Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bart and Biff: The Sequel

I love sequels. Not just a sequel for the sake of making one mind you, but when a book or TV series really draws me in with rich and vivid characters who I really connect to, I just can’t help coming to the end of the story and thinking to myself, “OK – So then what happened??”

I still long to know if Angel, Spike and Gunn made it out alive, or if Buffy, Willow and Xander are Facebook friends who send each other video clips of Bif Naked "The Lucky Ones" and The Sundays "Wild Horses" and talk about how it reminds them of when they stopped that Apocalypse those 7 times.

As I've moved through each chapter of my life, I've had to close the book on some friendships and characters (and trust me, some of them were definitely characters) who I really loved or connected with deeply. While I believe in life-long friendships (I've had a relationship with my two closest friends for 35 and 20 years respectively), I also believe that some people come into your life for an expressed purpose and once that purpose is fulfilled, the story ends and you both move on. The book goes back on the shelf.

Still, for some of those short lived, yet intense, relationships, I've often found myself wanting to know - "So then what happened?"

This past week, I had the good fortune of unexpectedly running into two old friends, both of whom I hadn’t seen for any significant amount of time in years, but who 25 years ago, both meant the world to me.

First there was Bart. Bart was the younger brother of a high school friend, but he often seemed like my own little brother in those days.

Little Brother Bart
CPHS Homecoming
1982 - College Park, GA

During my senior year of high school, Bart and our friend Ronnie were my two main accomplices in a series of yard rollings the likes of which that CPHS had never seen, as I went about exacting revenge on those that had rolled my yard after a football game that Fall. Bart was a tennis player, but he had the yard rolling arm of Phil Niekro. Where Phil had the knuckle-ball, Bart had some crazy twisted pitch that could hit the highest tree limb, then spiral down perfectly through the branches, then break off and drop the remaining TP to the ground so you could re-pitch what was left and not have any go to waste (we were Green before being Green was cool.) Of course, what Bart and Ronnie didn't know was that I knew the two of them had been in on the original rolling of my yard, so when we finished to last house on my "revenge list" I used the remaining toilet paper they had purchased and went back and rolled their yards as well. (Sorry Dude :-))

Joni and Bart
(He still has that Miami Vice shirt, I'm told)

1985 in Mexico Beach, FL and 2010 at Turner Field
, Atlanta, GA

About the time Bart graduated high school, he fell madly in love (as only an 18 year old can) with a sweet girl from our church. There was a little bit of an age difference, and her parents did not want her dating until she turned 16 and even then didn't want her dating an older boy in college. I remember at the time thinking is all seemed so horribly Draconian of the parents - although now, looking at it from the perspective of having a cute blond 15 year old niece who has every Austin, Dustin and Justin in the greater Newnan area chasing after her, I'm total in agreement. (My niece has already been advised that she can't start dating until after she finishes college and gets her degree. Her PhD.)
Bart & Traci
Relaxing on the pier
1984 - Mexico Beach
, FL

With Bart in Love Limbo for the next few years, waiting on Stephanie to finally be old enough to date who she wanted, my best friend Traci and I pretty much adopted Bart as our little brother and tried to keep him occupied and entertained. We listened to his tales of woe and tried to make him feel better as much as we could. And we stood guard for Stephanie, so that some slutty college girl wouldn't get her hands on our sweet Bart and take advantage of his depression at not getting to be with the girl he loved.

Joni, Brother Bart and Traci
1985 - Gatlinburg, TN

We took him with us on skiing trips to Gatlinburg in the winter, and to Mexico beach in the spring and summer. He'd take his truck - he called it "Junnin" - so he could blast his Hank Williams, Jr. while Traci and I would follow in the Shelby so we could listen to our New Wave music and Brit Pop (we never could get Bart turned into a club boy.) To this day, I still think of Bart anytime I hear the HWJr song "A Country Boy Can Survive" on a country oldies station. He was the ultimate country boy, just trying to survive until he could be with his true love.

ZZ Top or Tommy, Mark, & Bart
Joni & Traci in front of Junnin

1985 - Mexico Beach, FL

I remember aching for Bart in those days. He was the nicest of guys, a loyal friend, and I just wanted him to be happy. I worried Stephanie might not be as into him as he was to her, or that when they could finally be together, they might find they had nothing much in common. I prayed that when it was all over, that it would have been worth the wait for him.

When Stephanie turned 18, she and Bart took very little time in getting together and getting married. Didn't see too much of him after that. But it was OK, as it seemed like the purpose had been fulfilled. I tried to be a good friend and help keep him occupied when he needed it, and he taught me a life lesson about being patient with grace. My book on Bart was closed.

Then there was Biff. We met at church in the fall of 1984. I still remember when I first spotted him across the sanctuary, and I jotted a note to Traci on an offering envelope that said, "DON'T LOOK, but there is a cute new boy at 10:00." (She probably looked. She ALWAYS looked.)

Now Biff is not really his name. One of my friends was always harassing Traci & I by bestowing unwanted and derogatory nicknames on the guys we dated behind their backs, so he christened him Biff. One of the guys before him had been dubbed Lumpy Rutherford, so really, he got off pretty lightly. And actually, Biff completely suited him. He had that whole 80s yuppie vibe with the perfect Brooks Brothers suits, the accounting firm job at the cool building downtown. Think Michael J. Fox in Bright Lights, Big City, Christian Bale in American Psycho (before the killing spree was evident) or Don Draper from Mad Men had it been set in 1984 instead of 1964.

Church Boy Biff
Sunday School Class Skiing Trip

1985 -Gatlinburg, TN

(Cropped version our church friends saw after the trip)

I think I was going for a nice, straight-laced church boy to cleanse the pallet after getting my heart broken by a rough and tumble, rock 'n roll, rebel type. But little did I know what I was getting myself into. I'm pretty sure that if you Google the phrase "looks can be deceiving" it takes you to a picture of Biff (seriously, though, don't try it cause it takes you to some pretty disturbing stuff), because while he certainly dressed the part of a deacon's son, he was anything but what I was expecting. And in truth, what I was expecting was the last thing I wanted anyway.

The Real Biff
(Uncropped version of Sunday School trip photo above that our church friends never saw)

Biff was all about the aesthetics - the clothes, the accessories, the hair, the music, the food and drink. And the bantering - Lots of witty, sarcastic, cocktail fueled bantering. We were like Nick and Nora for the 80s (just not solving crimes). His outings were well planned and executed. The perfect movie with the perfect theme song, dinner somewhere you'd never been, and the right mix of music on the drive to and from. Except this one time when he took me to see Purple Rain at Westgate which was at the time the worst theater in the sketchiest part of town - which, really dude? What were you thinking?

Abercrombie & Biff
1984 - College Park, GA

His clothing choices were well thought out, right down to the accidental missed belt loop or collar-pop at just the right angle. If he had a hole in his shirt or jeans, you can bet that hole was not an accident of fate, but a very well thought out and strategically placed hole. He would call me before church on Sunday morning to see what I was wearing, so he could coordinate his tie. All this is not to say that he was superficial, because he certainly didn't lack in substance, but he was the classic Leo who liked to look good and liked for you to enjoy looking at him looking good.

I myself was trying on lots of looks in those days - from New Wave, to Preppy, to Punk, and he accepted my edge. But he also got me to understand about dressing appropriately for the occasion (like taking out 3 of your 5 ear piercings when we go to meet Grand-mother for Sunday lunch) and introduced the whole concept of dressing for the position you want instead of the one you have. He helped me pick out a suit for my very first "real" job interview, and he got me started on a respectable work wardrobe once I got the position.

Biff dressing for the position of Indiana Jones
1985 - Dillard, GA

I've had relationships that have lasted a lot longer and have been way more serious, but Biff had an undeniable influence on my world. He gave me a lot of great things that I still have today. And not just material items, although I do still wear the Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses he gave me for my 21st birthday - leave it to Biff to procure an accessory that had such classic style and durable construction that one could retain and use them for 25 years. He introduced me to classic movies from the 40s and 50s, reminded me that Paul McCartney had another band before Wings, and taught me how to mix a cocktail. If my life were a movie, Biff would be credited as the costume designer, musical director, and in charge of craft services.

It's 6 AM, do you know where you are?
1985 - probably Gatlinburg, TN

It was fun for a while, but when it finally ended, it ended badly. I'll not document the sordid details of the final demise of it all other than to say we were young. The fall out from it (for me anyway) could be felt for years, and while he isn't responsible for the walls I've put up in other relationships, he certainly had a hand in helping me secure the construction permits. At this point, Biff's book wasn't merely closed, it was slammed shut and thrown across the room for good measure.

So, then what happened?

Flash-forward to 2010. At a sneak preview party for the new Delta 360 Sky Lounge at Turner Field, as I'm headed to the bar, I hear someone call my name from behind. I turn, and I see Brother Bart. And there, right by his side, was his Stephanie.

Bart & Stephanie
2010 - Atlanta, GA

Their story had the potential to go all kinds of wrong - marrying young, disapproving parents - but it all worked out fine. They have two beautiful teen-aged daughters (I'm betting Bart is understanding his father-in-law a whole lot better these days) and you could just see the love they continue to have for each other in their eyes. It was like Romeo and Juliet had they actually lived - a beautiful end to the story.

And then, same week, while dining at a local pizzeria with a friend, I hear a familiar voice in conversation behind me. And before I ever turned around, I knew it was going to be Biff. Now there was a time when I would have realized it was him, quietly gotten up and tiptoed out of the place as quickly and inconspicuously as possible (and in fact, I have at least twice before that I can recall) but at this point, I was actually happy to see him. And truthfully, even in my anger at him from all those years ago, I have always had a place for him in my heart and hoped he would find something that made him happy and grounded.

Biff & his youngest son
2010 - EP, GA

I've heard enough from mutual friends over the years to know that he's had some highs and he's had some lows, but then a few years ago, he finally settled down and married a girl he knew from high school. It's sort of like he married the cool chick next-door (which is such a Biff thing to do.) They have two adorable sons - the elder of which looks like they just cloned Biff cell for cell. I saw him playing across the way with his little khaki pants and a chambray shirt with that old familiar collar-pop on the one side. The 6 year old little girls of EP better watch out.

It was nice seeing him surrounded by a family he obviously dotes on, and seeing the delight in his eyes as he looked down at his youngest son while introducing us. I've seen him fake and I've seen him real, and this was real. My Biff had found his happy ending.

One of my favorite TV series finales ever was that of Six Feet Under. Through a beautifully done flash-forward in the closing moments of the series, they showed us some key events and final moments in the future of each main character. There were some bitter (Keith being gunned down in a robbery) and some sweet (Claire glancing up across the cemetery during her mother's funeral and seeing her old boyfriend and future husband Ted had come) but when it was over, I knew all I needed to know about what happened next and I was satisfied that in some way they each had found a happy ending.

And for a few moments this past week, I got to flash-forward on two tall, skinny boys from the 1980s and see that each of them found a love and a life that made them happy and fulfilled. And it was a completely satisfying ending.

Monday, April 12, 2010

12 of 12 - April 2010

It's the 12th again, so here we go with April's 12 of 12 entry. Check out Chad Darnell's blog for the index of 12 of 12ers around the world.

I'm loaded up on allergy meds (you'll understand why when you see the photos) and also a bit of red wine, so I'll probably have to come back tomorrow and edit out all the typos, incomplete thoughts and incoherent ramblings.

8:20 a.m. - Arrival at work. This is the tree I park under most days This is why I have to take a couple of children's Benadryl every morning before I leave for work in the springtime. (If I took the adult brand, I'd be asleep under my desk by 9:30 a.m. ala George in The Nap episode of Seinfeld.)

1:20 p.m. - Lunch. When I was a kid, I was so jealous of my classmates who got to bring their lunches in their cool Bobby Sherman or H.R Puffenstuff lunch boxes. They always had a can of Snack Pack pudding, meanwhile the rest of us were eating bland lime jello out of those pleated paper cups. I swore that when I grew up, I was gonna have Snack Pack for lunch every single day if I wanted it. At least one of my childhood dreams came true.

5:45 p.m.- Home from work and checking out the yard. I have about 2 dozen azaleas in my yard. So far, this is the only one that has chosen to bloom.

5:46 p.m. - Creeping Phlox. (accompanied by Weeping Eyes - Where's my Benadryl?)

5:47 p.m.- Tiptoeing through the tulips......

5:48 p.m. - and finally, the mystery plant. No one can decide exactly what this is. A couple of my neighbors think it is a Hydrangea, some call it a Snowball bush, and my mom says it is a Viburnum (my mom is probably right - she knows her flora.) I call it the Bee Condo because about 40,000 bees live there. Everyone is all concerned that the bees are disappearing. No they aren't. They are all just hanging out in my back yard. Seriously, it is like freaking Spring Break out there - constant cruising back and forth from the bushes to my favorite lounge chair, where they hover too close for comfort, make loud noise, drill holes in the railing on rails on my deck and leave a mess of beer cans (sawdust) in their wake.

6:45 p.m. - After wandering the yard for 5 minutes (it's so expansive), I headed over to see my friend and coworker Sandra. She recently moved a few blocks from my house into a building with a roof top observation deck which is right across from the airport runways. Photo Op!

6:52 p.m. - When I was a kid, my grandmother's house was right about where those white trucks and trailers are in the lower right-hand side of the photo. She had the last house on the street before you got to the runways and we would sometimes climb the fence and play in the mud next to the runways. (Pre-9/11 Security) That was fun until I the time that I stepped on some glass and cut my foot open and had to be rushed to South Fulton ER for my first ever stitches. Nevertheless, I am a total airplane geek and would have probably stayed up there all night had we not gotten hungry.

7:10 p.m. - Afterward, I took Sandra on a drive through CP and EP to show her all of the fine culinary options in the area. She ended up picking Oz Pizza so we could dine outside on the patio. Of course, we didn't realize to begin with that it was a fund raising night for a local charter elementary school, so a couple a dozen parents and their little kids were all in attendance. It could have been disastrous, but really, the kids weren't too bad. Other than lots of running and tree climbing, most were pretty well behaved to be so young. And I'm not just saying that because I ran into several folks I know (Hi CA!) who might possibly read this...

7:20 p.m. - including an old friend who I dated in college, who was there with his family. (Look Traci - another one of my old boyfriends who still has all his hair and wasn't wearing old man shorts and black socks. ;-)) This is him with his youngest son. The son played shy at first, then he talked to me sweetly for a while, then he got bored with me and left to go play with another kid. About the time I had forgotten about him, he showed up at my table, gave me a sweet smile and a little eye twinkle. Of course, once he knew that he had regained my attention, he left again and never returned, so now I probably won't see him again for about 20 more years. (Insert something about apple not falling far from tree here.)

8:10 p.m.- Finished with dinner, Sandra and I headed back to her place and up to the observation deck again so I could get the Fly Delta Jets sign all lit up. Cause what would my 12 of 12 be without some more Delta for you all? (My Dad worked in that hangar under the Fly Delta Jets sign from when it was built in the 60s until he retired in 95 - for the 10 years before that, he worked in the same building that I'm in now.)

9:45 p.m. - And of course you need wine to fully appreciate the experience. My doctors recently discovered that my body will not absorb enough iron, B-12, Vitamin D and a couple of other vitamins and nutrients through normal channels (food or oral supplements), so I have to have a lot of shots and IVs to help combat the low levels and the problems they create. But alcohol absorption? Not a problem. Goes straight to where ever it is supposed to go, soaks in and stays for a while. I'm trying to come up with a good iron and B-12 cocktail, but not sure which alcohol mixes with that. Maybe vodka??

Well, I guess that's 12. Hope you enjoyed (and Traci, hope you'll forgive me for the jab. At least the one you ended up with the one who still has all his hair :-))