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If the definition of a best friend is someone who knows all of your secrets, then I’d say Ron is still my best friend. He is the keeper of my secrets, and I am the keeper of many of his.

We met when we were fourteen-year-old freshmen in high school and were both vulnerable. I was recovering from a serious illness that had put me in the hospital, and the results of the prednisone I’d been taking left me with both the classic “moon face” and pretty severe acne.

Ron entered our class a couple of months after the academic year had begun. At that point he had two disadvantages: one, he was the “new kid” in class; and two, he was smarter than everybody else. If I had to list a number three, it would be that he seemed to let everybody know he was smarter than they were.

It took him a while to understand that it can work to your disadvantage when you know more than everyone else, especially when you are constantly raising your hand in class. I don’t know how I did it, but I helped him understand that. The example I gave him was the character Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. from the TV show Dobie Gillis—a classic know-it-all. Ron obviously did not want to be known as Chatsworth. Problem solved.

Ironically, having received a terrific college scholarship, he didn’t last a year. On his own at last, he seemed to have lost his moorings during that first year away from home. If I recall, the lure of the sirens of Steubenville (or some other den of iniquity) proved irresistible. To add insult to injury, it was 1965, and once he was out of school, the Army scooped him up.

I remember a few of the stories he told me about his relatively short stint defending our country. One had to do with a visit to a town near his basic training where a group of “townies” taunted and then challenged Ron and his buddies who had just completed self-defense training. In short order he and his friends “put down the enemy,” leaving them in pain on the sidewalk.

A more serious incident occurred when he was at an outdoor event. Ron was sitting at the top of a bleachers, screwing around. He fell off, ruptured his spleen and God knows what else, and wound up in the hospital for surgery. Given a few weeks to go home and recuperate, he somehow forgot to tell his superiors that he was hanging out at his  girlfriend’s house (she was a couple of years behind us in high school). Not surprisingly, the Army MPs located him and took him away. But don’t worry. He talked himself out of prison, soon left the Army, and married the girl.

That’s the kind of guy Ron was. He always was. And still is.

On his own again, he managed to land on his feet and took a short course in computer programming. I don’t know whether this particular class was advertised on a matchbook cover, but that’s how I often think of it. Whatever they taught him he parlayed into a career in computer science and data analysis, working for financial institutions and other agencies. Once again he was riding high and making a pretty good living in the burgeoning field of computers. Later he entered the real estate field, where he met his current wife. To his further credit, he did eventually return to college and got a degree.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to high school. During the early 1960s, all of us guys (including the Beatles), were wearing skinny ties. For school portrait day, I showed up wearing my tie knotted as my father had taught me. But I immediately noticed that Ron’s tie looked better than mine, and told him so. He agreed to teach me how to tie this different knot, and proceeded to do so. Unfortunately, at that moment we were sitting in the back of the room during class, and we wound up in the principal’s office. If the principal didn’t laugh when he heard the reason for our being thrown out of class, he should have.

At a time when the only air conditioning you could find was at a bank or the movie theater, the basement den in my suburban home was perfect for hanging out on hot summer days. I spent a lot of time down there listening to the mixture of rock and jazz, and creating faux DJ shows.

I had a great reel-to-reel tape recorder with an “add-a-track” feature, and Ron had a collection of 45s left over from the jukebox in the luncheonette his  parents had owned. One of our favorite songs was Don and Juan’s What’s Your Name? We would take turns harmonizing on this repetitive, catchy tune, and also did a good job on several of the Everly Brothers hits.

We spent many hours on hot August days and New Year’s Eves creating episodes of The Bob & Ron Show. Each show consisted of chatter as we spun recordings of our favorite songs, which were endlessly interrupted by important news bulletins.

“Bob, this just in! We just heard that a cat was killed on Wantagh Avenue! Ambulances were called to the scene, but unfortunately, it was too late for Fluffy.”

“Fluffy! Oh my God! I knew her well!”

“Now back to our regular programming.”

There were many blasts from the past, including such as A Quarter to Three by Gary U.S. Bonds, Angel Baby by Rosie and the Originals, Sleep Walk (Santo and Johnny), Charlie Brown (the Coasters), or Teenager in Love by Dion and the Belmonts. The hits kept on coming.

Inevitably, one of us would remind the other that we’d “Been through thick and thin together,” to which the other guy would quickly respond, “Mostly thick!” At the time we were only 15. Now, over 60 years later, we still do that “Thick and Thin” shtick on the rare times we meet.

I have a distinct memory of my mother standing in our kitchen getting ready to make me lunch. When I told her what I wanted, she replied,  “Bobby, this is not a restaurant!” I have no idea what I’d asked for.

The opposite was true at Ronnie’s house. When I ate at his house, it was a restaurant! Both of his parents, who’d owned and worked in cafés and a luncheonette, were incredible in their kitchen.

In the morning after I’d slept over his house we’d walk downstairs and find his mom, Molly, standing at the stove wearing an apron. Ron’s father and perhaps one of his brothers would be sitting at the kitchen table, and she’d ask the five of us what we wanted for breakfast. In ten minutes, breakfast was in front of us. Eggs over easy. Lox omelette. French toast made with challah. Bacon. Hot cereal. Cold cereal. You name it. And if someone was ready for lunch, he could have a tuna sandwich, or chopped liver. White. Rye. Roll. Toast. You name it. I’d never seen anything like it.

Ron inherited his parents’ ability to cook and prepare special and unusual offerings. It was at his house one Passover that I became aware that ham on matzoh was an actual thing.

After school Ron and I would walk home together, often stopping on the way for a snack. One of our regular destinations was Carvel, where I would inevitably get a chocolate shake—I think it was 35¢. Or we might go for a slice of pizza and a coke—15¢ and 10¢, respectively. But very often we’d wind up at Dave’s Luncheonette, more commonly referred to as Dirty Dave’s, where for 12¢ you could get an egg cream made with authentic Fox’s U-Bet Syrup.

Unfortunately for Dirty Dave, the napkin holder on the counter became the recipient of one of the frog’s legs we had dissected in biology earlier that day. Who does this kind of stuff? Regardless, we each agreed it was a great idea. Days later, when we returned, we were (of course) accused of this dastardly deed. Ron took the lead in lying—he was much better at this, and remained so throughout his life.

When we were high school seniors and already accepted at college, we took the opportunity to make a couple of forays (aka “hooky”) into Manhattan, successfully forging notes from our mothers for the purpose. We had to change trains on the Long Island Railroad at one point, and ran for what we thought was the commuter train to New York—it was already slowly heading down the track. After we successfully jumped onto the moving train, we realized it was empty, and had no idea where it was going. Panic time! Eyeing the emergency brake pull cord, I didn’t hesitate. As the train came to an abrupt and noisy stop, a conductor came running down the corridor, yelling at us. I can only say that we were younger and faster than he was, and got the hell out of there.

Our destination that day was the 1964 World’s Fair, specifically the Heineken Pavilion. Armed with four years of high school German, we could order a beer with the best of them, and sitting in the Biergarten, we did just that.

“Zwei bier, bitte.”

As limited as our German vocabulary might have been, it was better than that of the poor mädchen wearing a dirndl who served us. It might have been our classy German or the fake IDs we presented, but in moments we had our beers. What a great day!

Besides using the basement rec room in my house for DJ shows and guitar practice, it was also the scene of more than one make-out party. My father had installed a state of the art stereo, and the tuner featured two pilot lights, one green and one red. I never paid much attention to them until one night when it was completely dark and we were alone with our girlfriends (each of whom turned out to be future wives). The green pilot light, which was on at the time, was distracting me from the lush Johnny Mathis make-out music and whatever progress I was making at the time.

“Ron, can you do something about that damned green light?”

“No problem, man!”

Moments later the light disappeared, but the music continued. It wasn’t until the next day that I had to scrape off the wad of gum my creative friend had meticulously stuck over the green light.

It was because of German class that I discovered one of Ron’s greatest secrets. School was over for the day, and we realized that we hadn’t picked up the tapes from the Language Learning Lab that we were supposed to listen to.

“No problem. I can get us into the lab.”

I looked at him, and a small smile crossed his face.

We went up to the room, he took out his key ring, checked the hallway, and opened the locked door.

It turned out that, as captain of the basketball team, Ron often needed to set up equipment before a game and the coach would give him his keys to open the door to the gym or a storage locker. It was this master key, which opened any door in the entire school, that he had conveniently “borrowed” and copied.

Years later, Ron and Fredi-Ann, his high school sweetheart (and later wife of many years) lived with their two children in a beautiful suburban home on Long Island. I was visiting him during a holiday, perhaps Thanksgiving, I arrived to hear him give me the news that a toilet was plugged up and the plumber would soon be there.

As we watched the plumber from across a very large basement room as he attempted to open the clogged pipe, Ron grumbled about how much this was going to cost him due to holiday and overtime fees. As we were commiserating in soft whispers, the pipe exploded, covering the poor plumber and the entire basement floor, not to mention our shoes, in sewage. We had to take the guy outside and hose him down, and from that day forward, I have never complained about plumbers or plumbing fees.

Many years later, I welcomed a new patient into my optometry office. I’d never seen her before, and was pleasantly surprised to see that her name was Fredi-Ann.

I introduced myself and, with a smile, told her that Fredi-Ann was the name of my best friend’s wife.

She immediately—and surprisingly—became indignant.

“I don’t believe you! I’ve never met another person with my name.”

I got the message, changed the subject, and did her exam. She became a bit more friendly after I turned on the charm. Then, without telling her what I was doing, I dialed Ron’s number on my wall phone, and he answered.

“Hi Ron. It’s Bob.”

“Hey man. How are you doing?”

“Good. Listen, I have a lady here in the office I want you to meet. Just introduce yourself. I’m going to put you on speaker.”

I pushed the button speaker. “Ron, can you hear me?”

“Loud and clear. What’s up?”

“Please say hello to my patient. I want you to meet her.”

“Hi. This is Ron. I’m happy to meet you.”

Puzzled, she responded, “Hi Ron. My name is Fredi-Ann.”

“Fredi-Ann? That’s my wife’s name.”

Obviously trapped, she responded with, “I’ve never met another person named Fredi-Ann my whole life.”

“Well, she’s not here, or I’d introduce you. Listen, I’ve got to go. I’m at work. It was a pleasure!”

And with that, I led Fredi-Ann out to the front desk. Not another word was spoken.

Ron was the best man at my first wedding, and remains my good friend to this day, even though we live a continent apart. He survived a bone marrow transplant, ups and downs in his several careers, and the death of his first wife. Each challenge made him stronger and more philosophical. But deep inside, he was the same guy I’ve known since we were 14.

I saw Ron late last year when I was in Florida, and we had lunch together with another high school classmate, Betty. (I’d known Betty since kindergarten; sadly, she passed several months later.)

Before we parted, he gave me a hug and said, “There’s just one more thing I need to ask you.”

I looked up as he broke into song, a smile on his face:

“What’s your name? Is it Mary or Sue?”

As we sang together, what was going through my mind was, “Through thick and thin… Mostly thick.”

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