I glanced over at the strapping young man, Chris Johansen-Jones, sitting beside me and said, "Man, you are one large unit. You gotta be — what? — six-five?"
Smiling, Chris replied, "Not quite. I'm actually six-three. But, if you think I'm big, you should see the guys I play football with."
We were traveling south on Route 7 en route to Whiting, one of those charming, placid towns dotting Addison County. Chris was going to spend a few days with his girlfriend, Janice, who's interning this summer at a skin-care company located there. Housing was provided, too, right at the company compound.
"You said you're going to the University of Chicago, right? I didn't even know they had a sports program. I never hear about it."
"You're not the only one," Chris replied. "Yeah, the school famously dropped their successful football program decades ago, I think before World War II. But they brought it back in the late '60s as a D3 team."
"Football's great," I said. "I only played touch football as a kid. I was too scrawny — and too chicken, if I'm being honest — to play the real thing. So I tip my hat to you. You are a true manly man."
"That, and I'm a little nuts," he said, chuckling.
"Do you have a career aspiration, Chris? What are you studying for?"
"Well, I'm a biology major."
"Do you know if you want to stay in academia or work in the industry?"
"Definitely the business world. I want to raise a family one day, and you know how that is — you need the bucks."
"I can dig it. So, the 'Johansen' half of your last name — is that, like, Scandinavian heritage?"
I don't know why I was peppering this kid with questions, but he didn't seem to mind. It might have been the full-caffeine coffee I drank before I picked him up. I'm such a lightweight, I usually limit myself to decaf.
"Yeah, it's my mom's side," he replied. "She grew up in Norway."
"Do you speak the language at all? Did your mom talk to you in Norwegian when you were a kid?"
"She did, but I can't really speak the language. I can understand quite a bit, though. We've visited the family in Norway a few times, and I kind of know what's going on."
"Well, whatever language your parents spoke to you in, I can tell they listened to you, because you're a good listener. And that will serve you in every aspect of your life."
"Thanks, man. That's my mom. My dad was at work most of the time. My mom, she would come in my room, sit beside me and just wait for me to talk. She was never pushy. And, like you said, she would really listen."
Just then, it came to me which other Chris this kid reminded me of: Chris Pratt. He looked remarkably like the actor — big, sandy-brown-haired and handsome — but he also had the combination of strength and gentleness that Pratt projects in his screen roles. It's a modern, more evolved version of masculinity that I find winning.
"So, how'd you meet your girlfriend?" I asked.
"Well, she goes to my school, and we met in a class we had together. After the fact — you know, after we'd been seeing each other for a couple months — she told me that she had had this whole plan to hook up with me, which she executed to perfection! I'm glad she did, because I'm an introvert, kind of shy, and she's real social and expressive. She, like, brings me out of my shell, which I really need."
As we passed through Middlebury, the rains came. What else is new? I thought. This has been one soggy summer. Truth be told, I didn't really mind. All the precipitation seemed to be keeping the summer heat at bay. Plus, it can be good for business.
"Oh, man — Janice has been telling me how rainy it's been up here. I hope we get some dry days so we can get out and explore the area."
"Well, you can always stay inside and make out the whole visit," I suggested, recalling what it's like to be 20.
Chris laughed. "Yeah, there is that. But eventually you want to get outside, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I suppose," I conceded.
After a series of lefts and rights, we arrived at the company property in Whiting, up a back road in the middle of nowhere. It looked more like a farm than a place of business. Chris told me that Janice had said the company grows and processes many of the plants and flowers that go into its natural products.
The rain was pelting down as we pulled up the driveway and circled to a stop in the rural equivalent of a courtyard. Around us stood a number of farmhouse-y wooden buildings. Janice, alas, was nowhere to be seen, and Facebook — the medium by which the couple communicated — didn't seem to be operating. No one else appeared to be around, either.
"Jeez, Chris," I said. "This is definitely the place, but I don't want to, like, abandon you in this monsoon."
"Oh, there she is!" Chris said.
I turned to see an attractive young woman waving enthusiastically from the front of an adjacent building a little farther up the road. Her beaming smile penetrated through the drenching rain.
We drove up to meet her, and I jumped out — moving fast in the downpour — to open the rear hatch and retrieve Chris' bag. As he joined me and leaned in to lift it out, Janice reached him, falling onto his back and latching her arms around his torso.
"I missed you, baby," she said into his ear, her face pressed against his shoulders.
"Me, too," Chris said. "Me, too."
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.