In Memory

Merrick Sterling

Merrick Sterling

Fred Mann:

 I'm writing today for a particular purpose.

You know when you forget your password on some website and they ask you a security question before they'll let you in? More often than not, one of those questions is, "Who was your first friend in school?" or "Who was your best friend growing up?" I arrived in Beverly Hills in the middle of the first grade and I've got many ways to answer those questions: Phil Shemanski, Jan Greenberg, Wendy Gray, Laurie Blaustein, Ronnie Zolkover, Mark Felmus, Ricky Pobirs, Bobby Kornhandler, Jimmy Heuman and many others -- all were first grade pals.

But I always have made the password answer the same: It's the kid that Mrs. Rose made my "buddy" on my first day of school -- the boy who lived right across the street from me in those earliest years: Ricky Sterling.

It was Ricky Sterling who told his mother how much he liked the sandwiches that my mother made and put in my lunch box. "How do you make them?" ske asked my Mom. "Well," Mom answered, "I put peanut butter on one slice of bread and then jelly on the other."

It was Ricky who asked me one day to punch him in the mouth after school so his braces would make his gums bleed and he could get out of Hebrew school. (It was the least a goy could do.) He bled all right, but he still had to go to school.

It was in Ricky's kitchen in high school that I first smoked dope. "I don't really feel anything," I told him. "OK," he said, "but something is probably happening. Do you realize you are standing in my kitchen sink?"

Rick's wife Judy called me about an hour ago and said that he died last night. Colon cancer, which had only been diagnosed eight months ago, had spread aggressively to his liver. According to Judy he went peacefully in hospice care at home.She said he wanted me to let old Beverly and El Rodeo friends know.

He and I kept in touch only sporadically over the years. He was a very successful banker in Los Angeles. I became a journalist and moved to Philadelphia more than 30 years ago. But when I did get back to LA we would sometimes meet for lunch out in Manhattan Beach where he lived. Rick was a private guy, but one who was always surprising. About 10 years ago, he quit banking and went back to college to study mathematics. He's been teaching math ever since at Cerritos College.

It was that stupid password security question that put us back in touch last fall. I decided to send him an email telling him that "Ricky Sterling" was always my answer. And I told him how strange I thought it was that about 25 percent of all the dreams I have (and remember) seem to take place in and around his old house on Bedford Drive. (Let the psychoanalysis begin.)

He picked up the phone to tell me that his answer to that same question was always "Freddy Mann." And he told me he was sick, and asked me not to tell anyone. Until now. Unclear if any services or memorial will be held. I will let people know.

This one's for Rick.