I found out this morning that a friend I’ve had since high school died yesterday.
Martin Cattoni was almost five months past his 65th birthday. He retired about a year and a half ago after figuring out he had enough money to cover him the rest of his life, since the men in his family died relatively young.
He was in good health, it seemed: not fat like some of his friends, and he had discovered a new passion for bicycling…in fact, he had planned a biking trip to Paris later this year.
I’m told he went for a ride yesterday, did something like 40 miles before stopping to do his Pilates, then got back on the bike and rode home. At home he felt chest pains, so he took himself to the hospital…where they could not save him. Don’t know any more details yet.
We met in homeroom the day we showed up at high school, two 14-year-olds coming in from different junior highs. We hit it off, the way some kids do. Over the years we became better friends as we shared more classes in school and discovered common interests.
(Martin, George, Mike, Pat, Tim)
In sports. (Both playing and watching)
In girls. (Same)
Martin knew lots of girls, and he wasn’t afraid of them like some of the rest of us were. He introduced me to some really great girls. We’d become good enough friends that we double-dated to the Senior Prom in his red 1969 Dodge Charger just a couple of months after we’d agreed to be roommates at college.
The day we packed our cars to drive off to Austin and whatever fortune awaited us, my father chauffeured our mothers as they each sent their first child off to college; Martin’s father had died, at age 58, during a family vacation to Paraguay when Martincito was 16. It seems to me now that it took only a few minutes for us to carry all of our stuff from our cars on the street up to the second floor of the dorm and drop it on the floor; our moms wanted to help us unpack and put things away, an operation that they might have stretched out for hours. But my dad stepped in: he suggested to them that we didn’t look like we needed any help…and after final hugs and kisses the three parents headed back to Houston and the two of us went looking for trouble. (Yes we did, and yes, we did.)
We lived together those first three semesters of college: next door to two other friends from high school (Mike and Tim), directly across the hall from the communal bathroom, up the hill from Memorial Stadium and next door to the Texas Tavern, down the street from the dorm where we took meals and the gym where we played intramurals, three blocks from Scholz Garten and not much further than that to The Drag on the other side of campus. I thought we couldn’t have had a sweeter setup.
My parents wanted me to concentrate on school during freshman year so I didn’t get a job right away, but Martin parlayed his substantial grocery store experience into a gig at a nearby Safeway within a week of us arriving. He brought home two large plastic glasses that he thought we’d find useful, one in orange and the other in light green. I still have mine.
Nothing lasts forever: in the middle of sophomore year Martin decided to transfer to school back in Houston. We kept in touch, but it wasn’t the same. He carved a new life with new interests and new friends. We were together for his going away party when he left Houston in 1989 to work for a gas company in the East, on what turned out to be the day I quit my dream job in radio in Houston—we were, each of us, off on truly new, and separate, paths.
I still saw him occasionally when he’d come to Houston to visit his brother and sister. The last time was this past January, for a short midday lunch with another couple of our friends. That’s where he told us about his biking, and told the story about having figured out he’d be OK to retire early, that he wouldn’t outlive his money. He was right. Dammit.
(Pascal, Tom, Martin, Pat)
It was a pleasant visit, and when we left we said goodbye in the way we had for years. Handshake, pulling into a quick hug, and waving goodbye using the names we’d been given by our dormmates more than 45 years ago.
See you later, Bubba…