Tomorrow is Rob Lenihan's birthday: an occasion inconsequential to many across the globe, a cause for great joy and festivities to many closer at hand, and another reminder to me of the passage of time. You see, while some people - actually, it seems more like plenty of people - are in Rob's current coterie of friends and associates, I, on the opposite coast, cannot celebrate his birthday with the crowd, and must console myself with my status as, I think, his longest-sustained friend.
I have known Rob since he was Robert, when we both found ourselves in Brother Joseph Anthony's sixth grade class at Our Lady of Angels in Bay Ridge. Drawn together over the ensuing years by our shared interests in science fiction, comic books, old movies, his brother's Playboys, Levi jackets and Dingo boots, pulp magazines, girls from the Bronx, and kung fu movies, Rob and I found a friendship that was the stuff of song and story, or at least a movie of the week. Even after we enrolled in different high schools in different boroughs, we were as tight as ever, traversing Senator Street just about every day, from his house just past Fifth Avenue to my family's apartment at the other end, near Owl's Head Park.
You know that profile picture he has on Facebook, the one where he still has a head of black curly hair? That yellow Midas scarf he's wearing came from my sister's shop. That hand he is holding is my other sister's. That Christmas tree was in my house.
Even when I left the City for the wilds of Westchester and college, Rob and I were tight, keeping in touch and meeting to hang out. I remember being poured onto a Hudson Line train by him and our friend Liam Dolan after a night of drinking in Manhattan, to somehow make my own damned, drunken way back to Dobbs Ferry, thank you. What a pal.
When I left the East Coast for the Pacific Northwest in 1978, our relationship started to get a little sketchy. Rob was there when I returned to Brooklyn in 1984 for my father's funeral, but was not on the scene in 2001 when I came back for my mother's. In the intervening years we had lost touch; I understand now that it had something to do with an exile to the Poconos, but at the time it appeared to me that he had just dropped off the face of the earth. Not that I blamed him; more often, I blamed myself for not holding on.
Finally, though the miracle of the Internets, we were able to re-establish contact recently, and I couldn't be happier. Following Rob's adventures on Facebook, reading his blog posts, and having him present in my daily life, if only virtually, has meant more to me than perhaps he knows. That he appears to have aged well and matured his talent for writing - and living - is icing on the cake.
I can't give Rob a birthday cake, but I'd like to give him something else. Here, from the dusty archives that have managed to survive across five decades, is an example of Lenihan juvenalia, with undisputed authorial provenance. This was a joint writing assignment Rob and I did in sixth grade (note the "A" grade on the cover) and was the first collaboration of many.
And because we all know a cover alone isn't enough, a title page:
And finally, just an excerpt from the deathless prose within:
(This is in my handwriting which was marginally more legible than Rob's. Okay, significantly more legible.)
I have held onto this for so long because it is the tangible manifestation of one of the most important things in my life: my friendship with Rob Lenihan. I can't be there to celebrate with him, but that doesn't mean I don't celebrate him.
Happy Birthday, Robert!