The year was 1992, and I was living in Baltimore, Maryland. I had graduated veterinary school in 1988, and after working for a year and then doing a one-year internship at the University of Pennsylvania, I had taken a job at a prominent cat hospital in Towson, a cute suburb of Baltimore. My work schedule was reasonable and I found myself with a little spare time in the evenings and on the weekends. I decided to do something constructive and join the Big Brother program.
The organization hooked me up with a kid who, frankly, was the spawn of Satan. I did my best to bond with the brat; going to movies, museums, walks in the park, etc. We had a few nice moments, but you can’t really manufacture chemistry and there really was no chemistry between little Damian and me. Zero. Our stint came to an end after a few months, and with no pressing desire for either of us to renew, our brief encounter fizzled out and faded away.
Cut to a few months later. I arrived at work at the cat hospital, and the receptionist Bonnie said, “hey, did you see the little kid who’s volunteering here? He’s so cute!” I didn’t know what she was talking about. Bonnie filled me in. Apparently, some kid in the neighborhood was being home schooled by his new-age hippy-trippy mother and to satisfy his science curriculum, he wanted to volunteer at the local cat hospital. I hung up my coat, went upstairs to check on the hospitalized cats, and introduced myself to Brad, our diminutive 12-year old volunteer.
Brad turned out to be a kid with many interests, and he and I hit it off right away. On my surgery days, I would be in the surgery suite in my cap, mask and gown, and Brad would sit on a little stool opposite me in cap and mask. Across the surgery table, we would chat about everything under the sun. He had a variety of pursuits, including baseball. He was an avid baseball card collector and he knew the value of every baseball card in existence, off the top of his head. The kid was a virtual encyclopedia. Week after week he would show up at the hospital, and during the times that I wasn’t actually seeing appointments or doing procedures, he and I would be chatting merrily away. I finally said to him, “you know, Brad, I wish the Big Brother organization had paired me up with a cool kid like you.”
That evening, I got a telephone call. It was Brad’s mother. She was calling to tell me that every Tuesday, when Brad came home from volunteering, he rambled on and on about how much fun he had and how he and I would spend the day sharing stories and ideas. “It’s ‘Dr. Plotnick this’ and ‘Dr. Plotnick that’, all night”, she said. “So I’m calling to ask you something, because Brad is too shy to ask it himself.” Brad apparently took my words about the Big Brother thing to heart. “Bradley said that you were in the Big Brother program, but that you didn’t really get along with the kid they paired you up with”, she said. “Well, Brad wants to know if you’d be willing to try the Big Brother thing again, with him as your little brother.” She then told me that he could use a male role model like me in his life at the moment. Frankly, the Big Brother thing had already become ancient history for me. Unpleasant history. This, however, was different: a chance to do the Big Brother thing with a guaranteed cool kid. I jumped right on it.
The following Tuesday Brad showed up as usual for his volunteer stint. He acted a little bashful, having asked his mom to do his dirtywork for him with the phone call. I cut right to the chase. “Yo, Brad. I got that call from your mom about the Big Brother thing”, I told him. “Absolutely, dude.” And with those few words, a really great friendship was born.
Brad was the kind of kid who, once he took an interest in something, really immersed himself in it. Computers were a pretty new invention in 1992, and Brad was very into the whole idea of them, especially computer games.
His hand-eye coordination was mind-boggling. His fingers moved like lightning on the keyboard, and he was zapping space aliens and vanquishing villains like you wouldn’t believe. Together we discovered the computer game Wolfenstein 3-D and we both completely obsessed over it, drawing maps of the different levels and spending hours killing Nazis and evading capture.
In 1994 I got accepted to Colorado State University’s internal medicine residency program. I loved working at the cat hospital and I loved living in Baltimore, but my interest in furthering my education had grown and I knew that if I didn’t make this move soon, the opportunity would likely be lost. I sat down with Brad and told him that I’d be leaving for two years to pursue this program, but that I would surely be back once it was over and that he could come visit me in Colorado if his mother would agree to it. He saw how much I was into veterinary medicine, and he understood completely my need to leave for Colorado. He was also entering high school (Baltimore School for the Arts, a highly prestigious Baltimore City magnet school, with a four-year theater program) and had to stop volunteering at the cat hospital.
Brad and I kept in touch while I was doing my residency. During my first year, he flew out to visit. We had a great time, hiking in the mountains, shopping in Boulder, and exploring Denver. Brad was still into baseball, so I scored us a couple of tickets to a Colorado Rockies game (we caught a foul ball that was hit into the stands during batting practice, which was pretty neat). The following year, as my residency came to a close, Brad flew out again. I had two cats and a small apartment full of furniture and was planning to rent a truck and drive all the way back to Baltimore from Colorado. I needed company. What an adventure, to have Brad in the passenger seat for a cross-country drive. Needless to say, we had a blast, laughing, singing, being completely silly. He told me about a play he had been writing called "Insane". He and I worked on some of the dialog throughout the trip. It was a perfect way to end my time in Colorado and to return to beloved Maryland.
Brad and I still hung out after my return, but not as much as before. I was now living in Kensington, Maryland, and working in Columbia. It wasn't very far from Baltimore, but far enough to make getting together something that had to be planned. Brad was busy with high school and had his friends, but we still hung out when we could.
About a year after my return to Maryland, I was contacted by a headhunter working for The ASPCA. I was asked to interview for the position of Vice President of Animal Health. I was excited about the prospect of working for a prominent animal welfare organization, especially since it would allow me to return to New York where I grew up. I interviewed and was accepted for the position. Brad was graduating high school, and had been accepted into Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey's Clown College in Sarasota Florida. I was preparing for my triumphant return to New York. We each led busy lives. Not surprisingly, we drifted apart.
At the age of 20, Brad surprised me by popping in to see me unannounced at The ASPCA. He knew I was working there, and although he was with a friend and he only had a few minutes to spend, the visit was nice. We made promises to stay in touch, but as with most good intentions, they sort of fell by the wayside. Eventually, we lost touch. I knew he was out there in the world somewhere and that one day we would cross paths again. I just didn’t expect it would be so long.
Ten years went by.
A few months ago, I logged on to my computer to check my e-mail, and Brad’s familiar screen name suddenly appeared on my AIM buddylist! I thought I was hallucinating. “Brad?” “Yo dude, yeah, it’s me”. He was in a hurry and couldn’t chat, but clearly we were both thrilled to be reconnected, and we hurriedly exchanged contact info. We had lots catching up to do.
As it turns out, the kid of many interests had become a man of many talents. Besides being a professional club and lounge DJ with an encyclopedic knowledge of music, he is also an accomplished music producer, as well as a fully-trained circus clown (front row center, green hair, that's Brad), he is a computer genius whose area of extreme expertise is Virtual Worlds and immersive environments (something that he says won't become mainstream for another half-decade, but is going to be the future of the internet). He owns a company that exists in a virtual universe; that is totally amazing to me. He maintains his own blog. He also excels in new technologies, trend prediction, social media, marketing, networking, and graphic design. Lo and behold, this was exactly what I needed for my growing veterinary practice. And so…
Brad is not only my lil’ bro, he’s now my newest employee! My hospital is small, but I’ve given him a big title: head of Office Operations and Marketing at Manhattan Cat Specialists. Starting in January, every Thursday and Friday, I get to hang with my lil’ bro as he helps out around the hospital doing all of our graphic design, internet marketing, and computer maintenance. Our friendship has been rekindled, and we’ve already gone to museums, watched lots of movies, and I’m sure there will be a few ballgames and concerts in our future. He even helps me maintain my blog, "Cat Man Do". He pushed our Manhattan Cat Specialists public profile fan page on Facebook to new levels and started me on Twitter. Life is better when it’s shared with good people, and life has suddenly gotten much better.
Brad's footnote: If you stop in to Manhattan Cat Specialists, make sure to tell 'em "Brad sent ya"...