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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Stood by Me (and Me by Him)

My friend Matt Silverstone. It feels good to write that. It doesn’t feel good knowing I’m writing it because I recently did a little curiosity-driven Internet snooping and discovered Matt died eight years ago. I seem to run into that situation when I start to wonder whatever happened to some old friend of mine with whom I long ago lost touch. Matt and I last got together in 1991, for lunch. Never heard from him again. I’m in time-shifted mourning.

We met when we were twelve. The junior high side of twelve. It’s an important distinction. Elementary school was well over. We were a matter of weeks past the age of absolute innocence if we use the movie Stand by Me as our guide. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve,” Richard Dreyfuss as the Stephen King stand-in says at the end. “Jesus, does anyone?” The narrator had been recalling the summer when he and his three best friends went out in search of a dead body. That doesn’t sound like something I would have been into doing the summer I was twelve. By the summer I was fifteen, I imagine Matt could have talked me into it.

Matt was the first friend I made in seventh grade. I don’t remember what brought us together. Probably proximity in the same homeroom. Homerooms were determined alphabetically. My last name was the first to be called for the back of the alphabet in seventh grade. If there was one more kid named “Sullivan” or “Weinstein,” I may have wound up in another homeroom and maybe Matt and I wouldn’t have come into contact in quite the same manner. Or maybe we got chummy in math class and it was destiny. As for what drew us into hanging out, he said something amusing and I laughed is my guess. Or the other way around. Matt was a good listener. He was also innately funnier than I was. Wry and dry. I’ve been trying to remember some of the hilarious things he said all the years I knew him so I can quote him and illustrate that he was one of the funniest people I ever knew, but I think it was mostly delivery.

In ninth grade, there were two guys in one of our classes who, for lack of a more precise term, we’ll label preppies. This was before “preppies” were a thing, but go with it. One of them called out to the other about nothing of note, maybe a little too excitedly. Matt watched them interact and pegged them to me as “the gold dust twins,” no further elaboration. None needed. I laughed for about three weeks.

Anyway, in the fall of seventh grade we got to talking, and it became habitual. I went over to his house on a Saturday, which seemed an exotic thing to do, given that he lived on the other side of town. On that first trip I met his parents and his baseball cards. He wasn’t all that interested in either entity, but I knew who his father was before I ever knew Matt. His father was Lou Silverstone. If you read Mad magazine in the 1970s, you recognized the byline. Yes, Matt would confirm to those who would ask, that was his dad. It didn’t seem to impress him much. Lou didn’t seem terribly impressed by himself, either. He was low-key friendly, a good match for Matt’s Canadian-born mother. I aged out of the Mad habit as junior high went on, but I’m still grateful that when we were in high school Lou slipped me a complimentary copy of the issue with his parody of The White Shadow in it. He seemed particularly proud of that one.

Matt didn’t slip me any complimentary baseball cards from his collection, but I seem to recall we worked out a reasonable price for a stack of his otherwise neglected 1970 Topps, particularly some Seattle Pilots I was suddenly yearning for in November of 1975. I learned early on that while Matt was pro-Mets in that way kids on Long Island grew up being then, he wasn’t much of a sports fan. He wore a New York Giants hoodie to school, which caught my eye since I didn’t know too many other Giants fans. He shrugged that his grandmother gave it to him.

Some of the cards Matt didn’t sell me and other flammables became subject to Matt’s experiments with matches and rubber cement up in his treehouse. I’d never before been in a treehouse and, other than Matt’s, I haven’t been in one since. I didn’t know treehouses actually existed outside comic strips. It served as Matt’s pied-à-terre, where he could take a friend from the other side of town and burn things in peace. There was a bit of a rebellious or nihilistic streak to Matt. He didn’t have much use for the conventions of polite society. Maybe he grew tired of answering the same questions about who his father was or what it was like to be as tall as he was. Burning cardboard in the treehouse was one of his ways of going off the grid. Rubber cement, I learned from him, made for effective lighter fluid.

I waited this long to mention Matt’s height. He was a head or more taller than most everybody in junior high, 6-foot-6 by high school. He appeared mature enough so that on the first day of tenth grade, a vice principal told him in all earnestness he shouldn’t be sticking around this building anymore now that he’d graduated. I had decent height, enough to be placed in the back row of class pictures. Matt was the kid who was always directed to the center of that row. It must have gotten tiring to be reminded, when nobody had anything else to say, that he was unusually tall. Kids are good at pointing out physical differences. I’m pretty sure I never commented to him that he was tall. Maybe that’s why we stayed friends.

Matt did go out for basketball. Rode the bench mostly in JV, then on the varsity our senior year. He was just enough of a jock to make it work for him; he liked to surprise-punch me in the arm, as if that was something friends did. I never got mad at him for it, but that shit hurt. His game was being tall. Once in a while I’d get caught up in some schoolyard two-on-two with him versus any comers who wandered by. I wasn’t much good, but was usually willing to throw myself into it for a few minutes. Matt was a splendid teammate. Introduced me to the phrase, “Let’s kick ass.” I’d heard others threaten to kick “your” ass (or my ass), but never with “ass” used as a non-specific object of kicking. I thought he made up the term.

I attended Matt’s JV games, which were usually sad affairs in that they were played after the varsity ones, which meant the gym cleared out and it was me and Matt’s parents representing maybe a quarter of the crowd. Matt, in turn, came to my school plays and made himself available to deliver copies of the school paper to various classrooms at my request when I was editor. From 1979 to 1982, he joined me at one Mets game annually, always into the experience if not deeply invested in the outcome. We supported each other’s endeavors and formed what amounted to our own social or antisocial circle. Matt didn’t not get along with anybody, but he was allergic to adolescent niceties. If “everybody” was doing it or watching it or talking about it, Matt wasn’t terribly interested in it.

As ninth grade drew to a close, what Matt wanted to do most was cut class. Like treehouses, that was one of those things I’d heard of but didn’t know was something that really existed outside of teachers warning against it. Matt talked me into joining him, probably to our shared detriment. I was very much on the bubble when it came to passing biology with the Regents on the horizon, and the biggest cutting-class call of all was not going to a review session that I, maybe both of us, could have used; my mother certainly believed I should have been there. Then again, it wasn’t mandatory, and we had our bikes, and we were riding on the boardwalk early on a June afternoon when those other suckers were stuck in school trying to remember which ventricle did what. Let’s just say I scraped by in bio and just now had to Google “ventricle,” whereas I’ll never forget that day on the boardwalk.

Having led me astray at the end of ninth grade, Matt set my agenda for the summer that followed. A lot of bike riding. He was really into bikes, especially fixing up old ones, including one for me. A lot of going to the beach, which was never something that appealed to me a ton once my family installed central air conditioning, but this was our dead-body summer, when Matt was expert at talking me into whatever. Without having to sell it, Matt convinced me everything we did was exactly what we should have been doing, even if it was stuff it wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to me to do, even if it was stuff I knew Matt shouldn’t have been doing. For example, Matt purchased from a classmate for twenty dollars and carried around a switchblade. I write that now and I wouldn’t blame you for expecting Blackboard Jungle to break out, but no rumbles were on the horizon. It was just Matt’s process for defying whatever might be expected of an exceptionally tall if otherwise average suburban ninth-grader going on tenth. He mostly liked to talk about the knife, as if he was keeping it handy for show ‘n’ tell (he gave it a name — Boopsie, I think, derived from Betty Boop). The only cutting he was gonna do was of class. The whiff of danger was enough.

I believe my role in Matt’s life as junior high was becoming high school was to be the kid who wasn’t remotely dangerous. Matt’s parents seemed to appreciate he had one friend who didn’t seem like the type to sell him a switchblade.

Midway through college, Matt transferred to a school on the East Coast of Florida. I was on the West Coast. He had his parents’ old Chevy Malibu and treated it like his bike, not hesitating to go out for a long ride, in this case to my side of the state. He’d call me on a Saturday afternoon and tell me to get ready for his arrival. I didn’t tell him no, and a few hours later he’d appear. This was during Matt’s would-be Lothario phase. Like with the switchblade, it made for better talk than action, which was just as well based on his patter. We’d run into a couple of girls I knew on the dorm elevator and he’d turn on the charm. The girls would laugh and exit. I’d cringe. He’d be undeterred.

I’ve been blackout drunk once in my life. It was one of those weekends Matt showed up. His advance instructions were for me to furnish gin. He’d bring tonic to make gin and tonics and then we’d go out. I’d heard of gin and I’d heard of tonic and I’d heard of them mixed together. I had never partaken. But if Matt is driving all the way over from the East Coast, I’d hate to be a bad host. Plus there was a party that night at the dorm that didn’t require any driving, so I guessed it was OK to have a few. I went to the Albertson’s liquor store, I picked up the distilled spirit in question, and we made gin and tonics, regardless that neither of us was adept at measuring gin versus tonic. Beyond cringing in the elevator at his rap (“hey, we’ve got gin and tonics in Greg’s room”), what I mostly remember is waking up after midnight on my roommate’s bed muttering about how “what I really want is to be in love,” and Matt listening to this without judgment. I’d be sober enough soon enough to give him directions to the 24-hour McDonald’s on Fowler Avenue, which is where one would go after adding too much gin to the gin and tonics. The next morning, he wakes me up bright and early so we can drive to Clearwater Beach, a spot he assumed I knew the location of. Only vaguely. I wasn’t any more of a beachgoer in Florida than I was in Long Beach unless Matt called.

Our last lunch was a half-dozen years after college. We’d kept in touch, but didn’t see each other very much. He was working in the same North Shore town I was, so it was convenient. I told him about a Mexican restaurant, and he was very much that’s it, that’s the place where we have to go, Mexican food absolutely. There was a little Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Matt: act like wherever you are, that’s the place to be. Setting baseball cards ablaze in a treehouse. Riding bikes on the boardwalk when we were supposed to be reviewing biology. Mixing gin and tonics like total amateurs. Mexican for lunch. I’d known Matt for sixteen years by then. It was a blast being reintroduced to his moves.

This was the summer of a bit of upheaval at my magazine, with an editor coming in who I didn’t necessarily trust. I droned on quite a bit during lunch about whatever indignities I perceived were being foisted upon me. Matt listened, because Matt was good at listening, though I had the sense it might have been a bit much with the droning on my end. Regardless, when we returned to my office for a few minutes after lunch and I introduced him to the momentary bane of my existence, Matt used all of his six feet and six inches to seem intimidating on my behalf. Later on, the editor and I would work out our differences and we remain friends to this day. At the time, however, the guy confessed he thought Matt was gonna kick his ass for me.

My wedding was a few months away at that point and I told Matt to be on the lookout for an invitation. I don’t think I ever got an RSVP. I was disappointed, but not surprised. The same scenario played out for my Bar Mitzvah. Matt didn’t really go in for those things. He did agree to be a groomsman at my sister’s wedding mostly because he assumed there’d be bridesmaids to work his charms on. I don’t think he signed my high school yearbook, either. That was Matt being Matt, I decided. Matt being Matt made him one of my favorite people ever. Matt being Matt also made me not reach out beyond 1991. I don’t want to bother somebody who doesn’t care to be bothered. I’ll see him when I see him, I figured, but I never did see him again. He didn’t show up for the two high school reunions I bothered with, and I knew damn well he wasn’t a social media person. I made cursory searches a few times, anyway. No dice.

His father I did bump into a few times, on the LIRR in the late 1990s. Lou had moved from Mad to Cracked as one might in his field. Became its editor, in fact. Matty was doing fine, he said, he’d send my regards. Lou died at 90 in March of 2015, the same year my father took ill. Eight months later, my recent rabbit-hole exploration revealed, Matt — married with two children and living one county east of me — died at the age of 52, apparently from cancer, which seems to have taken too many of my friends from my youth, guys with whom I was no longer in contact but had never forgotten. Matt was certainly unforgettable to me, down to my bones. My arm still hurts thinking about him.

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