El Sharpino

August 4th, 2017

An old friend is new again.

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The email started out innocuously enough.

“Curtis, word on the street is that you will barnstorm through our hamlet soon.”

Yes, true. I was headed to San Francisco to see my good buddy & former college roommate, Kurt. But this wasn’t from him.

“I doubt you want to do this after a long flight, but I’ll throw it out there anyway.”

Hmmm … okay.

“I’m getting a “routine” colonoscopy and need someone to chaperone me home.”

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing one of the coolest, nuttiest, off-kilter characters I’ve never quite been able to get a handle on, Bryan Sharp — or Sharpie as he’s been known since college.

Hell yes I’d pick him up from his colonoscopy.

Sharpie, El Sharpino, my Kramer — back in college he roomed with Kurt, way before I did. He kept odd hours, staying awake most nights, then keeping awake during the day as well. Always knowing what convention was, what the norm dictated, Bryan seemed to make sure he flew in the face of it.

We made Pearl Harbor invasion tapes, the three of us, playing them loudly in the dorm early on December 7th. In our primitive recording, as it blared against the acoustically challenged, institutional walls, you could clearly hear our moaning, humming, buzzing as we pretended to be WWII airplanes on a raid.

When Vivian, the elderly cleaning lady announced each day she was coming in to clean our dorm bathroom, Sharpie would make sure he was always just a step outside of her periphery, toweled or naked — whatever got the most reaction from us. She knew she was being messed with and I think she secretly enjoyed it.

He gave college a couple shots, a few different years, but it never quite agreed with him. We generally kept in touch through the 90s and new millennium. Now that I think about it, he did more of the reaching out than I did. I’ll change that.

After landing in San Francisco, I took a Lyft car out to meet him post-colonoscopy. There he was, shuffling out of the hospital. Though he was drugged up and it’d been decades since we last laid eyes on each other, that smirk was unmistakeable. I took his keys and began the drive, with him doing his best — but not always remembering — to tell me whether left, right or straight was the best course. That sort of symbolizes our friendship.

We pulled over for an ice cream sandwich he was jonesing for and when I came back out, he was gone — car, him, all traces vanished. But knowing Sharpie’s ways, I just stood there smiling, waiting for him to return.

“I guess I wasn’t supposed to do that on Versed; it causes amnesia and sleepiness, but it was too funny to pass up,” he said upon driving up a few moments later.

We swapped places, ate our ice cream and drove back to the city.

Mythologically, the trickster in stories is someone who is very smart, has secret knowledge and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal convention — according to Wikipedia. To a lucky few, Sharpie is our trickster.

I still don’t understand why he’s single or why more people don’t worship his ways. Sure, he lives alone and yes his tiny, crowded apartment may not be your typical bachelor pad. But his warm heart and warped sense of humor are as inviting as his weird hours and irregular employment schedule are curious, unusual.

None of the tricksters in fables; Anansi the spider, Puck, Loki, Renard the fox — seem to have what Sharpie has. Like his fictional counterparts, he flaunts convention and seems happiest when others go along with him. Yet in direct opposition to those archetypes, El Sharpino’s cockeyed smile, like Santa in the famous story, soon lets you know you have nothing to dread. In fact, he wants to be included in the fun … his fun … our fun.

A day after recovery — 24 hours post delivering him safely home — we were back in the car, this time with him behind the wheel, driving through San Francisco neighborhoods. He delivers goods, when he wants to or can, from a famous online shopping site. But on this night, we were looking for the best views of the city from atop the high hills. True to trickster form, the fog was out in force and our views were measured in yards, not miles. Still, we drove to the top of each hill and took in the lovely scenery, getting pelted with dew drops so large, they hit the windshield like splatting water bugs.

In more modern times, Bugs Bunny or PT Barnum might better match Sharpie’s trickster ways. He helps us — the few of us who are lucky enough — to laugh and take ourselves less seriously. But we’re not his Elmer Fudd foils. We’re more  the Looney Tunes audience, laughing along at our own foibles.

We returned that night to our buddy Kurt’s fashionable two-story apartment, an exact counterpoint to Sharpie’s tiny, cluttered, single room. Sitting up on the rooftop deck, we sipped our drinks and smiled at the hills we just drove, as the fog played its own tricks hiding then revealing the hilltops.

“If I had a place like this and a coffee maker, I’d never leave this deck,” Sharpie sighed.

Maybe the trickster is thinking about retiring.

Let’s hope not.

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