Friend #49: Marshall

I left Melissa as she decided on a pair of goggles and hopped on the “L” to meet up with high school friend Marshall.  Planning what we were going to do together was quite the process.  Marshall wanted me to experience something of Chicago that I hadn’t yet.  And he was endearingly adamant about it.  It made me feel special, like I was his big sister coming to visit and he wanted to show off the glories of a city he was proud to live in.  So we settled on walking through the Gold Coast–a neighborhood of older, elaborate brownstone homes–that I had never been to in all my many visits to Chicago.  It was a lovely backdrop for our visit.

Marshall was a freshman in high school in band when I was a senior, the same year as Omar in Berkeley.  He played one of the big bass drums.  I remember him as a punk kid who didn’t like authority much, and as one of the main student leaders in the band, I was the authority.  I have an image in my mind of him grimacing with a sweaty, red face under the weight of the bass drum.  The band was a place of pretty intense discipline, and Marshall struggled against that.  He complained a lot.  He got in trouble a fair bit.  But he was one of those kids that you couldn’t ever get really mad at because he was so likeable.

Now, Marshall is all grown up.  And our visit was so enjoyable.  He still has a smirk and a twinkle in his eye that makes me wonder what trouble he still might get into.  He came to college in Chicago and took to exploring the city.  He would venture to a new neighborhood, walking for hours, just because he wanted to really know the city where he lived.  That’s when he discovered the Gold Coast, and any number of other neighborhoods.  It wasn’t enough for him to live in Chicago.  He wanted to know Chicago.

Marshall ended up dropping out of band later in high school, but continued to pursue music in undergrad and now is an acoustic engineer.  He works on making diesel engines quieter.  And he’s an avid foodie.  He came to southern California for a work trip and drove the 50 miles into Los Angeles each night to go to many of the city’s great restaurants, most of which I haven’t even been to.  If you want to talk about authority, Marshall is definitely an authority on good food.

A couple weeks after our visit, Marshall was going to teach music at a summer camp.  He mentioned it in such an offhand way that it was clear that giving back is part of his DNA.  Marshall told me how much band had kept him out of trouble, and how when he dropped out of band, he got into more trouble.  I think part of him sees these camp kids as miniature versions of himself, and he wants to help keep them on the right track.  It’s hard to imagine now that he was ever not on the right track–he’s responsible and established in his work and in his 6-year relationship with his girlfriend.  He has a childlike curiosity that fuels his pursuit of knowing everything he can about a subject.  He has a confidence that seems to help him navigate smoothly through life.  But it’s not arrogant swagger.  It’s just ease.

It’s hard to describe my reaction to my visit with Marshall, and it isn’t a unique reaction.  Surprise isn’t the right word.  Walking and talking with him, sitting down for a drink with him, it makes sense.  My memories of who Marshall was and getting to know who he is now fits together in my mind.  What I was left with was joy.  I so enjoyed being with Marshall and visiting with Marshall, but more than that, I enjoyed Marshall.  Whatever internal characteristic made it impossible to get mad at him as a punk freshman is still there.  And it made for an incredible afternoon.  So, Marshall, next time you come to Los Angeles, I’ll take you to a place you’ve never been.


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