Many of us are still trying to process the passing of Bill Bean this week. All across Facebook, his network of friends will be sharing poignant stories of how much he meant to them, how he was a mentor, a pastor, a counselor, and a reliable friend. This story isn’t one of them. (Although I encourage you to read those other ones.) Not long before he passed, he said to me, “Think me a story.” After 21 years of friendship, I knew what he meant. “Make me laugh.”
So, this is the story of Bill. Without most of the mushy parts.
Tears for Fears
It all began in September of 1997. My brother was coming to Bloomington for an IU Football game and he told me he was bringing a friend. They came to pick me up and in walks this tall guy with long black hair who looks like the lead singer for Tears for Fears. I also notice he is wearing a Kentucky shirt and has a Kentucky flag draped over his shoulder. Punk’d wasn’t even a show yet, but I thought I was on it.
On that fateful day, IU’s football coach (Cam Cameron) decided to trot out all-black uniforms to get the players pumped up for the Wildcats. All it did was put them to sleep. They lost 49-7, one of the worst beat downs Kentucky has ever given the Hoosiers. It was so bad that legend has it Bob Knight chewed out Cameron for dressing the team in Purdue’s colors. They never wore black again. And I never took Everybody-Wants-to-Rule-the-World to an IU football game again. But that did start 20+ years of taunting back and forth about IU and Kentucky.
Bill loved hot sauce. He loved it so much, in his old house where most people would have a small bar, he had a collection of hot sauces from around the world. He loved to torture me with them and I admit to being a hot sauce lightweight. Once he put a particularly evil one on the tip of a butter knife and touched it to some bread. He then badgered me relentlessly to try it. Finally, I caved. We spent the next hour in tears. Me with my nose, tongue, esophagus, and eyes on fire. Him not being able to stop laughing.
Once we were at a Thai restaurant and he asked for the hottest level they had. The server rolled his eyes and went back to the kitchen, surely telling his coworkers that another show off American was about to set his mouth on fire. After delivering the food and giving Bill enough time to take a few bites, he returned with a smug look on his face. To his amazement and disappointment, Bill asked if he had any peppers he could toss on to his dish.
I guarantee you right now in heaven, God is giving the bent eye to the head chef and telling him “I thought I told you to prepare the hot sauce?” The head chef is responding, “I put out the hottest we have! Anyone who wants it hotter usually winds up, well you know, the other place.”
“You Want A Toe? I Can Get You A Toe.”
Movies were a big thing for us early on. Often the conversation would go like this: Bill would ask, “Have you seen The Big Lebowski?”
“No, I haven’t seen it, what’s it about?”
“You haven’t seen the Big Lebowski?”
“You’re kidding me?”
“No, what’s it about.”
“You’re staying for dinner.” He turned to his daughters, “find The Big Lebowski.”
I stayed for dinner and watched one of the funniest movies ever. Nearly the exact same conversation took place over Napoleon Dynamite. Only this time Bill cued up the movie and his daughter told me I was staying for dinner.
One particularly funny night, when David and Delana Bradbury were staying at the Bean house, Bill and Delana were discussing this British comedy that they couldn’t stop laughing about. Since I hadn’t seen it, they cued up Saving Grace (featuring Craig Ferguson before he became a breakout star). I won’t spoil it, but I’ve never heard such entertaining laughter as Bill and Delana giggling at the two old ladies in the convenience store.
Bill had strong opinions about seeing movies in the theatre. These could range from the time of day to food pairings. For example, he suggested we go to Ted’s Montana Grill before seeing the movie Death Race. “Ted’s sliders go well with vehicular homicide,” he insisted. He balked at the idea of going to see the second Batman movie during the afternoon matinee. “Dark Knight should be seen after dark,” he messaged me.
He was also a very concise critic. I asked him what he thought of the 3rd Toby Maguire Spiderman movie. His response, “I got up and left when Spiderman started playing the piano.” That review saved me $15.
But the most notorious movie night of all was when he talked me into seeing the worst film of all time: Snakes on a Plane. When it was over, I told him he owed me my money back. I spend the rest of his life trying to collect. It became a running joke with us. I would see him after a while and remind him he still owed me for Snakes on a Plane. He even taunted me by sending a picture of the tattoo (below) that he found in the bowels of the internet.
Bill nearly got me beat up once. We were at a Rush concert and Bill was mesmerized by the incredible musicianship of the band. So much so, that he wouldn’t sit down. That was okay by me, but not the people behind us who had decided to sit about mid-way through the show. They started to vent their frustration, but because of Bill’s size, they yelled at me instead. Not wanting to be the victim of a beatdown by proxy, I tugged at his shirt until he sat down. 30 seconds later, he was back up. “Oh, well,” I thought. “Hopefully they will wait to kill us until after the band plays Red Barchetta.”
Every March, a group of guys get together in the Indianapolis area and do a unique NCAA pool. Instead of picking teams, we pick players. Nick Murphy and Thomas Remender got us involved and it’s been a much-anticipated tradition. As life changes, for some of the group, it’s the only chance to see each other for the year. Matt Algate graciously took on hosting duties and managing the results. The process usually takes 3 hours or so. There is always tons of food and tons of laughs. The taunting would usually be directed at Bill (for taking too many Kentucky players, Clarence (for taking obscure players), and Tom (for taking forever to pick).
My One Plant Doesn’t Know Any Big Words
Bill knew how to make me laugh while saying we need to hang out. He once sent me a note that said, “It has been a while, and I do miss our conversations. My one plant doesn’t know any big words.”
After he got sick, the last quality time we had was with Matt, doing what we loved to do: watching a movie together and making each other laugh. The film was Ready Player One. Three guys from the 80s marveling at all the subtle (and not so subtle) references from our youth.
Today is Wednesday and I was supposed to see Bill this afternoon. But he passed on Monday. I got the call in my hotel room in Chicago, where I went for a fundraising conference. I know I will see him again in Heaven. And I’ll ask him if he laughed at the story I “thought for him.” And then I’ll ask for my money back for Snakes on a Plane.