(Rich Galen, Mullings) – I need a day off from politics. This is a sad column tumbling headlong toward maudlin. It’s about a high school classmate of mine named Marty Packin.
I graduated from high school in 1964. If you missed my 50th Reunion column, you can read it here. I just read it again. It’s pretty good.
Marty was also a member of the West Orange Mountain High School class of ’64. He had grown up with most of the people we graduated with. Had been there through the grammar school, junior high, and high school years.
I joined that particular club when I was a junior in high school, our family having relocated from Long Island to Northern New Jersey. I was the new kid.
I was a pretty good guitar player in those days. So was Marty. We teamed up and sang the songs of our day: Dylan. Peter, Paul and Mary. Kingston Trio.
We weren’t revolutionaries. We were – for the most part – a group of upper middle-class Jewish kids who were enjoying the benefits of post-World War II and post-Korean American, but not yet having to make the life or death decisions that would come with Vietnam.
Marty went to Long Island University – LIU. I went, as you might have heard, to Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio 45750. We both lasted about three semesters.
The principal difference was, instead of going to class, I practiced playing the guitar five hours a day. Instead of going to class, Marty found out about marijuana.
I smoked Chesterfields. Marty smoked Pot.
I quit smoking anything in 1981. Marty graduated to heroin, and God knows what else.
I went back to college. Marty went on the road. For decades. An itinerant troubadour playing the small motels and clubs around the country. He rode from appearance to appearance by bus.
If he ran out of money, he would hitchhike to the next gig.
Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train.
Some years ago, he got tired of the road.
His mom and dad had left him a small condo in Broward County, Florida so he made his way there and moved in.
He couldn’t hold down a job. Actually, I’m not at all certain he wanted to hold down a job.
He never had any money. He had to scramble doing favors for his neighbors to get $10 or $20 in tip money to make it to his next Social Security check.
A bunch of us chipped in to buy him a ticket from Florida to that 50th reunion in New Jersey. He got arrested for smoking in the lavatory on the plane, but his astonishing charm got him off the hook and to the reunion.
He never complained about his plight. He knew it was the path he had chosen. We communicated via text. He didn’t want to use his cell phone because his minimalist plan allowed him so few talk minutes.
Marty was known in high school as the last person to get the punch line. The conversation would have moved along two or three topics down the road before Marty would clap his hands, throw back his head, and roar with laughter – about something someone had said four minutes earlier.
Same with texts. He would howl about something I’d written to him four or five texts before.
He wasn’t embarrassed by that. He was like a five-year-old opening a present.
Maybe that was it. Marty never got beyond looking for that feeling of a five-year-old opening a present.
Tuesday afternoon, the news flew around the Mountain High School class of ’64. Myles called Howard. Howard called Steve. I called Merrill. Merrill called Alan. Lynne called Marla. Mark called Lloyd. And so on.
No one called Marty. He had died.
Alone. In a condo, he had inherited from his dad.
I didn’t know Prince Nelson, but I knew Marty Packin.
I know I should miss them equally, but I won’t. I’ll miss Marty a lot more.
Feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues
Good enough for me and Bobby McGhee.
Mr. Galen is a veteran political strategist and communications consultant. He blogs at www.Mullings.com.