Sunday, August 06, 2006

Of Hamster Mills, the Gogginator, and Proper Goodbyes

My friendship with Bill had a headquarters: Club One Yerba Buena. It was the only place we could run together. I’d lumber along on what he called "the hamster mill" for a mile or two. He’d start out with a long, upright gait, chatting about local politics or movies or work or baseball while settling in at a pace that few others would ever think of reaching on a treadmill. After 7 or 8 miles, he'd step off and approach the Gogginator.

The Gogginator is an ab crunch apparatus that Bill absolutely abused. (The term would later adopt broader usage, often referring to the final stage of copy editing at Wired -- i.e., passing through the Gogginator -- or even to the man himself.) He’d lay a towel over the padding and just pound the hell out of the machine. Up and down, up and down, up and down, a stack of weights giving way to his perpetual rocking, sweat flying onto the steel bars over dozens and dozens of reps. Bill’s metabolism may have been nearly as fast as his mind. But that’s not why he was in such great shape. In the gym as in the office, he worked harder than anyone else in the room.

Bill and I went through this routine several hundred times in the 5+ years we sat next to each other at Wired. Many of our Club One visits came in the evening. After winding down in the steam room, we'd walk out of the gym together and, before heading our separate ways, we'd inevitably stop for a pregnant moment on the sidewalk. There were no casual goodbyes with Bill, no see-ya-tomorrow punches on the arm or over-the-shoulder waves. He tried to make every parting meaningful. He’d look me straight-on with those bright eyes, ask about my plans for the evening, give me a firm, two-step handshake and a smile before wishing me well. Sometimes, I must say, it was a bit much. After all, I’d see him again in the morning, and at some point not long after that, we'd be back on the treadmills again. But that was how Bill did it. His style was often strange and awkward, but also endearing and funny and maddening and tortured and brilliant and confusing. And meaningful. And that also describes our friendship. I've never known anyone like him. I doubt I ever will again.

Our final goodbye came in late May, on my final day at Wired, as I prepared to leave the country for two months and start a new job. I called Bill at the last minute to tell him about my going-away party and, of course, he dropped everything to come. We spoke about what I considered to be a significant series of events in his life. I told him how happy and proud I was about these latest developments. He likewise congratulated me on my new opportunity, hugged me, and, referring to my departure from Wired, said something that I’ll never forget: You gave them more than they gave you. That’s a hell of a way to go out.

Now I have the kind of opportunity that I never imagined I’d have with Bill Goggins. I have the final word. I sat in the locker room at Club One today, sobbing at the thought of how Bill will never show up there again, wondering whether it's time to cancel my membership, and baffled at how I could ever match his knack for meaningful goodbyes. And then I came up with the obvious answer: Bill's words have always been better than mine; I'll use his.

Bill, you gave this world so much more than we ever gave you. That’s a hell of a way to go out. -- jo'b

1 comment:

Brad said...

I remember the Wired days when you two would wander into the gym for some weird work out in the middle of the evening, before going back to work ~ while I was, of course, going out to drink ~ only to be joined later at the bar by you guys...

And, it's good to know that I wasn't the only one who only understand a small percentage of what Bill had to say ~ not because it didn't make sense, but because we hadn't read the right books...