Friends since age 5, you’d think we’d had all conceivable conversations. In July, though, I retrieved this voice mail:

“B,” said the recording…”I know everything about you except one thing. Were you bottle-fed or breast-fed as a kid? Please call me back.”

Stuart Fenton is arguably the most conservative person I know—politically, socially, financially. Fair, irreverent, mischievous and loyal, a Puritan without top hat, he is the perfect antidote to Brother Bob and myself. And today, our friend of a lifetime, the Jewish Bill O’Reilly, turns 61.

When Maris broke Ruth’s home run record his 61 got an asterisk. Stuart, too, deserves one. History will footnote our buddy as follows:

• For decades beginning in the second half of the twentieth
century he demonstrated amazing consistency
ignoring social advances and thriving nonetheless.

It’s not that Stuart lives in the past; he doesn’t. It’s just that in spite of long term marriage to an enlightened woman and in spite of material successes in the modern world, he remains, by and large, the same person he was in the ‘60’s. No, not “by and large…” EXACTLY.

I remember those days. Vividly. They were wonder years.

Living two doors apart, we convened daily at the school yard. Even then he was warm, stubborn and funny. He used to tease Jimmy Masseria about his aunt. “Aaaaaaaaaaaagnes!” he’d scream, and Jimmy’d get mad. So mad that Masseria would have fat Morton Cohen sit on him. With Morton straddling Stuart’s stomach Masseria would implore “Are you going to say it again? Have you had enough?”

Stuart was obstinate; he was rigid. His response was unfailing:
“ Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagnes!” he’d repeat louder and louder, at which time, as Stu lay on his back, as Morton anchored him to the earth, Jimmy would give him the “Chinese Torture,” flicking grass on his face.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaagnes!” he’d scream, as if begging for more punishment. His face would sweat, his mouth would spew green blades, but he wouldn’t let up: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAgnes!”

Even then it was “Work hard, play hard.” Even then.

Stuart was the first of our friends to toil after school. Or close. Myers helped his dad at Mary’s Style Shop; (that didn’t count). Ermine was at Leader Drug. Fenton, though, was first. It was a work ethic that would (if possible) strengthen. Indeed, ask my brother! They spent 1971’s spring break selling Highlights from a motel in Roseville, Michigan. Daily, just teasing dawn, Hal would wake to a strident cadence:

“Get up! Time to sell, sell, sell!”
“C’mon,” he’d beckon H, “ If I’ve got to be up, you’ve got to be up!”

It never changed. Never…even in retirement. My friend, you see, “retired” several years ago, only to return to the workforce. He travels more now than then. Retirement? Brett Favre couldn’t shine Stuart’s shoes.

Nothing changes. Clearly not his taste. In high school Stu would revel with every new Dean Martin song. Fifteen years after Dino’s death, Stuey still waits for new releases.

Nothing changes. Clearly not his humor. I saw my cousin Pinky last week. She should only know that thirty years after Stuart had her sing the Campbell’s Soup jingle he is still making phony phone calls.

Nothing changes. Clearly not his loyalty. Except for one mishap, (once, in Miss Williams’ room, violating my confidence he told Jan Rini I liked her), Stuart has been steadfast. Over the years many have cheered for me. Stuart has not only rooted, he’s believed. Even to this day.

Yes, the best part about our friend IS his constancy.

It’s a misconception to think that failure to change is failure to grow. Stuart, as much as anyone else, demonstrates this. In a world of daily modulations and reality TV, where everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame, our friend quietly, internally, grows. His values, like roots of an ancient oak, run deep.

The best part of Stuart Fenton IS his consistency, his predictability—That I can know the content of our conversation even before his words spring out. If he greets me “B,” it’s going to be social. If he calls me “Bruce,” it’s going to be serious. And…if he starts with “Well, hello! Have you talked to our fine friend Bob recently?”— then I know we’re going to play.

Our friend Stuart is the 21st century’s answer to the 19th century. In a world of continual change he remains…a rock. And with all his subdued mishigos, he is a rock that we continue to rest on. Even at 61.

4 Responses to “EVEN NOW”

  1. bob says:

    Well said Bruce. As his roomate in places like Cedar Point, Columbus, NYC, Paradise Island, I can say to know him is to love him. A true product of South Euclid. My biggest and longest laughs have come when either in his company or on the phone with him. Is there anything better you can say about someone?

  2. Mark Ermine says:

    I really wish I had something witty and poignant to say about our dear friend Stuart, but in reality he is one of the best friends anyone could ever have. As these birthdays seem to come quicker and quicker and my memory seems to fail faster and faster, all I really can say is I miss my dear friends, B, Bobby, Alan and Stuart. I think I am going to go to the closet, get out the old 8mm film of my Bar Mitzvah and watch Stuart dance with his RED sportscoat.

  3. Stuart says:

    Well Hello B. And thanks for 56 years of friendship and love. We all were so lucky to grow up when and where we did. We thought it was South Euclid and Rowland School….when it was really Neverland. I think we all realize it now! Maybe Bobby is Peter Pan?

  4. Brad Fenton says:

    B, My dad was in the best mood I’ve ever witnessed on a Stuart W. Fenton BDAY and it had a lot to do with your posting. Your writing made Raleigh and I get a bit teary eyed. It’s nice to know our dad has such wonderful friends like you, Ermine and Bobby who love him so much! You really are a talented writer! I think it’s time for me to publish an upfromdysfunction.com book based on your blog. What do you think??? “The Jewish Bill O’Reilly,” I’ve been describing him with that exact language to my team of shrinks for years!!!

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