The guy probably only heard his first name from one of his childhood friends a handful times as an adult, often when we were trying to get him to stop making inane conversation with a stranger. We initially tried yelling something like “Dittmar, let’s go already” but would settle on “ERIC! Dude, let’s go!” when it was clear he wasn’t going to oblige.
But yeah, we all called each other by our last names.
I wrote about Dittmar the other day, a few days after he passed away, and I have a couple of regrets. Not because a few people felt I was being disrespectful, but because I took some time to reflect and realized I only told half his story. For real though, it would take like 100 articles to tell Dittmar’s full story.
So the following is not about a man who struggled with mental health or violence. On the contrary, the following is a short list of things that made Eric a person we all referred to as ‘Dittmar’.
Dittmar the Poet
Dittmar used to critique my writing, including my poems. I was a rapper growing up, and Dittmar used to make me write my most complicated rhymes out so he could study the words, then send me a detailed critique as to why it wasn’t actual poetry. He was right though; I wasn’t well versed in classic poetry like he was. Dittmar’s poetry, while dark, followed certain principles that made his work seem effervescent, a sort of discipline that made the words jump from the page.
You can read his body of work here.
Dittmar the Protector
It was sometimes difficult to understand what motivated Dittmar, but when a bunch of us were out, or even if it was just him and I, there was an overriding certainty that if any of us got into some trouble, Dittmar would have our backs. Let’s be honest, he thrived on being the guy outsiders were afraid of, but still…there was something about having Dittmar in your corner that just made you feel safe.
Dittmar the Man-Child
Dittmar used to giggle. I don’t mean all fake and exaggerated, but he actually giggled when he got into a certain mood. It was honestly cute.
He also had this odd preference that I first noticed when we were still in grade school, but that stayed with him until he was 40 years old. He strongly preferred to watch movies with the lights off. It didn’t matter if the movie was a comedy or a horror flick, Dittmar always suggested we turn the lights off. My wife and I still laugh at the time we watched We Need to Talk About Kevin with the lights off. Michelle was pregnant at the time, and when the movie ended Dittmar turned on the lights, walked over to my wife and spoke to her uterus.
“If you can hear me, and if you ever feel so inclined, kill Di Fiore, but not your mom.”
Dittmar the Gift-Giver
Dittmar was generous. He lived fairly modestly, but whatever he had he shared.
One day he called and told me he wanted to come over for dinner. At the time I was still annoyed with him from the last time he came over for dinner. I bought one of those grocery store whole BBQ chickens and was making the rice. I turned around and caught Dittmar eating the whole chicken as if it were an apple. He just grabbed the thing and started taking bites as if it was totally normal.
I said ‘yes’ to him coming over, and when he showed up at my door he was carrying something peculiar. It was a raw leg of lamb, out of its package, resting on his shoulder as he said “Hey Di Fiore, do you know how to cook this?”
He handed me the raw leg of lamb. I think my response was something like “Dittmar, what the fuck?” before accepting the offering and bringing it to the kitchen. I cooked it and we ate it with a garlic/rosemary rub, asparagus and rice on the side. Dittmar’s shoulder had a blood stain on it, and when I pointed it out he responded, “that’s just proof that I paid for it.”
Two days later I found the plastic wrapper of the lamb leg tucked between my mailbox and my house..
Dittmar the Teacher
Dittmar was wicked smart. He was an engineer and knew a ton about science and architecture.
He taught me a lot over the years, some shit I remember, some I don’t.
One day he came over to my place and we started talking about school. I told him one of my regrets was that I wasn’t disciplined enough to grasp math the way I did while in grade school. He asked me why I thought I did not understand math, and I replied “because I just can’t seem to grasp the problems properly. I don’t know what the advanced symbols mean, and I find it intimidating.”
We were both 29 at the time. He said nothing, helped himself to the notebook and pen in front of me, and wrote a math equation on a blank page. He then gave the notebook back to me and said, “give me your answer.”
I had no earthly idea how to answer the question Dittmar had written on that page. I slid the notebook back to him and told him as much. Dittmar took the notebook, spent about 90 seconds writing, and slid the notebook back to me. I read it, thought for a second, and wrote the number 6.
Dittmar then turned the page back to the original math equation and said, “you just answered that math equation. I just gave you the problem in words instead, and you got it, Di Fiore.”
He told me that some people learn differently from the way public curriculum teaches things like math. He smiled and went on a magnificent rant for 5 minutes about how easy it was for him to spot the flaws in education, and then he leaned back all proud and suggested we grab a bite.
“You can figure out the math when we get the bill, Di Fiore.”
Dittmar the Cynic
He would mock me for writing this article. He would accuse me of just wanting to be a part of something, just wanting to insert myself inside a story that resonates with people we grew up with. He would soften it by saying every writer does it. And then he would say every writer is a narcissist.
And maybe he’s right. I honestly don’t know. I’d argue with him either way, though.
Dittmar is dead, and we won’t have another chance to try and figure him out. He was Dittmar. He was the guy people remembered.
Goodbye Dittmar. And thanks man.