BELA CHRIS FEHER: 1969 – 2005
By Michael Murdoch, friend of 25 years
For the AUDIO VERSION, check it out on YouTube.
Sometimes I get the opportunity to introduce my friends to each other. Occasionally, I have the unique pleasure of introducing one of my old friends to one of my newer friends. Invariably, I have spun some stories about the other person, and it is fascinating to listen to one friend say to the other friend, “oh you’re the guy who climbs Half Dome by yourself! That’s amazing!” I have been accused by people who know me of turning everyone I know into a superhero when I tell tales about them; well, I am going to tell some tales because that is the best way that I can think of to remember Bela Chris Feher.
Towards the end of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and Huck and Joe return in time to witness their own funeral:
“As the service proceeded, the clergyman drew such pictures of the graces, the winning ways, and the rare promise of the lost lads that every soul there, thinking he recognized these pictures, felt a pang in remembering that he had persistently blinded himself to them always before, and had as persistently seen only faults and flaws in the poor boys. The minister related many a touching incident in the lives of the departed, too, which illustrated their sweet, generous natures, and the people could easily see, now, how noble and beautiful those episodes were, and remembered with grief that at the time they occurred they had seemed rank rascalities, well deserving of the cowhide. The congregation became more and more moved, as the pathetic tale went on, till at last the whole company broke down and joined the weeping mourners in a chorus of anguished sobs, the preacher himself giving way to his feelings, and crying in the pulpit.”
Chris, wherever you are now, I am going to assume you are in the balcony.
What Would Bela Do?
Ever since I heard the news, this one question keeps repeating itself in my head: what would Bela do? Well I know that he would want me to speak today, not just for him or for me, but for all of you, and he certainly wouldn’t want me to cry up here. So I am going to do my best.
This is to capture my grief and respect for a man that I grew up with, who I have known well for a quarter of a century, and who has always been a loyal friend to me. Being adopted myself, I have learned to adopt people I love into my family; Chris wasn’t like a brother to me; he was my brother.
My earliest recollections of knowing Chris – as he was called before he went to college – were from Sunset View Elementary. Being in a combo 4-5-6 class, I had Bob Nickel and Nat Gordon as classmates, and they knew Chris. Occasionally I had the pleasure of being run over by one of these guys while playing soccer on the gravel field. Older boys got to go away for summer camp while I was stuck reading book reports for owls crafted out of felt.
BOY SCOUTS / EXPLORER SCOUTS
Joining Troop 500
It was when I joined Boy Scout Troop 500 that I became friends with Chris. He was two grades older than I was — grades translated in a big Scout troop like 500 — and joined by Nat and Bob and AJ Winter, Travis Metzger, Grant Goad — these were the Scouts who had higher ranks than I, and who I aspired to be. This group would regale us younger scouts with stories of Grand Canyon treks and Colorado river canoe trips, playing Capture the Flag at night at Camp Hualcucuish and marshmallow fights on the Fourth of July in Ocean Beach.
Awesome Boy Scout
Chris was an awesome Boy Scout. If he was on a hike, he was leading it. Chris had no second, third, or fourth gear when he hit the trail. On the Colorado river, he had to be lead canoe, only coming back if there was a good bailer war going on. Chris had a penchant for ignoring your feeble attempts at soaking him with a cut-up bleach bottle and just ducking the side of your canoe underwater. When he would get to a campsite, he would be the first with his gear set up, and would be scaling boulders by the time you arrived. Chris set an example that was tough, prepared, and energetic.
Best Beer I Ever Had
As I grew up in Scouts, I started to be able to keep up with Chris. Once I was able to go on the more advanced hikes, I would always go on the trail that Chris was going on. I had some great adventures with him: the Tanner Trail that we earned the Primitive Trails award for; the Rim to Rim to Rim in three days instead of the normal five; the Havasupai twice, including one time hiking 16 miles round trip to get all the way down to the Colorado river. I remember clearly when we got to the bottom of the canyon after slogging across the Havasu river maybe 20 times, and saw the Colorado rushing through this huge gorge. Al Winter and Reinholt Metzger were the parental units on that hike; there were some huge tourist rafts tied up so that they could hike a little in the canyon. When Al talked to one of the raft tour guides, he was so impressed that we had hiked 8 miles down from the Havasupai campground and were going to start back in an hour or so, he gave Al a six pack of Sunkist and a six pack of Budweiser. I have consumed a lot of beer since that day with Chris, and I think that Chris would agree with me, that Bud was one of the best beers we have ever had. Of course, then we proceeded to jump off of the 50 foot cliffs into the deep water. How do I know they were 50’ cliffs? I am roughly 6’ tall; Chris used me and his thumb to eyeball how high the ledges were. He was that kind of Scout.
Chris earned his Eagle Scout honors before I did; and that meant putting in enough time to do a few merit badges here and there and perform community service through recycling newspaper drives and spaghetti dinners and putting together Eagle Scout projects Chris worked on my Eagle Scout project, reconstructing the outdoor classroom at Sunset View.
John Muir Trail
I went with Chris on the Explorer Scouts hike through the Sierras on the John Muir Trail with Matt Masterson. This hike was extreme; seven passes and 97 miles in nine days, and, of course, Chris was in the lead. I was second a lot of the time, because Chris had taught me how to hike. I remember sleeping on the same ground cloth out under the skies with Chris at 10,000’ watching shooting stars.
On that trip, I came across Chris doubled over with his pack off, dry heaving and really pale. This was the first time I ever saw Bela this vulnerable, and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to get him to drink some water, but it was no good. Matt Masterson came around the corner, took one look at Chris, and recognized altitude sickness. Matt set up a stove and started some freeze-dried chicken noodle soup. He instructed me to make Chris eat it all – all of it – and then return his stove. Matt put on his pack and started up the trail. I fed Chris chicken noodle soup and watched him regain his strength while Bob Nickel and Scott Glazebrook and the rest of the Explorers passed us. He got his pack on and proceeded to overtake all of the Scouts that passed him, with me in tow, to regain his position at the front of the pack. We finished the nine day trek in seven days.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
Once I had started hanging out with Chris in Scouts, we found we shared some other interests, and really became close. I can’t memorialize Chris without mentioning D&D. I cannot count the Saturdays that Bela and Jan tolerated a group of enthusiastic teenagers sitting around their back patio picnic table playing some idiotic dice-rolling game that involved a lot of shouting at their son. Chris was the Dungeon Master. He was in charge of captivating his players with his storyline and playing all of the “bad guys”. For at least two years, he spun one novel-worthy, continuous adventure to the likes of Michael Murdoch, the Barbarian; Alex Kohrt, also known as Galsteefus the Wizard; Arlen Greer the Rogue, my brother Kyle, the Warrior, Wendy Swanson, the Fighter; Brian Freer, the Orc Assassin; Linda Nickel, the Ranger, and Bob Nickel, His Holiness, the Cleric. I relate these roles to you, because I remember that campaign to save the world like it was yesterday, and playing these characters was a learning experience, a growing experience, and I think that it was more than just camaraderie and eating lots of Little Caesar’s pizza. I believe that we all maintain those roles a little bit in our characters today.
Because Chris was two grades ahead of me, I missed him at Correia Junior High, but he was there with me at Point Loma High. I remember when he was a senior, hanging out on the grass at lunchtime; out of the blue, he asked me if I could draw a skull in a martini glass. I told him I could give it a shot; a few days later, I handed him a sketch; he said that it would do, and had me ink it in. Chris turned it into a T-Shirt for his Graphic Arts class. I still have that T-Shirt; I’ve been wearing it lately.
In 1986 I vividly remember going to Glasshouse Square Movie Theatre with Chris – I think we ditched school because he had a car – and we saw “Aliens” together at the matinee showing the very first day that it was out. Chris and I were so excited about the movie, we sat third row center. After the previews (I think Predator was in the previews and we high-fived and promised we’d see that one together, too) but before the movie started, the first three rows were noisily occupied by what seemed like a platoon of Marines, in their battle fatigues, who had come in from training specifically to see the Space Marines they had heard about in this movie. Glasshouse Square was trying out this new technology called 70 millimeter that was supposed to provide better sound and better quality. Well, anyone who has ever seen the movie Aliens knows that it is absolutely one of the best science fiction movies of all time; when Chris and I watched it opening day with a truckload of Marines, the movie broke five times, absolutely ruining the experience. Incredibly, Chris and I witnessed an angry Marine pick up his 32 ounce $5.00 drink and hurl it accurately from the front row through that little window that the movie is shown through. As we left the theatre, we were all given free tickets to come back and see another film. I remember that Chris and I used those same tickets together to see the remake of The Fly with Jeff Goldblum. This anecdote may sound trivial, but this is how I remember Chris.
One of my most cherished memories of Chris is when I was in ninth grade; Chris picked me up in his Honda with the sunroof, and told me that I had to listen to this tape he had rescued out of the Tower Records Bargain Bin for $3.99. I clearly remember the neon orange discount sticker with that price on the cassette tape. This was the guy who introduced me to Oingo Boingo, so of course this was a weighty recommendation. The album was “Soul Mining” by a group called The The. This record is my favorite album of all time, and that says a lot coming from a DJ.
This Is The Day
There is a song on “Soul Mining”; it is track two, and it is called “This Is The Day”. This is the one song that I would pick to play for Chris.
You could’ve done anything
If you’d wanted
And all your friends and family think that you’re lucky
But the side of you they’ll never see
Is when you’re left alone with the memories
That hold your life together like
You pull back the curtains
And the sun burns into your eyes
You watch a plane flying across a clear blue sky
This is the day
Your life will surely change
This is the day
When things fall into place
Whenever I want to remember Chris, I just put this album on.
Versus the World
During high school, after three albums, The The finally went on tour. To my knowledge, it is the only tour that they ever did. They came to the California Theatre; Alex, Chris, and I went. We sat front row on the balcony and it was one of the best concerts that I have ever been to. I remember standing up and waving my hands and singing along to Matt Johnson with Chris at the top of my lungs; I remember meeting his eyes and knowing that we were sharing yet another awesome experience.
COLLEGE AND BEYOND
Chris went to UC Irvine; I went to UCSB. We would hang out every once in a while, on breaks and on vacations. It was in college that Chris started going by his first name – Bela – and it was at this time that I took my liberty as one of his long time friends and I started referring to him by his first name. Bela was a constant in my life through new girlfriends and fiancés and wives and new girlfriends.
Moving Back to San Diego
When I moved back to San Diego after my divorce in March of 2003, I called Chris to help me get the other end of the couch and get it upstairs into my new apartment in Ocean Beach. Seemingly tireless, he helped me and Cat unload a top heavy 17’ foot U-Haul full of all of my worldly possessions into my current residence in exchange for beer, pizza, and companionship on a Tuesday afternoon. There are friends that will say they will be there for you, and then there are those that will actually show up and pick up something heavy; Chris was one of those friends to me.
Rediscovering Our Friendship
I am one of those irritating people that will try to contact you to see if you check your e-mail, or if your cell phone number still works, or, if I have to, I will call your parents to get in touch with you. Jan and Bela were always kind enough not to screen me from Chris, and would go dig him out of whatever project he was working on to let me talk to him. I lost count of the times that we would meet at the Kaiserhof in OB for their happy hour, where you would pay for a pitcher of Hefeweissen and eat a dinner of Swedish meatballs and French fries. I can’t remember all of the times that we argued economics and politics and scientific theories on my porch, drinking Pacifico and smoking until late in the night. I remember when Chris bought the X-box game “Brute Force” and an extra controller – he didn’t own an X-box – but I did, and we played it together in cooperative mode for hours and hours. All of these memories come flooding back to me when I realize that I won’t be able to finish that game, that beer, or that conversation with him.
Getting the News
Grant Goad, bless him, had the strength to call me when he heard about Chris falling from Half Dome. I was stunned and shocked. I berated him for not telling me to sit down first. Once I had the circumstances and the basic story, I hung up. It really didn’t hit me until I passed the one picture of Chris that I had taken the time to lift from one of my haphazard photo albums and put in a spare frame on my bookshelf. I cried so hard, clutching that photograph, I thought I was going to die. I felt a great disturbance in the Force.
The Last Time I Saw Chris
It took Catherine, my fiancé, coming home from her business trip to Vancouver, Canada, to comfort me and to remind me of the last time we had seen Chris Feher in the flesh. Until CAT verified that this was true, I thought it was a dream I had had. I didn’t know if I remembered correctly that we had seen Chris not two weeks before. I was DJing at City Coffee, right below our apartment, and in the habit of grabbing a crate full of random records out of our extensive collection. This particular Thursday, I had selected a bin full of Oingo Boingo and The The. I had to call Chris and demand that he get out of the house and come hang out. He brought a 12 pack of Bud Lite and came down to hear me sling records. That evening, I played him “This Is The Day” by The The and a bunch of other tracks from Soul Mining. We talked about the The The concert, and seeing Aliens together. We spoke of old Grand Canyon Scout adventures and when Arlen “subtly gouged the Hill Giant with his dagger” in his Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and Chris told me that he was thinking of going up to Yosemite and doing some climbing.
That was the last time I saw Bela Chris Feher, and I will never forget being able to talk with him, drink a couple of beers and argue with him, spin him a couple of records, and recount the times that we were together, before he did what he had done dozens of times before. I never worried about Chris; I just insisted that he call me when he came back.
Everyone has to grieve for Chris their own way. I will just remind you of this question that keeps running through my brain: “What Would Bela Do?” From the vast rank and file of the people I know, Bela Chris would be the last person to advocate running at the mouth or tearing at the eye over him. As I come to understand that I will never have another conversation with Chris again, nor be able to see a movie, or listen to a record, or go on a hike, I understand that he would not want me to waste the time that is left to me in this life on such trivial matters as mourning him. He would want me to climb that rock, lead that hike, and go “balls out” as he was wont to say; I translate this phrase to “live life to its fullest.”
I appreciate having this time to appreciate Chris. My soliloquy represents a lot of people who wanted to say something but didn’t know how; I trust that I have represented Chris the way he would have wanted to be represented. It is in our characters, hearts, and souls that we go forward from here to represent him. Just by remembering Chris the way that you remember him, as a mother or a father, a sister or an in-law; a friend, a Scout, an acquaintance, it is up to us to recognize that this life that was cut short is a life that will inspire us, and that will insure that Chris is immortal.