Friday, March 23, 2007


Invisibility. Probably one of the top five superhero traits I would wish for if I could actually get the ability.

Seems weird for someone as big as I am to hate to be noticed, but I pretty much have always preferred to be behind the scenes than making a scene. I don't do crowds very well, and at my best just muddle through.

As a kid growing up, and in high school I just as easily made friends with and hung out with the nobodies as well as some popular kids. Didn't matter to me. I didn't mind being the nobody of the group when cruising on Friday nights. I didn't mind spending time with friends who, like me, didn't aspire to be in the popular crowd.

I guess the bottom line for me is, that I like people, but I'm also perfectly happy spending time alone. I like down to earth friends, and popularity and acclaim are meaningless to me.

Both parents were like this too. I've never been Mr. Self Confidence; I guess I'm just a pretty average person. Lot's of folks that are smarter than me, and lots of folks dumber. I like 'em both.

My junior and senior (11th and 12th) years of high school, I developed a friendship with someone that I'd gone to school with for several years, but hadn't really had opportunity to get to know as a friend.

And I still can't remember how we got added to each other's list of pals. Our senior year though, we were both on the Tiger Crew at Neville High School in Monroe, Louisiana. I wrote a post about Shasta, the live male tiger that was our high school's mascot here, if you want to read about something crazy.

Something about being peed on by a full-grown tiger and having to stop by one another's houses to shower and change clothes before going back to school helped us to bond, maybe.

You can tell pretty quick after meeting someone whether or not you're going to get along. Robert and I hit it off pretty good and became good friends.

Robert was the oldest of five kids. Their house was the kind you could walk into and feel right at home. The whole family was nuts. The good kind of nuts. Laughing, joking, and baseball. Lots and lots of baseball.

I've never liked baseball all that much, but Robert's dad had actually played briefly as a major league pitcher once upon a time. So with the addition of WGN from Chicago, and WTBS from Atlanta to the cable TV list, there was always a baseball game on in their house. The pace of the game allowed lots of time for talking and for Robert's dad to analyze the game for us and to just sit and talk.

Robert had a personality that was as big as Montana. The boy flat loved having an audience. And he had so much down-home charm and good looks that within minutes of arriving anywhere, pretty much had everyone's attention.

For some reason, I've been thinking about him a lot lately and also something he used to love for us to do.

Back in the dark ages, when McDonald's first started serving breakfast, Robert and I would go now and then for some vittles. You know how the inside of McDonald's operates, right? You walk toward the counter and cashier while looking up at the menu behind them above cooking area. They say, may I help you, and you start telling them your order while looking up at the menu for clues.

I always ordered my meal normally, but Robert was incapable of doing this. He did something similar to this in every restaurant. He would walk up, serious as could be and order: I'd like one, no make that two beef burritos, extra spicy, and a large coke, please, then he would smile that disarming smile of his.

Every single time he did this, the guys would stare for a second, and then start laughing. But the girls he did this to would blush and start giggling and tell him that he couldn't get burritos at McDonald's (or whichever restaurant we were in).

He would act SO shocked and surprized and say he could have sworn he'd eaten burritos there just the other day or some other such nonsense. Again, Robert was a handsome boy without a doubt, and this kind of kidding and flirting would have almost every girl or woman working there temporarily in love with him.

It always took him forever to order anything at any restaurant because of this, but it was fun to watch. I love watching people and Robert could have sold them the Brooklyn Bridge if he'd wanted to.

Eventually we'd get our food and eat.

One of his other favorite things to do was discovered one day when he and I went to Baskin Robbins for a milk shake. Back then, Baskin Robbins was the only game in town for ice cream in Monroe, or at least it was on the side of town we lived on.

But they were famous for having 31 flavors of ice cream and Robert would walk back and forth, maybe trying a new flavor or two on those little bitty spoons they would give you a sample on, and finally order some peanut butter, tuti fruiti, strawberry milk shake or the like.

Me? I either wanted a plain vanilla shake, or a chocolate shake made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.

Then Robert would step onto the stage and LOUDLY exclaim: VANILLA? You come into Baskin Robbins, world famous for having 30-onederful flavors of ice cream, and you order vanilla?! And he would continue his fake tirade as long as he could.

Everybody in there, workers and customers would be laughing at him, and me his victim, and by the time we left everybody in the place would be smiling and laughing and joking.

Robert was the kid of man, even in his teens who was a natural story teller. He could make the most mundane story or the corniest joke so funny that you would get a stitch in your side from laughing so hard.

He was a groomsman in Lovely Wife and my wedding. At the reception after the wedding and especially during the photographer's taking of the photos of the wedding party, he had every bridesmaid and any other women in the room totally charmed and laughing. They were eating out of his hand.

When we think back and talk about our wedding, Lovely Wife and I invariably bring up the show that Robert put on at the reception. The whole place was laughing and having a great time.

There's just not enough people like Robert in the world, that can walk into a dead room and have everyone smiling and launghing whether they wanted to or not.

I miss the old boy, and was just thinking about him lately.

The ability to be invisible is something that wouldn't appeal to Robert.

This is a picture of Robert (left) and me (right) pushing Shasta in his cage onto the stage in the Neville High School auditorium.


Hammer said...

You and I sound a lot alike. Unfortunately I never befriended and Roberts in my travels.

Whatever happened to him?

JAM said...

I think he's back in Monroe. He was in the Air Force for a number of years and that's when I met my wife and our lives continued to diverge.

Several years ago, he helped my Brother In Law coach a baseball team that my nephew was on. So I think he's still around there somewhere.

I hate to admit this, but the last two times I saw him was at my Dad's and my older Brother's funerals. I am still grateful to Robert and my other teen pals who came to their funerals to pay their respects, though they hadn't seen my Dad or my Brother in years. I'll always be grateful to all of them for that. I guess I could pick up a phone and call, and probably will, but I get as nervous as a boy asking for a first date when I try to reconnect with old friends. That's a personal issue, I know, but it's real. I'll probably do it soon though. In my life when someone invades my thoughts, it's invariably a sign that I need to talk to them. Either for their sake, or mine.

Babystepper said...

Sounds like a great friendship. I wasn't ever popular, but I was definitely the talker and performer in all my friendships. My very shy cousin and I would do fake newscasts for our friends at camp. She was the microphone, hidden by the edge of the bunk, and I was the newscaster who had to respond to the microphone's antics.

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