My Best, Longest Friend

Ben Broadbent, Danny Johnson, and Pete Rinaldi circa 1994. In this photo, Danny is sporting his patented “pretend to blink when the picture is being taken.”

I met Danny Johnson in 5th Grade. It was recess at Westlake Elementary School in Santa Cruz, California. I was walking on the field near the “Butt’s Up” wall, and I noticed three classmates sitting close together in a triangle. They were taking turns looking at each other and saying “Yuh!” It was a very particular kind of “Yuh” with lips puckered out and teeth together. It was wierd. I was intrigued.
“What are you doing?,” I asked.
One of them looked at me. “Yuh,” they said.
I sat down.
“We’re a club,” one of them explained, “The Eetos.”
“Okay,” I said, trying to convey continued interest.
“We are Dorito, Cheetoh, and Frito,” one of them offered.
“Can I be Tostito?,” I proffered.
After a brief pause, I received a definitive confirmation: “Yuh.”

Danny, aka Cheetoh, and I have been friends since that day. Danny’s birthday is today – a rather significant one that I will be facing in November. Knowing Danny has been one of the great joys of my life. If you’ve had a lifelong friend, you may know what I’m talking about. We haven’t always been close, haven’t always kept in great touch, but whenever we reconnect, it’s as if very little time has gone by. I wanted to share some things I love about my friend Danny.

He is the funniest person I know. His sense of humor is creative, self-deprecating, sometimes shocking, and often clever. For years he has sent out gag Holiday cards, including one where he and his wife are posing with two red-headed pre-teens who are not their kids. He’s very good at photo shop. Once Danny and Julie had a real kid, Parker, the cards continued, including one that said “Joy!” and depicted them in a junk-strewn backyard with Danny dressed as Santa and passed out on a lawnchair, Julie in a tattered mumu smoking a cigarette, and Parker in the foreground, an un-supervised toddler playing with a spray paint can.

Danny and Julie asked me to officiate at their wedding in a glade of redwood trees in the Santa Cruz mountains. Danny wore a suit of armor. Not because it was a medieval themed wedding, but just because Danny wanted to wear a suit of armor. His humor is an integral way he sees and relates to the world and he is able to co-create humor with anyone who is willing. Once, in college, he wondered what would happen if he loaded up his tray in the dining hall and then tripped allowing the food to crash all over him and the floor. Then he did it.

Another thing I love about Danny is his care for other people. He has a lot of compassion for people and is concerned about their well-being. He once asked me to write a letter of recommendation for him when he was applying to study naturopathic medicine. He got a degree in Chinese medicine, which was mostly great except for the constant concoctions he was boiling in his kitchen which always made his house smell a little funky. “Stick out your tongue,” he said to me once, so I did. “You should probably eat more dark leafy greens.” I took his advice. He practiced acupuncture, concerned with alleviating people’s pain. Later he worked in a pain clinic where he coached people on medication to consider alternative pain relief techniques.

I love Danny’s creativity. He’s a musician and songwriter and has played with various bands throughout his life, including The Figskinz, The Ugly Mugs, Astron, and The Whistle Pigs. He has written and recorded songs and then produced videos to go with the songs, all in his spare time. Whenever I spend time with him, he shares with me a new idea he’s been kicking around, whether a song or a piece of humor or an idea for a TV show that will never be produced. He’s always thinking and dreaming and creating.

Finally, he’s loyal to his family and friends. They know he cares about them. As a couple, Danny and Julie have decided they don’t want to be so busy and stressed out that they can’t enjoy life together, so they’ve adjusted their lifestyle to minimize stress. Both of them work, but neither works full time. They don’t have a lot of things, but they have what they need and they have each other and their boy Parker. More than enough.

I wish everyone could have a friend as funny, authentic, compassionate, creative, and loyal as Danny. I’m simply grateful for him today, to be his friend today and, I hope and pray, many more days to come.

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