I posted this Last April and – just like I described in the story – when I called, he came. Shortly after I hit “publish,” Walt and I found each other again. We caught up and had a lot of laughs. We’ve talked on the phone and emailed and chatted on facebook. I was looking forward to getting together with him in the fall for our college homecoming celebration. I laughed as I pictured myself walking around the old campus, yelling, “WALT!” knowing that – as always – he would answer.
But today, I got an email from another old friend telling me the sad news. Walt – my friend – my fairy godfather – passed away on Sunday. He lived in Texas, so I can’t be there. I won’t see him again. All I can do is tell his story one last time. I’ll miss you, Fairy Godfather.
I was having a conversation recently about “the good old days” and we were bringing up people in our past who were “characters” and the one person that always comes to mind for me in that situation is my friend Walt.
Walt was a legend on the campus of my teeny-tiny (first) college. Legend had him anywhere between 21 and 27, depending on who was retelling it. He was an icon. A permanent fixture. Don’t get me wrong, he was a smart guy and loved college. Or “college”, if you will. He was a stocky guy with the white blond hair. He almost always had a smile on his face (probably because he was at least a sheet and a half at any given time).
The first time I met Walt, I was a little intimidated. Here I was, a freshman, a baby, and there HE was – a. . .well. . .I have no idea what he was, since legend had it he was in his 6th or 7th year. But he was older. He was a grownup. As a sophomore, my friend Dave would drag me to Walt’s place to party, and I’d feel uncomfortable the entire time. The crowd there was always (to me, at least) a little older, a little smarter, a lot cooler. I have to admit, the discomfort was totally on my part – everyone there treated me just fine, but I felt inferior and stupid. But in time, Walt became my Fairy Godfather.
I never really thought he noticed me. I figured he saw me as the kid Dave dragged around with him. I didn’t even think he knew my name. But one day, I was walking to Victorian Literature (otherwise known as Stick Hot Pokers into My Ears and Eyes Lest I Explode from Boredom class) and I heard a voice from across the quad yell, “Hey! MaidenName! Let’s go drink a bottle of Black Velvet!” And given the choice of going to the world’s most boring class ever and downing a bottle of Canadian whiskey with a somewhat intimidating near-stranger – no contest!
I sort of thought he was kidding – that he just had some beer or a partial bottle left over from his last party or some good bud and was just looking for some company, but when we got back to his place, he pulled out two shot glasses and a brand new bottle of Black Velvet and we got to drinking. We spent the next couple of hours drinking and talking and having a great time. By the time his roommate (another older, even more intimidating silent-type) got back, along with some of the other of the usual party crowd (including Dave, who was until now, my only ticket into the place), Walt and I were pretty much trashed and laughing like fools. The roomie gave us a raised-eyebrow and everyone else looked a bit surprised. So perhaps I right and they were just tolerating me, or maybe they were just surprised that Walt was drunk on whiskey with a sophomore they all barely knew. Or maybe they were just surprised that I wasn’t with Dave – we were pretty much inseparable and I found out years later that everyone thought we were a couple.
Regardless, from that point forward, Walt became my Fairy Godfather. No matter where I was or what I was doing, if I thought about Walt, he would suddenly be there. We’d be partying in my friend’s dorm room and we’d say, “Walt should be here”, and a minute later the door would open and he’d walk in. Or we’d be at a hotel for homecoming, and wonder where Walt’s room was. So, we’d walk up the halls and just say, “Walt!” In 30 seconds, a door would fly open, and there he’d be. I’d be walking to class and think, “I really don’t feel like going today – I wish Walt would come rescue me” and before I knew it, I’d hear the by-then-infamous, “Hey MaidenName! Let’s go drink a bottle of Black Velvet/tequila/case of beer/” and off we’d go.
My favorite magically-appearing Walt occasion was after he graduated and I had left our small-town college for the last time (as did Dave). It was 1980-something, at a Dead show. It was the first of two shows and I had a ticket for both nights, but my friend Trish only had one for the second night. She came along anyway and we met up with Dave and some of his friends to party. A few hours before the show, we were making our rounds of the parking lot and a few people cut through our group, and in that sea of people, that was all it took to be separated from all my friends. I spent the next couple hours walking around looking for them and occasionally hanging out with some fun strangers. I finally gave up when it was time for the show to start. My ticket was a single, so I couldn’t even find them in their seats, since I had no idea where they were (not to mention, that at a Show? Seats, Schmeats!). I ended up running into a guy I knew who was also on his own, so I hung with him during the show. Afterward, we parted ways and I was once again alone in the lot.
I went to where they had been parked, but they were gone. I spent about an hour walking around, wondering how the hell I was going to get home (it was after city buses quit running, I had no money for a cab and it was way too far to walk, especially since I’d have to make my way through the Hill District to get home). I was feeling pretty freaked out and was about to find a group of folks who would let me hang for the night, when I started thinking about Walt. So I took a chance and said, “Walt!” And I swear – a van door popped open and there he was! That’s when I knew it was official – Walt was my Fairy Godfather.
Since last night, I can’t get him off my mind. We got in touch a few years ago and emailed a few times. He lived several states away and was married with a child. We lost touch again and I regret that. He was a good guy and a lot of fun. He was an unexpected friend. I find myself thinking about him quite often. So I have one thing to say: