Cool, Calm And Collected

4 Jul

Ignorance is bliss.  So wrote Thomas Gray in his 1742 poem, “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.”  The poem ends, “where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”  And that is precisely why July 4th weekend in 2010 was such a wonderful time for our family.  We simply had no idea of the tragedy that was about to decimate us in just four months time.

Living in that state of ignorance, we could afford to be blissful that weekend.  And truth be told, it was one of the greatest holiday weekends ever.  On Friday, July 2nd, Brett and I took off for Chicago, just the two of us, to enjoy a three game baseball trip to celebrate his 16th birthday.  It was the same type of baseball trip that Jeff and I enjoyed together for his 16th birthday in 2003, and just like the basketball trip Drew and I embarked on for his 16th in 2007.

Brett and I started our journey at historic Wrigley Field in Chicago to see the Reds battle the hometown Cubs.  On Sunday, July 3rd, we flew to Boston to visit Fenway Park, another legendary stadium, and we rooted hard for the Orioles to defeat the Red Sox that night.  Then, on July 4th, we flew to D.C. to watch the Nationals take on the Mets at the new Nationals Park.  We watched that game in 100+ degree heat and loved every minute of it. 

Brett at Wrigley Field in Chicago, July 2, 2010

Nationals Park, July 4th, 2010

While Brett and I were on our three game, three city tour, Drew was home enjoying the summer holiday with his Chappaqua buddies.  Carey was also home, enjoying the relative peace and quiet.  And Jeff was in Newport, Rhode Island with a whole crew of friends visiting Jack Rossman, who was spending the summer there.  If all that wasn’t enough, the Knicks were intensifying their pursuit of Amare Stoudemire that weekend in what would be their biggest free agent signing ever.  That fact wasn’t lost on Jeff, even in the middle of his busy weekend in Newport.  I texted him from Boston on July 3rd asking  him if he was having a good time.  His response was:

Jeff was totally pumped about spending this weekend with all of his best buds at such a great place, and life was good.  It was all good.  And then, at 8:11pm on the evening of July 4th, 2010, that night went from being good to becoming an instant classic.  Brett and I were in a restaurant in D.C. at that moment, enjoying the final dinner of our awesome trip, when my cell phone buzzed with the following text message from Jeff:

“We just went out for a very expensive lobster dinner in Newport for July 4th.  Right as the bill came, Jack suggested we play credit card roulette to see who pays.  Jack, Ryan and I were the only 3 participants out of 10 people here, so everyone else had to pay their share.  I guess karma bit Jack for suggesting the game, because he lost and had to pay for the 3 of us.  I feel bad because one of my good friends had to pay a lot, but I also like how I just had a huge expensive dinner and didn’t have to pay a cent.”

Back in D.C., I laughed so hard I almost choked on my soft shell crabs.  That was my Jeff in a nutshell—texting me while having great times with friends, because he wanted me to share in these moments that he enjoyed so much.  And it was just like him to be conflicted between feeling badly that Jack had to pay and getting a charge out of the fact that he unexpectedly just had a free lobster dinner.  Either way, given Jeff’s love of food and friends, he was clearly having the time of his life, and I felt very fortunate to be so close to my son that he would want me to be a part of it.

Jeff, Lisa and Ryan. Newport, July 4th weekend, 2010

Newport, July 2010

Attending a polo match in Newport, with Bennett Goldfarb, Ryan Williams, and Lisa LI, July 4th weekend, 2010

That text message alone would have been enough to make my night, but little did I know that I would soon be drawn into an all-time classic debate that was raging at their dinner table in Newport.  Exactly one hour later, at 9:11pm, when Brett and I were on our dessert course, my phone buzzed again:

“In what order would you say the phrase “calm, cool, and collected?”

I chuckled to myself, because I remembered that Jeff and I had coincidentally discussed this very topic sometime within the prior year after I heard someone recite this phrase in that order, and it hit me as being totally wrong.  I had told Jeff back then that the proper order was cool, calm, and collected.  There was no doubt about it.  I knew I was right.  So I thought I would remind Jeff of this and put it to rest once and for all:

“Jeff, don’t you remember we recently talked about this, and I told you that it’s definitely “cool, calm and collected.”  Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise—trust your dad on this one!”

The evidence is overwhelming!

But I should have known that this one was not going to go down easily.  Not with the drinks flowing freely in Newport and my couple of glasses of wine going down easily in D.C.  Six minutes later:

“I was just outnumbered 10 to 1 at our table.  Then we asked a couple of random people and they agreed with us.  But then they googled it and it turns out it’s whatever your preference is.”

I was appalled.  This wasn’t about preferences—it was a matter of right and wrong.  I dug in.  The wine was taking over:

“Jeff, listen to me.  This has nothing to do with preferences, and it’s not debatable.  I mean, there’s even a song by the Rolling Stones called “Cool, Calm and Collected.”  Your friends have heard of the Rolling Stones, haven’t they??  You tell them that anyone who doesn’t agree with us is an alien!”

I looked across the table at Brett and appealed to him for support, but he was non-committal.  He was focused on his chocolate cake.  Jeff, however, must have been emboldened by my passionate response, as he wrote back at 9:21pm:

“EVERYONE AT MY TABLE thinks it’s “calm, cool and collected”, and I was like, no dammit, it’s “COOL, CALM and COLLECTED” and then you guys gave me verification.  I knew I heard it from somewhere.”

And with that, I privately claimed victory and left Jeff alone to thoroughly enjoy the rest of July 4th, on into the 5th, with many of his closest friends in the world.  My son agreed with me, and that’s all that mattered.  Brett and I went back to the hotel to pack for our trip home the next day.  July 4th weekend had come to a close, having been an amazing time that I will always remember and cherish.  I had enjoyed three baseball games in three different cities in three days with my youngest son, I had shared in my oldest son’s great weekend through the exchange of classic text messages, and Drew was having a blast with his friends at home.  And to top it off, the Knicks reached an agreement with Stoudemire on a five year deal on July 5th.  What more could I ever have asked for?

Well, it turns out that I could have asked that my son still be alive a little over four months later.  It is alternately baffling and terrifying that Jeff went from being on top of the world on July 4th to being on top of a bridge on November 9th.  There is no way that I will ever be able to come to grips with this timeline.  It is incomprehensible.  On November 9th, was July 4th weekend really that distant a memory for Jeff?  Whether I understand it or not, it obviously was.

Carey and I made a last-minute decision to go away on Memorial Day weekend this year.  We decided to drive to Newport, partially because we had never been there, but also because we wanted to walk the streets of the last vacation spot that Jeff had ever been to with his friends. 

Newport, Memorial Day weekend, May 2012

We would try to see if we could figure out where he had hung out on that glorious weekend.  Maybe we’d somehow be drawn to the restaurant at which the famous “cool, calm and collected” debate took place.  I texted Ryan on that Saturday night (before he and his phone parted ways in Atlantic City), but he didn’t remember the name of the restaurant.  I sent Jack a facebook message, but he was away and wasn’t able to respond until we were back home.

He subsequently wrote back that their July 4th dinner was at The Deck, which Carey and I did not come across while we were there.  However, Jack wrote that Jeff’s other favorite Newport spot was the Boom Boom Room in the Clarke Cooke House (of course Jeff would like something called the Boom Boom Room).  Not surprisingly, we had gone to the Clarke Cooke House for Sunday brunch the day before Jack sent that message.  There had been no doubt in my mind that we would find one of Jeff’s favorite places and be pulled toward it like a magnet.  And that’s exactly what happened.

As we finish up our second July 4th since that special weekend in 2010, I have come to realize that one direct and ironic consequence of Jeff’s horrific decision is that I am rarely cool, almost never calm and certainly not collected any more.  And another irony is that the phrase “ignorance is bliss” may never again apply to me.  Since Jeff died, I am unable to simply enjoy a happy moment, unaware of and unconcerned with what may lie ahead.  I guess that’s just a part of post-traumatic stress.  I pray that someday this will change.

I further pray that all of Jeff’s friends who were in Newport that weekend, and those who shared similar great times with him in other venues, will always carry him in their hearts and remember him during their ongoing celebrations in life.  Jeff’s inner circle of friends consists of an amazing group of young men and women, and I wonder if they truly know just how much they meant to him over the years.  From Newport to Key West, from D.C. to Duke, from Manhattan to Middlebury, and from University College of London to Classic Michael’s right here at home, Jeff celebrated life’s beauty with those friends.  I am blessed to have shared in those moments via text messages that will be saved forever.  And so, as the sun sets on another Independence Day, I thought it was fitting to look back on one of the greatest July 4th weekends of them all.

-Rich Klein

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