(About a 14 minute read)
Jeff and I had an oddball relationship. We were not truly friends, we certainly were not enemies, but we were more than casual acquaintances.
We met at a coffee shop where we were both daily customers. Luke introduced us one afternoon. I noted that Jeff was a handsome, rather short man, with a somewhat deep, slightly husky voice.
A few minutes later, a couple of people walked up to Jeff with one of them saying something along the lines of, “Jeff! You’re back in town! When?” Luke promptly took advantage of Jeff being distracted to take me aside a few paces. He whispered, “He’s always carrying. Just so you know.”
“What does ‘carrying’ mean?”
Luke very briefly looked surprised and then whispered again, this time slowly, “He conceal carries a Beretta 9mm pistol in a holster strapped under his left arm. You will never see it, but never forget about it, because it’s always there.” I nodded and then we rejoined Jeff, who was no longer distracted.
About a quarter hour later, Jeff said something to Luke that I no longer recall, but in response to which Luke laughed loudly and said, “You’re a sick, sick man, Jeff. But we all love you!”
It was the first time I ever heard that cliché and so I thought Luke was being witty but serious; and it stuck in my head as a first impression of Jeff: Something was wrong with the man, but he seemed well liked.
I soon enough learned that Jeff saw himself as some sort of pick up artist. He had a little two or three sentence long speech that he told anyone at the coffee shop who’d listen. The part I remember went, “I lost count of the number of women that I’ve slept with at 200 women. When I reached 200, I thought, ‘Why should I count anymore?'”
One night during the summer I met Jeff, I was sitting on a park bench at two in the morning one night, enjoying my insomnia by savoring the night air, when two teens jumped me without either one of them making even the least discernible effort to politely introduce themselves beforehand, an appalling lack of manners that I found rather alarming at the time.
I suppose they wanted money. Unlucky for them, I miraculously mucked my way into somehow gaining the upper hand. They fled down the street, and I –without really thinking it through — instinctively chased them for a few yards like an idiot before realizing that they were both faster than me and — after all — still outnumbered me. I decided not to tempt the Goddess of Luck, Spontaneous Erections in Men Over 80, and Durable Chinese Goods any further. Besides, my usual policy is to back out of any confrontation unless I’m forced to fight, then I try to fight like a wildcat and just as dirty as river mud.
The next morning I woke up with a gorgeous black eye. When Jeff saw it at the coffee shop later that day he asked for the particulars. I told him the story and thought it would end with that. But Jeff wasn’t content. “Can you tell me anything, Paul, anything to identify them?” I described the kids as best I could recall. Jeff pressed for more. I couldn’t recall anything more about their looks, so I speculated about their habits, “They’re most likely local kids and night owls, Jeff. So I bet they hang out at the Denny’s”. That seemed to satisfy him.
A day or two later, Jeff had some news for me. He had decided to indulge himself a bit of good old-fashioned vigilantism. Reminding me of my speculation that the teens were night owls, he gone to the Denny’s in the wee hours of the morning. As it happened, he’d overheard two teens talking about encountering an “old man” [Author’s note: “OLD man”? The nerve!] in the park the night before.
Jeff waited until the teens left the restaurant then followed. Presently, the two split up, most likely on their way to separate homes. Jeff trailed the boy he’d overheard claim credit for “popping one right in the prick’s eye”. He caught up with the unfortunate boy, attacked him, reduced him to the ground, and then jerked and twisted the boy’s right arm up and in way that Jeff knew was pretty sure to rip tendons.
“I want to make this clear Paul. I didn’t do it for you. I did it because this is my town. My town, my home, and I take it personally when someone messes with the quality of life around here.
“By the way, I watched which hand he used to pick up his soda glass at Denny’s. I wanted to make sure I tore up the correct arm — the arm he used in punching you. He won’t be punching anyone else with that arm for a few weeks now.”
That night I myself went to the restaurant. I wasn’t looking for the teens, I didn’t think they’d be around after what had happened. But there he was: His arm raised up in a cast. As I passed his table he looked up at me, “Is it over?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s over”, I said, feeling an improbable empathy for him, “It’s done if you’re done.” The boy nodded and assured me he was done. I secretly hoped Jeff thought it was done, too. If he didn’t, I aimed to have a word with him.
Jeff and I didn’t start hanging out daily with each other until a few weeks later. It soon seemed to me that he had an opinion on nearly everything, and that he delivered his opinions authoritatively, as if thinking himself equally well-informed on all subjects. I seldom more than half-listened to him. Still, I wasn’t in the habit back then of avoiding people, and Jeff always came over to sit with me when he saw me at the coffee shop, so we spent considerable time together for awhile.
His single most intense, sustained effort to get his opinions across to me came about due to a miscommunication.
A couple days before the incident, Becky had introduced me to her younger sister, Theresa, who was visiting from Los Angeles. Theresa was an erotic dancer so drop-jaw, stop-in-your-tracks gorgeous that a bad night for her as a dancer was to earn only $1000 in tips. She was also, I thought from the moment I met her, obnoxious.
I tried to hide my instant distaste for her, which was almost solely based on her use of the word “darling” when first addressing me. But Theresa picked up on my feelings. Instead of firing back at my momentary insanity, however, she much more reasonably decided to simply change my mind.
The next day, she invited me to breakfast at Becky’s house. I went, Theresa cooked a delicious breakfast for me, and I left in honest admiration of her clever “hash browns diplomacy”, and also feeling rightfully guilty for having put her to it.
Later that morning, I was sitting at a sidewalk table with Jeff and three other men when Theresa walked by, dressed for the summer weather in a tank top and tight pair of shorts. When she saw me, she burst into a huge, friendly smile, waved, and called to me by name. But she didn’t pause, and instead kept on walking. Every eye at the table followed her receding figure raptly. Then, once she was well down the street, every eye almost at once turned to me.
“How do you know her?”, someone demanded. “Can you introduce me?”, someone else laughed.
Without thinking through the impression my words would make, I answered the first question, “That’s Theresa. She’s a new friend, I just met her. She made breakfast for me this morning.” I looked around. Everyone had knowing smiles on their faces, and some were nodding approvingly.
“She’s just a friend”, I said. Someone mumbled, “Sure”, and there were a couple short laughs. I decided to remain silent and thus dig no further down in the hole I’d made for myself.
Jeff had remained silent through all of it. But the moment the last person at our table save him and me had left, Jeff stood up, removed all the chairs from the table except our own (“So we won’t be interrupted”, he mysteriously said), and then sat down opposite to me. Leaning forward, he demanded with unusual intensity, “Truth! Did you two fuck?”
“No!”, I was a bit pissed he’d even ask, but I added, politely enough, “I’m voluntarily celibate, Jeff.”
“Voluntarily. Celibate.” He slowly repeated, while looking at me like I’d just then told him “roses make great lawnmowers”.
Jeff then launched himself into what can only be described as a two hour pitch directed at selling me on becoming a pick up artist. I simple zoned out, leaving him to ramble on while I enjoyed the beautiful weather. Today, I don’t recall a specific word of what he said, but I do remember the passionate intensity with which he spoke.
From the day forward, he seemed to feel a need to save me from my incomprehensible celibacy. I sometimes thought he was behaving like an Evangelical preacher who can’t restrain himself from proselytizing atheists, and that I was the king of atheists to him.
One thing Jeff never did is tell anyone who he slept with. Even if the woman herself openly claimed she’d slept with him — and a few did — and Jeff knew she openly claimed it, he would refuse to confirm it. I once, and once only witnessed Jeff “pick up” a woman.
I’ve come across websites that teach step-by-step methods for picking up women. Jeff’s approach was nothing at all like theirs. Sometimes those sites recommend that you attack a woman’s self-esteem in order to tear her down psychologically and thus make her vulnerable to your advances. I think Jeff would have reacted to those sites like he once reacted to my telling him I preferred to be celibate. What I witnessed was Jeff doing the opposite of what those sites recommend.
Watching him was, to an extent, like watching a chameleon change colors. I stated earlier that Jeff usually came across as opinionated and perhaps even arrogant. Normally, he would talk to both men and women that way. But all of that dropped like a mask the moment Jeff got serious about someone.
Suddenly, he was the woman’s favorite brother, or her most trusted confidante, or her most down to earth friend, or her oldest friend, as comfortable to be with as worn shoes.
Moreover, Jeff did nothing that came across to me as “making an effort to impress”. He seem to put his ego aside and was instead attentive to the woman. He displayed unforced, effortless curiosity about the woman and an easy-going respect for her.
It was quite the tour de force, and it reminded me of an extraordinary salesman I once knew — a man who had broken 100 year sales records for a Fortune 500 company that he’d worked for — and who had mentored me when I was relatively new to sales.
Over the years, a small number of women — maybe five or six — have either mentioned to me, or at least hinted to me, that they slept with Jeff. Only one of those women had a wholly negative view of him, claiming that Jeff had gotten her pregnant. Jeff himself claimed that he’d had a vasectomy, and he was rather proud that he’d “never left any unwanted bastards in this world”. One woman spoke of him as if Jeff was some fondly remembered, but hopelessly crazy friend that she kept at arm’s length. Another confessed to me that she thought herself “superficial” for wanting sex with him, but she loved it anyway. The rest, so far as I can recall now, had wholly positive views of him.
Did Jeff really sleep with “hundreds of women”? Naturally I don’t believe that for a moment. But for various reasons, I suspect that Jeff slept with more than his fair share, as they say. Yet, despite the women in his life, Jeff was a fundamentally unhappy man.
In addition to his little speech about the number of women he’d slept with, Jeff had another little speech he seemed to have memorized from repeating it so frequently to so many people. “I’m giving myself until the day I turn 45 to get myself straightened out. If I still cannot hack anything but a twisted, fucked-up life on that day, then I’m going to put an end to it. One way or the other, the mess I’ve made of my life is going to be over.”
I never knew whether to take Jeff seriously or not when he’d say that. I knew almost nothing at the time about the psychology of suicide.
What did Jeff mean by his “twisted, fucked-up life”? I think it’s most likely he was referring to two things at once. First, Jeff seemed unable to keep a steady job. Mostly he did piecework for people, such as painting their house. There were often long periods between one job and the next. I knew Jeff to now and then go for a few days without food, or to live in no more than his pickup truck for up to months at a time. And I know from remarks he made to me that his instability bothered him.
The second thing you might find ironic. In the time I knew him, Jeff fell in love with three or four women in widely spaced succession. Each time, he tried to make a life together with her. Get a place, keep a job, practice monogamy; that sort of thing. It never worked out for him. I think the longest relationship he ever had with someone he loved lasted less than six months.
Jeff took the breakups hard. And whenever he spoke to me about them, he blamed himself. The sad irony, of course, was that the guy who could get all the women he wanted could not keep even one.
Jeff hanged himself on his 45th birthday. Either on that day or very near to it, so far as I can recall now. There was a memorial set up for him at the coffee shop, with a jar for donations that would go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For a couple weeks to a month afterwards, people brought him up in their conversations, saying for the most part the usual things that people say after someone kills themselves. Then, the conversations about him dwindled in number, faded into time, and he became rarely spoken of.