  It was and is the stuff of escapism.  Within the galaxy, and without, there are all sorts of challenges, and nefarious characters that young men run towards for the experience, and parents would be mortified by if they actually knew what their progeny were up to.  The galaxy is huge, and the universe is exponentially larger.  One can imagine that old friends can go years, even decades without crossing one another’s paths.  

In Star Wars, Chewbaka formed an association with Han Solo, eventually a kid named Luke Skywalker, and even met his twin sister Princess Leia.  These new associates of Chewy’s met all manner of challenges, and eventually crossed paths with Lando again, who had a comfy gig in a distant galaxy.  Watching Lando and Chewy interact was entertaining for the fact that Lando always pronounced Chewbaka’s name differently.  To this point in the trilogy, the name Chewbaka was always pronounced {chew-BAKA}. Lando had a different version, making one wonder if this is how they did it in their high school.  Lando always called him {CHEW-baka}. Either way, you always knew who they were talking about. 

Chewy is a big dude, which is also quite obvious.  He’s an affable, confident character who is quite lovable.  He’s approachable, clever, and very athletic.  Chewbaka lettered in two sports in high school, but was also All-State.  He was a pitcher and 3rd baseman in baseball.  He was a “5 tool athlete,” which meant that he hit with power, hit for average, ran with speed, fielded with skill, and threw with skill.  Chewy was offered a football scholarship to college, and then played in a city recreational game the Summer before college, where he threw a no-hitter and was offered a scholarship to play baseball at another college.  Chewy declined the baseball scholarship and chose to honor his football commitment.  

Chewy and Lando were off on their different courses of adventure at this point, and not in contact often.  Chewy was a big, good looking kid, and started taking jobs in the Summers working at fine dining restaurants in different parts of the universe.  Lando spent his Summers in school taking classes to speed the process along.  Lando eventually joined the Marines to expand his access to adventure.  There were dangers in that process, but there was a process, and structure.  Chewbaka, on the other hand, was free-wheeling and impulsive.  

He was always a happy go lucky, almost goofy sort of dude, and, in my view, that characteristic did not translate easily into the universe of young adult life.  In high school, on nights of pool hopping and going to see monster movies, or arguing about which guitarist was best, goofy had its place.  It was one odd ornament, but as long as homework was done, and good grades were awarded, goofiness presented no dangers.  The galaxy, and the outer universe presented additional dangers, however, and, that good, goofy kid ran into one of them.  Chewbaka tried crack cocaine.

Chewy was just getting home one night from a shift at a restaurant.  He had a lot of money in his pocket, and nothing to do.  One of his dangerous new friends came by and asked if he wanted to go out.  He said, sure, why not.  Chewy hopped in the friend’s car and they drove into a bad part of town.  This new friend explained that he had to see a guy about something, and Chewbaka should just wait.  What ensued was some argument between the new friend, and some drug dealer about debt.  The new friend attempted to buy crack, and the dealer just took the money and sent them away.  (I assume the new friend thought Chewbaka’s size might be some sort of protection in his downtown transactions, but Chewy was nobody’s enforcer.)  Chewy was a kid from the ‘burbs.  He was big and powerful, but about as menacing as a cocker spaniel.  

Having been robbed by the first drug dealer, the new friend suggested that they go see another one.  He asked Chewy if he had any money.  It just so happened that Chewy had a large wad of cash on him, having just finished a serving shift.  The ever affable Chewy gladly gave his new friend some money, and they went and successfully bought crack cocaine on the second attempt.  The new friend took a hit, medicating his withdrawal sickness that comes in hours after using, and then passed the pipe to Chewbaka.  Chewy took his first hit and was hooked.

All of this happened “in a galaxy far, far away” from Lando.  Lando had for some time been in a place where drug use was absolutely forbidden.  This sort of thing was illegal everywhere, but in Lando’s world, they were actively checking.  That check, in fact, had become part of life.  Eventually Lando was taking drug dealers and drug users off of the street.  This particular drug was among the more dirty.  It had devastating effects on the human body, and the addiction had devastating effects on all other aspects of human life.  It is a filthy drug, and creates a pitiful, trashy lifestyle.  Lando and Chewbaka had evolved into very different lifestyles, but their love for one another was unchanged.  And although they were not in contact often at this point, Chewy reached out to Lando, this time to involve him in a scam to make money.  Chewy didn’t describe it this way, of course.  Lando had always lent money to Chewy in their young adult years.  Chewy always addressed his requests as loans, but Lando always knew they were gifts, and had no problem with that.  

The little scam, or hustle, changed things.  Lando did not even suspect the hustle.  He had to be alerted by a store clerk who informed him that his friend who was on the other end of the scam was conducting a scam.  A light went on, and Lando apologized and left.  Lando contacted Chewbaka and informed him that what he was attempting to do was illegal…as if he did not already know.  Chewy came clean immediately and confessed that he needed the money for crack cocaine.  

Lando was thrown from his seat as though someone had engaged warp speed without warning, allowing him to fasten his seatbelt.  A long, long conversation ensued about the impossibility of crack, and the danger to Chewy, and his mother and dad.  (Chewy was back living at home by this point). Lando expressed to Chewy that he had to seek help to kick this, and that sobriety could never be achieved without help.  Chewbaka agreed all the way through, but insisted that he wanted to kick the addiction himself.  Lando believed him, because the Chewy that he knew could always be captured by some loopy ideas.  It was in his goofy nature.  Chewy was also intelligent, and had always been physically superior.  Maybe he did believe that he could do this, Lando thought.  

Two days later, they spoke again.  Lando asked if Chewy had sought help for addiction.  Chewbaka said no.  After that conversation, Lando wrote Chewy’s father explaining the whole event.  Lando knew of Chewbaka’s ability to seduce his listener into clam and belief, so he instructed Chewy’s father to confront Chewy with the letter in hand, and make Lando the bad guy.  A couple of days later, Chewbaka left an angry message on the answering machine.  They would not speak for another 30 years.

Eventually, 30 years came and went.  They were 30 and 29 when they parted.  They are 60 and 59 now.  When they reconnected, they spoke as they always had.  The familiarity was almost entirely intact.  They began with apologies to one another.  Chewy apologized for becoming angry and splitting off.  Lando apologized for taking the steps to anger him.  He said he’d do it again, but still regretted the rupture.  His thought at the time was about attending Chewy’s funeral, and seeing his mother cry, and knowing the whole time that he could have said something, but didn’t.  For the first time in 30 years, Lando had the chance to explain that to Chewbaka.  

Lando and Chewbaka speak several times a week now.  Chewy has been to prison for a string of nonviolent crimes.  These crimes are typical of a nonviolent addict.  He devised a slew of what he called “hustles” like dumpster diving for receipts and petty shoplifting to get cash for drugs.  I’m familiar with that end of it.  I mean, Lando is.  He arrested many of those shoplifters and dumpster divers.  Our society is not accommodating to those in the grips of this disease, and once your record grows, you can never really re-enter the galaxy that the rest of us live in.  Ex-cons with convictions that involve drugs and/or money…kind of keep you from working anywhere.  Chewy is now on disability due to that fact, and two very, very bad knees.  He needs two knee replacements, but those are hard to schedule and receive because he keeps going back to rehab.  

Yes, 30 years later, Chewy is still having relapses.  This is his life now.  He is the same person, and very, very different.  They relate as always, and not at all.  They have known each other since Lando was in first grade, but half of their lives spent in very different galaxies have made them different by necessity.  

When Joni Mitchell was 23 years old, she wrote, “…but now old friends are acting strange.  They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed.  Well, something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.

…I’ve looked at life from both sides now, from win and lose, and still somehow, it’s life’s illusions I recall.  I really don’t know life at all…”

How did she know this at the age of 23?