Khari McClelland: Where are you?

Another reaching out.

A story about how I met Khari (pronounced car-ee).

He rolls in the front door during our first month of business, when I was still apprehensive to pour a beer from the taps. You see, I had never even wiped a table in a restaurant or bar before opening Phog, and now that I have five years under my belt, I am still a shitty bartender. Ask Jessica.

Khari is wearing checkered pants, something Sammy Davis Jr. would’ve worn on All in the Family, and he had a leather jacket that runs down past his knees, with a huge fur collar. The jacket was tan. The tabby cat around his neck was a shade darker. He smiled warmly when he greeted me, and he seemed as if I was the most important person he’d come across all day.

“Can I get a B-52?”

Oh shit. What the hell is that? Will I have to get the “drink book” out in front of this cool guy? He sees me hesitate and tells me step-by-step how to make one. I would list the details here if I knew, today, how to make a B-52 properly. There’s Kahlua and Bailey’s, and other stuff.

After making him one, he decides that he wants a beer. Within our inaugural chat, I find out he’s from Detroit. We talked about his time in Windsor, and about how he loved places like Phog, with it’s atmosphere becoming for a guy in a fur-collared coat, black-rimmed glasses, in checkered pants. When he was through with the beer, after we’d been laughing a little bit, he wanted me to pour two shots of Jameson Irish Whiskey.

“I can’t do that,” I told him. Bartenders are working. They aren’t supposed to have a drink, I told him. He looked at me with the look I can only describe as the Khari look of surprise and disapproval. He giggled, letting a “pfft” out of his mouth. “You ain’t been here long have you?”

I pleaded with him to have mercy on me, as I had truthfully been nursing a brutal sore throat for almost a month at that point. I didn’t know what Jameson tasted like, and I did not want to aggrevate my viral throat-keeper.

“This’ll fix that shit! C’mon!” he said, holding his shot in the air.

Okay, but I have to come around to the other side of the bar.

I threw it back, and while it was still circumnavigating my Adam’s apple, I could hear Khari howling with delight. Smacking the shot glass down on the bar with a resounding clank, I knew I did the right thing.

I had forged a friendship over a shot of mighty Jameson, which today has become lovingly touted as “J Juice”. His influence on me, Frank, and the rest of the patrons within the lucky windfall of making his acquaintance, led to the popularity of this lovely liquor.

I wish I could emphasize how true this next part is, but many still think I’m full of it, but before Khari was finished his next drink, my throat was clear. No pain, no searing, no swelling. I told him so, and he shrugged with pleasure, knowing the result was as sure to come as tomorrow’s sunrise.

In the time Khari was a fixture in Windsor, he was gathering patrons, dragging them OUT of Phog, and into venues where salsa dancing was happening or where an art opening was occurring. He was a harbinger of levity. He knew what true fun was to be had, and he actively sought it out from Ouellette Avenue in Windsor to Woodward Avenue in Detroit. I loved that about him. When I saw him coming down the street, I was affected with a contact high. I knew he had a hug waiting, and a bizarre gadget or photo to share. One day he had a bag of hotel soaps that had been collected for YEARS that he bought at a second-hand store in Detroit. We inspected them for 20 minutes one afternoon laughing at how phone numbers used to only have five digits.

Khari was the guy who could make your head spin with jealousy if you knew enough about him. He was not only the life of the party, but he was one of the most well-read individuals I had ever met. He would wax philosophical about life, love, liberty, justice, music, friendship, and anything else you could muster. I looked to him for laughter and for the repose of intellect.

He was always telling people to go to John King Books in Detroit, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, or to the Nancy Whiskey in Corktown (which Neil also championed), or to any number of restaurants and cafes and art shows happening in Motown.

His infectious attitude was dearly missed the day he decided to leave for Vancouver, British Columbia. Frank, my business partner was especially crushed, as he had grown closer to Khari in the waning months of his time in Windsor/Detroit.

When he was gone, we stayed in touch with phone calls coming in late at night in the bar, or through the odd e-mail.

Finally, in November of 2005, my wife and I took our honeymoon and headed west through the States. We knew our destination was Vancouver, and I wanted desperately to surprise him. After talking to his then-girlfriend, Kathy, we knew he would be working at the flower shop on Granville Island. There may be several, but we had directions on where to find him.

When we came within visual range of him, unloading a truck outside, I was worried he would see me and spoil the surprise. But, I thought, he’s not looking for familiar faces, and he’d likely lose me in the sea of faces that is the shopping public of Granville Island.

I walked briskly up behind him as he unloaded a shoulder-high tree, and I said quietly, “Do you have anything native to Detroit for sale?”

The look on his face was not confusion, as he explained later that he thought his boss or coworkers were screwing with him. He turned unceremoniously and without warning screamed skyward while jumping and grasping my shoulders. He did the laughing-holler while running away from me and circling the cube van twice, finally coming to an abrupt, solid, welcome hug. He was flabbergasted, beyond my expectation, and my new bride and I were able to spend some time with him in the coming day before we sadly went back home to Ontario. I have not seen him since.

To say I miss this guy is an understatement, and anyone who remembers the glowing, beaming essence that Khari brought everywhere likely misses him too. I met a guy in Kingston this past week while attending a podcaster convention called Podcasters Across Borders (PAB) who had the same level of energy as Khari. His name is Tim Coyne. He’s from Los Angeles. He had the same ability to make you feel like, while you had audience with him, that you were the only thing that mattered at that moment, while he was the most interesting go-getter in the area.

Today, Frank and I do not know how to get a hold of him. We have lost touch entirely. He began moving around a lot after I returned home. There was no steady number or job where he could be reached. Today, I want to find my friend. I have been looking for him online with little luck, and it would bring me great elation to reconnect.

Khari! Where are you, my man?!


4 responses to “Khari McClelland: Where are you?

  1. Yo Tom.

    Sounds like Khari was/is a great guy.

    I’m honored that my energy reminded you of him. I was feeding off of you and Shane.

    Great to be around you two.


  2. I don’t why, but this post has me on the verge of tears.

  3. Khari McClelland


  4. He has made a similar impression on me! Good to know he’s still got IT!

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