This Post was originally published on July 30th, 2014
I suppose that it is a good thing that most of my current friends were the ones that I made during the first 2 years of college. I have certainly met new people and formed new friendships, but through it all the core of people who I surround myself with hasn’t changed much in the past 10 or 11 years. One of the biggest pitfalls is trying to explain our shared experiences to people who weren’t there. These inside jokes take on a whole life of their own and sometimes you need to pull back the curtain and give some insights on probably the most drawn out inside story that I have ever been a part of, The Great Bologna Disaster of 2006.
I often refer to the summer of 2006 as the strangest point in my life. I had been thrown out of ACP, turned 21, started working in retail pharmacy, initiated my burrito quest, and spent most of the summer rudderless and lost. This was also the summer that cemented a lot of my friendships. As anybody who has been rudderless and lost knows, its the people who stand by you and try to give you guidance that mean the most to you after. It is easy to say “I stand by my friends through anything” but a completely different beast to actually be there when they need you. Ultimately this is a story about how I wasn’t there for somebody when he needed me.
The Acquisition of Bologna
July 4th, 2006
The fourth of July is always a special day filled with BBQs, fireworks and fun… unless you work retail pharmacy and it is a day filled with holiday emergencies and calls wondering if you are open (no I just hang out here on my days off when the store is closed). This was my first holiday working retail, and after slugging my way through 8 hours at Eckerd I felt like I never wanted to see another human being ever again. I returned home to 100 Holland and found myself completely alone since everybody had headed out to spend the holiday with family. Being alone suited me and I was able to lose myself in several hours of tv and relaxation in a pre Facebook newsfeed world where enjoying life was more important than talking about how much you enjoyed life. Then I got the call that set everything in motion.
Brad was one of my best friends, my first friend at ACP, and the person that I hung out with the most. We shared many common interests like beer, and whiskey, and watching TV, all important stuff when you are 20 or 21. Around 11pm Brad called me hammered out of his mind looking for a ride because his girlfriend had thrown him out of their apartment. Knowing Brad I figured that not picking him up would result in him doing something stupid and me feeling terrible about letting him down. I had not felt like drinking that day and said that I would pick him up outside his apartment, he said ok and that he would take a nap on the sidewalk until I got there (we lived about a mile apart).
Minutes later I pulled up and found Brad passed out underneath the bench in front of the laundromat that he lived above. Whenever you have to wake someone up when they are passed out underneath a bench it is destined to be a good story. Once he was up he was very lucid and with it for someone who had sounded so drunk on the phone, maybe it shows the benefits of taking a hardcore power nap. He was in fact so lucid that he demanded that I drive him to the Ghetto Chopper so that he could get a pack of cigarettes and something to eat. When I said it wasn’t the best idea he threatened to open the door of the moving car and walk there. Fearing another hardcore napping session we went to the store where he pulled out a three wadded up singles and about $7 in change. Shopping when you are poor college student is always a balancing exercise, when you are hammered it gets even more complicated. Since we didn’t have smart phones at that time we had to do the math so that he could maximize his cigarette to food ratio for under $10. It was a battle wandering the aisles until he found it, the holy grail, buy one get one free bologna.
In all the years that we were friends I don’t think that I had ever seen Brad so happy. He was nearly crying tears of joy while talking about how he was going to get 2 or 3 full “eats” out of these beautiful Oscar Mayer delights. He hugged his deli meat close and weaved his way up to the cashier like a proud new father. On the short drive back to my place he proceeded to inhale almost a full pound of bologna while telling the other package not to worry, he would get to it later. By this point I was just about fed up with babysitting and dragged him inside. He bounced back to his “woe is me” state where he got pleasure out of telling people how bad his life is and I lost my cool. For one of the only times in our friendship I tore into him, letting him know how his actions were affecting everybody around him and ruining the relationships that he had worked so hard for. He obviously didn’t take this well, got up, threw the remaining bologna into the freezer, and stormed off into the night. We didn’t talk for several weeks after this, and I suppose that this was the event that started to end our friendship. To this day I still don’t know where he went and what he did, and I don’t know why on earth he put the bologna into the freezer when it so clearly belongs in the fridge.
July 30th, 2006
I woke up and felt that something was wrong, it was just too quiet. No fans, no alarm, no music, no electronic hum, just the rush of traffic and the sounds of Albany, somebody had forgotten to pay the electric bill… for 11 consecutive months. The house was around 140 degrees because of the stifling air of the ghetto combined with the lack of insulation and overall mustiness of the run down building (once we were evicted in 2008 the building has set empty and is probably condemned). Even worse the fridge had now power, and the next day was my 21st birthday, how was I going to cool down all the beer that I was finally going to buy legally? I made a few calls and eventually got word that the bill would be paid and electricity would be restored, but not for a few days, which coincidentally were the hottest days of the summer.
Like any resourceful young gentleman I was able to make epic plans to rid the fridge of everything, it was time to grill. As you may know I am a prolific griller, even many years ago before I had honed my culinary skills I found no greater pleasure than producing chemical changes through the application of heat to meats and vegetables over and open flame. Since my friends were all college students it was easy to put the word out and have them show up for free food. I grilled pork chops, and burgers, and kielbasa, and chicken, and whatever else I could salvage from the freezer… everything except for the bologna. Even though Brad and I had made up we weren’t back to the point of hanging out, and there is something wrong about eating someone else’s lunch meat, plus grilled bologna doesn’t sound too appealing. Sadly I threw his beloved lunch meat away, and after he had only gotten one “eat” out of it.
I know that this might seem like a waste of your time, but an inside joke is only good if there is someone else to share it with.
We made up, and were able to pull our friendship together for a bit, but a year later Brad developed pancreatitis and wasn’t the same after he got out of the hospital. I didn’t want to drink with him because I had seen him so near death, he thought that I was shunning him. We ran into each other a few times during the last year of his life, but we acted like acquaintances instead of the friends we once were. A few weeks before graduation Brad fell victim to his demons and took his own life. As kids who spent our lives awash in booze and self destruction we always said that we would never live to see 30, little did we know he wouldn’t see 25.
For years I dwelled on the fact that he didn’t reach out to me, or if he would have how receptive I would have been. One of my greatest regrets is that I allowed someone who once meant so much to me to push me away. In reality I don’t keep in touch with many of the friends that I graduated with, simply because life gets in the way. Gregg and Graig moved to North Carolina and got married to their college girlfriends, we catch up occasionally. Tom moved back to Cali, deleted his facebook, changed his phone number, and married his cousin. Jake went to Alaska and came back with a wife and 2 kids, we haven’t talked since graduation. I went to Rob’s wedding, and we touch base all too infrequently. Ciara went to Alaska and is now living a life of adventure in Wyoming. And Grant lives 45 minutes from me and we haven’t been able to catch up. Tim has been the only person that I have stayed close with, and that is simply because he is too damn stubborn to let me push him away, plus we go on every single vacation together.
If Brad would have lived I doubt that we would be in touch, or that I would still consider him to be my friend, and sometimes I even forget that he is gone. I only think about him once and a while, sometimes reminded by the matching tattoos that we got in West Palm Beach, or by the sight of a handle of tequila. No matter how much time passes, or how many memories fade away each year on the day before my birthday I can think back to a simpler time when a few pounds of bologna can make someone’s day, and think about my old friend, and smile.