He was a disheveled mess the first time he walked into the backyard.
Hair blown wild over an open khaki shirt with rugged Carhartt pants and beaten shoes, carrying a six-pack of Heineken Light and a bottle of tequila, he waved disinterested and awkwardly at the crowd of people. I was warned by our host, Matt, that his neighbors were coming over and try to be cool because he liked the guy. In fairness to Matt, I barely knew him at the time so why would I change up my behavior for his new streetmate?
There was a social gathering of 10-plus people in Matt’s backyard enjoying barbeque and listening to Muddy Waters. The air was still crisp in the waxing days of summer as we sucked downs Utah brewed bottles of beer and talked over each other. It was a mixed bag of friends and initially I paid little attention to the new member of the party.
Through bites of brats and swigs of beer and holding court over a group that hasn’t tired of my rants about the events of the day, I noticed the new neighbor taking a large pull from his Heineken Light and topping the can off from the bottle of tequila. In defense of the Beehive State, I challenged him if his Utah beer wasn’t strong enough. He shook his head negatively and said, “Not even close.”
That is how I met Gwyn Fisher.
He was standoffish at first. Sharing only regional geography got him invited to the party but his peculiar mannerisms caught my attention and demanded his invitation for future cookouts. From Wales, educated in England and living in the United States, Gwyn found his way to the BBQ because his wife recently took a position at the University of Utah as social science professor. A stranger in a strange land, Gwyn went from the off European to the anchor of future summer parties.
I liked him because he fancied (his words, not mine) science fiction, pop culture and horrible music. He worked as a school teacher for a period of time but now made a living working as a web site developer. He spoke Spanish, made ridiculous carne asada and taught me the value of drinking hard ciders. Plays a mean guitar, a veracious reader and random ne’er-do-well, Gwyn was a breath of fresh air and an interesting guy.
If you have to err on the side of being brilliant or entertaining, always choice the latter. Being funny and engaging trumps any other attribute and these are always the people that I gravitate towards. Fortunately for Gwyn, he was both brilliant and entertaining.
And he did all of this done with an accent that I could barely understand—thick and husky. It’s the opposite of the Australian accent (for the record, Aussies sound like soused pigs whereas the Welsh sound like the last thing you hear before a pipe wrench clobbers your temple). It’s guttural and unforgiving with a level of slang reserved for street criminals from the 1920s. The Welsh might speak English but have never really mastered the language. There have been times where I understood his Spanish better than his native tongue but this requirement to actually listen to him probably strengthened our relationship. I can only imagine how bland he thinks I talk.
The timing of our friendship came at a point where I was licking my wounds from running The Woodshed. I had just gotten my teeth kicked in for three and a half years and Gwyn’s arrival was as a new friend immune to the trauma my failed business brought upon old acquaintances. He didn’t judge me from my past indiscriminations and seemed to be happy to have a guy to pal around with and in the end, so was I. Friends should never double as life preservers but every now and then, it’s nice when they do.
As summer came to a close the year we met Gwyn, Erin and I ended up at Oktoberfest at Snowbird. We were meeting with friends and Matt was bringing the Fishers. We drank dark beer from expensive mugs and watched the people filter through the small thoroughfare from our chairs. While I fussed over the camera on my smart phone, Gwyn brazenly snapped photos of the crowd. Fearless, he focused on small, eclectic elements of the populous and preserved the images.
Walking back to the cars to head down Little Cottonwood Canyon, Gwyn ran off ahead of us and climbed a series of ski chairs that lined in repose in the parking lot. Perched from the top of the first chair in the row, he precariously snapped a beloved photo of the hooked ski chair arms grasping the air with no cable to hold them. Developed in black-and-white, the arms looked saddened, waiting for the first snow to reattach to their lines to haul up skiers. A simply fantastic photo pulled from the ether that the majority of folks would simply walk past.
That was the first time I recognized Gwyn as an artist. Not a pretentious blowhard but rather a fellow with an eye towards singling out unique moments and immortalizing them for the sake of being at the right place at the right time. It’s a rare talent considering most of us strive for recognition of our momentary genius, he acted the in the contrary—selflessly, curious and totally ingenious.
As we became better friends, I joked that we needed to write a screenplay. It would be called Searching for Craig. It would be about a Welsh man moving to the states and befriending a buffoon of an American. The American, Craig, would show the Englishman around and become his best pal as they got into adventures. Suddenly, Craig would have to move leaving the Englishman alone having to look for a new dumb American to hang out with. Being British, there would be a montage of exploits as he looks to fill the void the idiot American offered, that both offended and shocked him.
We joked about it and I always loved the idea of watching Bradley Cooper play me as Craig.
Trips to Zion National Park and Thanksgiving dinners at his home became benchmark dates at the Fisher’s house. Strengthened by the fact that Erin and Gwyn’s wife became fast friends made them natural couple friends and we found ourselves at their house on most Sundays. Gwyn helped me with any and all on-line computer problems and I used my truck to bail him out of any hauling problems. Without him, I never would have been able to start my podcast and probably never have drunk a pint of whiskey through the can of PBR.
Favorite moment with Gwyn: while skiing at the Canyons, Gwyn and I found ourselves with a third riding up the side of the mountain. I sat in the middle with Gwyn on my right and the new guy at my left. I introduced myself to the new fellow and he said he was from London. I said, with absolutely no idea of the social construct, that my friend was from England to. The short lift ride resulted in Gwyn verbally battling our chairmate as they struck verbal daggers at each other. Being in the middle, I think I liked Gwyn more knowing that he had a sizeable ball sack and wasn’t afraid to unleash Hell upon somebody. Probably taught that guy a lesson when he asked if his wife kept him in the fashion in which he was accustomed to.
Time has a way of slipping away quickly when you’re not paying attention. Days become years and relationships are cemented with no offer of aggregate other than time spent together. Gwyn’s family became a part of mine—a happy mix that has become a benchmark in my life. How he and his wife has treated Erin is something that I never can repay considering Erin has spent countless Friday evenings over at their place while I was slinging drinks at the bar. Always looking after my best interests, Gwyn was a solid guy and somebody that I trusted and respected. More than that, he was a great guy to hang out with.
I’m speaking about him in the past tense but that is not the case. At publishing, he and his wife are driving to the middle of Mexico. She is taking a sabbatical year from the U at the University of Mexico and they’ll be spending the better part of the year in Guadalajara.
That wasn’t part of my plan.
Working in bars means I am everyone’s best friend during any given night but my friends are those that I chose and hold on to tight. While most bartenders are chaotic and volatile maniacs, I am a pretty stable guy that likes my routines. I like having set parts of my week and stray away from change and having Gwyn move to Mexico was not part of my plans. Where the Hell was I supposed to spend Thanksgiving this year? Who was supposed to share The Walking Dead comics with? There are a lot of really bad movies coming up and I have nobody to go to them with. Erin will not see Robocop remakes and I really could use somebody to process these turds with.
And let’s not talk about the defense of heavy drinking with this guy. I’m planning on sucking back a lot of Irish whiskey in the future and without the affable Gwyn around, I just look like a drunken hobo on expensive couches. I doubt he thought of my social standing in the community before he upped and moved out of the 801.
Well, I say feh! I will go see really bad movies and drink too much and eat carne asada without him. In fact, I am thinking of turning the tables and retell the narrative of Searching for Craig. I am hosting open auditions for an American version of Searching for Craig called Fill This British Hole. They were able to do it for The Office. I need a new friend who drinks like a fish, can work a computer and can ski like a wildcat. Preferably married with a super smart wife and willing to donkey punch his liver.
Mormons need not apply.
Fisher will be back in less than a year. I liked having him around for a variety of reasons but mostly because he offers a casual, warm company that most people never offer. When I think about that first moment seeing him wander into Matt’s backyard, I marvel that for the last couple of years we’ve spent countless hours and adventures with him and his family. New friendships when one is pushing 40 are rare—having guys like Gwyn come around are damn near impossible.
Godspeed, Old Pal. Hope the next year works out for you guys. We’ll try and visit in January but as you’ve said repeatedly, they use guys like me for currency in Guadalajara. It’s weird having you gone for a year. I doubt I’ll be filling your place anytime in the near future.
Ben Raskin works at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Podcast? Gwyn was supposed to get that set up before he left, dink! It stinks not having set plans on Sundays.