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.

To: S. Claus. North Pole.

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December 19, 2018

Dear Santa,

I know it has been some time since I have written a letter to you, and I bet you are wondering why I have chosen to do so after all these years. Well, to be honest, there have been a lot of changes in my life over the past few years. I am seeing life with different eyes, and it is wonderful! I have made a decision to weed out negativity and to stay positive. There is too much judgment, hate, and sadness in the world and I have done what I can to steer clear of that. By doing so, I have found great happiness. So, why am I writing to you, you ask?

The answer is that I am not sure. It may be the combination of a couple of things. First, I have played the song Grown Up Christmas List a few times at the radio station, and this year the words hit me a bit harder than in previous years. Second, I’ve watched a few movies where the lack of Christmas Spirit has played a big role in the plot, and I fear my Christmas Spirit may be lacking. Third, I am newly married to a beautiful woman who has changed my life in ways I can’t even begin to explain. She has brought about a happiness that has been absent from my life for way too long. Finally, after my annual reading of A Christmas Carol, I have pondered some things about the future, while thinking about the present and the past.

The Christmas season has always brought me great joy. As a little boy, rushing out to see what you had left under the tree, I remember being overcome with happiness! I recall the many notes that you left for my brother and I each Christmas morning. I recall the notes that you left for my sons years later. (We often wondered (and I still do) how you could eat so many cookies and never gain weight!) What an amazing job you have! To quote Stan Freberg in his record Christmas Dragnet, you’re the only guy who “can make everybody happy in one night.”

With the passing of many years, I now sit here to write you this letter. I want to say first of all, thank you for the many gifts that you have brought over the years. While I was never too keen on the socks and underwear, as an adult I do realize that they were something I needed. Thank you for the Millennium Falcon, the numerous Star Wars figures, the countless books and movies, as well as the straight mute for my trumpet. Thank you for the various games, Hot Wheels cars, my bike with the cool handlebars, and the Sound Gizmo! Thank you for the many Lego sets, the Wii, and the toys you brought for my sons! Before I give you my list of requests, I wanted to be sure that you are aware of just how grateful I am for the many gifts of Christmas Past.

I do realize that you get many requests, and this is probably your busiest time of year, but I hope it is not too late you ask you for a few things. This list is kind of a tall order. Take all the time you need on them, I will understand.

For Kids

I have noticed that children seem to be growing up faster than they should. It is almost as though their innocence is taken from them sooner than it should be. My first wish is that they be allowed to be kids and do kid things for longer periods of time. Allow them to play and imagine! Allow them to experience the happiness and freedom of not being an adult. Shield them from the miseries, tragedies, and unpleasant things of the modern world. Allow them to share more smiles and less tears. Fill their lives with laughter and people who care. Protect them from harm and needless worry. Allow them to experience the magic of childhood, free from cruelty and bullying. Children are our future and we need them!

The Nations of the World

It seems that every time I hear a news report, there is a story about crimes related to gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and racism. When will the people in charge realize that the more we are different, the more we are the same?! The words of Maya Angelou ring true here – “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” I hope you can help us with this. We all come from a family. We all have the ability to love. We all have the capability to do good. We all have the ability to problem solve and to find “middle ground”. We all can take advantage of the power of “compromise”. My secnd wish is that you please help people to remember the following powerful quote: “We are all one race – the human race – and we are all members of it.”

Financial Freedom?

This one is a bit of a sore spot. Is it too much to ask that people be allowed to earn a living? I’m not talking about overabundant wealth, because you and I know that sometimes comes with its own set of troubles. My third wish is that people have the ability to go and work at a job and make enough money to live debt free. That they have the ability to live within their means, and enjoy life. Now, I am completely aware that there are many people who suffer because of their own addictions and actions. I am not talking about those people. However, there should be no reason for someone to have to work two and three jobs while their spouse works more than one job and still struggle to make ends meet. I hope you understand, I am not against working! I have a college education (and student loan debt out the ying yang) and I have a good job. Many people are just like me and struggle to keep their heads above water. Perhaps you and the elves can find a way to help out the ‘average Joe’ ? We are worrying too much, working too much, and stressed beyond belief. They say we need to stop and smell the roses, but it seems that life won’t let us slow down enough to do that.

Enough with the Cancer

This one is a bit selfish. This cancer thing has taken some people from me who I loved very much. It’s not just me, though – cancer has taken people from some of my friends, too. Let’s face it, it is out of control! Cancer is a monster that knows no age, I learned that when I visited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Kids should never have to deal with fighting cancer and their parent’s shouldn’t have to be burdened with all that treatment entails! You’ve got connections, right? You have to know people who can finally find a cure for this. Maybe you can even help us figure out what is the cause of cancer and why we see so much of it? The elves can magically whip up any and every toy imaginable – isn’t there something you can do to help us find a cure for cancer? If you can figure this out, maybe we could tackle the other health issues and diseases, too!

For Me, Personally

Before I close, I do have a few personal requests to make. If possible, throughout the year, please help me to be a good husband, a good father, and a good friend. Send along little reminders throughout the year that remind me to be like Scrooge and keep the Christmas Spirit throughout the year. Help me to be a giver of gifts that do not cost anything:

  • The Gift of Listening. Help me to REALLY listen to others! No interrupting. No planning my response. No daydreaming. Just truly listening.
  • The Gift of Affection. Help me to be generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, hand holding and pats on the back. Help me to show my family and friends how much I treasure them.
  • The Gift of Laughter. Help me to spread a smile. Help me to bring joy and help others forget their worries and stresses. Help me to always make people happy!
  • The Gift of Writing. Help me to expand on the writing that I enjoy. Help me to find topics that others find interesting and thought-provoking. Help me to remember that sometimes a handwritten note is sometimes more meaningful than a phone call or meaningless text message.
  • The Gift of a Compliment. Help me to always compliment someone on a job well done. Help me to compliment someone on a simple haircut or new outfit. Help me to never let someone’s work be unnoticed.
  • The Gift of a Favor. Help me to always do something nice for others. Help me to lend a hand. Help me to assist those who need something. Help me always think of ways to lend a hand.
  • The Gift of a Cheerful Disposition. Help me to always wear a smile. Help me to stay positive. Help me find the positives in a negative world. Help me to spread cheer through a smile.
  • The Gift of Solitude. Help me to be conscious of when someone needs a few moments to themselves. Help me to respect when someone does not want to talk or share feelings. Help me to occasionally get this gift for myself, too.

Thanks for taking the time to read my letter. Thanks for spreading Christmas Cheer throughout the entire world. Thank you for the awe and wonder that you bring to little children who look forward to your yearly visit. On behalf of parents everywhere, thank you for helping those little ones steer away from doing wrong and making an extra effort to be on their best behavior.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Keith