Jeff Meisch was my best friend through High School and into my first years of college. We were opposites in many ways but shared the alienation of being outsiders to the popular crowds at school. We were Marching Band geeks. We both had crushes on Joyce Wright (Dery).
We were a Mutt and Jeff team (and Jeff often pointed out that he was, after all, Jeff.) I was tall and thin, Jeff was short and round. While I looked at the world like a wounded puppy dog, Jeff affected and air of sophisticated cynicism. I was Art Carney, Jeff was Jackie Gleason.
Gleason is tremendous; if you’re my age you grew up with Gleason as the TV variety show fellow with the away-we-go schtick. You learned about the Honeymooners later, at which point your appreciation expanded greatly. Gleason had that same skill Roscoe Arbuckle possessed in such amazing quantities: lightness and grace. But Gleason had gravity, too. Modern fat comics haven’t had that skill; Belushi was just amped and revved, which is different from having, uh, inner buoyancy.... John Candy was heavy, period. Chris Farley was an overinflated kickball still bouncing off the walls an hour after it was thrown. Gleason was different. He had – what’s the word? Buoyant innards.That was Jeff.
I remember summer days when we would hop in his old Ford Econoline van, fill up on $0.35 gas and drive aimlessly all over Southern California -- from Grapevine Hill to the Mexican border, from watching girls in bikinis on Huntington Beach to shooting cans on the high desert with a .357 magnum. We would have wide-ranging conversations that multiplexed from music to metaphysics to what we saw ahead for our lives.
Jeff, a Jack Mormon, introduced me Beefeater's gin and Black Watch cigars. I never did take a shine to gin.
Jeff came up with a brilliant plan to sneak hooch into our Senior Party. The party was a multi-school event to be held in Disneyland. Jeff knew that there would be a shake-down at the gate for contraband that night, so we paid to enter the park the day before, packing several flasks of Beefeater's. We rode the Storybook Land Canal Boats ride and, as it passed near the bank in a secluded spot, stuck the bottles in the shrubbery. The night of the party, we rode the ride and grabbed the flasks. Good times.
When we worked in the pit orchestra for the High School musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Jeff bought a dozen roses to give to Joyce Wright. Knowing how painfully shy I was he decided to torment me by announcing he was going to sign my name to the card. I was stunned, but I knew what to say. "You wouldn't dare." He took it as a challenge and wrote my name. Joyce gave me a kiss.
Jeff was one of the few people I knew at my own wedding. That was the last time I saw him.
It's often said that guys never form friendships as close as ones formed in school years or in the military service. I can attest that this is the case with me. For respiratory health reasons Mrs. Gray and I moved away from Southern California in the early 1970s. With the demands of a new career and family and the tyranny of the immediate, it was very easy to let contacts slip away. Pre-internet it was difficult to re-establish contacts.
But for a couple of years I have been trying to re-establish those ties with family members and friends. So I googled Jeff's name now and again. Last Thursday I came across this site. Once again I scanned the registered members looking for Jeff's name. Then I saw a scan of a program for a 30-year reunion dinner. I browsed the photos, trying to pick out familiar faces. On one of the last pages was a "Memoriam." There on the list of departed classmates was Jeff's name.
I was shocked at how much I was shocked. My cohort is now well into the half-century mark and news of another passing is a more and more frequent occurence. But I was really saddened that I won't be able to catch up with Jeff.