I haven’t been able to blog much lately. Upon my return, I wanted to write some stuff about movies, music, and my usual subjects. At the same time, the last couple of years have made me appreciate the people in my life so I wanted to write a bit about them too. Instead of the usual suspects (wife, mom, kids, etc), I thought I’d touch on friends and acquaintances. They’re often the ones taken for granted. These won’t be folks who broke records or cured diseases. Like Harvey Pekar before me, I’m interested in the drama of everyday life.
I decided to start with my long time friend Cliff. Why Cliff? Well, at the end of this last school year the Trudeaus were watching the President speak at a Kalamazoo, MI high school graduation. They had won a nation-wide contest to receive the honor. And who was sitting behind the President? Cliff. This was cool, as Cliff was my best man, friend through high school and college, and a guy who I’ve actually known most of my life.
Though Cliff and I had played together when we were very young (our parents were high school friends), I didn’t really connect with him again until the summer before our sophomore year of high school. I don’t remember when or how we got to be so close. One moment I wasn’t hanging out with him and then we were suddenly best pals.
If you asked most people at that time what they thought of Cliff, they’d probably say he was a goof. And let’s make no mistake; he was definitely goofy. He derived great pleasure from making a public ass of himself and I couldn’t help but to go along. At one ice cream place in Grand Bend, ON we made a scene three days in a row when I swung the door at him and he pretended to get hit in the face. I screamed “Oh my god!” and dragged his dazed body the rest of the way out. By the third time I think they deduced it was a gag.
My personal favorite moment was when he fell down the stairs at graduation. He “tripped” on the top step and went all the way down, landing with a splat at the bottom. Happily the place was filled with plenty of people who didn’t know him and they were genuinely afraid he’d hurt himself. A lady next to my aunt said, “I hope he’s okay.” My aunt just rolled her eyes and said, “He’s fine.”
Another quick memory relates to when I asked out a certain girl for the first time. She said maybe. We were standing outside of Cory Radomski’s van, which Cliff was inside of. He opened a window and yelled, “What the hell kind of an answer is that?” Sure it was a little embarrassing but at least someone had my back.
But there’s something people didn’t know about him then and may not now. Out of all my friends, Cliff was the one who had to buy his own clothes. He usually held two jobs at a time and everything he had was a result of his own work. I didn’t exactly grow up wealthy but I was still handed more than him. I always respected him for that. He was a trailer park kid and unlike the stereotype, he had a good brain in his head and wanted better for himself.
Like me, Cliff is a first generation college graduate. Going to college was emphasized for me from day one but Cliff went because he simply decided he wanted it. It took him an extra year to get out to Western because he had to work to put funds together. They quickly disappeared after school started. He was supposed to split the rent with four others and he was the only one who made it out. This left him paying for everything on his own while scrambling to find new roommates.
Just like with VG’s Grocery Store in high school, Cliff got a job at Chi Chi’s and lined me up there soon after. Thank god because that job sucked enough as it was. I can’t imagine what it’d been like without him. Who else would I have to share stories of Phlegm in the dish tank (his name was Jason but he insisted you call him his slimy nickname)?
When I started college, I knew a lot of students who dropped out when things got a little tough. Cliff didn’t and hung in there. He got his degree and teaching certification only to find there wasn’t a job waiting for him right afterwards.
I should mention Jayne now. Cliff and Jayne had been dating since she asked him to Homecoming our senior year. She started at WMU the same time as him and they got married before they graduated. Most stories that start this way end with “and it just didn’t work out in the end.” In their case, they stuck together when things didn’t go to plan and are a very strong couple as a result. It took Cliff a bit of time in the part-time trenches of the Kalamazoo Schools before he got his full time job. Before that happened, they had welcomed their first son, Ethan, and I can’t imagine it was easy to keep everything afloat.
Now here we are, several years later and Cliff is an established high school history teacher in a school that has climbed up from neglect to achieve great things. He’s also a proud father of four. There are some people who ask “Really?” when I tell them what he’s doing now. They can’t get past the image of the in-your-face oddball they knew. But I knew better and so did others who understood what was under the surface. That’s why when I saw him sitting behind the President of the United States I was proud of him but not totally surprised.