I received some sad news this morning. One of my best friends from college, Maryanne Phillips, called to tell me her father had passed. I told her the world had lost one of its great characters. I meant it too, having spent a few memorable days in his company long ago, and having experienced firsthand the brunt of his unique brand of humor.
I met Bill Phillips twenty-six years ago during my sophomore year at college. Maryanne had invited me to spend spring break at her home in Nebraska. After flying to the airport at Omaha, we rented a car and drove two long hours, past endless fields of corn all the way to her town’s border. There we waited twenty minutes for a herd of cows – honest to goodness cows – to cross the road. The excruciating journey as well as the sight of the meager town center led me to dub the village of 1,200 souls “West Jibbib” (while mentally adding: you know, the town just north of “East Buttfuck”).
West Jibbib’s principal gathering spot was Bob’s Diner. I experienced its charms the morning Bill treated Maryanne and me to breakfast. Amazingly, much like the TV show “Cheers,” everyone at Bob’s Diner knew each other’s name. They also seemed to know each other’s business, as evidenced by the embarrassingly intimate details of Maryanne’s childhood which a number of diner veterans casually remarked on during our introductions. Bill himself seemed a veritable celebrity at the establishment, probably owing to his nonstop array of improbable though highly amusing fishing anecdotes.
I knew I’d like Bill from the first minute we met. When Maryanne and I pulled into her gravel driveway, she spotted her dad tending the family’s sheep (like many of West Jibbib’s residents, Maryanne’s family owned a
farm). Bill wasted no time introducing a particularly fluffy ewe standing beside him: “Richard, I’d like you to meet Maryanne’s mother, ‘Baahhhrbra.’ Maryanne takes after her, don’t you think?”
I didn’t know which was funnier: that Bill had named his sheep “Baahhhrbra”; or that his wife’s name actually was Barbara. In any case, after meeting Baahhhrbra, I couldn’t call Mrs. Phillips by her first name without cracking up. I still can’t.
While touring the farm one morning, I came across the carcass of a mole. Bill told me the property was riddled with them, both live and dead. In response I admitted never having seen a mole before, news which astonished him. I also jokingly mentioned the “pranks” I could play on my roommates, if only I had possession of a dead mole or two. Of course, by the end of my visit I’d forgotten that innocent comment.
A few days after classes resumed, I returned to my apartment and found a package wrapped in plastic sitting atop my desk. On closer examination, I discovered a handwritten note taped to the box. The note was from the mailman. It read: “If you ever try to mail something like this again, you’ll be prosecuted.”
Inside the package I found the reason for the plastic wrap. A shoebox contained the decomposing corpses of four moles. The box also held a card from Bill. Though I wouldn’t dare touch it (being half-covered in mole juice), I could read its short message well enough: “Richard, there are plenty more where these came from if you need ’em.”
Yeah, Bill was one of a kind. The world seems a duller place without him.
A somewhat dead mole