Guest commentary: Saying goodbye to Stew Boy
On Feb. 26, several hundred of Stewart Oksenhorn’s friends and family got together at the Boxcar in Short Hills, N.J., to remember and celebrate his life. Dina, Stewart’s mother, read a beautiful poem. Following are the memories I shared:
I can still remember when Stew Boy told me he was driving to Aspen to start a new life. The year was 1990, and we were roommates, living in the ultimate bachelor pad in Chelsea. Of course, we had no furniture until Stewart’s mom bought us a couch from Jennifer Convertible, which I’m happy to say I no longer own. It was that tumultuous period in life, between college graduate and full-on adulthood, when people in their 20s often have these life-changing thoughts. Of course, I attributed it to the Jack Daniel’s and other libations in the air at the time and never thought he would actually carry through on it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our story hadn’t started or ended there, but rather it was forged years before and less than 20 miles from that Chelsea apartment, just across the Hudson River in the protected backstreets of suburban New Jersey. Ours was a story that could be told by thousands of kids growing up in the ’70s — one of playing kickball on the block, tennis at the school courts and poker on Friday and Saturday nights when we couldn’t get a date, which was most Friday and Saturday nights.
Sleepovers and talking until early in the morning, we were just a couple of teenagers discussing all things great and small. Debating the lyrics of the Rolling Stones’ “Goats Head Soup,” which was Stew’s favorite album at the time. Sharing secrets of true loves and watching “Saturday Night Live,” the early years. Eating amazing thin-crust pizza from Bonvini’s. And, of course, reciting endless lines from Woody Allen movies.
Of course, in the ’70s, a time before mobile phones, text messaging and emails, if you missed the call you were out of luck for the rest of the night. So we all had to stay in very close contact. Now for you young’uns, keep in mind, in an age before Xbox, Netflix and 500-channel cable TV, there was very little else to do but play records, which were those black round discs that were replaced by CDs, which were those shiny round discs replaced by iTunes. Just a couple of kids listening to good music and talking about the future — a future that seemed as bright as the stars in the pollution-free sky. I still remember how special and safe it felt to be a part of this group of friends since we were 7, 8 and 9 years old, many of whom are here today and have remained close friends.
And it was here in the safety of suburbia and friendship where Stewy, and many of us, started our legal educations, debating and defending a particular point of view, no matter how ridiculous. And debate we did, on all sorts of topics — from heaven to hell, love and death and, of course, film and music. So, it also was here that was such fertile training ground for Stewart’s second act as an entertainment reporter and critic.
But back to that apartment we shared and the previous summer of 1989, where we would exchange the city heat for the shade of Fire Island. And so, every weekend, I, Stew and our closest 40 friends or so went to our dilapidated, soon-to-be-condemned house. Needless to say, it was the most fun a bunch of kids just out of college from New Jersey could ever hope to have. One of endless jamming, laughing until it hurt, getting rejected and occasionally even getting over on the girls and, of course, Jell-O shots.
If I could magically transport myself back in time, it would be to that very spot, where hardships, addictions and depression were beyond our grasp. Where everything was shiny and new and the world was our oyster and everyone we came in contact with was an exotic pearl. One of those pearls even got Stewy to leave his protected world and make that journey west to start a new life.
Fast-forward to right now, where I find myself with the agonizing task of saying goodbye to a lifelong friend, just like that day in 1990 when I helped him pack up his truck for his sojourn to Aspen. And it’s only fitting that I repeat the same words now that rolled off my tongue that afternoon when Stewart begged me to visit: “It’s not goodbye but rather see you later. And you better have a Jell-O shot waiting for me when I get there because it’s a long trip from here to there. Until then, dress warmly and carry a big stick.”
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