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Still crazy after all these years 

Ranger Rich

I'm 54, and sometimes in the morning when I stumble into the hallway the bright light of another day rushes through the window and I'm startled by the wrinkled and cartoon-like face of Libyan loon Moammar Gadhafi. He has apparently finished his brilliant 350-hour speech to the United Nations and is now in our house, staring at me.

Then I realize it's a mirror, and I curse and shuffle toward the coffee-maker, wondering if the next time I travel I'll be charged $25 for the bags under my eyes.

The same oldness visited me again a few weeks ago inside a dark cottage in Wisconsin. It was 4 a.m. and two guys I went to college with 35 years ago were suddenly moving through the living room, rubbing their eyes as they crossed paths in the darkness and for a moment I thought I was losing my mind. Andy? Tom?

Turns out I hadn't lost my mind. What I'd lost was the ability to go through the night without having to pee, the same reason Andy and Tom had awakened and were lumbering toward the bathroom. Then from upstairs came the muffled sounds of more footsteps. There was a bathroom up there, too, and more guys I met a lifetime ago — the best and funniest friends a guy could ever have — were lurching toward that bathroom just like we were doing downstairs. Sort of a Parade of Enlarged Prostates. The March of the Old Bladders.

We met in 1973 at Marquette University in Milwaukee. We came from Massachusetts and New Jersey and Illinois and New York. George came from rural Missouri and was sort of a farmboy, although I didn't make fun of him because he was the size of a tractor and didn't appear to have a neck.

It was George who, on that very first night of our brand-new lives, ushered us all into a bar. (The drinking age was 18 back then, and gee, that was a terrific idea.) George made us drink shots of Wild Turkey, a terrific beverage that is, I believe, a blend of whiskey and kerosene. We all threw up that night and we've been friends ever since.

But in the three decades after our graduation — all of us on time, in four years, which to this day is thought by the Jesuits who run the place to be a miracle — there were families and careers and we promised to get together but it didn't happen very often at all. I hardly went a day or a week without thinking of them. Almost always, the memories made me laugh. Out loud. In places like, well, church. Sometimes, though, seeing them so seldom marked the sad passage of time. The years skittered by like leaves in the autumn wind. I missed my old friends.

Then last year most of them came to Colorado. I took them into the mountains and we played golf and drank beer and laughed so hard that our faces hurt. We were together again, George and Pete and JB. Rick and Chester T and Roach, too.

This year we added Andy, a friend of mine since high school who spent two years at Marquette and transferred, and Tom, who liked to karate-kick things in college and so we called him Grasshopper. I hadn't seen either of them in 25 years or so.

We golfed again and we drank beer and our faces hurt when Rick told of a party a few years after college when his wife filled the bathroom soap dish with small, fancy multi-colored bars of soap shaped like flowers and leaves. Midway through the party she told Rick that "one of your friends ate the soap." Out in the living room at the party sat George, who may or may not have had a few beers. He was laughing. He had chunks of brown soap in his teeth. He thought it was candy.

And so we howled and then howled some more, and now I'll let a few of them — and believe me, these are not very touchy-feely guys — tell you what it meant, from their e-mails.

Andy: "What a kick after 30 years. There are not better friends anywhere."

Tom: "Some of the best laughs I've had in years. Pretty amazing that after all the years between visits we all seem to be in tune and on the same page. Thanks for the group photo, too. I'm trying to figure out who that old guy is wearing my hat and sunglasses."

And then there was this, from George, who is the best of all of us, I think, and who at the age of 47 was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease: "You guys are the best. Friends for so long. Another big piece of our very lucky lives."

rangerrich@csindy.com

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