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Oh, Billy.

In Zen funerals, we talk directly to the departed. Happily, my friend Bill Wingate was able to read this blog over breakfast a month before he passed. Although they remembered somethings differently than I remember them, Billy and Annie were able to laugh along with me.

Even at great distances, even when we were seemingly out of touch, you were always a reliable presence in my life, a person who I could always turn to for help. Even last week, I was wondering if I would again try playwrighting, even a scene. In that wondering, I knew I would send it to you first for feedback. Who would help Morrigan find an agent for her writing? I would depend on you for advice.

When you picked up the phone on one of my calls last year, in your immediate, “Hi, Kenny,” at the sound of my voice, I laughed, “I think you are the only person who still calls me ‘Kenny.’” On the other line, Annie laughed too. “You are only one who still calls Bill ‘Billy.’”

So many memories come rushing back.

Rosencrantz and Hamlet. I laugh so often remembering the botched scene in one performance, the only scene I had alone with Hamlet: while we managed to get every line in, none were in the order Shakespeare intended. We played it without fluster. No one other than us knew.

Brick and Big Daddy.

Going to Central Park, to the Shakespeare Festival, to see you as a spear carrier.

The performance of Luther when we were surprised that John Heffernan, who you’d worked with in the Park, stepped into the Albert Finney role.

The first time I met your dad, my senior year when we roomed together on the 4th floor of Burton: I was in the room studying. You were out with Annie when there was a knock on the door and the door opened. I knew it was your dad, very distinguished looking gentleman. Three piece black or charcoal suit, pinstriped, white shirt and tie, a hat in his hand, a bowler. He struck me as my imaginary Englishman.

Sitting cross legged on my bed studying, I could see that he was surveying the room: two narrow, unmade beds, two desks, two desk chairs, two armchairs; desk chairs piled with books, armchairs piled with clothes. He was looking at the armchairs. “Which one is Bill’s?” he asked. And then, “I guess it doesn’t matter.” He sat down on a pile of clothes. We chatted for a while. “Tell Bill I stopped by,” he said before he left.

After you and Annie were married in Eau Claire the summer after you graduated, your parents hosted a reception for the newlyweds at the Colony Club in Manhattan. I arrived in my best social work school green flannel suit, blue button-down shirt, and black knit tie. You met me at the club door and, as we walked up the white marble steps, you remarked, “I think you might be the first Jew ever to come in here.” We laughed.

As we walked into the reception hall, -- everyone else was in a tuxedo, -- your mother, who knew a fish out of water when she saw one, pulled me onto the reception line, pinned a boutonniere on my lapel, stood me next to her, and introduced me to everyone. “This is Bill’s best friend from college.” I shook hands with the captains of industry, Roger Blough of US Steel, David Rockefeller of Chase, until another Carleton alum arrived. Then we hid out in a corner.

So many memories. My bachelor’s party which you and Annie hosted on Lloyd’s Neck. You drove Joan and me home from our wedding to our first apartment four blocks from your apartment. You introduced us to your favorite restaurants.

It seems now that we sort of lost touch for a few years, the years you were in California, the years of my second marriage. You returned in time, just as that marriage ended, when I needed an old friend. I found out you were back accidentally when you and Annie hosted a gathering for the New York Carleton Club on Lloyd’s Neck. I showed up and surprised you. For the next two years, we met monthly for dinner in Soho, on Tuesday evenings after my Zen group.

So many wonderful weekends that Dee and I enjoyed your hospitality, first on Lloyd’s Neck and then in Providence, how much Morrigan enjoyed you both, your curried scrambled eggs.

You were so generous with your time, and I enjoyed it so much. The ambitious projects that we were working on for The Verrazano Foundation are so vivid, no matter that we couldn’t pull them off: the abandoned movie theater that we hoped to turn into a home for “homeless” dance companies, the Playwrights in Recovery Festival.

I am already missing you so much and you are so present in my memories. Both at the same time.

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James Breslin
James Breslin
Jun 30, 2023

Lovely, loving and tender. Jim

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