Today I drew #12, my old friend Brian MacDonald.
Yesterday, I waxed philosophically about the glory of Facebook, and social networking in general, and its profound impact on our lives – its ability to reconnect the dots across time and space and draw former friends back into a divine constellation.
My reunion with my high school buddy Brian MacDonald is proof positive of this power. Sure, over the last year I have reconnected with a vast menagerie of friends, neighbors and cellmates but there are those among the masses that loom large. Those familiar faces we’ve all found ourselves recollecting at random Scenic Points along this road of life – as we gazed into the distance and wondered what they were up to now. Brian’s one of those guys and you’ll learn later on in this tale, our ships once sailed within inches of each other yet neither was fully aware that the other was steaming by until it was a moment too late. I’ll save that for the end.
First, we’ve got to get to the good stuff – the musty anecdote plucked from my cobwebbed cranium.
Brian and I were both born in 1972 and found residence in Rockland, MA – he seemingly from birth and me arriving just prior to the start of First Grade. As we spent the lion’s share of our public education traveling in similar sewing circles, we obviously knew of each other fairly well, but we didn’t really connect as good friends until we both began toiling away at the local news stand – Peterson’s Card & Gift. While primarily a Hallmark store, Peterson’s offered a fairly robust assortment of periodicals and tobacco, meaning we attracted the well-read and the deviant masses in equal measure. Hey, when your clientele consists of the Chief of Police and “Budweiser” Bob, you know your hitting all demographics.
I started working for Petersons at the end of my Junior Year and Brian came aboard shortly after. It was a pretty sweet gig for a guy getting ready to shove off from this port and set sail for the sandy shores of state-funded higher education.
Essentially, we were simply called upon to just mind the store – often in tandem. That meant running the register, restocking cards and magazines and helping yourself to as many snacks as you could stomach. When the store owner Pete decided to bring the lottery to our little niche of town, we would while away the hours spending a good share of our hard-earned scratch on those enticing little cards that might just hold the golden ticket out of this sleepy little South Shore town. Alas, fame and fortune would have to wait and it was this work time folly that saw us escorting some fine chicas to a very cheap date on too many occasions. Taco Bell for two.
Our boss Pete was a great guy. While he was often in the store when we were working, most times he would handle the office work out back while Brian and I took positions in the front. He trusted us to be the face of the organization. We were almost always on counter duty meaning we got to observe the comings and goings of Main Street and in general, really got to know the community. Hell, even the sleeper cell terrorist that opened a sham sandwich shop across the street as his front took a shine to us – thereby granting us lifetime infidel indemnity and all the virgins we could handle when we finally shuffled off this mortal coil.
That said, Brian and I were 17 years old meaning both were just a few years vaulted from the conclusion of puberty. That meant that we thought we were indestructible – that the world was our oyster and we were gonna’ nosh on it – my aversion to shellfish be damned. If only we knew that with great power comes great responsibility but dammit, that Spiderman flick was still two decades away. All we had was Tim Burton’s Batman to guide us and Prince’s Batdance never aided anybody.
So, we took advantage of our unique position with a pretty sweet job and slowly but surely assassinated all of the good tidings Pete had sent our way. Within a matter of months, Pete’s trusted lieutenants would be on the downward slide, as his son and successor to the throne would bide his time and bite his lip from doing anything rash that might send him straight to the clink. Didn’t stop him from slamming me into a wall, however.
Now, we didn’t do anything illegal mind you. We weren’t grabbing from the till or dealing arms out the back door (although we did take advantage of the various adult-themed entertainments that inadvertently were shipped to our store on a monthly basis to take stock of other body parts.) Or at least, I may have.
No, what we’re guilty of is just dumb, juvenile hubris. We had a really good thing going there and my guess is that if either one of us simply worked there solo, we’d probably be majority share owners by now. The fact that we worked as a team, and were buddies on the side, would be our downfall. Hell, this is the same job that kick-started my lifelong addiction to caffeine. All it takes is one Saturday morning where you are charged with opening the store at 5:30 a.m. (after going to bed about two hours prior), for a person to either stop at Dunkin daily or go straight to mainlining macchiato.
We just took advantage of our station in life.
For instance, there was one lazy Sunday where Brian and I were working the morning shift, making sure the Sunday editions were ready to go. As I was packing the papers, I happened upon an ad for Child World which featured the newly released Super Mario Bros. 3 on the front page. Like a kid in some kind of store, I had to have that sweet treat… and NOW!!! But, I was working until 6 p.m. and due to the Blue Laws, all stores were supposed to shutter at exactly the moment I got off. “Damn you Priscilla Alden!!!”, I shouted to the heavens.
So, Brian offered to do me a solid. He’d skedaddle right that minute and shoot over to neighboring Hanover to score me a copy. As Pete wasn’t due to arrive for a few hours, Brian could be back in an hour or two, and nobody would be the wiser. The upside to him – he was getting paid to score my latest fix.
Not more than two minutes after Brian left, Pete comes pulling in the parking lot. Great!!! How am I gonna’ spin this? This was 1989 – cell phones were the size of a Best Buy and if you somehow managed to score yourself one, you had to carry along your own transmitter tower. There was no way to abort the mission. So, I simply kept spinning an elaborate series of lies as to Brian’s whereabouts whenever Pete asked. What began as a simple recon mission to the store next door to procure us some Snapple ended with Brian infiltrating Hammid’s Meat Market to negotiate an arms deal and get me a gyro… all for the good of our country.
When Brian finally returned – TWO HOURS LATER – and I mouthed “REMEMBER… YOU’VE BEEN IN A GULAG!!!”, Pete never said a word nor did he fire either one of us. My guess – he was hoping to secure a top spot on Hammid’s Friends of Fallujah list. Either that or siphon off our sloppy seconds.
So that merely emboldened us further.
There was another time when Brian had worked earlier in the day and he and I passed while punching in and out respectively, exchanging greetings of high-fives while secretly pining for the day when some mad genius would invent the fist bump. Brian left for the day and I took my position next to Kristen – the girl that Pete apparently hired to paint her nails and take the occasional conjugal meeting with her ex-con paramour.
After a half-hour or so, Pete approached the front desk with a piece of paper in hand which he slid over to me. I grabbed the parchment and my eyes scanned Brian’s scribble.
There has been a death in my family. I will need to take the following days off for the wake and funeral. August 14, 15 and 16.
I did a double take and then pointed my peepers at the wall calendar. Today was August 5th – almost two weeks ahead of the event!!!
“Do you think Brian knows something that this poor guy doesn’t?”, Pete asked.
I didn’t know anything about that but I was pretty sure that Pete and I were now complicit in whatever nefarious act Brian and Hammid were plotting. So that was that, I needed this guy out of my life and pronto.
Of course, I’m going a little bit overboard. I am fairly certain that Brian never capped anyone or brought down a small country. He simply hadn’t thought up an airtight alibi for whatever pleasure cruise he was planning with his main squeeze at the time.
Oh well, the seeds were sewn. Pete would never outright fire us but I was pretty sure that when we went off to college, we wouldn’t likely find our position waiting for us when we returned. Which, I guess was OK. After all, we were paid decently but there were other jobs and this one had already rewarded us in ways that Pete couldn’t ever fully compensate. It had made us pretty good friends. Even if that path did send us off chasing some fairly atrocious movie selections. Seriously… Wes Craven’s Shocker?!?!?
And then life interrupts as it is so often apt to do. The Summer of 1990 ended. College came and both Brian and I were headed West to UMASS Amherst where we would join a fairly large contingent of grads from our high school. While we knew we would make new alliances on this next stage of life, there was a genuine comfort knowing that those scary first days would hold some semblance of security as we practically had the various personalities that dominated our lunch table for four solid years enrolled in the exact same university and bunking within the same residential area. Safety in numbers.
But this is where things get hazy as they so often do when you bid a fond adieu without ever really knowing it. Brian and I cohabitated across a tiny quad from each other – a stone’s throw away on a campus that can easily swallow those that are ill-prepared for trading a small town for the big city. None of us knew what geocaching was at that time but it didn’t take a rocket science major to keep track of seven modest sized dorms that made up the Northeast Residential Area but somehow as those first few days fell away to Fall and then finals rushed upon us before delivering us home for the holiday and right back there again for another semester of higher learning, we lost sight of each other.
The next thing I knew, it was 1994 and I was standing in that quad at 2:20 a.m. in late May, playing my final game of whiffle ball with Justin and Joe – two amigos who ride with me to this very day – and I glanced across the way to Brian’s old dormitory and it hit me.
“Where the hell did Brian go?”
And that saddened me. How the hell did I lose sight of a good friend and more importantly how did that much time elapse before I asked myself that question? And seriously – where was he?
I finished the night debating whether I should streak the quad one last time for old times’ sake and then quickly put the kibosh on that scheme as the last thing I needed Joe and Justin running around with was a mental snapshot of my shortcomings for life eternal. And then I headed back to my room to try to catch a little shut eye – a futile cause given the old college try. And while I lay there waiting for The End to arrive and dump me back into civilized society, I turned the mystery over and over in my mind. And again, I found nothing. I had no idea where he went.
Time flies too fast. More than a decade demolished in the blink of an eye. I finally take the bait and set up shop on Facebook; each day a new delight as I play P.I. and track down lost friends, neighbors and countrymen. And finally my radar fixes on Brian. As is usually the case in these parts, we each send each other a novel bringing us up to speed on our respective decades and then get on with living and laughing – using the Facebook walls as a way to break the stress of the day through snarky asides and witty comebacks.
For some reason, one day I let slip that before Andi and I hitched our ride to the Western frontier of Dudley, we had lived on Ettrick Street in Brockton.
“That WAS you!!!”, Brian responds.
It turns out that for at least 2 full years in the early 00’s, Brian and his wife lived two streets over from Andi and I. Brockton sometimes gets a bad knock but we had all certainly found a quaint little slice of paradise – a great network of neighborhoods sporting sidewalks, plenty of trees and a notable lack of automatic weapons fire. It really felt like a nice place to raise a family and the only reason we headed West was that we were looking for a larger home and more land and you needed to get beyond the 495 belt to afford that under my salary.
Apparently one day, as Andi and I were bringing our newborn son Colin for a little stroll through the neighborhood, soaking in the Spring splendor, I crossed Brian’s gaze as he stood on his porch. Frozen.
It was one of those moments where you’re absolutely sure that is the person you think it is, but the tentative part of your brain that prevents you from yelling out in public grabs the brakes. In the time Brian debated whether to say anything, Andi and I had faded away.
Until that fateful night when Brian tapped a few keys and I returned with my volley – “Yup, that was me” and the rest was history. I kidded him about it then saying that he had robbed me of a drinking buddy within stumbling distance but nothing short of a time-traveling Delorian was gonna’ take back that day.
But what could have been, right?
Anyway, I think it’s high time I close the door on this piece. Like a lot of these, I’ve lingered a little longer than I anticipated. In fact, when I first set out to write a post each day, I was simply thinking of jotting down a few lines for each person. But some of these drill deep and mine riches… and I’m all for sharing the wealth.
Which is where I find my frame of mind a lot these days. I’m still on the hunt, seeking out a new job after having been laid off from my VP position at a financial services company last summer. I have some time but it’s far from infinite and this really is a make or break year. It does feel like the walls are closing ever so slightly, especially now that we’ve crested the decade.
So, I tend to take stock of my wealth less in terms of shiny jewels and bright baubles but by the friends and family I keep. Getting to know a guy like Brian all over again just adds fuel to my fire that so long as we have friends in this life, we shall remain wealthier beyond all means.
Gone is never forgotten.