The grass is always greener on the other side the saying goes, and I guess the same can be said for toy collecting. No matter what the age, whether you’re a child or a grown up, you’re always scoping out your friends collection, comparing it t yours, and maybe even being a little bit envious of what they have and you don’t. The following tale is true. It happened in a quiet little town in New Jersey many years ago. None of this has been changed or exaggerated for the benefit of telling this, and no Tauntauns were hurt in the making of this tale.
When I was younger my parents sent my brother, sister and I to Catholic Grammar School. For me and my sister’s grade, the enrollment was so large that they had to have two kindergarten, first, second, third and fourth grades, which meant for those first five years of school my sister and I were not in the same class. From Kindergarten through third grade my sister was in the same class as my future-friend Rich and was good friends with him.
One day somewhere between 1980 and 1983, the year is only important in terms of when this certain toy came out, Rich invited my sister over to play Star Wars and I came along. We brought our figures and Tauntaun. When we got there we began to play and I remember thinking how cool it was to see figures we didn’t have, or even the split belly Tauntaun which Rich had. We played until my mother came to pick us up, and as my mother talked to his, I suddenly had the idea to switch Tauntauns with his without telling him. It was the perfect crime, they looked alike except for the stomach, and he’d never know it was gone, so, I made the switch.
All worked out and we walked out of the house and to my mom’s car. We were just about to drive away when Rich came running down the front steps smiling saying I took the wrong Tauntaun. I made an apology, said I got confused and took the wrong one and that was that.
My perfect plan was spoiled by an eagled eyed geek.
When I went into the fourth grade Rich was in my class. For the rest of our grammar school days, through high school, college and beyond, Rich and I were friends. We’d spend hours together playing Star Wars, Atari, Nintendo, going to the movies, the mall, conventions, hanging out watching TV or the comedy specials of George Carlin and Louie Anderson. He’d teach me to play chess; I’d get him into The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. We were just two geeks who had a friendship that nothing could destroy.
Rich was always there. He was there in high school to help me pass Spanish class. He was there every day of our senior year to drive me to school and home. He was the first person I told that I was going to propose to my girlfriend. He was there the night before I got married, watching The Empire Strikes Back, eating the best Chinese food ever, and playing Godzilla on the Nintendo Game Cube all night. He was there when my wife and I bought our first house, tearing out carpets and painting. He was there too, once my wife and I moved in, every Saturday for dinner. Weekend after weekend, month after month, year after year, Rich was there for homemade pizzas, barbecues, pasta, roasted rosemary chicken and more.
One such dinner years ago my wife, Rich and I were sitting at the table enjoying our meal. I mentioned if he remembered the time I took home his Tauntaun by accident. He said he did. My wife asked what I was talking about so I told her. I then told Rich I meant to take it. Rich laughed. He wasn’t mad. In fact it would become just one more thing he and I would make jokes about.
I write this with having served 30 years of friendship with Rich. Countless movies, trips to the mall, conventions, nights spent hanging out late and talking gave me 30 years of friendship with a friend who was in reality not a friend at all but a brother. Last week, after battling a brain tumor for close to a year, Rich died.
My friend, my brother, my collector-in-arms, the Samwise Gamgee to my Frodo Baggins, the guy I called Smeagol, the Thousandth Man went to Heaven. Words cannot express how much I miss him or how weird my life feels now. A constant companion of 30 years now gone is something I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to. I miss Rich more than anything and wish we had just one more convention to go to, one more day to watch the Lord of the Ring movies, one more time to just sit and talk. There’s not enough split bellied Tauntauns in the world to make this pain go away.
The Thousandth Man – 1975 -2014