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Eric Kleinman

Eric, standing in front of his house in Berkeley.

Eric Kleinman has been a friend for over 20 years. He is now in his late 60s. You might say he was “part of the deal” when I married my second husband, David. Wait, this little guy walked up to you and asked you what time it was and you’ve been friends ever since, I remember asking. That was exactly how they met in Carmel, California. David was living there at the time and Eric was visiting. David gave him his business card and Eric stayed in touch.

Eric lived in Berkeley with his father. His mother passed when Eric was in his 20s. He still lives in Berkeley; in the same little bungalow on Rose Street that his parents bought when he was barely out of his teens. He lives alone now. Eric is originally from New York. He grew up an only child in Greenwich Village, just steps from Washington Square Park. I don’t know Eric’s official diagnosis, but if I were to guess, I would say Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Eric and I first became telephone friends. He would call to chat with David, and if David weren’t home, he would chat with me. He was very inquisitive and asked a lot of questions. At that time, we were in Philadelphia. We had moved there shortly after we were married. He called about once a month to check in. He never forgot things that I had told him the previous month and would ask about all of those things the next time we talked.

It was while we were living in Philadelphia that I answered the phone one evening to an unintelligible wailing. Somebody was screaming on the other end of the phone. It was Eric. His father had died at home of a sudden heart attack. This was the beginning of a very dark year for Eric. His father had friends in the neighborhood, so we knew people were looking out for him, but he was beside himself with grief. We talked almost daily for a long time.

David had met Eric’s father once. He had gone to their home for dinner and enjoyed a lively conversation about New York and Eric’s childhood. His father had owned several liquor stores and apartment buildings there. He sold everything, paid cash for the home in Berkeley and then put the money away for Eric to be cared for after he was gone. Though Eric is high-functioning and self-sufficient, he doesn’t drive and has never had a job. He relies solely on public transportation and has no problem navigating the bus lines and BART.  He has a travel agent who takes care of booking his trips.

Eric loves to travel and his first love is New York. For most of the years I have known him, he traveled to New York three time a year, with each trip lasting three weeks. He always stays at the same hotel in his old neighborhood. They know him. He always travels on Wednesdays and he plans his trips around operas that he wants to see. He loves the opera. In between trips to New York, he visits Carmel.

Shortly after we moved back to California in 1992, Eric and I were chatting on the phone when I asked him what he was doing for Thanksgiving. He said, I guess I will buy a Swanson’s Turkey TV Dinner. He said this without any thought of wanting me to feel sorry for him because he isn’t capable of any sort of manipulation. It was simply a fact. I said, No, you will join us for Thanksgiving. He joined us for Christmas, too. Since that time, there has only been a few years here and there when he wasn’t with us during the holidays. He always looks forward to that and if Thanksgiving didn’t work for us, then we made Christmas work, or vise versa. My mother asked me yesterday if Eric would be joining us for Thanksgiving. Yes, he will.

A few years ago, Eric called and said, I don’t know what I’m going to do, Jodee, I’m no longer a wealthy man. He had just returned from a meeting with his father’s attorney and the trustee of his estate. He wasn’t out of money, by any means, but if he went on spending like he was, the money would be depleted in about five years. If you ask me, they should have curbed his spending a long time ago. David told Eric about a reverse mortgage and eventually he went that route. David accompanied him to see a banker as finances are something he can’t grasp. He has cut his trips to New York down to two per year and only stays for one week, which makes me sad. I know how much he loves to be there. A year ago or so, I called the General Manager of the hotel that he has stayed at for the past 30 odd years and asked them to give him a better rate. They did, not by much, but it was something.

I know of no soul more genuine than Eric. There is only goodness within his heart. He is highly intelligent in some aspects, but like a small child in others. His memory is amazing. He loves history and can shout out exact dates and times when the topic of historical events comes up. He follows politics and will be very upset if Obama doesn’t win. He loves movies and classical music. His favorite actor is Matt Damon. He usually brings me a CD at Christmas and it’s always a pleasant surprise. One year it was Mozart, another year The Smashing Pumpkins. His favorite TV show is Judge Judy and he does an amazing impression of her. It’s one of the rare times I see him laugh out loud. He was very upset about David and I breaking up and I can tell that he still has a hard time with it. Every time we speak he says, Tell me Jodee, have you talked to David lately? He remembers everyone in our lives that he has met and he ends every phone call the same way, with a list of all of those people. I say something to indicate we are wrapping up our call and he says, Wait, Jodee, how are your parents? And Jarrod and Amanda? And how about… and so on and so on.

I talked to Eric last night. He returned from one of his New York trips a few days ago. Because we hadn’t talked for a few weeks, I had forgot he was going. He arrived a few days ahead of Hurricane Sandy. He told me all about being stuck in the hotel for three days without power, but that the hotel fed all of the guests three meals a day at no charge. He said it wasn’t that bad. We talked about Thanksgiving and then I said I had to go. He said, Wait, Jodee, and then we went down the list…

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great story Jodee!

    November 6, 2012
    • Thank you, Alison! 🙂

      November 6, 2012
  2. Great story! Aren’t people with Asperger’s just the most loving people in a non-typical sort of way? I took care of a young Asperger’s person from the time he was about 6 until he was in high school. He ended up graduating from college and lives in a group home now. Everything for him was also matter of fact. My guess is that is a blessing in some ways. Thanks for the story and for reminding me of a very special young man.

    November 6, 2012
  3. I enjoyed meeting Eric. Its a story of Big hearts. Yours and Eric’s.

    November 6, 2012
  4. What an endearing story. I feel like I know Eric. Thank you for capturing this sweet man’s character, essence and charm so well, and sharing it with us.

    November 6, 2012
  5. asa #

    I must thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this website.

    I’m hoping to see the same high-grade blog posts by you in the future as well.
    In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own site now 😉

    April 10, 2014
    • Thank you very much! 🙂

      April 10, 2014

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