The Meanderthals

My friend Dave

“There are two guys who keep me from doing whatever I want to do whenever I feel like it,” my buddy Dave used to tell me: “Mr. Time and Mr. Money.”

This was but one of the many stock lines of Dave’s repertoire, most of which revolved around life, politics or sports. He was an inexhaustible source of funny quips, manic rants and amusing behavioral quirks, and it was my pleasure to plagiarize or paraphrase him over the years.

Dave’s wife, Sylvia, called us earlier today to inform us that “LD”, as I called him – “Large Dave”, a tribute more to the way he embraced life than anything else – collapsed earlier in the day and died of a heart attack.

Like most others who had the good fortune of knowing David Stern, I viewed him as much more than a friend. To me, he was a close buddy and ally, a fellow Syracuse/Newhouse School grad and diehard SU sports fan, fellow political operative (he was campaign treasurer for Doug Petersen’s successful bids for the 8th Essex seat in the Mass. House while I was Doug’s campaign chairman), and my lawyer.

To say he was an important part of the fabric of my life for the 25 short years I knew him would do him a gross disservice.

I first met Dave after he noted my college alma mater in the piece the Marblehead Reporter ran announcing my appointment as the rag’s new editor. While dropping off a press release for one of the many civic groups he was active in and supported, left me the following note, written in his inimitable messy scrawl:

“Yo, Frankie. You a good edita. Your friend, Dwaye “Pearl” Washington.” Below, he penned his name and phone number, along with a request to “give me a call sometime,” and signed it Dave Stern/SU Class of 1979.

I liked him instantly, though we had yet to meet. Here was an SU grad and a sports nut who was wacky enough to follow the career of SU’s flashy pointguard long after we had all graduated, local enough to read the Reporter, and caring enough to reach out to a newcomer in town. Seemed like a no brainer to me for a new friend, and we got together not long after that for a beer and a game. That “sealed the deal,” to use another of David’s favorites, and without further fanfare I was officially welcomed into David Stern’s robust circle of friends.

What a class act.

Dave had a flair for hyperbolic declarations, and he backed his words with insight and knowledge. It didn’t take much to get him going, and I knew better than to get in a fact-based sports argument with the guy. He was nearly equally tough with contemporary music trivia, and I think he would have been pleased that I won $4 in a Georgetown, SC karaoke music trivia contest Friday night, though he would have brushed past my successful identification of J.Geils and Spencer Davis Group songs so he could berate me for missing the Sheena Easton “bunny,” which was Dave’s pet term for an easy layup.

I am grateful to have known him, to have spent countless hours watching sports, plotting political strategies and, in later years, sharing stories of parenting, life and niggling legal matters.

Dave Stern might not have ever had “NBA Commissioner” on his resume, but he nonetheless led the league in my book. Straight up good guy, wonderful friend, devoted member of the Marblehead community, first-team perennial all-star father to his sons Sam and Jeff, whom he doted upon, coached ceaselessly and loved unconditionally, and the kind of husband most women who are willing to accept a life of endless sports as part of the deal would be happy to re-sign year after year – he was the package.

It’s hard to imagine Marblehead without him, really. Proud of the fact that he was one of the last babies born in the now-defunct Mary A. Alley Hospital, he poured his time and energy into the town he loved so well. He served on the town’s Planning Board (much of it as chairman), was a devout member of the Town Democratic Committee, and was a major force for the youth sports programs his sons participated in.

Dave collected nutty compulsions. He told me that when he got sick of having his textbooks stolen in school by classmates eager to replace their own lost volumes he took to writing his social security number in the inside spine of page 105 of his text in pencil, October 5 being his birthday. If there was any question of ownership, he’d simply say to the person who insisted the book was his own, “page one oh five…the number in the spine: it’s my social security number. Read it,” and the case would be closed.

Dave also introduced his fascination/obsession with the number 811 into my life, and, in turn, into my daughters’ lives as well. “Just look around…it’s everywhere,” he’d say, pointing to a license plate in a car whizzing past, the time on the clock in the kitchen, or the winning lottery number from the state of Michigan for, you guessed it, Aug. 11. I picked up the obession, and just this morning noted that Gabi had sent an important email yesterday at 8:11.

My daughter Kirsty has the disease, too, and purposely chose the digits as part of her new cell phone number.

I hate the fact that David is no longer with us, and March Madness will never have the same zip as it did when he added his flair for manic sports obsessions. It was his idea years ago to take half a day on the first day of the NCAA men’s tournament when ESPN still carried it, and we would convene with friends and beer at the old City Side in Boston to yell, rant and “get aggravated,” as he would say.

Years ago, he put together the best sports/guys’ weekend I ever celebrated, with a Mets-Giants game followed by a comedy club in Manhattan that night, followed the next day with the Syracuse-Wisconsin “kickoff classic” at the Meadowlands. Oh, and some other harmless but predictable shenanigans that I won’t go into here.

You bet that Dave lived life large – fast, full and mostly frenetic. Nobody hustled like Dave, and since I am one of his countless friends left to search for reason in the untimely and horribly unfair demise of a guy who brought so much to us all, the best I can come up with is to celebrate our friendship by taking a page out of Dave’s own book.

So we’re flying home to say goodbye and spend time with Sylvia, Sam and Jeff, then we’ll be back on the road.

Mr. Time and Mr. Money be damned.


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