I went back and forth today on whether this post fit more into the “Regrets” category or into the “Former Friends” category. A lot of things weighed on me about it. In the end, it seemed more appropriate to call it a regret. Many of the “Former Friends” posts have been cathartic rants about people who have come and gone, but the stories tend to finish with some degree of closure. This story doesn’t have that. Moreover, there is too much of this that still hits me hard emotionally when thinking about it. I think I’ve made the right choice, but it was not a decision I really wanted on a Monday morning.
The first year I lived in Bowling Green, Ohio, I had a factory job and worked third shift. I’ve mentioned it before, so I won’t get into it again. After a year of that, I was dismissed from it for accruing three write-ups during a six month period. I was not sad to lose the job, but it did put a bit of a financial strain on the household. I picked up a third shift job at the UPS hub in Toledo to make ends meet. In the meantime, I started frequenting a coffee shop and psychic tea room in Bowling Green called Fortunes & Treasures. I’m actually a little surprised that this hasn’t come up to this point. A lot of stories came out of that little coffee shop. Through fall and past the holidays, I worked at UPS but spent all of my free time hanging out at Fortunes & Treasures. The coffee shop was a great place to hang out and have interesting conversations. We would sit around with the owner and resident psychic, Teresa, drink a lot of coffee and try to solve the mysteries of the universe. My time at the coffee shop and my rekindling relationship with Heather were the high points of that fall and early winter, but I was miserable at work. I felt like I was in the wrong place. After an incident with a snow plow on the way to work one night, I made the rash and impulsive decision to quit UPS. Once again, I was putting strain on our now growing household. Heather had moved in after Thanksgiving, and my UPS money was barely making ends meet. Heather was making good money waiting tables at a local truck stop, and our other roommate Jeremy was still bringing in money from UPS, but it wasn’t enough. We brought in another roommate, Emma, and her contribution was enough to put us over the top of bills. Heather made the magnanimous decision that I would be the “house husband.” As long as I kept the apartment in order, I didn’t have to get another job. That was fine, but it didn’t really give us much money for more fun things. I was spending most of my days at the coffee shop, from open until close on many occasions. So it seemed like a natural fit that I would start working there.
Teresa was happy for the extra help, as it meant she could go home to her family earlier. I would pick up evening shifts a few times a week, along with another new employee named Rachel. My schedule didn’t really change, except I was getting paid for some of my time there. Sometimes Teresa would go home early, sometimes she would stay and talk, depending on who was there and if the conversation was interesting. Some nights there were workshops like Tarot classes or Rune workshops, but many nights during the week it was just a few of us hanging out. Sometimes, it was just me, and I would drink coffee and read one of the books available for sale or rental. One night, while I was pondering a book about symbols and drinking coffee, three guys came in, about my age.
Nick was obviously the leader. He wans’t tall, but he was fit, bordering on skinny. He wore a tight black t-shirt and had his hair pulled back in an obscenely tight ponytail. He oozed charisma, and he had a natural talent for one-upsmanship. Brian (I think that was his name, I’m having trouble recalling it) was a larger guy. He was tall and a little overweight, had shaggy blonde hair and a blue-striped polo shirt. I would bet money that he was bullied a lot as a kid. He was boisterous, but submissive. Scott came in last. He had a newsboy hat and a faded green army jacket. He had glasses and unkempt brown hair. He told me to call him Scooter, and he did bear a weird resemblance to the Muppet character of the same name. They each got coffee, and then started talking to me about the shop.
We had a long conversation over coffee about esoteric learning, ancient languages and cultures, meta-physics and religion. Nick always seemed to know something about every topic that was brought up. He would profess his expertise in any number of fields and on any given subject. Rarely, he would defer to Brian for a story or a bit of specific information. Scooter, however, was definitely the smartest of the bunch. He was quiet, but would pipe up here and there with an insightful point or an interesting observation. Frequently, it was his interjections that stealthily steered the conversation one way or the other. We talked well past closing, and I invited them to come back again, tempting them with more conversation of the same caliber with a larger group. I could tell I had piqued their interest.
Nick became quite the regular, hanging out at the shop almost as much as I did. He brought others into the group as well, including his on-again/off-again girlfriend Jennifer. Nick’s ego saw opportunity in the shop. He saw a new pool of possible sycophants for him. He found a bunch of people that he could re-hash stories to that Brian and Scott had probably heard far too many times. Nick and I developed a bit of a rivalry over the time we were there, but eventually settled into a kind of “frenemies” pattern as we both got tired butting heads. I like to be the smartest guy in the room, he liked to be seen as the smartest guy in the room, as well as the most confident and (probably) the best looking. It was not a good combo to have both of us in a conversation. He never liked when I called him out for being wrong, and I never liked how arrogant he was in an environment that had been a group of equals. He ended up living on my couch for about three months, but this story isn’t about him, so we’ll just leave that relationship there for now.
Brian did not become a regular. He would come in from time to time, but he stopped coming in with Nick. To hear Nick tell it, they had an argument and Brian was wrong, so Nick “banned him” from hanging out with any possible mutual friends. Brian still came in, just without Nick. I think he was happy with the situation. But this isn’t a story about him, either.
Scooter also became a regular. In the beginning, he came in exclusively with Nick. Eventually, Nick would start coming in both with and without Scooter, and over time Scooter started coming in without Nick. When whatever went down between Nick and Brian happened, Scooter stopped coming in with Nick and just kept coming in on his own. I’m not sure if they had some sort of agreement or not, but while Nick would come in during the evening and for most of the weekend, Scooter would usually show up in the afternoon. It was like shared custody.
Since I was there pretty much all the time, I got to hang out with both of them. Since most people had other jobs or responsibilities, the shop was relatively quiet during the day. So most of the time, it would be just Teresa, Scooter and I. We had some great conversations. We talked about ancient pantheons and the evolution of ideas. We spent most of a week trying to come up with a number system that could take “maybe” into account, in hopes of making a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. We discussed the relationship between Kabbalah and Norse runes, and how it could relate to Enochian symbols and Cuneiform. These were sweeping, multi-day conversations. I’ve never had conversations like this with anybody. It was like a lecture series. Teresa kept complaining that we were getting so heady and deep that it would give her a headache, but she would listen with rapt attention when we would bandy ideas back and forth. Then we would make numerology jokes about how many Tylenol she should take to receive the desired results (two is a balanced decision, but five will bring you sudden and shocking change). Nothing was sacred in our conversations, and no idea was off limits. I think if we could have had funding and direction, the two of us might actually have solved some serious shit.
But every day wasn’t an epic conversation. Some days, neither of us was in the mood for a topic that would high-jack every thought for the next week. Sometimes we just wanted to hang out. On those days, we would play chess. I’ve talked about playing chess with Fred, who was consistently better than me. Scooter and I were pretty evenly matched. He played a careful and well thought out game, analyzing possibilities and probabilities and making moves to mitigate the results. I played a brash and risky game, frequently sacrificing pieces to achieve my goals. Our games threw each other off, so we frequently came to a stalemate. I won as many as I lost, and never felt like either of us was out of the other’s league. Eventually, to change things up, we started playing what we would call “speed chess.” As soon as the opponent’s hand left the piece they moved, you had to move. No plotting. No scheming. No planning. It relied upon nothing but instinct and luck. We would finish a game in twenty minutes, and it was a mess of pieces everywhere.
This relationship continued for most of the spring and early summer. Scooter had some health issues that he needed to address (I’m not being intentionally vague, this is all the information I was given, too), and I was trying to find a new place to live. My sights turned to Columbus, and plans were made to move in August. Scooter started coming around the shop again in late July, and looked a little upset that we were moving away. He was one of the people who helped us move, though. We told him he could come visit us at any time.
We came back up to Bowling Green in September for a farce of a wedding (possible story on that some other time), but a lot had changed in the month we were gone. It seemed Heather, Jeremy and I had been something of an anchor for our little group, and without us as a buffer, all kinds of drama had taken over. Scooter and Nick had a very public falling out, and he had stopped coming to the shop almost entirely. Events after that kept us in Columbus, so we didn’t see things as they devolved even further with the group of friends we had made at Fortunes & Treasures. It wasn’t until the following summer that we actually got up there to visit again. It was then that we heard the news.
Scooter had withdrawn more and more after our absence and after his final split with Nick. Even when he came in, though, he was more withdrawn. Eventually, he stopped coming in altogether and dropped out of contact with everyone. No one heard from him in months. He was found dead in his car in a Meier parking lot in Toledo. He had apparently committed suicide.
I never pressed for the details further than that. Scooter’s death hit me like a tidal wave, knocking me down and then sucking me under faster than I could react. The lingering thoughts I had then, and still have to this day, are “what could I have done?” Scooter was my friend, and I had abandoned him. He was someone who mirrored me in so many ways. His mind was so similar to my own. Like me, he tended to latch on to larger personalities for cover. Like me, when you got him alone he had so much to offer, but lacked the confidence to voice it. Like me, he dealt with his inner demons. How could I not see this coming? How could I not know what he was going through? Could I have called? Could I have tried to visit, or invited him down to see us? I had a lot of my own shit going on that year, but could I have set it aside for just a day or a weekend to reach out to a friend?
I’ll never really know why Scooter left us. I’ll never know what the breaking point was, or how he felt at the end. I’ll never know if I could have made a difference. Maybe I would have saved him. Maybe I would have delayed the inevitable. Maybe he would have lived a long life. Maybe I wouldn’t have changed things at all. These things eat at me, even now, almost twenty years later. I lost a friend, a friend that I had taken for granted would always be there or at least always be okay. But the world lost a truly great mind, and a caring heart, and an interesting conversationalist. He could have cured cancer, or developed the next computer, or built a better mousetrap. Or he could have just lent his perspective to the world and made it just slightly better. But he was troubled, and he was tortured, and he felt alone. So he left. And the world is less for it.
But I’ll always have the memory of us sitting at Fortunes & Treasures, chain smoking cheap cigarettes, drinking strong coffee, playing chess and listening to the new Rammstein album that I bought.
Thanks for the great conversation, Scooter.