… our granddaughter Kaitlin, who was a ‘tweener’ at the time, accompanied me to our local Starbucks as was our daily custom. And as you know, their actual drink sizes are small, medium and large but that is not what their marketing guys want us to call them. They prefer tall, grande and vente. On this particular morning, I noticed a new blend was brewing and Starbucks called it Blonde Roast. When the clerk took the order…excuse me, when the Barista to the order, I said, “I’ll have a tall Blonde…about 35, long legs, blue eyes” whereupon this young man looked at me as though he had just undergone a pre-frontal lobotomy. It was one of those looks that Jack Nicholson threw in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Kaitlin then rolled her eyes, shook her head and while looking at me, she emphatically said, “Grampa, nobody gets you.” I responded with a knee jerk reaction and out of the blue, I said, “Jeff does!”
Jeff and I met at Blue Mountain camp in the Poconos of Pennsylvania where we both worked as counselors, town boys (errand ‘gophers’ for the owners) and instructors during our summers while in college. It was a magnificent place where well to do Jewish parents sent their children for eight weeks during summer break. We used to call it the “Summer Home for Wayward Jewish Children.” There was a boy’s side and a girls’ side of the camp site separated by a beautiful lake and a mile long road which ran along a bank. There were countless pines, waterfront facilities for swimming, boating and sailing, athletic fields and courts, a lodge, stables, an outdoor theatre, two wonderful dining halls, arts and crafts shacks, a radio station, spacious cabins and most important…a field office. This was the brain center for all operations and it ultimately became Jeff’s and my province. We owned it!
The two of us connected right out of the gate. This initial’ bromance’ was predicated upon his wicked sense of humor in addition to his irreverence of everything conventional along with his disdain for authority. Nothing changed! Over the next three or four summers, Jeff took great care of the kids within his charge, but was also the bane of management. If the bosses said yes, Jeff said no; if the bosses said the sky is blue, Jeff said ‘bluish, not blue.” His immediate boss, our good friend Arnie Arnie, (not to be confused with Arnie) was driven to get Jeff fired. It was his life’s mission. Everyone knew that couldn’t happen because Jeff’s campers and their parents loved him and would have protested loudly. And, when check writers protest, management listens. He was bullet proof! We were not permitted to leave camp after evening check-in at the field office but Jeff and I thought that rule was for everyone else. Arnie Arnie made maps of the parking lot to determine if any cars had been moved after hours. Jeff always found a way to make sure it was known that his car had moved. So much so, that even if we didn’t leave the campsite, he would move his car anyway just to get Arnie Arnie’s attention. Some years later, they too became good friends.
The field office was an open air work station where the head counselors (2), gave direction from the throne through blaring loud speakers which could be heard from E. Stroudsburg. It was also thee place to hang out with other counselors and staff during down time and after hours. This is the venue where Jeff and I became great friends. In addition to our similar sensibilities being Philly boys of the same vintage (Jeff @ Bartram and me @ Central), we both sang with the Dovells at different times and neither of us ever recorded with them. It was our love of DooWop music and a cappella harmonies that really drew us toward the same place. We started a group and Jeff named us Marino’s Marauders. I was the arranger and sang bass/baritone while Jeff did the leads. He was great…a real street corner voice that I still hear when listening to the Four Js or Little Billy (Carlucci) and the Essentials or The Earls. We sang in the field office everyday and often over the loud speakers. The kids and staff loved it but it drove Arnie Arnie crazy…only because Jeff loved it. He eventually worked his way through and became a fan… then wanted in.
Management bought a 16’ run about for water skiing. Her name was Eager Beaver. Jeff and I believed that boat was ours until it was made clear that it wasn’t. It didn’t matter! We took our three days off per summer together along with our girlfriends and water skied on Lake Wallenpaupack until dark. We did that with each day off for our next three or four summers. Our love of boats has remained throughout our lives. 1984 was a year of transition for me. I was leaving one career and starting another and in between gigs, Jeff invited me to spend a week with him on his 28’ Bayliner to navigate the San Joaquin Delta from Discovery Bay to Stockton. It was one of the best weeks of my life. And you, his family and friends well know, he could watch boats for hours and not say a word. So can I. Music and boats connected us early on, but it was his hard biting sense of humor which best defined him and forged our friendship over these many decades. Nothing was sacred. The more you respected and admired something, the more he was inclined to discredit it…not to be mean, but rather to ‘get your goat.’ Our buddy Steve described Jeff to another as, “dog with a bone.” He just didn’t let go, and that was apparent until the end.
It is no secret that Jeff and I have debated one of the world’s most pressing and difficult questions… who has the bigger nose? We have exchanged nose paraphernalia and gags for decades so much so that either of us could curate our nose museums. He would stop people on the street, in restaurants, bars, docks, etc., and ask them to render judgment. Personally, I think it’s a tie…maybe! He pulled the ultimate ‘hush’ and I must give credit where credit is due. At Becky’s first wedding in Santa Cruz, Nancy and I were sitting at the family table with Cookie and Jeff and I volunteered to get drinks for everyone. I was standing in one of three parallel lines leading to three bars. In the line to my right and about seven or eight people in front, I noticed a woman looking at me. It wasn’t one of those “come hither” looks (which I’ve never seen,) but rather one that says your fly is down or you have spinach in between your teeth. She approached and said, “Excuse me sir, may I tell you something.” “Certainly” I replied while checking my fly. She said, “You have the biggest nose of any man I have ever seen” then turned and retook her place in line. I was speechless. This unusual for me. After a few recovery moments, I turned back to look at our table whereupon Jeff along with cast of thousands were in hysterics. It was his sister-in law who was the protagonist at Jeff’s instruction. Dick head!
Jeff called my office and identified himself, then asked our receptionist, “Who is the adviser in your office with whom I met last week? I can’t remember his name but he’s a funny looking guy with a tremendous nose.” My ‘former’ receptionist said, “oh, you must mean Al.” A month or two later, he called and asked the ‘new receptionist’ if he might leave a message for me. She said, “certainly, what do you wish to say.” “Please tell Al that his subscription to Bestiality Quarterly has expired and I know he wouldn’t want to miss another action packed issue.” She too became a ‘former receptionist.’
All who know and love him could tell Jeff stories ad infinitum but the trait that best describes his persona is that of a ‘no bullshit’ guy. He could get to a bottom line quickly and without ambiguity. Trusting to a fault, Jeff had little patience for slackers, morons and cheats. You always knew where you stood…my kind o’ guy. Funny and irreverent as he might be, a common theme ran through all he thought and did…his uncompromising integrity and character. In Yiddish, this is being a Mensch. There is no greater compliment.
The true test of character is measured by how one deals with adversity more so than success. I’m reminded of DiNiro’s line in Raging Bull where Sugar Ray Robinson is beating Jake LaMotta to a pulp. While taking a brutal whoopin’, LaMotta says to Robinson, “You never knocked me down, Ray.” Like LaMotta, Jeff had the rare ability to take a lickin’ but never back away from what is right. He reinvented himself several times out of necessity, and each time he emerged better, stronger and wiser. This takes courage. Duke Wayne said it best: “courage is when you’re scared to death but you saddle up anyway.” Jeff personified this throughout his life. I’ll miss my dear friend and our time together…very much. How can I not see and think of Jeff when on the water, or listening to doo-wops, or reminiscing about our Blue Mt. Camp days? Like all of us who love him, Jeff lives on within our hearts and souls.