I've been in the consumer electronics field since the early 80's and one of my oldest friends in the industry was Dave, a man who was a few years older than me, but we shared a common bond with many things in life. I first met Dave when we both worked for a specialty audio store in Iowa City when I was going to college at the University of Iowa. From the beginning, Dave and I found that we had a number of things in common - the love of music, we both had wicked senses of humor, we loved baseball, and we were looking for a better beer to drink than just Budweiser.
Dave was a very smart guy who was as liberal in his politics as the day is long. He was an interesting guy to talk to. His knowledge of musical groups and artists was mind-blowing to me. He loved to laugh - his quick laughter at jokes or absurd observations would make his body quake. His deadpan looks after I would make a smart-ass comment around him quickly turned into a smirk with a silent laugh, his body shaking slightly.
I was honored to be asked to stand up with Dave when he and his wife Sue were married on a cold winter solstice in 1989. I told him that I hadn't had much luck with being the best man in marriages that lasted up to that point. But he saw his soulmate in Susie and my curse of being the best man in marriages that busted up never came to be with this one.
In addition to Dave being one of the kindest and most accommodating people I ever worked with on a retail floor, he had impeccable penmanship. I had never seen such handwriting skills from a man - ever. It was like he wrote the cursive for text books that were used in schools in the 50's and 60's. I know women who have much worse handwriting skills than Dave had. I told him one time that he could have made a fortune hand-addressing envelopes for invitations or thank you notes.
I started on the road as an audio sales representative in the mid-80's. I told Dave of the fun that I was having while on the road and he was bound and determined to get out of the retail environment and get his own job as a rep. He finally succeeded and his territory mirrored mine. In essence, we were competitors, but it turned out that we helped each other succeed by sharing information and steering one another to dealers that one of us would know, but the other did not. Dave was easily identifiable to dealers by his trademark fedora-style hat that he wore.
It would get to a point that we would plan our trips around each other's schedule. I lived outside of Des Moines in the late 80's and whenever Dave would plan a trip to the Des Moines area, I would make sure that I would be home. When I would be in Eastern Iowa, Dave made it a point to be at his home in Iowa City. Then we'd both plan trips to Omaha at the same time, stay at the same hotel, eat at the same restaurants, see the same dealers (although not at the same time), and hang out at sports bars or at the old Rosenblatt Stadium watching the old Omaha Royals (now the Omaha Storm Chasers) play baseball. One time, we watched baseball three straight nights in seats directly behind home plate. I think we paid $5 bucks each for the tickets each of the three nights with a wonderful fireworks display on the third night. We were in our own little heaven.
We'd do baseball trips to see major league games - we spent weekends in Milwaukee and in St. Louis. One time we stayed with my older cousin in Milwaukee who - it turned out - had met Dave one night a number of years before when their respective girlfriends had gotten together in Iowa City. My cousin perfectly described Dave's apartment in the 70's as they slowly figured out that they had met once before. Small world, huh?
Our love for baseball was so much that Dave proposed a 9-day/10-game tour of the Midwest to see major league baseball games. He worked out the schedule and I can still remember the itinerary - start off in Kansas City on a Friday night seeing the Royals play; drive to Minneapolis to catch the Twins the next night; an overnight trip to Milwaukee to catch the Brewers on Sunday afternoon; drive down to Chicago to see a day-night doubleheader - the Cubs in the afternoon and the White Sox at night; then head over to Cleveland, up to Detroit, a trip over to Pittsburgh, then over to Cincinnati, and then a final Saturday game in St. Louis with a leisurely drive home on Sunday. We never did it for whatever reason at the time, but it was something that we still talked about for a number of years.
Some of our conversations about baseball centered upon his complete dislike for the designated hitter in the American League. I sort of liked the DH, but he referred to it as a "commie plot" designed to undermine America's pastime. I asked if it was the same commie plot that was supposed to be the undoing of American society when rock and roll became big in the 50's and he would say, "No! The Republicans came up with that story to try and scare people. The DH is truly a communist plot!"
I used to get on him for being a "fair-weather" fan when it came to baseball teams. My team of choice during the 80's and 90's were the (then) California Angels. Dave's allegiances would skip around. He would meticulously read up on spring training news and then before the season began he would pick a team that he would follow for that particular year. He usually picked teams that were pretty good and sometimes they won the World Series. I stayed with one team while Dave had a number of teams he would follow - not all at the same time, but one per season.
Here's one story that stands out in my mind that involves Dave - We were at a Summer Consumer Electronics Show in the late 80's. That's when the summer show was held in Chicago in early June. And that also means that it's baseball season and it turned out that the White Sox were hosting the Twins one particular evening at the old Comiskey Park. Dave and I set up a baseball "trip" that included a couple three dealers who were at the show and who were also into baseball. We got seats down the left field line and Dave was wearing his signature hat at the game. Before the game started, one of the beer vendors working our area looked up, saw Dave and said, "Holy shit! It's the judge!"
Night Court was a popular show on television at that time and actor Harry Anderson starred as Judge Harry Stone in the comedy. At first glance, Dave looked exactly like the judge in Night Court when he was wearing his hat. He got it all the time. After the first beer guy thought it was the actor Harry Anderson, others showed up to look at Dave. We had fun with the beer guys over that and by the end of the first inning we were on a first name basis with them. They took good care of us that night.
Will the real Dave Arnold please stand up? This is the actor Harry Anderson, but with a hat on and looking at this picture a couple of times, it is truly a dead ringer for Dave in the 80's.
Another passion Dave had - which was completely curious to me given that Dave never appeared to be much of a football fan for the first few years I got to know him - was to follow his beloved Green Bay Packers. He dove full-in with his love for Packers, joining up with a group of people each game at a local sports bar in Iowa City for a number of years. We watched two Super Bowls with Dave and his new friends at a sports bar in Coralville, IA - one a winning night for Dave and the other a gut-wrenching loss for him. Dave continued to follow the Packers with a passion that, well, confounded me given his apathy toward football at any level when I first got to know him in the early 80's.
When we'd go to Wisconsin for baseball games, we would invariably stop at liquor stores along the way to do a little "beer hunting". Dave had an affection for craft beer, long before the craft beer movement took hold. We tried a number of different beers from small breweries around Wisconsin, found a number that we liked and a few that we didn't. The fun of finding something new that brought enjoyment to both of our lives was a common bond that we shared for years.
Dave's first job as a sales rep ended badly for him when his employer canned him so he could bring in an inexperienced friend who was in need of a job. Dave tried working for a couple of other rep companies, but it wasn't the same for him. I ended up getting off the road for a couple of years, and Dave sort of puttered around getting jobs in whatever sales field he could get into - trying to hire me for a company that he was working for at one time, but then realized after the fact that the company wasn't a good fit for him, or for me - before he landed a gig selling Maui Jim sunglasses in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.
He loved working for the Maui Jim company, and his clients - which were mainly optometrists around the Midwestern states he covered - loved Dave. He continued to wear his signature fedora hat to call on his customers while he worked for the company. He worked for Maui Jim for a number of years and loved his job.
When my wife and I were in Hawaii some years ago, I sought out the Maui Jim building in Lahaina on Maui. I took a picture of the front of the building and sent it to Dave on my phone. I expected to get a reply of "Wow! You're in front of our corporate offices!" But I heard nothing back. A couple weeks after we had returned from Hawaii, I called Dave and said, "Did you get my picture?"
He said he had and then said, "Actually, the Maui Jim headquarters are now in Peoria, IL (who knew?), and I no longer work for Maui Jim." I was shocked to hear that he had been let go a couple months prior to that - he never mentioned a word about it to me until that moment. His territory was given to two young guys to split up who worked for less money combined than what the company was paying Dave. He called it a "forced retirement" and even though he never really went into depth in conversations about it, I could tell Dave was bitter about the job loss. In my estimation, he never really recovered from the blow he took when he was "retired" from Maui Jim.
Other interests filled Dave's life in the meantime. He got involved with forums on the Internet and made friends around the nation and overseas. He raised guinea pigs - not all that surprising given Dave's quirkiness. He found happiness in his own way, all the while wishing he was able to do something else.
Dave had some health problems over the past few years - he was diagnosed with hypertension a number of years ago and he underwent open heart surgery four or five years ago. He wasn't quite the same after the surgery. He became sullen and almost introverted, not returning phone calls I would place. When we did get together, he spoke in a measured tone, his easy laugh from years before gone, and he acted like he wanted to be somewhere else. Our mutual good friend Al took Dave to a minor league baseball game in Cedar Rapids a couple years ago and afterward Al called me to tell me that Dave spoke - maybe - 20 words the whole day. Dave could speak 20 words in 15 seconds, and do so very eloquently. It was sad to see him get to this point in life.
The last time I talked with Dave was a few weeks ago. He had left a cryptic message on Facebook that he had fallen, hurt his knee and he needed someone to come and drive him from his home in West Branch, IA to the hospital in Iowa City. When I finally did get hold of him, I chastised him for not calling either myself (who lived 40 minutes away, but I'd still have gone to get him), or our friend Al (who lived just 20 minutes away). He thanked me for the offer and for my concern and then excused himself and said goodbye. It was not the same Dave that I had known for over 30 years.
The last meaningful time I spent with Dave was about two and a half years ago when I stopped by and had a copy of Brian Wilson - Live at the Roxy, a disc that I let Dave have because he was so much of a Brian Wilson fan. We listened to a number of songs on the disc that evening and I could see that sparkle from the old Dave that I knew so long ago.
We'd made plans to get together in Iowa City for a burger, but our recent schedules never meshed. Or - I should say - my schedule never meshed. Dave was free most days. I was doing a lot of traveling. I think deep inside that Dave sort of resented the fact that he wasn't traveling any longer. He was pulled off the road against his will - a job he loved taken away. And he wasn't ready to let go.
On Tuesday, he posted a picture on Facebook of three comic geniuses - Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke - all making silly faces. I took that as the perfect analogy for Dave - growing old, but never taking things too seriously. A day later, he's gone. Too many times I've let friends who have been a big influence in my life grow apart from me. That's exactly what happened with Dave and I. But my memories of Dave - the fun times and camaraderie that we had over the years - will always be there. I just wish I would have had a chance to let him know how much he meant to me in my life. But I never did - and I will never have that chance. And for that I'm truly saddened. Saddened more from the fact that I never made the effort to let him know that he meant a lot to me, even though we were not as close as we once were.