WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Birthday boy

Today is the 61st birthday of an old friend of mine, though I haven’t seen him in thirty years. He was my best friend in those crucial years from eighth grade through college and beyond, more in the earlier period than the beyond, really. An eccentric lad. My mom thought he might be a bad influence for a while.

I’ll call him Eugene.

I remember meeting him for the first time in the junior high cafeteria, when he was a transfer student looking to make new friends. Somehow he glommed onto me and started talking about the Beatles or something (I don’t really remember), and I found him different enough from my other friends that I thought I’d let him audition. I’m sure it was a two-way audition, though. We started hanging out after school at his house, since his house was closer to school. His room was in the unfinished basement, where his two hard-assed brothers also lived, so it was like an informal masturbation den where their mom seldom ventured.

At the time I was an AM radio kid, a sports kid (street hockey, mainly), a model-building kid (I’d successfully completed the famous “Working V-8 Engine” and the Saturn rocket (with accurate paint job), so I felt like I had my areas of expertise down. Eugene was an FM radio kid, a football kid, a comic book kid, and above all an iconoclast kid. He tuned my radio to KSHE-95, the progressive rock station in St. Louis, and I never looked back.

From there we made our way through high school together, bursting out of tenth grade on the last day of school, singing “I’m Free” by The Who at the tops of our lungs on our way to the nearby bookstore. I remember it well. He bought a Zap comic, I think, and I bought Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nixon But Were Afraid to Ask. Then we went to his house and listened to Dark Side of the Moon.

Early in our senior year, when we went to different high schools, we had both acquired girlfriends and consequently grew apart. You know how it is. Your friend starts taking on the girlfriend’s tastes and mannerisms, and she whispers things to him that you can’t hear, probably something derogatory about your girlfriend. You’re not off to a good start as a double-dating team. And then he goes to a different college than you, in a different town – her college choice – and you don’t see him often anymore and when he comes back into town to visit he announces that he’s now into ceramics and Gregorian chant.

We wound up working in the same medical center in our early twenties, though not together. Now and then we’d hook up for lunch. Eugene started sporting an Irish flat cap, unlike anyone else at the time. He smoked a pipe sometimes. He married his girlfriend, selecting a guy from their college as his best man. Fair enough. And after the ceremony Eugene’s father reflected that he probably didn’t have enough love to go around if Eugene and his new wife had children. He was running dry on love.

Eugene and I were pretty much estranged by the time I left town for California, and the last time I saw him was a few months after the birth of his daughter, who would wind up being their only child. She’s thirty-one now, I think.

And Eugene is sixty-one today. And in a strange way I like remembering him and all the great formative times we had together, but I’m almost glad we lost touch. He’s in amber in my head and will never change, and I’m free to recall him trying play the guitar solo from “Free Bird” in my room, and him proposing names for our band that was never to be (“Full Moon,” “Shit”), and him somehow investing me with the idea that I might be able to write stories.

“Brennan,” he said – we always called each other by our last names – “I wrote something and sent it off to a magazine. You should too.”

Happy birthday, Eugene. I took your advice.

4 comments on “Birthday boy

  1. Priscilla Bettis
    March 8, 2018

    Nicely written, Kevin. I have a couple of Eugenes in my past. Or probably I am the Eugene to them because I am the one who moved far away and married someone so completely different than the boys we knew back when.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 8, 2018

      Thank you, Priscilla. I think a lot of us have friends like Eugene in our histories, but I’m still glad I moved far away. 😉

  2. kingmidget
    March 9, 2018

    Good story. Watching my kids grow up made me think about all of the friends that come and go during the course of our lives on this planet. It’s an interesting thing that happens. For some period of time, Joe or Steve or Susie, fill so much of your time and who you are and then somebody moves or there is an argument or … things just happen. And that hole gets filled by somebody else. Or it doesn’t. But we just keep moving on. I have no doubt that Eugene would be proud of what Brennan has done with his writing in the years since.

    By the way, what is up with kids these days?!? I, too, grew up with friends who called each other by their last names. None of my friends called me Mark for years. My sons call their friends by their first names, only rarely do they use their last names. I can think of only one friend my older son has who he refers to by his last name.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 9, 2018

      It’s interesting about the last-name thing. It was par for the course in my day, maybe because lots of kids had the same first names: Bob, Mike, Tom, Mark, and yes, Kevin. Your last name was more individual, oddly enough.

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This entry was posted on March 8, 2018 by in Et alia and tagged , , .
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