Biff America: With friends like these
“The blessing of old friends is that you can afford to be stupid with them.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Keith and Clete FaceTimed me from California to tell me that I’m cheap, can’t dance and that they love me.
They also asked which one of them was more prominently featured in my will.
The three of us have been pals since fifth grade. I have little doubt they had as much influence on my circumstances as did luck, genetics and effort.
Mark, whose nickname is Clete, is one of 11 children of Cape Verdean parents. When we were in our teens, I would occasionally forge letters from his supposed doctor, employer or priest to get him forgiven from a particular court appearance that he inadvertently missed. When we were kids, he would be at my house, and my mom would ask, “Mark, would you like a piece of cake?” and I would answer, “No, Mum, he’s not hungry.” Clete reminds me of this 50 years later.
If it were not for Keith, I might have been a different person in a different place. In the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Sundance would say to Butch, “You keep thinking, Butch. That’s what you are good at.” Keith was always good at thinking. When we were 13 years old, he thought it would be a good idea to sneak onto private golf courses and collect balls from the water traps and driving ranges to sell. While we were getting chased by a greens keeper in a souped-up golf cart, we were laughing so hard he almost caught us.
Years later, when Keith and I ran into a little more serious trouble with the court system, Keith convinced our probation officer that, with his permission, we could make a new start in Colorado.
Once we settled in Colorado, Clete showed up. He was working as a traveling salesman for an unnamed product. When business got slow, he picked up a job as a dishwasher at the restaurant where I worked as a waiter.
Before I became “Biff,” I had worked at restaurants all over the country. I never knew a happier dishwasher than my buddy; perhaps that was because he didn’t do it for long.
Clete loved to party, and Mardi Gras was the ultimate party that he did not want to miss. So he sublet his job out to a guy who he paid a dollar an hour less than he was getting paid himself. He came back from New Orleans to find over $100 in profit. The dishes were clean either way, so the manager didn’t care.
After about 10 years in Colorado, Keith headed west to work at, and eventually own, a couple of successful bars and restaurants in California. We lived together on the coast for a few summers.
After the dangers of skin cancer became better known, I grew concerned about my sun-damaged skin. I was working at a fancy restaurant on the beach, and Keith was running a bar. On my way home, I stopped in and said, without preamble, “I’m going to die of skin cancer.” Keith responded, “No, you will die worrying about skin cancer.”
To this day, we speak on the phone about once a week, and he tells me not to worry so much.
Clete headed east and ended up on Cape Cod. He married a great gal (who I had dated briefly) and had a beautiful daughter for whom I was the godfather. He would call to remind me when and how large a check I should write for her birthdays, holidays and graduations. The marriage did not last, but my goddaughter grew up to be an impressive and happy young woman.
When Clete hooked up with a tough, smart and beautiful Italian gal from the North End, I flew back, got a one-day officiant license and married them in Clete’s backyard.
Lefty Gomez opined, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I cannot argue with that.
As I look back at my six decades, I was indeed lucky. Lucky the stupid stuff I did had fewer repercussions than I deserved. Lucky I ended up at the right place at the right time with the right people — then and now. Lucky I found a gal who never gets lost and thinks I’m funny. And lucky that I have two old buds who know my strengths, faults and peccadillos — and love me for and despite them.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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