Faithful Friends

By Jim Triggs

      Danny Lombardi was safe.  No doubt about it.  It would have been a close play but second baseman, Joey Pizzuto, bobbled the catch.  From the parking lot – hell, from Nutley – you could see Danny was safe. 

      None of that mattered.  What mattered was the umpire’s call and the ump at Tuesday night’s game between the Hall Floral Blue Jays and the PBA Yankees was Louis “LuLu” D’Amato.  LuLu was 75 years old and an alleged homer for the Yankees – both the Bronx team and the Bloomfield Little League team sponsored by the Police Benevolent Association.

      “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr out!”

      In Lulu’s umpire vernacular, “rrrrrr” was a monosyllabic contraction of “you are” and he was known to extend it for two or three seconds, although this one seemed to last four or five seconds.  Most assumed he did this to buy time while he made up his mind on the call.  LuLu insisted his style was inspired by legendary umpire Bill Klem, one of only ten umpires in Cooperstown and a man known for his steady calls behind the plate.  The truth was LuLu stuttered.

      Seventy years ago, on the first day of school at St. Thomas the Apostle Grammar School in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Louis D’Amato sat in the front row of Sister Bernadette’s class of 55 first graders.  He was so nervous and so self-conscious about his stutter he could barely spit out his name: “Louis” came out “Lulu.”  The class exploded in laughter, his new classmates were merciless and the name stuck – for life.  With help from Sister Bernadette and the confidence Lulu gained as a star athlete – first on the playground and then on the pitching mound – his stuttering diminished and by high school no one remembered why they called him LuLu; it was just his name.

      He played high school ball for St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark and, as a left-handed pitcher with decent speed and a wicked curve ball, Louis generated some interest from minor league scouts.  But his old man told him to forget baseball – “you ain’t that good” – and Lulu joined the army.  Just a few days after being deployed in the spring of 1945, he was on patrol doing mop-up work in Hamburg, Germany. There were reports of sniper fire from what was left of a library, which Lulu found hard to believe.  After four years of Allied bombing the city was a ghost town and no building was fully intact.  As Lulu walked between the few bookshelves still standing on the library’s second story, the floor under him collapsed and the next thing he remembered was a bumpy, excruciatingly painful 40-mile ride to an army surgical hospital to get his fibula reset.  The injury didn’t make for a heroic war story, so LuLu explained his quick exit from the war as only he could:  “I was looking for a book on gravity, when suddenly …”   

      LuLu’s World War II experience didn’t last long and he was back in his home town of Bloomfield by November of ‘45.  In the spring, LuLu tried resurrecting his baseball career but didn’t get much of a look because his left leg, which gave his fastball some pop, was still wobbly and four months in a cast put a toll on the rest of his body.  Luckily, through his father’s buddy, he found a job as a building inspector for the city of Bloomfield; apparently his fall in Germany made him an expert. 

      “LULU – Give me a break!”

      That voice.  In just five words all of Vassar Field knew the source.  Chuck Hall’s booming voice was like God talking to Charlton Heston.  It carried across baseball and football fields and echoed back as it caromed off school buildings and water towers. 

      Chuck Hall was the coach and sponsor of the Blue Jays.  At six foot four and over 300 pounds, Chuck’s voice matched his huge frame.  He was a former marine whose stock line after a few drinks was, “In WW2, I killed 10 Japs and never had a bad day in the war.”

      Although he looked and sounded like a beer distributor or factory foreman or union leader, Chuck was a florist.  His grandfather started the business in 1922 in a converted Victorian house on the edge of an upscale shopping district in Upper Montclair. Chuck took over Hall Floral in 1968 after his dad, Harry Hall, reached his limit dealing with unreasonable customers.  According to family lore, Harry’s longtime nemesis, Grace Lloyd, returned a centerpiece for the third time one Thanksgiving morning.  After 40 years in the flower business, it was the last straw.  Harry made one final adjustment to the centerpiece and gave it back to his driver along with a note:

Dear Mrs. Lloyd,

May God grant you and your family a warm and loving Thanksgiving holiday.  Luckily for you, I am not God. Why? Because my first act as God would be to shove this centerpiece so far up your ass you’d be tasting petunias til Christmas.  But New Jersey state law prohibits me from inserting said plant into said ass.  All the best to Mr. Lloyd,

Harry Hall

      Despite these occasional flare-ups, Harry was an excellent businessman who worked long hours making Hall Floral a success.  The business he inherited from his father had a loyal but limited customer base.  Through Harry’s connections in New York and Florida, he expanded the business with more beautiful (and more profitable) floral arrangements and developed a wholesale side of the business supplying arrangements to funeral homes in Essex and Morris counties.  What he lacked in patience dealing with the Grace Lloyd’s of the world, he made up for in inventory control, a good eye for design, and a delivery system that was unrivaled in northern New Jersey.

      Soon after his last encounter with Mrs. Lloyd, Harry handed the business over to Chuck and headed south.  It was not an easy decision because he knew his son’s limitations: questionable accounting skills, lack of focus and, in his opinion, Chuck was “too damn loud.”  But Chuck was popular with the customers and he offered a friendly balance to Harry’s serious side.  More importantly, Harry was fed up with floral arrangements, centerpieces, and Grace Lloyd. Forty years of Hall Floral was enough.

      “LuLu, Danny was safe.  I know it.  Everybody at Vassar Field knows it.  So, why don’t you know it?”

      “Chchchchuck, yyyyyyyyyyyyyyou wanna ump or yyyyyyyyyyyou wanna coach?”

      “LuLu, for God’s sakes!  HE DROPPED THE BaLL!”

      Chuck’s bark was deafening but what kept him from being thrown out of games was the tone of his tirades and his facial expression.  His booming rants were always accompanied by a huge smile permanently affixed to his gigantic head.  It drove his parents, teachers and Marine drill instructors crazy, but it endeared him to everyone else. 

      “Chuck, I’m in no mmmmmmmood today.”

      “LULU, YOU’RE KILLING ME!  WHAT WERE YOU LOOKING AT?

      Parents were also screaming at Lulu but it was impossible to hear them over Chuck.  Eventually, the Blue Jays’ coach gave up and refocused his barks at the boys: “GREAT EFFORT, MEN. GREAT GAME.  CLUTCH HIT, DANNY.  EXCELLENT CATCH.”  Then he made a beeline to Lulu’s Ford Maverick.

      “Lou, what’s going on?”  Chuck had two decibel levels when talking.  Few besides Lulu ever heard the quiet version.

      “Chuck, yyyyyyou’re a pppppain in the …..” 

      LuLu closed the car door before finishing the sentence, gave a perfunctory wave to Chuck Hall and drove away.  His heart was racing and he needed a drink. As he drove away he looked in the rearview mirror.  Chuck was in the middle of the street directing traffic as families drove away, still smiling, and still barking.  “GREAT GAME.  DANNY, SHAKE IT OFF. PRACTICE THURSDAY. GOOD HUSTLE, MEN.”

      Lulu was miserable. The game and the day took their toll and he was relieved to finally be leaving Vassar Field.  The play at second kept running through his head.  Was he trying to rationalize the call?  With only one umpire behind home plate, it’s hard to call a perfect game.  And the stutter. Where the hell did that come from?

      Lulu was anxious to get home, away from Chuck Hall, away from screaming parents and back to his refuge on Bryant Avenue. He lived in a small Cape Cod house in Bloomfield, not far from Vassar Field.  Most of the homes in his neighborhood were built in the 30’s and his neighbors were a mix of seniors like him and first time home buyers.  Lulu was married for twenty eight years when his wife, Theresa, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1980 and died the following year.  This was their first and only home.

      Before she was diagnosed, Theresa and Lulu lived quiet and happy lives.  They attended daily mass at St. Thomas on most days, shared a love of Italian cooking and saved their money for trips to Italy every other year.   Lulu met Theresa while working for the Township of Bloomfield.  She initially worked for the mayor and eventually moved to the Recreation Department.  There was no reason for a city building inspector to visit the recreation offices so often but Lulu kept showing up.  After a 5-month courtship they married in 1953.

      Shortly before she died, Theresa encouraged LuLu get back into the sport he loved.  Lulu was an avid Yankee fan and he and Theresa attended at least a dozen games each year. He thought about coaching, but decided umpiring would be more fun and the $20 per game gave him some extra cash for an occasional poker game or a trip to the Jersey Shore.  With Theresa gone, he never visited Italy again.

      Lulu pulled into the driveway and was greeted at the door by Casey, the yellow lab he picked up at the pound.  Theresa was allergic to dogs so after she passed away Lulu decided he could use some company.  The house was entirely too quiet and he hated coming home alone.  Lulu wasn’t sure if he named the dog after Casey Stengel, the legendary Yankee manager, or the Mighty Casey from poetry fame. He figured it was a good name for a dog and Casey was happy with anyone who paid attention to her.  After he let Casey out and then back in, LuLu poured a Johnnie Walker Red, sat down on the Lay Z Boy Theresa bought him on his 40th birthday and clicked on the Yankee-Angel game which was just getting started in Anaheim.  He took a few sips and tried to settle down.

      The knock on the door startled Lulu and, in his panic, he spilled most his drink on his shirt and pants.  He had fallen into a deep sleep and was still trying to figure out what time it was when the pounding started again – this time much louder.

      “Hang on!  Jesus, who the hell is that?  What time is it? Jesus.” 

Before opening the door, Lulu pulled back the curtain on the door’s small window pane.  The large, looming figure on the stoop was unmistakable.

      “Chuck.  What the hell?”

      “Hey, Lou.”

      The ‘Hey, Lou’ was muffled from behind the door and seemed rather muted given the source.  Lulu opened the door and Chuck walked in and threw his Blue Jays windbreaker on the couch.  Casey was all over Lulu’s friend as soon as the door opened because he usually had a treat hiding in his pocket – but not this time.

      “Sorry to bother you.”

      “What’s going on, Chuck?”

      “Had a bit of slip, Lou.”

      “What happened?”

      “Mind if I grab a water?”

      He had been to Lulu’s house often and knew where to go.  As Chuck walked back into the living room, Lulu smelled the booze.

      His friend sat down and began to explain.

      “What a shitty night.”

      “What happened, Chuck?”

      “After the game, I ran into Tommy Aiello.  You remember Tommy?  He’s put on a few L.B.’s.  Well, we headed to Murphy’s for burger.”

      He paused and Lulu could see him tearing up.  Chuck then interrupted his own story.

      “Hey, Lou, I gotta say – that was a crappy call at second.  And what’s with the stutter?  Haven’t heard that since … what … third or fourth grade?”

      Lulu D’Amato and Chuck Hall friendship began in kindergarten.  They were the Mutt and Jeff of buddies. Lulu, the scrappy Italian ball player with the stature of Phil Rizzuto.  Chuck, the loud one, towering over others with a big personality that matched his big frame.  As friends, the two were inseparable through grade school and high school.  They had plenty of fights – usually about baseball-related topics.  Was DiMaggio hitting streak more impressive than Gehrig’s consecutive game streak? Who was the better pitcher – Walter Johnson or Bob Feller? Was Bobo Newsom’s pitching performance in the 1940 World Series the best ever? (Journeyman pitcher Bobo Newsom pitched 26 innings over three games and gave up only four runs over three games.  Midway through the series his father died but Bobo kept on pitching.) These were life and death issues for two boys growing up near New York City during the golden age of baseball.

      Before he began umpiring and before Theresa died, Lulu and Chuck usually saw each other at the Knights of Columbus hall on Broad Street.  In their earlier years, they co-chaired various committees, played on the K of C softball team and usually had a couple of beers at the weekly meetings. 

      Ten years earlier, Chuck’s social drinking turned into something much worse and his wife, Marilyn, left him and took the kids to her parent’s home in Piscataway.  The drinking also hurt business.  The endearing Chuck Hall customers once loved grew tiresome when deliveries were late or simply never arrived and the funeral homes that were so loyal to Harry Hall took their business elsewhere because Chuck kept dropping the ball.  Under normal circumstances, Chuck had to work hard to manage the details.  Throw a drinking problem into the mix and Hall Floral began to unravel.

      Because of their history, LuLu decided he was the only one that could help Chuck.  Chuck’s wife and kids were gone, his father was in Florida in assisted living and there were no other close friends.  Lulu researched various inpatient and outpatient programs around northern New Jersey hoping to find one that was a good fit for Chuck. After a particularly bad stretch when Chuck was arrested for this second DUI, Lulu convinced him to check into a Morristown inpatient clinic that offered a six month program.     

      Chuck’s treatment was successful and subsequent counseling helped him turn a page in his life.  He learned to accept the fact that it was OK to have a bad day.  He also began dealing with his experience in the war.  It turns out that Chuck wasn’t lying about the 10 Japanese soldiers he killed.  While Lulu was busy falling through buildings in Germany, Lance Corporal Chuck Hall of the Second Battalion, First Marines was fighting for his life in the Battle of Okinawa.  At Wana Ridge, a particularly treacherous coral formation near Shuri Hill, Chuck used what was left of his bullets in his Browning to kill six Japanese soldiers and killed another four with his KA-BAR knife.  For his valor, he received the Distinguished Service Cross along with recurring nightmares of his experience at Wana Ridge.  

      He also learned that the big loud smiling persona he projected was his default setting in stressful situations; it was how he coped.  But maintaining manic cheerfulness 24 hours a day was driving him nuts. Counseling taught him how to turn down the volume, give the big Chuck Hall a rest and begin dealing with life’s challenges like an adult.

      Hall Floral never got back to the scale Harry Hall built but Chuck used his charm to woo back customers and hired a strong-willed bookkeeper to manage the details.  He abandoned the wholesale side of the business and made a good living serving retail customers in Montclair and Bloomfield. 

      Lulu was critical to Chuck’s recovery because he knew the real Chuck Hall and could cut through the bullshit when his friend was getting manic.  He also talked Chuck into joining AA and, until that night, his friend hadn’t had a drink in ten years.  But now what?  Lulu had every right to be angry.

      “Forget the game, Chuck.  What happened at Murphy’s?”

       “We got to Murphy’s at about 9.  I was telling Tommy about your crap call at second and then I saw Marilyn across the bar. “

      “She alone?”

      “You know where this is going.  No, she wasn’t.  She was with that asshole, Malone.  They were both lit up, pawing each other like they were teenagers.  Jesus Christ, Chuck, she’s 63.  It was disgusting.”

      Tim Malone was a retired Bloomfield cop who had a history with Chuck.  Whenever he did something stupid – with the car or at the bar – Malone would magically appear, coming to Marilyn’s rescue.

      “What happened?”

      “I was gonna leave but suddenly they were walking toward me, arm in arm.  I couldn’t escape.”

      “Great.”  Lulu was being sarcastic and part of him didn’t want to hear anymore. 

      “No, Lou, not great.  She gave me a hug and asked me – in that condescending fucking tone – how I was doing.  She was slurring her words and then she lectured me about how hanging out at Murphy’s may not be a good idea.  Lou, she was the one who was drunk!”

       “Were you drinking?”

      Of course he had been drinking.  Look at him. Smell him!  It had been ten years since he’d seen Chuck drunk but the memories were vivid.  When Chuck drank, he would go to extremes.  One minute he’d be leading everyone in song with a voice that filled the room.  The next minute, he’d withdraw and grow sullen and sometimes dangerous.   The sullen version of Chuck was in his living room tonight and the timing couldn’t be worse.  He didn’t have the energy to work on a new Chuck recovery plan.  After all he had done for Chuck and after today’s events, he was angry and tired and confused and discouraged.

      “No I wasn’t drinking.  Well, not yet.  I had my usual, a tonic on ice.  So, then Malone gets into the act.”

       “What did he do?”

      Chuck sat back in the couch and seemed to be calming down a bit – although his eyes were still red and puffy. He looked up at Lulu.

      “Lou.  One question.  How come you’re not stuttering?  You don’t stutter for 60 years, then you stutter at the game tonight, and now you’re not stuttering.  I don’t get it.”

      Lulu didn’t even notice it.  Maybe it was the shock of waking up to Chuck’s pounding or maybe he just needed some sleep.  But he didn’t want to talk about it.  He needed to find out what happened at Murphy’s.

      “Forget me, what did Malone do?”

      “Malone puts his arm around Marilyn and says, ‘Honey, let’s leave flower boy alone and I’ll buy you another Cosmo.’  So, I can give a shit about Malone’s stupid remark but Marilyn flips out because, well, you know, she was part of the family business when we were married and – being drunk – decides she has to defend me.”

      “So she starts fighting with Malone?”

      “Yeah, it was ugly.  Like I said, she was drunk, he was drunk, and they go back and forth.  She calls him an asshole.  Malone calls her a fucking bitch … it was a bad scene.  So, after a few minutes of this Malone took a swing at Marilyn.”

      “He hit her?”

      “Tried to.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I was still pissed about your call and now Malone is in a boxing match with my wife … my ex-wife, who thinks she’s defending my honor, like I need her help?”

      “Chuck, what happened?”

      “I cold-cocked Malone – probably broke his jaw – and he went flying back into the juke box.  He was bleeding pretty hard but still mouthing off.  The cops came and then the ambulance.  Marilyn was hysterical. Hell, I was losing it.  My heart was pounding so hard I thought I was gonna have heart attack.  It was a fucking disaster.”

      “And you hadn’t been drinking?”

      “I’ll get to that.  The cops took my statement.  It turns out they couldn’t stand Malone either and figured he had it coming.  Plus, everyone at the bar backed my side of the story.  Malone is gonna be OK – they took him to Mountainside Hospital to check him out.”

      “Get to the drinking part, Chuck.” 

      “So, after things settled down, Anthony – you know that new bartender at Murphy’s?  He’s a good guy.  He gave me a Jack on the rocks – a double – and said it was on the house.  Apparently, he didn’t know my past and thought he was doing me a favor.  So I …”

      Lulu heard enough.  The interrogation was over.  He didn’t want to hear the rest of the story; he knew it by heart. It had been ten years but the story would be the same.  It was his turn to talk.

      “Jesus Christ, Chuck.  You have no idea what kind of a day I’ve had.  Now, after all we’ve been through, you come over to my house after a bender at Murphy’s making excuses for drinking.  Your wife left you ten years ago, Chuck.  Get over it!  I called Danny out at second.  Get over it!  Malone is an asshole?  He’s been an asshole his whole life.  Get over it!  You know what, Chuck?  Life is one great big fucking excuse for you!”

      Chuck didn’t say a word; he wasn’t sure how to respond.  Lulu lowered his voice and continued, “I’m tired, Chuck. Go home. You’re getting too old for this.  Hell, I’m getting too old for this. It’s the middle of the night …”

      Confused, Chuck interrupted his friend.

      “What the fuck are you talking about, Lou?”

      Lulu lost it. “I worked my ass off getting you sober and now …”

      “Now what?   I had a couple of sips, Lou, and slid the Jack Daniels back to Anthony.  I’m not drunk.  You think I’m stupid?  And you worked your ass off?  What about me, Lou?  I lost my family and pay for it every day.  You’re the fucking asshole, Lou.  What the hell’s with you tonight?”

      “Bullshit!”

      “You don’t believe me?  Well, fuck you.  And by the way – it’s not the middle of the night!  I left Murphy’s before anything else happened and figured I’d stop to get some moral support from a friend.  What’s your problem tonight?”

      Lulu down at his looked at his watch.  Chuck was right.  It was only 10:15.  God, he thought it was three in the morning.  It felt like three in the morning. The television was still on and he looked at the graphic in the corner of the screen.  The Yankee game was still on … it was only the fourth inning.  He looked at his watch again and then at Chuck.

      “Two sips?”

      “Yeah, just two.  It tasted good– thank you very much, Anthony – but I’m not stupid.”

      “So, that’s it?”

      “That’s not enough?’

      “I figured you were bombed, Chuck. You look like shit. You look like you did the day I picked you up …”

      Chuck cut him off again.

      “Jesus, Lou.  You screw the Blue Jays with that crappy call; I have a Jerry Springer fight with my ex-wife and that asshole Malone; and I come over here to get abused by you.  You’d look like shit, too.”

      “No, Chuck.  I just figured … well…I was expecting …”

      “I told you I slipped a bit, Lou.  I didn’t say nothin about falling off the fucking wagon.  And, Lou, what was with that call at second?  Danny was safe.  You blew the game for us.  We all know you got a hard-on for the Yankees but give me a break.  And your stutter.  Are you OK?”

      There was a pause and Lulu wasn’t sure what to say.

      Chuck broke the silence. “You still want me to go?  Fine, I’ll go.” 
      “No. Sorry. Please stay.”

      Chuck got up from the couch and headed for the kitchen.

      “Jesus, what a night.  Lou, do you have any Coke in the fridge?  You want one?”

      Lulu didn’t answer.  He looked down at Casey, who looked back with a quizzical turn of her head.  He leaned forward to rub her behind the ear, then sat back in the Lay Z Boy, rubbed his eyes and started laughing – or was he crying?  He wasn’t sure. 

      Shortly before the Blue Jay-Yankee game, Louis “Lulu” D’Amato met with Dr. James Williams, a neurologist at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair.  For the past six or seven months, he had been struggling with simple tasks and his internist suggested some testing and a consultation just in case. Williams, not known for small talk, walked in the room, put an image of Lulu’s brain on the display and said, “Mr. D’Amato, we are seeing early signs of Alzheimer’s on the CAT scan.  Here let me show you …”

      What he lacked bedside manner, Williams tried to make up for by explaining the biology and chemistry and physiology of the brain.  Lulu didn’t listen and couldn’t remember any of it.  He didn’t need to because his father, Dominic D’Amato, battled the disease for 20 years, most of that time from a nursing home in East Orange. What started out as an occasional memory lapse turned into something more devastating and Lulu visited Dominic every day and witnessed, in slow motion, his father’s long goodbye.  For the last 8 years of his life, Dominic didn’t recognize Lulu and eventually lost his ability to speak, to swallow and then to breathe.

      Lulu was expecting the diagnosis, but hearing that word took his breath away.  His drive from Mountainside to Vassar Field was a fog and he dreaded the game knowing the Blue Jays and his loudmouth friend would argue every call.  Screaming at the umpire is part of the game and Lulu was usually unflappable behind the plate.  But tonight his world was different. 

      The game started at 6:30 PM and the dread Lulu felt on his drive turned into panic when the game began. Keeping track of balls and strikes, even with the indicator in his right hand, became a monumental act of concentration.  No one could see it but under the mask Lulu was sweating profusely; under the chest protector his heart pounded. In the third inning, Lulu widened the strike zone to cut down on walks, hoping it would speed up the game.  It didn’t help; the game plodded on and his panic grew.  

      Finally, the end was in sight.  In the top half of the last inning, with the home team Yankees leading 5 to 4, the Blue Jays were down to the their last batter and last strike.  Chuck bellowed words of encouragement to his star player, Danny Lombardi, and, right on cue, Danny smacked a 2-2 fastball up the third base line.  He never hesitated at first and dug hard for second, desperate to get into scoring position. Left fielder Ricky Flannigan short-hopped the ball on its third bounce and threw a bullet to Joey Pizzuto.  As the ball and runner converged at second, Lulu ran toward the base to get a better angle to make the call.  To avoid the tag, Danny used a hook slide on the right side of the base, away from the throw.  Straddling second base, Joey bobbled the throw from left and Lulu’s heart sank. He wanted to call Danny out.  God, he had to call him out.  There were two outs and this would be his best chance to end the game, end his misery and get home. If the Blue Jay’s rallied, the game would go another half inning or, worse, into extra innings and he couldn’t take anymore. His “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” lasted longer than usual as the debate raged in his head. But the play wasn’t over.  Danny’s slide into second kicked up a plume of dust and his speed and momentum were too much for his left foot to fully hook the base. As his cleat skidded over the bag, he reached back with his left hand hoping to stay tethered to the base.  At that very moment – it was a sliver of time, a fraction of a second – Joey scooped the errant ball and brushed Danny’s shoulder with his mitt.  Unless you were within ten feet, in the dust cloud, at exactly the right angle, you couldn’t see it: the gap between second base and Danny’s foot and the gap between the base and his hand.  But Lulu was in the right spot and he clearly saw Joey Pizzuto tag the untethered Danny Lombardi for the final out. It was the right call and the game was over.

       When he settled down with his drink and the Yankee game on Channel 11, Lulu thought his nightmarish day was over.  But it only got worse seeing Chuck on the front stoop, hearing about his fight at Murphy’s and assuming his friend was drunk again.  In the weeks leading up to his appointment, Lulu was pretty sure he had Alzheimer’s and began thinking about the precious years he had before being locked up in the nursing home like his old man.  Chuck didn’t know it yet, but he would play a big role in Lulu’s plan to live a normal life as long as possible.  Lulu loved his Bloomfield home, hated the thought of leaving and desperately needed his best friend to keep him connected to this world as long as possible.  Losing Chuck to booze would be another death knell because he had no one else to take care of him the way he took care of his father.  Of course he was angry with Chuck.  Lulu came to his rescue ten years ago and now it was his turn to help and Chuck fucked up.  At least, that’s what he thought.  Thank God he was wrong.

      Time and Alzheimer’s eventually took their toll, but for as long as he could, Lulu thought back to the night Chuck showed up at his doorstep. He doubted his friend that night because anxiety and anger and confusion and dread conspired to make him lose faith and surrender to fear.  But he underestimated the big guy. His loudmouth bumbling buddy from kindergarten; the oversized Marine who fought valiantly for his country and had the scars to prove it; the alcoholic who lost his family but managed to get his life back on track would be Lulu’s light as he navigated a world that became more confusing and faraway each day.  He eventually sat down with Chuck – over a burger at Murphy’s – and shared his diagnosis.  But not that night.  No, that night he finally put the day behind him and enjoyed the rest of the Yankee game in the company of a friend – a faithful friend who would guide him through the darkness that lay ahead.

 

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