humor, personal

Smothers Brothers

Seven years ago, Andy, one of my best friends, was shot and killed in the line of duty as a police officer.  I miss him so much.  Last year I wrote about one of my memories of him.  It helps me to continue healing from his absence when I think of the good times we had.  And since I know some people who knew him read my blog, I want to share some of the pieces of him I hold dearly in my heart.

I have a soft spot for the Smothers Brothers.  When I was in grade school I saw them perform once in Milwaukee, WI, at an insurance convention for my dad’s work.  They were funny and I liked Tommy’s yo-yo tricks.  A few years later a friend let me borrow his cassette tape of their greatest hits.  I thought it was hilarious.  It fit right in with the other funny elements of my youth: “Weird Al” Yankovic, MST3K, D.C. Follies, “Who’s on first?”, Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Jerk (an edited for, and taped from, TV copy).  I liked the Smothers Brothers cassette so much that I told my friend that I wanted to perform some of the routines for the high school Senior Variety Show when we were older.  He agreed, probably figuring I would grow out of it.  When senior year finally came, I approached my friend about our agreement.  I was still committed to doing a Smothers Brothers routine.  He wanted nothing to do with it anymore, mostly I think because he didn’t want to perform in the variety show at all if he could help it.  I hated to let go of the idea.  I had to find someone else to do it with me.

I asked Andy.  I’m not sure why he said yes, but he did.  I didn’t really expect him to.  He seemed to think they were funny routines, if old-fashioned, which made them safe for our Christian school. He was a good friend to agree to the silliness of getting onstage and pretend to be my brother and say ridiculous things.

I listened carefully to my dubbed copy of the tape, stopping to rewind every few seconds, so that I could write down an exact transcript of the two routines I had chosen for us: “You can call me stupid” and the song “Crabs walk sideways.”  I gave him a copy of the routines both on cassette and written out, and he learned them.  I had decided to play Tommy, the goofy and clueless one, while Andy would play his brother Dick, the straight man.  It seemed like the easier part to learn since Andy was starting from scratch.  I could already practically recite the entire greatest hits cassette, I had listened to it enough times.  We practiced a few times at my house and his house, and it seemed like we mostly had it.  Neither of us played guitar, so we sang a cappella.

The senior talent show was held in the gymnasium of the school, a stage on one end with chairs set up on the floor.  A few hundred students and parents gathered in the dark.  Our moment arrived and we gave it everything we had.  We belted out our lines and sang to the cheap seats (that is, all of them).  We were both a little bit nervous to sing in front of so many people, but thankfully it was so dark and with the spotlights so bright in our eyes, we couldn’t see anyone.  People by and large laughed at the right parts, so that helped too.  Afterwards, I could tell, when mostly the parents were telling us that we did a good job, that it was humor from another generation.

Those who know me now may be surprised to hear that I would do something like this.  Though I’ve always been an introvert and somewhat shy, I also used to have a bit of an exhibitionist streak, too.  I liked performing and acting, being someone other than myself.  I liked making people laugh.  I liked being a stranger to myself and my friends.  Something unexpected and wild.  I’m thankful that Andy played along with me for this moment.

music, personal

Cross that River

To continue with the river theme, here’s a song I’ve been listening to lately.  Whenever I hear it I think of my friend Andy, and sometimes when I’m thinking of him I put it on.  He was killed six years ago; the anniversary of his death was last week.  He was a police officer, and he was responding to a domestic disturbance at a club when he was killed.

Tallulah Gorge GA

Andy attended the same Christian high school as I did.  We went off to Christian college together as roommates.  Yes, it was confusing when we got phone calls, but most people called us by our last names.  We did a lot of hiking on and around campus, as well as in nearby Tallulah Gorge.  One time we were down in the Gorge.  We were scrambling on the rocky embankment to get around a bend in the river.  It was wet and slippery in January.  There were some metal bolts in the rocks that we used to steady ourselves, but they were few and far between.  Andy had made it to higher and drier ground.  He was safe.  I was between bolts and nearly slipping down the steep slope.  Andy offered to come down and take my hand.  I refused him and told him to stay where it was safe.  I didn’t want to drag him down with me if I slid.  When I finally made it up to safety, he called me the most stubborn person he knew.   He was right; I was being ridiculous.

After college we went separate ways: he went to seminary, and I went to grad school to study literature.  We kept in touch and visited each other when it was feasible, even traveling hundreds of miles to do so.  Though we changed after those years in college, we were still such close friends.  It didn’t matter if we’d started to diverge in some of our theological or political views and no longer agreed on nearly everything.   He still accepted me and knew who I was, as I did him.  But it’s hard for me to think of him as a police officer.  He’d been an officer a little over a year when he was killed.  We lived in different states.  The last time I’d seen him he was still in training.

Before he became a police officer, he was aiming to become a missionary.  He had spent years preparing to go overseas.  He had studied at Bible college and seminary.  He had worked all sorts of odd jobs for years while he tried to raise funds of support.  It didn’t work out.  By then he had a family to support, so he suspended his missionary candidacy and got a job that had stability.  And barely over a year later he was dead.  I think I would have come to accept his new vocation, learned to re-orient my understanding of him.  But I never really got the chance.  And it wasn’t all that much of a change, now that I think about it.  He was willing to take risks to help people, just like he was reaching out to me so I wouldn’t fall down the steep slope into the river.  Except he did end up getting dragged down.

This blog is about strangers and change.  I don’t think Andy and I would have ever been strangers no matter the changes we went through.  He was that kind of friend.  I miss him terribly.

Postscript.  Concerning the song, there’s nothing that is all that particular about Andy or his life, but I love the picture of needing a helping hand to cross the rivers of our lives, even though the story I’ve told is one where I didn’t accept his help.  If I had it to do over, I’d take his hand.  I also like the image of a “flying amphibian,” which in its ridiculousness does make me think of Andy.  He had a menagerie of animals in high school, from an iguana to an albino python.