His name was Kenneth Tolsma, we all called him “Doc”. He had gone to medical school at Northwestern University. He was the officially one of the last Baron’s of Friesland; he was the last male in his line which made him the Baron. He was my friend.
Like the legendary Doc Holiday, he was a highly educated, extremely well read, and physically frail man who knew his life would be short. He was fearless, socially challenged and as loyal as a friend and brother as any man could ever hope to have in his life.
He was the dying Doc Holiday to my disgraced but determined to do right Wyatt Earp. I loved him like he was my own blood.
Being classically educated, Doc spoke more languages than most people have heard. With an IQ that was almost off the charts. Doc started medical school when he was just 18. Yes I said medical school.
A classical education meant he spoke English. He spoke English with a Dutch accent, so for many months I assumed he was South African, especially since he also spoke Afrikaans.
As a physician he had no bedside manner. He was gruff and really didn’t like sick people. He became a doctor because it was “expected” of him by his parents, whom he didn’t like either. So his specialty was neurology, and since he was color-blind it was better that he diagnosed rather than treated so the medical interaction between he and patients was as little as possible.
At various times, he was the Honolulu City and County physician, attending physician at the Hyperbaric Treatment Center, an insurance medical evaluation doctor, and he really wanted to be a chef. He could cook, just no desserts.
That’s not right, he’d make incredible desserts, but as a diabetic he couldn’t eat what he cooked.
Like Earp’s Holiday, my Doc was cursed with a lingering death sentence, he was insulin dependent diabetic. He was convinced he would not grow old. He’d live his life on his terms.
Doc stopped playing competitive chess and took up backgammon because chess took too long to win any money. And with backgammon, it was quicker, and he did win money.
At the time, backgammon was enjoying popularity and lots of people thought they could play. Most of them did not understand it was a mathematical problem solving exercise, it was never a game. Especially when there was money involved. Doc understood and usually won.
He did enjoy chess, but the local players mostly bored him, so he played opponents over the internet when not attending chamber patients.
One night we walked into the bar and walked pass a woman playing a small electric chess game. We both stopped and looked on several minutes. I simply looked at Doc and stated, “Black mate in seven”, and walked away. I sat at our usual table and ordered a beer.
Doc stood there staring at the chess board for several minutes, when he finally walked to the table the look on his face can only be described as perplexed “James” he started out. “I just don’t see the black mate in seven. What do you see that I don’t?”
This was perfect. I took a long slow pull of my beer, smiled and told him; “Hell Doc I’m just messing with you. I couldn’t see check mate if there were only 2 pieces on the board. But she’ll spend the rest of the night looking for it.”
Doc got mad at me a couple of times, mostly when I’d get in a fight and he wasn’t around. He’d still stitch me up in the back parking lot of wherever and bitch the whole time.
As the years went by he got frailer and didn’t monitor his insulin as close as he should have. We’d usually have trouble when we were in Vegas for the club’s New Year’s party. It got to the point we’d get him a room at the hotel/casino of the party and then I’d nag him all night.
Doc had studied fencing, judo, wrestling, and liked shooting. Kinda violent activities for a doctor, but he was that sort of a doctor. He once broke another interns arm. It was in an ER and Doc was working on an injured gang member when the intern grabbed his arm from behind. Not a good thing to do when the grabee is on edge anyway.
I’ve said what a friend Doc was. He was my brother in all but blood. I use this story to illustrate what a brother will do.
I had just received a troubling phone call regarding “someone” looking for me at my favorite bar. There was no name but there was a hint that it was a member of another 1% club and it was about a dealer I knew and they were looking for that person with intent to do bodily harm.
I called Doc with the intention of soliciting some advice. I always valued Doc’s advice, even if I didn’t follow it.
Doc was home, and unusually he was almost sober. Almost.
I explained the situation and the people involved. I covered my possible actions and the possible responses to each.
Finally Doc asked, “James, how bad can this get?” I hemmed and hawed for a moment then replied, “Well, could get heep bad juju.”
“Click” I turned to my wife and said “the son-of-a-bitch just hung up on me.”
We both laughed and I waited for the call back figuring he had hit the wrong button on his cell phone, again.
Twenty or so minutes later there was a knock at the door. There stood Doc, overnight bag with 3 days of clothes, thermos kit with his insulin and diabetic supplies, and a .357 magnum hanging under his arm.
His only question, “Where do I sleep?”
It took me a while to explain to him this wouldn’t splash onto my family. Once I explained the facts I didn’t want to say on the phone, he understood, recalled the cab he had taken up to our house and went home.
The point, he showed up ready for whatever happened without my asking him. That’s a man ready to put his life on the line for his “Brother”.
We lost Doc a few years ago. But he will always be in my heart and memory.
I’ll continue to tell this story to anyone who needs an explanation of the words Heart, Friend, and Brother.