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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Really? Bobbie Smith, too? Geez.

This is what I’m thinking when word comes that the lead singer of the Spinners has died. It comes a month after Richard Street and Damon Harris, who sang on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” with the Temptations, passed away just days apart. Now Smith, whose ice cream dollop of a tenor on “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” serenaded me through junior year in high school, has joined them. It feels — and this feeling has become uncomfortably familiar lately — as if Somebody Up There is taking a sledgehammer to my childhood.

I send Howard a text: “All my heroes are going away.”

Howard has been one of my best friends since we were hired within weeks of each other by The Miami Herald way back in the year of our Lord 1991 and I am sitting next to him a few days later in the newsroom as he chats with the interns. Half the desks in the place are empty these days, stark evidence of the economic woes the news business faces, and many of the occupied desks are held by interns, none of whom appears to be older than 12. One of them asks Howard a philosophical question:

“Do you feel like your life went by quickly?”

Howard, who is 49, with a bit of gray just beginning to infiltrate his blond temples, is dutifully answering her question when I tap his shoulder and suggest that he did not quite hear what the young lady asked. She spoke in the past tense: “went by.” As in done, finito, kaput. As in, this 12-year-old sees no difference, my friend, between you and a cadaver.

Her question strikes me in a tender spot, coming as it does, just after Bobbie, Richard and Damon have gone, after Bonnie Franklin has died, after Valerie Harper has announced she is dying of cancer and on the very day, as it happens, that we are having a party to commemorate the end of an era. For 50 years, The Miami Herald has been headquartered in a so-ugly-it’s-beautiful building on Biscayne Bay. But, the business being in the shape it is, they’ve sold the place to some company that’s going to smash it down and wants to put up a casino. So a thousand of us, employees present and past, have come home this day to bid the place farewell.

The old joint is filled with shouts of laughter and those fierce hugs you give people you haven’t seen for way too long. There are patches more of baldness, strands more of gray, inches more of fat, time doing its merciless work. There are updates on marriages and divorces, grandchildren, illnesses, career changes, lost friends. There are memories.