I don’t really recall when, but it was either during college or shortly after our college years and definitely since time was displayed digitally.
One of us would see that time and point it out to the other. It was no doubt coincidental, but it was just something else connected us. Even after we were no longer living in the same state, we’d see 11:11 displayed on a clock and smile. Or we’d call each other. And in the era of cellphones, it wasn’t unusual for one of us to take a screenshot when 11:11 showed up and send it to the other.
Our paths first crossed when we met as freshmen on the campus of North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount. He was the skinny kid from outside Philadelphia and I was from the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
We hit it off well out of the gate, really. He and I shared a Pennsylvania connection. His family owned Potts Ice Cream, which was essentially distributed wholesale to stores in the Philly area and beyond, while my connection was that my grandfather had run the Ben Franklin Hotel in Philly, back in its day when it was the third largest hotel in the country.
Aside from that, our only connection was that we were both entering that new phase in life called college.
As time spent together proved, however, we found we liked a lot of the same music, had an affinity for beer, bourbon and smokes. Wait. That pretty much describes most college guys who strike up a friendship, but so what.
We enjoyed each other’s company. He’d visit my room where we’d play Yes, Steely Dan and a host of other albums while playing cards. Oh, how he absolutely hated losing when we played a favorite card game, Spite and Malice. Even when it meant the loser had to take a shot – although then his temper would be more tempered.
He and I wound up joining the same fraternity, which more closely resembled “Animal House” before the movie even came out. Basically, we were a band of brothers who mostly tried to keep our grades up while making college a bit more – how to put this – memorable. Once we got through the pledge period and initiation – alive, mind you – we were just a bunch of guys occupying the better part of a dorm hallway on the third floor. Actually, we were more than that. All of us genuinely cared for and about each other and long after college would do pretty much anything for each other.
Well after college, he and I would often talk about one night when we decided to walk around the soccer and baseball fields. Just a couple of buddies getting out of the dorm for a walk and a talk. Suddenly, part of the sky lit up a bright orange that faded nearly as quickly as it shone. But it seemed to light the ground before us and we only caught a glimpse of dime-size light as we cast our eyes toward the sky.
Meteor? Spacecraft? Something we consumed earlier? We both saw it and long wondered what had lit up the ground as we walked. It was probably a meteor that passed close by, but at the time it was fun entertaining those other possibilities, and it created yet another memory.
We wound up living and working in the same city where we spent our college years. Our friendship continued. It was a form of graduate college, you might say, in which we could still have college fun while learning to adult.
For a while we even shared a house and did a decent job of sharing the chores. Today it might be labeled a bromance. For us, it was just two guys who still enjoyed each other’s company.
Even after my career brought me to South Carolina, he and I stayed in touch. We’d call once in a while to catch up on our lives, talk about the old days and even about the loss of loved ones – just like when we were in college. One August morning when we were at our homes on summer break, he called just to chat. I had to tell him my dad had died only a couple of hours earlier. He knew my father had been sick and apologized for the timing of his call, but I told him I was glad he called. I needed the chat then. So it was natural that we talked when his dad passed, my mother passed and then his mother just a few years ago.
Only recently did I learn he’d had a health setback. He’d had a few, but apparently this one was more serious and I just did not know. He texted and said he’d call but no call came. This past weekend, I saw 11:11 on my phone and nearly took a screenshot to send him. Nearly. On Monday, I learned he had died. It was just two weeks after his 62nd birthday.
A lesson for us all. Stay in touch with your friends. And as convenient as texting might be, try to stay in touch the old-fashion way. Call. Or visit.
Jim, I’ll see you again one day. Not too soon, I hope, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s at 11:11.