Two Saturdays ago, Victor “Bud” Clever found himself at a charity event bidding on a black Labrador. As the the auctioneer barked for more money, Victor…forgetting that he was the one who was now the holder of the leading bid…shouted, “Two thousand!”
The auctioneer double-taked the man in the Hunter S. Thompson hat holding number 762, the same man who had just bid $1600 not twelve seconds prior.
Are you drunk?
“Yeah, I kinda was,” Victor said a week later. He told me this story last Saturday night as we celebrated our 25th DeSmet Jesuit High School reunion. We met at Vito’s Sicilian, the restaurant owned by another classmate, Vito LaFata.
“So is the dog at home?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t own it. Never had any intention of it. Bought it as a wedding gift.”
For the lay person, this would normally raise an eyebrow or two. Yet this was not at all shocking to me. This is, after all, Victor…a man who is in the process of spending his inheritance, and a man who wakes up on the first day of Formula 1 racing season and asks,
Where in the world shall we attend a race? I can start provisionally planning 2016’s adventures. Looks like this time next year Miranda and I will be in Azerbaijan.
He’s a man of incredible excess, incredible humor, incredible warmth, incredible depth, and incredible incredibleness.
He’s also a man who should have been dead by age 3.
Bluntly, Victor was born with a bad ticker. Doctors and family members knew it from the word go. He had a pacemaker at a young age, a stop-gap for the eventual necessity of a heart transplant. Maybe it was nature, maybe nurture, and maybe it had to do with the unbelievable trauma a young life had to endure, but Victor has always been a pretty fearless kid who owned his situation.
As a seven year-old, he almost put a nun in the hospital with a heart attack when, on a dare, he faked one of his own right in the middle of spelling class. In high school, he used to have to wait until everyone had gotten their lunch before even entering the cafeteria as the microwave used to send his pacemaker into hyper-drive. I never once heard him complain.
And in his mid-twenties, he was given the worst news he could possibly receive.
“Your heart is on its last leg. Without a transplant, and fast, you’ll die.”
So Victor did as he always did: he lived his life like every day was his last. He could not change his destiny, but he wouldn’t let it define him.
And then, a bittersweet miracle came to pass. An accident. A fatality. A heart had become available. It was now or never.
He arrived at the hospital, and within thirty-six hours, at the age of 27, Victor got a second chance at life.
I remember having lunch with Victor last November at a Brazilian Churrascaria, a restaurant known for bringing you enough meat on a stick to choke a bull shark. I had seen him maybe once since we graduated high school back in 1990, and I wanted to reconnect. I chose this particular restaurant for a couple of reasons. First, I was dying to try their Caiperinhas, and it was close to Victor’s office. But more importantly, I wanted to see if the legend I saw in my Facebook feed was the real deal.
– Who else went to bed early last night, but set an alarm so they could get first crack at buying the new Star Wars toys when they on sale at 1am?? And no, they are not gifts for any of my nieces and nephews.
– The Han Solo in the new Lego Millennium Falcon set has grey hair. That is pretty cool. Have I mentioned recently I am 43 years old?
He’s a Lego aficionado, and a Star Wars aficionado, and probably has more of the Star Wars Lego collection than George Lucas.
-My apple watch just told me it was time to stand. I’m going to go get a Chocodile.
-Did I add bacon to my cheeseburger that already has a hot dog and potato chips on it?!? Of course I did. Why? Because this is the U S mother effing A!!! That and I follow a heart healthy diet.
He eats like shit.
– You know those mornings you wake up with a half full gin and tonic with milk duds in it on your nightstand… Or does that still only happen to me?
– I woke with several bruises and confusion. At least I have both kidneys.
He drinks like a fish with a drinking problem.
– I’m surprised no one has mentioned the colour of my shirt today. It is quite nice. And yes, we were talking about me.
-Wearing white trousers to a bachelor party is a good idea. Right?
He is unapologetic about dressing like a douche at times.
– I’m not sure why I make sure all my tattoos can be covered by a t shirt when I constantly disrobe in public to show them to people who didn’t ask to see them.
– I just picked clothes up at 2 different dry cleaners and the tailor. Maybe I do have too many clothes… Oh, and some more were delivered yesterday.
He is unapologetic about being a douche sometimes.
– There is a better then average chance my cardiologist, after crapping his pants, will take a swing at me when he sees the new tattoos I have gotten since the last time he told me to stop getting them.
– This afternoon at work could be a doozy. The swimsuit issue was delivered AND the Chelsea match is on. Thankfully I’m a whiz at multitasking.
Authority means very little to him.
And the pictures are even worse. I’ve seen him dressed as the Statue of Liberty at a bar for a USMNT World Cup match, bleary-eyed from shots of Absinthe during an Ugly Christmas Sweater party (the sweater had a picture of Jesus with a hat and a noise-maker that said “Birthday Boy” on it), passed-out face down in a row of bushes, wearing a t-shirt to dinner with a picture of his own face that was given to him by a friend, giving a thumbs-up while riding a mechanical bull, literally snorting the seventeenth course of a twenty-six course El Bulli meal, and sunbathing on a beach sporting a very, very large scar on his chest.
It’s a reminder every day that any day could be his last. I still get the same feeling from time to time when I get out of the shower and see the port-a-cath scar near my right clavicle, the spot where I not-so-eagerly welcomed my chemo in to get rid of my unwanted and uninvited guest some thirteen years ago.
If anything, our scars are motivation for many things…persevering, not letting fear get the best of us, and being present in every moment that we’re able (or sober enough) to embrace.
But more than anything,
– Hard to believe another year, let alone 16, has passed since I got my second chance at life. As you all know I have definitely made the most of it. Not a day passes that I don’t thank God, my donor and his family, my unbelievably generous family and my amazing friends. I hope you are aren’t sick of me yet as I don’t plan on going anywhere soon! Thank you all!!
During our reconnection over Caiperinhas and Picanha, he told me about his life, about his outlook, and about the anger that his cardiologist has about him getting all of those tattoos.
“But what does he say about your health?” I ask.
“He just shakes his head at me and tells me to keep doing what I’m doing, minus the ink. Thank Christ he’s not on Facebook.”
This actually intrigued me. As a whole, people are eating healthier, or at least have access to healthier choices, yet heart disease is our number one killer. Yet here’s a guy, with an at-the-time fifteen year old transplant, who eats horribly and drinks excessively, and this thing is beating stronger than ever. It made no sense whatsoever.
And then he said the most interesting thing: “Dan, I’m not even supposed to be here. Every day is a gift.”
That is when I figured it out. Victor Clever, Bud, simply doesn’t stress like the rest of us. There are so many times in our lives when we stress about a limitless array of things, from all facets of everything. Bills. Grades. Relationships. What other people think of us. Not living up to our own expectations. Others not living up to our own expectations.
We stress because we need to feel like we’re in control, and the more things seem out of control, the tighter we try to bring everything back into harmony. So in reality, it’s not us controlling the situation; it’s stress controlling us.
Now I’m going to take finances out of the equation, because as we speak, Victor and his friend Miranda are headed to Paris for a Jimmy Buffett concert. Yes, you read that correctly. And let’s face it, most of us don’t have the ability to do that kind of thing.
But with everything else, Victor taught me that he was more in control of things than I will ever be. He has a peace, an aura, an energy, and an attitude for life that most of us can’t even fathom. He knows who he is, he accepts the hand he’s been dealt, and he simply refuses to let stress rule him.
When I asked him how long a heart usually lasts, he said that the record was held by a guy who had one for thirty-three years, and he ended up dying of cancer. Then I asked him if it was possible to get a second heart if the first one gave out. His answer astonished me.
“I could, but I don’t think I would. I don’t want to be greedy. I don’t have a single thing to complain about in my life. I live it the way I choose, good or bad, and at the end of the day, I’m pretty damn lucky.”
As someone who fought so hard to survive, I found it surreal to be sitting with a guy my age who has faced his mortality all of his life, and didn’t dare to complain about a single thing, even the very real possibility of death. This was a man who could be the love child of the Dalai Lama and Amy Schumer.
I’m a better man for knowing Bud, and I’m thankful for his friendship, his kindness, his sense of humor, and most of all his wisdom. I know I don’t have the ability to live his example yet, but his outlook is definitely something I hope to achieve before I breathe my last.
But it’s not something I’m going to stress over.