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Monday, October 23, 2006


Today is the five year anniversary of my best friend Ralph's passing. I can't believe it's been five years already - so much has happened during this time. But I still can't forget my friend and all of the good times we had.

I met Ralph in summer camp many years ago... he was friends with our friend Jeff, and the two of them were Mets fans. But we all got along really well and hung out all the time. Since Jeff lived in Staten Island, we didn't get to see much of him after camp, so it was mostly just Ralph and me. We made camp extremely fun - always talking about girls, going to get pizza after camp some days, making up our fake rock band. And when camp ended for the summer, we would already start the countdown to next year's camp orientation. We both loved it so much because it was a big change from the rest of the year, going to Jewish private school. The ugliest girls were in my grade, and Ralph didn't even have any girls in his school. So we cherished every moment we could.

Ralph was a unique individual for sure - he was the only Mexican Jew I have ever met. He had a weird sense of humor, and his idol was Howard Stern (he was determined to become the next Stern). He had this theory that it was a waste to spend a lot of money on food because after you consume it, it would be gone for good; however, if you bought something like a CD or a rock t-shirt, that would stay with you forever. And if you bought a sports jersey, it would always be best to buy one that had a really long name and/or a big number (double digits, especially) - for example, Ralph loved Jason Isringhausen (no. 44) when he came up with the Mets. His prized possession was his Wayne Gretzky Rangers jersey that he bought from Cosby's at Madison Square Garden - it was an official jersey and Gretzky had the largest number they could put on a jersey - number 99.

We spent money on food wisely - either hot dogs from Gray's Papaya (they were 50 cents each back then), or pizza at Ray's (huge slices, worth the money). For breakfast, we'd head to Washington Square restaurant on West 4th for some silver dollar pancakes and unlimited coffee (anything unlimited to Ralph was a very good thing).

Even though he was frugal with his money when purchasing food, there were some exceptions: when we felt like being "fancily" we would go to BBQs on 8th Street for some ribs (and of course, BBQs is not even close to being fancy or "fancily," but it was for us during that time). It was also at BBQs where Ralph would feel bad for the servers if he wanted to ask for more napkins - his hands would be completely dripping with rib sauce. When he finally got some napkins, he would not lick his hands first - he would try to wipe it all off with tons of napkins, ripping every one.

The two of us went through a lot together - we both had the same taste in music, so we went to tons of concerts together. We met Jeff Ament when his side band Three Fish played the Wetlands. We went through the whole "Evan" situation (which would be another long entry itself). We both almost passed out at the Soundgarden concert at the NYS Armory (where it felt like it was 100 degrees with no air conditioning). We snuck bottles of Rolling Rocks into CBGB, because it was cheaper across the street. We both hung out with the band Dandelion at the CBGB restaurant (when it was still around) and wrote our names in the bathroom there. We hung out at Z Bar on Avenue A many times because they played rock music on the jukebox and they made the best Kamikazes ever.

Ralph had this crazy sense of humor despite being dealt a crappy hand. His dad passed away before I met him, and his mom passed away from cancer. He hated his brother, who hated him back just as much. Ralph was so miserable when he had to move in with his brother and his wife after his mom passed away that he moved out even before finding a place of his own (he spent three weeks in my room before finding his own apartment). He had his own place in Brooklyn for awhile, but soon after moved to the Syracuse area to live with his girlfriend Marissa.

Ralph and I did have a falling out of sorts, and this was right before he moved to Syracuse. But we got back in touch in 2001, and he came to visit Melissa and I in Boston in August 2001. It was like old times - we took a walk to Harvard Square where Ralph loved checking out all of the lesbians by the T stop. The last time I saw him was when we drove him back to his train, but with all the traffic, he missed it and had to wait a few hours until the next one. Melissa and I felt so bad, but there was nothing we could do.

I spoke to him on the phone a few days after September 11th, and he was really depressed about it, as we all were.

And then I remember one day after work, I got home, and there was a message on my machine from Marissa. I called her back, and she told me the bad news. Ralph was having trouble breathing one day, and got a ride to the hospital, where they told him to take some aspirin and he'd be ok. After leaving the hospital, Ralph started having convulsions and stopped breathing. It was later determined that he had a brain aneurysm that went undetected.

Ralph's brother took care of the funeral arrangements, but I didn't even know the details about it, and Marissa wasn't invited because they didn't like her (mostly because she was half-black and they were all "religious"). But there was a memorial held for him by Marissa and her parents in Syracuse, and Melissa and I went there (and even my friend Jack made an appearance there for a little bit). It was nice to see a big crowd - Ralph made a ton of friends up there. We all exchanged funny Ralph stories (I told a story about the weird way he used to eat his Chinese food - first the egg roll, then all of the fried rice, and then the meal). They even gave me his Gretzky jersey, which I still have.

And now here we are, five years later. Ralph's memory lives on - in Watertown, whenever our China cabinet would turn on by itself, we'd say it was Ralph. Whenever wrestling is on and Ric Flair is there, I think of him. When CBGB closed down last weekend, I thought of the times Ralph and I had there. I think about how Ralph once mentioned that he was thinking of moving to the Boston area eventually. And how he would have made a great best man at my wedding. But instead, all we have are the memories from our past. And they were good ones.


  • At 4:40 PM, Blogger Red said…

    Nice tribute, Joe. I'm sorry I never got to meet him.

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