He had just gotten discharged from a 4-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. I had finished my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at LaSalle University.
He was looking to spend a few months enjoying his freedom from the rigors and discipline of military life. I was frustrated with searching for a career path while still working my old high school/college job with Acme Markets.
It was the Summer of 1979.
Rich and I had known each other from our latter years at St. Jerome’s parish school on Holme Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia. We attended Father Judge High School (Class of ’74) together with a boatload of neighborhood friends. Our neighborhood clan matriculated in typical middle class fashion through the hallways of Abraham Lincoln and Archbishop Ryan high schools in addition to Judge.
As we prepared to leave high school, I knew I wanted to go to college. Rich wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in Life, so the discipline and focus of a military hitch appealed to him.
When he was discharged in early 1979, Rich was ready to enjoy Life a bit. I was tired of the pressure of job searching and the possibility that maybe I hadn’t sufficiently thought through what Life after college would look like.
So I was an easy mark for Rich’s subtle suggestions to blow off the job search and spend the Summer doing nothing more than enjoying the freedom to do whatever we felt and – in the end – prepping ourselves for the decades-long haul of adult responsibilities. There would follow many days of unproductive activity followed by nearly as many nights of unproductive activity.
In the wee hours of the morning, we often found ourselves sitting outside Rich’s parents’ house with a six-pack, after the bars had closed, just talking.
Rich always had his head screwed on right … though maybe just a tad too tightly. He knew – maybe professed would be the better term – that once that Summer of ’79 was over it would be time to buckle down, settle down, and get on with the Serious Business of Life. He already has his girl picked out, and his plans included marriage and family which – experience would show – he pulled off quite successfully.
He planned to work as hard as he possibly could, but openly expressed his optimistic goal of retiring at age 45.
Eventually that Summer of ’79 ended. There is so much more I could share about what we did and how we essentially wasted the good part of a year doing little of value. But much of that I will keep to myself.
Some of those memories have lingered between us over the 3-plus decades that have passed.
- His greeting of “Michael, man!” whenever we got together
- That night at the Play Pen at Diamond Beach on the Jersey shore, waiting for David Bromberg to take the stage while we struggled to segregate enough cash to buy gas for the ride home. (As it turned out, Bromberg never took the stage that night due to audio problems.)
- Him witnessing my first hole-in-one … (OK … Yes, it was only pitch & putt, but still!) … a shot that could have just as likely ended up 20 feet short of the green.
- The night I drove my father’s car into a gaping hole on Delaware Avenue in Philly the size – I am not kidding – of a cargo container. (“Dad, I only hit a pothole!”)
- Space Invaders … constantly …
- Laying around his future in-laws’ pool while they were at work
- Spending the ’79 Eagles Superbowl season dutifully watching every game in Jim Pistory’s basement
As our adult lives progressed, we drifted apart and were never as close as we were that Summer. That’s certainly not all that unusual. Life tends to pull you in different directions.
The important thing is we were both successful in the truly important things in Life. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
My most poignant memory though is those long, late-night conversations. Rich was full of plans and dreams, but we disagreed – rather agreeably – over the level of intensity needed to live all those meaty adult years, where marriage, family, and hard work would hopefully set the stage for those peaceful and plentiful Golden Years.
Rich was adamant that the nose had to be kept hard to the grindstone, once the fun and frivolity of that Summer of ’79 had passed. I used to challenge him by suggesting you had to stop and smell the roses once in a while (Yes, I may have actually used that phrase!), because you never knew how things might work out later.
Rich didn’t agree much with that. And from what I know, he kept to this viewpoint from the day that Summer ended. Even when dealt an unfair employment termination in the wake of the ’08 financial crisis, he didn’t let up. He simply started his own one-man handyman business. Doing what he needed to support his family to the quality-of-life in which they had become accustomed.
I tended to be much more circumspect in my approach to Life as a grown-up. And now I have never been so depressed over being so right.
Richard G. Tomaszewski left us suddenly on June 17, 2014 at the way-too-early age of 57.
Mike we both lost a true friend and confidant. The memories of my times with Rich will always be with me. Enjoy the present as each day is truly a gift
Mike – I am so sorry for your loss. I’ve seen far too many friends and relatives go way too soon, at very young ages (including my spouse, 11 years ago, at age 42). He sounds like he was a good guy. I know a person did something right in life when they will be sorely missed in death.
Thanks, Janice …
Rich was a great guy.
So sorry for your loss as well. By the looks of your family, you did him proud.
Well done Mike, this week has been a week from hell. Now back to my uncontrollable sobbing.
Very nice tribute. I recall that when I returned home in the earlier days you and Richie were quite close. Richie’s passing is shocking to all of us from “the neighborhood,” I feel glad I was able to catch up some with Richie and Joanne on our more recent visits. It is very nice that you have such good memories to recall about Richie. I wish I could be there Monday even with as sad a day as that will be.