Is it possible to be friends with someone you’ve never met? If you wanted to argue in the affirmative, I could bundle up my 12, 13, 14-ish years of correspondence with Ashley Morris, for research purposes. You’d see how we “met,” back in the early days of the web, when I typed “warren zevon” into this marvelous thing I’d just discovered, something called a “search engine,” and stumbled across Ashley’s unofficial Warren Zevon page. I wrote him a note. He wrote back. It went on from there.
Ashley’s WZ page had Easter eggs in it, one of which was a hyperlinked period at the end of a sentence. It took you to a photo of a crazy-eyed topless woman doing the splits. He said it had been sent to him by another girl who’d started out a friendly correspondent and ended with abrupt questions about his penis size and an unsolicited topless picture. So you can see, perhaps, why Ashley responded to out-of-the-blue notes from strange women — you never knew when you’d get another naked picture in the e-mails.
That’s not how it went with us, of course. Instead, we wrote back and forth about everything and nothing. I guess it started when Ashley was finishing his doctorate in computer science at Tulane, after which he moved to Idaho for a spell, then to Chicago, then back to his beloved New Orleans (while keeping the job in Chicago — he had a long commute). Along the way we covered everything from his Audi Quattro (essential for Idaho winter driving) to his fondness for Cuban cigars (which may have been a plank in the foundation of his radical leftism — he must have thought anyone who could turn out cigars like those couldn’t be all bad) to his agony over the fate of New Orleans. Along the way, he went off to the Czech Republic to teach at a conference and came home with a fianceé, who stood over six feet tall. Did I have any suggestions on where she might find clothes to fit?, he wrote once. I told him you could find anything in Chicago, but for best results, ask a drag queen.
He was raised by his grandparents, whom he thought were his parents, with a shiftless older sister that he learned late in life was actually his mother. She died a few months ago, of an overdose. Ashley opened up her apartment to start putting her affairs in order and found a fresh two-gram package of heroin on the kitchen counter. It’s a reflection of the kind of guy he was that he managed to find the humor in such a discovery:
I called the cops who found the body, and asked them what to do with the heroin. They said I could bring it in to the station.
That would be the time I get pulled over for speeding. “Yes, ossifer, I was bringing this brown tar to the station! Honest!”. Or maybe, I could just announce when I got there: “HI, I BROUGHT THE HEROIN!”.
When, late in his PhD program, he was diagnosed with adult ADD and prescribed Ritalin, a turn of events that saved his doctorate from oblivion — he said he could never have finished his dissertation without it — he told this same mother/sister about it. She said, “Oh, they told us that when you were a little kid, but I just figured it was bullshit.” He said he wanted to strangle her.
He didn’t have an easy or long life, but it was action-packed. He lived in Los Angeles for a spell, rode a motorcycle he was nearly killed on, made music, cut a demo. The demo never amounted to much, but it did turn up in the soundtrack of a porno movie, a turn of events Ashley himself discussed here (first comment). He had a huge heart. This you could tell from the get-go, and if it wasn’t clear immediately, it surely was evident in “Fuck you, you fucking fucks,” his cri de coeur from New Orleans in late 2005, which proved profanity can be poetry in the right hands:
What about you fucks that don’t want to rebuild NOLA because we’re below sea level. Well, fuckheads, then we shouldn’t have rebuilt that cesspool Chicago after the fire, that Sodom San Francisco after the earthquakes, Miami after endless hurricanes, or New York because it’s a magnet for terrorists.
And fuck Kansas, Iowa, and your fucking tornados.
Fuck you, San Antonio. You aren’t getting our Saints. When I get to the Alamo, I’m taking a piss on it. You probably go to funerals and hit on the widow. Classless fucks.
And so on. He hated all the bullshit spewed into the air after Katrina, and wanted one thing and one thing only — for New Orleans to get its due. OK, he wanted other things, too. He wanted another beer and some great NOLA street food and a big cigar. Check out that picture up there, that’s Ashley in his element — sweaty, cigar in his pocket, and some dinner. You know the funniest thing about that picture? The two little pieces of broccoli. When Warren Zevon said, “Enjoy every sandwich,” Ashley always said, “Make mine a muffaletta.”
He leaves behind his wife, Hana, and three young children, along with dozens of friends, fans and fellow travelers.
One last thing: A few years back, I went to Chicago with Alan and Kate, and had vague plans to meet Ash for a beer. This was in February, and it was cold and windy, and we’d just frozen our butts off all day, and at the end of it, I begged off. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I thought we’d have another chance, and had vaguely planned for this June in Chicago, but that had recently been torpedoed, too. I thought I’d take Kate down to New Orleans later this year and show her what still had to be done there. I figured Ash would give us the tour, and then we’d have a muffaletta. Well, that didn’t work out. Maybe I should try for the funeral. I’m sure he’ll have a hell of a second line, it will rock the llama’s ass, and knowing Ashley, there won’t be a fuckmook in sight.