Randy Menter died seven years ago Tuesday at the age of 48. He was the best friend of Dr. Maurico Heilbron — Dr. Mo. This is Heilbron’s remembrance of his longtime pal, which he delivered as a eulogy at Menter’s funeral and recently posted on Facebook.
I loved Randy. He was my best friend. He was everybody’s best friend.
There are people in your life who blur the line between family and friend. For Randy, that line simply did not exist.
I was a fairly quiet, kinda shy guy before I started hanging out with Randy. Cautious. Studious.
Now, I’ve done television shows, I write for the Long Beach Post, I’m on the radio on KROQ…now I’m hard to shut up.
A lot of that has to do with Randy.
Somewhere around junior year in high school, we became fast friends. By senior year we were inseparable.
We studied together, we went to football games together, we went to concerts together, we went to movies together, we double-dated at the prom….everything everyone does in their senior year in high school we did together.
But doing things with Randy was not like doing things with anybody else.
He was instrumental in planning my surprise 18th birthday party. The week before I was so angry with him because he kept blowing me off, avoiding me…one of those petty little high-school fits kids get into from time to time.
As I came home that night, and walked into my backyard, filled with what looked like 500 people, there was Randy, front and center, with that grin we can all so easily bring to mind.
Speaking of football games, the Wilson High game had let out one cool, crisp Friday night, and as we were making our way through the crowd out on Seventh Street, Randy said, “Race you to the car! 1-2-3 GO!” So I took off, threading my way through the packed sidewalk…and when I got about 30 feet in front of him, he yelled out, “Stop that man, he was my wallet!” After a few people jumped me, they soon realized this was some sort of a joke, because the crowd had parted, and Randy had sat down on the sidewalk. He was laughing so hard, he could not stand. He was, quite literally, rolling on the floor laughing.
I remember staying up all night, working on an AP English assignment that we had both neglected until the last minute. We were having a hard time with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. We honestly had no idea what to think about the whole cockroach thing. Around 3 in the morning, he said, “I GOT it! Gregor Samsa is Czechoslovakian for Jesus Christ.” Which of course, it isn’t, which of course, didn’t stop Randy.
At that time, that was one of the funniest things I had ever heard. Until…
We went to an Oingo Boingo concert. It was Halloween, and people were dressed quite strangely. Giant Tylenol capsules. Salmon, the fish not the color. All very bizarre. A statuesque brunette paraded up the aisle toward us, wearing a physics-defying French Maid outfit. Given that the audience for Oingo Boingo was comprised mostly of post-adolescent, hormonal males, she commanded the attention of the entire Universal Amphitheater. Randy had the aisle seat, and had just returned from the snack bar. The French Maid eyed his nachos, and asked, “Can I have a nacho?” In that outfit, and with her sultry tone, this was for all intents and purposes a sexual proposition. Randy smiled, “Sure!” She delicately plucked out a chip, leaning over so far I could see her knees between her cleavage, and planted a huge kiss right on Randy’s startled lips. Tongue and everything. She stood up, popped the chip in her mouth, and continued up the concourse.There was a stunned circle of silence around Randy. He said, “WOW! I wonder what she would have done if I had a hot dog!”
Speaking of Halloween, Randy and I went as a horse to a costume party. Since I was taller, I was the front end. Randy wore roller skates. And I had to spend the rest of the night dragging him around….
We could have a great time going to the supermarket. Our moms would send us to Market Basket for something, and he would turn it into an adventure. I remember walking down the condiment aisle, Randy several steps in front of me. “Hey Mo!” he said, and I looked up, a jar of peanut butter was launched straight into the air. He continued forward, I had to dive to catch it before it hit the ground. As I got to my feet, I’d look up. Airborne strawberry jelly….
He got particularly excited when we had to get produce, as he would surreptitiously grab the rubber hose lettuce sprayer, sneak up next to me, and blast me right in the ear. How easy is it to now hear his infectious, cackling laugh right now.
We waited in line to see “E.T.” three times on its opening weekend. The lines averaged three hours. He used to entertain the crowds with old George Carlin stand-up routines. He’d start telling them to me, and then the people next to us would start laughing, and it would spread until he had to stand up on a short retaining wall to better reach his audience.
I remember when he got into a car accident. He called me first, and I asked if he was OK.
“Yeah I’m fine! And the guy I hit? Totally the nicest guy!”
“Yeah…you know the guy!”
“Who is it?”
Again with the cackling laughter. He had pulled his mother’s station wagon out of his driveway, right into his own car.
When we graduated high school, Randy asked me to save the entire inside back cover for him. He wanted to write something special to me. I still remember what he wrote, in giant block letters: “Dear Mo, I know you wear glasses so I’ll write big.” Then small, cursive, at the bottom, “Love, Randy.”
Graduation night was special. We walked in together, in our caps and gowns. I had won some minor award, and my name was horribly mis-pronounced. “Maroochio Heliborn.” In the short pause before the next name was read, above the din, was that cackling laugh…yelling out, “Love ya Marooch!”
When I went to UCLA, Randy came with me. He was up there visiting so much, people kept asking him his major, or what class he clearly was going to miss in the morning.
Years later, when I graduated UCLA, he was there.
I went away to medical school, to Omaha. The first time I’d ever been away from home. I remember the night before, sitting out on the curb in front of my house, crying. One of the thoughts going through my head at that time was, “What am I gonna do without Randy?”
But when I graduated medical school four years later, he flew out to Omaha for the ceremony.
Of course he did. I always felt that Randy was my biggest cheerleader. It was not just that he was proud of me, it was more that he believed in me, which is so loving and yet so powerful.
He was my best man in my wedding. Birthdays, Christmas Eve parties… Randy always was there. And when he wasn’t there, he was missed.
I’m sad that my son Benicio will never get to know Randy the way we all do. And I’m also sad Randy won’t get to know Ben.
I’m angry that Randy died first, because I really wanted him to speak at my funeral. I know he would have made all of my loved ones feel better.
I will miss his laugh. All of his different laughs. His short chuckle, that would almost come out of his nose. His bouncing giggle, almost a titter. His almost silent laugh, where his eyes would narrow, his smile would open, his head would rock back for a second, but no sound would come out. My favorite were those monster belly-laughs…the ones that would go on forever, where he’d have to wipe off the tears more than once. The really good ones would be where he’d need his inhaler…
In this era of the Internet and Facebook, news of Randy’s passing literally spread across the country. Via e-mails and Facebook messages, hundreds of people have contacted me, offering condolences. It seems for a certain, fairly large group of individuals, when they heard the news, I was one of the first people they thought of, because they all knew how much he meant to me.
Saturday night, I was getting ready to start some big emergency surgery. I had to open up this young woman who had been in a big car accident. As I waited to go back to the OR, I texted Randy. I’ve never texted Randy before, but I wanted to wish him an early birthday, as I was afraid I would forget in the morning.
He texted me back, his typical good-natured comment thanking me for thinking of him, and said we should meet for Happy Hour this week. He ended the text with two words. “Love you.”
I am unbelievably lucky that the last two words my best friend ever said to me was “Love you.” There they are on my phone.
I wrote the following for our 20-year high school reunion book:
“My best friend, who to this day I still consider my best friend, and I were inseparable. Driving around in my black 1979 Camaro Berlinetta, or his parent’s powder-blue convertible Cadillac, we’d visit Hof’s Hut in the wee hours to get some french fries and pumpkin pie. Or drive through Naugles for a macho combo burrito. Or Jack-In-The-Box, where he’d love to harass the guy behind the speaker by asking for a Big Mac. Or those bleary-eyed Sunday morning-after brunches at The Belgian Waffle Inn at Marina Pacifica. Heading for the Pizza Eatery after a football game, or waiting for the bus next to Mr. J’s down on the corner off Anaheim and Ximeno. Our friends became so much a part of ourselves that for your own memories are incomplete without that other person there…”
Do we ever have “best friends” the way we did back in high school?
The answer is no. You mean the world to me, Randy. Goodbye, my best friend. I will miss you so much.