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A Remembrance – Mark Merenda

March 14, 2017

“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.” – Joseph Heller, Catch-22

In many ways “Catch-22” was the cornerstone of my relationship with Mark Merenda. When we met in 1972 he embarked on a literary exercise to make me memorize sections of the novel’s dialogue, so we could recite them back and forth to each other. He was much better at it than I was, but eventually I became Orr to his Yossarian.

He was much more literate than I, and had the kind of memory  I could never hope to achieve. He was also brilliant, well read, opinionated, stubborn and a cad of the highest order – all of which made him my idol.

Mark Merenda circa 1972

Mark Merenda circa 1972

We met at our first jobs, at a small newspaper in Massachusetts where he was the sports editor and I covered one mid-size town. We became instant friends since we were among the only staffers who were not members of the  clan that ran the business. Like Heller’s Yossarian, it was us against them, and we were determined to keep our sanity by taking advantage of everything we could.

I lacked his self confidence, and  was never sure what he saw in me, but I accepted my role because he was everything I wanted to be. It worked out well for both of us, I got an education and he got a wing man. I could never really describe our relationship until many years later when the movie “Sideways” came out. We were a buddy movie before I knew what buddy movies were.

We had no business covering Boston’s professional sports teams, but as long as the Red Sox , Patriots, Bruins or Celtics would give us press passes and we did our jobs at the paper, we played the part of big-time sports media types. Mark was the writer, and I was the photographer, and we were both pretty good at our roles. He got to meet his idols and I got to get trampled by Dave Cowens, John Hannah, and almost beaned by Willie Randolf.  That’s the chance you take when you sit under the Celtics basket, along the sidelines of the New England Patriots, or in foul territory at Fenway Park.

Even Mark knew that his stories had more readers if there was great art alongside.

He was warm, dry and safe while I was often soaked and had a bad back from carrying camera equipment all over whatever field we had chosen to cover.

But I would not have traded the experience for anything, because it was really the post-event education that was the best part. After the game, we’d head over to  Cambridge where Mark and I set up shop in the bar, at either the Hyatt Regency or later the Charles Hotel. Both were target-rich environments for a young stud and his wing man. I was not very good at meeting women, but Mark was a pro and more often than not an hour or so after we arrived, he would glance in my direction and throw me the car keys so I could drive myself home in his MG.

I never asked how he got back home but I just marveled at  the show. The fact that he lived with a very nice young woman who had to put up with his behavior just made him seem more dangerous. I’m sure she knew, but was willing to put up with his behavior for the same reason I did. Every discussion with Mark was an education and just being in his presence made you feel better.

Mark could pretty much talk me into anything.. He would take me shopping in Boston, to Louis, the most expensive store in the city, and convince me that I ‘needed’ a $700 cashmere overcoat. It was a great coat, and I loved it, but I was almost afraid to wear it.

His brother, Guy, was trying to start a leather business so I ‘needed’ to buy a new briefcase. It’s still here in my office next to my desk.

No matter, it was just part of my role. The flip side was, what I have since learned, is what drew Mark to me: I could tell him what an ass-hole he was being. He knew, that I knew, that sometimes he was simply full of crap, and I would be brutally honest without messing up our friendship.

We grew to respect each other, covering news, and sports together learning skills that they don’t teach in journalism school.

We even started a magazine. It was mostly about sports and we were sure it was going to be our ticket to stardom, or at least untold riches. At least until our bosses at the newspaper decided it was a little too much like competition. Forty years later I still have a few copies and I know Mark did too, even though we only produced two editions.

The beginning of the end was like a scene from “Good Will Hunting,” when Robin Williams’s character misses what was, until 2004, the most famous event in Boston baseball history, because he “had to see about a girl.”

When my future wife,  had the audacity to claim Zelda Fitzgerald really deserved major credit for F. Scott’s work he refused to even debate the topic accusing her of “getting her facts from People Magazine.” To this day, she relishes the fact that history and research have proven her correct.

We got married three years later, after I had moved to Maine to manage a newsroom. I always thought Mark never forgave her for taking up the time he wanted. He never came to the wedding and I never expected that he would. I have no idea what he thought when he found out we divorced 5 years later.

I lost touch with him and his career and it wasn’t until 30 years later when I decided to become personal coach that we reconnected. Somehow I found out he was now in marketing, so I called to ask for help. He refused to accept any payment for developing my web pages and freely offered marketing advice.

We had both matured, and the youthful arrogance was tempered by life, and now he had hundreds of friends, clients and employee who depended on his wisdom  I never made it to Florida, as I had promised,  and we missed connecting on his trip to San Francisco where I now live.

We chatted off and on, and he even allowed me to do some freelance writing, when I restarted my writing career. I would send him sporadic texts when I visited my parents near Boston. Always making sure I stopped by our old haunts, so I could bore my new wife with stories from the good old days and text Mark a photo or two.

He would text back quotes from ‘Catch-22.’

 

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Boston You’re My Home

April 16, 2013

Filed under: observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 1:07 am

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 18 years, but Boston will always be my home town. I was in San Francisco during 9/11 and while I had visited New York often, I had only been to the World Trade Center once. I grieved for the loss of life but it was still an event that happened to strangers.

But I’ve walked down Boylston Street in the rain, the snow, and on a crisp Spring day like yesterday. I’ve watched the beginning of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton and the end, just yards away from yesterday’s explosion.

I know who Bill Rodgers is, why John Kelley-the elder – is a Boston legend, and who first suspected Rosie Ruiz was a fraud. I’ve waited in the lobby of the Lenox Hotel -before it was remodeled and became respectable.

Rosie Ruiz, almost a winner

I know that the area is called Back Bay, because it used to be a bay until our colonial forefathers decided they needed more land for their cows to graze. And yes, until recently, I loved that dirty water, because Boston was my home.

I’ve been to the Patriots Day game at Fenway Park and walked down to the see the finish of the race, and then walked back to Fenway for the second half of what used to be a day-night doubleheader.

I can tell you the name of every store, bar, restaurant, gallery or hair salon that you pass walking from Boston Public Garden to Mass Ave. I can remember my mother teaching me the names of the cross streets to help me learn the alphabet-Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester and Hereford.

I know where Dorchester is and the neighborhood where 8-year-old Martin Richard lived and I’ve been to Revere where police searched an apartment for clues.

I’m happy when the A’s , Giants, or 49ers , or Warriors do well, but I FOLLOW the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots and Red Sox. I’m sorry, but it’s part of me.

I guess that’s why yesterday’s events have a much greater impact. The Marathon will no longer be the great fun-loving, 26-mile event that it once was. Security will be tighter, everyone will be on edge. Parents won’t let their kids take the T into town to watch the end of the race and  Sox fans will think twice about walking to Copley Square to see friends cross the finish line.

I know the city will recover. New York has recovered – mostly. But, when I visit Boston later this year and walk down Boylston Street once more it won’t be the same, and that’s what really pisses me off.

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