Remembering Scott Leighton: 1-900-playdnd

Another memory of Scott, this one poking a little fun at him. It’s possible no one outside his family remembers this one.

When I was in high school a proliferation of 1-900 for-pay calling services emerged. They covered every genre under the sun, including porn. Some of them were even free. Scott was still a little kid back then, and somehow he figured out about a 1-900 fantasy role playing game you could play over the phone. I think it played along the lines of those old fighting fantasy books – they’d read you a paragraph of text like ‘you enter a dark room. You can hear scritching noises. Press 1 to cast a light spell. Press 2 to draw your sword. Press 3 turn back,’ etc etc. I suspect F.I.S.T. was the game, though it could also have been Phonequest – I’m not sure. Anyway I remember him telling us about it at the time, and how he was trying to make his way to the end –  if you managed to get to the ending you’d win a prize. You can probably tell where this is going – Scott managed to rack up hundreds of dollars in fees before his parents figured out what he was up to.

We teased him about it at the time, one of those awkward juvenile moments for him where his older brother and friends gave him shit for not having much common sense, but I remember him standing up for himself, trying to explain how his plan was to win the prize – it wasn’t that he didn’t realize he was racking up a bill, he just figured he could make it pay off in the end.

This sort of captures another fundamental piece of who Scott was for me. He was by no means a conventional thinker, and he knew it. He wasn’t embarrased by this, or mostly not, and he wasn’t afraid to defend his ideas even in the face of withering criticism or the good natured ribbing of his friends. The truth is I really admired him for this. I often thought he was a crackpot, but he was a crackpot with a plan and the willpower to carry it out no matter what anyone else thought.

There’s a gallery of all of my pictures of Scott here. I’ve also written a few other remembrances of him, which you can read here.

Remembering Scott Leighton: joie de vivre

Scott on our way to get gas and ice

Scott on our way to get gas and ice

My friends and I have this annual group camping trip that’s been going on for 25 years now. As a coincidence Scott and I both attended the first time in 1995, and since roughly 1998 it’s taken place on Lake George in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. If you’ve never been, Lake George is absolutely gorgeous. It has a reputation as a sort of mini-coney island tourist trap, but that’s just the southwest corner of the lake – the northern 4/5ths of the lake are mostly state lands and undeveloped, and there are a few dozen campsites that are accessible only by water. For 10 or so years out of the 25 year history of this camping trip we’ve rented a boat and camped on the water-accessible only sites, floating in all our supplies and spending the weekend tubing, cruising the lake on the boat, etc.

The area is known for its powerful thunderstorms in the summer. You can be out on the lake on a completely beautiful sunny day one second and the next find yourself in the heart of the maelstrom, thunder crashing, the wind roaring and the rain coming down so hard and fast you can’t keep your eyes open to see. Usually the dramatic storms are short lived – they blow through, relieve some humidity, and then you’re back to your beautiful sunny day.

after the worst of the storm. You can see the white line where the rain is still coming down hard

after the worst of the storm. You can see the white line where the rain is still coming down hard

Dave, Scott and me set out to refill the boat one year the day after we arrived. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were tubing on the way back after picking up gas when we noticed thunderheads moving in, so we pulled in the tube. Almost before we had finished that it started coming down hard, the wind picked up, and things got rough. While we didn’t exactly panic, Dave and I both got concerned. Dave had been driving and he had slowed the boat to a crawl, but the winds were high and were forcing us towards shore. Scott and I both started exhorting him to keep the boat moving. Dave complained that he couldn’t see a damn thing with the rain blowing in our faces. Scott took control of the situation, taking the helm of the boat. I asked Scott how he could possibly see – I had sunglasses on which was keeping the rain out of my eyes, mostly, but I still felt blinded. Dave meanwhile had pulled the tube up as a shield and he was kneeling behind it. I joined him and the two of us knelt there on the deck, cowering behind it.

Tell me that doesn't look a bit like a 1970's Yes album cover

Tell me that doesn't look a bit like a 1970's Yes album cover

Scott meanwhile had started to accelerate. At first he was just trying to get the boat’s nose headed into the wind so we would stop drifting towards shore, but soon he was laughing, nudging the speed higher and then higher again. Now the wind was just whipping through the boat and the raindrops stung when they hit you, and Dave and I were clucking like nervous hens behind our tube, occasionally poking our heads up to try and see what was happening and then quickly ducking back down.  At some point during this Scott asked for my sunglasses, and that’s my image of him in this scene – my sunglasses on, laughing, laughing, laughing – laughing at Dave and I, who definitely looked pathetic, laughing in the face of the storm as he pushed the boat ever faster into it, laughing at life and the chaotic fun it could throw at you.

It was over in 5 or 10 minutes, and soon we were all laughing at what we had just been through, Scott poking fun at Dave and I, observing that we felt like we were starring in our own Yes album cover, and chugging back to camp in what was now a gentle rain.

There’s a gallery of all of my pictures of Scott here. I’ve also written a few other remembrances of him, which you can read here.

Remembering Scott Leighton: devotion to friends and family


Scott out on Lake George circa ~2007

This is my favorite story about Scott because it really captures an essential piece of who he was for me.

Some years ago Scott and his wife were trying to have a baby. There were some issues and they were tracking her cycles. There were certain moments in time when Scott needed to be there to do his part. Scott had driven up to my place in Saratoga Springs to pick me up, and we drove up to Bolton Landing to wait for our ride.

On the way we talked about what he and his wife were going through and how he might have to take off early to go be with her, which was understandable but a bummer. Sure enough we got there, Scott got a call from home, and the next day off he went to be with his wife. What’s surprising is less than 24 hours later he was back, spending at least 15 hours on the road (some of it in the worst traffic the tri-state area has to offer) in less than 2 days. And more surprising than that was that he got another call from home and took off, a day early, to again do his bit.

I’m not sure if Scott’s son Logan came out of this experience but I’d like to think so. I also think it says a lot about who Scott was, selfless in his devotion to those he cared about. No one else that regularly comes on our trip would have done this, but for Scott it was a no brainer, even in the face of all of us ragging him about it.

There’s a gallery of all of my pictures of Scott here. I’ve also written a few other remembrances of him, which you can read here.

Remembering Scott Leighton

Scott at All Guys Camping Weekend a few years ago

Scott at All Guys Camping Weekend a few years ago

My friend Scott Leighton died from cancer on August 4th after a roughly yearlong battle with the disease. I went to his funeral last weekend. The funeral had the unfortunate but necessary effect of making Scott’s death real for me – up until I walked into the church on Sunday and heard his wife’s incredibly poignant eulogy for him his death had been an abstraction, something not real that was gnawing away at me quietly in the background. Sunday I had to confront it and it was sad and hard to bear. One of Scott’s wishes was that we all celebrate his life with a pseudo Irish Wake at one of his favorite bars, Napper Tandy’s in Northport. It was brilliant – simultaneously sad and invigorating, the rush of many drinks combining with the raw emotional state of the folks crammed into the bar in a potent mix of sadness, laughter, and ultimately reconciliation with what had happened in the company of good friends. I hope it worked as well for Scott’s family as it did for me.

As in the past when those dear to me have died I’m going to post some of my favorite memories of Scott. I’ll start here with when I first met him and an overview of my relationship with him over the years.

My family moved to Northport in 1979 and I soon met Scott’s brother Patrick, whose family lived around the corner from me. Scott was a little (6?7?) tyke at that point and my earliest memories of him are of this little kid brother Pat had, shy and usually quiet, with a squeaky little voice. The Leightons had an Intellivision and I remember we used to tease him because when he played hockey or the car racing game he would lean his whole body in the direction he was trying to will his on-screen character to go, including usually his arms which he’d sometimes whack you with. He was good at it though, especially Hockey – the Leighton brothers got to the point where they could pretty much always whip me in Hockey.

We were geeks back then – videogame nerds, comic book nerds, computer nerds, dungeon and dragons nerds – you name it, if it was nerdy we were into it. We could sometimes convince one of our parents to take us to comic book shows back then and now and then Scott would tag along when one of the Leightons was driving us. I can’t remember what comics Scott was into back then, but unlike most of us he stuck with it over the years and as recently as last summer I was shooting the breeze with him about old Marvel characters.

I also recall Scott being big into Soccer when he was young. Both the Leightons were growing up, but by the time Pat and I had become friends Pat was no longer playing. Meanwhile though the Leightons were frequently off to games and practice with Scott, and I remember him practicing/playing in the yard on the side of the Leighton house.

My earliest vivid memory of Scott is one I share with several of my friends. We were sitting around the Leighton pool and Scott’s Dad had just taken him to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. Scott was usually shy around us, watching more than talking, but we asked him how the movie was and he became animated and enthusiastic, running us through the movie plot from the perspective of an 8 or 9 year old, with run on sentences, gaps in the story, and a fair amount of gibberish, along the lines of ‘and THEN he fell in a room full of snakes but they burned them, and THEN he knocked over a giant statue and ran away, and then the box moved, and THEN their faces MELTED!’ It cracked us all up.

As we all graduated from high school and moved on to college I lost touch with Scott, running into him now and then through my college years but never spending any significant time in his company. Scott’s a year older than my younger brother though, and I heard tales of him now and then. What I most remember is that he was renowned for the parties he’d throw during his high school years.

After I got out of school I reconnected with all my old Northport friends. For a couple of years I lived in my Mom’s house and Scott played in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign we got rolling. His character had a secret and central role in this epic, hackneyed plot I had cooked up (I was the dungeon master) which sadly he never got to act on because I took a job in Maine and moved away, but of all the players in that campaign Scott was the most engaged – willing to read through the extensive background material and understanding and attempting to role play his character.

After I moved to Maine I again lost touch with Scott for a couple of years, but both of us started going to an annual camping trip some of my high school friends had started in 1985. Scott and I attended (I think for the first time) in 1995, and for most of the years after that I’d see Scott once a year for most of  a week in the woods/on a lake/etc on the camping trip. We also played online games together – a short run in Everquest II, a longer one in World of Warcraft, with dabbling in other things, I guess most notably Neverwinter Nights. As in the pen and paper campaigns, Scott was a solid, reliable player. He was usually pretty quiet when we played, but you could count on him to understand his character and what role it played in the party dynamics. Usually you listened when he spoke, too, because it took something important for him to speak…unless it was because he was mocking you for doing something dumb 😉

You wouldn’t say Scott and I were close over the years – while we’d trade the occasional emails, and I’d see him some years at parties or during the holidays, he wasn’t someone I was in constant touch with. Yet at the same time he was someone I’ve known most of my life, someone who I admired and liked. There were similarities between us too – we’re both observers in a room full of people, watching rather than sitting at the center of attention, making quiet comments at the periphery, better in one on one conversations than in a group dynamic. We’re both also hopeless videogame addicts. One year for the annual camping trip Scott and Pat came up a day early and we bounced around Saratoga Springs. That night Scott found the game I of the Dragon on my computer and he played it for hours. After the camping trip he extended his stay at my place first for one additional night, then for another, because he got so hooked on it. Out of our circle of friends only Scott and I would do something like that and it makes me smile to think of it.

I’ll pass on talking about the details of Scott’s death aside from saying how tragic it felt to miss him by only a few days this year. We moved our annual camping trip to a beach house on Fire Island in NY this year in the hope that Scott could make it for a day or two, but by the time we got to the house Scott was seriously ill and he never made it, dying only a few days after our trip ended.

I feel guilty that I never got to speak to Scott about his illness before he died, and I’m angry with myself for not reaching out to him. At first I figured if he needed a shoulder to lean on he’d reach out to those he felt could help him, and I wasn’t a likely candidate for that – best to let him spend as much time as he could with his intimates rather than inserting myself into things. Then I figured better to see him in person than to email, which felt so impersonal and inappropriate to the circumstances. In the end that inaction on my part cost me and I’m the worse for it. A real lesson learned there for me, though it’s one I hope I never have to use.

There’s a gallery of all of my pictures of Scott here. I’ve also written a few other remembrances of him, which you can read here.