Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening / put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip, and come on up to the mothership

The other day, while celebrating my best friend’s thirtieth birthday, we went around the porch, and most of about twenty-four people provided a few good words about our good buddy.  After a while, we heard comments that these started to sound like eulogies, and those comments seemed to derail some of the latter people who did not previously have the opportunity to speak.  I was one of those latter people, and ultimately did not speak because the so called eulogies seemed to have run their course.  As well, despite speaking at an industry event, as well as time spent as a classroom teacher, I am not the most natural or most comfortable public speaker.  It actually becomes harder for me when I know the audience well.  I hardly expect any of my friends who were at that party to read this, and even fewer to read this all of the way through.  To those of you who said that those speeches sounded like a eulogy, let me be clear on this: nowhere in the etymology of the word does it express that a eulogy must be about the departed.  A eulogy simply means “good words” or praise.  The word does carry with it the connotation of a speech about a dead person, but that’s a semantic shift, and the fact that the favored term for a speech about the living, a panegyric, is so obscure that the only time you’ll see it used in public is when there’s a spelling bee in town.  In no way were those good words a eulogy for our bro.  Regardless of my relatively quiet nature, I was kind of peeved that I didn’t have the chance to speak; so I’ll start it here for a man that I call brother, who will be called EJ for anonymity’s sake.

EJ is a world traveler; that much is true.  However, EJ’s world travels haven’t changed EJ one bit.  The world hasn’t changed EJ; EJ has changed the world.  From teaching surfing to Peruvians while studying abroad to having a bunch of Brits toast “No taxation without representation,” EJ has always been able to make his impact known and have his unique perspective be seen.  EJ is just about the only person I know who can go from singing Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers to listening to NAS and the Roots, and impersonating Rahzel.  EJ is just about as likely to recite London Calling or Whoomp (There it is) in a posh British accent as he is to very politely (and accidentally) use a vulgar term to describe a person’s lower regions (i.e. fanny: I don’t think you know what that word means).

To those that know, we all know the recent misadventures of EJ, World Traveler. We have heard of or seen his success that has made him so irreplaceable to companies on both sides of the pond, and that kept him on the other side of the pond, so that London Calling could be stamped and then crossed out on his passport.  London called; EJ answered.  However, EJ and I have a history that extends just about as far back as his SC roots… before London was the great adventure, and SC was.  When we met, EJ and I were just learning to ride our bikes; we were about 4 years old, and we were rolling around the parking lot of the big church at the bottom of my street.  I’m fairly certain that EJ’s youngest sister wasn’t even in the picture.  EJ and his family had moved from THE City, and they’d moved to a place down a narrow alleyway from where I lived. I’d be lying if I’d said nothing has changed from when EJ and I were learning to ride our bikes, but I’d also be lying if I said that EJ isn’t that same adventurous spirit that bursts through the need for training wheels.

For many years, we took our bikes to the hills behind our neighborhood, rolling around campus with people who were several times our age.  We’d frequently go past the old barn, which has since been torn down, on that steep rocky trail, which has since been cut at a more gradual incline and paved, and up the steep hill past the provost’s house, which both still exist.  From there, the trails were some great adventures — and the downhills would almost always involve EJ singing some George Clinton or Bootsy Collins as we rode carefree down to the coast.  If not the singing, then there’d always be talk about basketball–would Michael Jordan have another three-peat, would Adonal Foyle turn into a 20-and-10 player–and (later) girls.  That last one was a little difficult, as we went to different schools–and became especially difficult when EJ’s school happened to be an all boys school thirty miles away.  Even then, we managed to hang out, on so many weekends – as far as our handlebars would take us – and I would eagerly await the chance to hang out with him.  It seems only appropriate that EJ has shown his ‘lady friend’ the town doing the same ride we did a few times, from Western to West Cliff, and all the way down to 41st, with a stop at the Chill Out Café (now, of course, I’d convince him to go the extra half mile and go to Betty’s for a burger or Vallarta for some horchata and tripitas).

In the past (perhaps) fifteen years, I’ve met few of the women that EJ has dated, and even fewer that EJ had ever really opened up to (as in NADA).  All that changed on Saturday, when I met his current ‘lady friend.’  EJ was so careful to shelter himself, telling me that he wanted to be careful with the words that he used even to describe his relationship. EJ has always been one to go with the flow, choosing his stands carefully and finding a way to reason and coexist, but he has always been guarded about his relationships – not really expressing anything about them until they had come and passed.  This is something that has clearly changed. It seemed so natural and comfortable to see his ‘lady friend’ at his birthday party; that is, any nervousness that might have come from ‘meet the parents’ and ‘meet a catalogue of friends that date back nearly thirty years’ and ‘here buds, this is the gal’ was so subtle that any evidence of its existence may have been imagined.

Since college, it has been difficult to get together; he wanted to see the world, and traveling never felt like a real possibility for me.  He liked the Big City, while I wasn’t even thinking of larger towns than my own.  Still, he was there beside me as my best man at my wedding (and giving one hell of a speech), and he was there kicking this old man’s (my) butt at my own thirtieth birthday. That said, there are big adventures in life, and I suspect that I will be friends with EJ when we are celebrating his 80th birthday, and we finally have those hovering skateboards that were promised to us 30 years ago.  Maybe we’ll be listening to Lucero, complaining about how they don’t make music like that anymore.  Maybe we’d think back to the time that we took Jack out in the rain, and that poor guy was jumping just to keep his head above the water.  Maybe we’d think about the many times that we’ve hiked Skyline to the Sea, and the cuts that he still has on his Achilles tendons from when he tried to break in those new boots on the trail.

Thinking back, EJ has helped acculturate me to a variety of different media – from Toe Jam and Earl and Beavis and Butthead to Caddyshack and Game of Thrones. I’m sure he’s picked up a few things from me, but there’s one thing that he hasn’t; my style in headware.  Yes, EJ, that hat’s so ugly it should come with a bowl of soup!  But it looks good on you though. I kid, I kid, and I probably got that quote wrong, as well.

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that I find it important to recognize friendships, and that I should have seized the opportunity to speak, even when it wasn’t presented to me.  My grandfather lost his best friend a few years back, and my lasting impression of the last time I saw them together was of how Uncle Phil and my grandfather both cried when Uncle Phil gave a speech honoring my grandparents at their 60th anniversary.  EJ, I hope that we’ll be doing the same when KO and I celebrate our 60th.  In closing, I ask that you all take the opportunity to share the memories that you have with your oldest friends and never forget to make new ones.  Take photos, get souvenirs, enjoy the moment, and look forward to the next one!  Happy 30th, EJ.  Many happy returns, and many more to come!

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