On July 18, a cruel day in Phoenix when the temperature reached a record-tying 113 degrees, fire paramedics responded to an emergency call from a downtown apartment-dweller.
The caller was a woman who lives at Ninth Avenue and Grant. She said a man was on the ground in her front yard, and he wasn't moving.
It was just after 7 p.m., but the temperature still was 107 degrees.
Hours earlier, the woman's grandchildren had seen the man staggering around the yard, a strip of smoldering dirt and dried grass in a tough neighborhood often frequented by the homeless.
She had watched as the disheveled fellow slumped to the ground, and then as he sat dazed under the scorching sun. Two passersby had helped the woman lead the man to a shaded area. She went back inside, and returned with water for him in a 44-ounce Thirstbuster cup.
Some time passed before she again saw the same guy in her yard, this time lying motionless on his back.
She went out to take a closer look. He had appeared to be breathing, the woman later told a detective, but his eyes were closed and, according to a police report, "there were flies around his mouth."
The woman finally phoned for help.
The paramedics pronounced the man dead moments after arriving.
His death, if not his name, was newsworthy.
Referred to in media accounts as a "homeless, unidentified transient," he was the 12th person in Phoenix to die within 72 hours of what officials said might have been heat-related causes.
At the end of July, authorities said they suspected 28 people in Phoenix had died that month because of the heat.
By comparison, the state of Arizona had identified 34 heat-related deaths among its residents in all of 2004. That number didn't include the Mexican immigrants who died last year trying to cross the Arizona desert.
Most of the Phoenix dead were said to be homeless. The rest were almost all elderly residents who'd died inside their inadequately cooled homes.
(The county Medical Examiner's Office later ruled out heat-related causes in two of the cases -- one man died of heart disease, and firefighters found another man's body in a burned home.)
The spate of deaths stunned many people who rarely ever consider the plight of the homeless.
The dire situation soon attracted national media. An Associated Press reporter wrote on July 23 that the late vagabonds had "lived in obscurity, and many of them died the same way -- anonymous, ignored, alone."
Mayor Phil Gordon was compelled to answer queries about his city's seeming inability to cope with the grim situation.
But the reality that so many died in such a short period of time didn't surprise those who come face to face with the homeless every day. The lives that the deceased had led were terribly fragile, with few safety nets poised to catch them when they inevitably fell.
"We look at these poor folks out there in the street or in a field or wherever, and we know they've lived full and difficult lives," says Phoenix fire captain David Kalkbrenner. "You just never know who they've been or where they've been, or how they ended up where they ended up."
Many had been seriously mentally ill and/or had long suffered from drug and alcohol abuse. Several had felony records and, also typical of the homeless population, many had been crime victims themselves.
But as dreadfully as these men and women died, they had not always lived anonymously or alone. As it turns out, more than half of the people whose deaths tentatively have been linked to the heat were residing in permanent homes -- their own, or housing provided by mental health agencies -- when they died.
Nor were all of them ignored after their deaths.
As for the man who died in the yard on Ninth Avenue, he wasn't a nameless, forgotten bum, as he had been first described after his death.
A city bus card in a pocket of his dirty khakis provided police with his lone piece of written identification, later confirmed through fingerprints.
He was Carl Laroy Gholson.
He had been a professional musician before mental illness stole his mind; he'd played sax on the great Phoenix rhythm-and-blues recording, "Ham Hocks and Beans."
More important, however, was the sweet surprise of Carl Gholson's difficult life -- the positive imprint he left on those who took a chance and truly got to know him.
It might be best to start at the sad end of Carl Gholson's 52-year journey.
His death was caused by a convergence of unfortunate events, including his probable use of the dangerous drug under the relentless Phoenix sun.
Doctors in the early 1970s had diagnosed Carl as a paranoid schizophrenic, which qualified him as seriously mentally ill. Since then, he had been in and out of mental hospitals and jails, usually after getting arrested for petty crimes.
At the time of his death, he had been living for almost two years at a Glendale residence for the seriously mentally ill.
The supervised group home, Echo House, is one of about 100 providers that contract with ValueOptions, a for-profit firm that has handled mental health services for Maricopa County residents since 1998.
When Carl took his antipsychotic medications, he usually was able to cope with life in his own irregular way. But his meds were nowhere to be found when Phoenix police sorted through his clothes after he died.
Other events seem to have led Carl down his fatal path:
He had started spending time with a still-unidentified woman, and left Echo House for parts unknown after staffers told him that she couldn't stay with him there.
Around that time, someone stole Carl's bicycle, his lifeline -- along with city buses -- to the world.
His paranoia intensified.
He spoke to a friend about unnamed people (probably figments of his imagination) who were threatening to hurt him unless he gave them money.
Then Carl died, and it was a wretched death.
At the time, he was under a standing order from the Maricopa County Superior Court to live at Echo House and to receive a variety of mental health services from ValueOptions.
For their part, the home's staffers and Carl's case manager at ValueOptions were supposed to keep close tabs on him.
They failed, and the results were fatal.
No one at Echo House even filed a missing-persons report for five days after Carl vanished, though a staffer later told police that Carl hadn't disappeared before. Neither did anyone from the home immediately contact Carl's older brother Dwayne, who lives in south Phoenix, a part of town Carl often visited.
That staffer also revealed that Carl hadn't taken his antipsychotic medications with him, and told the cop "it was possible for Carl to be suicidal if he did not take his meds."
But Carl's pitiful end is just a starting point for this story.
"He was one of my favorite people ever," says Darlene Coon, proprietor of The Other Room, a working-class bar tucked away in a Glendale strip mall at 43rd Avenue and Peoria. "I've been in this business 40 years, and I never met anybody like that. He was kind, he was honest and he was a good guy. He had mental problems, but there was a lot more to him than that."
Carl started to frequent the little tavern soon after his release from Arizona State Hospital in late 2001. He would spend a few hours there almost daily, drinking his Cokes, playing pool, listening to the jukebox, gabbing.
On August 6, Coon and her patrons paid tribute to Carl at the bar. Beforehand, she passed out a flyer with a photograph of him wearing a big smile and a bright-red cap inscribed with "God Bless America."
The caption above the photo read, "Carl Gholson: A Gentleman and a Gentle Man." Beneath the picture: "Farewell from your friends at The Other Room."
Earlier that day, Dwayne Gholson had led an upbeat service for his brother at a south Phoenix funeral home. Family members from around the nation attended the ceremony, which concluded with the singing of the gospel standard, "Oh Happy Day."
"If you [saw] Carl on the street, he'd scare you at first with that look of his," says Gholson, a sales representative for a Phoenix firm. "But if you got past 30 seconds, he could win you over. My brother was sincerely empathetic toward people, and people felt it. He used to tell me, 'I see people in pain and pain don't have no color.' He had more purpose here than I ever did."
Much was made at the south Phoenix service of Carl's transcendent musical gifts.
"He'd talk to the music, and the music would talk back to him," his brother says. "He'd say, 'I'm gonna play a note only God can hear. That's what I'm gonna do.'"
Though he also played keyboards, bass and drums, the love of Carl Gholson's life was his saxophone.
He performed with Dyke and the Blazers, the group that put out the famed 1967 single, "Funky Broadway" -- named not after the famed New York City thoroughfare but after the south Phoenix street that once was home to numerous nightspots.
And in 1971, at the age of 17, Carl played sax with Phoenix's Chuck Womack and the Sweet Souls on the catchy R&B tune, "Ham Hocks and Beans." Unlike Dyke's big seller, Womack's gem never made a dent in the charts.
But the song hung around, winning belated underground cult status.
Just last month, a small San Francisco label reissued "Ham Hocks" to a rousing reception on radio shows and in clubs on both coasts and in Europe.
"It was amazing how this man communicated through his horn," says Joy Ratterree, a retired therapist who befriended Carl while working at Arizona State Hospital.
"There's no telling how far he would've gone if he hadn't gotten sick. He really touched people's souls. He could have a tough time relating verbally, but never musically. He had a natural gift. It was one of the most rewarding professional relationships of my life. He often brought tears to people's eyes, including mine."
Dwayne Gholson's obituary for his brother included these words:
"Before Carl was one year old, he was transported to live in Phoenix, Arizona, where he resided for most of his life. His grandmother, Maggie Woolridge, instilled into him all of the principles of his life and faith he carried with him all the days of his life.
"He [went to] school at Paul Lawrence Dunbar in Phoenix, and then educated himself in music. His brilliance in music allowed him to travel all over the country."
Maggie Woolridge basically raised Carl and his six siblings after her daughter Dixie Mae's personal problems became too much to bear. The kids never really knew their father.
Woolridge lived at 12th Avenue and Buckeye Road, just a mile or so from where Carl died a few months ago.
"Grandma played the piano, and she wanted us to be involved in music," Dwayne Gholson says. "Musicians stopped by our house all the time -- famous and not famous. I had gifts for music, but they were only gifts. Carl, he had passion!"
Woolridge bought young Carl a used alto sax. Dwayne says his brother would blow on that horn endlessly, playing his scales and figuring out songs.
But in 1963, when Carl was 10, Maggie Woolridge died.
Authorities soon placed the siblings in various foster homes, which sent Carl and the others into a tailspin.
Carl quit school when he was about 14 and never returned. He got into trouble with the law, mostly for stealing, and wound up in his early teens at the Fort Grant juvenile reformatory in Safford.
His detention was a blessing of sorts, because a teacher at Fort Grant worked hard with the musically gifted young man. Carl returned to Phoenix eager to play music with anybody and everybody.
But as he got deeper into his music, he also got deeper into himself, which proved to be an increasingly challenging place to be.
Later, Carl told psychiatrists that he had started "hearing voices" as a teenager, a forerunner of the schizophrenia that later engulfed him. By then, he also was dabbling with serious drugs, including sniffing glue and taking LSD.
But even as the demons loomed, Carl began to win a reputation in local R&B circles as an up-and-comer.
Dwayne Gholson says Carl performed for awhile with Dyke and the Blazers. But in March 1971, Dyke -- whose real name was Arlester Christian -- was shot to death outside a bar on west Buckeye just down the block from Maggie Woolridge's old house.
That month, local singer/drummer Chuck Womack went into a Phoenix studio to record "Ham Hocks and Beans." His band included 17-year-old Carl Gholson.
Arizona musical historian Johnny Dixon calls the tune "a terrific piece of music that holds up amazingly well, and really deserved to be a national hit at the time."
Womack, now in his 70s and living in Tempe, says he first met Carl during a Sunday afternoon jam session at a downtown Phoenix Elks club.
"The kid asked me if he could sit in, and I said sure," Womack recalls. "He was blowin' real nice, and I was drumming, doin' my stuff. When it was time to go into the studio, I picked Carl. I could have picked other people, but he was trying to get ahead, and he had a lot of game even though he was so young."
The results of the one-take recording at the famed Audio Recorders studio were electrifying. It's Phoenix's version of "Memphis Soul Stew," the funky King Curtis hit of 1967 that also featured a spoken vocal with an instant groove.
Early in the song, Womack shouts, "Say, Carl, give me a little soul, baby!"
Carl Gholson shoots back a dirty riff reminiscent of Curtis or Junior Walker, the R&B sax kings of the era.
A bit later, the bandleader asks Carl to "cook me up a little onion to put in there," to which the young saxophonist obliges with a growl and a honk.
Chuck Womack says Carl toured the nation with him on and off in the early 1970s.
"He always called me his dad because I kept an eye out on him," Womack says. "He was like a little kid in a lot of ways."
But delusions, hallucinations and other hallmarks of Carl's incipient mental illness were emerging.
"We'd be on tour in Texas or wherever, and I started to notice he was having trouble concentrating, taking care of business," Womack says. "I'd tell him, 'Take it easy, Carl, save it for the stage.' He'd say he was all right, but I knew he wasn't.'
Court records show that Carl was hospitalized starting in the early '70s after mental breakdowns in Texas, Florida and Arizona. His blossoming musical career was over.
Womack says he lost touch with Carl, not encountering him again until a chance meeting at a Phoenix mall in the 1980s:
"Carl had really gotten way down by then. The man was sick, and he looked sick. His skin was bad. But he still was a gentleman, a sweet kid."
Just before Carl walked away, he said something that Womack says touched him deeply.
"He called me his dad again, just like he used to in the old days," Womack says. "Then he went his way."
In an earlier era, Carl Gholson probably would've spent his life in a state mental ward after schizophrenia grabbed onto him.
For generations, the seriously mentally ill (or those thought to be) were warehoused inside dreary, dangerously overcrowded hospitals like the one depicted in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
But new antipsychotic drugs, the advent of the human rights movement, and budget cutbacks in the late 1960s led to the wholesale release of most state hospital mental patients in Arizona and elsewhere.
In 1970, for example, Arizona State Hospital housed about 2,000 patients. Within a few years, that number dropped to about 300. These days, the state hospital has just 345 beds.
But freedom for many of those released came at a painful price. Then and now, lack of accountability at state and local levels has meant that services for the seriously mentally ill often are unavailable.
One immediate result was that Phoenix's homeless population mushroomed.
No one knows precisely how many homeless suffer from serious mental illness, though studies published by the American Journal of Psychiatry suggest it's at least 25 percent in this country and probably more. Many homeless mentally ill also abuse alcohol and drugs.
Another byproduct of "deinstitutionalization" was the emergence of Maricopa County's jail system as the largest de facto mental institution in Arizona.
In mid-2004, county jail officials estimated that 20 percent of the inmates, or about 1,700 on a given day, were seriously mentally ill clients of ValueOptions. That number didn't include hundreds of mentally ill inmates not in the ValueOptions network.
Carl Gholson apparently was homeless much of the time in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in the Phoenix area. He had become addicted to crack cocaine, and often found himself arrested for disorderly conduct and other misdemeanors.
His disease, paranoid schizophrenia, is one of the most insidious of all mental disorders; it's not the Jekyll-Hyde, split-personality image of popular lore. Schizophrenia causes its victims to suffer from terrifying hallucinations and intense delusions that make life unbearable most of the time.
Self-medication by schizophrenics in the form of illegal drugs isn't unusual. Powerful, ever-evolving prescription medications may provide relief, though there is no known cure.
"He was always pretty much at his worst when I saw him," recalls Maricopa County jail social worker Joe Hill, who first met Carl in the 1980s. "Off his meds, he was not a guy to be trifled with. On his meds, he was still crazy. But when he would get better, he was very entertaining and, my God, he was bright as hell.
"Carl really stood out. He probably was close to genius IQ. He had very complex thoughts about things that were going on in the world and going on in his head. And he could sing great jazz. Amazing! The man had perfect pitch, I swear. He'd always tell me: 'Got to get with the good, get with the good.'"
But Carl just couldn't stay out of trouble and, in October 1988, a Superior Court judge sentenced him to five years in prison on a theft and burglary rap.
He served part of his sentence at Fort Grant, where he had spent time as a juvenile offender. He was reunited there with his brother Dwayne, then serving a long sentence for armed robbery.
Dwayne recalls, "We got to talk about a lot of deep stuff there. He told me, 'I know you can't be evil, you weren't born that way.' I never worried about Carl. God was going to take me before He took Carl."
It didn't work out that way.
Dwayne Gholson was released from prison in 1990, and hasn't been in trouble since.
Carl spent the 1990s on Maricopa County's mental-health treadmill after his own release in February 1992. He bounced from supervised group homes over to the jail, back to the state hospital, then out into the community for another stretch.
Phoenix attorney Jim Park represented Carl as a public defender during one criminal case in the mid-1990s and says he was "one of my favorite and most memorable clients ever. He was a good guy even with his wild looks and mental-illness issues. He had these great musical talents. I wanted him to have a decent life because he was a decent guy who happened to be very sick. "
A state hospital psychiatrist proved prescient in his September 1995 analysis of Carl's broken mind. Dr. Steven Pitt first wrote that Carl might be better off in a "less restrictive setting," such as a residential group home.
But Pitt added that "it must be underscored that Mr. Gholson will only do as well as the program he is placed in. That is to say, Carl Laroy Gholson suffers from a serious, chronic mental illness. He has no insight into his mental illness or need for continued treatment."
The doctor was saying that, without diligent oversight, Carl surely would slip back into the familiar territory of drug abuse, going off his meds and committing petty crimes.
That was the rub.
In Phoenix, a "less restrictive setting" often translates to perilously scant treatment and supervision.
Carl lasted only a few months on the outside that time before yet another arrest (for stealing a stereo).
Soon after Carl returned to the state hospital after a guilty-except-insane verdict against him, he agreed to join a music therapy group supervised by staffer Joy Ratterree.
A singer and pianist herself, Ratterree says she immediately realized Carl was a superior musician, even though he hadn't touched a horn in a long time. She started a band that usually included herself, five patients, and another staffer.
The Ashtones (named after the hospital's acronym, ASH) played an eclectic set including their theme song, "Spooky." They also performed "Stardust," "Green Onions" "Danny Boy" and Carl's favorite, "By the Time I Get To Phoenix."
Says Ratterree, "I'd play a beat and Carl would always be right there. He was a big man on campus. He'd put on a suit and tie, and we'd go out and play at government functions, Christmas parties, you name it. He was our lead soloist, and he played so well."
Under the circumstances, life at ASH wasn't that bad.
By then, Carl had earned permission to roam the state hospital grounds at will. He frequently went out into the community with staffers and family members, usually his brother Dwayne.
The hospital also set him up with a part-time job at a Phoenix thrift store, which turned out to be an excellent fit.
"Carl was a born peddler, a regular Trader Joe," Dwayne recalls. "I knew just where he wanted to go when I'd pick him up at the hospital. To the swap meets, the dollar store, other thrift stores. Buying something cheap and selling it for a little profit really did it for him. He always had $40 or $50 in his pocket."
In late 2001, doctors at ASH decided Carl had "stabilized" enough mentally for yet another release from the state facility.
A county judge signed an order that called for ValueOptions to set him up in a supervised group home, and to assign him a case manager. For his part, Carl vowed to take his antipsychotic meds and to stay out of trouble.
When he left the state hospital, Joy Ratterree allowed him to take something very dear to him -- his alto sax.
Darlene Coon remembers the time she first encountered Carl Gholson.
"It was four or five years ago, and I was alone in my bar, not a customer in sight, " says Coon, a platinum-blonde Wisconsin native who has owned The Other Room in Glendale since 1991. "This scary-looking black guy comes in with this thick beard, sits down and orders a Coke. I about wanted to run out of there. But all you can do is try to talk to the person. And we hit it off."
Coon, who has a gruff exterior that masks a big heart, runs a homey establishment that's obviously welcoming to all comers. Her dimly lit gin joint sits near Echo House, the group home where Carl was residing when he died.
She says he would be waiting at the front door when she opened for business at 12:30 p.m. He usually rode over on his one-speed bike, which he would park outside.
"Everyone had time for Carl," she says. "He'd shake hands with everybody, peddle whatever little items he had. He never said a cuss word, never had a bad word about anybody. I think he lived for this place."
Coon says Carl played his sax at her bar a few times, but he'd lost his two bottom teeth, which made performing difficult.
She walks over to a shelf at the bar and retrieves a Bible. Coon says Carl gave her the Bible as a present a few months before he died. Painstakingly inscribed in block print on the first page are the words, "TO DARLENE FROM CARL. HAPPY BIRTHDAY."
She says she was stunned to learn that Carl had a vial of crack in his pocket when he died.
"I honestly never got the feeling that he was on crack or anything,' she says. "Now, if he wasn't taking his meds, I'd know it. He'd laugh a certain way, look a certain way. I'd tell him, 'Carl, you have to do the right thing,' and he'd say, 'Okay.'"
Coon says Carl phoned her at the bar early on the evening of Saturday, July 16, and again just before closing at 2 a.m.
"He told me he needed to borrow $20 or 'they' would kill him."
But Carl didn't show up until about 1 p.m. on Sunday, the 17th. Coon lent him the money and says he left after drinking a Coke.
She says she never spoke to him again.
When Carl didn't come by The Other Room on Monday, July 18, she says, "I immediately thought something had happened to him."
For one thing, Mondays were the days that Coon normally would cash one of Carl's disability checks for him. A few days later, Coon drove over to Echo House to express her concerns.
"They wouldn't give me the time of day," she says. "I started calling everywhere I could think of. I was really, really worried."
Echo House staffers also apparently declined to say much to Glendale police.
Officer Eric Rouse went to the home on the evening of July 21, in response to a missing-persons report filed by supervisors there earlier that day. In fact, Carl Gholson was dead by then, though no one at Echo House could have known that yet.
Rouse interviewed staffer David Garcia, who told him that Carl had left on the morning of July 16 and hadn't been seen since.
According to Rouse's police report, Garcia told him "that the home has a 72-hour policy, and if the person does not return, then they file a police report."
The officer didn't note that Carl had been incommunicado for five days before Echo House had reported his disappearance.
Garcia wouldn't tell Officer Rouse what kind of medications Carl was supposed to take or why he was supposed to take them, other than "it was for mental reasons."
But the officer spotted the word "schizophrenia" on a work sheet and asked Garcia about it. "He said his superiors informed him that he was not supposed to release this information," Rouse recalled in his report.
In response to a question, Garcia said Carl often frequented a McDonald's somewhere in downtown Phoenix. Interestingly, he didn't mention The Other Room, Carl's prime hangout for the previous four years.
From Rouse's police report: "I asked [Garcia] if Carl took his medication with him [on July 16], and he stated no. I asked him if Carl could be suicidal or harm others or himself, and he stated that it was possible for Carl to be suicidal if he did not take his medication."
Two days later, on Saturday, July 23, another Glendale officer learned that Carl Gholson had died on July 18. That officer wrote in her report that Phoenix detective Lumley had called Echo House to notify staffers and get the names and phone numbers of Carl's next of kin.
Lumley's report says Paul Hutchinson of Echo House told him during that call that Carl's habit was to leave about 9 a.m. every day and return about 4 in the afternoon.
Carl had departed at the usual time on Friday the 15th, Hutchinson said, but didn't return until the next morning. He had pulled up with a woman in a taxi cab and asked staffers to provide $20 for the fare, which they did. Carl had wanted the woman to stay with him in his room, but staffers asked her to leave.
According to Hutchinson, Carl also soon left and "he was not seen again" at the home.
Hutchinson said it was the first time since Carl had moved into Echo House in August 2003 that he had vanished for any length of time. That fact alone surely should have been cause for immediate action by the home's staffers.
Jill Faver, director of communications for ValueOptions, says in an e-mail that her firm is "committed to working hand in hand with law enforcement. In the case of a potential missing person, upon first learning from one of our provider agencies that a client may be missing, our clinical team would cooperate with any official group investigating the situation."
But Detective Lumley's report states that he left messages with Carl's ValueOptions case manager during his postmortem investigation, but never got a return call.
Two state agencies, the Arizona departments of Health Services (DHS) and Economic Security (DES) oversee Echo House. DHS also is supposed to provide oversight of ValueOptions and its current $1.3-billion, three-year contract.
Representatives of DHS and DES had little to say about Carl Gholson's death.
DHS spokesman Mike Murphy says that "thanks to the world of HIPAA, we cannot even acknowledge that this man was a client of ValueOptions."
(Murphy is referring to a federal law designed in part to guarantee the privacy of health information. Naysayers suggest that HIPAA also has been used to keep the public from learning about possible misdeeds.)
Elizabeth Barker, a spokeswoman for the DES, did not return calls requesting comment for this story.
Darlene Coon speculates that Carl had wanted to borrow the $20 from her to repay group home staffers for the cab fare. She's also convinced that Carl's new female friend took him to a crack house shortly before his death.
Coon says she finally learned of Carl's death about 10 days after the fact, when an Echo House staffer dropped by her bar to inform her. Dwayne Gholson says no one told him for eight days, which still frustrates him.
"I saw Carl a few weeks before he passed," he says, "and he was on base, chain-smoking like he always did, bouncing around from this subject to that subject. I thought everything was cool with him. We hugged before he split."
Gholson drove to Echo House in early August to sort through his brother's possessions. There were small boxes of clothes, a Bible, two computers and an electronic organ.
But Carl's saxophone was nowhere to be found.
Gholson says staffers told him that Carl didn't own a sax when he died.
"That one I just don't believe," he says. "Carl wouldn't have given up that sax for nothing."
At the August 6 memorial service, Gholson read an elegy he had composed for his brother. It said in part:
Never mean no harm
God must have stamped my soul the Day I was born
Even my grandmamma
Taught me, never mean no harm
Through all the things I've been through
All the times I was by myself
Just me and God who was always true
Even when my mind would raise the alarm
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I knew deep inside myself never mean no harm . . .
Gholson says he has an idea what he'll eventually do with his brother's cremated remains:
"My sister has been telling me, 'Just take him to a high building like the Westward Ho and let the wind take him.' I mean, he spent his whole life going here and there, kind of wherever the wind took him. I just might do that."