The 40 greatest Influences of the last 40 years is a weekly countdown to my 40th Birthday in which I wax poetic about the people places and things that have shaped me into, for better or worse, the man I am today.
Today’s great influence is......
Previously In the countdown I mentioned that my best friend growing #37 Casey Richard, had switched schools for a while. He left in the spring of 8th grade and came back at the beginning of our sophomore year. It was kind of weird how Casey left. His mom was at school and she literally just took him out of class early that day. He and I barely even spoke about it. He was suddenly gone and I needed a new best friend. Finding a best friend can be a long process. Trust has to be earned and rapport developed slowly. Let me tell you what I did to find a new best friend. I walked into the hallway outside Mr Scheel’s class where all the 8th grade lockers were located. I ran through a quick list of criteria.
Has to be funny.
Must play basketball.
Needs a best friend too.
I then surveyed the rest of the eighth grade students all rushing to change books at their lockers. And even if the criteria hadn’t fit so exquisitely perfect, it still would have seemed blatantly obvious as he was the biggest guy in the class, maybe even the whole school at that point. I immediately walked up to my new best friend for next 2 and a half years. His name was Chris Hanson.
Chris Hanson was Probably the biggest friend Had growing up. He was one of those gentle giant types. In 6th grade he was about 6 feet tall and 200 lbs. In 8th grade he was about 6’2” and 220. Now as adult he is probably close to 6’”4. And he is the Runt of his family. He had an older brother Gene who was in college at Whitman while we were in high school, who was like 6’7”. His baby brother Greg grew up to be about 6’8”. As I mentioned briefly in my post on the 3rd triumvirate, when I saw Greg after 20 years I assumed he was Gene because he had grown so much. Not that Greg was ever tiny, as like a 5th grade the would attempt to pull off Wrestling moves on Chris and I and we literally had to climb out the balcony window to get away.
So in his family he was the middle child and the “small” one.
Chris’s Dad was a very large man, but surprisingly not intimidating. Of course I never pissed him off so I never saw his rath. We referred to him as “The Norseman, “ and with a big house and lots of property down middle Waitsburg road, and 3 large strapping boys, this family could easily be confused for Viking horde. It was like Marshall Erickson from How I met your Mother only about 1200 miles due west down the Empire Builder. One day while I was Chris’s house the Norseman came home to find me sitting at his kitchen table with Chris and said “hey Tony you old Salty dog, how the hell are you” (I’m not making this up). “The old salty dog “became a running joke between Chris and I, that I still reference in the GIF at the top of this page
So any ways, the day Casey left, I just walked up to Chris and started hanging out with him and we were inseparable for the next 2 years. I guess it was kind of weird to just instantly become best friends, because we never really talked about it. I mean he never said “like dude why are you hanging around with me all of a sudden?” We had been friends for a while. He hadn’t been in school with me until 6th grade. But like all my none school friends ever, we knew each other before that from playing basketball together at the YMCA. So for us to hang out was not unprecedented. We had been in plays together recently. We had both run for middle school ASB Vice President (I narrowly defeated him, but I concede his speech was much better. The 6’2” 6th grader threatening to stalk you as a ninja in a leotard if you don’t vote for him. I only won because everyone didn’t vote for him just to see him don the leotard for revenge). We were friends but up to that point we had never been to each other’s houses. We didn’t eat lunch together. I don’t know who had been eating lunch with before. Maybe it was alone, but probably with underwood or the Roede-dog and Brian. I don’t even remember us having been in class that much together, but that all changed instantaneously. I don’t really know what Chris thought of me, but we went with it and accepted me. Soon we are spending every weekend with each other. We began writing competing thinks in class and then sharing them. Chris and I actually came up with coded nicknames for everyone so we could write thunks about people with out them Knowing we were talking about them. I have forgotten all but 2 of them and I’m only 50% sure of who they were supposed to be, but the nicknames that have embedded into my brain were “Hittler Lips” and “Iz Moose.”
Chris boasted that even though I was the originator of Thinks I’ve Thunk, he was a superior Thunk creator. His thunks were more absurdist and random than mine, which as I think about it now made him ahead of his time. Like I was a contemporary 90’s Seinfeld, a show about nothing, Chris’s sense of humor was was more representative of the absurdist one camera shows like The Office, and basically anything with white people on TBS circa 2016. Chris was a man ahead of his time.
It was Chris’s absurdist thunks that led to our other dominate time-wasting-past-time, Cool Stuff. Cool stuff refers to putting a blank tape in the VCR(yes VCR, I am so old) and searching through the television channels to find random scenes from shows that you record in an effort to piece together some kind of narrative or theme. It was the precursor to YouTube clips. Yeah so while Chris might have been 20 years in the future on comedy (and he was absolutely hilarious) I was totally on the future wave with Thinks I’ve thunk becoming Twitter and Cool stuff becoming Vines/Tictock/Clips what have you. But it was also an homage to trashy late night sketch comedy movies from the 70’s and 80’s, our favorite of which was “Amazon Women on the Moon.”(more on that in a minute). We would soon use this futuristic form of entertainment for petty revenge.
So it was that in our freshman speech class when Everyone’s favorite person, Bernadette, decided to record some kind of talking into the camera clip on my speech tape for class. She was apparently in charge of recording the speech’s in class that day and just decided to make love to the camera while infantile saying “hi Tony, whatcha doing in there,” on my speech tape for reasons that can not be explained. Also caught on this clip was the reaction of other classmates commenting “don’t break the camera Bernadette” and even the perplexed questioning of the too soon deceased Ben Stull asking “is that going to be on the tape?” When Chris and I reviewed the tape, this insult could not be borne!!
You see, making complete fools of ourselves in front of class in a somewhat desperate but generally good natured attempt at prosocial attention seeking, that was our thing, and we were not about to let Bernadette steal our thunder. So as revenge we pretended to clean up and organize all the tapes after class one day at in order to find and steal Bernadettes tape and then, well, we just recorded cool stuff on it, and then pour it back in the class the next day. Well it just so worked like a charm as our teacher Mrs Sutlyck was attempting to find a speech Bernedette had made for the class to review and that prompted her to inadvertently broadcast all our Cool Stuff to the entire class. And because Chris had donned a leisure suit attempted to light it on fire to prove it was flame retardant, only to learn that polyester does melt, and then showed a cool stuff clip in a previous speech, the whole class instantly recognized our work for what it was. Ah, sweet revenge! Or something??? As a note on that story, so the day Bernadette had recorded that video, I was supposed to do a demonstration speech, but I had nothing prepared. That’s right even as a freshman, I doubted my ability to provide anything of any practicality, even in a speech class that I have just here in this very paragraph described as “my thing.” But because of Bernadette’s recoding on my tape, there was an out cry from the class that “the show must go on” and I had to do something. I found the adamency and urgency of the class about this strange, but ultimately I guess I wanted to believe they just liked my specks so much, so I got up and did one about how to sound like you know what you are doing when you actually have no idea. And in this speech I pulled off a funny proctology line, thanks to a brilliant set up by my boy Christian Schmidt. It’s worth noting that on the grade paper I got back on this speech Mrs Sutlick Gabe me a C and wrote the title of my speech as “How to show you don’t know what you are doing!” Poetic justice. The saddest part of this was that I didn’t connect the dots that no one actually wanted to hear me give a speech they just wanted me to see Bernadette on my my tape, for months, maybe even years.
So like I said Chris and I spent an awful lot of time at each other’s houses. His house was uniquely qualified for the procurement of Cool Stuff because he had a Satellite dish. And this was back when a Satellite dish was a rare and special thing that allowed you to have 600 channels. And some of those channels had, you know, like adult movies and what not. And Occasionally Chris and I would wantch some of them, as 15 year olds tend to do. So at some point after I had been spending a lot of time at Chris’s and I am making plans for o go again, my mom suddenly goes “why don’t you have Chris come over here?” She made it seem like it’s not fair to keep he invited over to his house without ever returning the favor, and I was cool with that. Chris was my best friend we just wanted to hang out together. But again, after years of ignorance it suddenly dawned on me that Chris mom must have said something to my mom about what kind of programming their satellite provider. For the record at Chris’s house we did watch lots of late night adult movies. We also watched a lot of comedies. We kept talking and planning about making a band just as soon as I learned to play an instrument. We recorded more of our own sketch videos. We rehearsed for the Odd Couple play we were in together. To me the biggest draw out to the Viking Compound was he had a complete lined outdoor halfcourt basketball court complete with glass backboard and spring hinged rim. The next biggest draw was a freezer full of hot pockets! Dirty movies were a distant 3rd, but I digress.
At my house Chris and I did pretty much the same things. We played basketball in my driveway. We raided my much smaller freezer for microwaveable foods. Our media entertainment was different but no less high tech for the times. My baby sisters had a some kind of story book CD ROM about a giant that was guarding his garden. Again it was the 90’s and the concept that you could have a storybook picture of a house with a garden and when you clicked on the garden gate, the gate opened, and when you clicked on the bird in the tree it chirped and fluttered it wings, this was revolutionary!! So I just remember there was this one part where the giant sings “hey you kids, get out of my garden!” And Chris being a giant himself could imitate the voice just perfectly and make my sisters laugh and laugh. And there you have why Chris and I were such good friends for this time period. I was able to open up and be honest and transparent with Chris. I felt he accepted me through and through. And I think I provide that same acceptance to him. In some ways I think Chris really could have used two baby sisters to give him an outlet to be soft and sweet and silly. And I could have used two rough and tumble brothers to wrestle and compete with. I was the oldest so I always felt I had to be responsible and in charge. Chris was a middle child and he may have felt he was never really in charge or responsible for anything, just kind of lost in the shuffle.
As close and inseparable as we were for those 2 and a half years, as soon as Chris switched schools we fell off. I can recall us seeing each other at track meets or around town and it was awkward. Almost like break up. I e had been so close and sort of took each other for granted. When he changed schools it had been just as quick and dramatic as when Casey had. He just started at Wahi and we were no longer around each other. He moved on and I started hangin out with Casey again. I know I am making this sound like a bad breakup with no closure, but I s Ken ways it was. Both of us were probably feeling like “you never called” and I guess we would both be right. We both appeared to battle the same insecurities in similar ways. We were a great support when we knew we could count on each other, but in the absence of that knowledge built in our daily interaction, we both defaulted to shyness because we both knew the other knew us so well they could hit us where it hurt most if we wanted to. I don’t think he would have wanted to hurt me, and certainly didn’t want to harm him, but we would have had to learn that in time and we never gave ourselves that opportunity.
Still we are both awfully influenced by the pop culture of our times. Such influences on the countdown as Adam Sandler, and angry white boy music, are all explicitly intertwined with my relationship with Chris Hanson as they were influences we experienced together at the critical time of our personal development and self identification.
If you are one of my loyal readers (I’m looking at you and only you, Mom) then you may notice there is a progression of this 40 for 40 countdown. We have gone From my childhood through middle school and n to high school. There are a few more weeks of influences related to this time in my life but they begin to foreshadow future developments in college and afterwards. This whole dog and pony show is going somewhere, I promise.