When I was 11 or 12 years old, a new kid moved into our neighborhood. We were a mostly middle class white neighborhood with little wealth and one family with a pool. When "Lenny" moved in, that all changed. The rich kid from Little Neck Queens had it all. A fancy Mercedes convertible, a pinball machine, and best of all, an endless supply of yoo-hoo and soda in the garage.
Luckily (seemingly) he got everything he wanted. He had a cockatoo named Fred (like the Baretta bird), but thought that was not enough so over the next year Lenny's family got 4 macaws (large parrots) with six foot tall cages next to the pinball machine. Five birds and two Doberman Pinschers made for quite a zoo. I was the only one brave enough to watch the dogs when they vacationed so it was my job exclusively. That's when I learned to never trust Dobermans. I would swing the front inner door opened, then close the screen door. Once the dogs got a good visual of me, I'd go in, hopeful.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, my family was not one for vacations. Lenny's was. When I was 13, they took me to Disney World in Orlando. It was my first ever plane ride and my only trip ever to Disney World. Back in Old Bethpage, Lenny's dad saw us struggling with converting my Flintstones style go-cart to a motorized one with a lawn mower engine powered one with a motor we stripped from a minibike we were tinkering with. Within a week, Lenny had an Indian 80 motorbike. We rode it in the farm just behind Lenny's house. Within a month Lenny wanted an upgrade, plus we only had one bike for the two of us. In an instant, Lenny got a Suzuki 125 and I rode the other one.
Next came the insta-Bar-Mitzvah (no Hebrew school), electric guitars, band equipment, Trans-Am, mom's Rolls-Royce, endless cash, etc.
Then his dad left the family, and pleaded poverty. Not long after that his dad died of a heart attack. What a change. It is virtually inconceivable how a teenager can go from being the rich kid to suddenly having no money. The adjustment was not pretty. Lenny turned to drugs, petit crime and essentially destroyed all the personal relationships he had. He went from cute Lenny to Lenny the liar to Lenny the welcher to Lenny the inmate. Luckily, his neighbor from which he stole blank checks to use to pay off drug debts saw his decline and reported it to police, leading to his arrest and incarceration. One would think this would turn him around. However, the damage was done with Lenny. He moved to Florida to avoid being found by the people we owed money to in NY. Meredith and I went to his wedding in Florida and found I was just about the only friend he had left in his life. It was sad, but he was my friend, none the less.
About five years later, he showed up at my house in Huntington, saying he was a manager at Jonathan's restaurant. Again a lie. He was broke, with no job and an obvious drug habit. He wanted to impress his wife, Meredith and I so asked if he could borrow $200 cash and would give me a check to sit on until his bank account completed transferring from Florida. We went out for chinese food and Lenny paid, with my money. The check bounced, I called to tell him, left a message, and never heard from him again.
When his car leasing company in Florida called me (as he used me as a reference on his lease application) to tell me he skipped town on his lease AND the Mazda Miata, they wanted to know if I knew where they could find the car. Too bad for Lenny, he told where he was living in Huntington.
I never heard from my old friend again. My sister's friend said he died a couple of years ago. Very sad. There are many lessons I learned from watching Lenny's life. First, it’s better to be poor and then rich, rather than the other way around. Don't let money define your personality, character or integrity. Finally, it is not so obvious to bet on the rich kid. Things always change.