#829 Smiling and thinking of good friends who are gone

big-feetI met Chris Kim in September, 2005 in Boston.

A tiny Korean guy with thin eyes hidden behind thick glasses under a well-worn and faded ball cap, he looked kind of mousy under awkwardly baggy clothes and behind a soft voice. And even though neither of us drank much, we met at a bar — me speed-sucking a gin and tonic through a needle-thin straw, him warming a well-nursed beer and occasionally taking baby sips.

When he mentioned he was from Boston, I asked about the Red Sox and he played along well enough. “Big win last night,” he offered cautiously. “Maybe still have a chance at the playoffs?” Of course, that launched me on a rant about the bullpen and whether Curt Shilling had enough steam for another big run. He nodded on, listening intently, asking genuine and serious questions, and letting our friendship take root over sports, of all things. Of course, he never watched the stuff, but was nice enough to let me talk mindlessly about it all night.

grand-canyonFull of wry smiles, awkward pauses, and mock-serious faces, Chris was a complex, fascinating, creative person who grew into a remarkably close friend during the two years I lived in the US. He got excited about little things, like caramelizing onions perfectly for an hour on low heat, getting randomly selected to fill out a survey of his radio habits, or learning a new keyboard shortcut in Microsoft Excel.

But it wasn’t the bar scene that helped our friendship bloom. It was the car scene.

hoover-damYeah, when I showed up to school on our first winter morning shivering to the bone in a flimsy nylon coat, my hair wet, my face dripping, Chris asked where I lived and if I needed a ride the next day. As I was at that moment toweling my face off with a fistful of balled up Kleenex, I took him up on it right away. (Lucky for me Chris had signed up to be a senior student in an undergrad residence way off campus, spending his free time for two years chaperoning social events, holding heads above toilets, and editing two or three resumes a night on a steady clip.)

malibuAnyway, he began picking me up every morning for the next two years, probably at least a couple hundred rides, never once accepting money for gas because, as he said, “I’m going that way anyway.” When other students heard about my taxi service, they got in on it, too. It started with a “Hey Chris, if there’s a blizzard tomorrow, can I catch a lift?”, and turned into Chris emailing three or four of us each night, giving us the Bus Schedule, as he called it, timed precisely to the minute for the next morning. And so it went — us piling into his car after he’d spent the first few minutes warming it up for us, tightly blanketed in fat mittens and his trademark big blue hat.

golden-gate-bridgeTwo years later, in Spring, 2007, Chris and I went on a three week roadtrip with our friend Ty, which I’ve mentioned before here and here. Not too long after the trip began, we started joking about how much Chris was text-messaging his friends. It was non-stop, how in touch he was constantly with people. “Jake says hi,” he’d deadpan, his back facing the Grand Canyon, surrounded by people all looking the other way. Eventually, he made a joke of it, letting us take photos of him obliviously focused on his cell phone in front of every big site we stopped at. He absolutely loved the gag and laughed wildly before and after each photo.

chicago-millennium-parkLast year I nervously started up this page, tentatively dipping my toe into cyberspace where anyone could see. Chris of course adopted his Mexican half-brother pseudonym San Carlos and peppered us with comments of support from the get-go. On #1000 Broccoflower, he wrote “My policy is to avoid all foods that look to be from outer space. Eggplant. Mushrooms. And, apparently, broccoflower.” On #885 Paying for something with exact change he wrote “I save all my pennies in my car. And then, the next time I do McDonald’s drive-through, I fling all the pennies into the server’s face. … No, actually, I put the pennies into the Ronald McDonald’s House box right underneath the window.” On #859 Playing with a baby and not having to change its diaper he wrote “I don’t mind changing my nephews diapers. It only got weird when they began to talk. Awkward!”

cn-towerI loved his sense of humor and his way about himself. I loved how he laughed, frequently, at little things, and got so excited about tiny details most people overlooked. Chris and I spoke three or four times a week over the past year, in ten or fifteen minute snippets usually, but sometimes for an hour or two. He’d tell me about the sourdough bread he was going to bake that day, the elaborate meal he had planned for friends coming for dinner, or the New York Times article he read that I should check out. I would ask him for ideas for this page  — he had plenty — and occasionally go on long rants about sports.

Chris died suddenly this past week. He was 32.

No amount of the usual closing rhyming couplets or fist-to-the-sky proclamations are going to bring him back. But I know he’s in a peaceful place and would want us all to just be happy, keep plugging, and enjoy our lives as full as we can. So thank you, Chris. You’ll always inspire me.

And you’ll always be so incredibly awesome.

This entry is in The Book of Awesome

chris-and-his-sourdough-bread

277 Comments

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277 responses to “#829 Smiling and thinking of good friends who are gone

  1. What a really nice tribute to your friend. Sounds like we all missed out.

  2. I’ve been reading this blog a while and enjoying it, but never commented. This post, though, brought a lump to my throat and I just had to say something. Kudos on such a well-written tribute to an obviously dear friend, and I’m very sorry to hear that he’s gone.

    • Rachel

      I agree. This was really touching.

    • Hadley

      Same here – long time listener, first time caller I guess you would say! I also tragically lost a really great friend a few months back. Thinking of him, our great memories and the fun times we had is the only thing that helps me from breaking down in tears when his name comes up. Very touching post.

    • amandahkay

      I agree. Made me cry. Beautiful.

  3. amy

    what a wonderful tribute to your friend. i’ve been reading your blog for a while now, though i’ve never felt compelled like this to comment. i’m very sorry for your loss but am glad you are able to celebrate his life and your good memories. Awesome.

  4. Arielle

    So I love this website. I have it bookmarked and come at least once a day and hope desperately for an update.

    Especially when I can smile and relate to the topic at hand. And this one I relate to and it is making me cry just thinking of my friend that is gone.

    I’m so sorry that Chris is no longer here to talk to you but I’m so sorry I never met him. He sounds like an amazing guy

  5. Risa

    I’m with Dave on this one. I am a constant reader of this blog but never felt the need to comment. I had tears in my eyes at the end of reading this post. It’s beautiful. And awesome.

  6. Lauren

    That was wonderfully put. He sounds like an awesome guy. Hope his family, you and your family are all taking care.

  7. ali

    Sometimes I don’t read the really long posts, but this one had me captivated. Awesome.

  8. Nick

    I too had a lump in my throat while reading. It sounds like Chris was indeed Awesome, and you have given him a wonderful tribute.

  9. :) & I’m thankful that I added this to my Google Reader. This post secures the permanent spot. Funny yet heartwarming at the same time. Tough combo.

    I too, have been an avid reader, and this site has created many laughs and snickers at the awesome things that you & many others have experienced. Thanks.

  10. A beautiful tribute… thanks for sharing with us…

  11. Chris, we never actually met. I hear I missed you by a hair anytime I visited Boston. I heard so much about you over the years that I always felt like we had met. I’m deeply saddened that you’re gone. I feel a great loss in your passing.

  12. i have been reading your website for a long time and i basically want to give you a hug for the vast majority of your entries. This one is no exception. A wonderful tribute to a wonderful person. Your outlook on life (and obviously Chris’ as well, since you guys seem to share a love for the inexplicably happy details others seem to gloss over) is refreshing, inspiring, and …..awesome.
    rock on, friend.

  13. jake

    I had a friend much like this. We grew up together, i was in the room when he was born 6 days after i was. We basicaly shared faimlys, always went to the same school. He liked acustic guitar, loved chicken nuggets and always had a game boy on him. he got hit by a car several months ago, for a while remembering hurt, but after some more time passed it slowely changed to a warm feeling that you get when you remember a good person

  14. miusica

    Great tribute. Not expecting that end of the story while I was reading it. I enjoy the post because I’m a lover of small details too. Enjoy life and feel happy for everything you can. Life will be better.

  15. Willa

    Your tribute to your friend truly touched me. I am so sorry for your loss. Chris sounds totally awesome! Thank you for sharing this tribute with us.

  16. Reading this over breakfast, I wasn’t expecting that ending at all. Still, an incredibly touching post, and a good example of just what this medium can do.

    To Chris.
    *Raises mug of tea in quiet respect*

  17. I’m so sorry about Chris…

    I’m pretty sure if you need some time off, the lot of us will understand. He sounds like an awesome guy to have met.

  18. A beautiful tribute to your friend… thanks for sharing …

  19. Friends like that come once in a lifetime, if ever. Cherish the memories forever.

  20. We are all smiling for a friend that we didn’t even know. Beautiful post.

  21. Samuel D. Lockhart

    And hearing about peoples’ awesome friends is awesome too.

  22. Mels

    Like many others commenting on this one, i have been reading it for a long time, quickly becoming my favourite website, but i never felt like i needed to write a comment as what i would have written you’ve already said, but i do feel obliged to say this was a beautiful tribute, and he sounds like an excellent human being.

  23. Shauneen

    Beautiful. Thank you for giving me a moment to think of my lost loved ones.

  24. JD

    I’ve only commented a few times before, I read daily. This was a very fitting tribute, celebrating your relationship. I think we all need to step back and remember the good times of friends gone before their times.

  25. Lee

    Awesome tribute. Chris would have been proud

  26. franleck

    It’s the ordinary person in life that make the biggest impact on others.

    Not the politicians or celebrities.

    People like Chris that make life a little more bearable.

    Sorry, you lost a great friend and person.

  27. i’m sorry for your loss. but this an amazingly touching tribute.

    i’m going to go ahead and think about a few friends i have lost today and smile.

  28. elizabeth

    He sounds not only like a good friend, but a great human being. Not many people take the time to religiously shuttle people around or freely edit resumes. The world is a little bit dimmer without such a compasionate person. I’m sorry for the loss…. who knows how many other lives he could have touched.

  29. Krista & Keith

    Awesome can’t describe this post well enough. You truly captured all that is good about Chris.
    We have been watching your blog and weren’t sure if you would mention Chris’ death. It really felt good to hear your thoughts – thanks for reminding us of the good times and that crazy blue hat!

  30. lua

    i was going to skim through this, but once i started reading it i couldnt stop
    this tribute was just awesome
    chris sounds like he was a fantastic person
    the world will undoubtedly miss him
    he seems like the person that the world needs more of–my hat goes off to him
    he will be missed
    may he be in eternal peace

  31. Chris sounds truly wonderful. I am so sorry to hear of your loss and he sounds like he was a loss for the world.

    Renee

  32. JulieKP

    What a touching tribute to a wonderful friend. I am sure that he will be missed by all that knew him.

  33. I think we all have had a friend like Chris.

    Thank’s for sharing and very well written. Love the blog and read it everyday!

  34. Jenn Hendrickson

    AWESOME tribute! So sorry for your loss.

  35. Tara

    You’re absolutely right; Chris sounds like he was truly Awesome. I am sorry for your loss.

  36. B

    More often than not, I read your posts and laugh. This one made me want to cry.
    Your friend sounds like an incredible person! I think we all missed out by not knowing him.

  37. Colleen

    What a touching tribute to your friend – so sorry for your loss.

  38. Harper

    You’re an awesome friend, Neil. Sorry to hear about Chris. I never met him, but you make me feel as though I did. I’m sure we would have hit it off. Those pictures in front of all the landmarks are hilarious!

  39. Sharon

    The hat, the bread, classic Chris. Thanks for sharing. He truly was awesome.

  40. jdurley

    Oh, I am so sad. What a great loss of an excellent person and friend to many. Until today, all I knew of Chris were his comments on this blog. I always enjoyed his pithy remarks, like “Spot on!” or his advice to wrap yourself in bubble wrap to keep warm. (“DO NOT POP IT!”)

    I LOVE the photos of him texting in front of all the sites. Thank you so much for sharing them with us, and for your touching tribute. We are all better for it. My condolences to all who knew him. You were luckier than I.

  41. Jen

    Yet another fan of yours who has shed a tear today after reading this entry – for the loss of your friend, Chris, and for the grief you must now being going through….just know that Chris is in a better place with another Chris, my brother. I bet they’re both looking down on all of us with love.

  42. Tumples

    Hey man,

    I haven’t commented here before, like so many of the others it seems, but I read your post and it was a fine tribute to what sounded like a fantastic friend. I hope you have lots of friends around you to get you through, and keep posting those awesome things that he would approve of.

    :)

  43. Steph

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while and haven’t commented yet.
    Only a few days ago I lost my Grandmother. Today, just after returning home from her funeral I turned on my computer to catch up with my favourite blogs. The comfort that your post provided was surprising. It was nice to be reminded to smile and look back on their lives with fond memories rather than dwell on the pain of our own loss. I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing.

  44. Wendy

    It’s reasons like this why I love this blog.

  45. unknown

    I had a close group of friends all growing up. And my friend Mark was the most energetic and spastic kid you could imagine. He was like a little brother to me, and for all of his trouble making (everything from bringing a bucket of snakes into my mom’s kitchen to getting our group kicked out of lazer tag establishment) he never met someone he didn’t like.
    As life took us all different directions we kept in touch through texting, myspace, etc. And Mark wanted to get the gang together for a pre-high school graduation hang out.
    Unfortunatly Mark died in a car accident before we made it happen. And as we all had our group reunion around his graveside, we all looked at each other and knew. It was time for some lazer tag… and yes, even the cranky old owner years later asked us where “the rascal” was.

    And if Mark knew that we now honor him every year with a game of lazer tag he would say, “Awesome.”

    • lala

      Before my husbands funeral, I um… borrowed half his ashes in an empty Quick can, took them up his favourite ski mountain and threw them off the ski lift into the sunshine and wind. Still have the strawberry Quick can on my mantel piece.

  46. That was a great post. Sounds like a really great guy. Sorry for your loss.

  47. Pingback: Just Neat | Qwerty*

  48. Amelia

    I was going along, reading this, chuckling at little things, here and there. I got to the part where to tell us he dies, and literally gasped out loud.
    He sounds like a great guy, it’s too bad he had to go. :[

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