…Arnie and I were kids together in Philadelphia where he was my big brother Jimmy’s friend. I was probably 11 or 12 years old and Arnie 14 or 15 when he spoke his first words directly to me, “check out, roach.” While I, along with my friends, knew who Arnie was, we dared not speak to him or any of the ‘ big guys’ for fear of being berated, humiliated or even worse …in a fight we couldn’t win.
The Back Story
Pennell School yard was the center of the universe for basketball players from all over the surrounding neighborhoods and it was ground zero for me and my buds. Early Saturday mornings in the winter, we went to Pennell with shovels to remove the snow from two half courts. This process usually took about half an hour. We were then ready to play, but. .. au contraire. The ‘ balagulas’ (Yiddish for tough guys) came along and usually kicked us off the courts. This group included my brother, Arthur ‘the bull von’ Brown, Arthur Slomine, Sonny Needleman, Stevie ‘the schumus’ Schulman, ‘Nice’ Billy Lipshitz, Howie ‘Monk’ Silverman, Eddy ‘the Pooh’ Matzkin, Arnie “the commissioner’ Kamens and of course Arnie ‘The Loop’ Lupowitz. I could go on and on. These guys weren’t necessarily bullies. They were just older and saw these courts as their rightful province, and somehow, they always seemed to time their arrival perfectly. We were “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” After too many Saturdays, I objected to being tossed off a court I just shoveled, and my objection was met with that now infamous salutation … “check out, roach” delivered by . .. you guessed it .. All of us were afraid of the ‘ balagulas’ because they were bigger and older and yet there was never a physical encounter. They just wanted to intimidate rather than hurt us, and they were quite successful.
I relocated to So. Cal in 1966 to begin a teaching/coaching career and was living in Manhattan Beach during the summer of ’67. My old Philly friend, Arnie Shiffrin (aka Arnie Arnie to distinguish between the two Arnies), asked if he could stay with me and my roommate John Altamura for a few days. We obliged, and he stayed for two months .. . then every summer after that one for years, and we were roomies for several more summers. Arnie Arnie is a social animal and knows everybody who is anybody in Philly. Philadelphia is a very big small town. In the early 70’s Arnie Arnie informed me that Arnie Lupowitz was out here and he connected us . . . more like ‘reconnected’ us. I was still afraid him at age 28, and here is why …
Arnie’s Reputation in Philly
Arnie was a slight, wirey tough kid who played basketball at Olney High School with Jimmy. He didn’t take s*** from anybody and would not hesitate to throw the first punch in any altercation. Everybody who knew him could see that look in Ius eyes when angered … and it didn’t take much to get him angered. Following the footsteps of Arnie
and his band ‘balagulas,’ we engaged in weekend nights resembling theirs when we came of age. They consisted of. .. find out where the parties are located, crash, eat the food, steal the 45 rpm records, insult the girls, get into a fight then find the next party. Lovely!! Between the ages of l6 and 18 those were our weekends. They taught us well. My brother Jimmy always said, “Lupy is a tough guy, but who wouldn’t be if Art Brown was standing behind you.” Arthur Brown was Arnie’s best friend and a serious dude. Nobody messed with this guy. Arnie and Arthur were inseparable and shared a similar reputation. It is hard to believe the Arnie we all know and love could inspire fear amongst the fearless.
Over The Years
Upon reconnecting, our bond was almost instant and has remained such through all of these years. Arnie became my surrogate brother Jimmy whom I missed after leaving Philly. Once you take a deeper dive into just who he is, you come to appreciate his character, humor, warmth and Philly sensibilities. Of all the qualities he exhibits, none explains who he is better than the axiom, “what you see is what you get.” That is his hallmark and his charm. There is nothing artificial about this guy. He is a dedicated and unconditionally committed family man. His love and devotion to and for Devra is unwavering. His love for Peri and Jeff is immeasurable and his affection for Rob is boundless as is his love for Fred, Charlotte and spouses.
Arnie and I spent a lot of time together over these many years … sometimes with the girls, Dev and Nancy, and often just the two of us on my skiff. We text each other while the Eagles and Phillies are playing along with Temple, Villanova and Penn State basketball and football games. Neither of us ever left the old neighborhood in our ‘attytudes’ toward life in general. We are So Cal residents, but still Philly Boys at heart. He sounds like he left Philly 10 minutes ago . .. never lost his unmistakable accent.
An incident which best defines Arnie occurred when I was diagnosed with a cardiac ‘widow maker’ in 2002. I was in quasi denial and refused to follow my cardiologist’s instruction to subject to an open heart surgery. I was up and off that gurney lookin’ for my hat. Nancy was not amused. While she insisted that I follow instructions, she also knew l was stubborn (that’s my Calabrese side) and called in the ‘shock troops’ which consisted of Arnie. He climbed up on the gurney and we were pressed just about face to face and he screamed, “are you a f****** moron, you f******moron? He continued on a rant peppered with old neighborhood vernacular and I eventually relented. Nancy and Arnie, in combination, saved my life and for that, I am forever grateful.
I admired his charisma and how people were drawn to him like a moth to light. This was not by design or some sort of plan. It is just who he is … a caring and giving soul. He not only drew in his family and friends with his charm and style, but his workmates, my colleagues and our family and friends. Most of all, he earned the love and respect of Devra’s family of which there are thousands .. . mostly cousins. So much so, that he was the Emcee at one of the recent Brenner family reunions ofwhich there are also thousands. I’ve never heard a bad word about Arnie from anyone. And, we never had a cross word between us. I’ll miss my friend … the laughs, the sorrows, the fun, but most of all, the enduring friendship.
In 1922, Gus Kahn wrote the lyrics to the WWI song, “My Buddy.” The opening line reads:
“Life is book we study,
Some of it’s leaves bring a sigh.
There it was written, my Buddy,
That we must part, you and l.”
It concludes with:
“My buddy, my buddy,
Your buddy misses you.”