I’d like to tell you a story about an old college buddy of mine named Rich Lavinder. I met Rich when we both ended up pledging the same fraternity, Kappa Sigma, (Gamma-pride, baby!). Rich was a big guy and he commanded every room he entered. In fact, the only thing bigger than Rich’s stature, was his personality. You definitely heard Rich coming before he arrived.
For those of you who have ever pledged a fraternity or sorority, you know you spend a LOT of time with your fellow pledge brothers or sisters for a semester and get to know them pretty well. This pledge period was no exception. Rich and I spent many hours running errands for brothers and doing what they told us. We also spent countless hours breaking the rules of pledging and seeing what we could get away with. The answer was not much. Rich and I got punished a lot together too, which, in a weird way, helped form a stronger bond between us.
Once our pledge class was inducted into the fraternity, Rich and I didn’t hang out as much as we previously had, but that would have been next to impossible. We did see each other at meetings and parties and remained good friends.
One night, I was downtown at a bar called Bumpers with another fraternity brother of ours, named Ari. There just so happened to be a rival fraternity in the bar that night with a lot more brothers than us. Murphy’s Law was in full effect that evening, because of all the women in the establishment, the two that Ari and I decided to talk to were girlfriends of two of the other fraternity brothers. Well, I’m sure by now you can figure out where this story is going. Ari and I and this enemy fraternity, all 20 – 25 of them, had words. They said a few things to us. We, stupidly, said a few things back, and the disagreement escalated from there.
The bar owner was a retired New York cop and told us all that he didn’t care if we fought, but we had to take it outside. So there was our loophole. As long as we didn’t leave the bar, we were safe. Did I mention there were about 30 of them? Yes, I know the number keeps growing, but that’s the way it felt that night. And did I mention that Ari weighed maybe 100 lbs?
In the midst of all this, we came up with a plan. I ‘accidentally’ spilled a beer on one of the fraternity brothers (yes, I picked the smallest one) and that immediately brought all of his buddies to his aid and coincidentally, into my personal space. While the bar owner jumped in the middle of all the bodies and restored order, Ari quietly slipped out the back door and ran to our fraternity house to grab as many of our brothers as he could to bring back and help even the odds.
The minutes crept by like hours as I waited for Ari to return. I wondered how many brothers he’d bring back with him. 30? 40? Even 50? I was starting to feel sorry for these guys who made the mistake of getting in my face earlier in the night. Then Ari returned. He walked through the front door. Then Rich, of all people, entered behind him. This was great. I couldn’t wait to see the parade of brothers continue to file through the door, ready to kick some serious butt! However, that parade never happened. In fact, Rich was the only one to enter after Ari. It turned out that he was the only one Ari could find. And instead of wasting time trying to gather more brothers, Rich was adamant that they return to make sure I was okay.
Now, as I mentioned before, Rich is a big dude. But when he walked into the bar, I swear the guy stood every bit of 7 feet tall and his lats had doubled in size. He walked up to me, smiled, gave me a hug, and then proceeded to the bar. He bought a pitcher of beer, which he turned around and drank in front of the other fraternity, as they watched. He didn’t use a glass. He drank straight from the pitcher and it took him less than a minute to drink it dry.
Rich looked back at me. “Are these the guys who want to fight?” he asked me, while pointing to the masses. I nodded.
“Take it outside if you’re going to do this,” the bar owner shouted. Rich walked directly through the middle of their crowd, purposefully bumping shoulders with a few of them on the way and walked through the back exit. Ari and I followed suit. Their fraternity gathered in the doorway, not one of them stepping outside.
“Well, come on!” Rich yelled. “There may be a lot more of y’all than us, and you guys may whip us, but I promise we’re gonna hurt some of you along the way.” Then there was a long silence as both sides anticipated a next move. “Nah, forget that,” Rich continued. “We’re not gonna get whipped by you $#%&$#s!” They still didn’t move. Finally, the bar owner came over and told them to step out and fight or to settle up and leave through the front door. They begrudgingly took the front door.
That’s the kind of guy Rich was. He showed up that night to fight 40 guys. But I know deep down that Rich would have shown up if you’d have told him we were going to have to fight 400 guys. Just like the code I admire in every Wild West TV show and movie I watch, Rich was not going to let a friend stand alone. And let’s not dismiss the fact too quickly that these 50 guys actually backed down to Rich. They knew he wasn’t bluffing. He was just the right amount of crazy.
That wasn’t the only jam Rich ever helped me out of, but it’s my favorite. Unfortunately, like so many of us do, Rich and I saw less and less of each other over the subsequent years and after college, lost touch altogether. Although I always enjoyed his company, I never made any effort to reach out to him later in life. I learned last week that Rich passed away earlier this month at the young age of 43. Even though I hadn’t talked to him in over 25 years, the news bothered me. While I’m sad that I’ll never be able to sit down and talk about the ‘good old days’ with Rich again, I know Heaven just got a little crazier with Rich as its newest resident.
I’m going to pick up the phone and call some of my old pledge brothers this week, just to say hello. Something I should have done long before now. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, so lets try to make the most out of today.
Rich: I love you brother. Thanks for everything. And I look forward to seeing you again one day.