Have you ever had a friendship that lasts for decades? The type of friend who you come to know, understand, and care for as a friend? You know the type of person who inadvertently drives your car into a ditch never to be driven again; then in your most critical moment of truth, stands up for you and gives you the proverbial “shirt off” his back? It is the kind of friendship that begins over a shot of tequila and a heineken and ultimately refines itself into a double shot of espresso and a life altering philosophical talk.
In 1988 after a job transfer to Washington DC, I met “Chili Eye” Charlie aka Charles Henderson. Chili was a charismatic, fast talking former New Yorker who had recently removed himself from the Los Angeles nightlife and film industry. He was rakish, vulgar, polished, smooth, and charismatic like some modern day Hemingway meets DeNiro character from a Quentin Tarrantino movie. Chuck drew people to him like an A-list actor draws paparazzi. . . in huge waves. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea! His acerbic wit had a tendency to be like a full blast vapor, trailed fighter jet- mach 3 ride. He was the epitome of cool. At a biscuit short of 5’7, Chili never seemed too short. He simply hit people with his charisma, charming his way through any situation.
In one such drama, after a long night of sampling Georgetown’s best, we took a Sunday morning stroll in front of the J.Edgar Hoover FBI building. As we turned a corner, we walked, literally, directly into the arms of Janet Reno then US Attorney General. Chili’s head came to Ms. Reno’s bustline making him look like Joe Pesci on a date with Phillis Diller–not a pretty sight. Without skipping a beat, Chili asked Reno if she would “fix” a nagging parking ticket for the “opportunity” to share a drink with his Chili-ness. Needless to say, the Secret Service agents “escorting” Ms. “Diller” were pretty pissed off. An hour later, after thorough interrogation, we were sent on our way with a smile and a story.
Chili made a recent and triumphant return to California for a visit in ’05. During this visit I noticed a change. Charlie had grown up on me. He was talking about his burgeoning contracting business, his family, and his passion for the custom 100 year Anniversary Harley Davidson he purchased. Life was great and Chili was dispensing his wit and advice non stop.
We moved through a 3 day Napa run equipped with a stretch limo, brother George, Villagio digs, and the time to slowly sip our way through every Cab “house” in the valley. It was an epic tour de force fueled by the admiration a long time friendship inspires. It was like having my brother, I don’t have any real siblings, over for a long “catch-up” adventure. Chili kept after me: “Find your purpose in life. . . stop messing around. . . do what you were put here on this earth to do.”
We parted after that adventure, promising to meet up in the Carribean or Cabo for more “research” (we were going to buy a bar) in 2006.
Then it happened, it happened like a bolt of lightning strikes an oak tree splitting it in half. But instead of the oak tree it was my heart that was torn. My dearest friend of 18 years sent me an email. In that email, Chili Eye Charlie larger than life, shorter than Pesci, dropped a bomb on me: Cancer. Charlie had throat cancer aka esophogeal cancer one of the most deadly forms.
In that email my friend told me he was proud to be my friend, he was joyous that he had time to express his gratitude to his family and friends, and he was thankful to have lived a full life. I received 3 more emails before Chili was hospitalized. My friend died exactly 7 weeks to the day of his fateful diagnosis-a proud man who had found his purpose in life.
This past weekend was the 6 month anniversary since Chili’s passing and I can’t help but share with you what I have learned. Everyday we have a chance to make the right choice. Everyday we have the opportunity to call that loved one, compliment a friend, or make a difference in someone’s life. Everyday we should strive to find the peace of mind that comes with reaching for your life’s purpose one step at a time. Most important of all. . . everyday remove fear from your life by living and loving without limits.
I would pay $1,000,000 for one last conversation with my “brother.” Go call a friend for me. . . tell em “Chili Eye” sent you. . .