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When I grow up, I want to be like Andy.

                              

Here's the picture I'd like to have posted above:

A city block, illuminated by streetlamps at night. Parked at the curb is a "boatmobile" -- an oversized American vehicle, 1978 vintage or so, with a big hood. Sprawled across the hood, head resting on the windshield, is a lanky 20-something male with a prominent nose and sparkling brown eyes. He's tired because he never sleeps; stays up around the clock, burning the candle at both ends. He teaches special ed -- the kids love him, the parents love him, and he loves them all back, but is convinced that he's a failure. He always feels like he's running behind. Running out of time.  


So to relax and bring himself some peace of mind, he'd lie out on top of his car on warm nights, strumming his guitar. Everyone in the 7-story apartment building got to hear the soft music.

Everybody knew Andy.

Andy was born on December 26, 1954. He was the youngest by far of four, and his father died so soon thereafter that Andy never remembered him. Andy grew up tall and strong and healthy, full of scattered energy. He considered law school for awhile, but had a bit of trouble settling down and concentrating, so eventually he got into teaching. I knew him through my ex-husband Doug; Andy was a contemporary of Doug's older brother. He was the best man at our wedding in 1982, and he came south to attend my wedding to Carl in 1998.

Andy felt that other people needed his help, but beyond his paid job, his helping was never the organized, planned kind. It was restless and random. He lived more in his car than in the apartment where he stayed with his mother, or the apartment he eventually moved into, sometime in his late 30s. Every car he owned was always at least 10 years old, held together with baling wire and a prayer. When school was out of session, he roamed around the city, and hit the road to see friends who had moved elsewhere. I suspect Andy never stayed in a motel, ever. He'd arrive at some approximate time -- you never knew exactly when he would wend his way to your house, but if he said he was coming, he always did, eventually. Usually 6-8 hours later than his earlier estimates. When he arrived, he was impossibly tired, but always wore the same smile that showed how happy he was to see you again. He always brought some sort of gift. More often than not, it was a CD collection that he'd picked up at Starbuck's. Willie Nelson. Richie Havens. Sheryl Crow. Aretha Franklin. Chicago. Or, an oversized candle with intriguing layers of color. Or polished cowrie shells. Or Swarovski crystal. Not the usual stuff; not something you'd expect from anyone else. He'd keep a gift in his car for months or even years, haphazardly wrapped, and when he handed it to you, he'd tell you exactly what it was and that he hoped it was something you could use. 

Andy insisted on seeing the best in everyone, but was not a Pollyanna. He kept in touch with friends from the old neighborhood, and if they were struggling, he'd say so -- generally without going into the kind of aching detail that translates into gossip. 

Andy was different from most people on this planet, and as a result, people found him fascinating and unforgettable. He couldn't be pinned down; you had to take him however you could get him as he meandered here and there, across the country, up and down I-95. Cards and letters, filled from end to end with a cramped and disorganized scrawl, wishing you a "wonderful, wonderful" birthday or a "very, very special" holiday season. These he invariably got around to sending a month or two late. He came to technology years after the rest of us did, and email was always hit-or-miss. When he finally got a cell phone and started texting, he believed he was supposed to abbreviate every word, so you'd get messages like "I thnk I'l b thr sometm in th aftrnoon on Mndy." Still, he'd manage to stretch the message into three screens full, and there was at least one trademark double adjective such as "Untl I gt thr, hop u hv a wndrfl wndrfl day."

Despite his disorganization, there was still a method to it. When you needed him, he was there. A high school ex-friend invaded our space about 10 years ago, overstaying her welcome and inconveniencing us massively at the worst possible time she could have chosen. But miraculously, there was Andy, just dropping in for a few hours, distracting that other guest, lightening the atmosphere, and helping us out with a car problem. He was on his way to or from a visit to somebody else, over 500 miles from his home ... but he just happened to show up. He did that sort of thing all the time.

And it wasn't just us. I have another long-time friend who lives in Tokyo. She and I have so far never met. I gave Andy her address. They never met, either, but she reported to me over the ensuing 30 years that numerous times, when family and work issues threatened to overwhelm her, she'd get a card, a letter, sometimes an email and once or twice even a phone call from Andy. She never contacted him and said "I need your help!" No, it just arrived. Andy was the most down-to-earth person you could ever know. He was Jewish and honored his family's religion, but most of the time was not especially observant. He was no mystic. He seemed to follow some odd inner prompting that I am quite sure he never figured out himself.  He never married, and so far as we all know, never had a steady girlfriend. He had friends. And that was it.

The teaching gig really did wear him out. He took the earliest retirement package he could, at age 55. We all wondered what he might do after that, but he was up in the air about it even three years later. One of his sisters was unwell; struggling friends from the old days had moved across the country and needed someone to talk to, so he stayed with the usual routine: Traveling to the west, to the south, even reportedly letting someone drag him onto a plane when time was of the essence.

Andy visited us in our scenic city in the summer of 2012. His hair was mostly gone on top, and he'd finally gotten himself a slightly smaller car than what he'd always had -- a purchase dictated by gas prices, I guess. Of all the impromptu visits from Andy, that may have been the best one. We knew he couldn't stay overnight; he never did that. He was a rest-area type of person, never wanting to "impose" by lingering overnight. Saying goodbye ("S'long, kiddo," as he always put it) was easier when it was quick, casual and light.

And so Andy finished his tour of visits in the south and back to New York he went. He didn't know what sort of career he wanted post-retirement, but he did endeavor to stay active. There were offhand mentions of possible heart trouble (inherited from his father, no doubt; Mom had lived to be 92), but I doubt that Andy ever visited a doctor more than once every 4-5 years, if that.  Hockey had been his sport in high school and college, and in his late fifties, it seemed perfectly natural for him to gravitate back to that game, with whoever might be at the rink and feel like zapping the puck around for a couple of hours. 

In early June, at a rink in Brooklyn, Andy fell. Going by reports, he hit his head (Helmet? Don't be silly.), and landed hard on his back. These two major injuries, to his head and spine, led to a collapsed lung, and the belated arrival of the heart malfunction that he'd been warned about. All in the space of a few seconds. He was transported to one of the better New York hospitals, but the medical team couldn't figure out where to start, given the array of life-threatening injuries. Treatment included an external pacemaker for his heart, a ventilator to help him breathe, and whatever medications there were to keep him stable and free of pain. But the spine injury had paralyzed him. He couldn't speak; he could apparently see and hear, but his level of comprehension was a matter of debate. Doctors suspected some level of brain damage but were unable to tell for sure.  The collection of medical equipment needed just to keep him alive made it impossible for him to be moved anywhere, including a Hospice facility.

Andy lingered in that neither-here-nor-there state for over six months. Toward the end of that time, his family began requesting "no visits," or at least very limited ones, with no physical contact. As is the unfortunate case for so many who stay hospitalized for a long time, infections were beginning to set in and his condition was becoming even more precarious.

Andy's body finally gave up two days before Christmas. He was buried the day after... his 59th birthday. I did not attend his funeral, but it was said to have been very much like him: Quiet, unassuming, nothing fancy. Just a few friends and family members saying a fond goodbye. 

Amnesty International, The Southern Poverty Law Center, People for the American Way, the Jewish Labor Committee, the ACLU -- Andy would be pleased to hear of a donation to any of these organizations in his name, if you are so moved.

"You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left." - Yogi Berra

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