This is a different kind of essay for The Professor; not only is it longer but it also delves into the personal history of one of his best friends. Like the Pete Rock & CL Smooth hip-hop hit, “They Reminisce Over You [T.R.O.Y.]”, the story here is focused on one person who has disappeared. Part of the story goes so far back that it takes place when The Professor was a high-school and college student [1971-1982]; that earlier manifestation of the very-same person is herein referred to as The Young Professor to differentiate him from the later-current model [1983-2015]. But make no mistake; they are two manifestations of the same person as much as Indiana Jones and The Young Indiana Jones represented a single adventurous archeologist.
Ah, yes, time to consider—or perhaps ‘confront’ is the better term—one of those small-scale-but-nonetheless-infinitely perplexing mysteries that one collects simply by attending high school in late-20th century America. In particular, The Professor is thinking about his experiences with a friend at Canton High School who will be referred to here as “CP.”
From the mid-1970 to the end of the 1980s, CP was a key part of The Young Professor’s life outside of school and work. There was always our stand-by thing to do: hanging out in his parent’s garage, him working on a car. There were road trips around New England; driving to be done just for the sheer pleasure of doing it. Real beaches to be experienced in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere. Important movies to be seen, starting with Star Wars. And last but not the least, there were many shared meals to be had at The Professor’s mother’s house. Charcoal-grilled protein. Lettuce salads with those great late-summer tomatoes from the garden. Mom’s solar iced tea, brewed all day in a pitcher on the driveway and then made with lots of sugar and lemon, and fresh mint sprigs taken from the herb garden. Fresh butter-and-sugar corn on the cob from the riverfront fields still owned by the Bristol family to be shucked and served within hours of its picking.
Now, everyone has friends from high school that don’t survive the transition from adolescence to one of the many states of mature adulthood that are available today. The prolix yet forever-pithy Calvin Trillin [who did survive the transition] wrote an entire book [Remembering Denny, 1993] in which he told his personal version of the CP story, except his was about his Yale classmate and Rhodes Scholar Dennis Hansen. Hansen, like CP, was groomed from an early age to do things well. And it was clear that big things were supposedly in store for CP, just as surely as they had been for Hansen.
It’s a familiar enough storyline, almost to the point of cliché
By senior year [and for the decade after that], CP was one of The Young Professor’s closest buddies and fastest-moving, ever-in-motion friends. Then he disappeared. But there was also something about this dissolution with CP that was different. To go from best friend to not being connected at all was one thing for The Professor to endure; a drag for sure, something to work through. But the disconnection with CP went far deeper than that. It was completely undiscussed, unexpected, multi-layered and confusing to both The Young Professor [then] as well as to The Professor [now]. Like Denny Hansen, CP should have been one of the big winners in whatever sweepstakes he competed in.
But that didn’t happen. Seemingly, the tools and resources required to realize that coveted position were withheld from CP at key childhood milestones. In turn, CP pulled away from his friends and did so quicker if they were successful in life. That’s why The Professor believes that CP’s friendship can’t be discussed without bringing his family into the discussion.
So the question is simple: What happened to CP?
Before answering that, the dear and precious reader should know that CP and The Young Professor grew up in the same small Connecticut town, were the same age, and were in the same grade. But they didn’t know each other until ninth grade because they didn’t go to the same school until then. No Little League or 4H-Club overlap, either, because CP lived in North Canton and The Young Professor lived in Collinsville; two separately-named parts of the same town [Canton] that were geographically close but worlds apart attitudinally: North Canton represented the privileged kids with the unusual first names [Bradford, Brandon, Putnam…]; whereas Collinsville stood first and foremost for the river rats, the more commonly named Steves, Daves and Mikes of the town. Because of his home address, CP attended the more cherry Cherry Brook School while The Young Professor went to the infinitely more prosaic Canton Elementary and Middle School.
Though he noted CP with curiosity in the halls of Canton High School, it wasn’t until the 10th grade that The Young Professor entertained the notion that CP might be a kindred spirit. There were the aviator Ray-Bans® they both wore, the similarity in height and shaggy 1970s haircut; the high-end bicycles they both rode; the general elitism they showed by being interested in actually understanding things academically. More promising, CP, like The Young Professor, didn’t fit any of the clichés: neither of them was a prime-cut jock, cool-jerk wannabe, test-skag skeez, audio-video nerd or stoner-waste-oid. In fact, CP and The Young Professor were two of the few Canton teens who weren’t tempted to get drunk or high, who just weren’t interested in the whole teen-aged escapism thing. Each of them had a sense of the truth in what the Surrealist artist Salvador Dali said, that it’s better to be the drugs than to take drugs.
But then, as The Young Professor was getting to know him, CP mysteriously disappeared, vanished, just stopped showing up at school. It’s nearly impossible to imagine such a scenario today given all of the opportunities that exist for communication, but it took a couple of weeks for word to get out. It was all hush-hush at first, whispered tones that there had been a terrible accident, a near-tragedy. A bicycle that CP was riding was in a crash. CP was in the hospital in Hartford—both legs bent, buckled, broken and in the process of being rebuilt—such that everyone was told that he’d be there awhile. Quite awhile. There had evidently been major surgeries involving bone, tissue and metal coming together in ways that nature never intended. In the third-floor, 10th-grade English class, everyone was asked to write get-well cards to CP; no one really knew what to write as an accident like this had never happened before.
At that point, CP was the only person The Young Professor knew, other than himself, who had had such a traumatic injury. The Young Professor had already almost drowned at the ocean, eaten pesticide and endured a stomach pumping, fallen on glass bottles and cut open his chest; he knew what an ER looked like and what injury by way of a dramatic force felt like. The rumors that came out implied that CP crashed after having a blow-out argument with his girlfriend. Another version of the story had him careering down the not-entirely-ironically-named West Mountain Road when he suffered a catastrophic component failure on his bicycle, a part that, some said, he himself had built. Each new rumor seemed to be more dramatic than the last, and each made CP more mysterious than before.
Eventually CP re-manifested his presence at Canton High and The Young Professor and he connected. After starting to talk at school, The Young Professor was invited in April of junior year to CP’s house to hang out and have dinner. After eating, The Young Professor discovered that CP had the coolest room that he had seen in his earthly life.
Inside CP’s second-floor bedroom there were soldering tools, wires and test equipment atop a big work desk; scattered bicycle parts and components, including a spare set of rims; a ceiling-hung, radio-controlled, hand-built balsa model aircraft and another in pieces on one side of the work desk [each between three and five feet across]; a multi-component stereo system set into various built-in shelves around the room [in sharp contrast to The Young Professor’s low-fi, all-in-one, bought-with-the-green-stamps-given-out-by-the-local-grocery-store record-player unit set up in the basement]; and, all kinds of printed airplane info and tech literature. It was the room of a Denny Hansen, the personal space of Someone Who Was Doing Something, Going Somewhere, Likely to Do Important Things [if He Hadn’t Done Them Already]; it was both totally cool and completely intimidating.
CP was born the middle child: he had a golden-girl sister [think preppy Peggy Lipton, not Betty White] who was older by a couple of years [already off at Mount Holyoke College], and a younger, equally golden brother [by his parents, anyways] who would end up in school at Purdue. As for CP, he left Canton High for a series of back-and-forth repeat residencies to study mechanical engineering at RIT and UConn that seemed to inevitably be filled with more low points than high ones.
CP’s parents kept him believing he could attend either RIT in Rochester, NY or UConn in Storrs, CT. Apparently, once he was at school, they would stop the money train for one obscure reason or another; he would be forced to drop-out mid-semester, and the cycle would start again. His sister and brother, by contrast, seemed to enjoy full parental support, especially when it came to finances. At the time—and even to this day—the goings-on seemed incomprehensible to The Young Professor. It simply made no sense.
One wouldn’t expect such behavioral mind-games from his parents. After all, his father was a successful engineer at Hamilton Standard, the giant aircraft parts-and-systems company that sat smack in the shadow of the region’s only major airport: Bradley International. As for CP’s mother, she, like many moms in Canton, was a stay-at-home homemaker, who, Hope Lange-like, was friendly and pert on the surface. Together, they seemed like the perfect UMC family: The Professor could picture them consuming their upper-middle-class meals while sitting around their upper-middle-class table, everyone enjoying the upper-middle class cornucopia of good fortune and fortunate goods that tend to accompany those who succeed in America and beyond.
For CP’s part, he never talked much about his hospital and recovery experience; he never mentioned any specific part of it afterwards, never even denigrated the hospital food. He did mention that he hated doctors, but he never played the sympathy card for attention. The Young Professor could see the suffering in his body language, could hear it between the lines that made up household conversation between CP and his parents. There was something noble in his stoicism, even if its effect was exclusionary. In the metaphorical mansion that was CP’s mind, there were parts of the estate proper that you didn’t get to visit; entire rooms and wings that were off-limits.
The first car that The Young Professor remembers seeing CP drive was his father’s Cosworth-powered, four-speed Chevy Vega. That was a night-time ride, maybe 11:30 pm or so, The Young Professor in the passenger’s seat flying south along Route 179 in the stealthy little Vega—and not long thereafter, in CP’s own car, a BMW 2002—toward his house on the ever-poetically named Freedom Drive. No traffic whatsoever anywhere in Canton at that time of night.
When The Professor today replays that little snatch of cinematic cognition, he sees CP driving with complete self-assurance. He has all of the confidence, skill and just the hint of joy that came from, for him, pushing the engine [and the car around it] to its mechanical limits. The sounds emerging from under the hood announced his prowess—it was all blip-blip, blatting and snorting—as CP braked and then downshifted from 3rd to 2nd so as to better dive into [and carve] the corners. CP explained that he was taking the fastest line around the corner by apexing the turn. Then he was on to the next bit of business, piling on the rev’s as he came out of the turn and out onto the straighter part of the road, not lifting his foot until he shifted back up into 3rd gear.
It was driving in a way that The Young Professor had never experienced before. He’d been with his father when his Dad had driven fast, ugly and angrily for short spells, but that was because “some jerk did something stupid that he was forced to react to.” The controlled variation in speed—both accelerating and decelerating—was entirely different: dangerous and exotic for sure, but it also felt safe and skillful at the same time.
There was a consistency and a precision to everything CP did, an economy of movement that was epitomized when he was driving a car; it was evident in his kinesthetics, the way that he shifted, braked and accelerated the vehicle. He had the efficient acumen of an engineering mind, the striving for that relentless sense of purpose. When he was behind the wheel, his commitment to total execution was complete. There was generally one right way [or a very finite number of right ways] to drive a car—another thing that The Young Professor learned from CP—and there were correspondingly a multitude of wrong ways to do so. If nothing else, CP was ever-aware of the difference between the two. In fact, CP couldn’t ever relax. His bias for action was such that he couldn’t take it easy or drive slowly; everything was to be done at the maximum level of performance possible.
The Young Professor realized something else was in the offering; something worth knowing. It was more than a “How to Drive” thing; it was a “How to Be” lesson. It posited that there exists the potential for a meaningful mechanical rhythm in the relationship between all of the tool-like things built by people and the people who used them. While it seemed to The Young Professor that most adults were most often oblivious to such a perception, he sensed that CP—even though he was technically still a kid—had that relationship dialed-in, no more so than with respect to his cars.
Somewhere around senior year of high school, CP had bought the previously mentioned BMW, an older chamonix white 1973 BMW 2002tii. A dream car visually and experientially. The 2002 offered a sweet ride. Although it was small of horsepower it was large with respect to handling, suspension and transfer of momentum. No longer was The Young Professor driven home in the Vega [or CP’s father’s new BMW 320i]; it was 2002 time every night henceforth.
One of the things that The Young Professor admired about CP was that he was a physical analog of the 2002tii’s best attributes; the car and the person both possessed the same nimbleness, skewed athleticism, and ready-and-willing stance. It was just the way CP was, not something he tried for. One could literally see the tautness in his forearms: when he used a tool, various extensor and flexor muscles in his forearms were innervated and long stretches of his arm would pop, undulate and dance in response to the way his fingers moved.
Looking back on that time, The Professor can’t remember anyone else in Canton who owned a BMW. As profligate as that brand [and its many models] is now, people forget that the 2002 model [made between 1969-1976] was the key export car for BMW. It was the car that established BMW’s reputation in the United States; in the intervening decades since production ceased, the 2002 has became an automobile legend. At some point, CP probably disassembled the entire engine of his 2002—maybe the entire car—so that he could sort it in every way possible. Whatever; the thing just hummed.
A few years later, he was forced to sell the car in an effort to pay for his college tuition. His parents had backed-out of the financial obligation yet again. It was one of the few times that CP showed visible anger, frustration and a deep sense of loss. To the Young Professor, it meant that another room in the aforementioned metaphorical mansion that was CP’s mind was now closed-off, forbidden to be entered into or brought up in close chat.
Like Mick Jones sang back in “Rush” during his post-Clash, Big Audio Dynamite days, “Somehow I stayed thin while the other guys got fat,” a lyric that suited CP to a tee. Though The Professor has not seen CP in about 20 years, he remains certain that CP can still wear clothes from his high school days. In that sense, CP was [and is] a Robert-Redfordian-freak of physical nature: permanently bushy hairline; perfect teeth that he earned through obsessive brushing and flossing; and, a persistently low level of body fat that he never seemed to try to attain.
In The Young Professor’s many experiences with CP he was always highly-revved seemly by both birth and circumstance. Way before the beverage hegemony dominated by Coca-Cola® and Pepsi® drinks, way before the Starbucks caffeine dynasty, way before McDonald’s® offered eggs, hash browns and pancakes in a semblance of breakfast, and even way before Monster® became acceptable morning fare, CP was just naturally buzzed. He had the gift of waking up and being instantly “on” like a mechanical switch; no lag time, no time needed to boot-up or reload. The way that he burst with activity was one of his most captivating qualities; he never seemed to tire, but then he would announce a systems shutdown, go into full-collapse mode, and often fall asleep wherever he was minutes later.
By his senior year and thereafter, a typical visit with CP usually went like this: on any given afternoon, The Young Professor would get on his bicycle [the very same Crescent written about on 16 June 2014 “The Professor and the Long-Gone Bicycle”] and head down Freedom Drive, Town Bridge Road, Powder Mill Road and then briefly get on Route 4 to get over the Farmington River and to the multi-leaf traffic intersection known as “the Crossroads” that was anchored by a single tenant, the obviously–yet-unimaginatively-named Crossroads Restaurant.
From there, he’d jump over to Route 179 for eight or so miles north, then he’d veer right onto Case Street, continuing to where it neared the even more rural Granby town border. A dozen or so houses before that boundary, he’d pull a left onto CP’s parent’s nicely paved driveway. His parent’s Hallmark card-ready house was a story-book, two-story charmer with a good-sized front and left-side lawn—with a two-car garage on the home’s right-side, and an in-ground pool and patio in the much larger grassy backyard.
The Young Professor would hang around CP in the garage, making small talk, helping with tools, shooting baskets on the side of the driveway, trying to operate casually and normally as if he belonged there. Somewhere around midnight, The Young Professor would either cycle home, or he’d pop the quick-release hubs, take the rims off the bike, and carefully stow it in the 2002’s trunk so CP could drive him.
It seemed fitting that when it was time to get The Young Professor his own car almost eight years later, CP offered to go to Germany to find a proper ride: a gray-market BMW 323. He arranged its shipment back to the States and handled the federalization process that was required for bringing foreign cars into the American market back in 1984. That car was a medium blau in its exterior color—with gold BBS rims, as was the preferred style then—but what sold the car, what made The Young Professor feel actual emotion for it, was the siren song its engine sang. Six cylinders [could they have been bored and blueprinted?] acting as one integrated engine via a manual transmission to an after-market exhaust that had been tuned within an inch of its life. People who The Young Professor had never met would regularly inquire as to “Whether it was supposed to sound that way?” so that they could try to duplicate its stentorian sounds [even at idle].
Through most of the 1980s, The Professor lived in New York [on the Upper West Side, Park Slope, SoHo and the West Village] while CP lived in a building he owned just inside Hartford’s wretched North End [i.e., the bad end of a sad town]. He repeatedly said—while living literally in the ‘hood—that he didn’t know how anyone, including The Professor, could live in Manhattan. A few years later, he seemed to further confirm his preference for the bosky life when he bought a small house [perhaps 600 s.f.] out in the sticks of Granby, the adjacent, even-less-populated town north-and-east from Canton.
CP immediately filled the detached garage with car projects; one memorable project involved a 1970s Lotus Europa he was rebuilding. The Europa was basically a low-volume, street-legal racecar whose designer Colin Chapman [1928-1982] was also the head engineer and founder of Lotus Motorcars [back in the mid-1950s]. It wasn’t until years later that The Professor realized the kinship between Chapman and CP. The guiding notions that governed CP’s most personally meaningful decisions—those that concerned his model planes, stereo components, bicycles and cars—were all tied to Chapman’s principle that advanced performance can best be achieved through the pursuit of simplicity and lightness.
Most American teen-aged gearheads of the time [not to mention mechanics and car designers of the era] straight-out lusted for horsepower, torque and sheer size and power. The so-called “muscle car influence” was still strong. CP’s quest, went against all of that; he was all about improved suspension and handling. “Adding power makes you faster on the straights,” according to Chapman, [but] “subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” Chapman also pioneered the use of aerodynamics [particularly down-force through the integration of skirts, struts, wings, venturis, with the shell/chassis] and monocoque composite construction using a space-frame [that replaced the tube-frame then in use]; CP, The Professor realized years later, was meant to be a latter-day Chapman.
Once CP had moved some tools into the Granby house, he ripped-up the first floor, tore the interior walls down, removed all of the fixtures and cabinets, replaced the windows, laced in new wiring, and re-did the plumbing. Like his other projects, CP needed to take everything apart so he could assess, analyze, update, improve and re-install every piece; it was as if he didn’t trust anything unless he had inspected it, and then [as a born-and-bred New Englander], only half of the time.
No one could finish, let alone flourish, living up to that standard. Like his cars, the Granby house was another project that, on some level, CP never meant to be finished; like his life, it was always a work in progress. That tiny house became the Mother of All Home Renovations; it remains incomplete to this day with CP’s tools still visible through the house’s unused-but-no-longer-new thermopane® windows.
Looking back, it’s easier for The Professor to see that CP’s inability to finish things was connected to the resentment and disappointment he felt when a particular part or project failed; in the high-school guy-code of the day, those things were to be taken personally. For CP, such failures were color-correct, mirror-matched reflections of the larger and more fucked-up world that he was forced to perpetually perform in, recover from, and somehow muddle through. But it was also just the way that CP did things. Ultimately, it was he [and he alone] who stripped the threads, broke the tools and didn’t finish the projects. Something always happened with CP, and with the advantage of hindsight, it seemed to be self-sabotage.
There were several times, for example, that The Young Professor saw CP take a finished balsa-model airplane out to a field—a plane that probably took 100 hours+ of construction time to make—only to witness him crash it on its maiden flight, sometimes after flying for less than a minute. CP would swear and then make some sort of ultimate declaration about the offending flaw. Then, fearlessly, he’d do it all over again a few months later: different plane, similar flight time, identical end result. Those model planes, just like his cars, bicycles and stereos, represented the opportunity to get things mechanically right, even to achieve perfection; people, on the other hand, were far too fallible and far too likely to fail at their tasks; they age, they disappoint, and they don’t do what they say they will.
Perhaps the last part of the answer to The Professor’s bold-faced question that began this story can only come in the form of small bits and pieces, fragments of a mental hologram or child’s psyche broken eons earlier. Like the ad jingles or ad hoc statements from the flotsam and jetsam of daily life that CP would seize upon and repeat. As surely as the author Don DeLillo did the same to great comic effect in White Noise, CP would insert his out-of-left-field quips into conversations. And as random as they were, they unfailingly made total sense at the time. It was like an esoteric instantiation of the worldly truth about the primacy of pattern recognition and the inevitability of cognitive association. It was synchronicity on display.
One phrase CP used to say back in the 1980s was “Let me put a snake on the table,” which he explained he had overheard at work via a confused engineer. CP intoned that he was never quite sure if the engineer was airing a particular project fear to the group or if he simply wanted to bring up a related concern. For his part, CP would use the phrase whenever there was indecision about what he or others around him should do; since waffling was a scourge and ambiguity was anathema to CP, the phrase was often in play.
CP clearly had a knack for delivery of said phrase—timing!—and another phrase he repeatedly used back then was “A promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.” The Professor didn’t know the origin of that quote until 2014 when he encountered it online in the poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee”: Robert W. Service had written it [focusing on the Alaskan gold-rush] and it echoed CP’s engineering-inflected worldview that emphasized a you-say-what-you-do, and a do-what-you-say approach to all matters of self-expression. Your word is your non-negotiable, non-refundable bond; that’s why you keep it. If CP said he’d be somewhere or do something, he was and did.
Ironically, when The Professor finally left New York in August of 1990 [for the blissful Mediterranean climes of Palo Alto and Stanford], CP moved to New York. And not just to live in NYC but to live in the West Village less than two short blocks from where The Professor used to live [and less than one block from where The Professor used to work at Parsons School of Design]. Without any real comment or announcement, CP began living amidst the clutter, congestion and pollution that he previously had so firmly derided. He ostensibly made the move to be close to a girlfriend at NYU; after taking on freelance work for a year or two, he began to truly settle in, taking full-time work on the set of the television show Blue’s Clues. Like so many things with CP, he never stated his motives or looked back to consider reasons why he did one thing or another.
After The Professor moved to the West Coast and CP moved to New York, the [d]rift between them showed visibly for the first time. When The Professor came east, CP was always on location, going through a work crunch or somehow or other barely available. His older sister reportedly had an event herself that originated in heinous repressed memories from when she was growing up, and the net effect was that CP could never visit The Professor in California due to one family crisis, personal commitment, project deadline or another.
About that time as well, CP’s Dad died from ALS. The last few months of his father’s obviously miserable existence were all too openly on display: an overly thin, hunched figure perpetually dressed in a flannel robe in the ever-closer company of his oxygen tank. Helluva way to go, and it partly explained how his mother became so distant, detached and Valiumed®. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
And remember the younger brother? At that point, the brother was an undergraduate at Purdue pursuing a physics degree and living in the 4-BR house that his parents financed for him. He had just arrived in Connecticut after a summer stint at a prestigious German lab. But the brother who returned to the terminal at Bradley wasn’t the same person who left. When he came to CP’s project house in Granby to crash for a few nights to get-over his jet lag, he seemed preoccupied; it turned out that it wasn’t just the effect of entering a construction site. Almost immediately, he started complaining about the neighbors; he said they were watching him and listening to everything he did. Soon after that, he began to receive airborne signals that confirmed his worst fears: there were nameless others right outside the door who were planning to do him harm.
CP had the good sense to know that whatever was going on with his brother was bigger than he could deal with. He took his brother to the hospital to get him checked out; the staff admitted him right away. But once the mandatory 24-hour period was up—even though CP desperately wanted him to stay—his brother left; he was legally free to check himself out on his own recognizance. And he did, repeatedly, as this scenario was repeated numerous times.
So began an extended series of doctor’s visits, drug treatments, ER visits and overnight hospital residencies. The transformation in CP’s brother was profound and saddening. It was an arduous, agonizing period for CP as well, and ultimately his younger brother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Drugs might help his condition but he would never be the person he had been. In spite of all their efforts [including a carefully crafted trust fund], he joined the ranks of the carless and careless, homeless and hopeless.
Previously, CP’s younger brother had been super-sharp and unassailable, not one to complain about things or to dramatize a situation. After one particular incident in an out-of-control single-car accident, CP asked him what happened to a certain jacket he’d been wearing. There wasn’t anything special about the jacket, per se, but it was new so CP wanted to know if he’d been wearing it. His brother responded, in perfect deadpan timing, “Smoked it up.” As if in Canton there was something that was ignitable and breathable in the air, or absorbed into the water, that filled teenagers with the idea that that if you were truly cool, you were supposed to court danger close enough to actually wreck something expensive and precious.
It was that same misplaced meme for coolness that placed CP on his bicycle just before the wreck and that same meme put his brother in that car before the accident. It was unconsciously but communally understood that, as a male teenager—in Canton CT at least—you need to put your life on the line only to act like it didn’t matter. The last part was the key. Not caring. Not caring about property, or consequences, or least of all yourself. For kids in the mid-1970s in Connecticut, that seemed to be where it was at. Of all of the possible locales, that was the place where suburban coolness resided.
Looking back, it’s hard for The Professor not to see those events as a kind of “cultural NORAD alert,” the early warning that regular folk would henceforth feel as if they should emulate the less proper, more reckless parts of celebrity behavior. In the ongoing community calculus that went on throughout Canton, extra points were given for a second or third ambulance, multiple police cars at the scene, publication in the local weekly The Farmington Valley Herald, or extemporary use of the Jaws of Life [or other extreme tools that Canton’s volunteer firemen sometimes gallivanted around with].
It’s worth pointing out that a few years after high school—when The Young Professor had his own multi-month stay at Hartford Hospital [for a life-saving kidney transplant when he was 21]—CP was the only one his age who came to visit almost every day. The Young Professor realized that CP had learned something important from his own hospitalization: having visitors helped to pass the onerous and gruelingly slow passage of time and transforming the space, really making it the patient’s, made the space tolerable when no one else was around.
In short order, The Young Professor’s room at Hartford Hospital was transformed. That meant the standardized, generally depressing nature of the furniture and assorted equipment in The Young Professor’s room had to be counteracted. Maybe short-timers could get away with leaving the institutional look intact but The Young Professor, like CP before him, was at the hospital for the long haul. The room had to be changed and CP was the agent of change.
At that time, that meant taping stuff piece-by-piece to the walls such that when the room was entered, one would first be struck by the changing media collage across from the bed. It was constructed from clippings of strange news stories, unusual news photos, scrawled to-do lists, daily schedules of when favorite television shows like M*A*S*H* or Red Sox games were broadcast, bicycle photos and reviews [in particular, a poster for the summer races that took place in Trexlertown, PA], personal improvement notes-to-self, and other too-abstruse-to-name ephemera that were soon affixed to the wall. Once a kind of graphic critical mass was reached, the bevy of mounted medical apparati, rolling machinery, various switches and outlets and plugs, and poles clustered with their IV-fluid bags seemed to shift to a background level; the applied graphic montage was in the foreground, and it signaled to doctors and staff that a person, not a patient, occupied the room.
CP also made plans spring The Young Professor from the hospital for an afternoon. That was absolute heresy in 1979 medical circles: transplant patients with lowered immune systems didn’t leave their ward or floor [and sometimes not even their room!], let alone travel through the whole of the building so as to get in a waiting car and drive away. The Professor recalls it not only was a hot and humid day, but that he also had to wear overalls because his abdomen was still swollen from recent surgeries and that none of his regular pants were large enough to fit around his waist.
What CP was trying to communicate was simple: “Hartford Hospital, you’re not the boss of him.” And so, on that Dog Day in late August, The Young Professor headed-out on a mission of stereophonic discovery in CP’s white BMW; in the car stereo a panoply of tapes played, among them: The Professor remembers “Psycho Killer” from the Talking Heads, “Drivin’ In My Car” from NRBQ, and “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” from Robert Palmer. More than any other visitor or friend, CP helped The Young Professor escape the-physical-and-psychological-prison that defined extended hospitalization. He offered speed, freedom and escape to The Young Professor, three things essential to any teen-aged psyche.
The Professor will always be thankful for his time with CP, will always be grateful for those things that CP shared with him and taught him, and most of all, grateful for that time when CP came up big for The Young Professor when he was hospitalized for the long-term. It was also CP who introduced the then-radical ideas to The Young Professor that driving a car well and with awareness was a skill worth working toward and that having an upgraded stereo system was a near-necessity.
Not only did The Young Professor learn life lessons through his interactions with CP, he came face-to-face for the first time with some of the questions that would vex him all of the way through adulthood. From the outside, for example, CP’s family looked to have it all. They embodied The American Dream, at least one major version of it. Taken as a group photograph, the five of them together looked mythic, situated appropriately somewhere between LL Beans and J. Crew in the New England hierarchy of Old Money and its coded physical manifestation.
By the end of the 1990s, CP was more of a grainy memory than a felt presence in The Professor’s life. It was a separation neither mandated nor forecast, but accelerated by the cross-country distance between them. Perhaps it was inevitable once The Professor was married—and thereafter became a father. That same year The Professor bought his third BMW: his first was the 323 bought with his cash and CP’s knowledge; the second was an E30 M3 coupe that The Professor bought on his own. His third car—his first dream-car—was a BMW M3 sedan; not surprisingly it was white; although it was a standard arctic white, not the lustrous chamonix of CP’s 2002 .
That M3 now trades places in the garage with The Professor’s other car, a 1973 BMW 2002tii, an inka-orange coupe [and visceral connection back to his younger days with CP] that is driven by Ms. Professor. Understandably, CP was not a fan of family life. He neither married nor settled down with a partner. He never did have any children because he seemed unwilling to inflict the world, or at least his vision of it, upon any progeny of his own. And, he never did get his wonderful 2002tii back, or any sheet-metal equivalent.
CP clearly believed that everything should be able to be explained, especially if it was tangible. A corollary of that was that he believed that it should be possible to take anything apart and then put it back together. Unfortunately—for The Professor as well as for CP—this belief did not extend to human emotions, only to the mechanical realm of dispassionate physical objects.
The Professor can do no more than look back on their time spent together, scratch his head, and wonder what might have been had CP’s talent been nurtured. CP no longer calls, emails or visits The Professor; he no longer reaches out, and when The Professor reaches out to him, it is The Professor who is rebuffed. Although The Professor struggled with this declining relationship for years, he realized that the plain fact of the matter was that CP not only disappeared from The Professor’s life but from many others as well. The qualities that made him “CP”—the ones that truly defined him—didn’t [and couldn’t] survive the litany of aforementioned family events, even if his excellent hair and solid slim build did.
When it’s all said and done, the mysteries of CP are singular, his and his alone. But they are hardly unique. While the exact causative factor[s] may never be known in CP’s case—including that one specific piece of straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back—in the end these are human mysteries [and memories of those mysteries] that all of us have. The mysteries with CP turn out to involve the kind of events and memories that make up a post-credible life—not just for CP but for his whole family—a life lived in all of its unbelievably bizarre, this-doesn’t-make-sense, that-couldn’t-have-really-happened detail, yet it does so everyday.
Growing up American, we all know of those perfect-on-the-outside families that have it all. They have all of the looks, toys, kids, cars, jobs, lovers and houses, right up until they don’t. At times, their family’s display prodigious talents that are praised and celebrated—be they champion athlete, fledgling musician, first-time stage actor, spelling-bee winner, or tender poet—only to summarily be crashed, wounded, doubting and soon they are forgotten. The Professor hated that waste of beauty, energy, resources, potential and materials that he witnessed in CP’s family; if anything, however, CP hated it by an order of magnitude more, it was against everything he wanted to stand for.
Because he studied the life of Aldous Huxley, The Professor had some familiarity with the 20th-century British critic Cyril Connolly. Connolly is not much known these days, save for two quotations, one of which is this astute and timeless statement: “Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising” and CP was nothing in his early days if not “promising.” While it is too much to claim that his life was destroyed—after all, he is healthy, employed and living in New York City—it is all too true that the CP-that-might-have-been never got to see the light of day.
Put another way, although CP was born to be a pilot and engineer, he was never able to achieve lift, get airborne, fly free or look down from above in his life. It was his lot in life to dwell in the trenches, to have dream projects but not the circumstances or the creative process to see them through to completion. CP wasn’t born a mystery but he became the Enigma Man that he is today by way of circumstance and environment.
It is The Professor’s final contention that we all sense—whether we are rich or poor, religious or atheist, possessive of a strong family or not—that there is so much more to know about who we are [than what we know]. But we can’t often see it, can’t see past those qualities that define us, can’t see past the carefully constructed personal, familial and societal veils that hide, dismay and purposefully blunt the very real talents of people all around us.
That’s what happened to CP.
As his word is his bond—and as his modus operandi is to search for the pattern that explains, the metapattern that connects, even at the risk of being labeled apophenic—The Professor wants it to be known that the above story about CP is true, is told with love, and is, at the same time, constructed from the dust of memory, and that’s why they call me The Professor.
n.b. For a link to another comment concerning the BMW 2002 penned by The Professor, go to: http://streetparkedsf.com/post/39157438974/bmw-2002-1970-the-bmw-2002-got-it-right