Wednesday, March 14, 2012

R.I.P. Joel

When I came home from church this evening I turned on the computer to check my e-mail. There was a message from Caring Bridge. I knew what it was before I opened it. Joel Fleishman had died.

Joel had pancreatic cancer surgery in December of 2010. He spent a little more than a year cancer free. A few weeks ago the cancer returned with a vengeance. I talked to him a couple of weeks ago. He had accepted his condition and seemed to be at peace with it. We talked about fifteen minutes and he threw in enough profanity to let me know that he still had some fight left in him. "Damn it, I really miss you, buddy" were his parting words.

Joel and I had become friends over the last twenty one years at Tex & Shirley's. Joel usually came in Monday through Friday at breakfast. Once in a while, he and his wife, Linda, would come in for dinner. Joel was never in on Saturday or Sunday. I think that on Saturday, he went to Danny's Restaurant. He always told me how good their grits were.

I told a friend once that the older I get, the more I realize that I am more like Joel than I want to admit. She told me that I was wrong .She said, "Joel seems like a nice guy, but at heart, he's a grumpy old guy. On the other hand, you seem to be a grumpy old guy and are actually really nice at heart." I think that she was just trying to be nice.

Joel couldn't even spell "sugarcoat". He was so blunt that he made me look diplomatic. He spared no one. He had been the team manager on the 1957 UNC National Champion Basketball team. One morning after a Carolina loss the previous night, I asked Joel about the game and the Tarheels. "Half of them didn't show up and those that did were shit!" was his response. He was an equal opportunity critic.

Joel was just as blunt with his appraisals of the restaurant. On more than one occasion he told me, "I can be here ten seconds and know whether or not you're in the building." If he got bad service, he let you know. But he also told you when things were good. Yes, that happened some times.

When Joel was in the hospital in 2010 for his surgery, we made a large sign at the restaurant and had employees and customers sign it. I took it over to Baptist Hospital one Friday and visited Joel and Linda. When I returned, someone told me, "That was a nice thing to do for Joel." I realized that I didn't do it just  for Joel, I had done it for myself. At age 57, I finally understood the value of friendship.

After his recovery from surgery, we tended to talk longer when he was in the restaurant. I think that he had actually mellowed a little. I think that he knew that he didn't have a lot of time left, even before the cancer returned.

I tell people that Joel has been my "sarcasm and insults mentor" for the last twenty one years. He did a good job. Joel's death is the end of an era for me.

It's my turn to say goodbye.
"Damn it, I really miss you, buddy"


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