Forty seven years ago, in the early morning hours of March 23, 1976, a Tuesday, Denis “Murray” Collins crossed the veil.
It doesn’t matter how he passed.
What did matter was that, despite a relatively short life, with an even shorter portion of it shared with our Riverdale crew, Murray had a lasting impact on everyone around him. He changed all of our lives.
Murray had the golden ticket. He was brilliant. Funny. The Riverdale women found him attractive.
I had to work my ass off my entire childhood for every break I got in my social circle. I was just coming into my own as a teen. So, of course, I was seethingly jealous of him when he first arrived in the neighborhood.
I was more cro-magnon, less evolved, and pretty good with my hands. Family gift and curse. So, I watched this interloper for the first opportunity to assert my dominance in the only way I could have with Murray, but it never came.
You see, he was the ultimate “nice guy.” And it wasn’t an act.
On personality and brains alone, Murray could have come into our small world and taken over the entire crew.
But he wasn’t interested in being Lord of the Flies.
He was just comfortable being everyone’s best friend. No posing. No clique. He was the first person I ever met that could pull it off. And he did.
Whomever he was with, he made them feel like that they had his full attention. That he actually gave a shit about whatever mundane thing was on your mind. And he remembered everything you shared with him.
I didn’t realize until after he had died that Murray had inherited his unique nature from his parents. Despite having a dozen kids of their own, Dutch and Momma C adopted all of his friends and made us all feel like family. The door to the family home was always open. I still see traces of that gift in his remaining siblings. I proudly claim membership in the Collins Clan.
Don’t get me wrong. Murray was no angel. Part of his charm was that he was a Bronx boy, just like the rest of us. There is a story in Finding Jimmy Moran involving his body surfing a pizza through a kitchen window that is absolutely true. Hand to God. (Wait, my lawyer brain says I need to take that back. Officially, nothing in FJM is true. But I digress.)
Murray was destined for greatness. We all knew it.
His sudden passing left a major gap in everyone else’s life.
I think a lot of us stopped at that moment and took a look at our own lives and decided that maybe we should make more of an effort to not squander what Murray had been robbed of.
I know that the remaining members of the OFC – including Murray’s sister Eileen – who all make their appearance in KMAG and FJM – felt that way. They all went on to live wonderful and interesting lives. I know we each carried a piece of Murray in our hearts.
I can attest that it was Murray’s passing that caused me to first try my hand with creative writing. At the time, I really didn’t have anything else going for me.
Somewhere amongst the Collins Clan members memorabilia hangs a wooden plaque with Murray’s photo above the Ode To Murray Collins on parchment. The beautiful caligraphy was done by the brilliantly talented Billy Dinome (whose family also get a mention in FJM – I had a crush on all of his sisters). I believe Billy is a professor in a North Carolina University. Billy’s presentation made the Ode look much more worthy than it really was. But it came from the heart. I meant those words then and I mean them now.
I have a copy of a letter Momma C wrote to me back then that mentions the Ode. I just wept as I read it. That’s the opening page above. My real friends and family call me Tommy.
A lot of Murray’s family have joined him in heaven over the years. A lot of our friends as well. That must be some fucking party up there. Save me a spot, just don’t crack the top off the beer bottle just yet. I still have a sequel to write.
Murray, I know that you are watching me as I write this. I can hear you laughing. But I hope you enjoy your share of the story in Finding Jimmy Moran. We had a lot of fun.
The OFC – Lenny, Joe, BC, Eileen & Stein – and many others, still miss you.
But seriously, if you wanted me to write you a poem, you could have just asked.
And you still owe me a pizza.
Well, it’s Thursday, so I need to get moving.
Kitty to cuddle, rounds to make and a music free torture session on the dreadmill.
Then a legal brief to work on.
But you fine, five readers go out there and wrap up your work week, so Friday can just be Friday.
And say a quick silent prayer for Murray.
Most of all, because there is no guaranty of tomorrow, make today a great one.
Thanks so much for sharing. I know you never forget him. I still can’t believe it’s been 47 years. The tears rolled down my face as I read this but I also smiled as memories came rushing back. He left us the greatest gift, he left us with each other.
Amen to that, Eileen. While I wish we hadn’t lost Murray, if it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t have met all 30 of your siblings (or so it seemed) coming and going through the doors and windows of your parents’ house.
RIP Murray. Gone but not forgotten.
One more reason I wrote FJM. I didn’t want the world to forget him .
You know that BC’s favorite access to any home is through the window. I cannot tell you how many times I heard that noise in the kitchen and expecting a Bronx burglar, instead found BC sliding though the window just around midnight. The things you see when you haven’t got a gun!
Now wait a minute, Tom. First of all, none of us ever got in as early as midnight. And secondly, your dad left me no choice but to use the window at your parents’ house after he declared he was instituting a midnight curfew to cut down on all the people coming into the house at all hours of the night and he started locking the doors!
All true Tommy. An amazing tribute to a giant of a man and a wonderful family.
I will never know how our parents put up with us all.
Especially your poor parents, who ended up operating the de facto neighborhood youth hostel.
God bless ‘em!
They loved you guys. Probably more than me. You certainly got better service.
God sent all of you to us, into our lives, because he knew the emptiness Denis’ loss would leave. You, Tommy, and all the others in the crew did an amazing job of helping us through the most difficult thing we had ever experienced. Gone, long gone, and never forgotten, Always missed. A little less pain thanks to all of you. Always in the knowledge that he is with all of us because from those he loves he can’t be far.
Wow. I just asked Maureen Collins to read this for all of (5) us. Tears are flowing as you could imagine.
See that Murray? You still know how to draw a crowd.
And Anne, don’t think I missed the reference to the Ode in your last sentence.
What a beautiful tribute! You have more in common with your friend than you give credit to, especially your ability to see people and make them feel seen. Must have been a special group.
Kerry, when I tell people that my life was truly magical, I mean that right down to the friends I had back in the day, who are still in my life today. Even the dead ones. I wouldn’t have survived my youth without them. My golden years are bumped to platinum because our bonds remain strong. I wrote Finding Jimmy Moran because I wanted to create a place where we could all hang out together forever – every time someone new opens that book. And for all of you in the OFC, Kerry Freeman is one of my Twitterverse buddies who has an amazing book coming out called Sedona. I highly recommend it as a must read. She also creates these amazing ads that pair your books with beverages. She nailed it for TWA and she’s got another one for FJM coming out at the end of the month. She also did an amazing one for Luke’s book, Lebanon Red, that pairs Luke with Absinthe. Very creative. So thanks Kerry and welcome to the group.
This one touched my heart as well. Jaysree, Jim, Denis and I hung out in the more innocent, Anthony Ave days. We couldn’t go far as there was a sibling to watch, and somehow, Mrs. Collins from the 3rd floor, knew if one was missing. A great childhood that Denis was part of. ❤️
Yvette. I wanted to capture the connection between our two neighborhoods in the NYE party. I named Apples’ dancing Latina after you. Thanks for the help with FJM.