I knew from the moment I met him that I couldn't do what he did. After a while, the harsh words and the angry phone hang-ups would have taken their toll on me. The vitriol would explode forth and the attempt--the calling--to tell the unvarnished truth would be supplanted by a temporarily satisfying but ultimately destructive blast of bitterness.
Chris was missing that response. It was never personal with him. He had a job to get to the heart of the story, while his subjects often acted as though their only mission in life was to keep him from completing his task. He would nag away, asking the same questions, narrowing the focus of the inquiry, always grasping at the truth as though it were the last Jujyfruit at the bottom of the box.
Chris knew his stuff. But I always got the feeling that he knew my stuff and your stuff, too. That was somewhat disconcerting, but he was always cool about it.
We did have one odd life path in common, and it was a doozy. We were both examples of a peculiar baby boomer phenomenon--the under-skilled but over-determined white basketball player. We had both played high school ball in California--he in the San Francisco Bay area, I in Los Angeles--and then had moved eastward to play in college, he in Colorado and I in Arizona.
One of the most important recruiting tools of the day was a federal government goodie know as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, the BEOG. Created during the Great Society days during the 1960s, the BEOG was designed to help the underprivileged (read: minorities) go to college. Great idea; bad implementation. These things were handed out, almost without question, like salt pills before football practice. College coaches--some desperate, some shady, most just looking for an edge--quickly learned that they could take the limited number of scholarships available to them, split them into parts and bring in more kids by supplementing each kid's financial-aid package with the handy BEOG.
Initially, some schools paid the money in one lump sum at the beginning of the school year. It didn't take long to realize that the dropout rate among such recipients was alarmingly high, so most schools switched to a schedule where the money was distributed over the course of the school year. Thus, it came to pass that, at colleges like those that Chris and I attended, the first of the month became payday, with many of the recipients in such a hurry to get paid and so oblivious as to the source of their windfall, that the grant got shortened by one letter, as in "I'ma' go get my B.O.G."
Like the guys in The Shawshank Redemption telling the same Andy stories over and over, Chris and I never tired of riffing on the B.O.G. He'd say, "Hey Man, let's go get my B.O.G." But he was either too sensitive or too inept, so it didn't sound ethnic, but rather like Dick Shawn's hippie Hitler in the original film version of The Producers.
Late in the summer, before he went into the hospital for the final time, he called me and said, "Hey Man, I got my B.O.G. Let's go eat." We went to a barbecue place and had a good time. He insisted on paying; I told him I'd get the next one.
He and I would sit together at Weekly functions and goof on people. The Best of TucsonTM meetings, where staff picks are hammered out through a combination of consensus and decibel level, used to be spirited affairs, pitting those who believe that Tucson extends beyond Fourth Avenue against the Birkenstock Bloc. Connie Tuttle, the Weekly columnist in charge of corralling the ultra-important vegan, peacenik, wing-nut segment of our readership, once said something across the table, to which I most delicately responded, "You're nuts!" She continued trying to argue her point, but the rejoinder remained, "You're nuts!" It was the most I was ever able to make Chris laugh.
He was a sports fan, but not the rah-rah UA or NFL type. He followed high school sports; one year, he went to every Pueblo High boys' basketball game. He greatly admired Amphi High football coach Vern Friedli, who won his 300th game the night before Chris died. He came to see my son play football and throw the discus, and on several occasions, he came to see the girls' basketball team that I coach play.
He got a kick out of watching my girls', shall we say, unique style of basketball. A couple times, I asked him if he wanted to sit on the bench with me during games, but he always preferred to sit by himself up in the bleachers. Once I asked him if he would like to come by and help coach, put his basketball knowledge to work. He was aghast at the suggestion. He said, "I could never do what you do."
When it came to Chris, I knew that feeling all too well.