Greg Fisher and I became friends instantly when I transferred into Thorndyke Elementary School in third grade. Greg had already been at Thorndyke through second grade, the school’s inaugural year, and like most of the school’s other veterans welcomed the transfers from Cascade Elementary. A great many of the kids in Mrs. Bruffy’s third-grade class that year stayed together all the way through graduation from Foster High School, but Greg was one of only a handful–Greg, Stephanie Cortes, Jay Savage, Ron Miyatake–that I can say I consistently stayed close to from “beginning to end.” Greg and I referred to each other as “blood brothers”–and I believe we even engaged in the ridiculous boyhood ritual associated with that term.
Greg and I did not live close to each other–he a couple blocks from Foster, I on the very edge of the school district below McMicken Hights–so our blood-brotherly interactions were pretty much limited to classtime and recess.
One spring afternoon in fourth grade, Greg and Jay and I were running trails in the woods that sloped steeply toward 154th Street from the playground when we noticed strange puffs of dust kicking up from the dirt around us. There were also odd popping sounds coming from the gravel fields alongside 154th. As we quickly discovered, the two were not unrelated, as we spied a man aiming a .22 rifle at us and casually squeezing off shots. We dove for cover behind separate alder boles and waited, terrified, until the coast seemed to be clear. The playground supervisor and principal–Mrs. Matheson and Mr. Root–both came down with us later to investigate, but did not find our story credible. It most certainly was true, however, as I confirmed later in adulthood with both Jay and Greg.
There sure were a lot of Greg’s in the Class of ’79, too: Greg Wright, Greg Fisher, Greg Beckel, Gregg Hendricks, Greg McManus. Oddly, there never seemed to be much trouble keeping track of which was which, even when four of them ended up on the same classroom roster for a year.
I don’t recall interacting much with Greg through Junior High–I didn’t interact much with anybody except Stephanie, CeCe Kitchell, Randy Sartin, and Greg Beckel–but we did both end up in Mrs. McInnis’s 10th-grade English class together our first year at Foster. We had a whale of a time that year as I started to come out of my shell, working together on several extra-credit comedy sketches that we wrote and presented to the class. During the “Bible as Literature” unit, for instance, we wrote an entire 30-minute evening “newscast” from Egypt during the famous 10 plagues. The weatherman was “Ray Ramses”–a Seattle-area in-joke circa 1976.
Greg’s primary focus in high school was student-body politics while mine was the sciences–which made a lot of sense, given the careers we would both pursue. But we capped our senior year by both performing in the school play, Peter Pan. Greg had the villain lead of Captain Hook, while I played his henchman Smee (and Mr. Darling, in semi-conventional dual-casting). I continued my creative writing, penning a sea-chanty for the pirates to sing as they hunted the Lost Boys. (Another of the Gregs, Mr. McManus, was also in the cast.)
Along with several of our classmates, Greg and I were both bound for the University of Washington after graduation… and both got stiffed on the dormitory lottery. When Schmitz Hall announced that a handful of rooms would be opening up on a first-come first-served basis during the heat of August, we rushed down together to get in line on a Friday afternoon, nabbing the 11th and 12th spots in line… and camped outside Schmitz Hall the entire weekend. By Monday morning, some 200-300 others had joined us, and the extended party atmosphere was a fine introduction to collegiality. Many new friendships were formed.
Several of that crew ended up together in a McMahon Hall “cluster” of rooms, and Greg and I chose to share one for our Freshman year. It was perhaps not the wisest of choices. While we may have been voluntary blood brothers, we were really not compatible personalities. Greg was extraordinarily social and politic, while I was basically antisocial (at that time) and lacked tact. At the end of the year, we would go our separate ways and would rarely speak again, though we always stayed in touch.
I have always respected Greg’s intellect and power with words, however.
They came particularly into play during a long winter weekend the year we roomed together. I believe Greg’s background was Jewish (though I now do not truly recall), and he was aware that I called myself a Christian–though I did not often act like one, particularly during my first foray away from home. But I was still just 17 years old, so what the hey.
That particular Friday night, though, we were debating the proposed State ban on capital punishment. Now, everyone who knew Greg at all will recall that he was very passionate about Debate… and I mean Debate, capital D, not just “debating.” Greg could take any side of any issue, whether he believed what he argued or not, and usually destroy the logic of the opposition with ease. He was ruthless, and took great delight in his ability.
I also enjoyed a good debate… and I mean debate, lower-case d. I would always take the side I believed in… and in the case of capital punishment, I took up the “pro” side, based on my pretty conservative and I would say mostly narrow-minded upbringing. Greg, whether he was really on the “anti” side or not, sensed a good Debate brewing and took up an argument with me. It lasted throughout the weekend.
Central to Greg’s attack on my position was my claim to be a Christian. From Scripture, and in great detail, Greg argued that the teachings of Christ were incompatible with capital punishment. My counters were mostly based on texts from the Old Testament–and Greg parried with greatly detailed exegesis about the differences between the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament”… and that if one wanted to call oneself a Jew, well, defense of one’s beliefs from the OT was fine; but if one wanted to call oneself a Christian, well, you had to deal with Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Messiah’s repeated words (and actions) which amounted to pointed repetitions of “…but I say to you…”
I’m sure we drove our clustermates batshit that weekend, but in the end, I had to admit that Greg was right–and conceded the point formally. I had been bamboozled by my upbringing. I think Greg secretly hoped that his win would cause me to turn my back on weak-minded Christianity entirely; but his argumentation had the opposite effect. I decided that I really wanted to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, and look a lot closer at them than I had been taught.
I would eventually be ordained to the ministry.
Among a great many others, I owe Greg a huge debt of thanks for that.
And I know that Greg was also on a very interesting path toward his Maker. With his passing, he now has another leg up on me. Whatever the truth of Jesus of Nazareth, he has now certainly discovered it. End of debate; game, set, match.
Well done, Mr. Fisher. Well done.