Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dinner with "Strangers"

Last night we had dinner with two people we never met before. Let me back up. About a year ago I was Googling my old grammar school principal, Brother Justinian, who ruled Our Lady of Lourdes school like a benevolent tyrant. My expectations were low, after all, when I went to grammar school, Conestoga wagons were still heading west. Much to my surprise, I got a hit. It was in a blog called DelBloggolo written by a guy named Joe Del Broccolo who, as it turns out, attended the same grammar school as I, and lived around the corner in our old Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York. Joe was a year or two behind me in school; his sister was in my year, but girls and boys were kept separate so I don't remember her.

Joe and I began an electronic correspondence based on a mutual admiration for each other's blogs which were about growing up in Brooklyn during the 1950s. Our remembrances of those days were uncannily similar. Besides school, we shopped in the same stores, both got our hair cut by Benny the Barber, played the same street games, and hung out in Callahan-Kelly park. Our families were typical descendants of Italian immigrants, and without asking him, I just know our mothers both wielded a mean wooden spoon when discipline was called for. We remembered attending the same magnificent church, and shared laughs about the priests we recalled. I believe Joe was an altar boy, and I sang in the Lourdes Boys Choir, a group of some renown thanks to Brother Justinian's skill at playing the organ and convincing 12-year olds that missing choir practice was a mortal sin.

Another thing we have in common is that our birthdays are a day apart, mine on July 5th and Joe a day later. Joe introduced me to Jack Daniels Manhattans, and one day I half-kiddingly e-mailed him that we should have one together at lunch to celebrate our birthdays. Joe was all-in. I then got to thinking that it would be nice if our wives joined us. I had read so much in Joe's blog about his wife Ellen (referred to as TLW- The Little Woman) and I wanted to meet her. All was set...on July 8th my wife Jasmine and I met Joe and Ellen at Calagero's Restaurant in Garden City. That's about half-way between Staten Island where we live and their home in Suffolk.

You would think that there might be an awkwardness in this situation, but even though we had never met Joe and Ellen, we knew them. Our backgrounds, values, and views of life and raising children were so alike. Both our families have known challenges and great joy. Sometimes you meet someone and immediately feel comfortable in their presence. Conversation is easy and it's as if you've known that person your whole life. Ellen (as I knew she would) turned out to be charming and funny just like my wife. I have no doubt that whatever success Joe and I had in life, it was because of the partners we were lucky enough to choose.

I honestly hope that Joe and Ellen feel the same way about meeting us, and that they're not seeking an Order of Protection as I write this. We agreed to make this dinner an annual event, God willing. I think it's funny that I lived around the corner from Joe for my whole childhood, but that it took a chance encounter on the Internet for us to finally make the connection. Here's to Brother Justinian, to Our Lady of Lourdes, and to East New York for all the good people it produced.


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