Even a global pandemic can’t keep friends apart. For over thirty years, a group of friends from Greenpoint where I grew up, made the trek out to Montauk under the guise of a fishing trip. The trip was originally organized by one of New York’s bravest and his brother, and sadly both are no longer with us. But their spirit has guided the remaining friends over the last decade to continue the tradition. So, with masks firmly in place and more Purell than beer this year, the core ventured East.
The trip originally included a smaller group of friends but once word got out, many competed for an invitation to join the adventure. In the early days, the trip was arranged around golfing, fishing, bike rides, and an occasional basketball game. But mostly, it was about old buddies sitting around drinking beer and smoking cigars late into the night telling stories about their past athletic feats, which included no small amount of boasting, yelling, cursing and side-splitting laughter.
The friends, although all from the same neighborhood went to different grammar schools, which immediately set them up as enemies in their early years. As the years went by, many realized that those guys on the other side of town weren’t so bad, and when they could share a beer at an inappropriate age, decided that they were probably alright. Some went to the same high school and even the same college. We went to each other’s weddings, kids’ parties, new houses, parents’ funerals and now grandkids’ births.
As the years moved on, we lost a few along the way. There are a few who still come but move a lot slower than they once did. But that doesn’t stop the boasting. The talk these days is about replaced hips, knees, chemo treatments. When someone made a dinner reservation for 9:30 p.m. at our favorite restaurant in Montauk, they got yelled at because that was way too late and we realized we would be sleeping by then.
On one of the nights, we managed to stay up in the courtyard to almost 10:30 p.m. and were asked by another guest at the hotel why we were there. We explained that we were all childhood friends and that we had been doing this for a long time. The person asked how long, and one of us answered that some have been friends for as long as 60 years. The person was shocked, because they never heard of a group staying together so long that spent so much time telling each other how ugly, stupid and infirmed each other were. We replied, well, we’re just all friends, and friends stick together no matter what, and the friend who started this so many years ago would want us all to continue, so we do.
Since the passing of the founding friend, we have not caught a single fish. We were beginning to wonder whether he had cursed us. But in this very bizarre global pandemic year marred by social unrest, we caught fish, and not one or two but a lot of fish. Cruelly, due to new stripped-bass regulations, those that were under 28 inches were tossed back; but unbeknownst to us, the captain of the boat had to throw back those fish over 35 inches. The ones that we caught over 40 inches were particularly painful to see thrown back, but we were happy to see the conservation efforts pay off, because we caught a lot of fish, and we hope that future groups of friends have a place to come and fish.
The return trip is always a bit sad, because it’s over, but we all leave a bit enriched by being with those who knew us when we could run fast, jump high, and make good on our individual boasts. On this particular trip, I got home to a phone call that a friend who couldn’t make the trip, wasn’t feeling well again and needed to go to the hospital. When my friend and I dropped him off at the emergency room, the admitting nurse asked: are you guys family; we both answered: no, just friends.
By Lou Pastina