From the moment I met him in Mr. Tamburello’s fourth grade class in September 1974, M. David Lee III, better known as “Scooter” to those of us who knew him when, has always known his own mind and carved his own path.
Let’s start with his name.
How many kids do you know who had the confidence, no audacity, to make their first name an initial, include their line in the Lee lineage and insist that teachers and peers use the full package?
Then there were the sports teams.
We all loved the Celtics. Scooter was with the Philadelphia 76ers.
We were Patriots fans. Scooter supported the Dolphins.
And, in perhaps the biggest source of friction, we lived and died with the hometown Boston Red Sox.
Scooter openly and fervently rooted for our archrivals, the New York Yankees.
He wore a dark blue Yankees batting helmet. When we played stickball at the Pierce playground or on Cypress Street, he batted left-handed and constantly called out and emulated the form of his hero, “Reginald Martinez Jackson.”
Scooter chose unusual sports to play, too.
He joined the gymnastics team at Brookline High School, earning a varsity letter as a freshman.
Scooter’s self-direction extended beyond athletics to politics and other arenas.
He was the one who first told me about Malcolm X and said that his birthday should be a national holiday.
He would refuse to stand for the national anthem because he believed the country had not lived up to its creed of liberty and justice for all.
This took guts.
Kids would snicker and make fun of Scooter for taking his stand, or, more precisely, his decision to not stand.
The mockery got to Scooter.
Sometimes he’d start crying.
But he never stood up.
He did stand up to people he felt had wronged him, though.
Many of us would make the mental calculus of the costs of standing up to the bigger kid who cut in line or who made an unkind comment or otherwise broke the rules or violated someone’s dignity.
He’d fight anyone.
Scooter didn’t always win the battles, but he never shied away from them, either.
He carved a highly unusual high school career.
In high school he won a Sophomore of the Year contest and spent the summer in Japan. He liked it so much that he spent the entire first semester of senior year there, too. While there, he participated on, and won, a national version of the Gong Show.
Beyond his independent set of choices, Scooter’s always brought an enormous amount of charisma to all of his social interactions.
His mix-ins at Steve’s Ice Cream as the “Samurai Scooper” were things of legend.
He knew virtually everyone in high school.
At times, he would literally seem to be everywhere, playing drums in the marching band while also quarterbacking the team.
When the school instituted a democratic form of government, Scooter campaigned on a pledge to bring Walkmans to Brookline High School.
After winning the election, he made good on his promise.
I ran head on into that charm when he and I both competed to be the senior speaker at our graduation.
To be fair, Scooter engaged in a bit of gamesmanship, arranging for us to meet at late night hangout International House of Pancakes at midnight and not showing up at the appointed time.
By the time I realized he was not showing, my sleep was already shot for the evening.
But to put his victory on my fatigue would take away from Scooter’s uncanny ability to woo the crowd.
I still remember vividly waiting my turn, hearing the crowd roar at his comments, and writing, “He’s taking it. He’s taking it.”
We were together at his father’s house on 50 Waverly Street when the call came from the school telling him of his deserved victory.
We were on the opposite side of that contest, but were teammates every time we played our annual football game with our crew against his brother Teo, my brother Mike and their buddies.
We generally played the day after Christmas.
In a tribute to the surfeit of college bowl games, we called ours, “The Toilet Bowl.”
We played 14 times between 1979 and 1996.
By the time we stopped, the game had shortened from the best two out of three to the first team to seven.
We had shifted from tackle to hard touch.
And we had even seriously considered Teo’s suggestion of changing the game’s name to the “No Benefits Bowl.” (“Take it easy on the guys who have no benefits,” he had declared in our yearly pre-game rules discussion at mid-field.)
Scooter somehow blended his charm and independence in a memorable wedding toast to Teo and his wife Sylvia, spending a good 75 percent of the speech talking about the Toilet Bowl victory tally-we won 12 games, while Teo’s squad took two of the contests. Even while brandishing the trophy in Teo’s face, but still managing to pull off a heartfelt, “Ahhh” from the crowd by eventually turning his attention to the newlyweds.
These are all important examples of Scooter’s character and nature, and perhaps the most autonomous part of his path began when he was in sixth and seventh grade.
We can give George Lucas a lot of the credit for that.
It was in the summer of 1977 when the first Star Wars film was released.
Scooter saw it over and over and over.
But he wasn’t just a spectator.
Watching the film and seeing the special effects let him know what he wanted to do with his life.
He’s been pursuing that passion ever since.
I had the privilege of being in one of Scooter’s first films, playing the Han Solo character in War with the Stars. (It may seem hard to believe, but Mom’s bowl cuts did give me a certain resemblance to Harrison Ford at that time.).
It’s been many years since I’ve seen it, and, if I remember correctly, my line, “Let’s go!” is the only audible line.
Scooter’s developed his talent in the nearly 30 years since we graduated from high school.
He’s chased his dream through broadcasting and teaching jobs in Tennessee, Washington, D.C. and California.
He’s done his filming in condensed bursts and done the editing in the post-work hours at home.
In 2005 Dunreith, Aidan and I traveled to Memphis, where Scooter hosted us in style at his home at Rancho Lago Mirage.
We cut the showing short after deciding that the content was a tad inappropriate for Aidan, and we’re looking forward to seeing it again soon.
Scooter’s also been a loving father to Sage, his talented daughter who just matriculated at the University of Redlands in Redlands, California.
Our bodies show the signs of the nearly four decades since we first met.
None of our grandparents are still alive, although, very fortunately, all of our parents are.
In addition to having college age children, we are still trying to make our mark on the world with the work we love.
Although we don’t get together as often as we’d like – I last saw Scooter in December, when he came to Chicago for his maternal grandmother’s funeral – the lack of contact doesn’t make the gratitude I have for what Scooter’s brought to my life any less profound. If anything, it only makes me treasure our friendship even more and heighten my anticipation for the times we will continue to share together.