Biff America column: Old friends, both living and not
Keeping with a long-standing tradition, on April Fools’ Day, I talk on the phone with my oldest pals, Keith and Clete — Keith on the West Coast, Clete on the East.
Keith and I will talk about our lives, his daughter, books we are reading and perhaps about music. There will be some mention of sports, nutrition or something funny either of us has seen online.
Clete will tell me of his latest business schemes, plans for the summer and how his daughter (my goddaughter) is doing in college. More than likely, each conversation will have some reference to my two friends’ spendthrift ways compared to my frugality. We will discuss our health and the health of our friends and family. Keith will inquire of the lives of some of our mutual Colorado friends, while Clete will answer my queries about our East Coast buddies.
But before we hang up, one of us will say, “Happy birthday, Rudy.”
Rudy Giamarco was killed in a car crash the autumn following our high school graduation. Keith had already headed off to college, while Clete and I were hanging around our hometown trying to figure out where our lives were heading. In the years since Rudy’s passing, each of us have lost countless friends and family, but rarely has a Feast of Fools gone by without one of us reminding the others this was the day of our late friend’s birthday.
The fall of 1972 for me was one of both fear and possibilities. Neither Clete nor I were college material; Keith was, but he didn’t want to be. I can’t speak for my two friends, but I was scared. Scared I was going to linger in my hometown living the life of an ex-jock who never left. Frightened that I would marry young and regret it. And frustrated that while many of my friends were heading toward college, trades or careers, all I was good at was having fun. No legal occupation interested me, and the only jobs I was qualified for were poor paying and mind numbing.
None of the three of us could claim to be Rudy’s best friend, but I think it would be safe to say we all loved him in our own way. He was an easy guy to love.
Good Die Young
Now, all that said, I think, as often is the case, how you react and how you remember an event, sensation, both good and bad, is where you were in your life when that event occurred. For most of us, our teens were an era of hope, discovery, optimism and despair. We were self-assured about everything but ourselves, with every experience being both new and profound … even those that weren’t.
Certainly, time has lent a diluted perspective of much that had occurred over my years on the “up side of the dirt.” But the death of Rudy, to this day, remains both sad and poignant. Again, perhaps it is because at that time there was that constant scratching of the emotional scabs of late teens. Or maybe it was because Rudy’s passing herald in the uncertainty of adulthood.
Though careers, addresses and (at least for Clete and Keith) wives have changed over time, our friendship has endured for more than a half-century.
But one change is that now, when we speak there is often a reference to aging. Part and parcel of middle age are the realities of living in a body that has seen wear, tear, injuries and Grateful Dead shows — all of which takes a toll. Now there is far too often a mention of friends who are doing poorly or who have passed away. We, of course, mourn them, but there is also an element of acceptance for the inevitability of life. That predetermined recognition had yet to be learned in our young lives when our friend was torn from us; rather, there was only grief and incredulity.
In my mind’s eye Rudy Giamarco is frozen as the strapping young man of 18 with a barrel chest and gentle smile — whereas the rest of us have ripened, matured and gotten philosophical. Certainly, I feel blessed and thankful for the ensuing years. But for all of us, the most we can hope for is to be a tender memory of those left behind. By that definition, a man we loved never died.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book, “Mind, Body, Soul,” is available at local shops and bookstores or shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.