August 12, 2016
I fell in love with Paul Jacobson the minute my family moved to Alton. We were very different, but we shared the same wicked sense of humor in which nothing – not Jesus, not anything – was sacred.
Jake was into weight lifting back then, and he was a specimen. I’ve never lifted anything heavier than a beer. We roamed the open spaces inside Alton, a town where everything is steep hills and deep ravines in which houses couldn’t be built. We navigated using a series of trails through woods and weeds, where earlier explorers had left their mark. We watched people across their back yards who had no idea we were there. We picked wild blackberries, cutting our bare arms on the thorns and scratching bloody our legs, from chiggers. And Jake’s mom, a mom among moms, made us blackberry pies.
We made each other laugh. I thought Jake was crazy, and maybe he was. He got a kick out of being an outsider. My own introverted soul was very comfortable with him. We would lie on the ground and watch the stars and laugh as though we were identical twins. We didn’t know it then: We both were philosophers.
We had the same type of fathers – bullies and terrorists. My dad was the angriest human I have ever known. I didn’t dare fight back. Jake’s dad didn’t dare threaten his son – Jake had “don’t fuck with me” eyes.
We took a dislike to the same phony people, and in one instance we took revenge on a teacher, the method of which was highly successful, though the teacher and the school – they didn’t know we were the perps – were out a thousand dollars or more.
And then we graduated, and as Betty Ball, our classmate said on the day of graduation, “Well, Baldwin, this is the last day we’re all equals.” Man, was she right. And Jake and I went our separate ways. And I didn’t see him again for fifty years.
Then came our reunion this past June, and Jake and I locked eyes and started laughing because the room was full of phonies as well dear friends, and we resumed a conversation that had the longest ellipsis in history.
“Man, this room is full of old people,” Jake said in wonderment.
You are reading this, so you know what happened to me, a life in the arts. Meanwhile, Dr. Paul Jacobson had been a professor of sociology at a university in Tennessee. We were smarter than we may have appeared, in high school.
Two weeks ago, Jake, a lifelong healthy food advocate, a lifelong athlete – he loves tennis – told his tennis pals that he was having trouble breathing. They kidded him about him being so damned healthy and fit and now he was going to need a stent. They were wrong.
Jake met with a heart specialist and was shocked by what that doctor, in consultation with partners, told him. He was going to have to have open heart surgery the next morning. He was in dire peril of being killed by a “widow maker.”
The good part, Jake told me, was that he didn’t have several weeks to brood about it or call friends in fear that they’d hold prayer circles for him. He didn’t have to worry about me, on that score.
He had double bypass surgery the next day, about ten days ago, and he is alive and well, having been told by the heart specialist that he had to adapt the Mediterranean diet, which Jake has already been on since junior high school. Heart disease runs in his family.
My first thought, upon hearing the news, was a selfish one. I didn’t want my friend to die because I needed him. My further thoughts took me back in the Circle Game to when Jake and I were philosophers and star men and teenage sex fiends (sorry, E. and B. and C. and the naked redheaded girl in the bathtub at the youth building at Main Street Methodist Church).
We talked this morning. We comforted each other. We laughed. We’ve both read “Candide;” we know the truth. Literature could have ended with Voltaire; he said everything there is to say about men.
We laughed. And we’ll keep laughing. We plan to be the last two standing from the Class of 1966. But you know what they say about plans.