Over the years between Humanities, Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, I likely met no one weirder than a man named Regis. He had a typical Pittsburgh accent — meaning that it took me a while to understand him. He seemed at times like he was a cross between Rasputin and Albert Einstein. But he was one of my best friends in my six years at Pitt, undergrad and grad.
In the Western Civilization II course I took during my second semester at Pitt, there were two people who would remain friends of mine long after the Winter Term. One was my teaching assistant, who was in his second year of graduate school in the History Department. He helped a lot with my decision to switch majors from Computer Science to History. The other was Regis. He was a working-class Western Pennsylvanian through and through, with that guttural Pittsburgh-ese accent. Regis said “jagoff” for “jackoff,” “ruff” for “roof,” “yinz” for “you all” or “y’all,” “dahntahn” for “downtown,” and so on. He’d been unemployed for nearly a year, laid-off by Westinghouse, where for the previous five years he guarded a boiler room in one of their plants. He was about five-six, constantly scruffy and disheveled, and sometimes looked like he was a step or two away from insanity.
But Regis was also a quick study, absolutely enjoyed going to college, a rarity for a twenty-eight-year-old. He was a deeply critical thinker. As a result, we hit it off right away in our discussion sections on Friday mornings. We often ganged up on the rest of our discussion section on all things Western European-related, from the French Revolution and whether it was or wasn’t a revolution to the connections between the European slave trade, the Industrial Revolution, and European imperialism in the nineteenth century. It was wonderful not being the only oddball in class for a change.
Our friendship went beyond the classroom in the fall of ’88, my semester of homelessness and financial strife. From the middle of September until the week of Thanksgiving, I lived off of $205 left over from my financial aid package. My money was so short that I finally swallowed my pride in early November and asked for help. I first asked Regis, after he noticed that we weren’t even hanging out at the Roy Rogers in the Cathedral of Learning anymore. After I told him about my starvation diet consisting of tuna fish with limited mayo, pork neck bones and rice, pb & j sandwiches, and grape Kool-Aid, he said, “I don’t have much, but I can at least bring you some bread and a potata. We don’t want you out here starvin’.” Later that week, Regis actually gave me some bread and a small sack of potatoes.
Regis was in my circle throughout that critical semester, which was why he was able to provide me some much needed starch during my semester-long time in need. We talked, mostly about his Heidegger course, a scary existential philosophy course for anyone to take. I heard so much from Regis about Heidegger’s Being and Time that I felt like I was in the course. Whenever the subject came up, he was always like, “So you got a hot date tonight, right?” No excuse was good enough for him, whether it was lack of money or lack of confidence.
Regis was my Ferris Bueller, or at least, he was one of two or three friends who played that role in my life between ’87 and ’91. I didn’t see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off until ’94. As intense and uptight as he was about his studies, he was the opposite when it was time to catch a movie or hang out at a bar. He certainly did his share to get me to date, far more than I wanted to at the time. Yet I know that someone needed to push me past my relationship comfort zone.
We took one other class together. In the fall of ’89, we discovered that we were both taking Greek History, an easy A if there ever was one. At least for me. Regis had to work a bit for his A. What impressed me, though, was how quickly he could cram information in his head the night before an exam. I never crammed — I just let my well-honed memory ticks take over. Still, if I were to ever need to cram, Regis was the best to study with. He often played word games to help him remember concepts or events or names.
Once Regis and I graduated in ’91, we didn’t hang out as much. That summer was spent getting over one final “relationship” hurdle and getting things set up for graduate school, so I lost touch. He did start a master’s program in philosophy, the following year I think. So I would see him on campus or made the occasional call to keep in touch in my last two years at Pitt.
The last time I met with Regis was after I had transferred to Carnegie Mellon to finish my doctorate. He called me up, said he wanted to treat me to lunch, to congratulate me for moving on from Pitt. We ended up going over to the Tastee Freeze across from Waterworks Mall, near the banks of the Allegheny River. I think that’s near Washington Blvd. No matter. It was a beautiful May afternoon to hang out with my dear friend. We talked, mostly about our lives and the future. After six years, Regis didn’t seem to know where to go after his master’s. I told him to get his doctorate, because his was the mind of a professor. Of course, he told me to do the same.
Even though that was another rough time for me financially, I felt like Regis was going through a hard time himself. I honestly thought that he would just pull it together, become a professor — a misfit one, maybe — and move on from the ‘Burgh. I really don’t know what’s happened with him since that day in ’93. I wish I did, so that I could thank him for being a true friend.
I like to think of another day, the final Friday of undergrad for me and for Regis. It was about a quarter to six on April 26 of ’91, and it had finally set in that the long path to my college degree was finally over. It was done. I bumped into Regis, who was also happy to be done. We bumped into two other friends of mine, one of whom I’d struggle with in terms of defining our friendship in the coming months. That wasn’t on my mind right then.
We stood on the steps of Hillman Library, the four of us, all of us either graduating or on the verge of doing so. The sun was still high in the sky, but you could tell even looking east that it was slowly starting to set. Shadows had become prominent on the Cathedral of Learning and the Carnegie Library building. I took a mental snapshot of that moment, because it was a moment of — dare I say it — happiness and vindication for me. I hugged Regis — or rather he hugged me — in celebration of the end of one journey and the beginning of another. I hope that our paths cross again.