friendship

#848: Dear Bob

Dear Bob,

I know we don’t get to talk much anymore.  I think the last time I saw you was at a funeral.  We both have our own lives now.  You have four kids to raise, and I have a Jen to take care of and cherish.  While we have separate journeys now, I will always remember and treasure our shared origins.  We were the lucky few to grow up on a very special street in a neighbourhood like no other.

Some of my earliest memories are of us playing in the front yard.  You were two years older but at that young age it hardly mattered.  All that mattered were our adventures.  It started with dinky cars, Lego and plastic swords.  Do you remember building little garages for our cars?  I do.  You showed me how.  A few twigs stuck into the ground covered with a grass roof, and we had multi-car garages right in the front lawn.

You taught me how to improvise our fun.  With cardboard boxes, we constructed a Cloud City for my Star Wars guys to play around in.  Do you remember showing me how to make little sliding pocket doors?  Or how about that board game we came up with on our own?  It was huge!  How many of my mom’s shoeboxes did we cut up to make that?  We used my Army Men for the pieces.  We constructed traps for them, that could you trigger with the pull of a thread.  Mom eventually said “No more shoeboxes!”

I could go on, and on, and on about how we created our own worlds to live in.  The drawings, a huge binder of which I still have!  We designed our own video game.  We wanted to submit it to Atari.  Then, when my family got a computer, we discovered a new world:  word processing!  No more pen and paper; now we could really come up with stories.  The program was called IBM Writer’s Assistant and we pushed the limits of what we could achieve.  We co-wrote the Adventures of Comet-tron, though it was your idea.  I even sold copies of our “book” at a garage sale.  25 cents each, and there were two issues!

Building obstacle courses in the back yard.  Improvising audio equipment with little more than a few wires and black electrical tape.  Riding our bikes, exploring the trails.  Renting horror movies and pausing to see fake rubber props.  Writing down the rules to our own invented version of street volleyball.  These are all things I did with my best friend.  If I didn’t have you, do you think “Double Bounce Volleyball” ever would have been conceived, much less documented with actual rules?  Chances are high that the only reason I owned a volleyball was because you had one first.

It’s funny that you studied architecture later in life, because I remember us sitting down with pencils and designing our future houses.  In our blueprints, we still lived on the same street.  We bulldozed all the other houses, and added on to our own (things like swimming pools and helipads and secret tunnels and overhead bridges).  We put new houses for our families to live in, while our original homes were connected by an enclosed bridge so we could hang out without even having to go out!

As your interests changed, so did mine.  Where you led I was eager to follow.  Music was next.  Do you realize how lucky I was to have you and other older kids around the neighbourhood?  While my classmates were listening to music they’d be embarrassed by in six months, you guys had discovered Van Halen.

Do you remember our front porch listening sessions?  One of us would plug in the stereo, and somebody else would bring over the Van Halen.

“Van Halen!?” said my dad as he came home from work.  “Sounds like some kind of tropical disease!”

And so began the long tradition of my dad creating memorable quotes about rock bands.  Wouldn’t have happened without you.  Your dad had some good ones too.

“Is there something wrong with that man?” he mocked when Bruce Dickinson was screaming the high notes.

Classic!  Absolutely classic.  You were not only there for it, but you were the guy who supplied the music for them to mock!

What I’m getting at here is this.  I need to really let you know how much you shaped my life, and how much I looked up to you.  I wanted to be you.  For years I was your mini-me.  You were smart, you were cool, you were big and strong and creative and everything I wanted to be.  I had nobody like you at my school.  Why did you have to go to a different school?  How life would have been different if you were able to stand up for me during the dark times.

I’ll never forget one thing you did for me.  It was grade six.  My bully Steve went at me really hard that year.  He made me cry in class.  It’s not a good feeling, crying publicly with 30 of your peers.  All I could think is how badly I wished you were there to stop him.  Stop all of them.  Then one day, you did make an appearance.  Our schools had March break during two different weeks.  During your March break, you got on your bike and paid me a visit during recess.  None of those kids had ever seen you before.  Maybe they thought you were my imaginary friend.  Not any more!  Steve actually fell flat down on his back when he saw how much bigger you were.  The memory still makes me smile.

I don’t know if you really understood how bad I had it at school.  It was a daily living nightmare.  You were the opposite of that.  I’d come home, phone you up, and 10 minutes later we’d be in the back yard jumping hurdles made of lawn chairs, and everything was forgotten.  You just got me; we shared the exact same sense of humour.  Nothing can gravitate two friends together like a shared love of laughing at the same things.  You also drew out and nurtured my creative side.  Anytime you came up with something cool on your own (which was frequent) you’d share it with me and together we’d expand on it.  It was the exact opposite of what I had at school.  There, nobody understood me.  There, nobody nurtured me.  There, nobody laughed with me.  Only at me.

You were my hero, man.  You were my Wolverine or Iron Man.  Funny enough, I got into Marvel comics because that’s what you read!  Do you remember reading comics on the patio?  Hawkeye was your favourite Avenger back then.

I mean it when I say you were my hero.  You were smart and popular and I was just happy to be the sidekick!  When I finally made it to highschool, you sneakily got an extra locker next to mine.  I felt so cool sharing that illicit locker, like part of an elite club.  We had some excellent times in highschool.  You bought a black guitar and so for contrast I bought a white one.  We never really put the effort in, but we did have fun drawing our logo.  “Paragon” was the name you chose for our band.  We never really learned to play, but we made a music video.  I know you’ll never forget that.  Together we spent a week after hours at the school in the editing suite, finishing the video with a very tight deadline.  We did it, though.  It was hard work.  We fought through technical issues and were recognized for our efforts by having our video shown at the local 1989 Charlie Awards.  What an honour for us.

I know for a fact that I would not be the person I am today had we not crossed paths 40-some years ago.  I think I’d still find ways to be creative, but the things I do today are just extensions of the things we did then.  Sequels, reboots, remasterings.  I like to think that I’m continuing with the projects we started together.  Together we made a music video and two movies.  Today, I make several music videos every year!  And as hard as it is to believe, I even completely re-edited one of the movies we made 30 years ago.  Finishing the work that we started.

It’s OK that you went to college and started your own life.  It was always going to be that way.  We were never really going to bulldoze the neighbourhood and live in connected houses.  Back then, I was never able to express how important you were — and still are.  You helped me survive.  I knew that all I had to do was endure a week at school.  On Saturday it would be us again, you and me, racing cars, flying starships or hosting our own shows.  Despite everything I had to go through at school, I always have considered it a good childhood.  The best childhood.  And that’s because I had you, my best friend.  We embarked on truly great adventures, and they far outweigh the damage the other kids could do.  When it was you and me, they couldn’t touch me.  They weren’t a part of the worlds we were building out of cardboard and Scotch tape.  You projected a force field around yourself and nobody would touch you.  In turn you were able to shield me with it too.  That was a tremendous gift that you can’t understand unless you were the beneficiary.

Do you remember why you chose the name “Paragon” for our band that never was?  “Because it means we’re the best,” you said.  It was true!  We were the best.  We were the paragon of friendships with adventures that shaped a lifetime.  Thank you for sharing that with me.

 

Happy birthday, buddy.  I hope you’re well.

 

#780: Radio Friends & Exes

GETTING MORE TALE #780: Radio Friends & Exes

I’ll always be grateful to radio for giving me a start.  I won’t rehash the whole story but I used to be a call-in contest winner and then became a semi-regular guest.  Radio is a lot of fun, though I don’t really listen to commercial stations anymore like the one that got my name out there originally.  (I still appear on Rob Daniels’ Visions in Sound, and I’ll be back there in December at the latest to talk about new Star Wars music.)   One thing that hasn’t changed is that I have met so many solid people through radio.

There’s Jolene the Jays fan, always raising money for good causes.  Or Greg, the contest winner who seems to have free tickets to offer to me all the time.  I met one of my best friends, Jay, through the radio.  He noticed I was talking about Transformers one day and next thing you knew, we were buddies.  And let’s not forget about Jamie, an old-school rocker who was writing articles for Access magazine under the tutelage of Keith Sharp back when I used to read it!  It used to be that we listened to the same radio station, but in 2019 I was honoured to be a guest at Jamie’s wedding.

I’m very happy and proud to have met such good people thanks to radio.  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that radio stations and their personalities are often very active in the community.  They bring people with similar interests together, while making the city a better place.

Of course, like any platform, it’s not exclusively good people.  There have been some seriously weird fucks that I’ve come into contact with thanks to the airwaves.  Like Dean, the conspiracy theorizing anti-vax, bike-riding vegan.  Or amateur wrestler turned far-right radio mogul Raymond.  A few Proud Boys.  The usual assholes.

I have fresh wounds from another radio listener.  I never met him.  He moved out to Alberta for work.  He was one of those guys who would periodically have serious life problems and post them all over social media.  Then he’d disappear a while and come back a few months later.  His latest problems involved a workplace injury.  He needed antibiotics and was short $28.  He sent me a private message.

I thought about what my old man has said in the past.  “If you loan somebody money, consider it a gift because you’ll never get it back.”  And my dad is right; I’ve helped people out in the past and don’t usually get repaid.  Sometimes it’s because I said “Don’t worry about it, you need this more than I do.”  But usually it was just people stiffing me.

For whatever sympathetic reason, I sent the guy $30.  He even sent me a picture back of the medication to prove that’s what he spent it on.  I have no reason to disbelieve any of his story.  He asked me for money again a few weeks later, promising to pay back the original $30.  I said no that time.  Then he asked for $20 for bus tickets.  He caught me on a good day that time.  A few days later he needed $25; I sent him a final $30 and said this would be the last time I could help him out.  I left it unambiguous:  this is the last time I can help you out.  “Man I love you!” he responded.

One weekend in late September I heard frantic messages on my phone.  I checked and it was him, needing $44 urgently.  He was being evicted and was short $44 to rent a U-Haul van to move his stuff.  He sent screenshots of landlords that owed him money.  He sent screenshots of his bank balance in single digits.  He showed an angry message from a landlord explaining that he already had three days’ court-ordered notice to pick up his stuff, and it would all be taken to the dump on the weekend.  I was getting all these messages while my wife was recovering from a humiliating public epileptic seizure.  I told him that I was very sorry, but I could not help him.  The messages continued through the night as I was dealing with my own shit.  He was promising me $88 in return for $44, within 24 hours.

I sat there, thinking to myself.  On one side, I felt for the guy.  Assuming he was being honest with me, he had only a few hours to raise $44 and move his stuff in a U-Haul.  He was going to lose all his possessions that day.  I felt terrible for him.  I was already down $80 so what’s another $44?  On the other hand…is there nobody else he can ask for help?  Somebody who lives in the same province as him?  Somebody who’s actually met him in person?  Friends?  Family?  Not a stranger that he used to listen to on the radio?

Sunday afternoon my wife had another seizure.  I heard my phone dinging but I didn’t answer it.  I had bigger things on my mind.  Later that evening, I checked my messages.  His belongings had been taken to the dump.

“This is the point I’m done with social media,” the message began.  From that I gather he’d been asking other Facebook “friends” for money.  “Needed $44 to save thousands, got zero. Will be lucky to maintain an empty apartment on my wife’s money, my tools are gone so I can’t contribute.”  Guilt trip time?  I couldn’t believe this guy.  Why should Facebook, or me for that matter, be responsible for you?

“Likely never hear from me again. I’m out.”

This one I responded to.

“Likely never hear from you again…even though you owe me money?”

I felt terrible the whole time I wrote this, but it had to be said.

“I told you last time, I would not be able to help you again. I don’t even know you. We have never met face to face. And now you are guilting me and threatening to rip me off?

“I am sorry but at this point I have no choice but to block you. I will never see my money again, I know that, but I refuse to be guilted when I have already been so generous.

“I hope whatever your problems are, you sort them out, but I cannot have this in my life.”

Alternating between feeling the guilt that I said I wasn’t going to let myself feel, and wondering what the fuck this guy expected of a total stranger, I went on with my night and worrying about my own wife. But what did he expect? I gave him money three times before. Small amounts, but I knew I wasn’t going to be paid back, and I told him on the third time that was it. Did he think we were…actual friends? Because he knew my voice on the radio, and because I write about my life in public, did he think we were…friends? He also wrote things about his life, but I tried to stay out of that. He seemed to be having problems with his job, his wife, and his sexual identity and I wanted nothing to do with a stranger’s problems. I have plenty of my own, believe me.

I tried to be a good person. I feel like I was a good person three times, but had to draw a line somewhere. The day that my wife was in the hospital having a seizure seemed like the right time to draw that line.

As for lines? The bottom line is that I have made some amazing friends through the radio, and I wouldn’t change that, ever. But you always have to have your guard up for the problems that come with it.

#598: “Seven”

Here’s a very special story for a very special day. September 18th is the day I met my wife! Happy “meetaversary” sweetie.

GETTING MORE TALE #598: “Seven”

When dating, there are many rites of passage on the road to a long term relationship.  For either sex, one of the usual hurdles is meeting the “best friend”.  If the best friend doesn’t like you, your whole relationship could be doomed.  It happened to me and it could happen to you!

I met Mrs. LeBrain on Sept 18 2005.  We made contact like most people these days, first online and then in person.  Meeting people online in 2005 wasn’t as mundane as it is today.  Jen had never met someone from online before.  We’ve told the tale of meeting before – from both perspectives.  Mine was Record Store Tales #111:  The Girl in the Sam Roberts Shirt.  Her version was Getting More Tale #434:  The Man in the Bob Marley Shirt.  Needless to say, music is important to both of us.

There was one thing Jen failed to do, and that was inform her best friend Lara that she was meeting someone over the internet.  She knew Lara wouldn’t approve.  Once we started dating regularly, she had to come clean.  As predicted Lara wasn’t impressed that she would go and meet some random internet dude without telling her.  She was in trouble!  And so was I, just for existing secretly!

Jen arranged a coffee meet up.  We picked up Lara and her friend Dave, and headed over to the nearest Tim Horton’s.  I was pleasantly surprised by Lara.  Jen had made her out to sound evil and dangerous.  She seemed anything but!  Funny, smart, and clearly someone who cared deeply for her best friend.  We got along immediately.

At one point in the evening, Lara asked me, “On a scale from one to 10, how pissed off would you be?”

I didn’t understand.  “Pardon?”

“On a scale from one to 10, how pissed off would you be?” she answered.

“Well, I’m a pretty easy going guy, so I’d say about a three.”  Hypothetically, of course.

Secretly, inside, Jen was worried what this meant.  She said nothing, nor did Dave.

We continued to drink our coffee and chat.  Lara liked science fiction, so we had that in common.  In Canada, sitting around a Tim Horton’s all night drinking coffee (or tea in Lara’s case) is a pretty common pastime.  My wife can really drink coffee like a champion.  If there was a Stanley Cup of Coffee, she would win it every season.

We made tentative plans for a future meet up, when suddenly –

RRRRRRRIIIIIP!

Lara reached over, grabbed my soul patch hair, the part right below my bottom lip, and YANKED HARD.  I looked wide-eyed to see my own facial hair in her fingers.

She asked again, “On a scale from one to 10, how pissed off would you be?”

My answer was immediate.  “SEVEN!  DEFINITELY SEVEN!”

And that is why to this day, all of Lara’s kids and their friends call me “Uncle Seven”.  My nickname became Seven, irreversibly and permanently.  It’s been over ten years and I’m still Uncle Seven.  In fact, here is an actual conversation that I had with her son Tyler, and his girlfriend.  It was Tyler’s 19th birthday:

Mike:  “Tyler, you’re an adult now, you don’t have to call me Uncle Seven anymore.  Just call me Mike.”

Tyler:  “OK Seven.”

Girlfriend:  “Wait…your name is Mike? I thought it was Seven.”

Mike:  “…You thought my real name was Seven?!  Who the hell would name their kids a number?!”

Girlfriend:  “There’s a girl named Eleven.”

Mike:  “Yeah!  On a TV show!  And it wasn’t her real name!!”

 

The fact that I took Lara’s little “test” as a joke meant that our friendship was solidly guaranteed.  I passed!  We’ve been tight ever since.