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November 26, 2013

Lo, they do call to me ...

“There are two outcomes to every danger: either I will live or I will die.”

—Chapter 8 of the Kjalnesinga saga

This week, a friend of mine died. He went in a way very much in line with his personality. When I met Eric Bartley, I had just joined Louisvillemojo.com at the urging of a friend who worked on the site. I was uncomfortable with the initial decision to do so because I wanted no part of an online dating site. Mojo was a bit different. There were the dating aspects to the website (I even had a Mojo date … hello, nasal spray), but it was most effective at bringing people together and creating true lifetime friendships and is responsible for many marriages, my own included.

One of my favorite features of the site was the forums. Any time of day, there were arguments to be had, or the possibilities were endless for good threads to flame. Mojo forums were the Internet troll training grounds. I learned from some of the best.

It was in one of these forums where I first encountered Eric. His online persona was gruff and infuriating. He was masterful at saying the most horrible and outlandish things. I’m positive our first interlude happened late one evening when I should have been sleeping yet decided to venture into the forums. I happened upon “TheEric” speaking, probably about race, in a way I couldn’t stand, so I opened my mouth and took the bait. Regardless of the topic, and even if, as I would come to find out later, he didn’t believe his own argument, he was a formidable debate partner. You’d best be on your game to step into his ring or face certain embarrassment.

I could almost always argue him into submission or semi-agreement. We were two sides of the same coin in that way.

I got my chance to meet him shortly after our first few online tiffs. There was a music event at Jim Porter’s. At the event, my friends and I walked into the club, and across the large main room, I saw Eric.

He was probably average height, but he was big and his personality bigger. I heard him laughing and watched from the corner of my eye as I tried to gauge how disagreeable he might really be.

Over the speakers, Olivia Newton John’s “Hopelessly Devoted” started to play. I had to make my way past Eric to get to another part of the club. As I walked by trying to ignore him, he smiled and, instead of the horrible person I expected, I got a serenade. I’m pretty sure he hugged me, and I don’t remember anything after that except that he was my friend. With Eric always came Donald, his best friend, and both accepted me like a sister.

Over the next couple of years, I spent much time with Eric and Donald, sometimes at Mojo events or over pancakes at Denny’s.

We met to giggle about Louisville Mojo or plot practical jokes. They did most of the plotting. I agreed with laughter and generally wanted only to be present.

One of the best involved a dirty magnet on the side of a friend’s truck. When on a Denny’s outing, we left the restaurant and the friend drove away, smiling and waving. We smiled and waved back until he was out of sight and then fell over. He looked so happy driving away, leaving his new good friends behind, those friends who kindly placed a large magnet on his truck indicating he had a deep affection for “cock.” Whether that was the chicken variety or the XY chromosome kind didn’t matter. It wasn’t a political statement or one about sexuality. Neither man was uncomfortable with his sexuality and was even less uncomfortable with someone else’s. It was the innocence and fun of the practical joke.

I haven’t had Denny’s nights with Eric and Donald in these last few years, but when I had my son, Eric was one of the first people to reach out and offer himself if I needed anything. It was this conversation where, thankfully, I got to tell him how I felt about him and his friendship. He was a man of much honor and respect. There aren’t many people like Eric A. Bartley, which is why I suspect that anyone who knew him will feel a giant hole now that he’s off to Valhalla.