Explosive Memories

“Boys,” Larry said from his bunk, “I think we bought the farm on this one.”

Angry, soused frat boys were pounding on our dorm room door like torch-waving villagers clamoring for a witch still warm from the spell. They were out for blood.

Larry, Mark and I hid in our respective beds, lights off, as if the mob would eventually think the trio who shot the bottle rocket at them had dissipated into the quiet darkness. Nothing to see here. More Jägermeister?

Had those apes snagged us, we would have been pounded like Popeye during a spinach shortage. We were sophomores at the University of Central Florida. Larry and Mark were marching band members, and I was a wanna-be band member who held cymbals when needed. There were nerdier people on campus, sure, but we claimed a healthy market share.

Mark and I were roommates thanks to the UCF housing pairing system—“Look! Band geeks! Throw them in Seminole Hall.” Larry joined us later, after waking up to his roommate standing over him with a knife and a grin.

It was finals week when we (Mark, actually) launched the bottle rocket from the crack under the door. Larry, Mark and I were trying to study, but the frat party spilled into the hall outside our door. Eventually, Mark held up recently acquired bottle rockets and suggested we end this.

The bottle rocket launched with a satisfying “swisssssssss” followed by an echoing crack. The frat boys stopped to assess damage (there was none) and noticed the trail of smoke leading to our room.

The dorm’s resident advisor eventually entered our room with his own key and, basically, told us not to shoot bottle rockets at people. The ruckus quelled. And then we laughed. Hard.

This is one of many stories Larry and I—35 years later—recalled this summer in Cleveland, where I attended his retirement ceremony from the U.S. Coast Guard.

At 54, with orthopedic shoes, I have vowed to reconnect with good people. When Larry invited me to the ceremony—after decades of not seeing him—I jumped. Larry and Mark occupy a special place for me not only because they were roommates with explosives, but because they were—and are—two of the nicest humans I’ve even known.

I flew to Cleveland with partial facial paralysis thanks to a recent bout with shingles. The photos of the two of us—the right side of my face unable to smile—do not reveal how happy I was to see Larry. How proud I was of him, not just from his decades of USCG service, but also as a beloved family man who, like me, had a daughter heading to another state to make dad proud.

My visit with Larry and his family was one of 2022’s highlights. We are planning a spring family getaway that will include Mark and his family.

Make a point to reconnect with good people. Larry is the same old Larry—funny, humble, a great storyteller. Same with Mark.

Seek out old friends. Visit, have a beer, savor and revel in explosive memories. OS

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