I had never heard this song until today.
I had heard one line from this song, mis-sung over and over, half a lifetime ago and two-thirds of the country away from here, by a boy who’s now a dead man.
Memphis, Fall 1997. Magic: the Gathering had been a hobby of mine for nearly three years at this point, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I dove in deep, going from occasionally playing at my middle school lunch table with friends to spending significant portions of every weekend at tournaments at the local games store.
Gamemasters, the store was called. Huge by game store standards, it stood two storefronts wide in a strip mall just off Nonconnah Parkway, sandwiched between a liquor store and a Walgreens. Half the store sold games, the other half hosted them: Dozens of folding tables for board and card games, and at least 16 computers for LAN games of Quake II or Warcraft II, and eventually, of course, Starcraft.
When I became a regular at Gamemasters, there were already several boys my age who were part of the scene. Brian Davis, Beau Ponds, and Troy Goode were all roughly my age, with Wes Jones and Toad—whose real name I wouldn’t learn for nearly a year—a little older. We all had too much time, and too few friends outside those walls.
Thinking back on those days, it’s possible that Gamemasters made me happier than any other place I’ve ever spent a significant amount of time. I still tell stories about it. I still remember some inside jokes, and details from others, long-forgotten. But, amongst our crew, as much time as I spent there, it was nowhere close to Troy.
Troy was omnipresent at Gamemasters the first couple years I spent there, frequently singing the Cracker song posted above, albeit as “What the world needs now/is another Frank Sinatra/like I need a hole in my head.” He lived a few blocks away, walking distance in a town notoriously unfriendly to walking, and practically lived at the store. He spent so much time there that the staff began treating some extra space under the counters as Troy’s closet, stashing his Magic decks or Blood Bowl teams, instead of making him carry them home and back. He was friends with all the staff, even the college-aged people nearly a decade his senior. In fact, he was such a legend, they named a plate glass window after him.
I’m not joking.
A few days before Christmas 1997, Troy was standing outside the store with a couple of employees who were on their smoke break, discussing who knows what. One of them cracked a mildly amusing joke, and Troy, as he did in those days, threw his head back in fake uproarious laughter. There was only one problem: He didn’t realize how close he was standing to the giant window behind him. The window that had already been structurally weakened by a bullet hole that had somehow appeared when a carpet store previously occupied Gamemasters’ space.
Troy hit the window, and began falling. The employees managed to grab him, and held him up as glass rained down around him. And somehow, he came out of it without a scratch.
Someone had to pay for the window, though. Namely, Troy’s parents. This being a few days before Christmas, they decided to return his presents recoup the more than $800 it cost.
A few days after the holiday, some of the guys were at the store, discussing the presents they got, while Troy sat silent and sullen. After a while, someone noticed, and asked him, “Hey, Troy, what about you? What did you get?”
“A window,” Troy moaned.
“And you broke it already,” the friend replied, inspiring uproarious laughter from everyone else around.
Troy earned the nickname The Human Cannonball after that incident, but he had others. On the wall of caricatures that filled the games side of the store, he had no fewer than four. He was a legend in his time.
And then, as was the case with so many people there, he was gone. We never knew why. Burnt out, perhaps. Maybe he got a girlfriend. We never knew exactly.
Troy still came up from time to time. My younger sister was classmates with his, and every so often, I’d get an IM from him. At some point, a rumor developed that drug dealers at his high school had wrongfully assumed he was a narc, and retaliated by throwing him from a moving car onto some train tracks, breaking both his arms. I never knew if it was true.
When Facebook became a thing, Troy friended me, and we had a couple back-and-forths, the most recent of which seems to be from 2007, according to my Gmail. He got married at some point. Had a kid. Settled down, in the usual sense, as well as the being-less-hyperactive one. Or so I assume.
Today, I got a text from my sister. A link to a breaking news story back in Memphis, telling me that Troy Goode is dead at age 30, after a still-unclear incident involving him being taken into police custody after a concert. Troy’s the second friend from my Memphis years to die in the last three months, after Lydia’s strange death in May.
So, today, I looked up that song that I remembered Troy singing, and discovered it doesn’t go the way I remembered. On some level, that seems right. Because life never goes the way we expect.