I got the call that my friend had died on Wednesday evening. I was in a theater, writing lighting cues for Les Misérables. Of course that’s when I’d hear. Richard and I met in a theater, and over the years we attended or worked on hundreds of productions together.
For my 50th birthday, I bought a bottle of Balvenie Portwood 21 year-old Scotch and sought out the people who’ve been important in my life to offer a toast of thanks. Some weren’t close enough to clink a glass, so I started writing virtual toasts. That’s where this piece came from – the easiest, most pleasurable writing I’ve ever done.
I decided I needed a hiking partner – I wanted the moral encouragement a well-matched companion might provide. In high school, Champ had been on the football team, while I was a decidedly unathletic music geek…In 2012 we hiked Algonquin, followed that up with Marcy in 2014, then we hiked Esther and Whiteface in 2018. I proposed the Traverse shortly thereafter.
Jim had been concerned about bears as the trip approached; he’d read about several close encounters on the message boards he followed. I wasn’t too worried, because I’d never actually seen a bear in 35 years of hiking in the Adirondacks. I’d camped before in areas where the NYS DEC warned visitors to be cautious, and I followed their rules, printed on bright yellow signs at most trailheads.
Autumn was the gentlest dog I’ve ever known. She wasn’t particularly smart, although she had an unerring internal timer for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack times. Dog heaven better have peanut butter, or I expect she’ll be coming back.
I finally summited McKenzie and took a selfie under the sign on the wooded summit. Almost 8 hours into the trip, with a 5.3 mile return still to go, and I was washed in an emotional mix of satisfaction, gratefulness, relief, and a touch of euphoria – the delicious endorphin cocktail that comes after trying and achieving something difficult.
I am absurdly proud of you right now. I think it’s been pretty easy to be your father – to those who say we’re similar, I counter that I was harder to steer.
This week, I’m preparing for my sixth musical at New Hartford High School, the third one entirely designed and run by a student crew. This is an abridged version of the letter I gave the crew, as they begin attending rehearsals.
We said our job was to raise a self-sufficient, contributing member of society; mission accomplished.
Recently, a friend ran into an old classmate, who said she remembered me from school. I looked her up on Facebook, and although the recent profile shot rang a bell, I couldn’t place her. That sent me back to a much earlier facebook, the 1987 FHS (Fairport, NY) Hourglass.