My Oldest Friend

There is no excuse for taking this long to devote an entire blog to my oldest friend. It’s not like I haven’t mentioned him before in blogs, because I have, I just haven’t written one completely about him. Since today is his birthday, I thought it was time to put him in the spotlight. I jotted some thoughts down about what to include, and today in My Facebook “Memories” feed, there was a note from 9 years ago that I had written in honor of his getting older. 9 years later, the content of that note is still true today, so much of this blog is taken from that note (with some 2019 comments added)

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Happy Birthday, You Old Coot – A Facebook Memory from 2009

I always knew when my dad was talking on the phone with my Uncle Tom. He would laugh uncontrollably, and there was an increase in the amount of profanity. I always envied their relationship and as a kid, and hoped to have a similar relationship when I grew up. You see, my uncle is not my dad’s brother. They grew up together in the same neighborhood and caused trouble for many neighbors. My uncle, is my Godfather, and my dad’s closest friend. A friendship that has endured through so many years.

I wrote a blog about my Uncle here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/241

I have a similar relationship. Jeff and I met in second grade. There are many stories I can share and a TON of stuff that no one but he and I would get, so I will just mention a few and will start with my favorite.

Jeff was a bully. I was a timid pushover. I’m almost positive that Friday was pizza day. This was back when school food was actually pretty good. EVERYONE got pizza on pizza day. (Just this week, someone posted THE recipe that was used to make pizza for school lunches and I sent it to Jeff!) My dad always made sure that I had money to buy lunch on Fridays. Little did he know, I rarely ate it. Me being the new kid, I was easily persuaded. Jeff would come over at lunch every Friday and simply look at me and say, “Give me your pizza or I’ll beat you up”. That was all it took – my pizza was his. This went on for almost a year.

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One day, dad tried to give me money for pizza. I broke down and said I didn’t want to buy lunch that day. He could tell something was wrong and kept asking why. I was afraid to tell him, but he finally got out of me the reason I didn’t want pizza. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “You tell that boy that it is YOUR money, and YOUR pizza, and you are not giving it to him!” All I could imagine was the pain and bruises I would get for standing up to this kid. I was a wreck all morning.

Finally, lunch time came and I was shaking like nobody’s business. Jeff came over and gave me his typical greeting. At that point, I have no idea what came out of my mouth, but it was probably exactly what my dad told me to say verbatim. I remember Jeff looked at me, and said simply, “Hey, man, it’s cool”! He sat down next to me and we’ve been best friends ever since.

(2019) 43 years later, that story remains one of my favorites (my boys love it, too!) – it’s only appropriate to open with that one.

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I recall summer days when we’d be together all day! Seriously – ALL DAY! Jeff would come over at like 8 or 9 in the morning and stay until well after the street lights came on. Those days I remember my mom and dad saying, “Don’t that kid ever go home”?! I’d go in the house and eat dinner, and he’d just hang out in the backyard and wait for me. We could play all day. Countless summer days we’d be out in my backyard with Star Wars figures, playing. We used to go up the Hoover 11 shopping center to Circus World (the toy store) and buy the latest figures.

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We also used to have buckets of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars! We spent hours and hours out in the yard playing with them. In my back yard there was an area that my folks used to use as a garden. We used to go out to the dirt and build roads and make houses for the cars. We had to move to the garden….I guess the huge hole we dug in the middle of the front lawn that my dad almost fell in while cutting the grass was not a welcome addition to the landscape.

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We used to play cops and robbers, or pretended we were secret agents and often fought “invisible people”. One can only imagine what it looked like to people driving by to see two kids falling down like they were just punched by …. no one! I remember Jeff came over one day with this cool looking gun. It kinda looked like a combination police special and laser gun. We all had cap guns, which looked like something out of an old western movie, but his gun was really something!! Not only did it look cool – it made a variety of noises! I don’t recall if it was a button you turned or a slider switch, but that gun could sound like a gun shot, a gun shot and ricochet, a laser beam, a huge explosion, and a few other very cool sounds which only aided in our imaginary play! Man, I wish we still had that gun!

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When we weren’t at my house, we’d be at his house cause he had the latest tech gadget – the Commodore 64!!!! He always seemed to have the coolest computer stuff. I can remember him showing me these simple and crappy computer games. He was the first one of my friends to have a modem – I remember it was at his house that I first hear the sounds of a modem dialing and connecting with that annoying high pitched screech! He may also have been the first one of my friends to use AOL!!!

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There was a cousin of his, I think who sold fireworks in the neighborhood. We’d buy jumping jacks and bottle rockets and shoot em off. I remember lighting the jumping jacks and dropping them in the sewer and watching them spin under the water. Obviously, we had no clue that there was the remote possibility of sewer gasses exploding every time we dropped one down there! As we got older, we’d take the Star Wars figures and attach them to bottle rockets and shoot them down the street. This is a regret now – especially knowing how much some of those things are worth to collectors today!!

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To say that Jeff and I caused a little trouble growing up is kind of an understatement. I think he caused more trouble with a few of his other friends, but we got in our share, too. Jeff and I both had BB guns. His had the CO2 cartridge which, of course, made the BB’s go farther and faster! I remember the screen in his mom’s bedroom was full of BB holes. Why? Because we used to shoot at the garage door of his neighbor across the street. Every time that BB “tinked” against the door, we laughed. How many other things did we shoot BB guns at? Well, too many to recall. I will say that I don’t recall ever shooting at anything alive!

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We’d stay out till dark – every night! We often took walks around the block or walked up the school. When it was time for me to go inside, I’d walk Jeff part of the way home. He ended up having to walk farther than me, and I always hated walking back home in the dark. I remember we’d walk to a bush that was about half way down my street and that’s where he’d keep walking to his house and I’d turn around and walk back to mine. A few years ago, I noticed that bush was removed by the current resident.

Another thing I recall doing was recording our “stupidity” on cassette tapes. Now normally, you hit the Play and Record Buttons to record something. I don’t recall if it was me or Jeff who figured out that if you hit Record and Fast Forward, the tape recorded at a slower speed, so whatever you recorded sounded twice as fast when you played it back. Our voices ended up sounding like The Chipmunks. Jeff did a spot on imitation of his grandma answering the phone on tape! We spent countless days recording stuff – including farts. Farts are already funny to kids – farts played back twice as fast are just flat out hilarious!!!!

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There was a brief period of time that I was told I was not allowed to hang out with Jeff. My folks were gone and my aunt was babysitting us. I don’t remember all that led up to it, but we were probably purposely aggravating my brother. He came out front and was swinging one of those dog chains. You know the ones that connect to the post you put in the ground? He was swinging it around the top of his head like a lasso or something. He was getting close to Jeff, so Jeff pulled out this little pocket knife (the blade was probably less than and inch long and cheap as hell!). My brother told my aunt, who told my mom and dad and I was not allowed to speak to him or hang out with him. I was devastated, but as a young kid, I did what my mom and dad said. Eventually, we started talking again at school (because who can stop a true friendship, right!?). I think we told my mom that the knife was plastic or wood or something. Years later, even my mom said the whole thing was stupid.

It was probably during the time I was not supposed to be talking with Jeff that our house was broken into. My dad and I were bowling at Dad-Lad Night at Pastime Lanes (where I would eventually spend many weeks on a league) and mom was out bowling at another place (with my grandpa, I think). After dad and I were done, we went to see my mom and then came home. Our dog, Lucy was outside barking and we knew something was wrong. Whoever broke in didn’t take much as I remember. I know the microwave was gone, and there was stuff thrown all over the place. My paper route money was still on my bed and not touched, yet my wallet was taken. I say that this happened around the time that Jeff and I weren’t talking, because I remember my dad saying something like, “I bet that troublemaker, Jeff, had something to do with this!” He didn’t!

Speaking of my paper route, Jeff often helped me deliver. He’d take one side of the street and I’d do the other. He would often go out collecting the money from customers for that week. Sometimes my grandpa took us out to deliver in his car. We probably drove my grandpa nuts! We’d always be laughing and whenever my grandpa asked about Jeff, he was referred to as “the crazy one!”

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One of the weirdest guys we had to collect from was this old guy who always seemed to answer the door with his shirt off. He always wanted to talk for 10 minutes before handing me the money (from his little plastic change purse). It drove me crazy! It was Jeff, who noticed that the guy had no nipple on one of his breasts! From that day forward, the man was known as “no nips”!

Despite the fact that Jeff went to another school for Junior High, we still kept in touch. Sometimes he’d sneak into his mom’s liquor cabinet and we’d go up to the elementary school playground and drink it. We spent HOURS on that playground just talking – and occasionally drinking. We were such punks. I remember one time, we had been to the school drinking the remaining drops of cheap schnapps. We decided we wanted to get some snacks and a pop. We walked across 10 Mile and stopped at Quick Pick. Both of us walked out with chips and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. Jeff crossed into the middle lane, and I stayed back to wait for a car. As the car passed and I walked closer to Jeff, I watched his hand (like it was in slow motion) let go of the Dr. Pepper bottle (which was made of glass at this time) and the bottle shattered onto 10 Mile. I walked up to him and asked him what happened and he said “I was looking at the bottle and wondered what would happen if if fell – and it did.” Not sure why that is still funny to me, but it is.

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It seems like we always ate lunch at Wendy’s (with money his mom had given him)! There are WAY too many stories about the trouble we caused there together (and with Mike Smith). Another place we’d cause trouble was at Hoover 11. We often went there walking in and out of stores and just annoying people. I don’t recall where we got them, maybe from Jeff’s older brother, but we had some packages of condoms. We were probably still in junior high or just starting high school. We were such idiots – we blew them up and stuck them in our shorts and walked around Hoover 11! Anything for a laugh or for attention, right, Jeff?!

Jeff and I ALWAYS can get each other laughing – many times when laughter is inappropriate. I actually blogged about that here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/719

Back in the days of early cable TV, it was Jeff who told me about this ridiculous movie starring the Hudson Brothers called “Hysterical”. Don’t let the title fool you – it is FAR from hysterical! It’s fairly stupid, yet there are a few scenes in the movie that we still quote to each other while normal people look at us and wonder if we are sane! If you ever stumble on this turd, know that Jeff and I can do the “dance” scene from this movie flawlessly!

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I have probably embarrassed him enough today, but it’s his 49th birthday and I don’t have money for a birthday gift, so this blog is the best I can do. I also should get a little serious to wrap it up.

Through the many changes in life, girlfriends, wives, children, etc… we’ve always been there for each other. Even when we both decided to move. He went to Vegas for a few months, and I went to Ludington for a few. You can read about the cool thing we did when he moved to Vegas here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/606

I’m not sure there is anyone I can talk to, like I can talk to Jeff. Our friendship shares so many things. We both lost our mothers to cancer at an early age, we both have strong faith, and we’ve both had our share of difficult times. It is in those times, we’ve been able to call each other and vent. We can talk about work, our kids, and everything. He has always been the first call I make when I need to talk.

(Side funny to this serious portion of the blog: Sam says she always knows when I am on the phone with Jeff, even though she can only hear one side of the conversation. She says our conversation usually involves 3 things: Beer, Butts and Boobs…and occasionally farts!)

Today, this bum finally caught up to me and turned 49. 43 years of friendship! What an amazing blessing! I’m not going out to buy him a Hallmark card, because no card could ever express how glad I am that he’s my best, and oldest friend. So Happy Birthday to you, Jeff. Thanks for all the great times we’ve shared through the years. Thanks for the laughs and for being like my Uncle Tom was to my dad. I can only hope that my boys will view our friendship as something they aspire to have with someone when they grow up. Thanks for being a friend, a counselor, a sounding board, and a brother to me all these years. Here’s looking to the future!

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Oh, and when I told Jeff I was going to blog about him, he wanted to clarify: He says he is not “a bully” because it is such a harsh word. He said that he was an “opportunist who saw an opportunity …. and exploited it as long as I could!”

Consider it clarified, my friend.

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