Everyone always has a “best friend.” That one person you identify above all others. And it has no objective criteria. It doesn’t have to be your oldest friend, or the friend you have known the longest, or the person you have the most in common with. It doesn’t even mean the person you trust the most as plenty of best friends exist in kind of a hazy rivalry and exploitation territory were, where you expect them to take your money, steal your girlfriend/boyfriend, and leave you hanging in a Mexican Jail cell, and then simultaneously expect they would take a bullet for you or cut off a foot a la Saw for you and so you trust them with your life, even though you may not trust them with anything else. Usually forged by random circumstances and chance encounters, there is no rhyme or reason for any particular pairing. Best friends are Best friends, period.
My Best Friend is Casey Richard.
Now the temptation for me here is to just start telling stories from our childhood together. Particularly ones that are cherry picked to embarrass him, which is exactly what Casey did for his best man toast at my wedding. But my intention here is to demonstrate the profound impact my Best Friend has had on the first 40 years of my life,...........
and embarrass him in the process.
The very first thing Casey and I ever did together was catch grasshoppers. We would tramp through the weeds of abandoned lots and open fields and put our little hopper friends in specimen jars before doing experiments on them that Dr Frankenstein (and only Dr Frankenstein) would be proud of.
We had a mutual interest in nature, from dinosaurs to space exploration. We spent a lot of hours watching the discovery channel (back when that meant something). We spent a lot of time exploring in our backyards together. The other interest we shared was art. Drawing, gluing a bunch of recycling together into some kind of sculpture or even writing songs, was our preferred activity on a rainy day. Casey is a tremendously talented sketch artist, and to this day his majestic depiction of an eagle and the portrait of his late grandpa Tom still adorns the walls of his parents home (I am sure).
To see us at 8 years old we were probably destined to be paleontologists uncovering fossils in the badlands and then retreating to our laboratory to create anamatronic theoretical depictions of our latest discovery.
But something happened along our way to becoming modern scientists. We started playing sports. The irony is I was the one who started to take up sports after I broke my leg in the 2nd grade (that is a long story I hope I don’t get around to). I had been laid up so long I wanted to be active all the time. And it was 1990 and there was synergy with #36 on the countdown. So I became all about sports and decided “hey you know my friend Casey would be a pretty good player too if he stopped chasing butterflies in the outfield all the time.”
Well this is ironic because Casey Richard was the most gifted natural athlete I have ever personally known, and I look like a photo negative of Stephen Q. Urkle. He hails from an Iconic family of athletes ( it’s kind of complicated) and I am descendant of school teachers and onion farmers. His calves could have been chiseled by Michelangelo, and yet I was the one who said, “Hey instead of us pretending to be a pack of Deinonychus, let’s play some basketball.”
And play ball we did. Pretty much constantly over the next decade. We joke that in our ongoing game of one on one we have battled to an all time Dead even Tie. At first I held a bit of an advantage. I made the 5th grade basketball team as a 4th grader, Casey did not. But that proved to be the pinnacle of my career. Casey grew up and developed into an all state athlete in 3 sports. A state champion in 2. And a legitimate college prospect.
We didn’t always go to the same school, and when he was away I seemed to my self to have improved because my ultimate competition was no longer around. But Casey always legitimately improved from playing against better competition than me, and when we got back to play together as we always did, he would have the advantage for a while until I acclimated to his new level of performance.
Like I said Casey was an incredible natural athlete. I got hurt and missed half of every season. By our sophomore year of high school he was becoming a college prospect and a bit of a local celebrity. At least among girls aged 14-18, and that was the only demographic we were concerned with.
I will now state the obvious. I was always jealous of Casey. He had everything I wanted and was all I aspired to be. A born athlete, a ladies man, a talented artist and entertainer. It’s very easy to look back at the year book pictures and to write the classic story of the big man on campus that had his little nerdy hangers on.
But that doesn’t describe our friendship at all. It was just an inconvenient aspect of it. Maybe externally we were an odd couple. But internally we were quite similar, and could always feel for each other, even if we encountered issues at opposite ends of the spectrum. I couldn’t get any girls and he had to chose the girls he dated, uhm, very carefully. I struggled to earn playing time, but he struggled to handle superstar expectations.
And of course, because we were such criss- crossed opposites, as far as our coaches were concerned, I was the selfish arrogant show off, and Casey was a shrieking violet, hesitant to be the team leader. We both had our respective challenges to overcome.
Case in point, we went to team basketball camp at Eastern OR U in Legrande before our senior year**. I was slightly surprised to see Casey in the van as we met up to leave as he had been missing for 3 days. Well not really missing. His girlfriend had been seeing plenty of him. And our friends had seen a lot of him too. He just hadn’t been home for 3 days. Truth be told one of our friends (his name was Ned) had mentioned Casey would be at a “secret midnight basketball game” that was in the works and I ratted him out to Casey’s parents. It was the only time I was ever invited to anything “secret” or “midnight” and, well I guess that's why I didn’t get invited to those things.
I was determined to be aggressive and assert myself as a leader now that I was a senior. In the first 2 minutes of our first game against our district rival Pomeroy, I managed to play their point guard (Justin Kelly) to a 4 all tie. I had scored easily twice, but since it was tied that meant he had done the same to me. And just like like that I got the hook, and any plans for asserting myself as a team leader were over. It was all down hill for me from there. That literally was the beginning of the end of my basketball career. So while I am sitting on the bench next to our coach, some other coach comes over to watch. What he is watching is Casey dominate on offense with his pull up game, and his complete closing down of the passing lanes on D. So this other coach starts chatting up our coach about how impressive Casey is and asking “what schools are recruiting him?” And I am thinking why didn’t this guy show up at the start of the game, and then maybe it would have been harder to bench me if another coach was asking what schools were recruiting me! But I know now that scouting is about looking for dominance, and that is what Casey had. I played by taking that the defense gave me, but Casey played by exerting his will on the other team. And that was tough for him at times because he was really such a shy and mild mannered guy. Casey played his best when he got caught up in the moment and lost himself in the game. Everyone feared for their lives if ever that happened to me. But there you have the strange dichotomy that was our synergy.
After watching an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and George decide that if they team up between the 2 of them they can be the perfect man for 1 woman, Casey and I realized the same concept. So for him that meant I was kind of his wing man. I did a lot of note passing, chatting up other girls at the mall, making the precursor call to say “hey try and sit next to Casey on the team bus tomorrow.” It was crazy to me how friendly women were to me once they knew I was Casey’s friend. So on one side I got a degree of social acceptance for greasing the wheels for Casey to bust a move. But on the other end, he covered for all my defensive short coming on the basketball court, and I was able to conduct the game like a symphony when he was out there with me, and that put him in the best position to dominate. It was a win win all the way around.
Casey was a sweet guy at heart. At his wedding the bride’s grandmother shared that her favorite thing about Casey is that when she asked him what his favorite TV show was he said “I like to watch the Animal Planet .”
Casey was a Lamborghini with a Care Bear behind the wheel. I was more of a Corolla, also with a Care Bear behind the wheel, but is was always Grumpy Bear. It was as CareBears, intuitive creative sensitive dudes, that Casey and I truly connected. I wore it on my sleeve more than Casey did. You can see it on my face. Casey could hide his feelings a little better. I always had a chip on my shoulder. Casey always had a beautiful woman and the weight of the world on his.
Of course Casey had his moments of self conceit too. I remember one summer we were playing in a tournament in Tri-cities and between games we went to the mall. Casey walks in to a trendy teenager clothing store that has long ceased to exist. The sales girl starts flirting with him. I’ve seen this play out a million times and it makes my stomach churn so I moved on to footlocker were I actually run into some guys from a team we had played earlier. They asked me if Casey (the star of the team) was around. I said “yeah he’s all up on the blonde next door.” They apparently knew exactly who I was talking about, so we all adjourned to the clothing store to watch this girl shamelessly tell Casey “Oh yeah you look so hot in that shirt. And I think these pants would look soooo good on you!” Well, My boy ends up dropping about $200 in Merchandise. Now his parents were not too thrilled with how he was spending his money and started to lecture him about it on the curb outside the mall. At first Casey attempted to defend himself by pointing to the yellow sales tags that said $27 on the orange t-shirt with Brooklyn embroidered on it. When his father peeled off the yellow sales tag to reveal $25, and said “Congratulations savvy shopper, your shirt was actually marked up,” his brother Chris and I started laughing. Then when his mother again questioned the practicality of his spending Casey retorted with a impassioned conviction that belied his Soi desant defense: “But mom, I’m the next Backstreet Boy!” Chris and I could not stop laughing the whole way back to the gym.
Casey was a great friend. He accepted and appreciated me for me. Sure there were moments when he tried to get me to be more “trendy” more with it, more socially aware. He tried to get me to go out and do things all other 18 year olds do, egging houses, cruising the guy, drinking, smoking, partying, or you know just leaving your house on a Saturday night. He kept me apprised of current trends. Always ready to jump on me for wearing out of style clothes, or rocking out to songs from last year, but I am stubborn and remarkably impervious to peer pressure. The truth is I have never moved past 1992 and Casey accepted that.
The best compliment I have ever received was from Casey when he compared me to OutKast.
“Tony’s like OutKast. He’s does his own thing, and whatever he does, it’s cool.”
Casey is one of the few people who actually encouraged me to get back into acting when I was in college. Good advice that I never followed, but probably should have.
So what else do I say about Casey?
Do I say I think he was much smarter than his grades would indicate? Do I say he was from a blended family and always felt pressure to prove he belonged? Do I talk about his biological dad and our brief excursion with him to Fort Rilea?
Do I say that he enlisted in the army because he basically doubted his ability to be a student athlete?
And do I say that in the army Casey grew and evolved into a grown man and well, I didn’t, so now we haven’t spoken in several years and may never again? That is all Casey’s story to tell. But this is all my story, and I just want to tell you about my best friend.
For me being friends with Casey was like watching the masked singer (hey, my wife watches it and then I get sucked in and Emotionally invested). Everyone on that show performs for a audience of screaming fans week after week, and has the judges sing their praises, then when the Mask finally does come off they all say the same thing. I’m a famous successful, award winning celebrity, and yet I was so nervous and insecure about doing this show. But being able to just be myself in the anonymity of the costume has been the most amazing experience.” Well I felt for much of our relationship together I was the audience and the judge where Casey got to be himself. I always kind of regretted that I wasn’t able to help him more. Like we were best friends, we should have gone to college together. If we had remained a team we could have been there for each other. But I had my own family issues that affected my decision making, and Casey had his own decisions to make too. Ultimately we went our separate ways. And maybe that was and still is necessary. I guess that’s life. But in a weird way (and I am only realizing this right now as I type it) a big piece of my coaching practice is about recapitulating that Seinfeld inspired teammate dynamic Casey and I shared. Separately we can only do so much, but United we could be invincible (at least one of us). Our respective talents complimented each other perfectly. Some of the best times of my life were spent scheming up plans with my boy Casey. If I could do one thing for the rest of my life and actually get paid for it, that would be it. Not the worst way to pick a career; help people like they are your best friend in the world.
(**point of fact: The time Casey was missing for 3 days right before basketball camp was not our senior year. It was our Sophomore or junior year. We went to camp every year and as much as I would revel in the opportunity to painstaking comb through the details of every year of basketball camp, I know that nobody else cares. So I conflated the 2 events with some poetic license to keep the narrative tight. Forgive me, and you’re welcome!)