It is 11:20 in the morning and I'm sitting in my car outside a Starbucks in Westlake Village, California. In ten minutes, I will be reunited with my best friend growing up—whom I have not seen in 45 years. I am simultaneously excited and anxious. So much life has gone by. Would we still have the same connection? Or would the passage of time have eroded one of the truly great friendships of the twentieth century?
If not for the advent of social media, this would never be happening. The way it used to be: Friends grew up, established their own lives and very often lost touch with one another. But today, the rules have changed. A thread, then another thread, and finally the link that led me to the Facebook page of Eddie Bass.
After "finding" Eddie on Facebook, we began exchanging emails with the formidable task of filling in the blanks of the last four decades of our lives. He had remained living on the East Coast and was now a retired New York City teacher. I too had taught school in NY but left for Los Angeles in 1979 to pursue a career in television writing. He learned my oldest daughter had suffered irreparable brain trauma at birth and was now an adult with special needs. Ironically, Eddie's daughter was the exact same age as mine and was a special needs teacher.
We were content sharing the history of our lives apart via the written word. At no point did either of us suggest trying to get together again. We didn't even exchange phone numbers. I think maybe subconsciously, we were both afraid that the current versions of us might not measure up to what we were back then, and any form of direct contact could validate that fear.
So, we remained content with the status quo. Then came his email that was the game changer: "I'm really tired of typing on my phone; what with my fat fingers and this tiny little keyboard. I've decided it would be a lot easier to talk in person." Eddie was on the way home with his wife from a vacation in Hawaii and was stopping off to see his cousin in Westlake Village. I lived in Encino, just 20 miles away.
We had grown up a few houses apart on the same block in Brooklyn. Directly behind our homes loomed the elevated subway with commuter trains in transit every 20 minutes. Key television plot points were frequently missed as a train roaring through obliterated all other sounds. To this day, I don't know why Lucy and Ethel were in that vat of grapes.
Interspersed among the attached walk-ups and apartment buildings on our street were various small stores, including the jewel of our neighborhood: Fanny's Soda Shoppe. There after a game of stoopball, kick-the-can or Johnny-on-the-Pony we would go to enjoy all that life had to offer: candy, comic books, baseball cards, not to mention the best damn egg cream in Brooklyn (and we would fight anyone who begged to differ).
But the best part of Fanny's was the jukebox. You see this was the Sixties, when rock and roll music ruled. I remember the day Eddie and I skipped classes and took the subway downtown to the Brooklyn Fox Theater to see the Murray the K show. Appearing live was 12- year-old Little Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Ben E. King and the very sexy Ronettes with their slit skirts. While we stood on the street waiting to enter the venue, they blew a kiss down at us from their dressing room window. To this day, I'm still in love with the lead singer, Ronnie Spector.
Eddie and I were in the same Cub Pack, Boy Scout troop and shared a lean-to—a small cabin with one open side—at Ten Mile River summer camp. Once, on a 50-mile trip down the Delaware River, Eddie's canoe capsized while navigating the legendary Skinner's Falls rapids and if not for Scoutmaster Morty Fink pulling him to safety on the shore, Eddie would be sleeping with the fishes.
In high school, we became shot-putters. Not because we were strong but because we were naked. Let me explain. For some reason I will never quite understand, boys in swim class were required to swim in the nude. If that wasn't humiliating enough, before being allowed to enter the pool, we were subjected to a cleanliness inspection, run by a fascist senior student-monitor in a Speedo. As we stood spread-eagled in the buff with hands against the wall, he scrutinized our most intimate of areas. At his whim, we were either given the OK to hit the pool or sent to the showers to "get clean."
"Bummer" was the word we used back then for this dilemma. Then, one day, a message appeared on the athletic bulletin board: "Shot-putters wanted." If we got on the track team, we'd no longer have to go to swim class. Only one problem. Shot-putters had to practice outdoors in the cold from November through March, which was the primary reason there were openings. The choice was clear: Freeze our balls off outside or continue to get them inspected inside. The rest is history.
Our routine was simple. We threw the shot a few times then huddled together out of sight behind the field house and smoked cigarettes. My brand was Newport Kings, while Eddie puffed on Viceroys. We were the worst shot-putters in the city but that didn't deter us from ordering custom school track jackets, with a chenille shot put on the front featuring our names. Mine is in a box in the garage with other memorabilia that no longer fits me.
After high school, it was on to Brooklyn College, where we majored in health education. We became teachers and received deferments from the Army, saving us from the Vietnam War. I was the best man at his wedding and he would have been mine except for a technicality—I had a brother. It was some time after our marriages that we started drifting apart. I can't remember if there was a specific incident or if it was just that thing that happens when adult priorities replace the camaraderie of youth.
As the moment of truth arrived, I felt my heart accelerate as I got out of the car. Was this a mistake? Would it have been better with just emails? That way the friendship I remembered would remain the version imprinted fondly in my mind. I walked towards the Starbucks slowly, with the cadence of a gunslinger preparing for the worst. And then I saw him. In the flesh.
I wish I could adequately describe the emotion that overwhelmed me. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before. We looked into each other's eyes like two long-lost lovers, then embraced, and in that moment any doubts I had about us were erased.
We spent the rest of the day together, as comfortable with each other as we had been so long ago. Eddie said it felt like all the years we had been apart was like some suspended animation. When it was finally time to say goodbye, I smiled through the tears and joked, "See you in another 45 years." I miss him already.