About a year ago, they found Eddies body in the woods off Clark Avenue in Bristol, Connecticut. It was almost exactly halfway between my parents house and his mother and stepfathers house.
About sixteen years ago, my friend Nicks dog attacked me and left a small open wound on my head that bled badly in that unsettling but benign way that head wounds do. Nicks father, a city councilman who hit on my mom every time he saw her and whose car smelled so badly of cologne that I still get headaches when I think about it, called me a “cocksucker” and kicked me out of their house. Eddie left with me and, through the blood and adrenaline of that summer afternoon, I remember thinking that he was probably my best friend.
About fifteen years ago, while Eddies mother Karen was several months pregnant with his half-brother Canaan, I opened their bathroom door and accidentally saw her coming out of the shower. Being twelve, I had never seen a grown woman naked before. I was mortified for months. If she was the slightest bit embarrassed about it, she never let on.
About fourteen years ago, Eddies dreadlocked, GTO-restoring stepfather Chris drove the two of us to a free concert at Bushnell Park in Hartford called Modern Rock the Earth Day. Together we participated in a mob that threw so much mud at Goldfinger that a riot squad was called in. The show was shut down, and Connecticut locals Vertical Horizon were unable to play. To the best of my knowledge, no rock concerts have taken place in Bushnell Park since. I enjoyed the experience so much that I got Goldfingers drummer to sign a one-dollar bill I had in my pocket.
About thirteen years ago, Eddie stole some pot from Chris and we smoked it on a small hill next to Shooters Arcade and Billiards, just off Route 10 in Southington, Connecticut. I dont remember it having any noticeable intoxicating effect, but it made us feel cool, and once word got out at our surprisingly straight public high school it put us in the big leagues alongside the mythical prep school kids who everyone kept saying were doing ecstasy all the time.
About twelve years ago, Karen and Chris mortgaged a house in Terryville, the next town over from where we lived, and a place with even less going on than our hometown. Suddenly Eddie and I were going to different schools, which cut down the amount of time we spent together considerably. I ended up finding a social quarter amongst the mean backyard-wrestling rich kids who would all end up trying and failing to become police officers, and eventually amongst the combination of nerds and punks I surround myself with to this day. Im not sure what Eddie did.
About eleven years ago, Eddie was arrested for throwing cinderblocks from the window of a moving car and through the back windows of parked cars. He was drunk and high on painkillers that night, and hearing the story marked the first of countless times Id feel the cocktail of bemused disappointment that washes over me whenever any of my close friends does something completely idiotic but also sort of funny. Eddie ended up with one of those slaps on the wrist they give minors for nonviolent crimes, but to whatever extent my parents had been willing to stick their necks out in order for me to travel to hang out with him, his arrest caused them to clam up. We never saw each other again.
About four years ago, Eddie found me on Facebook and sent me a message. “Its your childhood friend, Eddie,” it read. “How you been?”. I looked at the photos of Eddie, who had become completely bald and apparently fond of inspirational platitudes about sobriety, and felt reassured that he was doing well. There were encouraging references to all the major familial players from our salad years, and even a mentions of a girl it seemed like hed been seeing. I never brought myself to respond.
About a year ago, I was on the tenth floor of an office building just outside Union Square in New York City, in the midst of the most stressful professional experience of my life, when my mom called me and told me about Eddies body sitting against a tree off Clark Avenue, and his new friends that had found him, and the rumors surrounding his death without anything ever being made public.
Eddie and I were friends during the part of an adolescent males life when he dedicates almost all of his spare time and and energy towards figuring out what he thinks is cool, and then cobbling together a semblance of an identity out of those things. Living in a cultural desert with practically no adult supervision and absolutely no money, we were forced to make do with what was around. For all these standout naked-mom memories, we spent ninety-nine percent of our time trying to kill time, and killing time with someone is the easiest way to become close with them.
Because of this, because of our adolescent idleness, the things that make me think of Eddie are embarrassing and in no way indicative of how important he was to me, but were all formative enough that Ill hopefully be reminded of him for the rest of my life. Things like Hot Shots Part Deux. The eighties Playboy with Madonna in it, where she has the hairy armpits. Stealing from authority figures. Stealing in general. Prank calling 1-800-DENTIST. The smell of burning trash. Prank calling 1-800-FLOWERS. The giant alligator boss in Resident Evil 2. Stupid, ephemeral things, but things I love because of the stupid, ephemeral ways Eddie and I came across them. I suppose this isnt much different from the nostalgia through which most people view their early teens, but I find myself reveling in these gloriously shallow parts of my personality as a way of remembering one of the best friends Ive ever had.
In June 2008, I was working nights at a phone-survey call center along with a significant portion of Bostons DIY music scene and a bunch of friendly, hard-drinking middle-aged ladies. Our office was roughly 100 yards from the TD Bank North Garden. We had to walk by it in order to get to the 7-11 that served as the only affordable, fast place in the neighborhood to get some food during our short breaks, and almost every night, we talked about soliciting the scalpers for Van Halen tickets or Bruins tickets or Celtics tickets instead of going back to work and calling Midwestern families to ask them what they thought of their homeowners insurance. None of us ever followed through, not least because our call-center wages werent exactly conducive to the scalp market for anything cool happening at the Garden.
The call center is responsible for nearly all of my funniest workplace memories, such as the time my friend Barker called an actual guy named Darryl Hall, got his voicemail, gave the phone number we had saved of an actual guy named John Oates, and then sang all of “Suicide is Painless” into his answering machine. Amidst our hilarious escapades, however, the fact remained that ours was a garbage dump of a job and we were garbage people for hanging onto it. We were tasked with things like asking senior citizens how they felt about minimally invasive robotic vaginal surgery, or asking relatives of the soon-to-be-dead about the hospice care their loved ones had received. The female employees among us were forced to deal with disgusting physical advances from our alcoholic failed indie rocker of a boss.
To give an idea of where I was during this time in my life, and also as a cautionary tale to show where anyones personality might go should they find themselves employed by a phone survey company: I was reading a lot of Henry Miller. I was going to Hogans Run in Brighton on what I guess would be called a regular basis. On the train home from the call center one night a girl was listening to “White Music” by XTC so loudly on her headphones that I could hear it from across the aisle, so I posted a missed connection for her. A different night, on that same train home, I took a sip of plastic-pint vodka a homeless guy handed me after I successfully told him that “number 33” was Larry Bird.
Our conversation didnt progress much past drinking liquor on the train, but I would guess the reason my drunk MBTA friend had Bird on the brain was that, for the first time in what seemed like forever, the Celtics were making a run at an NBA championship. After a youth of casual basketball fandom driven primarily by the 1990s NBAs remarkable amount of outsized personalities, I had gotten aboard the Celtics train due in part to their acquisition of Ray Allen, a favorite player of mine and a UConn alumnus who in 1995 was very nice about my grandma asking him to pose for a photo with me at McDonalds.
The Celtics, driven by Ray Allens unstoppable long-range shooting and Rajon Rondos slow realization that he is one of the best point guards of his generation, had made it to the finals, where they seemed poised to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers. I had only been to Los Angeles once, but my image of it, with its sun and friends of mine with cushy entertainment industry jobs, ran completely counter to how Id been feeling that basketball season. For a little while early that summer, Bostons bums and depressed slackers could share the only liquor either of them could afford, in hopes that the Celtics would not only briefly vindicate their lifestyles, but prove them superior to those of their sunnier, even more delusional Los Angeles counterparts.
I cant remember if I asked for the night of game 6 of the 2008 NBA finals off, or if Id been cut, or if I didnt have to work to begin with, but I remember watching the game at my apartment by myself, seeing Boston Beat LA, and feeling psyched to the point of staying up to watch the local news coverage of the destruction that erupts in the wake of every major Boston sports victory.
One of the first things I saw was a shirtless man hurl a brick through the ground floor window of my call centers office building and immediately get tackled by a group of police officers. Alone in my living room on Alcott Street, I silently raised my hands above my head, savored a rare moment of total victory, shut the television off, and went to sleep.
The Celtics were recently bounced from this years playoffs by a pretty terrible Knicks team, and Kevin Garnett was forced to spend what were probably the final days of his incredible career trying as hard as he could to fake confidence in Jason Terry. By all appearances, we are entering another Celtics championship draught.
Conversely, I now own things like a cat and an Xbox. I can sometimes afford to drink liquor that comes in glass bottles. Ive been off Henry Miller for a couple of years now. Its possible that this is my 2008, and that soon my proverbial front office will trade my proverbial Kendrick Perkins, setting off a chain reaction of proverbial injuries and proverbial execrable front office moves that will make me a proverbial perennial 6 seed. Its impossible to tell.
The phrase that comes to mind is one I learned at the call center from a guy named Tight Pants Pat; he used it to describe going into thousands of dollars in debt to take a trip to England. He used it to describe the time he was making out with his main squeeze on the couch at a party and he literally ripped her pants off. He used it to describe being fired from the call center. It describes everything, but that somehow doesnt cheapen its power. The drunken, blurry zen that it embodies is something I took away from those days of Celtics success and call center misery and will hopefully carry for the rest of my life. So, to all call center workers and Boston Celtics past and present and future, I say: “Hey. Fuckin sunrise, sunset.”
Not long after moving to New York, I found myself at a tiny bar around the corner from my apartment with my friend Chris. I hadnt seen Chris since wed graduated from college about two years earlier, after which he had immediately moved to New Mexico and, to everyones bewilderment, stayed there. Chris was in New York for a couple of nights on business, and courteously trekked out to my and our friend Bills neighborhood to grab a few drinks. I think both Bill and I both expected Chris to be blown away by New York, but he, eternally laid-back and newly fond of the Southwests arid spaciousness, seemed unimpressed. With the three of us still pretty sober, it killed the beginning of our conversation.
In an effort to fill the void, Bill brought up the shirt he was carrying.
Bills girlfriend had just come back from a trip to California, and he had shown up at the bar clutching an In-N-Out Burger t-shirt, still wrapped in cellophane, that she had brought back for him. As Bill waved the shirt around the cramped bar, talking about “animal style” and all the other In-N-Out arcana everyone whos ever been to LA keeps assuming nobody else knows, it quickly became clear that the shirt was extremely important to him. Bill was born and raised in New Jersey, but his excitement about owning a shirt advertising something you cant get in New York was equal parts charming and completely alien to me.
I am from Connecticut. Unless you count “Yankee Doodle,” there are no cool songs written about Connecticut. The Whalers, like so many of us, have enjoyed moderate success as a direct result of leaving Connecticut. The closest thing we have to a local chain is Dunkin Donuts, and while theres nothing wrong with their coffee, only creeps eat there on a regular basis. Regional pride, especially when viewed through the lens of exclusive fast food restaurants, is not something I was brought up with. I did my best to assume Bill was just giddy about getting a present from a girl he liked.
Mercifully, Chris turned his attention towards me and changed the subject by point-blank criticizing my life and the choices Id made.
“Ive got half a house to myself,” he said, “And I bet I pay half what you pay. Why bother? Whats so great about New York?”
A few years down the road, Im now familiar with the way everyone who lives in New York deals with a variation of Chris question every time they talk to someone who doesnt live in New York. But I was new in town. I was kind of drunk. Even when hes not hitting a sore spot, Chris holds a rhetorical power over me that once resulted in my eating a cigarette. I was dumbstruck. Within moments, Chris question took me to a conclusion Id been deliberately avoiding for months: I wasnt sure why Id moved or what I liked about New York.
The expression on my face was sufficient for Chris to ask if I wanted to do a shot and with him, then join him outside while he smoked a cigarette. I did. Bill followed suit.
In the year leading up to sitting outside the second worst bar in my neighborhood with Chris, Id destroyed a relationship. My band had run its course. Id been taken on tour. Id lost between two and five jobs, depending on your definition of a job. Moving to a nearby city where I had a couple of friends had been a natural reaction to that stimuli, like catching a frisbee that had been thrown to me. Rather than getting into it with Chris, I began distracting myself by spouting off the first thing that came to mind.
“Crazy stuff happens here all the time,” I said. “I cant really explain it, but this place cultivates an atmosphere where so many different things are packed into such a small area that almost nothing happens according to the rules of everyday life. Its tough to leave the house without seeing something youve never seen before, or without having your perception of the city change a little bit. Ive never been anywhere else like it.”
It was a sentiment so boozy and sappy that, somewhere, it caused Billy Joels face to light up. Just as I finished my alcohol-fueled garbage monologue, however, I realized that I mostly agreed with myself. New Yorks singular weirdness is a pretty wonderful thing.
As I began basking in the afterglow of what Id said, a guy with a ponytail walked the largest pitbull I have ever seen up to our circle. His owner looked like a respectable enough guy, and the gray and white dog had the friendly look on his face that crazy dogs dont normally bother putting on, but again: This was the largest pitbull I have ever seen, and we all reacted accordingly, taking a step back and keeping half an eye on the monster animal.
Bill, by contrast, is the smallest guy I know. Hes a skinny five-foot-three, and at the time of this story he had a stupid red moustache. The dog, who weighed as much as two and a half Bills, took a look at Bill holding onto his new t-shirt for dear life, and it instantly became clear to all of us—me, Chris, Bill, the dogs owner, and most of all the dog—what had to happen next.
The dog backed Bill against a brick wall as Bill attempted to protect the shirt by raising it over his head. Halfway through the motion, the dog jumped off the ground and grabbed the shirt in its jaws. Once it landed, the pitbull wrested the shirt from Bills hands, delicately used its paws and front teeth to remove the cellophane, and picked the bare shirt up in its mouth. We looked at the dog, Bill looked at the shirt, and the dog looked at Bill while putting that friendly-dog look back on its face. The battle was over and Bill had lost.
“Do any of you guys want a dog?” Asked the ponytailed guy, gesturing towards his pitbull, a dog so large it should count as two dogs. We declined.
“Cmon, Mike.” Said the dogs owner, and the pair trotted off into the night, the shirt still in Mike the pitbulls oversized mouth. Bill was silent for a minute, but eventually sulked his way back into the bar.
Chris took a drag off his cigarette and looked at me. I had just accidentally found something to appreciate about New York and vindicated one of the most impulsive and stupid decisions Ive ever made. A giant dog, a dog so cool he was named Mike, had just proven me right. I was, by this point, fully drunk. I probably looked like the biggest, happiest idiot on the face of the earth. I felt my first iota of the repulsive, elitist civic pride that New Yorkers are world famous for. For the first time in an entire year, I felt comfortable.
“We have dogs in New Mexico too, man.” said Chris.