Anyone who knows me reasonably well knows about my best friend.  I first met Rich at Hoffman’s House of Stereo in Cleveland, back in 1978, when I was taking my first look at investing in high-end stereo equipment.  As you doubtless have already guessed, he was the salesman who met me and showed off the wares his shop specialized in.  I became quite the regular visitor to Hoffman’s over the next several months, even after sinking my hard-earned cash into a Kenwood turntable, Goldring cartridge, and Kenwood integrated amplifier.  In retrospect, it was as much Rich’s friendly and unaffected company which brought me back as much as the lure of the music and the hardware which recreated it.  It was upon one visit that he told me he was working on a very exotic system for himself – a Mark Levinson HQD – and would I be interested in auditioning it one day?  From that point started a relationship which grew into a friendship which has run from that day to this.  We have been there for each other through stereo madness and real-life madness, through multiple changes of address, a severe bicycle accident (his) and a divorce (mine), and come out far stronger than we went in.  Because of all of that and too many other things to cite, it is with real pride that I call Rich my best friend.

Somewhere in the midst of our friendship we began exchanging Christmas gifts.  In my case, finding something for Rich was rarely easy.  At the time we met, his record collection extended to six or seven seven-foot-tall bookcases, filled to capacity with premium vinyl, and with the advent of the compact disc, his proclivities for collecting were no less aggressive.  Even with that, I always managed to find something here and there, whether it involved introducing him to the jazz ensemble Oregon or, some years later, the choral music of Eric Whitacre, though I will admit to having resorted to gift certificates when all else failed!  In any case, I very much wanted to at least try to answer what had had taught me, about music, about the equipment we listened to and the subtleties my ears were becoming more and more able to discern.

This year I had a late start in shopping for Rich, mostly because I started out with no idea about what to get him.  Thankfully, I had learned about a terrific classical music resource – Arkivmusic.com – which was rife with potential musical goodies, and I decided to pull that site up.  And there it was, smack on the front page: Leonard Bernstein: The Remastered Edition, a 100-CD set of some of Lenny’s best and most notable work, from his famous performance of the Shostakovich 5th Symphony to his own ballet, Dybbuk.  Perfect, I thought.  Both of us had enjoyed and admired Bernstein’s work and shared performances from our respective collections practically from our first meeting.  The order went in, directing delivery to Rich’s home address, though I somehow missed the checkbox which would indicate that this was a gift.

It was Friday, the 15th, and I was working at my computer when my phone rang.  “Are you responsible for this delivery I just got?” said a smiling voice, none other than Rich’s.  “Guilty as charged!” I answered, glad that he had received my present and was clearly pleased at it.  His next comment, though, wasn’t as expected: “I think you may want to check your front door, Loren.”  Okay, I thought, perhaps he had gotten an email notice regarding whatever he had sent my way, and I went downstairs to have a look.  Indeed, there was a fair-sized parcel at the front door and a weighty one at that.  I let Rich know this with the speakerphone on as I carried the rather massive item to my kitchen table, cut through the packing tape and opened the box to discover … Leonard Bernstein: The Remastered Edition!

I could make some comment about great minds thinking alike or some specious reference to a cosmic convergence between us, but that’s just noise.  About all I could feel at that moment was enormous gratitude at having a friend like him and the delight at his gift.  If there is any value to the Christmas season at all to me, it’s in the serendipity of events like this and how they can add even to a relationship which borders on four decades in length.

And in refreshing the appreciation of what became of the meeting between a salesman and a curious customer back in 1978.  “A long, strange trip,” perhaps, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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