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.

Father’s Day Reflections -2019

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As Father’s Day approached, I found a few minutes to reflect.  In a world where you hear constantly about “deadbeat dads”, I am lucky enough to have a dad who played a HUGE part in my life in SO many ways.  I have blogged about his musical influences on me (Which you can read here: https://nostalgicitalian.com/2018/03/30/my-biggest-musical-influence-dad/) and wrote a blog for him on his birthday (which you can read here: https://nostalgicitalian.com/2018/11/01/birthday-tribute-to-fred/).  I was truly blessed with a great dad.

One of the hardest jobs in the world is being a parent, I’ll be the first to admit that.  I will also say, though, that while it is a difficult job, it is also one of the most amazing things a man can do! As I look at my two sons, I consider myself blessed.  Being a father is one of the most satisfying, frustrating, fulfilling, and life-affirming things I have ever done!  I have been a dad for almost 18 years, and as I thought about my boys, I began to make a list of the things I love about being a dad.  I thought I would share that list with you.  Perhaps you can add to it or relate to mine.

Things I Love About Being a Dad

  • Your kids think you know it all.
    • If I had a dollar for every time my kids have asked me a question about something…LOL.  Many times, you know the answer, but sometimes, they ask you something that throws you for a loop!  They truly believe you are the smartest person alive!
  • Playing catch.
    • One of my favorite memories of my dad and I was playing catch in front of our house. I remember the first time he threw his “submarine” pitch to me and how much my hand stung when it hit the mitt!  Throwing the ball around with my sons is something I will never get tired of doing!
  • Coaching – Sports.
    • I was lucky enough to coach both of my sons in T-ball and baseball.  I truly wish they had both continued to play ball, but as they grew older, they lost interest.  I also helped the coaches out when my oldest son was on the bowling team in middle school.  I loved watching them play soccer and taking them to the driving range to hit golf balls, too. I only got to really go fishing with them a couple times, but I hope that it happens more in the years ahead.
  • Throwing them around in the pool.
    • We lived at one place that had a huge pool.  One of the thing I never got tired of was picking the boys up and tossing them back into the water in the summer.  I also loved letting them push me in the pool, thinking they had surprised me, when all along I was waiting for them to do it.  My oldest is as big as me now, and he still wants me to throw him around!  Pool fun is always great as a dad!
  • Your kids think you are the strongest person!
    • I remember arm wrestling with my dad and being amazed at how strong he was.  I remember “helping” my dad move things and struggling with my end of it because it was so heavy.  Dad wasn’t phased at all, though.  As kids, we are always amazed at how strong dad is!
  • Rocking and singing them to sleep.
    • Whether it is at the beginning of the night or in the middle of the night, I never grew tired of rocking my kids to sleep.  Holding them with their head on my shoulder and singing Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra songs is forever etched in my memory!  The songs changed from son to son, but some remained the same.  I used to sing “Bouna Sera,” “On An Evening in Roma,” “Watching the World Go By,” “Vieni Su,” “Cruising Down the River,” and other songs.  I used to love when they would sing them to me, too!
  • You become aware of your bad habits.
    • My dad used to smoke.  He used to say, “Don’t ever let me catch you doing this!”  He eventually quit cold turkey, whether or not it was because of my brother and I, I don’t know.  I do know that you are extra cautious about doing things or saying things you don’t want your kids repeating.  My dad always tells the story of driving while I was in the car seat behind him  Someone cut him off and he yelled, “You stupid prick!” and I said, “What did those pricks do, daddy?!”  “Sticks – there were sticks in the road!” was his response.  HA!
  • Play time and using your imagination.
    • I remember my dad coming into the bedroom and pretending to be a bear while my brother and I were under the covers.  I remember him pretending to be a wrestler and bouncing us on the mattress.  I remember pretending that way with my sons, too.  I remember playing superheroes with towels tied around our necks for capes!  So much fun!!!
  • Embarrassing them.
    • This gets more fun as they get older.  My dad did it to me.  I do it with my kids.  Just recently, we were walking down the street to go to the city fair.  On the walk I started skipping and both kids were like, “Dad!  Stop it!”  This one car was playing some song with a really loud bass, so I started dancing.  Again, “Stop it!” When the petting zoo came into view I screamed, “Oooo!  Look at the baby goats” and started running toward them.  They were so embarrassed!  It’s what dads do!!
  • Introducing them to things from your childhood.
    • For me, dad introduced me to a lot of music and such.  For my sons, I shared movies and music, but thanks to technology, I was able to share with them the Atari 2600!  They had some retro Atari that was loaded with 200 games or something one Christmas.  My oldest loved it.  He was always playing Maze Craze!  We used to hit the thrift shops and I would love when there was some old toy from my childhood there!  Of course, I passed down the Three Stooges to them!  I also introduced them to the Classic Scooby Doo cartoons, Hong Kong Phooey, and the Muppets.
  • True and unconditional love.
    • It’s a mutual thing.  I have never felt such an unconditional love for someone or from someone, until I became a dad.  Holding each of my boys for the first time, you melt!  The love just gushes out from you.  It is an amazing thing.
  • Hearing “I love you” from them.
    • This kind of goes with the above item.  As if you can’t love them any more, the minute they tell you “I love you” is just an amazing, emotional, and wonderful thing that you will never forget.  I still have voicemails from both boys as toddlers on my phone.  I need to find a way to get them into an MP3 or something.  I never want to lose those!
  • Halloween
    • There were a few years I worked nights and missed out on taking them out trick or treating.  I was able to be at all of their Halloween parades at school.  I loved being able to help pick out costumes with them.  Pulling them around the neighborhood as babies was something very fun.
  • Gibberish talk.
    • As parents, we all do this. Especially when they are babies.  I wish I could remember all the things I said to my kids, I don’t.  I know there were gibberish phrases that I used for each boy, though.  I used to love saying them to make them smile.
  • Making them laugh.
    • My kids were always my best audience.  “Do it again, Daddy!”  There is nothing like making your child laugh.  Their laughter is like music!  Even as they grow up, I still love listening to them laugh.  They may not laugh at it everything like they used to, but that’s ok.  It’s still fun to make them laugh.
  • Roughhousing.
    • It’s a bit different now that they are older, and have the potential of kicking my butt!  I love when they want to rough house!  I remember my mom yelling at my dad, “Stop that rough housing!”  Why?!  It was fun for all of us!
  • Being silly.
    • Adulting sucks.  Sometimes, you just have to be silly!  Being a dad allows you to be silly.  Silly is good.  Sometimes, you have to break away from the serious and embrace the silly!
  • Letting them win.
    • Oh how many games of cribbage did my dad let me win?!  With Uno, he wasn’t so nice.  I think he used to love putting down that Draw 4 card – much like I do with my kids today!  Sure, I have let them win occasionally, and there is some satisfaction in watching him and his brother brag about how they beat dad at the game.  Every once in awhile, though, you gotta show them you can beat them at it too!
  • “Caving” at the store.
    • I don’t do this as much now, but I used to.  You know how it is – you go to the store and there is that “can we get this?” or “I need this!”  All too often, I would cave and buy whatever it was.  Now that they are older, they understand a bit more when you tell them you don’t have the money to buy that right now.  they younger they are, the easier it is for dads to cave!
  • Getting beat at video games.
    • I love spending time with my boys.  They love their video games.  They have this one called Super Smash Brothers.  I really don’t understand it, but the gist is that you are a character (there are many) and you beat each other up until someone wins.  They kept asking me to play, so I did.  They wiped the floor with me.  Both of them were laughing as they beat the snot out of my character.  I was just pushing buttons trying to make it hit or whatever.  All of a sudden, my character started to light up and did this crazy punch/kick thing!  My youngest said, “Dad, you figured out how to use the special!”  There was some special move – every character has one!  They just neglected to tell me about it and let me lose!  LOL!  Smart boys!!  I don’t care whether I win or not, I just enjoy the time with them.
  • Carrying them on my shoulders
    • I remember as a kid, loving when my dad carried me on his shoulders.  I used to hold on to his hair!  My boys did the same thing!  I would give anything to be able to carry my sons again on my shoulders.  I used to love walking through the store with them up there.  I loved taking walks in the park with them up there.  I wish I had more pictures of them up there.
  • Snuggling/Hugs
    • I have always been a hugger.  I love hugging my kids.  I miss the days of snuggling up next to them for a nap.  I miss holding them while we watch TV.  I remember many times trying to get up from the couch, trying not to wake them because they fell asleep.  Those moments are so special for a dad.  I love when they come up and hug me for no reason.  It is still an amazing thing.
  • “Pull my finger”
    • This is probably the one thing that is exclusive to dads.  Not many moms do this!  Farts, dads, and kids mean laughs.  It’s probably such a huge annoyance for moms.  Dads fart.  Kids laugh at farts.  I remember one time my friend and I were outside in the front yard playing with Matchbox cars.  Dad came home from work and as he was walking in the house he made the “finger gun” with his hand and “shot” it as he farted.  We still laugh about that!  The fart will always be a funny thing that dads and kids both laugh at together.
  • Looking at your relationship with your kids and being able to connect it to memories you shared with your dad.
    • Go back and read how many times I mention something I love about doing with my sons, and how many times I can connect them with something my dad and I shared!
  • The “bond” that is eternal.
    • There will never be anything that can come between me and my kids.  I love my sons with all that I am.  They are my flesh and blood and will forever be my little boys.
  • The firsts and lasts
    • Those firsts stay with you forever.  The first steps.  The first words.  The first day of school.  The first concert.  Both of my sons are still in school, but if social media is an indicator, the last day of school is just as emotional as the first!  Watching each of my sons get on the bus for the first time was very emotional for me.  Big days – big emotions.
  • Artwork
    • Back when I had an office at work, I used to have countless drawings that they did in school.  I used to have a macaroni bee that my oldest son made.  The noodles eventually broke on it.  I still have some paintings they did and the coffee mug coasters that each boy made me for Father’s Day in kindergarten or first grade.  Those little things hold special meaning for me.
  • Bedtime Stories
    • It starts as you reading to them.  I don’t know how many times I read “Goodnight Moon” or “I’m Thankful Each Day” to my sons, but I enjoyed it every time.  I am sure there were other books, too.  “Snowmen at Night” was a favorite, too.  I used to love when they would read to me!  I wish the video games weren’t so accessible, because I really wish they would find more time to read.  I loved when they would tell me about a story of book they read in school.
  • The emotions that they make me feel.
    • They make me proud.  They make me happy.  They make me cry (both happy and sad tears).  They make me worry.  They make me thankful.  They make me feel a never ending love for each of them.  I am not ashamed to admit how emotional I have gotten watching them in a play, a band concert, a baseball game, or during an awards ceremony.  God help me, when they graduate, get married, and have children – I can barely hold it together now!!

I am sure if I had a few more minutes, I could add many more items to this list.  Being a dad is the greatest thing I have ever had to do.  My sons have been tremendous blessings to me and fill my heart with joy and laughter.  I love them so much.  If and when I am blessed with another child, I will look forward to reliving some of the things mentioned and creating new memories with that child, because being a dad is one of the coolest, most special, and fulfilling things I have ever done, or will ever do in my lifetime.

Happy Father’s Day!

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