||The last time I talked to my Uncle Fred was last Tuesday, and it ended the way so many of our conversations did: When you come down, let's catch a movie. That was our thing. Whenever I visited New York from Boston, we headed for the movies, one of his loves and one of mine. I always loved hearing what he thought, which characters should have been more fully developed, which subplot made no sense, what went wrong in the last 20 minutes. He was a rigorous critic, and it was a constant education.
Uncle Fred wasn't really part of my early life. After he went into the Air Force, during Korea, he settled in California and his Miami relatives didn't see much of him for a long time. But when he moved back East in 1971, he made a point of reconnecting with family. I think at first he felt a keen sense of loss for the time he had missed, followed by a deepening sense of delight at getting better acquainted with his platoon of nieces and nephews. In his absence, his siblings had been prolific baby-makers.
I got to know him a lot better when I moved to the Northeast in 1989, to become a reporter for the Boston Globe. One night a fire broke out in a crowded nightclub in the Bronx, the Happy Land. 89 people were killed. An editor ordered me onto the next flight., and just like that I was making my first trip to New York. I ended up at 392 Central Park West, the building where Fred and my late Uncle Lionel lived 14 floors apart for more than 30 years, and just like that we began a great relationship. I think we immediately recognized one another as kindred spirits. We both loved writing, and film, and music. And we just enjoyed being around one another. After a while, I started coming to New York whenever I got a chance. And I stopped staying in hotels, even when I was on assignment and the Globe was paying. Staying with Fred was so much more fun.
As much as he loved to write, I think his greatest joy was in encouraging others. He was a born teacher, and he never tired of pushing people to find their voices and tell their stories. So many of them did, and that was an endless source of satisfaction for him.
Fred could juggle more balls successfully than anyone I ever met, writing, running the center, producing plays, teaching at NYU, helping people get published. This may sound like a strange thing to say about someone who died just shy of 75, but he packed a lot into a short time. In fact, he had a bunch of projects going right to the end. He was thinking of editing an anthology of writing from the center. He had a two-person play he wanted to write about our family, we kicked that one around for at least five years, but he could never find the time to get to it. He sat down with my cousin Tammy a while back and decided, rightly I'm sure, that her life would make an interesting book. One more writer to encourage. And he was on me to get going on my novel, which had long since become a running joke between us. No wonder he could barely find time to catch a movie himself. The last movie we saw in a theater was "Far From Heaven'' which he loved, he was a Julianne Moore fan.
The last time I came down to see him, just after he got his pacemaker, it was bitterly cold and he really wasn't up to going out. So we rented "Barbershop'', which he detested, "Vanilla Sky'' - we didn't get it, assuming there was anything to get, and "Sidewalks of New York'' which he liked a lot. I left him with "Tortilla Soup'' and kicked myself after our last talk for forgetting to ask what he thought of it.
Fred was a great teacher and writer, but to my siblings and cousins and me he was first and foremost a great uncle, encouraging and inspiring, but rarely judgmental. He knew what he cared about, the center, writing, and family, and he poured his energy into those to the exclusion of almost everything else. He never had the slightest intention of slowing down, ever, and retirement was a foreign concept. There were too many stories to tell, too many people who needed just the right push to start telling them.
Going to the movies with him was almost the least of what I'll miss about Uncle Fred. My consolation is in knowing that I'm just one of the many people who loved him dearly and will miss him greatly.