Monday, June 25, 2007

Memoria #1 -- Rick

This is what I'd say to Rick's siblings, if they asked for my memories.
I got a call this past weekend that my inseparable teenage friend, Rick, had died. For 3 years from 1968 to 1971, we were constant companions, working at the same diner, usually the same shifts. With 5 sisters, I always wanted a brother and Rick was my surrogate brother. I went away to college but we would pick right back up when I came home. Eventually, Rick started letting the dark side come to the fore, was tossed out of your house and moved around quite a bit for a few years. He would appear every so often and then disappear into the void until his next surfacing.
We shared an apartment for a year in '75-'76, but we were not friends any more. The day I moved out of the apartment was the last time I spoke to him until your Mom's funeral. I got information about him a couple of times over the years from Meg, who had stayed in touch with Sue.
When your Mom died this past winter, Meg and I hemmed and hawed about going to the funeral, but we decided we would go together. Your Mom had always treated us very kindly, in spite of the pure chaos that was your household in those years (no offense intended). We wanted to pay our respects.
As Meg and I walked down the aisle of the church to view your Mom, Sue was sitting in the front row. She looked around and Meg waved and Sue acknowledged her and then I waved real casually, like I had seen her last week. Sue's jaw dropped. She was sitting next to Rick, told him to turn around, and when he realized who it was, his mouth formed the word "Wow", and a big smile came across his face. We chatted briefly before the service and Rick was really moved that I came. I was also moved by his response.
It was good to see all you "kids". I hadn't seen any of you since the early 70's, except maybe if Sue was over our house. As you "little" ones were around all the time when Rick and I hung out together, I grew fond of you and I think the feeling was reciprocated. Your Mom's funeral was a sad occasion, but it was really nice to see all of you after all these years.
Allow me to digress for a paragraph and share my feelings about your Mom. Once your Mom got a chance to breathe, i.e., you kids got out of her hair, she took hold of life and lived it fully -- travelling and painting and grandmothering. She remarried to a man who was a gem, according to all accounts. I was so happy to hear that she blossomed because in my days associated with your family, she worked a 40 hour a week job, did the "woman's" work, helped the kids with their homework, and had a difficult husband, in my opinion. I never saw her not frazzled, but I was always welcome in your house and she treated me very nicely and always treated me as an adult. I also think she was grateful that Rick was hanging out with someone more level-headed, or maybe someone just more scared about getting into trouble. (Not that I was any candidate for sainthood).
I've been thinking a lot about Rick in the last couple of days, even though I had only talked to him once in the last 30 years. I don't think anyone knew what made him tick. He certainly had the gift of gab -- as my Mom said, "You couldn't help but like Rick." Even with his "Roman" nose -- Crazy Joe at the Diner told the joke a 100 times -- "Rick, you have a Roman nose. It's roamin' all over your face" -- Rick had no problems finding girl friends. He was glib, tall and handsome even with that nose and had that air of danger that girls so liked. The Rick I got to know at 15 or 16, was a big hearted, funny, smart, nice individual. The summer of '68 he devoted to memorizing all the words of all the Simon and Garfunkel songs. I couldn't help but learn the words myself. We would sing those songs all summer. I don't know if the 1975 version of Rick would even listen to them. I don't remember hearing him play them on the stereo in our apartment.
During the second half of our 3 year inseparability, hints of a darker Rick started surfacing. Rick was always super desirous of money, even more than me. Your Mom and his and Eric's father divorced when he was little and his dad died before I even knew Rick. I'm sure money was very, very tight. Rick told me he started working at 10 in a corner store in the city before he moved out to the 'burbs and was working at the diner at 14. He may have had a gambling addiction -- he could never do anything just for the pleasure of it. We liked to shoot pool; I wasn't very good but Rick was passable by suburban pool hall standards. I loved the challenge of me vs. the table and I loved the geometry of the angles. Rick loved the betting. He would spot me x balls to 100 or some crazy 9 ball bet. We lived about 1.5 miles from the pool hall and for the longest while neither of us had a car, so we walked. Well, at some point, Rick could no longer just walk and talk like we used to, we had to race. Now Rick ran track in a pretty good program in high school; by contrast, I'm a thick legged slug. I HATE to run and always have. Didn't matter to Rick, we had to race. He'd spot me half the distance and more often than not, beat me. Racing was where I drew the line on betting. Now, I was better at basketball, ping pong and wiffle ball; we didn't bet on them because they were my things and I played them for fun.
I think that Rick had no stomach for delayed gratification. He wanted it and he wanted it NOW. He went to Community College for maybe a 1/2 year; he certainly could have gotten into a 4 year college such as Temple or Penn State if he had wanted to. But college wasn't going to happen quickly enough for him. This being 1970/1, the use of drugs was getting wide-spread and he started dabbling in dealing. He did get busted, spent some time in county jail. He pretty much went low visibility by '72 and I saw him rarely; in fact he never had a phone # that he divulged.
Well I went back to college in '72 after dropping out for a year and was away except for the summer. By March of '75, I graduated but couldn't find a job. By summer's end, I ended up working at the Sheraton where Rick was working. He had a bedroom open in his apartment; desperate to get out of the house, I took it.
This Rick was hardened; the Simon and Garfunkel Rick was long suppressed. He was a banquet manager; he worked very hard, to his credit, but was also scamming extra servings, wine bottles and champagne bottles for bigger tips. Working there, I did not want to know this stuff but could not bring myself to turn him in. He scoffed at my disapproval. He was also stringing along a couple of women, who honestly should have known better. He wasn't going out of his way to hurt them exactly but he was very callous and sometimes flaunted his "success" to them. More than once I had to tell a tearful voice on the other end of the phone that Rick "wasn't available". It was all about Rick's pleasure; 100% ego gratification, 24/7, consequences be damned.
A few months after moving in, I got a job as a computer operator on the night shift. Rick mainly worked the breakfast and lunch banquets so we hardly saw each other and we were happier for it. I moved out in Oct. '76 and didn't talk to him again until your Mom's funeral.
In '83, Sandie and I were making plans to get married. We were checking another hotel in the area and had an appointment with the guy who had been the Director of Banquets at the Sheraton, i.e., Rick's boss back then. We exchanged pleasantries and he brought in his 2 right hand men, who both had worked in Banquets with Rick. We started talking and Hans told me that he had fired Rick for stealing. All I could say was 1) I hadn't seen Rick since I had moved out 2) I wasn't shocked.
After your Mom's service, Rick told me his condensed life history in the 15 minutes that we had to talk before you took off to the grave site. He had high-tailed it to Florida in the late 70s and worked for a while dealing cards in Florida and Louisiana. He moved to New Orleans in the 80s, settling there for good. He had been working as a cook on oil rigs in the Gulf for a number of years. No marriage, no kids. He thought he knew my college friend Rollin but Rollin didn't recognize the name. Rollin manages a rig; it's quite possible Rick knew who Rollin was without Rollin really knowing Rick.
So here I sit; still sad, still grieving, and yes, a bit weepy. Rick is gone; the Rick I had loved had been devoured by the hardened Rick 35 years ago. Why did that side disappear? I don't know; Rick became more and more circumspect as time went on. I don't think your Mom or you guys had any clue what drove him. He did not keep in contact for the longest time, even with your mother. I never walked in his shoes; my folks never divorced; my dad didn't die; my mom didn't have 4 kids by another man with whom I could not get along. I'm from a family of 6 kids too; I know how attention starved we can become when our parents have so many other responsibilities. The amateur psychologist in me wonders if Rick felt abandoned in his early life, built up a wall that no one was going to penetrate to insure that no one was going to abandon him again.
Enough of the pseudo-psychology; I'll try always to remember the Simon and Garfunkel Rick. That's a nice memory. And I can always hope that that side of Rick might have resurfaced some day.

ADDENDUM: 27-Feb-2008
I just found out today that the coroner ruled accidental heroin overdose. Cripes, Rick, 55 years old ODing on heroin. At least your inner turmoil is over. So sad, so sad.

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