Arthur Fiedler Was a Firebug

Or a less salacious title: Chris from Rosi, Rest In Peace My Friend

Fuck man, it sucks leaving some dudes behind. Chris, I wish you could have stuck around. You were a good dude. I feel like we would have stayed friends…

Los Angeles, 2015

I used to have this friend. Like 20 years ago now. He wasn’t my best friend or anything, but he was a good dude. He was from Boston like I am, and he’d gone down to New York for college, also like I did. That’s where I met him, down there in New York. He’d gone to Columbia where he was a friend of my friend, Kyle – that was how I originally met him. I knew Kyle because he dated my good friend Adelle from high school. Adelle was my connection to that whole crew up at Columbia in the first place. While I was at NYU, I’d go uptown every now and again to hang with those people.

Chris, that was his name [it’s not his real name], and I only really got to be friends the year after college, when we were living back in Boston. We’d both retreated there after school ended. He had graduated. I hadn’t. We both had apartments with roommates that we didn’t really know, in the student ghetto neighborhood of Allston. After getting wrapped up in dope down in NY (I had a more serious problem than Chris did) we were home, more or less just trying to avoid addiction. While in Boston we were both just dabbling, trying not to develop dope habits.

He had, what I thought was, a pretty cool job at a video production company that did work for WGBH, the Public Broadcasting station in Boston. He was working on a show with Alan Alda, which seemed like a big deal to me. Even if it was an educational show.

As for me, I was working at a camera store in Harvard Square and that fact embarrassed me. I felt like the work was beneath me. I realized not too much later that I was acting like an entitled asshole, but it was how I felt at the time. I was also embarrassed that I had bailed on college. But really, there was no way I could finish school while shooting drugs. And being in New York meant shooting drugs. I couldn’t stay away from dope when I was in that city.

So basically I was just hanging around Boston, drinking hard in order not to shoot drugs. I was still dabbling like I said, but I managed not to get a habit. I’d score once every week or two, but was careful not to develop an easy connection. It was not the best time in my life.

Chris came from a large Irish family in Roslindale. I was never invited over there but I knew the kind of set-up he described to me, traditional Irish, family oriented, conservative, religious, working class. He was the “make us proud” child of his many – I don’t recall how many – siblings. Chris had attended Boston Latin High, which was an estimable school (it’s the oldest existing school in the country) and then went on to graduate, as I said, from Columbia, which itself is an Ivy League college. His family must have been so proud. Chris’ father was a firefighter, but a high ranking one, like a chief or something. He may not have been the top dude, but he was up there in the managerial hierarchy. In Boston you had to be Irish to run the police or fire department back then. Maybe you still do, I don’t know.

I knew Chris felt apart from his family, apart from the Boston Irish thing. He’d just had this urbane college experience at Columbia and now he was trying to make it in television (in whatever nominal capacity) but he was also having problems with drugs. He was a dope fiend and that was holding him back. He knew it too.

Beyond the drugs and his family legacy, he was a quiet, kind of reserved and very intelligent dude with a great sense of humor. He was a punk. He liked hardcore. He didn’t dress like a punk or anything but he had a cool and rebellious attitude. Behind his reserved, bespectacled exterior he was a fucking subversive with a sick sense of humor. We’d get together every once in a while. We’d smoke pot and maybe share some pills and listen to records. We may have seen some shows together. I don’t really recall. I was drunk a lot of the time. For me this was a period of falling off barstools and often being too messed up to speak coherently.

Chris was working on a film of his own … It was a cool idea, a documentary about pyromaniacs that he was calling “Firebug.” I didn’t know that was what people call pyromaniacs. Until he told me, anyway. I thought it was a great word, firebug. I also wasn’t aware that pyromania was a real thing. Obviously I knew what the definition of pyromania was, but the idea of it that it was something that people in our city actually acted upon seemed implausible to me. Really? Fire gets you off? Chris assured me that it was. And more than that, he had a coup de grace planned for his movie that would get the entire city of Boston talking.

Apparently there was (is?) a network of people around Boston at that time – fire hobbyists if you will – that were well known to fire fighters. They shared duties when it came to monitoring emergency response radio waves and kept each other informed when a particularly good fire popped up. Chris was assembling footage of these folks on the scene and had started lining up interviews to round out his film.

The big reveal was going to be the fact that Arthur Fiedler, a beloved Boston resident and a local legend, an esteemed conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra gleaned sexual pleasure from watching fire. Fiedler was a well-known firebug – it says as much in his Wikipedia page – but Chris planned on taking those allegations a step further. Who knows, maybe Chris was fucking with me and I’m libeling Fiedler’s legacy for all time on Google. In my defense it has been 20 years and I’m just trying to render an anecdote about a friend that passed away too soon. If he was, the joke’s on Fiedler. That was his big reveal, though… That Arthur Fiedler jerked it to fire. It sounded pretty cool to me.

When I found out about Chris passing, I recall I hadn’t spoken to him in some time – maybe 6 or 9 months. I’d moved across town to Jamaica Plain. I’d gotten a slightly better job, but life was still kind of shitty for me. I was girlfriend-less, drinking heavily, lonely and depressed. No matter how I tried, I told myself, I just couldn’t get my act together. One day on the phone my mother mentioned having read an obit that struck her as familiar. She asked me if I knew a “Chris O’toole” (again a very fictional name, perhaps better suited to a leprechaun)? From the scant details in the obit, we deduced that it was none other than my friend. I left work on a cold and bright winter’s day – I don’t recall how it was that I was able to leave work during daylight hours – perhaps I had gone home sick? I remember buying the Globe (Boston’s main newspaper) and a bunch of liquor before boarding the bus home to my shitty, shared apartment. Even before finding out about Chris’ passing I recall being depressed that day. There’s something about a freezing day – when it’s bright and sunny outside that is worse than when it is stormy and cold. Although we can probably chalk that feeling up to clinical depression.

There were no details as to how he died in the paper. And the funeral was on that same day, which meant I had missed my friend’s memorial. I imagined our shared friends from Columbia would probably be in town for the funeral. Kyle, Adelle, Kyle’s brother, others… I felt completely alienated from them. I had retreated from New York with my tail between my legs. They were still down there, living in the big city, probably having big careers; probably busy being rich and fabulous. How could I express to them that Chris had become mine too? While they weren’t looking. And why was that important? Somehow it was… I resented them for being here, in my city. Now they would bear witness to my humiliation…

Those fucking entitled, Columbia pricks.

I called Adelle’s mother’s house that night. I was right. They were there. I spoke to Kyle on the phone.

Apparently Chris had travelled to Los Angeles to work on Kyle’s brother’s film. Chris and Kyle had started using again. When he died, apparently Chris was attempting to withdrawal with the help of some Methadone. There may have been other drugs involved, but he also had some kind of heart ailment, a genetic deformity. His ticker gave out. They tried to revive him when they found him, but he was cold. He’d been dead for some time. This was Kyle’s third friend to die in two years.

“I didn’t realize you two were friends…” Kyle said over the phone.

I wanted to punch him through the telephone line. Yeah. Yeah, we were fucking friends.

“Then why weren’t you at the funeral?”

I didn’t know. I didn’t know.

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