BRONX, NY – “Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.” It’s sad but true, I really have been here for years. My two-week hiatus is over and a lot has transpired since I last posted. For starters, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog covered the World Cup for Conan, which was great. Then, for the first time in more than a decade, our own Short Matt failed to participate in New York’s annual Gay Pride Weekend. In bigger news, the same Short Matt shocked the world by getting engaged to lovely Pittsburgh native, Twinkletoes. I mean, I step away for a nanosecond and all hell breaks loose. What happens if I take another week off? Peace in the Middle East? The Mets get sold? I guess we’ll never know because today is my friend Cheesy Bruin’s (the Cheeseman, to most of us) birthday and I simply can’t let this day go by without saying a few things about the man.
The Punch Heard Round the Playground. I first met the Cheeseman when we were in 3rd grade at PS7 on Kingsbridge Avenue in the Bronx. One of my earliest memories of him was one recess when he, Grote2DMax, and I were involved in a tightly-contested punch ball game. As the whistle sounded for recess to end, the Cheeseman took the final pitch from Grote (I believe) and with an open hand scooped the ball upwards and onto the first floor roof for a game ending home run. It was a classic cheat. So obvious. To this day he denies it every time Grote and I bring it up. Nevertheless we managed to become good friends with this budding young scoundrel.
Strat-O-Matic and Lasagne. If you were lucky, the Cheeseman’s mom would invite you over every now and again for a lasagne dinner. It wasn’t just any lasagne though; this stuff was off the charts. It was so good that you didn’t mind the Cheeseman beating the holy hell out of you at Strat-O-Matic Football (he probably cheated at this too) as his Cowboys (more on them in a second) tore apart your Minnesota Vikings. And woe unto those who didn’t eat at least two or three helpings of lasagne. Mama Cheese would call you every name in the book and maybe give you a kick in the ass for good measure.
It is Better to Bet and Lose… The Cheeseman was the first person to distribute football betting sheets (*for entertainment purposes only) to his friends. I believe he started as early as 6th Grade, but certainly by Junior High. He also introduced a bunch of us to the joys of harness racing at Yonkers Raceway and was a Joker Poker fiend in the basement of Fieldston Bowling and Billiards up on Broadway and 240th. In his late teens and early 20s he was also an amazing gambler when it came to picking college basketball, and we all reaped the financial benefits of his legendary streaks. His high school yearbook quote really summed up his gambling philosophy quite nicely: “It is better to bet and lose than to not have bet at all.”
Root, Root, Root, for the Who? If one can find any fault with the Cheesman, it’s with his choice of favorite professional sports teams. For starters, he’s a Cowboys fan which I try to write off as some sort of early-onset dementia. Then there’s his stalker-like crush on the Boston Bruins. This guy used to try everything to will the Bruins to another Stanley Cup, even going to church. By sheer determination, the Cheeseman outlasted the hockey gods and cancer to see his beloved B’s hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2011. As for baseball, back in the 70s he was an Orioles fan, which I really think he should go back to. Last I remember he was pulling for the Pirates. I’m not sure how much he still follows the NBA, but he used to be a big fan of Doug Moe’s offensive juggernaut and defensive disappearing act, the Denver Nuggets.
The Only Man Among Us. Though his frame isn’t as stout as it once was, when we were kids the Cheeseman gained the gridiron nickname “The Salt Truck” for his ability to line up in the I-formation in any weather (but especially snow) and plow across the goal line carrying an entire team of neighborhood friends on his back. Even when his back got a bit wonky, I once asked him to help me move a gigantic pleather couch out of my soon-to-be-ex-bachelor pad only to have him ask me to step aside and watch him manhandle the thing down four flights of stairs like it was a piece of popcorn. Grote’s Dad had it right that day he surveyed a bunch of us short and skinny teenage twerps sitting on his porch and then spying the Cheeseman said in his thick Irish brogue: “Look at [him], he’s the only man among you.” He was right.
Friend to the End. In closing, I just want to wish a very Happy Birthday to my lifelong pal, the Cheeseman. I’m proud to count you among my oldest, closest, and best friends. You are an American original with a healthy dose of Italian seasoning; a ramblin’ gamblin’ man, and a sport in the truest sense of the word. Happy Birthday, buddy! Here’s to many, many more.