Over the weekend, I attended a memorial service for an old friend, who died from a heart attack last month.
Now, memorial service does not quite describe what it was. It certainly was not a funeral or a wake, and it was more of something of a celebration of his life.
His name was Bruce, and he was a good man. He really made a point of helping his friends out, of staying loyal, and just had a feel for how to go about helping friends. Also, he had one of the richest senses of humor of anyone that I ever met.
Yes, he was very quick witted. There was one time, when we were doing a radio show together. This was one of the very few times that I ever dabbled in radio, back in the mid-nineties. I was in charge of sports, but was quite nervous in the studio, even though it was only broadcasting to a very small audience. Still, it seemed like a good idea to try and do something unique, to be witty on my own, and hopefully hold up my end of the bargain, so to speak.
I was reciting the previous night's baseball scores, and was trying to spice it up, make it a bit amusing and unpredictable. At one point, trying to say that the Cleveland Indians had gotten their buttocks beaten down, I stumbled, and instead said that the other team (sorry, can't remember who the other team was) had beaten the Cleveland buttocks. I tried to correct myself, but Bruce was very quick to pick up on the mistake, and make it into what would turn out to be a running joke for years to come.
"Ah, yes, the Cleveland Buttocks!" Bruce mused, without missing a beat. He went on to mention that he had been following that franchise for years. By that point, feeling nervous about my mistake and amused by what he had turned into a pretty funny joke, I was laughing, and effectively rendered useless as a result.
Bruce was always like that. He was always that guy that made everyone laugh, and after this weekend, hearing stories that other people who knew him far longer than I had, there was this sense that not only was he very funny, but he was an incredibly decent human being, to boot. He was a big guy, and in his high school days he used his size to protect smaller kids against bullies. Nobody wanted to mess with Bruce. Trust me, when I knew him, chances are nobody would want to then, either. I kid you not in mentioning how big and imposing he could be, although at the time, I never even knew that he could have a mean bone in his body, because he generally was too busy making people laugh.
Indeed, though, he could be a bad ass when he wanted to be, although from what I gather, the running theme of the stories shared this past weekend was that he did not do this to be an ass, but only in response to other kids bullying the weak, particularly his friends. One guy even suggested that Bruce was "the equalizer" in high school. He himself could not possibly hope to fight back against stronger kids, being perhaps 120 pounds soaking wet. But when Bruce stepped in to defend his friends, his trademark sense of humor was gone. He would be deadly serious, and legitimately angry. And trust me, like the also late David Banner from the Incredible Hulk series back in the 1980's, you did not want to make Bruce angry. If you notice in the pictures, there is actually a photograph of a professional wrestler, the Big Boss Man. He was a professional wrestler that played a bad guy cop, and as such, he was obviously very physically imposing. At one point, Bruce and a few friends were going through a toy store, when they encountered this action figure, and it looked so much lke Bruce, that as a joke, they bought it. This, too, became a running joke, albeit one that I personally only learned about this past weekend.
Bruce might have had a rich sense of humor and loved to make people laugh, but the end of his life was no joke. He was mostly a loner, with few family members, and most of them had already died. He had diabetes, and at one point, this affected his right leg seriously enough that he had needed it amputated. I wrote part of a blog entry about that - an angry one as an illustration of the failure of the American healthcare system and how it impacts real life people - although I never did finish it. Still, it seems appropriate enough to include that soon, although not in this particular blog, which will be my attempt to honor Bruce.
And so, it was a strange kind of event. Neither a funeral nor a wake, although something to honor Bruce's life. Everyone said that he would have wanted heavy metal to be playing there, and so it was.
And for at least one last time, his friends gathered and shared stories about Bruce, and allowed his memory, his sense of humor, and the overall decent quality of who he was, to be kept alive, at least one last time.
RIP, Bruce Hessian.