I met Charlie Lubutsky on a June morning in the mid-1980s, drinking coffee on the steps of Café Pergolesi. I was with my friend Cindy, an aspiring actress. She was in character that day, pretending to be the daughter of an earl who disowned her when she fell in love with a penniless gondolier. That was why she said to Charlie Lubutsky, a total stranger, “Giuseppe, my love, we must remain in Venice until my father relents. But we still have each other, my darling!”
When Cindy accosted people like that they usually stared at her like she was nuts, or laughed and walked away. Charlie Lubutsky did neither of these things. He looked up, squinting because the sun was in his eyes, and then he got to his feet, took her hand and pressed his lips to her palm. He said, “As long as we are together, madam, I care for nothing else.”
It was easy to see that Charlie Lubutsky was something special.
Cindy and Charlie became best friends. It turned out that he was a musician, like Cindy, and the two of them used to get together to play music.
One night when Charlie Lubutsky was driving home from work he crashed into a big rig that was making a left turn onto the highway. The fog was so thick he never even saw the truck that killed him. After Charlie died we found out that his real name was Robert Nelson. When he moved to town he had invented a new name and a new identity and left his past behind him.
And no wonder. Robert Nelson was a traveling salesman who was married to a fanatical fundamentalist Christian. But Charlie Lubutsky was a gentle man with merry eyes who painted houses for a living. He played the guitar and wrote songs that were sometimes beautiful and sometimes silly. It was just like him to call himself Charlie Lubutsky.
His crazy wife and all her crazy fundamentalist relatives came to town for his funeral. They hadn’t been able to find him while he was alive, but in death they somehow tracked him down. They held a service for him in their church, even though Cindy tried to convince them that wasn’t what he would have wanted. So while the prayers droned inside the church for Robert Nelson, Cindy sat outside on the steps with her guitar and sang “Forever Young” for Charlie Lubutsky.