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He Was a Friend of Mine

The phrase was the title to a traditional folk song that was recorded by Bob Dylan and later Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. The song laments the death of a friend, and today I lament the death of a very old, dear friend. His nickname was Moose, but Steve Melcer, was by all accounts a gentle giant in a very big body. He was big from an early age and thus earned his nickname, but at one point stopped growing and that also stopped his climb in the athletic world. In Little League and CYO, he was a terror, and in high school (St. Francis Prep) he earned All-City honors in both baseball and basketball. But that was only one part of his journey.

After high school, he traded his crewcut and black-rimmed glasses for fuller blond hair and contacts and discovered life outside the ballfield. He traveled to California on the trail of Steinbeck, Kerouac, Kesey and Hemingway. He washed dishes in Denver like his hero Neal Cassady of On the Road fame. He traveled to Hawaii, where he worked as a Rickshaw driver. On one of his other adventures, he found himself in the Gulf of Mexico working on oil rig as a roustabout. His many jobs in New York included painter, mover, limo driver and awning salesman.

Later in life, he became obsessed with books, often going to estate sales, buying all the books and then re-selling them at his two stands: one on East 40th Street and one on Bedford Avenue. But if you asked him what he did, he would tell you that he was a writer. And he was. He wrote books, short stories and loads of letters. He tried to copy the style of Keuorac or Bukowski, but really, he developed his own chaotic style. He wrote stories about Greenpoint, Rockaway, and his life. It was supposed to be my job to make sure he was published post humorously. To protect the innocent, I will defer my duty on that one.

If you asked me what his job was, I would tell you that it was to show people that life isn’t about your work, or what you do, or how much money you make. Life was about “living,” unabashedly, fully, in every way possible. It would be impossible to be at a party with Moose and not have a good time. He could have the most fun with the least amount of money. He could see clearly through the fog of life’s responsibilities, to make sure that the important things were fully appreciated. For instance, his favorite holiday was Christmas, and he always had a gift for you, a book, a CD, a DVD. Always something that would make you smile, laugh and appreciate the joke.

He loved his friends very much, and he loved his family even more. His father was his hero. A man who lived simply, had a family, enjoyed life. He lived with his mother, and claimed he was taking care of her, but I’m not sure who was taking care of who. There are some who remember when he may not have been too honest, or nice, or true. And I would be the first to tell you that he was both sinner and saint, best and worst, but he represented that which is in all of us.

We all have a memory that makes us laugh. For me, he gave me the greatest gift a friend could ask for. He introduced me to my wife. Without that introduction, there is no telling where my life would have led; but I know this, it would not be where I am today, and that is the happiest person in the world.

He identified with the anti-hero hero in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randle McMurphy played by Jack Nicholson in the movie. McMurphy tries to lift all his fellow inmates at the insane asylum above the “fog” and to have some fun. Nurse Ratched has him lobotomized at the end. And the Chief, an Indian with no self-confidence, that McMurphy mentors, seeing what’s happened, frees McMurphy by suffocating him, and then breaks out and runs free. I like to think that Moose broke out and escaped and is running free somewhere out there, where he is free again, unencumbered by the reality of world’s pressures, free, free, free. Yes, he was a friend of mine.


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