I never like to use the blog section of my site for anything too personal; I mostly try to keep “I” out of it and just do straight reviews of books/movies/restaurants, or commentary on magazines or albums, or even essays or op-eds about the current state of some social construct, except with the idea of me absent. But I couldn’t come up with a better venue in which to place this particular post, so just move along if you’re not interested.
A friend of mine from college, Jeff Klein, died this week. He was 23. “Shocked” doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when I found out—early in the morning on Thursday I woke up to a text message from another friend—but I was even more devastated when I found out how it had happened. He jumped from a bridge near his home in upstate New York. A local Patch.com site ran the story.
I had no idea he was in so much pain. Or that he was in any. The last time we hung out was in February 2010, almost a year ago now, when he took me to a Knicks game at MSG. Jeff spent most of it complaining about how much the Knicks suck and making jokes about the officiating—classic Jeff talking points. At the time, he was working as a paralegal in the city, enjoying it (I thought) and planning to take the LSATs so he could apply to law school.
In the past couple days, scores of people have written on Jeff’s Facebook wall or tagged old photos of him. I put up some photos I had, but couldn’t bring myself to interact with his page because something about that feels kind of artificial to me. Of course, the things people have written are all really heartfelt and nice, so, good for them. But for me, I’ve always been mildly creeped out when people use Facebook groups or wall posts to commemorate someone that died. Writing something here on my blog feels (albeit only slightly) classier, so I’m going to record a few memories of Jeff here for his friends to enjoy, and I hope it will bring some kind of comfort.
Jeff and I were involved in a lot of the same activities at Middlebury. More than I ever realized. In fact, I think I never actually understood how much we did together until now. He definitely was not my best friend, nor was I his, but when I think back, he was certainly one of the ten people I spent the most time with at Middlebury, across all four years. But I never thought of him that way; I just thought of him as one of my “going out on the weekend” friends. And I kept thinking of him that way after college, especially since he didn’t live in Manhattan, so if I asked him to come hang out it meant a big production, a train ride for him, a night that took actual planning. I think it’s very likely that Jeff had a lot of friends like this—college buddies that he stayed in touch with on a casual basis after graduating. I can’t speak much about his friends from home (he went to Horace Greeley for high school) but at Middlebury he was friendly with tons of people, and I think he would have said his best friend was Andres, with whom he was in the social house KDR. In his sophomore year, I know he was also very close friends with Simone, a girl that later transferred out of Middlebury.
In the past few days, though, a good number of people have written me to ask if I’m okay, which makes me think that we may have been pretty close without my knowing it. I’m afraid I may have taken him for granted. But I’m also not going to fall into that self-important trap of blaming yourself or thinking you could have saved a person. I wish I had known, but I’m not sure I could have done anything. His family knew, and I know they were there for him. I just hope that no one else I care about is ever that sad and lonely.
Let me rewind to college. Jeff and I played intramural (I.M.) basketball together each year. Most seasons, he was on an I.M. team with me and Shahan, but sometimes he played instead with Adrian, Edwin, Johnny and some other guys. Jeff was naturally good at basketball; as someone commented on Facebook recently, “his shots were like water.” He didn’t look like he’d be good, and then he stepped onto the court and sunk a lot of shots. We always lost anyway, because our team had no height and because the varsity guys were allowed to play I.M.s (which doesn’t seem fair), but we had a lot of fun losing, and made a lot of good comebacks. He looked forward to the season each year.
But he also loved the real basketball team. He wrote for the school newspaper, the Campus, as the beat reporter for the Men’s team, so he came to knew all those guys and was well-liked by them. By junior year, he also had a sports column in the paper, which he cleverly called J.K. Rolling. I had my own op-ed column about politics, pop culture, or anything that would enrage people, so we texted each other often on Sundays to commiserate about the 5 p.m. submission deadlines that we always just barely made. (I suspect, though, that Jeff didn’t ever cut it as close as I usually did.)
There was another thing Jeff and I did together that we both felt mildly embarrassed about. Every Sunday morning, we played doubles tennis with a group of professors—all men (except for one), all over 50. It sounds strange, but it was fun, and often when you’re not on the varsity team of a certain sport, but you love it and are pretty good at it, finding people to play with is really difficult. A few of these guys were great. Leger, a film prof who organized the group, was very good. Jeff and I were usually partners, and we often beat up on whichever pair we played (young and injury-free, we had speed and energy on our side), but we lost occasionally. Jeff had a weak net game but strong ground strokes. On Saturday nights, if we met up or saw each other out, we’d joke about how there was no way we were going to make it down to the bubble at 2 p.m. the next day to play tennis. But we almost always did make it.
He loved going out. He defended routines like Wednesday Night Beirut—at which, as I understand, many underclassmen girls were welcomed to Middlebury by a friendly Jeff (two of whom, Nejla and Lydia, messaged me to say so, stressing that Jeff and I were some of the first seniors they met, and that Jeff continued to be close with them). He once devoted his sports column to responding to people that shunned mid-week drinking, asking, “What could be wrong with doing a little work in the library, then heading down to see people and have fun?” He felt that there was no point to college if you weren’t going to be social.
A defining thing about Jeff, as everyone who knew him would say, was his NBA fandom and fervor. He watched every playoff game and was really into it, complaining about bad calls and ranting that commissioner David Stern should be fired. Any trade or deal or off-court scandal, he knew about it first. After college, almost every time Jeff texted me it was about basketball. Here are some of the sports-related gems I have in my phone from him (thank you iPhone, which saves texts in one long chain):
“Celtics r getting absolutely screwed with the officiating. 16-4 foul discrepancy, i’ve been counting.”
“this league’s a joke.”
“now celtics are looking good. but we better hope the refs don’t try to take this into their own hands.”
Last Halloween (2009), bragging about his homemade costume: “Know what i am? a blind ref aka every nba ref and mlb umpire.”
And the most recent time we texted each other was in August. I wrote “umm… Shaq just signed with the celtics.” He said, “haha I know, crazy. Don’t know how much gas he has left in the tank.”
We hadn’t really lost touch, just hadn’t found time to hang out in a while. I let it go too long. In late September 2010, only a few months before he killed himself, Jeff updated his Facebook status to say something like “I love my family, I’m so glad I have them, thanks to everyone who has helped out” (I can’t seem to find this now so he may have deleted), and I naturally assumed there had been a death in the family or that a grandparent was sick. I messaged him and asked if everything was okay, if everyone was healthy, and he wrote back, sounding pretty happy and nonchalant, “Hey man, what’s going on??” [typical of Jeff that in response to a message asking if he’s all right, the first thing he does is ask how I’m doing] “Thanks for the concern. I’ve just been going thru a bit of a rough time lately…quit my job last month because I hated it and just trying to figure out what to do next. But we should definitely hang out soon.” We never got around to making a plan. But at least I reached out, I suppose, and made sure he knew that someone cared. I bet a bunch of other people contacted him too.
Another great Jeff anecdote involving the Internet: last year, in our first year out of college, he created a sports blog. He called it Talkin’ Sports and was so excited about it that he created a Facebook group for the blog. The group has 132 members. Every time he put a new post on the blog, he would send a message out to all the group members to alert them. It was funny. Two of my own friends from Newton, who had never met Jeff, had commented in back-and-forth exchanges on my wall with him, I think during the Summer of LeBron (in July), so I encouraged them to check out his blog. They did, and I see now that at some point they both became Facebook friends with him.
The blog is a testament to Jeff’s writing style—earnest, straightforward, simply written, and often funny without trying too hard. From his most recent post, which was about new NBA rules about technical fouls: “With each reign-tightening, dictatorial maneuver by Boss Stern, the NBA loses more and more credibility as a professional sports league.” Boss Stern, I like that. And of course, Jeff as conspiracy theorist: “You’re gonna tell me that every player in the league is now going to be treated like an uncontrolled infant and get muzzled before he has the opportunity to voice his opinion? Actually, to answer my own question, no. You know that the league’s prized possessions — superstars like Kobe and LeBron — are going to be given infinitely more free reign to vent than everybody else.”
Another example of Jeff’s Internet behavior: last April, I uploaded a picture of me with my girlfriend, Hannah. Jeff, who hadn’t even met her, commented on it: “sweet pic brah.” It was brief, but really nice, and she asked me about him and I told her she’d meet him eventually. They never did.
Also in April, Hussein, another friend of Jeff’s, started an email chain that included Jeff and some other guys like Mohammed, Konstantin, Logan, and Ben, suggesting we all check in and say what’s up. Jeff replied and wrote mostly about his new job:
Can’t believe it’s been almost a year since we graduated. After spending last summer doing a pretty laid back internship at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, studying for the LSAT, and most of all, doing a good deal of partying/drinking (culminating in a one week road trip down the east coast with a few close friends from back home), I got a job last November as a paralegal at the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges. It’s been pretty good…a good amount of bitch work, but I really like the group I’m in, the people I’m working with, and most of all, it’s nice to be getting paid. I’m still living at home (about a 45 min. train ride from the city), and saving a shitload of money doing so. I might get a place in the city either this summer or in the fall with some friends. I’m also thinking of applying to law school for fall 2011, but that’s still a ways down the road. Anyway, good idea starting this e-mail chain Hussein…hope to hear from/see all of you soon.
Obviously at some point (judging from the message months later in September) he started to feel unhappy at his job, and left it. But it is still eerie to look at his super-jovial email and consider the fact that only six short months later, he ended his life.
On the very first weekend I moved to New York, in August 2009, I had a party at my apartment, and Jeff was there. He took the train down to come. We had a good time. He brought Andres, and also a guy named Chang, who I now understand was a very good friend of his from home.
On the morning of graduation in May 2009, after watching the sunrise at like 5:30 a.m. with the rest of the seniors (most of them hammered) it was actually with Jeff that I drove in my car to the McDonald’s down the road by Hannaford, to get breakfast sandwiches. We got there so early that the place wasn’t open yet.
Later that day, after graduation, I met his parents and two brothers (all three boys looked just like their dad) during all the picture-taking. They were very sweet and I could tell how proud all four were of Jeff. I cannot imagine how devastating this has been for them, or how they move forward from here. I cannot stop thinking about Jeff’s parents. I’m very sorry for their loss.
I hope it isn’t disrespectful of me, or overly public, to have posted all this. I wouldn’t have done so until it hit me just how many stories I had about Jeff, so I almost felt like it was my duty to share them with anyone who knew him that might be hurting.
Looking through my old video files on my laptop, I just found this clip from when I was messing around with a FlipCam during a small party I had at my apartment. Jeff makes an appearance, happy and healthy, so I felt the video had to go up. The video date is 8/8/09.