Hippie Squared: Friends at First Sight


a blogumn by Jeff Rogers
Photo Credit: Jason Walsh

Photo Credit: Jason Walsh

Yesterday it was my birthday.

How many people have you known who shared your birthday? Have you been close with any of them?

One of my oldest and closest friends, Scott Roat, was born one year after me, same day, but we met both as freshmen at the University of Cincinnati in a beginning German class. In an early class we had to tell our birthdays in German, and we were both December 5th. I could tell just by looking at him that we could be friends. He has never really remembered me from that class, though. The first time he remembers me is the time I asked him to buy me a meatball sandwich. I remember that I introduced myself to him after that class. Had a quick conversation of maybe no more than three or four sentences and went about our ways. May have even found out about both of us being aspiring writers, but that might have come later.

But I lived in the dorms. They served every meal except Sunday night dinner and one night on a Sunday I found myself, a hungry freshman boy college student wandering the streets of Clifton, the neighborhood surrounding the university, with no money and casting myself upon the fortunes of fate to furnish a meal.

I believe I also had a coupon in my pocket, cut from the college newspaper—a two for one Sunday night special at the local sandwich shop. I loitered near this shop hoping someone I knew would come by, and I could cadge a sandwich off them.

Down the darkening street I saw Scott approaching, on this chilly fall night, black coat on, lapels up, his hands thrust in pockets. I think I knew his name then. Basically I struck up a conversation with him, and in short order, asked him to buy me a meatball sandwich. I’m sure I said I’d pay him back.

What struck me was his reaction. He didn’t say, “Sure, no problem,” as I actually expected he would, based somehow on knowing that we would be friends. And in East Lansing, that’s how my friends and I had been. Friendship was communism to us.

But he didn’t say no either. He said, in an almost maddeningly thoughtful tone, “Let me think about it.” I don’t remember what I did while he thought about it. I have this idea that we just stood there and talked for awhile. I probably asked where he lived, and he probably told me, “In a room at the Friar’s Club.” And I’m sure I pitched the coupon, and the idea of getting two meatball subs for the price of one. He would have told me no to that, that he had dinner waiting for him back in his room.

Anyway, ultimately he bought me the sandwich. I walked back with him t to the Friar’s Club, which was an ancient quadrangular building, like a monastery, with low ceilinged hallways and heavy carved doors and lamps dangling on chains in the long corridors.

He had a small room, with a bed, a desk and a chest of drawers. In a desk drawer he had a can of soup. He cooked it over a hot plate and we ate our respective Sunday dinners and, if we hadn’t already, found out we were both writers, and talked about favorite authors, and he pontificated and I must have too.

Soon after that he moved to a two bedroom apartment about five blocks from my dorm, on a flat street called Fosdick covered with a canopy of trees that towered above the houses. I would walk there when I felt alien among my dorm-mates, which was often, and sit on his couch while he sat on his mattress on the floor in the big window bay. And I’d scan all the titles on his bookshelf and we’d talk about the great writers we were going to be.

When I went away to college I’d brought two shelves of my favorite books: Harlan Ellison, Ferlinghetti, and I don’t remember who else now. But I displayed them proudly, thinking I would be among people like me. This was college. By then I already had four parents (one divorce, two remarriages), all PhDs and university professors. The last thing I expected was seven dorm suite-mates who’d look at me like I was a weirdo because I liked to read for pleasure.

Like I said, Scott and I were reminiscing over this a couple days ago, on the eve of our birthday, actually. And he talked about how weird it was to him that I’d ask him to buy me a sandwich right off like that. To me, and I can at this far remove see why this sounded a little crazy, it seemed completely natural. Not forward at all. I already knew him as a friend. Only in the last few years have I learned to call my intuition by its name or even know that I had it, but that’s what it was. I just picked up on something, from the first time I saw him across the room. I recognized the intelligence, the independence, the questing intellect, and I saw him as a kindred spirit. And I was right.

So I’ve invited him to write his version of this story, without reading mine first, as a guest blogumnist in my spot here in two weeks. Thought that might be kind of fun, but he hasn’t committed, so we’ll see. If you’d like to see his version, let us know in the comments.