NOTES FROM NAPANOCH #14
by Joe Bevilacqua
The start of the school year reminds of a special day forty years ago. Tuesday, September 5, 1967 was the day The Beatles recorded “I am the Walrus.” But this story is not about John and Paul. It's about me and my friend of the time. I'll call him “Steve.” We met that day and stuck together for the next thirteen years.
It begins as I stand on the playground of Saint Cecelia's Catholic School in Iselin, New Jersey. The first day of my second grade is about to begin. Out of a swirling crowd of kids, steps a short, stocky boy. He walks up to me and asks, “You wanna be best friends?”
I say, “Okay.”
“Steve” and I connected immediately and were soon inseparable at school and home. We created our own world. We made each other laugh with funny voices and characters and by recreating things we saw on TV and in the movies.
“The Godfather” came out in 1972. We created our own version on audio cassette the same year. At Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, we tried out for “The diary of Ann Frank” and impressed the drama coach, a rendition of Abbott & Costello's “Who's on First?” Soon, we were performing at talent shows at malls, hotel ballrooms and on local public access television.
When we moved on to Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey, “Steve” and I founded a comedy troupe called Liquid Comedy and ventured out into the local club scene.
“Steve” and I saw no end in sight. Our childhood play had managed to turn into a grown up vocation. We talked endlessly about where our skill and talent could take us. Always together. It was all possible.
That is until one day in 1979, Steve shut me out. Our friendship just stopped. Things got so tense, it even broke up the comedy troupe and forced us to separate colleges.
I felt lost. I mean, it was “Steve” and Joe since second grade.
A few years ago, at our high school reunion: no “Steve” and my fellow high school alumni bombarded me with questions: “Where's 'Steve'?” “Have you seen 'Steve'?” “Say, Joe, is 'Steve' here?”
It was only natural. Abbot without Costello? Lennon without McCartney? Simon without Garfunkel?
Every few years, I made an attempt to locate my childhood friend but always reached a dead end. I had given up completely until, one day in 2004, I heard something on the radio:
“To reestablish an old friendship...”
It was Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel, explaining why they were reuniting.
“We've known each other since the age of eleven,” Simon said at a press conference. “And whatever it was, the squabbles as they're called. That's pretty much what it was. Just squabbles. It was time to just say, forgive, forget, move on. It's not like you have forever in life.”
I thought that if Simon and Garfunkel could do it after all these years, there was hope for “Steve” and me. With an invigorated sense of purpose, I restarted my search.
Old friends knew nothing. Former teachers hadn't heard from him, and his phone number was unlisted. I found “Steve's” mailing address on the web and sent him a few nostalgic packages containing pieces of our past—the book we used to learn “Who's on First?”, a CD of our childhood comedy, and heartfelt letters in which I tried to mend some fences.
After the third unanswered letter, I asked other former members of Liquid Comedy to try and contact him. The result was “Steve” finally emerged, in the form of any e-mail to Liquid Comedy member Tom Giannazzo, who is the only friend I have known longer than “Steve.”
The e-mail read:
“The reason I was upset at the time was not because you guys were teasing me, but because I always believed that someone, and I always believed it was Joe drugged my drink just to screw with me. Well, it wasn't funny.”
I was, for a time, upset that he thinks this about me but I can take solace in the truth. I now realize that “Steve” has held a grudge all these years for things I didn't do. And there is not much I can do about it.
The remaining members of Liquid Comedy have since reunited and performed together a number of times, at Carolyn's on Broadway, on my now defunct XM Satellite Radio show, and most recently at Dutchess County Community College in Poughkeepsie. In October, one Liquid Comedy member, Kenny Savoy will be joining me on stage for a live performance of the Orson Welles-Howard Koch 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast at The Shadowland Theater.
My search for one long lost friend may not have had the result I was looking for, but it led to a series of unexpected, happy experiences.
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