The Alex Chronicles: Farewell To A Friend

I’m accustomed to loosing fish. Loosing friends is something new.

2018 REUNION: The Red Hill Gang in Brooklyn.

On the same day we heard the sad news of Amazing Randy’s passing, word came down that Alex G., my longtime friend from high school, succumbed to Covid. I knew Alex since 1963. But his history with some of my other buddies from the self-styled “Red Hill Gang” went back even further. Felix F., and Tony D., were Brooklyn elementary-school mates of Alex, beginning in sixth grade. Felix remembers that Alex was the perennial winner of Our Lady of Grace School’s Math Medal. “Every year, the nun would announce: ‘For excellence in math, Alex G.’,” Felix recalls. “Peter C. and I would give each other a look of disappointment.”

FELIX F. The purloined math medal.

Alex was indeed a brainiac. But he was by no means a goody-two-shoes. Quite the opposite. “When Alex moved from South Brooklyn, and was introduced by Sister Esther Maria on his first day,” Tony D., recollects, “he stood in front of the class with a scowl on his face, slapping a ruler on the palm of his hand.”

Alex always carried a heavy gauge stainless-steel rattail comb in the rear pocket of his black jeans. Ostensibly for his long slick-backed hair, it was also his security weapon for the subway rides we took from Gravesend to Brooklyn Technical High School in Ft. Greene.

Alex played the tough guy, but in fact he was remarkably generous. If not for him, I wouldn’t have made it through my first year at Tech. Admitted as a sophomore, I was required to make up freehand- and mechanical-drawing courses, which I missed while in junior high. Alex tutored me at the kitchen table of his parents apartment every day that summer, before we got on the Avenue X bus to Manhattan Beach. During the Vietnam War, Alex got Bobby A. into the National Guard, avoiding the draft. “Alex said ‘show up here,’ and that is what I did,” says Bob. “He also told me to become a truck driver in the Guard, and that was great advice too.” In recent years, Alex was my classic-movie maven, sharing tips and videos from his vast collection, which numbered almost ten thousand.

ALEX & BOB: The National Guard’s finest.

Alex was an okay athlete–we played stickball and touch football in the Brooklyn streets–but he really shined with a cue stick in his hands. At Chick’s Pool Room, where we played “money ball” instead of doing our calculus homework, he was known as “Assy Alex” for his talent to make unusual and difficult shots look easy. He’d bend over deeply, flick back the lock of hair that habitually flopped in front of his face, use his middle finger to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and smoothly stroke the cue ball across the felt-lined table. If he sank his shot, he’d lick his thumb, press it to his derrière, and say: “Hiss-s-s! I’m hot!”

Alex was a regular at our penny-ante basement and backyard poker games. And he was always game for our cut-out-of-school sojourns to Aqueduct Raceway to bet the horses during those mid-60s years. Decades later, he introduced us to a highly unorthodox “don’t pass bar” betting strategy at the craps tables during one of the Red Hill Gang’s Las Vegas road trips. For the record, we did not make money with his scheme.

Alex was the first of the Red Hill Gang to have a car–a yellow 1953 Plymouth. First time out, he hit a police car in Staten Island. We treated that Plymouth like the taxi cab it resembled. Alex chauffeured us to the Beach House disco in Long Beach, Bay Au Go-Go in Sheepshead Bay, The Gallery in Bay Ridge–pretty much everywhere we wanted to go. He had strict rules about acceptable behavior in his car, which we always ignored. Many times, he’d throw us out of the car for our teasing, but then double back to pick us up. One night, returning to Brooklyn from Long Beach, he kicked out me and Bobby on a dark and deserted thoroughfare near the Atlantic Beach Bridge–and didn’t come back. Miraculously, we hitched another ride and actually beat him back to the pool room.

Alex’s way with women when we were young could be as weird as him. There was a gal name Shiban who most of us had made out with one time or another at the Beach House on Long Island. One Sunday evening, Alex showed up with Shiban at The Gallery in Brooklyn. We never thought we’d see Shiban in Bay Ridge. It was the first time she realized that we were all friends.

BRAINIAC: “What HAPPENED?”

The last time the Red Hill Gang all saw Alex was during a full blown Brooklyn reunion in 2018. We revisited Brooklyn Tech, toured our stomping grounds in Gravesend, walked the Steeplechase Pier in Coney Island and, of course, made a pilgrimage to the Red Hill on East Fifth Street, where we all hung out together as teenagers. One of the guys who hadn’t seen Alex in at least 40 years exclaimed, “What happened to you?” A question which most of the Red Hill Gang also wondered. Alex had been estranged from us for quite a while. And there were no clear answers why.

We know now, however, that Alex has gone to his final rest. And the hope is that it will be a peaceful one. Alex was troubled, hurt and angry most of his adult life. He caught some bad breaks personally and professionally. And it was yet another touch of cruel fate that sealed his demise. Alex’s death is a cautionary tale. Always a fuck-you kind of guy who’d rather follow his own path than the rules, he eventually paid the ultimate price.

Alex is the first person in my sphere to die of Covid. And I hope the only one. The Red Hill Gang will miss Alex, and we will never forget him. Spiritually, he’ll be at our poker table when the Red Hill Gang reunites for its annual fall surfcasting weekend this year. And we’ll toast him every time hence, for as long as we are fortunate enough to gather. Farewell old friend. It was a real trip knowing you.

RETURN TO BROOKLYN TECH: The last time we all saw Alex.

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