Tuesday, July 1, 2008

At the Shore With High School Buddies

Some friends from High School and I spent an afternoon at the Jersey Shore last week. Not an unusual event except it occurred almost exactly 44 years years after we graduated.  

That many years can cause quite a bit of damage to one's personal person, I assure you. One of us has two artificial hips, another one is living with his 3rd (third!) liver. Yet another has lost a part of his lung and has had a colostomy. And I have two artificial knees. You just don't know what kinda crap you are going to get into during those 44 years.

We graduated in 1964 when the Vietnam war was amping up. We all went to college and 3 of us went into the military. We certainly were the last generation that expected to go into the Service and in fact, did go.

Unless you were "4F." I mentioned the term 4F to a couple of 20 somethings the other day at work -- and they had no idea what that meant. It means you have some physical impairment that disqualifies you from being shot at.  Kind of an "anti-darwinian" government view, eh? Usually the impairment is such a ridiculous disqualifier, you had to laugh. Such was the case with Lou -- he was one of the most physically fit of us but did not have to serve.

Two of us -- John and Lee -- ended up in Vietnam. And they have endured the effects of war for many years. In Lee's case, he has had multiple livers, horrible recovery periods, other associated and not so associated diseases for the past 10 years. He collects a disability from exposure from Agent Orange. Lee, our most gung-ho Republican, served 2 tours over there.

John served one tour in the Nam and although he doesn't collect disability, he has developed several cancers prior to age 60. He is recovering now from a round of Chemo. We'll always suspect that he was exposed to something over there as well.

I joined the Air Force and never went overseas, although I tell everyone that Arkansas was a planet of its own. I cannot claim damage from my 5 years, and in fact, think it was an extremely useful life experience.  One that many could benefit from today, but that's another posting.

So we gathered in Point Pleasant Beach bringing our wives and memories with us.  One one hand, I think that a lot of living goes on in 62 years or so, but on the other hand, I still can relate to these guys and think of them still in terms of being young.  No one would mistake any of us for young though.

Throughout the course of these years, a person makes many relationships and I am count myself lucky to have maintained these acquaintances all this time.  We currently stay in touch through email and phone, as well as these periodic visits.  We still have a lot in common.  And our lives have been filled with so much without each other.

For instance, I could never beat Lou in Chess in high school and we play online now.  And guess what, I still can't win.  He's won 19 straight games.   Lou was a brain in school and he went to Rutgers for an engineering degree.  He got a job after graduation up in New York state and has managed to find time for a wife and two children as well. He is a one time grandfather as well! Lou loved sports like I did and I think we engaged in all of them except for hockey.  I last played Lou in a sport in 1988 in Squash -- a truly brutal sport that is tough on knees and hips.  This kind of sport is a contributing factor to the two new knees I have and two new hips he has.

Lee is the most enigmatic of the group.  Lee did not take the traditional college path the other three of us did, but it wasn't because he is dumb.  Far from it.  In grammar school Lee was a science whiz, making things that exploded, fizzed, vaporized and whatnot. Instead, Lee futzed around a bit with college and then basically joined anything that offered an official uniform.  He was in the Air Force Civil Air Patrol, the Navy Reserve and then the Marine Corps for a couple of spins in the Nam. ere we surprised when he became a Cop for the township?  No way.  Lee is retired now, has a wife, and 3 grown children.  Another surprise:  his son is a policeman now.  When we were kids, Lee and I and Lou were into hell raising in our late teens/early twenties.

John is the most sensitive and I think the closest of my three HS friends.  He is retired now as well, having worked in home office insurance for many years.  He hasn't been all that lucky the last three years with some severe illnesses, but his spirits remain high and he is on the road to recovery.  He is married and has two kids also.   He is the only one of us (except for me) to have an earlier marriage.  It was a rocky ride filled with drama, I am afraid, and he has to persevere through some very troubling times early in his life.   

As for me, I've had a few bumps along the way as well.  My first wife, who bore me two fine children, died in 1989 of cancer.  Luckily, I found Rita and we've been married for 7 years now quite happily. Helping raise two more teenagers Rita brought with her has kept me young, too, I think.  

I've been very fortunate in a lot of ways and I am thankful for all the smiles and even some of the bumps along the way.

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