My Bad Performance
I keep a mental list of people I'd like to run into. It's been in my head for at least 20 years, since Eric Friedman left for summer after Junior year and never came back.
Surprisingly, I've actually seen many of the people on my list. You can't plan to see them. It just happens. And when you see them, if you're me, you have to make a split-second decision: should I say something? Weirdly, my initial thought is always -- not sometimes, always -- "There's (insert name). I won't say anything. It'll be weird."
Dave K. was one of those people. He materialized via email and for that I am thankful, having now met his delightful wife and exposed him to my jawa and Sandra Bullock. All of those questions I had about his life in the years 1983-2006 have been answered, and it's weird. It's not like I stopped thinking about the guy, referring to him or mentioning him to people. Time just passes.
The last time I saw someone on my list was a couple of years ago. I was at the Claremont Hotel to meet my ex-Mormon New Yorker friend who was in town, and I saw the Original Kathleen, aka Cody, entering an elevator with her husband. Time may usually drag, but in this situation, it moves very quickly. I had no time to wonder if my screaming out the name of someone who may or may not be the person I thought they were would offend my guest, or if this person getting into the elevator was, in fact, Cody, but, unlike me, I took a chance and yelled out her name.
And it was her.
So the ex-Mormon from out of town had to keep Cody's husband entertained while she and I filled in the blanks for the past 10 years or so. To her great credit, she did so. I think they talked about wine.
The great part was that Cody and I were so happy to see each other, and that we've seen her (and her very jolly husband and their adorable children) several times since.
But it doesn't always work out quite that way.
My friend Dug, the college athlete-turned artist, played a huge role in my early post-college experience. Both of us were from Orange County. We were both into music, and both dropped back into Orange County following graduation without any sort of plan as to what to do next. So we spent much of the next year driving to Los Angeles to see what was up.
After that, Dug moved to San Francisco and I moved to Seattle, but every time I came to San Francisco, Dug would drop whatever he was doing and show me the time of my life, which usually included burritos at 2 a.m., often eaten on some hillside with an incredible view of the city. We were both in the same spot -- trying to avoid joining the mainstream world, with varying success. Honestly, he was better at it than me, even back then.
Through Dug I met Big Jody, who, though it's been almost long enough since we've talked that he may have to join the "man, I hope to run into ..." list, remains one of the most treasured people of my world. I think about the guy every day. Met him and his wife at a Dug party in which Rick the Barbarian, long before he became the soulful folk singer Richard Buckner, threw pickles off the roof of Dug's house while the Pogues played.
Dug was at our wedding, actually wearing a suit.
Somehow, when we moved back to Seattle in 1993, I lost touch with Dug. He moved to Eugene, where we saw him once, and then to Portland, got married, had a kid, but unlike me, stayed focused on his goals, i.e. not ending up trying to pass himself off as a "consultant" or a "content manager," when being no more qualified for either than he would be a "smelter" or a "long haul trucker."
That was that. I am at fault. I was 180 miles away, and in fact went to Portland every October for a volleyball tournament, but did not call. One time, hoping to lift me out of whatever funk I had settled into, the Legendary Dr. Bandeau took me to Portland for a spontaneous trip of alcohol consumption and strip joints. I have a memory of having a heartfelt conversation with a stripper about how guilty I felt, being in Portland and not looking up Dug. She advised me to look him up. Even with that advice, I didn't.
I felt like too much time had passed, that it'd be awkward, and I hate awkward. Guilty, however, is quite palatable, so I just tucked it away, referred to my guilt occasionally, and went on with my life.
Last Friday, I was driving the Jawa home from saxOphone practice, when I saw what was undoubtedly Dug walking down Chenery Street with two other people. Without thinking "is this a good idea?" I slammed on my brakes, causing great alarm in Dug and his friends. Then I rolled down my window and started yelling his name.
He had no idea who it was. The Lefty he last spoke to in 1995 had a full head of hair and did not drive a Volvo. In fact, it was Dug who drove the Volvo, albeit an ancient, boxy one with an Elvis Costello "Get Happy!" bumper sticker.
Eventually, we sorted it out. Then I pulled over and got out of the car, instantly realizing that I must look like the biggest yuppie tool ever to walk the earth. Here is my old friend, still looking like my old friend, his wife and his other friend who lives in my neighborhood -- renting a place above the hardware store -- and who I often see sitting in front of the coffee place on Sundays, playing bluegrass music with a bunch of old guys, dressed exactly as you would imagine: thrift shop sportcoat, jeans and work boots.
And there's me, with my Volvo, my shaved head, my sunglasses and my Banana Republic gear, stupidly babbling about my list of people I'm always hoping to run into.
Dug seemed a little taken aback. He is by nature very laid-back, so he held his ground and seemed happy. He was in town for art reasons, and in fact is a working artist, whatever that means beyond "I don't have a regular job and I still make a living doing what I want."
I felt lame. Silly. Ridiculous. Caught completely off-guard. At least if I'd seen him the day before I would have been unshaven and on foot.
It wasn't like running into Cody or Dave K. I didn't really have the chance to not act like a fool. So we exchanged email addresses, and I'm pretty sure redemption will have to come from me. After all, he didn't volunteer that we should get together while he's down here, and even though his wife said, "Oh, sure, I've heard lots about you," I can't help but think that their post-script was more along the, "Wow, that guy's sure changed," lines than the, "Boy, it was great to see him!" paradigm.
Most of this is my own disgust at having to say, "Uh, I'm a stay-at-home Dad," ...who, rather than using that time to create something and follow through on all of the drunken promises of 15 years ago, instead goes to the gym and has his wife buy him a Volvo. Maybe I should have talked to him about "personal wellness."
Game's not over yet. And the good part is that it has inspired me to not let Big Jody drop to the "it sure would be great to run into him" category.