Jeff’s Christmas List: A Reflection Of Who He Was And What He Stood For

15 Dec

A classic Christmas-related email exchange from 2008: 

12/4/08, 9:42am, Dad > Jeff:

“I’d really like to get an email out to the North Pole asap with your combined lists.  Can you send me one today?”

12/4/08, 10:45am, Jeff > Dad: 

“Today is going to be an awfully tough day.  Can I do it tonight ?”

12/4/08, 11:01am, Dad > Jeff: 

“Of course.  Any time !  Even in a bad economy, Santa is always busy.”

12/6/08, 10:11am, Jeff > Dad:

1.    “I’d love some kind of Giants jersey, because the ones I currently have are Jeremy Shockey, Michael Strahan, and my own customized one, but I want someone currently on the team.  My first choice is Kevin Boss, but this is a problem, because apparently they don’t make Kevin Boss jerseys right now.  I don’t know if I should just wait it out until they do start making them or ask for someone else.  Put it this way, the only other one I’d want at this point is Amani Toomer, and I’m not sure if they even have those available.

2.    Knicks jersey, David Lee or Chris Duhon, whichever one Brett does not have / is not getting.

3.    The early ‘90s movie House Party.  This might be pretty hard, since it wasn’t in stock the last time I checked over the summer, but maybe Santa could work his magic.

4.    White athletic socks, NOT the ultra low-cut.

I think that’s it for now, I’ll let you know if I think of anything else.”


12/22/08, 11:33am, Jeff > Dad,  Re: One More Small Christmas Gift:

“If it’s not too late, I’d love a couple more yearly sports calendars (Giants and Yankees, or Giants and Knicks), for Middlebury and home.  I feel like I’ve been getting those for years.”

I share this with you, primarily because I can’t think of a better example of the type of down-to-earth, non-materialistic person Jeff was.  In a high-tech world in which most college kids from comfortable homes were probably asking for the new iPhone which had hit the market in June 2007, the new iPod Touch, a new expensive laptop, or other high-priced contraptions, Jeff was perfectly content with some sports jerseys, a DVD movie, some socks and a couple of calendars.  Amazing.  This makes me very proud, I must say.

It never took much to make him happy-  give Jeff the company of his family and friends, some chicken wings and cold beers, a TV with a game on, and he didn’t need much else.  Till his last day, Jeff still used the same 2005 laptop that he got before starting at Middlebury.  It’s a relic, but it worked ok, and he never felt the desire to replace it.  And as Tarzan said in his October blog post, Jeff had an old school Motorola cell phone, and he was perfectly content with it.  I specifically asked him before Christmas in 2007 if he wanted the hot new iPhone, and he said he couldn’t justify having us (or Santa !) pay that kind of money for features he didn’t feel he needed.

Here’s another great example of Jeff’s down-to-earth, unassuming nature.  When Carey and I went with Jeff to do some car shopping at the end of his old lease in late 2009, he settled in on the Mazda 6, which he liked and felt was in his price range relative to the salary of his new paralegal job.  We encouraged Jeff to go for a spoiler on the trunk of the car, since we thought it looked really cool.  He felt the spoiler was unnecessarily flashy and resisted getting it.  After we pushed a little more, Jeff finally agreed, but on one condition. Since it would cost an extra $25 per month on his lease payment for a feature he didn’t really want, he insisted we pay that amount each month !  Classic Jeff- he would have been a great negotiator in whatever field he had chosen.  Of course, we paid the $25 per month with no argument.

Jeff's car with the spoiler on trunk

Jeff’s choice of jerseys is also very telling and speaks volumes about the kind of people he respected and about the things he himself stood for.  Notice he didn’t ask for any of the biggest names or outspoken stars on either the Knicks or Giants.  No Plaxico Burress or Eli Manning.  No Al Harrington, Eddie Curry or Zach Randolph.  Jeff rooted for the unheralded, hard working guys who were class acts on and off the field/court.  Kevin Boss is one such quiet, tough, hard-working guy who plays the game the right way.  Jeff liked the unselfishness of Chris Duhon, who was no more than a back-up guard before joining the Knicks.  Amani Toomer was a fine receiver, but more than anything, was known as a team-oriented, class act all around.  And David Lee is the consummate professional-hard working, unselfish and underrated in Jeff’s view.  All of those guys stayed out of the limelight and just quietly did their jobs.  That is what Jeff respected so much.

In light of all this, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that, as I noted in a recent blog post, Jeff’s favorite Christmas present of all-time was probably “The Book Of Basketball” by his favorite sportswriter, Bill Simmons.  He received this on his last Christmas morning in 2009, and once again, it was a simple thing like a book that gave him the greatest joy.

I can’t emphasize enough how much enjoyment Jeff got from reading articles by Simmons, the self-proclaimed “Sports Guy”.  The following email that Jeff sent me on 3/14/07 will give you an idea:

“Bill Simmons is the funniest person on the face of the earth.  He wrote an article about the 65 teams in the tournament and the order in which they will be eliminated, counting backwards.  Here’s the part on Virginia Tech (I still haven’t stopped laughing):

12. Virginia Tech (5)

They’re good enough to potentially rattle Bill Self’s toupee in the Sweet 16. And since I have nothing to add, here’s an idea for a terrible sports movie, courtesy of Villanova reader Sean McCloskey: “I was watching the selection show with my brother yesterday and he had the greatest idea. They should make a movie where someone holds the committee hostage on Selection Sunday. It could be the alumnus of a really crappy team and their demands are that their alma mater gets an invitation into the tournament. So they announce it on Sunday and Greg Gumbel goes, ‘The 3-seed out West is … the Bethune Cookman Wildcats?’ “

And just three days later, Jeff wrote to me:

“Sir- Bill Simmons did a running diary of the first round of March Madness.  If you get a chance this weekend, read it.  You can’t get any funnier than this.”

But perhaps Jeff’s greatest reaction to a gift occurred on Christmas morning 2008 when he received the official New York Giants Super Bowl DVD documenting that year’s Super Bowl season, which culminated in a huge upset of the previously unbeaten Patriots.  I was fortunate to capture Jeff’s reaction on video that morning:

It is quite surreal that just a little over a year after Jeff’s passing, we are already about to endure our second Christmas without his physical presence.  His spirit, on Christmas and always, is with us in a very palpable way.  Last year, Christmas came less than two months after he left, and we hung his stocking as we always had.  The sight of that empty stocking, to me, was unbearable to look at, and so I don’t know what we will do this year.

We certainly don’t need a stocking to remind us that Jeff will forever be an integral part of our family unit.  By the same token, if he is looking down upon us (which I believe he is), I would never want him to misinterpret the lack of one hanging next to ours as a sign that we have moved on.  Dear God, no.  Never, Jeff, NEVER.  We are only able to march forward by carrying you in our hearts and minds every minute of every day.  You are never apart from us.

As if we don’t have enough angst already, decisions like whether to hang his stocking are always here to torment us.  We don’t know how to do this, how to live without one of our cherished children, nor should anyone ever have to.  Especially under these circumstances.  And so I let my instincts guide me toward the things that make me feel like I’m honoring Jeff and keeping his memory alive.  For me, those are things like writing on this blog, creating a Facebook group in his honor (please join if you haven’t already), and walking in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk this past October 2nd.  These types of things make me feel better, and so I will continue to do them.

And to my son-

I wish you a most peaceful Christmas, Jeff.  I know that, in the end, you were just searching for peace, however terribly misguided your thought process was as to how to achieve it.  I also understand that you weren’t intentionally trying to hurt us.  And knowing you as intimately as I do, I know that your 2011 Christmas list would read something like this:

1)  The Knicks in the NBA finals in this shortened season, just as they were in the 1998-99 shortened season

2)  I wish for the Giants to stop yet another second half collapse and to find a way to sneak into the playoffs

3)  Please get me another one of those sports calendars- I’m tired of looking down at the 2010 Yankees one on my bulletin board

4)  A beautiful Christmas for my family and friends.  I’m all right.  I need all of you to be too.


As was the case in 2008, this year’s list would cost very little and yet would easily satisfy some of the basic needs that were most important to you- sports, family and friends.  Well, as you alluded to then, Santa did have a way of working his magic when it came to you, so maybe he can do it again.  He can’t help with number 4, though, and that will be the hardest of your Christmas wishes for our family to fulfill.   But I do know how badly you want that for us, and so I assure you we will do the best we can to make it beautiful and to be all right.  No promises, though.  It’s just not that simple. 


-Rich Klein


One Response to “Jeff’s Christmas List: A Reflection Of Who He Was And What He Stood For”

  1. adrienne December 16, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    Jeff was an amazing guy!!! What an amazing family!!! My thoughts are with you this holiday season…xoxoadrienne

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