Susan and I happened to meet on a sidewalk downtown last week. She and I worked together back in 1994, and I probably haven't seen her in almost 10 years.
I asked if she still stayed in touch with Sam. She told me he was killed in an auto crash three years ago. She assumed I already knew. I didn't.
I showed my concern and unhappiness over the incident. After some more polite chat, we went our separate ways.
Sam stayed on my mind for the rest of the day. That night, I went through some of my old journals trying to bring "Sammy" back to life.
That's what I called him, and he called me Lawrence. He was a big man, probably 250 pounds and all muscle. He had wild red hair and a long red beard and always wore overalls.
I considered him loud and obnoxious. I'm not sure what he considered me, but when we first met we took an instant dislike to one another. We kept our distance for months.
We both worked at a pharmaceutical company. I was an office employee, and he was a factory worker.
One afternoon, we started talking in the breakroom while smoking cigarettes when no one else was around. I think he wanted someone to harass and started making fun of my white collar job. He was a smart ass, but I was quick-witted and could hold my own with him. He liked that, and somehow a friendship grew.
It was an unlikely one — me being a liberal and he being a conservative. We got in the habit of going down to Caddy's on Friday nights where he would boast of Ronald Reagan as being the best President of the United States ever. I would counter by saying Reagan did nothing to help the poor and had set the country back 20 years with his policies. Our debates were lively and fun and, for whatever reason, the friendship continued for more than three years.
We hung out at Caddy's a lot during those days — went to more than a few ballgames and sometimes he'd just show up at my apartment with a 12-pack of Miller. Often he would be on the outs with his girlfriend Doris and would come to me looking for advice. I seldom had any.
Once on his birthday he talked me into going to a strip club with him in Newport. I sat there annoyed as he spent tons of money buying one of the stripper's drinks. He told her she was built like a "brick shithouse," thinking it was a compliment — and to Sammy it was.
He was indeed a conservative in most of his politics, but he enjoyed his weed. Sometimes we'd get high sitting in his van before going into Caddy's.
Sometimes when he got too drunk there he would speak of his mother who died when he was still in grade school. He would cry for her, and I wouldn't know what to say to him. It was strange seeing this big man crying in his beer.
He was outrageous yet kindhearted. He loved this world, was bigger than life and was truly a piece of work. Now he's gone, and I find it out years later.
In looking back through my journals, I clearly had a history with Sammy — I wrote about some of the adventures we had together — but as I continued to turn the pages that history became fuzzy and less frequent somehow. Eventually I couldn't find his name in any of those pages.
We both moved on to other jobs. We both found reasons not to meet up at Caddy's or to go to ballgames. We met other people, made other friends and maybe it became too difficult or inconvenient to maintain the friendship. Maybe we both let it go too easily.
Since meeting Susan on the sidewalk, I've written about Sammy a lot in my journal, trying to figure out how we drifted apart, why we didn't care enough to keep the friendship going — but in all the words I've written lately I don't really know why we let it die.
I'm sad that he's gone, but I can't do anything about it now. It's history. That chapter in my life is closed forever.
What I can do now is write about him in this column and let people know he was a good man. What I can do is let my other friends know I'm older and wiser now and tell them I love them more and work harder at keeping them around me.
I'll learn from my history with Sammy. I know now that friendships are too precious to simply let slip away.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]. Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and the second and fourth issues of each month in the paper.