Instant Karma Resolution Day 14 – Coffee Talk

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 #14, my best buddy Sean O’Brien.

I know what you’re thinking… this guy is supposed to be last. After all, he all but demanded it less he pull the plug on the sweet little shop he set up for me over at The Ed Zone. When he offered up his authorization to let me spill my guts on these pages with an anecdote ripped from the past, his one condition as my nearest and dearest pal was that he cap the project. That was an easy request to satisfy.  A no-brainer, actually, as this is the one guy who has traveled by my side through a grand adventure now deep in its third decade. Sure, there are others among my closest comrades who have been with me through generations but none have remained by my side – and as close – as Sean has. He was my Best Man in my wedding and a better man every day before and since.

But, there’s 216 people on my friends list and of those, about 34 handed me the keys to the kingdom to write something nice, one did not and the remainder probably have no idea who the hell I am. So, how can #14 be the end all, be all?

Simply put – I’m putting an end to the project but not to the writing.

When I started this project, it was designed to simply inscribe a few sentences in tribute to each of you. It’s grown in leaps and bounds since then, as each name I pulled acted as catalyst for enormous tales in dire need of an editor. That’s why I always say that I could never really, truly be a writer as I tend to write off the cuff – almost in a stream of consciousness kind of way. These tales sort of write themselves once I catch sight of the spark needed to get the juices flowing and a lot of times, I find it hard to stop. I’m not sure the masses would find my wares palatable but who cares about that. In the end, I write this stuff because I enjoy telling the tales and if that means I run rampant with the run-on sentences or apply alliteration all over the place – so be it. I just like letting this river flow and watch as it eventually pools into a vast ocean. And then diving deep and seeing what else I can find.

That being said, I’m not sure I have enough of these mammoth stories for each and every one of you although I do have plenty of stories to tell. Therefore, I’m calling an audible. I’m closing out the act of pulling a name and writing an anecdote but I’m not closing shop on the entire enterprise. In fact, I feel more refreshed and rejuvenated than I have in a long, long time. These daily pieces have kick-started the works and I’m now barreling forward so the project has taken a new direction. There are more anecdotes and stories on imminent arrival but they’ll be driven by whatever whim happens to float before me on any given day versus a name pulled from a hat.

And I have a fairly important and personal piece percolating right now that I’m going to run sometime in the next week or so – one that is several years in the making. I just now got the courage to write it so look for that soon.

But enough housekeeping for one day. Before I turn the page to a new chapter I want to see this one out properly.

And that’s where we return to my best bud Sean O’Brien. Knowing he would be last, I didn’t have to draw his name. I just had it etched at the bottom of the page waiting for my pencil to catch up. Therefore, I didn’t key in on a specific anecdote although in our travels we’ve caught so many strange and wonderful sights. That’s the beauty of best friendship – you apply so many unique tiles to each other’s mosaics that in the end – you end up with slight variations on a common theme. Your lives may be different but in the right light, they take on a kinship and startling similarities appear.

Where romantic partners tend to come together attracted to their differences in a journey to find completion in their lives; friends seek out common ground, looking for that special someone who shares most of the same interests. Your wife takes one for the team, soldiering through the latest action flick and knowing full well that you owe her a rom-com (and not just any rom-com but one starring Kate Hudson (shudddddderrrrrrrr). Your buddy is with you on opening night – at midnight – Han Solo to your Jar Jar as you suffer through the disappointment of weak-sauce Star Wars after so many decades awaiting a new chapter.

The older I get, the more I grasp the concept of tempus fugit.

Time flies, baby.

When I was a kid, the summer seemed so blissfully long (some might argue, achingly long, depending upon how frequently they uttered the expression “I’m boo-rrrr-eedddd! What am I going to do today?”) You exited school in late June and those still-warm days of early September seemed an eternity away. Forget the Gregorian grasp on your birth date – you never really aged until you tossed the whites in storage and graduated to your next level of schooling. That step always seemed like an eternity – even when you were stuffing your last S’more of the season down your pie hole mere moments before that initial blast of the bell and a brand new school year.

It was at the end of my 13th Summer that our orbits collided. This was the same year that Hurricane Gloria took advantage of prevailing wind currents and rocketed up the East Coast, taking aim at our quaint hamlet of Rockland, MA, nestled deep in the heart of the South Shore. Although we all lived about 25 minutes away from the ocean, nobody ever truly feared the onset of a hurricane. We were too far North and those things tended to like chipping away South of the Mason-Dixon line; Nature’s Master Plan to insure the survival of the fittest – or at least, those that didn’t call a Doublewide a palatial estate.

So, when the news broke that our region was targeted for renewal, my entire 8th Grade Class buzzed with excitement. Fear wasn’t a factor despite our science teacher’s best efforts to instill a sense of awe before nature in each of us. He spun Amazing Stories about the great hurricane of 1938 where he apparently witnessed buildings topple, the seas rise and the moon turn to cheese. This is the ancient educator who had boxed his brains a bit as an amateur pugilist for a decade plus. Apparently when the State Boxing Commission determined that he had suffered one concussion too many and lacked the know-how to properly stay in the ring; they set him loose on our curriculum to batter fresh, young minds. His symposiums on paleontology were legendary – even attracting the attention of such luminaries as former Red Sox slugger, Carl Everett.

It was the day before the big storm was due to arrive that I got the call I had been waiting weeks for. The Patriot Ledger had looked long and hard at my qualifications and determined that because I could ride a bike and chew gum at the same time, I was exactly the caliber of paperboy they were looking for. They gave me the location for the drop and told me to start the next day – 1:00 p.m. sharp – the very moment Hurricane Gloria was due to make land fall.

A 13-year old boy is stupid and fearless. Of course I was going to go out in the midst of the maelstrom and pepper my neighborhood and the one mile swatch of side streets that extended beyond my immediate vicinity. My mother, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to turn over her beloved boy to Nature’s Fury. She still had that binding contract with the mortgage company to think about. If I didn’t return, where was she gonna’ find another first born male child to list as collateral. So, she had me wait it out until the Eye of the Storm descended over the region.

As soon as the calm settled in, I headed out to grab my papers at the predetermined drop. And lo and behold, I found I wasn’t the only idiot defying Armageddon. This tall, gangly walking pipe cleaner of a boy – with his jet dark hair looped in a Superman curly-cue, was also picking up his papers, alongside his buddy (and my classmate) Tom MacDonald. I knew Tom so I chatted him up and exchanged a few pleasantries with his pal, Sean. And then we were off to beat the Devil before it returned and whomped a willow tree upside my head.

That wasn’t the exact beginning of our friendship but it did mark the initial meet and greet. Over at my site, there’s a post titled “The Adventures of Gutt & Pole” that will give you the full, slightly exaggerated version of events. Like with many of these pieces, I tend to season them with hyperbole for entertainment value but the core always holds. They’re mostly true – certainly the important parts. I just like to color outside the lines a little. Anyway, if you haven’t read that piece and are interested, do a little search of the archives and you’ll find a pretty good tale of camaraderie forged in battle.

Suffice it to say, Sean and I eventually became good friends in high school and that good friendship continued to grow as the years went on. Despite the fact that he was a year ahead of me and headed out of state to college (usually the death knell for most relationships), we still kept in contact and hung out as much as possible whenever our paths pointed back home during breaks.

Post college, we ended up locating an amazing apartment in Mansfield, MA. Here too is another tale you can find on my site, which details the first few years Sean and I lived with our buddy Joe in that awesome townhouse. If you decide to hunt down that piece, “Along Came A Ryder” in the Search box will bring it forth.

It’s the year between college grad and our first apartment that I wanted to key in on for this reminiscence. Again, we have a billion tales to tell and countless laughs beyond that. If I can fill a page recounting the lead-up to a minor hurricane, than I could ink a library with our adventures. But, as I mentioned in my piece about Brian MacDonald yesterday, these things tend to write themselves as soon as I start digging. It’s like hitting oil. A slight ooze signifies an impending geyser.

Of all the memories I hold most dear in my awesome friendship with Sean, it is something so mundane it’s likely to send you running for the exits. There’s no encounter with Rest Stop Mafioso or Afterschool Car Jacking or Broadway Beatdowns which I can make sparkle a little more with a slight application of exaggeration. I’ve got those tales but not for this post.

Not for today at least.

Of all the memories that loom large in my life, one of the tallest is also the smallest. Our midnight coffee talks at Dunkin Donuts.

When I exited college in the early Summer of 1994, I was completely adrift. I absolutely loved every second of my stay at UMASS Amherst – a large city that shrunk to exactly the size I needed. I remember consulting incoming freshman and their parents who wilted at the sheer size of real estate stretching out before them and I always said the same thing – “It will become whatever you need it to be.” If you want a small school, UMASS Amherst can fold in on itself and become that intimate setting. And if you want to party hardy and return to the roost before the first daisies pop on your second semester, it will do that too. Sure it can swallow you whole if left unguarded but it’s easily tamed and incredibly nurturing for those who want that.

And that’s exactly what I wanted. It was an amazing experience at an awesome institution and that four year stint made me the man I am today. Seriously – there are an assortment of friends on my Facebook page who knew me from the High School Days. Then there are those I met in college, and beyond. Get the two parties in a room to discuss Ed Humphries and they may draft completely differing profiles.

I entered the school a shy, awkward, quiet kid and I exited something different. Someone not afraid to make himself heard. At heart, I still carry the same insecurities I’ve had my entire life… but I no longer let them define me. That’s the greatest education I could have ever received.

So, when I was told to pack my stuff and get the hell out simply because I hadn’t followed some of my peers lead and changed majors 15 times, thereby prolonging my stay, I found myself in the real world feeling not unlike that old codger in Shawshank. I was institutionalized and not ready for the real world. I wanted to go back.

Sean had been studying hard in Wichita, KS where he was aiming to make his mark in the world of aerospace engineering. Specifically, he wanted to design military jets. As we were a decade out from any major conflict (with the first Gulf War over before it began) the military was tightening its belt and shrinking any hopes of a decent job market when he graduated. So, he decided to return home, take a little sabbatical to cobble together Plan B, and then get busy making that happen.

Our crossroads met at the busiest Dunkin Donuts in the land or so Boston.com would claim a few years ago. This particular hot spot is located off Route 18 in South Weymouth, MA – just a stone’s throw from Rt. 3 and hence, Rt 93 and 128. It is always busy although miraculously you never have to wait long to feed your java jones.

At the time, I was living in South Weymouth at an apartment complex off of Rt. 18, within stumbling distance of the shuttered Naval Air Base and Sean was residing back in Rockland at his Mom’s place.

One evening, one of us had something on our mind that we needed another ear to hear, so we did what you do when you need to give voice to that which vexes you the most. We called the other up and said “Coffee?” I forget who needed confiding in who first, but that’s just how it happened. I do remember the time, though. 11:00 p.m.-ish on a random weekday night with both of us staring down work the next day.

Despite that nagging concern, we ordered up two Large Regulars (while secretly pining for the day when The Great One would grace us with its presence). And then we hunkered down and just started chatting away. And the conversation would cross time zones as night turned to morning and we hit that nexus where the calendar advances a step.

When a conversation turns the corner to the next day and keeps on running much further than rational thought world normally have it go, you know you’re on to something. It’s those late night chats you have with your closest confidantes that rejuvenate us. The talks that ebb and flow and wander and meander and get back on point and get lost in the woods again before finally finding their way to the real reason you set down to talk in the first place. The intoxicating blend of conversation that finds you so far astray from the Point B you set out steaming towards when you left Point A oh so many hours ago and you hope against hope that someone etched a map so you can find your way back home again. Those are the types of conversations that clear your conscience and steel your reserve to go forth with whatever crazy plan or madcap scheme or leap of faith you needed that extra bit of support for in the first place. They are the conversations where you look to your buddy for courage in dialing up that fine filly you’ve set your eyes upon or taking the leap and buying that bright shiny ring for the wonderful woman you’ve chosen to secure your heart for life eternal.

That’s a Midnight Chat.

And we called upon each other for many over that spell between my college grad and a year later when the world seemed to settle a tiny bit.

We hung out all the time during that year, no different than the years before or since where we would hang and play NHL ’94 on the Sega Genesis or catch the latest flick or make a road trip to Amherst for Antonio’s amazing Chicken Bacon Pizza and some tasty cervezas at the local watering holes.

Those are the things that best friends do.

But those midnight chats where we each helped the other out of a jam as we tried to figure out exactly what the hell we were gonna’ do now?

That’s the thing brothers do.

If there’s one through-line coursing through these reminiscence it’s that I am all too cognizant these days of how swiftly time flies. These days, despite my current professional challenge, I am living the high life.

I am married to an awesome woman; a brilliant and beautiful wife whom I have pledged my life to. Together we brought forth new life – twice over – and each time found new ways to make a great life even better. We have a nice house in a great stretch of land and through our combined histories have woven an amazing tapestry full of precious friends and family.

So, I don’t bemoan the loss of old times. But I do appreciate the steps I’ve taken to get to this lofty perch.

And that’s why, when I look back upon this life lived so far, I think I see things with clearer eyes than I ever could have at the time and I appreciate everything that came my way – be it fortune or challenge. It’s been a good run so far. It’s gonna’ get better.

But I am only human. And I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that when I survey my real estate and I spy the foundations and monuments that signify the important locations that dot the map, there are those that I would love to revisit. Or to put it a different way, there are those that I hope I never lose sight of.

I miss those midnight coffee chats with Sean and I guess in a way, I sort of miss that awkward idiot I was once upon a time. I seemed simpler somehow… and yet, there’s a pride I have in what I’ve accomplished to date that propels me forward. I wouldn’t trade anything for that.

But, I think that in this life, which unfortunately can be cruel and fleeting and over before we know it, we have the ability to grab the reigns and guide it under our own power by taking a moment or two to voice those innermost feelings. There’s beauty in just baring your soul and I think in some small measure, when we take a moment to tell people what they’ve meant to us, we ultimately reap riches beyond our dreams.

The cliché goes – “you’re the brother I never had.” Well, that’s not quite right.

Sean is the brother I’ve always had.