The Things That Are ‘So Jeff Klein’

31 May

In her last blog post (On A Scale Of ‘1 To Jeff Klein’, May 9, 2011), Brooke really hit the nail on the head. When recounting a voicemail she and Julie received from Jeff after they had left Michael’s early one night, she wrote, “It was just SO Jeff Klein…”. Precisely. There have been so many different adjectives, all accurate, used on this blog to describe Jeff, but I think the one that perhaps best describes him is “unique”. He was the most unique individual I’ve ever known, in both subtle and not so subtle ways. The things he said and did often left us on the floor laughing, or sometimes just shaking our heads in disbelief. As the months roll on, we continue to remember more and more of these things, and I thought I would share some in this post.

As everyone knows, either from receiving his classic text messages, reading his articles in the Middlebury Campus, or by reading his Talkin’ Sports blog, Jeff had a way with the written word. I kept a typed note that he printed out for me and gave me for my birthday a few years ago, and I keep it in my closet and read it every morning while getting dressed for work, because it always sends me out the door with a smile on my face. I had hinted to Jeff some weeks before my birthday that I would really love to get the recently released DVD of Muhammad Ali’s simulated “computer fight” against a champion from the 1950s named Rocky Marciano. In 1969, when Ali was in exile and banned from boxing for refusing induction into the army, he and the long since retired Marciano filmed this simulated fight, the round-by-round details of which were dictated by a computer which had been fed mounds of data on the two men.

Jeff, ever the loving son, was determined to ensure that this DVD was waiting for me on my birthday, but apparently my birthday crept up on him, and he realized that it would take expedited shipping to get it here on time. However, mail services being what they are, it didn’t quite make it. So instead of the DVD, Jeff put the following note in wrapping paper and handed it to me on my birthday. It read:

“Dear Sir,

I am glad to announce that your very own copy of the legendary Ali-Marciano DVD, in the slowest manner possible for overnight service, is currently making its way to 3 Charles Court. It shall arrive shortly. Happy Birthday!!!

Love, Jeff”

Those who are close to him know that this note is absolutely so Jeff. I loved it, and within a couple of days, I was enjoying the DVD.

I believe that it was exactly a year later when I received another classic birthday gift from Jeff, and this one did not originate as a hint from me. It is common knowledge in our family (and for years, the topic of constant jokes) that my worst physical feature is the ugliness of my feet. Yeah, well you know, athlete’s foot, a little nail fungus perhaps, and well, you get the picture. So to help celebrate my birthday, Jeff was apparently intent on doing something about this situation One could either take the view that he was coming to his father’s defense, or a more cynical person would say he was piling on and looking to enjoy more laughs at my expense.

Either way, there I was on my birthday opening presents when it was Jeff’ s turn to give me his. With a huge smile on his face, he handed me a small package. Being a believer that good things do come in small packages, I got pretty excited. But then my jaw dropped practically to the floor when I opened it and found a tiny white box with green letters. On the box were the words, “THE TOENAIL AND NAIL FUNGUS TREATMENT”, and inside was a little tube of ointment that would apparently clear up this mess forever. But the best part was where Jeff found this miracle cure. Evoking memories of the night at Middlebury when Jeff got hungry after a night of drinking and placed an order on (see November 27, 2010 post of that title), Jeff found my birthday present on No, folks, that is not a joke. The five of us erupted in laughter, and I immediately applied a dose of the stuff in front of the family to show my deep appreciation for this thoughtful gift. It was, by far, the most unique birthday present I’ve ever received, and it was absolutely, positively, so Jeff.

As unique as a gift can be...

And then there was The Voicemail. It occurred sometime during Jeff’s college years. It lived on our home answering machine for almost a year until a power outage eventually wiped it out. But by then it didn’t matter. There wasn’t a member of our family who couldn’t recite it verbatim by that time. Now, this wasn’t a voicemail from Jeff. Instead, it was an entire conversation that the answering machine captured between me and some guy calling about a product that someone had ordered. Here it is:

Caller: “Hi, may I speak to Mr. Klein?”

Me: “Speaking”

Caller: “Hi, this is Steve Harrison from Total Breath”

Me: “From Where???”

Caller: “Total Breath”

Me: “Total Breath”

Caller: “I was just calling to let you know that your item is back-ordered but it should be there within a couple of weeks, and we didn’t want you to worry…”

Me: “And what exactly is the product ?”

Caller: “Oh, it’s a mouth rinse and mouth drops… this Jeffrey Klein ?”

Me: “No, it’s his father”

Caller: “Oh, well please let Mr. Klein know that the product is on its way, because he had called us asking about the status, and he seemed very anxious to get it.

Me: “Sure, and what’s the name of your company again?”

Caller: “Total Breath”

Me: “Got it.”

Now, I totally understand that it loses something in the translation, but you’ll have to trust me that listening to my incredulity with this earnest man from Total Breath was hilarious. Jeff was big on oral hygiene, but none of us truly appreciated just how much so until he ordered yet another miracle product from another well-known (???) internet company. Jeff was quite pleased to hear the message, and even happier when the product arrived a couple of weeks later. So Jeff.

And of course, those text messages. The one that I haven’t mentioned before that completely captures the essence of Jeff was a simple four word text that he sent to me in February 2009. The Middlebury Panthers men’s basketball team had made the NESCAC playoffs, and the school had arranged for buses to take students to the first round game somewhere in upstate New York, as I recall. The buses were packed, and of course as the beat writer for the team, Jeff was on it and excited for the journey. Once the bus started rolling, the texts from Jeff started rolling in as well. The texts leading up to the one I loved the most were “the bus is packed to the gills”, “things are getting crazy”, and “things are starting to spin out of control !” And then the clincher 15 minutes later that was so Jeff:

“This is absolute debauchery !”    Is that our Jeff, or what?

The first time we visited Middlebury on Parent’s weekend during Jeff’s freshman year, I saw him walk out of his dorm and across one of the fields with some sort of sign taped to his T-shirt.  When I got close enough to him to see what it said, I saw a white piece of cardboard with “1918-2004” written in black magic marker.   Having just started college at a New England school filled with Boston Red Sox fans, Jeff was making his position known.  He was a Yankees fan, and the sign was a reminder that although the Sox had just won the World Series in 2004, it had been a long 86 years since they had last won it before then.  Brave young  man, that Jeff Klein. 

The summer after Jeff’s 16th birthday, he went on a teen tour called Wilderness Ventures.  They went to Jackson, Wyoming and other beautiful destinations out west.  At the end of the tour, the company asked each kid for a short quote about their experience, so that they could use these quotes in their advertising flier for the following summer.  The typical quotes from the kids centered around the beauty of nature, the mountains, the wonderful feeling derived from testing one’s physical limits, and how satisfying it was to put up their own tents, build fires, etc.  Then there was Jeff’s quote, which certainly stood out from the rest:

“I never thought I would walk out of a supermarket and see a 10,000 foot mountain !”

It is so Jeff- whether at Rocky’s in Millwood, a sushi bar in Manhattan, or in the mountains of Wyoming, food was central to most of his life experiences.

These are just a few examples of the things that make Jeff so incredibly unique.  But as we all know, the list of examples could go on for pages.  So whether it was pouring a beer on one of his very best girl friends, ordering  curried goat from a fast food counter of a shopping mall, routinely pretending to sing opera in a falsetto voice in the shower, asking Elizabeth Mo what her favorite organelle was,  or reciting grace before dinner in unusual ways such as “God is great. God is real. Let us thank Him for this very tasty meal,” Jeff’s uniqueness will live on forever.   There really is nobody quite like him.   And that is one of the reasons why his tragic passing has hurt so many people so very much.

-Rich Klein


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