Here’s how my 2010 Instant Karma Resolution works. Each day, I will randomly draw a name from my Friends List and make that person the subject of a status update where I will cull from memory some funny or interesting anecdote about the person. I’ll do this once a day until I work my way through the entire list. When you’ve been selected, I will also post this note to your wall and tag 5 of our mutual acquaintances in the hopes it will spur some nostalgic commentary.
Today I drew #5 – my friend Jim O’Connor.
Last summer, Jim did an awe-inspiring thing. He biked the entire 192 miles spanning my neighboring town of Sturbridge, MA to the tippy-top of the Cape (Provincetown) in the two-day annual charity ride, the Pan Mass Challenge which is organized to raise money to aid the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Center in their tireless quest to eradicate this vile pox that preys all too often upon this world.
192 miles in 2 Days. An amazing accomplishment for the hardiest of athletes; a Herculean task for the common man. And Jim aced it. While he trained long and hard starting in the bitter chill of last Winter, there’s nothing that can prepare you for the real deal. Sure, you’re pumped full of bravado and moxie the moment you hop on that bike in Sturbridge and catch sight of your newlywed wife wishing you well on your fantastic voyage but the second you start pedaling, it’s an arduous affair. While my own personal athletic accomplishment (the triathlon) pales in comparison to Jim’s fight, I can imagine that we were propelled by a common driving force. The fact that with every breath we took, we were pushing our bodies to insure that the millions of people suffering from these infernal ailments would continue to draw their own air through a long, healthy life.
So, here I tip my cap to Jim who I know as I write this is mentally preparing himself to say goodbye to the holiday siesta and beat his body back into fighting shape for the next major milestone when he boards that bike and does what he does best – push himself forth for the greater good later this Summer. Godspeed!
I mention all of this because it’s important to see how far Jim has come. See, he wasn’t always this kind-hearted humanitarian and though we need to take a long trip back to his humble high school beginnings to find those skeletons that haunt, make no mistake – Jim could have followed a more treacherous path towards the dark side.
See, Jim and I share some common ground. We were co-conspirators in a Grand Theft Auto ring on an almost daily basis way back in the day when you couldn’t just boost cars from the comfort of your living room via the XBox. In our day, you hit the streets, found your mark, popped the lock and hit the open road with the specter of the 5-0 always haunting your brain pan. You never knew if that next street concealed a zealous Johnnie Law looking to make the big bust and prove to those academy guys that he had what it took to make Master Sergeant or if that siren was just the wail of the Ice Cream Man’s bell letting you know that Bomb Pops were the only weapons you’d stare down that day.
Jim and I were fortunate to spend the final year of High School in beautiful, scenic Rockland-by-the-Sea with one of those cosmic twists of the schedule that found us sharing a seventh period study at the ass end of the day. A Senior with only a dead period standing between them and the final release bell could chart their own course and hit the open road 45 minutes before the other suckers. While Jim and I were technically free to just waltz out the door after 6th period and head for home, there was always something happening after school that kept us tethered to the campus until our less fortunate cronies scored their work release.
But, that didn’t mean we were gonna’ crash the study hall and actually hit the books. Hell, that homework could wait for the 5 minute trek between classes the very next day. We were Seniors and already had our courses charted (he to the military and me to UMASS) so nothing short of corporate espionage was going to derail our plans.
That meant Jim and I were free to while away that precious 3/4 hour in whatever way we pleased and our plan always involved grabbing a car and just going for a joyride. Now, I’m stealing a bit of poetic license to boost our own myth a little bit, as the cars we scored always belonged to our nearest and dearest and often times, they knew we were borrowing them to spin around the town. But, I can’t deny that there were times when we conveniently forgot to ask for permission before jimmying our friends’ lockers and getting all kleptomaniacal on their keychains.
Our favorite mark was this girl – our friend – the dear sweet Greenie. I’ll keep her true full and real name out of these pages to protect the innocent. Anyway, Greenie was the nicest girl you could ever have the great fortune of knowing – let alone calling your friend – and while she could be as girly as the next chica she drove this mammoth monster truck of a vehicle. In a town where roughly 5% of the graduating class had access to their own vehicles, Greenie’s ride looked like it had burst forth from the Nuclear Wastelands outside Newark. With Greenie standing at average height, I think she had to park an economy-sized car in the driver seat just so she could see over the steering wheel.
As none of us were standing under the gaze of those Friday Night Lights in Odessa, TX – the operation of this monstrosity always remained somewhat of a mystery. The streets of Rockland, MA were barely wide enough to contain this vehicle – let alone our combined ego – but that didn’t stop Jim and I from taking turns in captaining the Good Ship Thunderdome through the thoroughfare, slowly but surely ripping each avenue a new one.
And the vehicle’s girth came back to bite us one day when Jim and I mistimed our return trip. See, normally we would try to get back before the squad of buses came a callin’ to pick up the youngins’ from the neighboring Junior High but on this fateful day, our calculations were off by a few minutes. So when we rounded the corner and saw the legion of lemon yellow carriers lined up, shaving off 2/3rds of the available roadway, we knew we were in trouble. Normally, we could just sit and wait it out but this was one of those days where we failed to procure the necessary permission slip from Greenie so if we were to keep our racket undercover we needed to get the monstrosity into the parking lot and her keys in the locker pronto.
So, it was the race against time. Jim and I both eyeballed the road ahead. On one side, a fleet of buses. On the other side, a squadron of Soccer Mom mobiles. Eye of the needle – we were gonna’ thread this baby and launch those proton torpedoes straight on through to the other side. We hit the gas and made our approach.
Like the Titanic, we were going in slo-mo as the sides began to close in on us. There were mere inches on either side and the slightest shudder would capsize the entire enterprise – sending me to a watery grave as Jim sat safely in the passenger seat. At least his heart would go on.
But like Luke did one fateful night in a galaxy far, far away – I trusted my instincts and kept her steady — the world’s most kickass videogame suddenly made real. As I emerged from the canary colored canyon, I breathed a sigh of relief and in that one moment of weakness, I heard a slight scraping that could only mean one thing.
We HAD hit something!!!
I issued orders to Jim to check our starboard as I looked after the aft. Neither of us could find anything. Then we realized which vehicle we were piloting. It was Greenie’s truck meaning we were now roughly 15,000 feet above sea level. Just looking out the windows wasn’t enough to ascertain the source of that phantom sound. We had to look down.
And there, slightly below Jim’s gaze, was a newly minted yuppie in his freshly waxed Beemer looking instantly pissed. Apparently in our jubilation we had missed his Matchbox and had slid Greenie’s truck alongside his side mirror, applying a small scrape to the truck and almost ripping the mirror free from his vehicle. At the moment his eyes caught ours, his daughter came bounding from the school. She stopped dead in her tracks – surveying the battle royale that threatened to erupt between her Dear Daddy and these two young punks who dared cross over to the right side of the tracks. Before either side could say a word, she broke the silence.
“You wrecked my Dad’s car, you psychos.”
Should we stay or should we go. If we stayed there could be trouble. But if we went, there could be double.
Jim and I talked it over. “We’re still two decades away from the whiz-bang future when every Junior High jerk carries an iPhone and instant access to YouTube. They’ll never catch us.” Jim’s description of this fascinating World of Tomorrow frightened and confused me but he had a point. If we shot out of there, we could high tail it to the parking lot, sprint to Greenie’s locker, deposit the keys and then do our best to pretend that we’d never met – let alone illicitly borrowed her car.
And despite the fact that her truck stood taller than every vehicle in that parking lot – and the fact that the high school lot was approximately 10 yards away from where we now stood – the dude never gave chase. My guess, he simply catalogued us and should he ever need to call in a favor, he’d have his goons contact ours, knowing we now owed him a life debt.
You’d think our little dance with the dark side would have dashed any future follies and my guess is we did try to follow the straight and narrow for a little while but a few months later that monkey hopped on my back once again as I felt the jones to jack something.
This time we took aim at our buddy Jay’s car and finally found our road to ruin. Where Greenie may have looked the other way at our transgressions, Jay wasn’t about to let this insolence stand.
On the day that we decided to take Jay’s car out for a joyride, the snow was falling hard. All of the cars in the High School parking lot were blanketed in a pristine coating of white. No doubt Jay would know if his car had gone on a little sabbatical if he exited the school and found it stripped bare.
And despite the fact that at the young age of 17, a guy’s mental synapses don’t snap to attention as quickly as other areas, Jim and I foresaw this conclusion so we cobbled together a plan. We’d still take Jay’s car for a spin but when we returned to the school, we’d scoop up barrels of the white stuff and recoat the car. No harm, no foul and Jay would be none the wiser.
…and we would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for that meddling chemistry. Apparently, engines run hot and any snow packed on a steaming hood eventually returns to its primal form. Two decades before CSI Somerville would hit the air, Jay pulled his best Caruso and deduced that the snow covered car with the bare hood and the tire tracks leading to and from a completely different parking spot had been nabbed at some point in the last few hours.
And before Roger Daltry could wail away over another chilly Rockland day, we were busted!!!
…unless we could somehow pin it all on Andrade?!?!?