Saturday, April 20, 2013
Last night I learned of the death of a childhood friend. Danny was bigger than most kids his age in elementary school. By middle school and then in high school, he was an excellent athlete and had established himself as the strong silent type. Girls had crushes on Danny. He was in a car club, a starter on the football team, and, as I recall, had a steady girlfriend. Earlier this week he died of lung cancer after a long battle. Danny was a retired L.A. firefighter, divorced father, who was apparently looking forward to more of his recently earned retirement. Like many of my high school friends, I lost contact with Danny. Too much water under too many bridges. Bridges like the Vietnam War, counter culture values, progressive politics, and distance. I could never live in Southern California; that was my parents dream. Had he lived and had I been so inclined, I could have attended next year's reunion. I could have seen, talked to, and rekindled some sort of lost friendship with Dan, as he came to be called. Fact is, I never knew Dan, only Danny. It occurred to me, in recalling some formative childhood experiences, that another friend Chuck, who died last year, joins Danny among the first kids I grew up with to die. Of course I'm not counting those that perished in Vietnam. There were a half dozen of those, at least. When I think of those two, Danny and Chuck, I think of the last Little League game I ever played. My team, the Yankees was playing the Localites (Local union sponsored) in the championship game. We were serious underdogs because of their power hitters. Our hope was our pitching and defense. The first batter up for the Localites hit a windblown pop fly that our shortstop chased down, twisting and turning, until the ball landed inside his glove as two other infielders and two outfielders converged barely crashing into the playmaker. Second man up hit a deep fly ball to centerfield. I, with my Willie Mays glove in tow and eyes on the game day bright white baseball, drifted back to the fence. In those days it was a wooden fence about 4-41/2 feet tall. Right in front of the tin scoreboard, I leaped and hauled in the sure to be home run. It was my crowning achievement as a center fielder, a fantasy come true. Two down. The next three hitters, Richard, Chuck and Danny all hit home runs. Needless to say, we lost the game and the championship. My memory of that day stops there. Today, in thinking of Danny and his passing, I see him stride to the plate. He looks like he could play American Legion ball, not like a 12 year old. He hits a towering drive that sails over the left fielder's head and lands about 50 feet beyond, near a chain link fence with barbed wire on top that keeps people away from the flight path of the airport nearby. I swear I thought it would have hit a low flying airplane about to land if the timing were right. Danny circles the bases like our very own Babe Ruth. Part of me dies as he touches home plate, only to be revived today. Rest in Peace Danny.