This friend can never be replaced

Little Murray looked up at me and asked me whether I was crying. Most of you know by now that Murray was taught to read and write and speak English at the Literacy Network of South Berkshire. I shall always be indebted to them for that precious gift.

“No, Murray,” I said. “I just heard from a guy who knows a man I have considered my best friend all of my life. This guy, Arnie, sent out an email to a lot of us who know my friend Jon Lipsky.

“It seems that Jon, a terrific playwright and Boston University professor, has been suffering from a rare form of cancer and does not have much longer to live. He asked each of us to write our remembrances. I knew how sick he was, Murray, because I spoke to him just the other day.

“When Jon told me that he wasn’t doing well, he asked me to keep love in my heart for him. I told him I would. You know what, Murray?”

“What, Pops?” the little dog replied.

“It was just yesterday that we were kids, teenagers. We spent incredible amounts of time together. We would get into one of our living rooms and we’d sing all night. All the women loved him.

“He could play incredible runs on the guitar and he could memorize complicated songs from the Clancy Brothers and Ewan MacColl. For years, I would go on and on with him about Freudian theory and how we were all trapped into our characters by the time we were 5.

“Jon would look at me and say, ‘You mean we’re all doomed?’

“Nope,” I would say. “We can mature; we can know what flaws in our personalities we have to look out for.”

“He would always say, ‘Whew.’

“We ran the Fire Island alternative newspaper together. He was the editor — I think he did that on the Oberlin College newspaper — and I was the so-called publisher. It was a tough summer. Tremendous pressure. At the end of the summer, our board asked us both back and we both declined in one hell of a hurry.

“Once we were on our way to Washington to do a story on the Fire Island National Seashore and I got into a fight with a giant guy when we were getting off the bus. Jon held me back. Otherwise I might be dead now.

“We fell in with the Rudolph Steiner crowd in New York and went to their parties. One night, carrying our instruments, we walked into a house on Riverside Drive and Theo Bikel was sitting there with his cousin. They asked us to play. We did, then they did. We decided that we weren’t as good as we thought we were.

“I had a friend named Steve Perl who drove like a madman. He wove in and out of traffic on the West Side Highway. Roselle wouldn’t get in a car with him. Jon once said to me, ‘You’re a better driver. You’re scared, he’s not.’

“I hired him at Bronx House Camps in nearby Copake, N.Y., and the kids loved him.

“Jon wrote lots of plays. His students adored him. He was thinking about his art until the very end.

“But the thing I’ll always remember about my best friend is his incredible kindness. This guy didn’t have a mean bone in his body. When someone said something unkind about him I don’t think he ever got mad. He’d shrug it off as if it were ‘on them.’ I always wished I could do that.

“So, Murray, that’s why I was wet around the eyes. You don’t get friends like that but a few times in your life.”

“Don’t worry, Pops, I’m your friend,” said the little Westie.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.

Originally Published by the Berkshire Eagle, March 19th, 2011.

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