I’ve known my best friend Jeff since I was a senior at LSU and he was just a high school sophomore. There is almost a ten year age difference between the two of us, but that's never really mattered. I met him for the first time when I moved into an apartment with two roommates, both of which had already been living there for a year. Jeff lived with his sister and their divorced mom in the same complex, and had struck up a relationship with my roommates (“Jeff, get me a coke”. “Jeff, run to the mailbox and see if we got anything”. “Jeff, do my laundry for me”.) Jeff would run errands and do chores for them and in return they let him hang out with “the college crowd”. So naturally when he showed up that first day, the first thing I did was get him to help me unload my stuff. He did it with no questions asked. Beads of sweat on his brow and a smile on his face.
It seems like all of my memories of that final year in college, in that apartment, involved Jeff. He was always around. He had only one friend from high school that I was aware of, a boy named Todd. The two of them were your classical mutt and Jeff (literally). Where Jeff was short, skinny, and energetic with long stringy hair; Todd was tall, chubby, and lazy with close cropped hair. We tolerated Todd because he was Jeff’s friend, and because he was a decent basketball player, which came in handy when we needed a third or fourth for the pickup games at the court the complex owned. Over time I came to think of Jeff as more of a younger brother than just a nuisance kid from the neighborhood, as some of my roommates viewed him. Little did I know that in time he would become the one person, other than my wife, who I would trust above all others and who would know me better than anyone else in the world.
Speaking of my wife, Jeff was instrumental in our courting. Shortly after I had graduated from college, for our second date, she invited me over to her apartment where she was going to cook me Lasagna (my favorite). The afternoon before that date I spent underneath my POS car attempting to replace a starter. Thirty minutes before I was scheduled to be at her apartment I was still without a car and starting to panic. I could have called and cancelled the date, but instead I called Jeff at the last minute and asked if he could give me a ride. Once again, with no questions asked and a smile on his face, he came through and delivered me to her doorstep (but not before making a quick stop at the florist). That night turned out to be something special and a key building block in the relationship between me and the woman I would eventually marry. All thanks to Jeff.
So you’ve got to be asking yourself by now, “How is this a Thriller?”, or “How does Thriller relate to this?” The reason is that the album Thriller, by the late great Michael Jackson, will be forever be intertwined with my memories of Jeff, and not because he cosmetically altered himself into a different species.
When my soon to be wife and I became a couple, we moved into a one bedroom loft apartment in the same complex where Jeff and I met. Jeff was still living there with his mom. The apartment was two stories, with the living area and kitchen on the bottom floor and a spiral staircase leading to a loft which was the bedroom and bathroom. There was a wall of nothing but glass windows that spanned virtually both floors and looked out into the walkway between neighboring buildings. Our furniture in the living area consisted simply of an old couch, a bean bag chair, and some shelves constructed from concrete blocks and wood boards stationed in front of the windows to hold my albums and stereo equipment. It was small and cramped, but it suited our needs, and my paycheck.
Although not as frequent, Jeff was still a common fixture in our home. Most of the time he would come over to listen to a selection from my rather extensive album collection. One night when my wife-to-be was at class and I was preparing to do some laundry, Jeff showed up. He knew I had the latest Michael Jackson album and he wanted to listen to it. I told him no problem, but knowing his propensity to crank up the volume and the fact that it was a little late, I told him to use the headphones. As I exited the apartment with a basket full of clothes I could see him searching for the record in the stacks.
Our laundry mat was located dead center in the middle of the complex, but was only a short walk from our apartment. After descending the stairs I turned left, then left again. I walked 30 feet down the path between two buildings, the one that our apartment overlooked, and into a smaller building where the washer and dryers were housed. Because it was the middle of the week, the majority of the washers were empty, so I picked out the one closest to the dryers so I could easily transfer the wet clothes when the load was done.
I had just shoved in a couple pairs of jeans when I heard a noise that made me pause. The sound was something unmistakable, but so out of place for a laundry mat that I shrugged it off. It was the sound that the needle of a turntable makes when it first makes contact with a spinning record. I remember a thought crossing my mind at the time, “surely he didn’t.”
Then the music started. If any of you remember the album, the first song on side A is Beat It and it starts out with these loud, rhythmic, BONG BONG sounds. I heard it clear as day, 30 feet away, through two solid walls. I dropped my clothes and took off running.
As I was sprinting down the pathway I passed a couple who had stopped walking to wherever they were headed and were staring up towards my apartment. I followed their gaze upwards and saw the windows of apartment vibrating as each bass note rang out. I was certain that they were going to shatter before I would be able to reach the apartment in time. I climbed the stairs to the apartment taking three steps at a time, reached the landing and pounded on the front door…..with no response. I hurriedly dug in my pocket for my key, jammed it into the lock and turned, then threw the door open.
There sat Jeff, on the floor in front of the bookshelves, legs crossed, headphones on, eyes closed, head bobbing up and down to the beat. The sound inside the apartment was so loud it was disorienting. I took two steps towards him and snatched the headphones from his ears, at the same time reaching to turn off the stereo.
In the dead silence that followed he looked up at me with a confused expression.
“What’s a matter?”
“YOU FORGOT TO TURN THE SPEAKERS OFF,” I yelled.
He had a blank look for a moment, and then you could see the realization spread across his face. And then he busted out laughing. Soon we were both laughing hysterically.
When the wife-to be returned home that was the first time, of many many times, that we recounted that tale. And now I’ve told it to you.
The story of my best friend, and the lead song on the soundtrack of his life.
I love you Jeff!