Happy birthday, big guy!
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.