My best friend from grade school died last week. If that’s not a five-alarm “carpe diem” wake-up call, I don’t know what is.
He died of lung cancer, just one year after getting the diagnosis. He was very athletic and a non-smoker. So let’s double down that “carpe diem.”
We grew up together in the village of Valley Stream, New York, on the south shore of Long Island in the 1950s, went to Shaw Avenue Elementary School together, and lived just a few short blocks apart. We spent countless hours together in each other’s houses and playing in the schoolyard: mostly basketball and handball against a wall (both Chinese and American.) I remember those as being the years of baseball cards, comic books, candy, and bicycle riding.
I remember when he smuggled a transitor radio into the back of the classroom so we could keep track of what was happening in a Yankees-Dodgers World Series game that was actually being played in the afternoon. (This was before television controlled sports.) I remember going with him and a bunch of guys to a game at Yankee Stadium. The Orioles, led by Luis Aparicio, beat the Yanks. I remember participating in a World Series betting pool with him and sixteen other guys. (By lottery, each guy got a half-inning. The half-inning with the most total runs for the whole Series was the winner. I forgot how much we bet.)
We remained friendly throughout junior high and high school although we gradually drifted apart: he was a big-time jock (starting guard on the basketball team, etc.), and I spent my time with the debating team, the drama club, and the newspaper staff.
I remember when he got sucker-punched in the face by the biggest, nastiest hood/greaser/juvenile delinquent in our high school, and went running out of the gym, crying and holding his jaw. My friend, a BMOC (Big Man On Campus), was a natural target for hostile, aggressive bullies. Anti-Semites, too, probably. Funny thing is, the goon who attacked him later became a cop. Or maybe that’s not so funny.
We fell out of touch after high school. He went to college at Brandeis and stayed in the Boston area, while I had my life in New York and then LA. He did get in touch with me many years later to try to get the Tiny Goddess’s help to get a documentary made. Nothing ever came of it, but it was good to see him. We had a really nice evening here in LA, reliving old times, and it was great to see him one last time. In the past few years, we’d exchange occasional e-mails – he liked my book -- and there was stuff on Facebook.
I was concerned that he never married, but he seemed to have had a wide network of friends all over the world who made him feel loved and valued. He was a travel photographer and ski-enthusiast, and lived an extremely adventurous, eventful life. (I have quite a few single friends and relatives, and know that it’s possible to live a full life as a single person. Just not as full perhaps as a person with a family.)
At 66, he was way too young to die.
Thinking about him spun me back to the Fifties when we were growing up together on the South Shore of Long Island. We were lucky. Those were good, innocent times to grow up in.
Here are a few memories, some other old friends:
“The Mickey Mouse Club” – introducing the Original Mouseketeers
“Rin Tin Tin” – opening and closing themes, plus “Name Rusty’s Horse” contest
“Andy’s Gang” – with Froggy the Gremlin
“Little Rascals” –“Hook and Ladder” (1932) – I have the complete Rascals on DVD.
“The Best of Soupy Sales”
“Wonderama” – with Sonny Fox
Paul Winchell – with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smith
1963 Yankees-Dodgers World Series radio broadcast – Sandy Koufax with a then-record 15 strikeouts beats the Bombers and Whitey Ford, 5-2