When one text can change the course of an evening…and maybe a series.
It’s always fun to know a super-fan, especially if they’re from a city not used to winning.
Born in the Bronx and raised in pinstripes? You get treated to a Yankees contender at least every third year, plus all those Seinfeld references. Some teenage Patriots faithful don’t know a world where America hasn’t been at war and anyone has been under center besides Tom Brady (somehow the two are inexorably linked in my imagination). Laker Nation? Sure, Kobe needs to call it a day worse than The Simpsons but when you can’t see the Jumbotron through the team’s championship banners, you really have nothing to complain about.
Then there’s my buddy Sudha, who grew up in Cleveland and has never seen his hometown awarded anything besides a Jimmy John’s franchise, ever.
This summer marks the 20th year of our unlikely friendship. Sudha transferred his sophomore year in college from Berkeley to Brown where he became housemates with one of my best friends from high school, Paul.
Now, it wasn’t just any ordinary situation the housing provosts at Brown threw Sudha into: Since he arrived mid-year, there was only one spot for him—a vacant room in a loosely affiliated fraternity on campus affectionately nicknamed The Delta House: Home of the school’s football players and wrestlers.
Sudha, all six-foot-one 145 pounds of him soaked like a washcloth, was neither.
Ivy league schools need their athletes too. The only problem is the alma mater of John D. Rockefeller, JFK Jr. and Mary Chapin Carpenter has certain, um, expectations of most. The Delts, according to Paul, fit closer with the culture growing in the bio lab than the one on campus.
If one dorm over literary zines were being started by future Newberry Award winners and Lisa Loeb was fogging up her horn-rimmed glasses with her acoustic tears, Paul and his crew were wearing nothing but Natural Ice 12 packs with eye holes cut out and throwing 30-pound computer monitors out the window while Metallica’s Blackened broke the silence of the snowy night.
Needless to say, Sudha sometimes recalls, it took awhile for him to fit in.
At first, he mostly kept to himself, researching the possibility of transferring to a third college in as many years or trying to find a couch to crash on in campus—when one day he happened by Paul’s room.
A West Coast guy in a house full of East Coasters, Paul had his own quirks: His poster of Tupac and Snoop hung reverently over his futon. His habit of drinking 40s instead of Rolling Rock and staying up all hours laughing maniacally at SNL highlights made him a misfit in a house full of them. One evening, Sudha, drawn by the laughter, peeked in to investigate. Paul didn’t say anything at first. Then, after a moment, he cracked a 40 for his guest and waved Sudha in. Sudha as Jane Goodall took a sip and, well, that was it.
That summer, both Sudha and I were living in the East Bay and one night Paul called me up and said he knew this kid and would I want to drink some 40s and play Griffey on Nintendo 64.
About an hour later we were sitting in my parent’s basement room sipping 40s and playing San Francisco v. Cleveland.
It was like we’d known each other for hours.
I don’t know how to describe Sudha other than you ever have one of those guys who’s a much better friend to you than you are to them, and you don’t know why? Well, that’s this guy.
Paul and I once left him at a bus stop all night because no cell phones. He’s let me crash at his apartment more times than a youth hostel. He once stayed with me for a week and walked my dog twice a day even though he was allergic. I took him to my favorite Taco Bell and it might as well have been Christmas morning for both of us. I don’t think I’ve ever paid for a cab that Sudha and I are both in.
When Paul was killed on 9/11, I pretty much thought because the guy we had in common was gone, our friendship would fade. Sudha, not me, made sure that wasn’t the case.
He’s come out to the West Coast from New York to visit every year since then and run a race we do in the in Paul’s honor. We run. We drink a 40. We watch The Warriors (the movie, not the team)…We once split the hottest plate of wings known to man in Scottsdale, Arizona and Sudha made a tribute T-shirt to it. I don’t know how he does it but as soon as we walk into a baseball game a beer magically appears in my hand.
In September, he’s coming out to visit and bringing his son, born two weeks after mine. It’s almost as exciting as that one trip to Taco Bell.
I don’t talk to him enough. I don’t reach out as much as him. And I definitely owe dinner and drinks for the next five leap years in attempts to catch up. When my father passed last year, he sent me an email I’d only wish I’d received before the memorial because I would’ve made it my speech.
And then, Thursday before the start of game 4, he sent me this:
Then this text exchange ensued:
Me: This is the single greatest moment you’ve ever shared with me — and probably the apex of any friendship I’ve ever had.
Sudha: I didn’t know exactly what to send you, and then that shit came on and I started losing my mind.
Me: I can’t even imagine the gravity of that moment—for you to have the presence of mind to capture it is truly mind-blowing…
At that moment, whatever action to ensue was anti-climactic. And, as it turns out, the game was anti-climactic. A bridge game if you will. The refs called it straight up. The Warriors set the tone with a small lineup. And LeBron bled red not alien green as everyone expected.
Certainly, this could go seven.
Best of three to decide. In a series that’s already had all the things people ask for between commercials for Straight Outta Compton: dueling superstars, physical play, spotty officiating and flummoxed commentary, we’re well beyond the halfway point.
…And for whatever reason, I don’t want it to end.