…back to last weekend and Chuckster T. Phool.
Larry, whose first name is Charles, went to grad school at Purdue from 1971-1975. By the time I met Larry in 1991, he was a quasi-balding professor, a father of two and a wine drinker – fully ensconced in yuppiedom. I’ve only known Larry as a responsible, contributing member of society who wears Dockers and button-down shirts with ties.
Enter John and Denny and the rest of his close-knit group of Purdue friends who knew Larry when he had lots of hair and drove a 1965 Chevy Bel Air. Oh, and a Datsun.
John and Denny arrived last Friday afternoon armed with whiskey and vodka and the answers to a few of my questions. First one: Why Chuckster T. Phool? Answer: The “Chuck” part is obvious. “T” stands for “the.” The adjective “Phool” was chosen because Larry used to think everything was funny. Ergo, a “fool.” Because he was pursuing his Ph.D., his friends deemed him classy enough to be a “PHool.”
Second one: What about that trip to New York City? Before March Madness, there was something called the NIT – National Invitation Tournament. Purdue’s basketball team was in the final four in 1974 and the college sent four busses of students to Madison Square Garden to support the team.
Here’s Larry’s version of the weekend: “We had a great time, partied a little, went to mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and went home.”
Here’s Denny’s version: All the booze everyone brought was gone by the Ohio border. One bus lost heat; they stopped every few hours for bathroom breaks because the bathrooms broke down on other busses; to fix the heat on the bus that lost heat, they had to stop in Breezewood, PA, at a truck stop from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., and the 150 or so students sat around drinking coffee and singing Purdue songs, pissing off the truck drivers. The entourage got to New York in time for the first semi-final on Saturday night. On Sunday, the final game didn’t start until 1:00, which left Larry and Denny plenty of time to attend mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This was Larry’s idea. Only, and if you’re Catholic you might not like this, Larry’s intentions were not of a higher order. The 11 a.m. service at St. Patrick’s was a Cardinal’s mass, full of music and the vivid colors of vestments. That’s why Larry wanted to go to mass. Stoned. So Denny and Larry walked to St. Patrick’s, lighting a doob four blocks from the cathedral.
As Denny told the story, Larry just sat back and smiled. He couldn’t deny a thing.
This was one of the many truths I learned about my husband through his friends. But I didn’t learn these truths exclusively through stories. I understand more about who Larry is because I understand the kind of people his friends are. John and Denny are truly interesting. They are engaging, funny, and intelligent men. They are the kind of people you feel really good to have met and wish you’d met a long time ago.
Not to sound like a Tom Cruise movie, but John and Denny “complete” Larry in many ways.
On Saturday night, after everyone had left, I sat down on the couch before going to bed, partly to collect my thoughts, partly to settle the buzz. Before I met them, I’d experienced Larry’s friends only through Larry’s memories and briefly through email as I planned his party in secret. I was a little worried about meeting the Purdue friends Larry always talked about, the ones who defined so much of who he was back then and still is today in many ways. It’s like meeting family only worse. You don’t choose your family, but you choose your friends, and if your significant other doesn’t like your friends, or vice versa, there could be some real issues.
But John and Denny alleviated my fears immediately. They are not just Larry’s memories. They are real people who came to life in my house, in my town, in my own existence. Flesh and bone with similar ways of thinking and doing and being. Only with a Purdue twist.
It was like taking a vacation in my own house. You know how when you take a vacation you think and do and say things you don’t normally think or do or say? Not that you’re untrue to your real self, but you take a side trip, a more in depth look at who you are. It wasn’t the party or the food I served that made this weekend one of the best ever, although serving New York strip steaks to that group of carnivores pretty much assures my induction into the Good Hostess Hall of Fame. All weekend there were conversations about the past and the present. We drank and laughed and lit plastic on fire and burned candles. It was a weekend of love and Berings and friends and truth. Fun truth. That fill-in-the-blank truth that only friends and family can offer.
The guys capped their weekend with an ouzo toast and John and I talked about God, but lest you think I was merely pensive all weekend, I’ll share one (and only one) stupid thing I did that I remember: Regarding my outfit on Saturday night, what I thought were leggings were actually shear brown tights. Someone at the party made a smartass comment and so I lifted the back of my shirt in a gesture that said “bite me” thinking I was only exposing the shape of my ass and not my actual ass. Um, yeah. No wonder the guys asked me to lift my shirt one more time. My daughters were mortified, but laughing. I still can’t believe I did it.
I really need to rethink my blond highlights.