Of Hills & Goodbyes

Agh. Fact is I was psyched out before I even left the house to bike over to the Fargo Street Hill Climb. I was breathing hard and adrenalating right here by my desk. Sure, there were a lot of reasons why I should succeed: I was lighter and in better condition than when I attempted and failed it last year, and I was more confident my road bike would be better for the job than my knobby-tired full-suspension mountain bike. But still the hill had already beaten me and I hadn’t even gotten on a bike yet.

I suppose I can take some reassurance in at least making the attempt — however futile — but I can’t take any for failing to go along with my game plan, which was:

  1. get there
  2. get signed up
  3. get busy climbing

Even though I knew full well that the less time spent staring up at the top of the obstacle from the bottom the better, what did I do when after the first and second steps were completed? Yeah, I sat at the bottom and stared up at the hill and wondered how the hell I even thought I had the technical skills and strength required to pedal the the 560-odd feet up the 30% grade to the summit.

Not only that, but I was under the added pressure of aa time constraint. I had a funeral at noon that I was expected to be at — a funeral I was speaking at. So did I get a move on? Hell no. Sure I did a half-baked practice climb up half the neighboring steep Baxter Street to the north of Fargo and that went pretty well, and I readjusted the handlebars lower to give me a more forward-leaning position (the better to keep the front wheel from lifting) but it was some 50 minutes after getting there and signing in before I made my first attempt.

The greatest part about it, it was going really well. Yes, I had to rise up out of the saddle and pedal standing a lot earlier than I’d hoped to achieve maximum thrust, but I was feeling strong and making good progress. I actually thought I stood a good chance of making it to the top… right up until the baddest part of it, which occured about halfway up in the form of another entrant ahead of me who bailed out of his attempt but then made no attempt to get the hell off the course and instead for reasons known only to him stayed perfectly still and perpindicular to the curb, ultimately and egregiously blocking me from accessing several feet of the street that I could have used — and would have used had he had a better sense of awareness and consideration, which is clearly evident in this brief clip below of my meeting up with him.

Wow, did I get through all that without calling the guy a fucking asshole? Cool!

Seeing as I was forced to cut back quicker to get by him, the breaking of my already unsteady rhythm plus the distraction of his obtrusive presence proved fatal to that try. As such, I gave the hill a second go. This time without any human obstractions I can only blame myself for failing and on the video I captured of that (which I will not be showing) I can clearly be heard breaking down and crying briefly in abject and absolute frustration. Then I manned up, walked to the top, vowed to come back and try again next year and biked my way home because I had little more than an hour to get cleaned up for the impending funeral of my friend Mark Burton’s father at Mt. Sinai Cemetery.

As a very pleasant surprise bonus Susan changed her mind and decided to accompany me and we got to the sevices right on time.

Though the circumstances were unfortunate, it was a pleasure to see Mark’s sister Heather and his mom Harriet as well Mark — all for the first time in a very long time. It was also nice to reconnect with another high school buddy Craig Pines as well as Kendall Parks who both attended. I even spied Richard Jastrow after the services but never got a chance to say hello as he didn’t attend the reception at Harriet’s home afterwards.

I did however get the chance to stand before everyone and express my thanks to David Burton, some 25 years overdue. I was very pleased that my words were so well-received. You can read what I said after the jump if you’d like:

Had it not been for my friend Russell Zuckerman emailing me a couple weeks ago after chancing to find me out there on the internet, this Sunday would be just another day of another week of another month of another of the 17 years that have passed since I’d last seen him or my friend Mark Burton.

Instead, by reconnecting with Russell last week and subsequently with Mark I’m here before you now honored to be given the opportunity to remember the good man I knew David Burton to be.

It just so happened that I’d been thinking about Mr. Burton a lot these last few weeks. A project I happened to become involved in last month had me recalling his involvement in my life following a dramatic series of events that took place in the summer after I graduated from high school in 1982 that began with me ending up in the Beverly Hills jail. On that fateful frightening night I placed the customary call to my mother with the unfortunate news of my arrest, and she appropriately panicked because we were far from having the means or resources to get me out.

But it turns out we did have those resources. When she placed a desperate call to Mark he calmingly cut right to the chase with her: “My father and I will meet you at the police station,” he said.

And they did. And without question or hesitation, David Burton cut the check to bail me out that night and bring me home. But his kindness and generosity didn’t stop there. Because he then supplied and paid for the attorney that represented me and saw to it that the meritless charges were summarily dismissed.

But he didn’t stop there either. For me the time between the arrest and dismissal was depressing. The arrest destroyed my dreams of a navy scholarship to college. My prospects were nonexistent. And I was angry with the world. I can’t say that David Burton specifically recognized how dire my situation was. But I can say that where I almost immediately felt alien and alienated by some of my other friends and their families, he and his wife Harriet and their children Heather and Mark continued to welcome me into their home with the same open hearts and arms I’d always known.

But his kindness and concern didn’t stop there, either. I remember sitting at the breakfast table with him in the house on Alta one day and Mr. Burton asked me how I was. I shrugged in response and he gave me a good looking over. “We’ve got to get you doing something,” he announced. “We’ve got to get you pointed back in the right direction.”

And so it was that I came to work for him in the warehouse of his Georgia Thread Company in the garment district downtown. It wasn’t the greatest job in the world and certainly not in the greatest area of the city, but for the couple months I was there it did succeed in getting me out of the shadows and pointed back in the right direction.

It was only a few months later when things stopped going in the right direction for him.

As I mentioned earlier Mr. Burton had been on my mind these last few weeks and I must confess that with the sudden and surprising reemergence of Mark into my life I harbored a hope that I’d finally be able to let his father know how much his support has always meant to me – if not in person, then at least in a letter perhaps.

As it turns out I am a few days late, but I wrote it anyway and I’m going to read it now.

Dear Mr. Burton,

At a desperate time in my life when I stood bitter and brooding and lonely at the threshold of what seemed a very hopeless present you stepped up to my aid and stood by me when few others would or could and with your generosity, understanding and friendship you guided me away toward a better future.

I suspect you might modestly discount the actions you took on my behalf, but I do not dismiss them or minimize the good consequences they had. Instead I cherish the compassion and empathy you showed me and will be eternally grateful to you for your kindness and support.

It is a blessed thing to be benefited by someone when in need. And it is important to remember it. Your efforts to see me through that dangerous time played a crucial part in me becoming the person I am today, and nothing can or will ever diminish the appreciation and respect I have for you and will carry with me for the rest of my days.

It is my privilege to stand here and celebrate David Burton. He was a guardian and a friend when I had neither and needed both. Though I regret not having been able to say that to him in person, I take solace in the belief that that he is now truly free and in a far better place.

Thank you.