Tucked inside the front cover of my beat-up old paperback copy of The Catcher in the Rye is a yellowing handwritten note. It reads:
Well, I'm bored as all hell here in Analyt. UGH! Deborah Allen has almost fallen flat on the floor twice! I caught her just in time. I told you she shouldn't have come to math w/ me!
I hate this school soooo much! I can't wait to get out and meet "real people." You are one of the very few "real people" that I know. If you weren't here I'd probably be committed already! Why are most Arcadia people so obnoxious?
I knew Diana would love that photo. I bet she takes it to church w/ her on Sunday. What a fanatic! [Ed. note: I have no idea what that is about.] When we get married let's be normal, OK?!?!
Isn't it nice to not be around Jean The Whip [an evil English teacher, aka The Slave Driver] anymore? I do like Mrs. High, but that class is so boring!!
Working is one of my releases. I work from 5 - 12 tonight. Well the bell's gonna ring. Bye!
Even though that note is over 20 years old and unsigned, I'd recognize the large, loopy handwriting anywhere. It was given to me by Chris, my best friend in high school, and its contents are both so him and so not the person he has become. He's retained all the good stuff -- the enthusiasm, the straightforwardness, the love of 80s music -- and let go of all that negativity. He's become a minister, and let me put it this way: if I were ever to join a church (and that probably ain't never gonna happen), I think the only one I could join would be Chris's.
I met Chris in junior high and we became great pals; a few years later I considered him my best friend. We passed notes constantly and had a hundred private jokes between us. In the old days before kids swapped music files, we used to lend each other records -- you know, actual 12-inch LPs -- and our tastes were often both obscure AND uncool. Deborah Allen, mentioned in his note, was a brief fave of ours, a no-hit country singer we listened to along with Ronnie Milsap and a relative newcomer named Reba McEntire. We were both huge ABBA fans, and both pretty in the closet about it. I remember trading my 7-inch "The Day Before You Came," ABBA's last single, to Chris for "Boys Do Fall in Love" by one of the Bee Gees, when I bought their final album, and I think both of us kept pretty quiet about ever being in possession of either of those songs. I went to my first concert with Chris: The Eurythmics and Howard Jones at the Greek. It was so cool having a friend who didn't think I was a loser for loving the unhip.
Chris was a great musician. He played the saxophone and the clarinet and was in our high school's award-winning marching band; he also played the bassoon, a difficult and mysterious sort of instrument, in the school orchestra. Our high school had an odd, 23-minute free period between second and third periods known as "snack." I guess the idea was to give students enough time to grab a bite that would tide them over until lunch. I rarely bothered with food during snack -- my favorite pastime was to gather with Chris and a few other kids from band and choir in the choir room and have a short jam. I'd play the piano and Chris the sax, and everyone else would play their instruments or sing. I suppose we had a few numbers in our repetoire, but my favorite (and the only song I can recall us playing) was "New York, New York." We were pretty good and we were definitely loud.
Chris and I used to joke about getting married, though I can't remember why, because we never even dated. We certainly never made one of those "if neither one of us is married by 30" pacts! I know we liked to pick out names for all the kids we were going to have -- at one frightening point I think we'd decided upon 8 names. Thank goodness not everything we think about comes to pass.
We went to different colleges, and although we kept in touch, we drifted apart. I didn't know about all the uncertainty and soul-searching he was going through as he worked his way towards his accounting degree, so I was surprised when Chris told me he wanted to go to divinity school. He had always been such a vehement nonbeliever, and I was afraid he would turn into one of those Christians: one of those narrow-minded, humorless born-agains, several of which I've had the misfortune to know. I needn't have worried, as Chris has remained as funny and open-minded and big-hearted as he ever was. He is now the pastor of a terrific-sounding church in the Pacific Northwest, and Lisa and I have vowed that some Sunday we are going to sneak into the back of that church and do the wave while he's in the middle of a sermon. He's coming to visit SoCal in August, and I can't wait to see him.
Chris is turning 40 tomorrow (welcome to the club!). Visit his website and leave him good wishes -- you couldn't say "happy birthday" to a nicer guy.