Friday, March 02, 2007


My childhood friend, Bruce, lived in a house with no lawn, just brown dirt where grass should have been. His family had the only swimming pool in the neighborhood, but it was very small and never had any water in it. It was full of garbage bags and discarded tools that had rusted.

Summer brought drought conditions to Long Island and by August, the abandoned golf course behind Bruce’s house had yellow hay that was taller than we were.

Bruce and I sneaked out there with a pack of his mother’s Lucky Strikes. He lit one and dropped the match, and the hay at our feet burst into flame. Instantly, the whole golf course was burning with a loud hissing sound.

We ran through the fire in melting sneakers until we got across the dried up creek bed. We kept running until we got to my house, where we crouched beside the living room bookcases and listened to the fire engines. The fire was so big that four different fire departments answered the call.

We expected to get arrested and go to jail for the rest of our lives, but no one ever questioned us. The neighborhood smelled like smoke for weeks.

A year later, they built a shopping center on that land.

Bruce won a new car in our school raffle, which his mother sold to buy a mink coat. She had long, platinum blond hair and makeup like spackle, unlike the standard neighborhood moms with short permed “do’s" which required them to sleep on satin pillowcases and wear shower caps when they bathed. Bruce’s mother was hardly ever home, but when she was, she had a lot of male visitors who stayed exactly 20 minutes. Bruce and his brothers were not allowed to come home until late at night.

Bruce had a grey German Shepherd-mix dog named Laddie who was never home either. Every time anyone's dog had a litter of puppies they looked like Laddie, which was a real shame because Laddie was the ugliest dog ever born. When he wasn’t passing on his genes, he lay in the sun with his head tucked under his back leg, zealously polishing himself with his tongue.

Bruce’s older brother joined the army and his little brother tagged along with us big kids most of the time.

If they had a father, he was a well-kept secret. No one had ever seen him.

By the chilly light of the harvest moon, Bruce and I hiked to the next town and tried to peek in the windows of the Hi De Ho Inn. The building was huge and dark and had a four-sided flashing neon sign that said "Girls Girls Girls Girls." We expected to learn the secret of life here, so we crept through the bushes and sneaked around the foundation, seeking enlightenment. The ground floor windows were boarded up with old two by fours that splintered in our hands. We stood on each other’s shoulders, but enlightenment was unattainable to 12-year olds.

I learned recently that Bruce is dead. We hadn't seen each other since 9th grade, so I have no idea what he died of, or more importantly, what kind of life he had. I hope he was happy. I hope he loved somebody who loved him back, and that he found work to do that fulfilled his deepest dreams.

And I hope he finally learned the secret of his own life. I'm still working on mine.


JR's Thumbprints said...

I often wonder if we discover the secret of our own lives the day we die. Nice eulogy for Bruce.

Anonymous said...

Whew. This is beautiful.

So many Bruces in our lives, so many people who touched us, truly touched us. It is amazing, this life thing.

I would bet that you touched Bruce in the very same way.

Bob said...

He had a good friend in you. Sounds like he really needed one. You were probably one of the few good things in his younger life.

thethinker said...

A beatifully written tribute. It's strange how we lose track of people who were once so close to us, but manage to keep vivid memories of time spent with them. I think we'll all eventually find the secrets of our lives, in one way or another.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I've wondered, too. But what a waste if we can't figure it out sooner.


He was a good kid and I thought of him as a brother because we had known each other since kindergarten.


He never discussed his home life, but I think kids know things without knowing that they do.


Except for the vivid memories, childhood would feel like another lifetime.

It seems as if we would implode if we didn't eventually learn who we are, and what we are meant to do.

meno said...

Those days of childhood crime and discovery with a friend are beautifully described here.

Thailand Gal said...

I loved this story! One of your best... and I hope the same for Bruce. I hope he found his peace.



heartinsanfrancisco said...


Sometimes I wonder if every child has as many near-death experiences as I did. I hope not.

I think kids are better supervised now than we were. I never had an arranged "play date." Life was a pick-up game in our neighborhood -- you played with whoever was out there.


Thank you! I almost didn't post it because it didn't seem complete enough.

EsLocura said...

What a sad yet lovely tribute. Life is a constant search and weighing of what brings us peace. I think it fluctuates with our own growth, or perhaps lack there of.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Or lack thereof. Yes, definitely. When we're kids, we can't wait to grow up and be free, but after we do, we often resent it because we realize that in some ways, we had more freedom as children.

Life is perverse.

Thank you for your visit!

seventh sister said...

The fire story reminds me of a Michelle Shocked song called V.F.D.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I can see why it does.

We made a lot of trouble for the VFD and all their friends from other towns.

Judith said...

A wonderful moving insight to childhood friendship/experience tinctured with sadness and hope

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you so much. A compliment from one who writes as well as you is to be savored immensely.