It’s hard to overstate how exciting it was when Greg moved into our Bethesda neighborhood. There weren’t a ton of kids in our immediate vicinity, so the arrival of anyone new would have been an event. But Greg wasn’t just anyone. He was another baseball-obsessed geeky Jew. What could be better?
Plus Greg was exotic. Being from Bethesda, I knew diplomats’ kids and NIH scientist’s kids from all corners of the Earth. But I had never met anyone from the Midwest – let alone from Iowa. One of my earliest memories of Greg was on a baseball field (I think at Walter Johnson HS). It was hot. I was headed over to the store to get some refreshments. I asked Greg if he wanted anything. He said, “Yeah, get me a pop.” So I brought him a popsicle. He looked very confused. We ultimately figured it out and I learned an important lesson about communicating with people from another culture.
For the next four years, I hung out with Greg all the time – almost always with some combination of other boys from the hood – Jon, Bennett and Tom – and then (eventually) with girls. There was a lot that united us. While baseball fanatics, we both were not particularly good as players. We shared the catching duties for the Whitman JV baseball team, but our best games were played with dice and stack of Strat-o-matic cards. Over the course of our highschool years, Greg, Jon, Tom and I played well over 1,000 games using the set of 1975 Strat-o-matic cards that we must have gotten at garage sale somewhere. We played in the basement. We played at the beach. We played everywhere. And we kept score. Every game. Generating box scores as complete as if we’d actually been there – even marking great plays and naming a “player of the game”. We innovated with our lineups – implementing things we learned from early copies of Bill James’ Baseball Abstract, which Greg must have gotten through his Midwest connections. We went to lots of Orioles games together, where we mostly talked about how bad the various managers’ strategic decisions were.
As if our baseball obsession was not enough, somewhere along the line we acquired an obsession with the movie Diner. I don’t think we ever saw it in the theater, but we got a copy of it on Beta, beginning a tradition of watching it every day after school – sometimes twice – in our basement. I think we watched it at least 300, maybe as many as 500, times. We knew every line in the whole movie, and used them liberally in the rest of our lives, especially when we were hanging out at our own Diner – The Tastee.
The real thing is that when I think back to highschool, Greg was just always there. In the morning when we went to school (he would come over to our house most days before the bus came), in the afternoon when we watched Diner or played Strat-o-matic or real baseball, hanging out at the pool, at night when we went to the real Diner or played trivial pursuit with the shiksas. Whatever. He was just always there – always smiling, always smart, always funny.
Then, we went to college on opposite sides of the country and we gradually fell out of touch. But say what you will about Facebook, it got me back in touch with Greg. And it was like the intervening 20 years never happened. All of a sudden he was part of my life again – talking baseball, politics and whatever. I never met Melissa, and never saw Benjamin, but I feel like I know them and I’m heartbroken that they won’t have Greg around anymore.