"And holy shit do some of them trash talk and gamble"
Those were Ted Ayotte's last words to me -- a text message sent on August 27th at 10:14 a.m. the day after he had worked as a marshal during a practice round at The Barclays golf tournament at Plainfield Country Club.
I had texted Ted earlier, asking him if he was working all four days of play at The Barclays. I can hear Ted's voice in the immediate response he sent me:
"Bill it was absolutely amazing I worked it yesterday and the day before so practice and proam I was on the 14th Teebox and Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson one after another came up on the Teebox during the program they are incredible to watch I just had a fantastic time....working tomorrow half a day"
Then he dropped the "holy shit" on me!
Unlike so many suffering the shock and grief of Ted's sudden death, I had only known Ted for a short time.
My wife, Debbie, is Sally's cousin. In recent years, Debbie had spent some great time with Ted and Sally, but I didn't meet them until after Debbie and I moved east in the summer of 2014.
I met Ted and Sally on February 20, 2015. Debbie and I spent a night with them on our way to visit our daughter, Adrienne, in Nyack, NY.
It was a memorable meeting. Ted was most impressed that we had driven all the way from Maryland and, still, we were ready to head right out the door and go downtown to Hailey's Harp and Pub.
The pub was packed and, as we walked in, friends mobbed Ted. The pub's owner shook his hand. Guys he was going with on a golf trip in a few days slapped him on the back, all smiles, and they started giving each other shit.
Drinking my HopDevil IPA, soaking in the scene at Hailey's, I was suddenly filled with hope.
It might be, I thought, that I'm starting to become friends with a guy who I could have grown up with in Kellogg, Idaho.
I began to wonder, is he a straight shooter, a no bullshit kind of guy? Debbie had told me he was and my first impression was that, yes, he meets this North Idaho standard.
I could see he was a pro at giving his friends shit. This was a good sign.
Even better, he could take some good-natured ribbing and I could already see Ted laughing at himself. That was a great sign.
Ted rejoined our table and we started to hit the sauce. Corona Light for Ted. And for Sally.
I stuck with the HopDevil.
Now it really felt like I was making a friend I fit with, a friend I'd want to have join the Hall of Fame of Great Guys in Don Knott's back patio in Kellogg, a guy I could trust to be real with my lifelong friends, a guy I could tell they would enjoy a lot.
We got back to Ted and Sally's house and right away, Ted fished a Lagunita's IPA out of the fridge and I sank deeper into pleasant intoxication and, BOOM!, I fell asleep (passed out?) on Ted and Sally's couch.
It was my first night at Ted and Sally's and there I was, this drunk lunk from Kellogg, Idaho and Eugene, Oregon, and now Greenbelt, MD, deep in sleep, never to make it to my bed, and it was not a problem.
Morning came, I was refreshed, the coffee was on, and Ted had out a pen and pad to take bagel orders and head downtown to has favorite bagel shop and bring back a feast.
"Ted. He's all right, isn't he?" I said to Debbie as we drove later that day to Nyack.
"I told you he was."
We had a more extended stay at Ted and Sally's over the Easter weekend for the men's basketball NCAA Final Four and I got to experience Ted and Sally as avid sports fans.
More and more any distance that might have existed between me, a North Idaho kid, and Ted, the basketball star from Edison, NJ and cop in Metuchen closed and I started to think I was making a good friend.
Ted and Sally helped Debbie and me feel right at home at their huge party to watch the Final Four semi-finals. I started to feel more and more like family when we went to Ted's son's house for Easter dinner and I met Ted's brother.
The next day, Ted and I took a walk in Metuchen and went to see Sally at the church.
Ted and I had lunch at Hailey's.
We talked more -- we talked about golf, about the upcoming Duke/Wisconsin game, Ted's life, my life, Ted's work as a police officer, the church, how each of us was keeping care of himself as we were getting older, all good stuff, a friendship getting underway.
That Easter weekend was a superb visit.
I got to see Ted one more time at the end of June at the Indiana Fiddlers Gathering and the family reunion at Aunt Susie's.
I don't think Ted had ever been to a festival like this one with musicians not only performing on stage, but gathering in small knots around the park and jamming with each other.
These fiddlers fired Ted up. He was beside himself with enthusiasm for all the impromptu music people were playing and he made video recordings of them with his phone and loved telling all of us back at Aunt Susie's house what he had experienced and how great these fiddle players were.
Ted also crossed over that weekend into the world of craft beer, thanks to Brian, Allison, and Danielle Diedrich, who brought a a bunch of beers with them from Indiana in growlers and cans.
I don't know if this cross over to craft beer lasted long for Ted, but soon after Ted and Sally left Indiana to head back to New Jersey, I got a text from Ted telling me he'd had a Lagunita's beer in Pennsylvania and that "it was fantastic".
By now, Ted and I were texting back and forth on occasion, mostly about golf; I knew Ted was disillusioned with Tiger Woods -- he had witnessed his arrogance first-hand -- and so I sent him the occasional text about Tiger's demise and we enjoyed letting each other know how highly we regarded Jordan Spieth and other young, emerging players on the PGA tour.
Yes, I kept thinking, I am making friends with a great guy, a guy who is decent through and through; a guy whose generosity (along with Sally's) has strengthened my family; a guy who is not full of himself or full of shit, who enjoys shooting the breeze over beers and food about sports and who I'd love to take to Kellogg to meet my lifelong friends there.
And then he died.
To quote my Kellogg friend, Ed: "It just ain't right."
We got robbed.