There, I said it.
And the fact I lead with that nugget will likely ensure y’all read the rest of this blog. See, once you get past the fact that Jeff goes to the gym 392 times a week, it’s much easier to spy the infinite number of other things he brings to the table. Uh, the least of which are his biceps.
When I met Jeff ten years ago, he had just arrived in KC … fresh off the farm. He was affable and cumbersome – a country mouse cartoon come to life. At the time, he was simultaneously considered ingénue-esque and fresh meat. He was engaged to a lovely gal, gregarious, eager to please and overly ambitious. No wonder everybody wanted to be his friend – sometimes for all the wrong reasons.
What I didn’t glean at the time is that Jeff is wicked smart. Book smart. Street smart. Multiple Master’s degrees smart. And a lot savvier then he let on. Unfortunately, 98.5% of people in KC couldn’t get past objectifying him. He was typecast as a himbo with a heart of gold, but a himbo nonetheless.
He was unfazed and undaunted by any of it. And that’s about the time we became friends. Well, reluctant friends. We technically met when he would audition for random commercials I was casting. He claims I was bossy and curt … which sounds like an accurate portrayal of yours truly at the time. All I remember about him initially is that he was slightly neurotic, looked suspiciously like Clark Kent and talked at a decibel louder than everyone else — sort of like a strung-out game show host. (That description perfectly fits a decade later, mind you.)
Like any good friendship, ours happened organically. For instance, he would call me with some inane teen angst question and I would hang up on him. It was the best of all worlds. Eventually, I lightened up and realized that Jeff makes a pretty decent +1 … so I’d invite him to tag along to the most random events. Fancy-schmancy garden parties. Bawdy burlesque shows. Rock concerts. Hell, he’d even show up to the fitness class I taught if I asked.
Here’s the kicker: he could charm anyone he bumped into. Regardless of the social situation, his mega-watt smile and “aw-shucks” demeanor was catnip to the masses. I was equally impressed and nauseated. My question … how DOES he do it? If you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s been doing improv since birth. Turns out, being a chattering magpie comes in handy. You can throw Jeff into any mix of people and he’ll hold his own. His ability to easily assimilate is his calling card. (He’d beg to differ.) His other claim to fame? He always looks like he needs a haircut … even if he’s just had one.
Now that James Brown is dead, Jeff has become the hardest working man in showbusiness. To this day, I’ve never met anyone who has so many irons in the fire. When he’s not busy influencing young minds as a high school teacher, he’s a stalwart baseball/football/tennis/soccer/golf/badminton/archery coach.
At night, he’s a triple threat … writing, producing and directing quirky plays and musicals. Or hosting improv shows. Or emceeing events. Or … oh, you get the idea. To be honest, I’m not sure when he sleeps … but that’s only because the rest of his days are filled with working out and eating 14X a day.
Good, bad or otherwise – everyone who knows him has an anecdote to share. Mine happened at the Plaza Art Fair a few years ago where I ran into a marauding pack of boozy gals I used to kibitz with. They took one look at Jeff and immediately started jockeying for position. Granted, Jeff was wearing a shirt that was about a half a size too small. His biceps resembled a halved grapefruit. And he was sweaty. Jeff is perpetually sweaty. A perpetually sweaty ladies’ man. One of my galpals turned to me and yelled, “Mackie, how the hell do you know this one?” I said, “We’re friends.” And she barked out, “Well, it looks like you won him in a raffle!”
Truer words have never been spoken … except that I feel like the real winner in this scenario. It’s been a joy watching him succeed in life. For all his idiosyncrasies, you couldn’t ask for a better friend … uh, especially one that makes you feel inadequate about yourself. Good thing he means well — bless his heart.