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Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Last time Walso was seen: McKinney motel room Aug. 28, 2017
   I've been attempting to help my long-time friend Wally Lynn for the past decade, and chronicling those mostly failed efforts for the last three years.
   The latest, comprehensive chapter in his sad saga appears on the cover in this week's Dallas Observer.
   As an addendum, I'm offering tidbits, anecdotes and quotes that hit the DO cutting-room floor, but are important in piecing together the puzzle of how talented he really was, and how terrible it really is:

   *After graduating from Lake Highlands High School in 1979 Lynn goes with best friend Jeff Coats to Southwest Texas State in San Marcos. There, fueled by a love of girls and partying but a rabid disgust for rules and formality, they spearhead an infamous anti-social social club: “Spivs”. Light-hearted and self-deprecating, the group revels in cutting corners and bending rules. The Spivs win a campus chili cook-off, only to be disqualified when organizers discover they sneaked into the competition to avoid filing proper paperwork and paying registration fees.
   “We studied hard and did our work, but when it came to fun we weren’t above being a little bit mischievous, a little shady,” Coats recalls, “Before you know it we grew into this fraternity of 40 guys who all had in common a hatred of fraternities. Wally was a driving force of that. When he put his mind to something, it got done.”

   *Lynn’s creativity is never more on display than one summer night in 1999 at Dallas Cowboys’ training camp in Wichita Falls. On the way to the local honkytonk, he wears mismatched shoes – one boot and one sneaker.
   “I don’t know,” Lynn shrugs when a friend quizzes him. “Might be fun to see if people notice, and then see where my story goes from there.”
   In the span of an hour he spins yarns about being “chemically imbalanced”, “fatally forgetful”, a “shoe sales intern”, the “Cowboys’ tryout kicker” and an “alien”. After being met at the club with a combination of skepticism, flirtation and laughs, he then transforms his late-night meal into a one-man comedy. At Whataburger, Lynn pulls from his jeans pockets two miniature Cowboys bobbleheads – because of course he does – and helps himself behind the counter. Ducking down to leave only the toys visible, for the next 20 minutes over the restaurant’s speakers he holds a running dialogue between Irvin and Cowboys’ safety Bill Bates. The two trade barbs, compare condiments, greet guests and abruptly and hilariously become annoyed when forced to pause their sparring to announce, “Customer No. 27, stop interrupting our show and come get your damn burger before we spit in it!”
   By the time he leaves, Lynn prompts a round of applause, $8.50 in tips and an invitation from the manager to perform any time in exchange for a free meal.
   During the drive to his Midwestern State University media dorm, Lynn exclaims, “It’s great to be a dork!”

   *Youngest son, Mitchell: “He was so charismatic. He would walk into a room full of strangers and instantly put everyone at ease and make them laugh. To this day I have an appreciation of people and relationships because of him."

   *In February 2000 Lynn and three close friends – including Dallas millionaire entrepreneur John Eckerd – charter a private jet to the Daytona 500. At their rented mansion, they brazenly toast their lofty status. The quartet tears a $100 bill into four pieces and proceeds to wash it down with four difficult, definitive gulps of champagne.
   The toast: “Here’s to never needing this $100!”

   *Mike Fisher, long-time Lynn friend and radio co-host for 18 months on KLIF 570 AM: Anyone could listen to Wally for five minutes and realize he was uniquely talented; funny man, anchorman, impersonator, smart. But even though he was on the radio, you also knew that like lots of us in this business, there is an ego – in Wally's case, one that made it seem like every day he was starring in his own personal TV show.”

   *Elementary-school friend Anecia Drake: "We visited at his mom’s memorial and it was again like we were peas and carrots. But something was a little off. For one, it’s the first time he smelled like alcohol.”

   *Now all but isolated from friends and family, Lynn continues to deteriorate. During brief interactions he declines job leads, claiming he has money “stashed away” and a job at Google.
   “At one point he said he had a job at a radio station in Tyler and was going to move in with dad in Athens,” says Ben. “No one in the family believed it. We just wondered what he was doing for money.”

   *Coats: "Kim kept the steady job, kept the books. Wally was the creative spirit always swinging for the fences.”

   *Throughout the next couple of years, Coats regularly checks on his friend. He can, after all, see Lynn’s apartment across the Cul-de-sac from his Plano back porch.
   “I mean, he was okay. Surviving,” says Coats. “He had no motivation. No get-up-and-go. I’d see him shuffling slowly to the Tom Thumb across the street. He was like a zombie.”
   Says Mitchell, who visits the apartment during stints home from college, “It was just dark and sad. I’d drag him out to a movie or to get crawfish and he’d just beg to leave as soon as we got there.”

   *Flabbergasted, those around him have a better chance of explaining Net Neutrality to a gnat than of understanding Lynn’s morose mindset.

   *He became a human needle in a homeless haystack.
   Tips lead to the Union Gospel Mission, the Dallas Public Library, an encampment under I-30, random convenience stores and an abandoned building on Cadiz Street. It is gut-wrenching, fruitless stuff, providing no signs of Lynn but instead a pathetic peek into an uncivilization of blank stares, methodical meandering, babbling about nothing to no one and the ambiance of suicide so thick it feels like hot air breathing on the back of your neck. His brother Ben, Coats and a handful of friends find depression and despair, but no Lynn.

   *Lynn refuses to talk about the details about his homelessness or the incidents that led him there. Asked by a friend if he had a nickname on the street, he rolls his eyes.
   “No, that’s stupid,” he says without a hint of subtlety, changing the subject. “Can you believe the Rangers blew another one?”
   During a pause in the conversation, Lynn offers, “I’ll talk about it all someday. I just need some time.”

   *As giddy as it was at the relocation of Lynn and his signs of sober life, the family exudes mixed responses about his time in jail and the corresponding revelations of stealing trust-fund money.
   “I never in a million years thought that man could sink that low,” says his wife, Kim.
   Counters Mitchell, “I wasn’t shocked at all. After he lied to me about what was in his cup, it was clear he was just a stranger in survival mode.”

   *Upon his release from jail, an upbeat Lynn is asked whether he’d rather spend a night in the gutter or a night in the slammer.
   “Thanks for the appealing choices,” he jokes. “Give me the gutter any time.”

   *His post-jail residence is equipped with a pool, hot tub, game room and only two other roommates to share the five-bedroom, six-bathroom, 7,900-square feet of ostentatious space. For $0 rent, Lynn has the run of the house and the luxury of an upstairs bedroom, complete with big-screen TV and private bath.

   *Upon hearing that Lynn is about to wear out his lavish welcome, Drake attempts to re-boot his focus via a June road trip. She drives him to Athens to see his father, making a detour at the Jacksonville Tomato Festival. Though the two semi-sync through light laughter and shallow small-talk, Drake spots troubling signs. Lynn draws a blank about their long, shared, passionate disdain for cheesy songs such as “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero.” During a pit stop at a roadside restaurant, he veers from his stated trip to the restroom ... straight to the bar.
   “I caught him just staring at the rows of alcohol, like he was salivating,” Drake says. “When he finally came back to the table I asked him what he was doing at the bar. He said he was getting some napkins. But that didn’t make sense. We had napkins at our table. Plus, he was just in the bathroom. Something just wasn’t right with him. Not the same old Wally.”
   Drake informs Lynn’s sister about his erratic demeanor and behavior. The two reasons that his previous drinking episodes have prompted a neurological disorder that impedes his ability to perform even the most basic of tasks. And to accept consequences for his actions.
   “He’s like a 14-year-old,” says Drake. “He can’t – or won’t – multitask. Simple things like unloading the car was a major ordeal because he had to carry one item at a time.”
   Drake and Lynn's sister briefly consider an attempt to have the State of Texas declare him mentally incompetent in order to get him a guardian to help manage his affairs. It’s an expensive, complex and heart-breaking process. One especially daunting when Drake isn’t fully convinced Lynn’s aptitude is being mitigated by his attitude.

   *As Ben, and a group of Lynn’s friends prepare one last crutch in the form of housing, money and a plan, they take inventory. Lynn never responded to the invitations from Ralph Strangis, J.D. Ryan or Kevin McCarthy. They surmise he never read the 300 pages of supportive missives. He blew his golden gig with Eckerd. And as he’s chauffeured around McKinney to look for his next address, he recoils at the sight of unsavory, low-income options.
   “I think he’s beyond help,” says Ben. “He won’t lower himself to his reality. Despite all he’s been through and all he’s wasted, he still has this attitude about him.”
   It’s a stiff upper lip, now adopted by many of Lynn’s injured inner circle.
   “I’m pleasantly surprised that he’s still alive, because to me he’s just taking the long road to suicide,” says Leslie. “I hope they find him. He should pay what he can to make it right with our family. That said, it’s not like I’m going looking for him.”
   Says Mitchell, “Even if he found a way to stay sober the rest of his life, he won’t be a part of my life whatsoever. The severe damage he’s done to himself physically and psychologically is irreversible.”

   *Ben continues his successful insurance company. Same with Coats and his real estate business. Leslie works as a CPA in Dallas. Kim moved to Alabama to live with her mom and stepfather. Jake is in restaurant management in Austin. Mitchell lives in Houston, and is deciding between law school at Columbia, Northwestern and NYU. Griff just turned 20. Mae Grace is 17.

   *As for Wally, he's recently called Coats and other college friends asking for money. Texts a friend that he is “Alive. Not in jail yet.” Makes a lunch date with Ben, only to no-show. Randomly sends private messages via Facebook, where his profile features a black header and a youth baseball photo of Mitchell. As we speak, he is - somewhere - simultaneously avoiding his in-laws and running from the law.