He was a neighbor of mine who embodied everything positive that noun could hold, and then some. Once when I was out of town he looked after my depressed, distressed, semi vicious cat. He checked in on me when I was having some of the same issues (without the biting). He was a neighborhood fixture. He could drive he chose not to, so I saw him walking all over my ‘hood. On occasion, I would circle the block twice if he missed my first attempt at eye contact and a wave. He only let me give him a ride once.
His long lanky frame belied his bullish strength. The long grey hair down his back in a ponytail and matching beard made him seem simultaneously ageless and 100 years old. Oh, but his eyes… lightning! He was a brilliant man. No qualifiers. Both encyclopedic and street. Always had a story or a joke for me, but if I hadn’t had my coffee I’d say; “Wait!!!!! I need to follow this, let me get my caffeine!”
He had many passions including teaching chess to anyone who wanted to learn, especially children, which he did at a free Santa Monica library program he created. Mel was a tour roadie for Frank Sinatra in the 60’s. His stories were always worth hearing.
Most people who ask me “how are you?” I can smile and lie. Not Mel, if he asked and it was a rough time he would see the “stuff” in my eyes. Seeing him really see me would make holding it together very near impossible. Mel loved books and he would comb thru used bookstores for treasures. Once after seeing me on a less than stellar day I woke to a message that there was an old hardback outside my door, a biography of Sarah Bernhardt. He finished up the message that if times got tough it could be sold for close to a $100.
Dustin Hoffman gave the entire cast and crew of Hook a gift; a sleeveless black fishing vest with a “Hook” emblem. I had mine stashed away for many, many, years. It’s the only time I’d gotten a gift from a movie star, so that ugly, useless thing, (that didn’t fit me) was mine, ALL mine.
Fifteen years ago, I decided to gift it to Mel, the only person I knew who always wore a sleeveless vest type thing. He protested slightly feeling that its value was too great but he loved it immediately and I could tell. This made me feel good because this was a gentleman who really didn’t care about material goods. If I needed further proof that he adored that vest, I got it: over the next 15 years it was consistently his final layer.
I called him a neighbor but truth is I had no idea where he lived. No phone number but instead he used the antiquated service of a service. He had a cell phone you just didn’t need his number. The few times I called his service he called right back. But he always remained elusive, even to his closest friends.
I hadn’t seen him in too long so I dropped him an email. Nothing. On some level I knew. Then at one of his haunts someone came up to me and said, “You were friends with Mel.” I moved my plastic chair closer and found out what was not a surprise. Mel had passed over a year ago. Confirmation of his being off planet was surprisingly devastating.
He once came to a play I was in and from that point on he never stopped reminding me that I had the kind of talent that was rare and large and he felt it was his job to reinforce this.
Mel’s friend (who was a Rabbi by trade) and I exchanged some more info and I told him that the vest he wore was from me, he went from shock to real tears. “You were with him because that vest never left his body.”
This amount of eye leakage didn’t make sense to me. and when I talked to my Mom about this sadness for his passing, her simple response was “He was your friend. Of course you’re sad.”
My response: “But it was over a year ago and I hadn’t seen him in almost two years—and that’s not really a friend, is it?”
Even from the great library in the sky, Mel was making me think.
For me to call someone a “friend” there are certain things that must happen. There must be reciprocity and I suppose a certain amount of commitment to the friendship. It’s probably why I have very few good friends. I am not good at BS. I am also not good at dipping my toe into a friendship. I dive into that wave or I just stay dry.
I posted a memory of him on my Facebook page partly because I felt guilty for missing his memorial. My “Facebook Friends” (again that “friend” word) all stated that they were sorry for my loss. Those “friends” nailed it. The egocentric reality was it was a loss, someone who “saw” me in a special way, was never going to see me again. I mean: Mel and I never met for a movie, called each other on the phone to gab, met for lattes and pedicures. (There’s a visual!)
Friends come in and out of your life, and I should acknowledge that they can take different forms. I have some guilt in that I didn’t do more investigating when Mel didn’t turn up in the places I knew he should be. Which is what a friend would do. The fact of the matter is if I had, my inquiries would have been ignored. A man who was as intensely private as Mel would not have invited me to his death bed.
I did a meditation after I found out about his passing. Hoping that it would set me up right for the day and I would get the tears under control. I don’t meditate all that often but I do think it has real benefits. I am not a guided meditation gal preferring a solo DIY approach. And yet on this day I had this odd hankering for something specific.
There are many guided meditations on the internet all of which reek of patchouli. I reticently picked “Healing the Heart.” Here is what the crystal calm voice on the meditation said: “The four basic needs of the heart: Attention, Affection, Appreciation, Acceptance.
“Attention: we want to be seen and noticed, smiling eyes.
“Affection: a look that says something more. Attention with a bit of warmth and sweetness.
“Appreciation: We want to be acknowledged for our contribution.
“Acceptance: you have been invited into a community.”
Check, check…check, check, check.
A heart healer.
Mel Bloch, I regret never having told you this. You made my life better, and that is a rare and large legacy.