Oliver Baker's Best Man Speech

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This is a transcript of the best man's speech I delivered at Oliver and Sophie's wedding.

The Wikipedia says that the best man is to provide a speech "often at the expense of the bride and groom." This presents me with a problem -- though I have know Oliver Baker for 20 years next week, and Sophie Petersen for almost 5 years, for almost all of that time we have lived a continent away, and so, save for a visit here and a visit there, we share an odd friendship that lacks any of the "remember that time we got really drunk and stole a car and drove to Vegas" stories that might fuel a speech give "at their expense."

This also means that many of the normal things one might know about another -- like the fact that Oliver's mother has a name other than "Oliver's mother," or that Sophie was born in Scotland and doesn't drink coffee, or that Oliver used to fire off bottle rockets in the park when he was a kid, or that Oliver and Sophie share an penchant for Kirstin Dunst movies and a love of German-language cabaret music -- these are all things that I only learned this week.

And so.

I have have chosen to frame my speech not at their expense, but rather around food -- for it is in food that I've been able to find a thread running through our friendship.

To start, then.

In 1987 I was living in a weird coop house in Peterborough, Ontario. Oliver lived over the hill. And while I lived with a motley collection of hippies and anarchists, Oliver, if memory serves, lived with a pair of hard-edged military types. And they lived in quiet isolation from each other. One day, Oliver came over to my house and saw that I'd made muffins for my housemates. And that they freely and willingly ate them. Eager, I think, to import some of the devil-may-care into his own house, Oliver went home and made muffins for his serious, sober housemates. He left them out on the counter, untouched and uneaten.

Oliver escaped to Berkeley shortly thereafter.

Seven years passed before I met Oliver again. I came to Berkeley for a conference and he put me up for the night in his own version of the wacky coop house that I'd lived in. He took me to the Cheeseboard and I had the most wonderful olive bread I'd ever tasted, bread that remains the bread of my life to this date. The next morning Oliver asked me if I would be interested in going to brunch "with my mother and grandmother." Shy by nature, I figured that a small low-key brunch for the four of us would be okay. A few hours later we arrived in Oakland, entered a huge banquet hall, and sat down to lunch with Oliver's grandmother and mother. And Oliver's uncles. And cousins. And, it would seem, most anyone related to Oliver at all. It was a good, if somewhat overwhelming experience.

I escaped back to Canada the next morning.

Another seven years passed before our next meeting. By this time Oliver had met Sophie and I'd had a son. Who I named Oliver. Which has been the source of much "which Oliver to you mean" confusion" ever since. Oliver and Sophie came to visit us in Prince Edward Island and we held an Oliver Oliver party, invited all of our friends, and had a riotous good time. Later in their visit we took Oliver and Sophie to a traditional Prince Edward Island ceilidh in a small log shack in the small north shore community of Monticello. Oliver and Sophie, like me, are quite shy. The ceilidh was quite "interactive" and I believe Oliver and Sophie felt a clear and present threat of being asked up on stage to step dance.

They escaped from the Island the next day.

It was only another three years until our next meeting -- last March I made my way to Davis for a short visit. Oliver met me at the train and we shared a nice meal out on the patio downtown. Later we joined up with Sophie and, in the space of a few short hours, unfettered as we were by Oliver Oliver parties and step dance threats, I got to know her a little. The next morning we all piled into the car for a sort of culinary triple crown: we started with a tour of the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory, had lunch at a Berkeley Mexican restaurant, chocolate cake mid-afternoon in San Francisco, and a weird nerd-fuelled dinner with the people who dreamed up Firefox.

And then this Thursday we ate again. Oliver popped down from Davis for dinner as soon as we arrived and an aimless wander around China Town revealed an unlikely restaurant. And Oliver got to meet Oliver and have an almost conversation.

And so the cycle continues.

Last night as I sat down to write these words I thought I should try and sum up our unlikely friendship. Because of its virtual nature, it's surprisingly well documented, and I ended up reading through all of the 367 email messages we've exchanged since 1999. I ended up re-learning a lot of genetics theory, revisited a tutorial on appropriate behaviour during Shabbat, and rediscovered an oddly strained phase of our friendship in the late 1990s that I'd entirely fogotten about. But, alas, little fodder for a "summing up."

What I've come to conclude is that I just really like Oliver. For myriad, inexplicable, unsumupable reasons. Somehow we have stuck together, sometimes connected by the thinnest of digital threads, but every time we meet it seems like we're just picking up the conversation where we left off.

In those 367 email message I found one particularly notable one, dated November 17, 1999:

I'm in a serious relationship with a wonderful woman -- long distance at the moment -- who I admired from afar all through grad school and got together with just after I finished writing my dissertation. Her name is Sophie.

Sophie, Oliver -- here's to sharing many more meals together in the days, months and years to come.