Christmas always makes me feel nostalgic, even if my daughter Rachelle calls me both Scrooge and the Grinch. About times gone by, like the Ghosts of Christmas Past.
Like my old friend Mike Dunn.
I first heard about Dunn in 1975, my first semester at Quebec’s Bishop’s University. It was during a night out at the university pub that I ran into a New Jersey guy, one of many American students I would meet over the next several years. He was sporting a badly-broken nose, and when asked about it, he explained that a friend had punched him during a ball game.
“What had you done ; hit him over the head with a bat or something?” I asked.
“No,” my new New Jersey friend named Andre replied. “We got into an argument over a ball I had dropped. The next thing I knew a big fist was headed for my nose. I didn’t have time to duck.”
In this day and age, both police and lawyers would have become involved. Back then both guys finished the game. Andre’s friend and nemesis, Mike Dunn, would be coming to Bishop’s next year. Andre said I would like the guy.
Sure enough, he showed up next fall in an old clunker of a Chevy that had somehow made it from a little town called Newton, New Jersey. He was of average height and built solid as a rock. He had an Irish pug of a face and I soon discovered he could kick a football at least fifty yards. We hit it off from the start. I don’t know why. Some things in life just go like that. My nickname at the time was Bo, because the guys on my hockey team thought that I looked like Bob ‘Bo’ Gainey of the Montreal Canadiens. Dunn never called me Dave, or David or even Davey. It was always Bo, or else “‘Paris’. My last name is Perras. Being from New Jersey he never cottoned on to those French pronunciations. I always called him ‘Dunn’.
“How come you don’t go out for the Bishop’s football team, Dunn?” I asked him soon after we met. “You’re built like a player, and they could use a kicker like you.”
“Because Paris,” he replied, “I spent my high school years playing football for a coach who thought he was fucking Vince Lombardi and I got tired of him grabbing my face mask and yelling in my grill. You don’t know how many times I wanted to punch him in the nose.”
Seeing the damage Dunn had caused with another punch I agreed that he had probably made the right decision. And I soon became very used to his creativity and devotion to the ‘f’ word. He was like a character right out of the movie ‘The Departed’ starring Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Leonardo Dicaprio and Jack Nicholson. Only thirty years earlier. Someone he didn’t like would be referred to as ‘that fuck.’ Someone who didn’t workout, as Dunn did religiously, would be ‘that fat fuck.’ Someone who Dunn thought held too high an opinion of their own abilities would be labelled ‘an optimist.’ If he really thought you were pompous then you became ‘that fucking optimist.’
If he didn’t play football he certainly still loved sports. Rough around the edges he maybe was, but his ego was not so large that he didn’t take on the task of being equipment manager for the Bishop’s hockey team. Eating humble pie was not in his makeup, however. Every player’s performance would be commented on, and few of us would challenge his brutally honest and entirely accurate assessments.
Unlike so many who could dish it out, however, Dunn was equally adept at taking in stride the slings and arrows that came his way. I had torn knee ligaments in a hockey game during my last season at Bishop’s, and after wearing a thigh-to-ankle length cast for a month, Dunn helped me cut it off. We were out cross-country skiing in the fields near our residence, when we upped our pace into a full-blown race. Dunn had always been strong, but I was faster. Until now. When he started pulling away I couldn’t stand it. I stuck one of my ski poles between his legs and sent him tumbling. He was sent flying, in the proverbial ass-over-teakettle position.
I put my hands up quickly for protection to my face and so I was surprised to hear Dunn laughing as he straightened himself up. “I wouldn’t expect anything different out of you, Paris,” he remarked. “Don’t forget that I’ve watched you on the ice for the past couple of years.”
Dunn graduated with a degree in sociology, and it’s not only these days when such grads have trouble finding gainful employment in their field. He took a job driving a Canada Dry truck, making his way from New Jersey into Manhattan every day. I went down to visit him a couple of times, and was put to work unloading crates of ginger ale in places like Orange, East Orange, Teaneck and Hoboken, New Jersey.
“I didn’t know I had hired a cigar store Indian as my assistant,” Dunn commented one afternoon as I stood watching him, my arms folded as he kneeled on the store floor, packing a shelf. He stayed a year at the job, then wangled himself a position working on Wall Street. He still drove an old clunker in from New Jersey to Manhattan every day.
“Why don’t you get yourself a smaller, more economical vehicle, Dunn ?”, I inquired on one of my trips down. “It’s not treason for an American to buy Japanese anymore, you know.”
“Because, Paris, I would kill myself on the New Jersey turnpike every night driving home. I come straight from the bar and I depend on bouncing my car off the median every once in awhile to stay awake. A smaller car couldn’t take that.”
Dunn’s tastes enriched, however, during his life on Wall Street. During the mid-eighties, when I told him I had played over a hundred ballgames one particular summer, he was unimpressed.
“Softball is a game for factory workers, Bo,” he informed me. When I asked what sports he was doing, now that he had outgrown kicking field goals and punching people in the nose, he mentioned golf and sailing on the Long Island Sound.
His patrician lifestyle couldn’t last, however. He and a childhood friend who had been working as a fireman in the Bronx both gave up their jobs, borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars and started an excavation business in New Jersey. I spoke to him on the phone several months later and asked him how business was going.
“A minor setback, Paris,” he admitted. “We went into bankruptcy, I got into a car accident and now I have to go to A.A. meetings.”
I expressed my sympathy, but Dunn waved aside any feelings of self-pity. “I’ll be back on my feet in no time.”
It was the last I heard from him. In the age before social media, all my inquiries turned up empty. I’m sometimes tempted to re-start a search in this day of Facebook and Twitter, but then I always stop myself. I wouldn’t want to find a self-satisfied, politically-correct, pot-bellied everyman in my old friend Dunn’s place. But, I tell myself, it’s a small world.
And I hope our paths cross again.
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