In 1983, my college dorm room was an important meeting place. Monday through Friday at 3:00, my roommate and four or five of our friends would gather to watch General Hospital. I write this in a way that implies zero involvement from me. But that’s only partially true. I rarely settled in to watch GH, but because it was my room, I was present often enough to know the plot-lines, which moved at a glacial pace. I could watch the show as infrequently as once a week, and still know everything that was going on.
Thirty-three years is a long time to retain the details of soap opera plots, so most of them have forever fled my brain. But one story line remains somewhat intact. Heartthrob John Stamos led a fictional rock band called Blackie and the Riff Raff.
This has to be the stupidest subplot ever developed in a soap. Street-kid adopted by a wealthy couple creates a rock band and finds stardom… until he gets in trouble, goes to jail and loses everything he’s worked so hard for. In a show that undoubtedly has had hundreds of “jump the shark” moments over the years, I’m guessing that Blackie and the Riff Raff is the jump the sharkiest.
The sheer stupidity of the Blackie plot made it an ironic debate topic around campus—although I had little interest in General Hospital, I felt fortunate to be able to join in on the many Blackie and the Riff Raff discussions that popped up, particularly with girls.
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Last week, my friend Andy died. Although calling him my friend might be a stretch. We haven’t been in touch since college. And even then, there was some distance between us. He wasn’t one of the handful of people I considered my best friends. We were close, we hung out all the time, but he was someone I thought of as a friend of a friend. He was best friends with my best friends.
Andy lived in a group house just off campus. His four roommates cut from the same mold as Andy. Shockingly intelligent; soft spoken; humble; and constantly stoned. Uniformly, they were headed to graduate school and then on to successful careers.
Andy was a recognizable guy. Tall and soft, a white mop of straight longish hair, and pale skin. Skin so pale it wasn’t pink as is usually the case, but pale-white. Like the skin under a wet band aid. Around our small campus, he was known as Casper.
This is the second time this year an old friend has died. Apparently, as we enter our mid-fifties, the warranty runs out. Some of us break down and can’t be fixed. Each time this happens, I settle into a week of memories. Reliving events that have been lost from my thoughts for decades.
Here’s this week’s memory:
Each year, my college hosted a trivia contest. The “Campus Bowl” featured teams of three students or faculty trying to answer questions on a wide range of topics.
Andy, me, and my friend Mike, planned on entering a team.
Andy had an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music. He knew the blues, roots rock, sixties, seventies, garage, metal, punk and new wave. He was probably weak on disco, but so was everyone else I knew. Mike knew history and sports. Me? Literature, maybe. Plus, I supplied the clever name. Whitey and the Riff Raff. We envisioned ourselves sitting at a long table, name-tags tented in front of each of us. Mike and I would be Riff and Raff. And of course, Andy (Casper) would be Whitey.
Like so many other plans hatched by pot smokers, our trivia team idea went nowhere. We spent hours talking about it, but no one took the time to register us. Trivia night came and went, and we didn’t even bother to go watch. All I’m left with as a memory is the disappointing realization that I squandered yet another opportunity because I was stoned.
I’m told that Andy died sitting in a chair listening to music. Given his love of rock and roll, this seems fitting. I haven’t listened to music in decades. Sure, I have music on when I drive, when I exercise, when I entertain, but to simply sit and listen? That’s an activity from another era.
I suppose Andy had a heart attack or a stroke. The final word hasn’t come back yet. But his death teaches me—yet again—not to take my life for granted. As with Mike’s heart attack over ten years ago, like my friend John’s death from cancer last November, I’m given constant reminders that life is tenuous. Something to be coddled and cherished and celebrated. My warranty is up. Now I want to push a few more decades out of this aging machine.