Long-lost friend stays lost

Months ago, I found my friend Michele Wolf using this blog.

Encouraged, I went on a hunt for a childhood friend named Bobby. Bobby and I used to play on 74th Street in Brooklyn, New York. I considered him among my closest friends in grammar school.

I called friends in Bay Ridge looking for him. No one had any information. I have a friend who does private investigations from time to time look for him. She found nothing. I believed he was dead.

God bless her, Christine Ness from my grammar school (we’re having a reunion on September 13, I’m flying in from Seattle to go to it) started finding everyone on Facebook. And finally, a mutual friend’s sister put me in touch with a one of his relatives on Facebook.

I sent a message. Months passed. Then he answered and – just like that – I had Bobby’s phone number.

Mr. Slate!

I called Bobby this week. Thrilled, I heard him pick up.

“Bob?”

“Who is this?”

“It’s Mr. Slate!”

Ridiculous, I know, but 27 or so years ago in high school, we had a gym teacher named Mr. Slater who was out sick one day. It was announced to us, as was every announcement, on a neatly typed and posted correspondence on the Main Office showcase. There was a missing “r.” That’s all it took for two immature teens to say “Mr. Slate” again and again over the course of weeks. I still think of the funny, slurred way we said it. And it still makes me laugh.

“It’s Mr. Slate!” I shouted out gleefully.

“Click” came the abrupt response. Bob had hung up on me.

Maybe I confused him? He didn’t remember Mr. Slater? It has been a quarter century, after all. Maybe he thought it was a crank call.

I tried again and went immediately to voicemail. “Hi, this is Joe Hage – Joey Hage from 76th Street,” I clarified. “I’m sorry if I scared you away there. I had said ‘Mr. Slate,’ you know, like our old joke? Anyway, I got your number from John. It’s been a really long time and I think of you now and again. I’d love to get in touch with you again. Call back when you have a moment.”

I wasn’t surprised when the phone did not ring.

Try, try again?

I’m home today, all alone. Beth and the kids took their annual trip to Cape Cod where Beth’s best friend has a summer house. They chit-chat. Karen’s kids play with my kids. It’s Beth’s time, not really a trip for me.

I read “Crazy Love” (great book) cover to cover. I slept late (since the dog got me up – and kept me up – at 3:30 a.m.). I thought I’d give Bob another try.

I called. No answer. I hung up.

15 minutes later, the phone rang. It was Bob’s number.

“Hello?” I started, thinking anything more aggressive would result in the same outcome.

“Hello? You called this number a few minutes ago?”

“Yes,” and in as clear a speaking voice as I could offer (so there would be no confusion),”it’s Joe Hage.”

Click.

I don’t for a moment think he’s mad at me. I guess he doesn’t want to connect with anyone from his past.

Why look in the first place?

Why was I looking? I don’t know. I guess I’m sentimental.

I used to think of Bob as a best friend. I remember helping him get through Xaverian (he had a problem with Senior English, as I recall), and remember being happier seeing him get his diploma than I was getting my own.

I still say “Mr. Slate!” to myself from time to time. And if I wear corduroys on a cold wintry day, I think of the ridicule he got from our band of friends about “Bobby Jeans” – these cords he had with unusually wide treads.

I rejoiced to learn he was still alive. I heard his voice. I can be content with that.

Have you ever looked for an old friend? What happened you found him or her?

Postscript

In 2010, Bobby joined Facebook and accepted my friend request. He apologized for his behavior: He was in a bad way, on disability and a great deal of pain medication. When my Dad died, Bobby came to the wake. In fact, he was the first friend to arrive.

I got up and gave him a huge hug. Kissed him on the cheek. Was delighted – beyond delighted – to see him. He recapped his life, a mutual friend joined us, and Bob stayed rather late.

I finally got a thank-you note in the mail to him. Had I waited any longer, he would have missed it.

Bob died a month later, at age 45, from apparent cardiac arrest.

I think of him often.

Comments

  1. Hey Joe,

    I’ve had similar experiences with finding old friends via Facebook but nothing that severe! Geez dude! Get some manners! (Maybe he’s just in bad place in his life…)

    I went to a small private school for junior high. 23 people in our 8th grade class. Then went to a large high school. So I had closer bonds with kids from junior high than high school. For years I looked for my 2 best friends. Found one online about 5 years ago because she’s a documentary film producer. Had a nice chat – online – and suggested a visit since she’s just “up the road” in Vancouver BC. Nothin…

    Then about a month ago I found the other BFF of Facebook. I was thrilled! I’ve been looking for her for years. Her parents and my parents were sailing buddies. We had many sleep-overs and shared birthday parties because our birthday’s are a week apart. We even had matching baseball jerseys we wore roller skating every Saturday. (Remember the baseball jerseys you could get customized with iron on transfers? If not. It was hot in 1980.) Well, 2 weeks after my second “I think I know you…” message, she replied with something along the lines of “So great to hear from you! How are you?” I sent her a condensed version of my life. And…nothing. She’s posted a few replies to the group from our old junior high days but nothing personal.

    I’d hate for a reader to come away with the notion that I lose sleep over this. I don’t. I just wanted to connect with people I really cared about and would love to stay in touch with. So why aren’t they glad to hear from up? Perhaps the relationship that was important to us was less important to them? Perhaps they see our profiles and decide their lives don’t measure up? Perhaps they’re just too busy for one more relationship? Perhaps they hate this whole social networking thing? Who knows?

    I do know that this whole social networking thing is stretching the bounds of polite social behavior. Hmmm… sounds like another online guide along the lines of Wired Magazine’s recent article “How to Behave: New Rules for Highly Evolved Humans” on how to handle the social web http://budurl.com/z9jd

    I also firmly believe that it’s always a good thing to reach out with an attitude of “Hey! Our relationships was important to my life.” What else is the social web for if not CONNECTING in a meaningful way?

  2. Hi,

    I am the type of person who does not like these socia networks. I am not the member of any. But still some old friends and relations find me. I do not reject them, but we could hardly speak about anything else but the past. And maybe you tell them what happened to you in the last couple of years you have not seen each other. Somehow I always feel that they belong to a time that is over. The circumstances are different now, old friends has changed, I have changed. I have new realtions, new friends, new city to live. I do not insist maintaining my past.
    I wonder if it helps you to understand.
    Good Luck!
    .-= Monika´s last blog ..How does Blu-ray technology work? =-.

  3. @Elge, thanks for leaving such a generous note. We’ve got to get you for a guest blog at some point soon.

    @Monika, I hear you. I think there are lots of different kinds of people. I am sentimental and nostalgic. If I had a chance to live a day in the future or a day in the past, I’d choose the past.

    Thanks for your perspective. Bobby is probably more like you and wants to keep the past in the past.

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