January 12th, 2012
I once met Bob Hope.
He was appearing on my college campus and my roommate and I thought it might be a good idea to make him an honorary member of our frat. Why? Well, we’d heard his son was an ATO at Arizona. And I was the public information officer for the chapter. And we’d had a lot of beer. And ... aw, what the hell ... so we climbed a fire escape and through the window into the hall of a hotel and knocked on his suite door. Amazingly, he came to the door. I gave him my pin and he graciously accepted it and shut the door.
It never occurred to either of us to bring a camera, or that I would never see my pin again, or that absolutely no one would believe us, or that drunk is no way to climb a fire escape.
But Bob and I have that memory. Not Bob Hope, the honorary ATO, but Bob Alley, the roommate.
And right now, Hope’s theme song, “Thanks For The Memory,” seems all too appropriate.
As published in The Daily News, January 13, 2012, and in The Memphis News, January 14-20, 2012
FOUND, NOT LOST
“There’s a hole up here,” she said, and then held up a mirror so I could see a perfectly round, barren wasteland about two inches wide in what used to be an uninterrupted forest of dark brown hair. But, then, it used be all dark brown, too. “What should I do about it?” I asked. “Stay away from people taller than you,” she said.
Cute, Jean, very cute.
Jean is the woman who cuts my hair, and the first time she did that, she was a teenager and we talked about a brand-new movie. Rocky. The first one. As in, “Yo, Adrian.” As in 1976.
Last week, she did it again and, like the hundreds of times before, we did what we do. We talked about our lives, our city, our aches and pains. Things funny and not. Things curious and not. Life. But this time the therapy session was deeper, the hole up there more prophetic, the memories evoked tinged with something more palpable.
The memory of a 17-year-old kid from Florida who had never seen snow, and when he did see it way up on a mountain on our ATO pledge retreat, he stole the faculty advisor’s car, drove as far up there as he could, and walked the rest of the way to play in it.
The memory of him taking me for a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts in Fort Lauderdale. In his plane. Flying low over Miami Beach just after dawn, and so low over the Everglades you felt you could reach out and touch the waving sea of grass. We laughed a lot.
Last week, I delivered a eulogy for Bob Alley. Fraternity brother, college roommate, best friend.
Maybe you believe that connections like that are never broken, and become permanent residents in a greater eternal consciousness. Or maybe, upon reading that last sentence, you’d say what Bob would, “Oh, please.”
But I believe this: we don’t lose people like that, we gain from having known them, we grow from the experiences shared, we own the memories, and we know we were and can be special markers in the lives of others, parts of other families, parts, in fact, of other people.
When they go, unfairly young or fairly relieved of pain, a part of us goes as well.
We can take comfort in what remains. In the things you think of – in family and friends still here, in the twinkle in a baby’s eye and a new ripple in the gene pool – but also in long-familiar things you might not think about much. Things like the constant flow of rivers and tides, the glory in storms, Pete & Sam’s Italian spinach, good jokes and good stories told well, and the same barber for 36 years.
And be thankful for the whole ride.
I didn’t lose Bob Alley. I found him 45 years ago. Thank God.
I’m a Memphian, and I just got a haircut and said goodbye to a part of me.