Note: Today should have been Eric’s 47th birthday, but in November 2009 he left us. We still miss him deeply. My husband Danny was thinking of his friend today and wanted to share the eulogy he delivered at Eric’s funeral, but since one blogger in the family is enough he didn’t have a platform for it. So I publish it here for him, unedited.
I think I remember meeting Eric, but I may just be remembering my Dad telling me the story. I had just turned 2. It was 1969. We were both playing in a playground, in the sandbox I think, in Lincoln Park. My Dad saw Eric and his Dad, and Dads being kind of unusual at the playground, especially then, looked at me and said, “Danny, that looks like a nice boy for you to play with.” You know what, he was right. So right, in fact, that we kept on playing together for 40 years.
At my 6th birthday party, we both knew that we were moving to Evanston, me from Uptown, him from far-suburban Woodstock, where he had moved. We ran down the street singing “We’re moving to Evanston.” Every once in a while, when we got together, we’d stage a re-enactment of this event, as recently as this August. When we were ten or eleven Eric and I had a phone conversation for an hour and a half without words…both of us just made “boingy boing” sounds the whole time. We were trying to see how long this would go. I think my parents finally put an end to it.
Despite both growing up in Evanston, we didn’t go to the same school until high school. In high school, we never had a class together and never even had the same lunch hour. The closest I came to an art class was when I signed up for drawing my senior year. I dropped it to take AP European History, a move Eric never did understand. Despite all this, we were able to maintain being close friends. Not going to the same schools, I didn’t know Eric’s other friends very well, but whenever I was over Eric made sure I felt part of the group. This characteristic, of knowing when someone might be in a situation where they might be a bit uncomfortable, and acting to bring that person in, to create an atmosphere that makes them feel at home, was one of his greatest characteristics, and one I learned from even as a child.
Eric in high school was like no one else. He spent hours painting, often working through his lunch hour. We spent hours together at the Art Institute or endlessly looking through the records at the used record store, although we could only afford to buy one or two a month. But he wasn’t a recluse. We had a close-knit group of friends, often centered at John Quinn’s house, where there always seemed to be fresh baked cookies or fudge.
Later, sometimes we would somehow go months without speaking to each other. But, when we did it was the most comfortable thing in the world. After I graduated college, Eric was in his final year at U of I. I went there for my master’s. We were roommates for a semester. I had this idea coming in that Eric would introduce me to dozens of Champaign art-babes and we would be out at parties every night. Instead, Eric spent the entire semester, including many Friday and Saturday nights, finishing two paintings, including one that covered an entire 10 x 12 foot wall, and a sculpture. Despite a little disappointment on the lack of partying, we got along wonderfully…my memory of that time is just contentment.
Incidentally, the sculpture and the other painting were on a potato theme. Eric was given an assignment to create something useable. Eric created a large pyramid shaped sculpture that held one potato, and an accompanying painting of a potato. He also created a long spiel that he told art professors and others on the significance and symbolism of the potato….which didn’t seem to be really based on anything other than getting a grade…but when Eric gave that spiel he a twinkle in his eye that said I may be serious…or again I may not be…and either way it will be fun to listen and you might learn something.
Since that time, I moved to LA for a while, then Oklahoma, then back to Chicago. Eric met and married Ali. Later, I met and married my wife Marta and then had two kids. Though all of this, visits to Eric’s, and later Eric and Ali’s, house were like sitting in a comfy easy chair. It was so relaxing that we would plan to come for a short trip to the beach and lunch and would wind up returning to our house twelve hours later. While it didn’t really seem like any effort had gone into it, food and wine we all liked was always available and the music playing always seemed to be picked out for us without us ever being asked.
The people at these events were from all parts of Eric’s life. Neighbors, old friends like me, friends of friends, friends who became friends through Eric, work friends, friends from college and grad school, all gathered in the house, on the patio, or on the beach below. Eric created community.
Recently, when we were over at Eric and Ali’s, Eric got my 3-year old Joey, to stop whining by suggesting making peanut butter sandwiches out of rocks and sand. They eventually had a whole operation going on. Two months later, Joey mentioned out of the blue “That Eric…he’s silly,” which is about as big a compliment as you can get from a 3 year old except perhaps for my shy 5-year old daughter who said when leaving their house that no Mommy, I don’t want to hold your hand on the way down to the car, I want to hold Eric’s.
From break-up’s to family deaths, Eric was always there in times of trouble too. The last time I saw Eric was in September at my grandmother’s shiva, a Jewish wake. My parents were worried that no one would show up. Eric showed up, he brought food, and he stayed.