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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Column: This thing called Briggs

He looks like a slender approximation of Gimli the Dwarf (long red beard included). At Epic Quad Battle 2007, he led the Spartan army in nothing but a red cape and a Speedo. When you ask him how he is, he says, “Manly.”

He is Briggs.

I met Briggs three years ago at a Christian fellowship. At the time, he was a junior linguistics major and planned to move to Chechnya forever after graduating (he didn’t do either). He remembers thinking that my mom still dressed me. I remember wondering what he had against wearing clothes.

As time passed and Briggs’ hair evolved (dreads, mullet, cornrows, fro, cross-hawk and “the Mugatu” from Zoolander), I came to know more about this enigmatic man. Such as the fact he considers meat from any animal shorter than his knee a vegetable. Also, he is an occasional cage fighter and likes to play the ukulele. His next anticipated hairstyle is something he refers to as a “beard comb over.”

As it turns out, Briggs isn’t even his real name. People who have known him for a while eventually learn his first name is John. But then they make the tragic error of assuming that Briggs, the name given to him somewhat at random at a men’s retreat his freshman year, is his last name. His actual last name is something Polish that – given some of Briggs’ activities (streaking comes to mind) – is probably better kept secret.

Today, if you see Briggs walking down the street, you’ll probably assume he’s a creepy hobo. This is because he looks exactly like one. Long hair protruding from a beanie, bare feet indoors and out, and a beard that threatens to come to life and ensnare small animals that get too close. He’s a sketchy-looking character. The only tipoff he’s not an actual bum is his company – unlike the average homeless person, Briggs is generally surrounded by normal-looking college students.

Briggs is more homeless than most, in a sense. More often than not, he’s sleeping on some friend’s floor and paying rent in milk and eggs. But in another sense, he’ll never be homeless. He has too many good friends for that. His general life advice reveals why: “Pay attention to the suffering around you – and do something about it.”

Many people say they’d die for a friend, but when Briggs says that, I actually believe it. Why? Well, one, because he’s bat-poop crazy. But also because he gives up his life every day in the service of friends, acquaintances and total strangers. Need a ride, day or night? Briggs is your guy. Feeling mortally depressed? He’s there with soup and hugs in five minutes. Need to borrow a bike, a video camera or a kilt? Just say the word. People count on him because in his mind, “people come first.”

For years, he has been running an unofficial grocery store. Equipped with the magic of coupons and consumer awareness, he buys cereal, oatmeal and other goods for dirt cheap. He then resells it to friends – at the same price. Briggsmart is the reason I ate in college.

But after seven years, it’s finally time for Briggs to leave Davis. He’s going to Thailand for two years to work with Burmese refugees, buying food and editing video. As the rampantly over-used saying goes, “He would.” Inserting himself into a completely unfamiliar situation in order to help people he doesn’t know is par for the course. Briggs is living proof you don’t have to get a degree or own anything in order to make a difference. You don’t need to be conventional to love people. Maybe you’ve got to give up your whole life – but that’s just when you’ll find it.

BETH SEKISHIRO is going to miss Briggs when he goes. She’ll attempt to carry on his legacy of compassion and wild eccentricity back here in Davis, minus the beard. She can be reached at blseki@ucdavis.edu.

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