Tag Archives: brotherhood

Friendship Forged With Ketchup and Cameras

Some friendships are forged in pick-up games of basketball, neighborhood games of stickball or friendly games of tag.

Mine were cemented in crime scene photos.

I was about 13 and active in Boy Scouts. I was a mere Webelo at the time and we had to do some kind of photo essay for a photography skill award.

Or maybe I’m ascribing all of what I’m about to describe to the Scouts and I was just a goofy, demented kid with too much time on his hands.

Anyway, the idea was that each photo would depict some scene and all the frames in sequence would collectively tell a story.

So, naturally, I chose something that would involve guns, drugs and suicide. See previous comment about being a demented kid.

At the time, I was fascinated by all things cops on TV (“Adam-12”, “The Rookies”, “S.W.A.T.”), so I thought it would be cool to re-enact some kind of crime scene and photograph it.

Over time, my friends and I ended up doing three different kinds of photo essays (one of which involved ketchup for blood after the perp gets “shot”).

Another called for my friend John and I to portray drug dealers who flee the cops and then get arrested as they draw down on us.

In these dramatic photos, (see attached) John and I (in the black jacket) complete a drug exchange (note the paper bag) while Pedro and Jimmy keep us under surveillance and then bravely rid the streets of filth like us.

Cue dramatic music. Roll credits.

But my true Cecil B. DeMille moment came weeks later when I decided we would stage a drug-addled, suicidal John standing just inside a bedroom window of my family’s third-floor apartment.

We took the window screen off for dramatic effect. And, oh yeah, the window was open. Wide open.

But we needed a cop. Someone who projected authority and sympathy and who could be seen as realistically trying to talk John out of jumping.

So we befriended the new guy at school.

Enter Pedro.

I don’t think he could have been there more than a week when we broached him with this half-baked idea.

And, in a display of the kind of white-hot intellect that only 13-year-old boys are capable of, Pedro said: Sure!

Somewhere I have photos of Pedro wearing a cop-like windbreaker, hands outstretched, pleading with John to come back from the ledge.

And there’s John, looking back – eyes glassy and his hair disheveled, looking strung out from drugs. (We used my acne medication as a prop in one of the photos.)

Sadly, Detective Pedro fails and John “jumps” from the third-story window. I shot a photo from out the window of John sprawled on the sidewalk below – SPLAT! – with a squirt of ketchup near his head.
Translated from Spanish, Pedro would later tell his mom that day: “I guess that’s just how white kids play, mom.”

Fast-forward nearly 40 years.

The photos have faded but the bonds of friendship – and the over-the-top sense of adventure – have endured and remain as bright as ever.

P.S.: Did I mention that Pedro and I recently went on an Olympic bobsled ride at speeds of up to 60 mph?

Friendships and Brotherhood

So this is what happened:

It is nearly 30 years ago. The mother of my then-girlfriend died. Her mom was buried on my girlfriend’s 18th birthday.

Understandably she was devastated. My GF, who was living away at college at the time, faced the daunting challenge of emptying her mom’s apartment. (Her parents had divorced so it was just my GF and her mom in this apartment in Staten Island.)

The lease was coming due and she was not emotionally up to the challenge of clearing out — in a hurry — remnants of her family’s life. So I volunteered to do it.

Did I mention that this was a column about friends? About true friends? About friends who come to you in times of need that you didn’t even realize you were in?

It’s a Friday night, Pedro and I are at McDonald’s after working together as bank tellers in the Bronx, and I’m preparing to head out to Staten Island to single-handedly empty out this apartment. Upon hearing my story, and without a moment’s hesitation, Pedro says: “I’ll help you.”

Three words.

Three words that translated into a long weekend of sweaty hard work and a hilarious escapade that will be the subject of a future blog entry.

Three words that I vividly recall to this day and for which I remain grateful.

Three words that when I retell this story even today, give me a catch in my throat because of what they meant to me.

Male friends are a rare breed. We hide our emotions in jokes, we don’t talk openly about our feelings and we razz each other mercilessly. And yet somehow the closest of male friends can have an undeniable bond that requires few words.

There was a span of time that distance and life put me out of touch with my closest friends for like, oh, 10 years or so. And when we reunited it was like time stood still. No awkwardness. Picked up right where we left off.

And it was not long after my friends and I reunited that my fiancee died. And much like Pedro’s three words — “I’ll help you” — I can remember in instant replay my childhood chums walking (late, naturally!) into the funeral home for my fiancee’s wake.

I swear to God, it was like the slow motion scene from “Armageddon” when the hero astronauts are walking to the spacecraft.

The scene — both in the movie and in the funeral home — was uplifting and reassuring.

So in an effort to lift the shroud of stoicism that so often colors our male friendships and to encourage other men to do the same, let me offer three other words for my friends:

I love you.