Rick's List — "FANNN-tastic!" Edition
I will never read or hear the word "fantastic" again without thinking of my friend John Bresser's distinctive pronunciation thereof. When you saw John, which I did most mornings in The Day newsroom until he retired, and we offered our greetings to one another, I always made it a point to specifically ask how he was doing because I knew he'd say, "FANNN-tastic" with a smile that was almost cocky in its gleeful certainty.
If you were having a bad day, that word, delivered by John, would make you reassess things.
And you know what? I think that almost always John DID feel fantastic. He had a wonderful family — his wife Betty (AKA "The Boss"), three daughters, a batch of grandkids and, as time went by, great-grandchildren. They all clearly delighted him. All was right with the world.
But John wasn't one of those folks who automatically shared anecdotes or recited family achievements. If someone asked, he could provide a concise up-to-date, typically shaded with self-deprecating and genuine wit. And none of this was delivered without him asking about YOU and yours.
I saw John a lot. He ran The Day's mailroom and shipping department with congenial wisdom, delivering McDonald's coffee each morning to his crew. He also brought me almost daily packages containing review copies of books or CDs and so it was easy to get to know him and look forward to his visits. A Navy veteran who later joined the Coast Guard, John was always dressed neatly and regarded my seemingly endless supply or rock band or otherwise bizarre T-shirts with amusement.
"And who or what is a Porcupine Tree, Mr. Koster?" he might for example ask, alluding to a prog band's name on my shirt. He particularly liked my sweatshirt adorned with the logo of the Cincinnati School of Mortuary Science.
"What the HELL?" John laughed, using one of the few cuss words I ever remember hearing him say. "Does that say 'mortuary science?!"
Of course I ordered him one; the gesture was reciprocated with a University of Kentucky shirt for me when it was confirmed one of his grandsons was going there. I wore it proudly.
Another time, as the holidays neared and I told John my mother was coming to visit, he said, "I'd love to meet the lady who raised YOU!"
A few days later, mom and John and I had happy hour cocktails at the old Hanafin's Pub on State Street. I sat and listened as the two of them shared respective family stories from times before I was born, and it was a fine way to spend a winter twilight. Each of them later commented on how much they'd enjoyed the experience — and that it happened at all was such a John Bresser thing to do.
John passed away on June 19, a few years after retirement and a few years after he lost his beloved Betty. He lived to be 95 and had by all accounts a great life. But it'd be nice, given the horror show that's going on in our country, if I could see him one more time. I'd ask how he was doing and he'd say, "FANNN-tastic" and, if even for just a few minutes, I'd believe all was right with the world.
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While I lugged my kayak on a narrow path along the Pawcatuck River the other morning to join the other paddlers who, like me, had decided to detour around a tumultuous stretch of whitewater, I was mystified to see Rick Sanford dragging his boat back in my direction.