Friday, June 9, 2017

Chris Sippel (1956–2017)

Chris and I were best friends in junior high. We’d meet and take the bus to Hackensack, New Jersey, and go to the Relic Rack and Hackensack Record King. Records, all the way. Chris was big on doo-wop. I was just discovering blues. We spent hours on the telephone at night, seeking out ridiculous clip art in the Yellow Pages: “Go to 318!” We found the Mothers of Invention LP Absolutely Free in a cut-out bin in the same drugstore where we discovered the National Lampoon. When Chris and his family went away for the summer, we exchanged letters, with many drawings — the Bowery Boys, three-toed sloths, all sorts of surreal comedy. Chris was a brilliant cartoonist and a big fan of Leo Gorcey, whom he drew in profile. (When Gorcey died, Chris sent a sympathy card to his widow.) We had a thing about three-toed sloths and imagined a world in which our algebra teacher kept a sloth named Lothar as a pet.

Chris and I drifted apart when he went off to attend a Catholic high school. I was happy to reconnect with him in 2008 after someone noticed his name in a blog post I wrote (about Hackensack's Main Street) and got in touch with me and then with him. We talked on the phone several times, and I was amazed that our interests in literature had developed in such similar ways — Chris was even, like me, a fan of the poet Gilbert Sorrentino, not exactly a household name. I was happy to learn that Chris still had Absolutely Free, which it turns out I’d given to him after tiring of it. We tried to figure out why we had drifted apart, something he said had happened with people at every time of transition in his life. And we agreed, yes, we should meet up. But it never happened. I remember leaving several messages — “We’re heading east this summer” — and never getting a return call.

I’m sorry to learn now that Chris’s life has ended. He was an incredibly creative, funny, smart guy, and that’s how I’ll remember him. I wish that I’d known him better, and for more than a handful of his sixty-one years.


June 10: I’ve posted two photographs from our eight-grade class trip to Washington, D.C.

comments: 2

Frex said...

Oh, I got tears in my eyes reading this---I'm so sad for you, to lose a friend who liked three-toed sloths! (You'd even mentioned having had such a friend in a recent comment when I posted sloth art.)
Another gone too soon.
My condolences, Fresca

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Fresca.