FAREWELL MY YOUNG FRIEND
I have not written a column for a while. It’s been nearly a month, maybe over a month. I could say I have been busy, but truth is…I really haven’t had much to say. Not working in sports radio anymore, I have started to find a distance growing between my love of sports and I. My sports “takes” just aren’t as strong anymore.
Plus, I have been put on meds for anxiety and anti-depression because before them, everything bothered me. So many things, both in sports and life itself, got under my skin. My irritability was affecting my marriage and my life in general. Being put on these meds has worked for me in one way—I am much more chill now and even tempered. It has NOT worked for my writing. Reason being is that I haven’t had the fire about things in sports that I had before. Nothing gets me fired up anymore.
Sports aside, I needed to write tonight. Reason being, that I have been put in touch with my own mortality today, probably moreso than I ever have been in my life.
I lost an old friend today. Well, not really an old friend, but a young friend…who I hadn’t seen or talked to in the last 27 years of my life.
At one time, Joe Pavone was a big part of my life. My young life. My childhood.
I met Joe when I was probably around 12 or 13 years old. Back then, my parents had a summer cottage on Canandaigua Lake in the Finger Lakes of upstate NY. It was actually a mobile home, in a mobile home park in Vine Valley, right on the lake, off East Lake Road. Joe’s family had another mobile home in the same park.
After a few weekends of going down there, I began to assimilate into the culture. I started meeting new friends my age, and one of the first was Joe Pavone.
He and I were pretty different. Joe had long hair for a boy even then. I didn’t. Joe was 100% Italian. I was 100% German. Joe was pretty quiet. I was pretty outgoing. Joe loved rock music. I loved sports. But together, we just clicked right off the bat.
I remember one of our first excursions. We decided to walk the Bare creek, which emptied into Canandaigua Lake but started somewhere inland. We weren’t sure where, but we decided to find out. We walked it about a half mile, when it turned from a creek into more of a pond. We decided we didn’t want to get wet up to our underarms, turned and went back.
It was always one adventure after another for Joe and I. I remember the night we saw a raging bonfire halfway up South Hill, which bordered Vine Valley. Joe had to find out what was going on up there, so we trudged up the dirt road up the hill.
We got to where the fire was and heard people…singing and chanting. Joe insisted on going into the woodline and off the road to get a better secretive vantage point. When we got to the perfect view, we saw a dozen or so 20-somethings, sacrificing some kind of animal over the fire while chanting. Pagan ritual? Satanic worship ceremony? We didn’t know, but we agreed on one thing—we had to get the hell outta there. As we tried to sneak away, one of us stepped on a branch, and behind us, we heard the chanting stop and someone yell, “Hey, someone’s there! Who is it!? Let’s get em!”
We just said to each other, “RUN!” and took off down the hill like bats outta hell (perhaps literally), jumping into a gully on the side of the paved road at the end of the dirt road. We freaked out, ducking next to each other, while these weirdos drove slowly by in cars shining flashlights just over our heads.
We somehow made it back to my cottage safely and unharmed, but that memory of that night with Joe remains vivid in my mind as if it just happened last weekend, not 30 years ago.
It was incidents like these that made me look forward to weekends at the cottage, hanging out with my pal Joe.
I had an orage huffy bike with a black bicycle seat at the time at the lake. Joe and I had to watch our favorite show at the beginning of each weekend—the Dukes of Hazzard. We came to call my bike, “the General Lee” of course, and Joe brought his bike down there as well. We would ride around everywhere together like little hellions, pretending I was Bo Duke and he was Luke.
We would set up jumps at the end of the steep hill that led down to the water, and I still remember both of us flying 20-25 feet in the air after hitting our ramp, then landing and hitting the brakes, skidding into an impressive 180. All the other kids thought Joe and I were so cool.
When we felt like chilling out, we would take my boombox with us, and go out on the boat dock to my family motorboat sitting in its hoist. We would just get in the boat in the hoist and jam out to Van Halen, Foreigner, Molly Hatchet and so on for hours. All the other kids thought we were just so cool.
We used to do something called “tandem skateboarding” which we thought we invented. It consisted of laying both of our skateboards side by side, about a foot and a half apart. We would then sit down on them, facing each other. We would put our feet on each others board and grab each others biceps. Once you started moving, you would steer by leaning back or forward.
We would go up to the top of the steep S-curve beyond the Indian Village campground, where the road sign told drivers “15 mph”. We would then tandem skateboard down this S-curve, reaching speeds of around 40 mph by the time we reached the church. It was insane, and our parents would have surely killed each of us if they ever caught us doing it, but it was such a rush, and we trusted each other enough that we just KNEW we could avoid any cars if we ever had to.
It was such a carefree time. It was such a fun time in my life, and I have nothing but fond memories of that time in my life, and my time spent with Joe.
When I graduated high school, things changed, as they often do. I stopped going down to the cottage as much once I went away to college in Florida. I got a girlfriend, who I wanted to spend most of my weekends with. I grew up. Popping wheelies and doing 180 spins on my bike with Joe didn’t seem as much fun or as important anymore. We pretty much lost touch around that time.
I saw Joe one more time after I graduated and came home from college. I remember he came over to my house in Irondequoit, and we went out somewhere and had a few beers and just hung out. But being buddies away from Canandaigua Lake was never to be for us.
I found out today on facebook that Joe Pavone died this morning. I don’t have all the details, but from what I read, Joe had stage four cancer of the liver and kidneys.
The news hit me hard. Ironically, I had just had a dream within the past couple of weeks, that I had gotten together with Joe, Ed Kaiser, Brian Vincent and Ben Smith and we had a reunion of sorts with all my buddies from my youth at Canandaigua Lake. After that dream, I was honestly going to begin looking those guys up and see if I could make a dream come true and actually do that in reality.
Now, the realization that won’t be happening saddens me deeply. After I “friended” Joe on Facebook last winter, I had called the number on his page. I got a voice mail message. I left a message on it for Joe, but I never heard back from him. I guess I felt like he didn’t want to bother hooking up with me again. Now I’m thinking, with him battling stage four cancer, he must have had other things on his mind.
The thing that is strange is that Joe Pavone will forever live in my mind as a teenager. I know he lived halfway into his 40’s, but the young Joe is all I know. It also is very sobering. Joe Pavone can’t die! He is a 14 year old boy, jumping his bike 20 feet and skidding into an impressive 180 skid stop.
That’s how I remember Joe. The always fun, exciting, up for anything, adventurous, exuberant kid. I wish I could have known him as an adult though, and now, I’m very saddened that I will never get that chance.
If there is a moral of my story here, it’s that you should never wait til tomorrow or next week to look someone up. Don’t take for granted that they will always be there. Don’t wait around to tell someone what they have meant to your life. You may never get that chance.
Rest in peace, my friend Joe. Rest in peace. And save that other skateboard up there for me. We’ll ride again sometime.