Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Salve, Jacobus

My friend Jim and I started speaking Latin to each other before we'd formally met. He was on my dorm-hallway my freshman year, and I walked into his room during my early push to be outgoing (which didn't really last). The place was lit by the glow of screens and smelled like coca-cola. Jim likes coke, not light.

Through some conversational bumbling--I probably said "hello," his roommate probably said "ola"--we got around to saying "salve," which means "hail" in Latin. ("What's that? Oh, it's Latin isn't it?")

I think I'd wanted my first college conversation to be about something other than ancient languages--maybe Bob Dylan or French New Wave or at least sports. Instead we traded mnemonic devices for verb tenses. I worried a little when I left that conjugation congregation, though I also felt like I'd succeeded--I had an amicus!

My roommate Dan and I both took to Jim. And we teased him. About the way he came to see us every thirty minutes, the way he munched Pringles with a ritualistic aplomb, the way he invited us to the dining hall at precisely 5 every day, the way he was unapologetically wholesome and nice, the way that, despite that wholesomeness, he could be supercrude and often hilariously so.

Though he's older than me (28 today), Jim was like a slightly younger brother in the way he looked up to us. In fact, he was one of the first guys who ever thought I was truly cool--like Eric Clapton cool, not John Ritter cool--and I didn't know how to take it. Since I didn't feel that way about myself, I sometimes undervalued his friendship. When he'd look to me to plan a Saturday's fun, I'd lightly lash out, all the while wondering why he thought I knew how to transcend those beerless, ladyless times.

When you don't have anythin' cookin', the last thing you want to hear is, "So, what's cookin'?"

I sometimes took Jim for granted, treating him like a dorm friend, a guy who would literally always be there. One winter night, when we were slated to watch a movie, I said, "I can't do this," and left my room alone to search for some young man's bitter-cold-excitement. (I think I watched TV somewhere else and then trudged home; he had fun with Dan).

For a few years there, I was always looking for an elsewhere to be; Jim, a little more grown up, an older brother really, had decided he was pretty happy where/how he was.

And no wonder. He was an awesome guy: endlessly curious, stringently ethical, effortlessly funny, stubbornly hopeful. The coke brings him power.

(from right to left: Jim, my hand, Megan, who also says Happy Birthday!)

After school, I still saw Jim as much as I could, usually while I was visiting Megan in Eastern Massachusetts. After I met her parents for the first time, her mother asked her, "Does David have a place to stay tonight?" (I guess I was kind of a drifter back then).

My place-to-stay was always Jim's, on a fold-out bed under his childhood poster of Alonzo Mourning. His mom made me feel right at home and was happy to know that I was making friends with a young lady. Jim's place was always my base from which to go a-wooing, he was always my side-man.

Later, Jim and I got an apartment. He'd go to work and I'd make him pasta. It was quite domestic. The next summer, I crashed on a dingy mattress in the corner of his second place. We had a ball again.

Sometimes, though, when I was really righteous about being youthful, about carpe diem-ing, about the spiritus mundi and all that stercus (in other words, when I was kind of a prick), I'd think that he was too cautious or too steady or too something.

But he was loving life--great job, great girl, great place, great and enduring love of Bono. I was the one who was vaguely dissatisfied: living the sleep-on-the-floor, try-to-write, disrespect-personal-hygiene dream (+ great-girl, of course).


A few months ago, this guy I met nine years ago when we were both Latin doofuses (from the Latin, "doofus") stood up for me at my wedding. I'll do the same for him.

We've rubbed off on each other: he's a bit more audax, I'm a bit more contentus.

And I'm more than content that we hung together. I know there'll always be a mattress in the proverbial corner for him, and a bowl of Fusilli.

Felicem diem natalem, Jacobus!


Jim said...

Thanks for the tribute on my birthday, David!

Nil ego contulerim iucundo sanus amico.

Atque memento, nulli adsunt Romanorum qui locutionem tuam corrigant.

Joe said...

All I want for my birthday is a Dave W. tribute post.