Back when I was in elementary and middle school, I had a good friend. We’ll call him Rick.
Rick, like me and most of my friends, was kind of a weirdo. He was a little guy, small for his age and skinny as a rail, and like so many of my classmates, he was diagnosed with ADHD and given a prescription for Ritalin. He would routinely “cheek” his pills and spit them out later because he didn’t like the way they made him feel. I saw him do this a couple of times and I never said a word about it to him or anyone else; looking back, I’m glad I didn’t.
Rick’s parents were substantially older than everyone else’s parents; when he was born, his mother was in her 40s and his dad was in his 50s, although he seemed like he was about a hundred. He was a crotchety old fellow who had no time for the foolishness of young people. I remember on one occasion when I was spending the night at Rick’s house, we stayed up to watch Howard Stern at the interminably late hour of about 11 p.m. We had the volume on the TV so low that we could barely even hear it ourselves, yet Rick’s dad came storming down the stairs to yell at us for waking up the whole dang house. He wore a hearing aid, so I’m guessing he just had a sixth sense for childhood mischief.
Rick was a good-hearted kid, but he was frequently in trouble. He was incredibly impulsive; it was like he was born without the filter that prevents you from acting on every single idea that enters your head. I remember one time in middle school, he took a paperclip, bent it into a V, and then shoved it into an electrical outlet just to see what would happen. What happened was it started glowing red-hot, burned through the jacket he was using to try and frantically pull it out of the wall, and then blew a breaker. He got detention for that one, plus a ruined jacket.
On another occasion, one of our science classes got too rowdy so the teacher made us all sit in silence for ten minutes. The entire time, one of our classmates was tapping a pen on his desk. The moment the teacher told us that our ten minutes of silence was over, Rick looked at our classmate and shouted, “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WILL YOU STOP TAPPING THAT PEN?” He got detention for that too, even though I backed up his argument that he did wait until after the ten minutes of silence were over before screaming.
Rick was incredibly smart, but he wasn’t a very good student. He never got good grades, mainly because he had such a difficult time focusing in class despite the Ritalin. When he was able to focus, it was on all the wrong things.
One time, Rick’s mom made the mistake of entrusting us with a $20 and sent us down to the Food Lion on the corner to buy a bottle of club soda. Once we stepped inside the grocery store, Rick spotted something amazing: one of the little toy dispensers at the front of the store advertised that you could win a virtual pet, which was the height of coolness at the time. It wasn’t a name-brand Tamagotchi, just some kind of cheap knockoff, but that didn’t deter Rick. We bought the club soda, converted the change into quarters, and Rick began feeding them into the toy machine like a chronic gambler at an Atlantic City slot machine. The machine only held one virtual pet; every other capsule contained a tiny ceramic mug with a picture of a mouse eating a piece of cheese painted on it. After we’d collected about 30 tiny mouse mugs, Rick finally won the virtual pet.
When my mom came to pick me up an hour later, he gave it to me; he said he wasn’t really interested in it.
I was always tight with Rick — he was one of my best friends, after all — but sometimes, his impulsiveness and odd interests could be a little scary. One time when I was hanging out at his house, he asked me if I wanted to play a game he’d invented called “Sniper.” How could I resist? Rick grabbed a plastic case containing his disassembled paintball gun and we went outside. He set an empty soda can on the curb. There was a house under construction across the street, framed but still incomplete. With as much gravitas as a middle schooler can muster, Rick led me across the street and up the stairs to the home’s second story. He opened the case and wordlessly assembled the paintball gun, peered out the window to make sure no one had spotted us, and then fired a single shot, knocking the soda can over. He rapidly disassembled the gun and put it back in the case, then walked back down the stairs, calm and controlled, and crossed the street back to his house. When we were safely inside, he informed me that he didn’t think we’d been spotted.
Right as we were entering high school, Rick’s parents decided to up and move across the country to Colorado. I heard through the grapevine that Rick’s impulsiveness got the better of him there, too. Rick and I shared a love of video games, and as a prank, he emailed Nintendo of America to say that the critters in their Pokemon games were telling him to burn things.
Unfortunately, he did this from a school computer in Littleton, Colorado just a couple years after the Columbine High School shooting, and Nintendo turned his email over to the FBI. Two agents showed up at his door to inform him that his prank wasn’t very funny. I would give money to have seen his dad’s reaction to that visit.
The last time I saw Rick was probably around 2002, which was somehow 20 years ago. After he moved, we both moved on with our lives. We never spoke on the phone once, to my recollection. In the early days of Facebook he added me as a friend, but he eventually deleted his account.
Rick’s real name is pretty unique, so every so often — maybe once every year or two — I’d look him up online to see if I could find out what he’d been up to.
Earlier this week, I was watching a video about the making of one of Rick’s favorite video games. I decided to look him up.
I found his obituary.
Rick died Nov. 23, 2021, at the age of 36. The obituary was brief. He was preceded in death by his father, who had passed away in 2019. It mentioned his lifelong love of Legos, his two dogs, his Bachelors in psychology, and the fact that he once wrote an article about collecting records for his college magazine.
That was pretty much it, 36 years flattened down to a couple paragraphs.
There was no mention of his two pet ferrets he used to own; he would zip himself up in a sleeping bag with them and roll around the floor giggling, which remains one of the funniest things I have ever seen. There was no mention of the time I made him laugh so hard that he sneezed milk all over my slice of pizza. There was no mention of the time that he accidentally set off a paintball bomb in his mom’s nicest bathroom.
It’s a strange thing to lose a person that you hadn’t seen in 20 years and never expected to see again. I don’t know that Rick and I would have had much in common in the 2020s, but I liked knowing he was out there somewhere, a square peg in a round hole causing mischief despite himself.
Here’s to you, old friend. Wherever you are, I hope the Pokemon are still telling you to burn things.