929. The Best Person I Ever Knew

The word “best” has different meanings to different people.

I know you’re thinking Mother Teresa or someone really sweet. But no, to me the best person I ever knew is named Ernie Matarasso.

I haven’t seen him in over 30 years. His main attribute as far as I am concerned is that he made me laugh more than anyone I’ve ever known.

In the late 60’s, early 70’s we both worked in the South Bronx at the Department of Social Services, known as the Dept of Welfare until that became politically incorrect.

Ernie sat behind me and we had a few yucks but I think our friendship really started when we went out on a home visit together and decided to go to the zoo instead. We bonded over reaching into the wire fence and combing a buffalo’s hair.

Can I remember all the things he did that made me laugh? Probably not. And even if I could it wouldn’t make any sense.

We stood in front of a shoe store and laughed at a pair of shoes until it hurt.

He called attention to people that I would never have noticed. Like the Indian guy who walked around with a nasal inhaler in his nostril and kept referring to his supervisor as a fly fucker.

His close friend was the scariest big black guy that you’ve ever seen. Ernie always introduced him as gay. He wasn’t but if it made Ernie happy it was okay with him.

There was this guy in the office who sat near me. Whenever he spoke to me he’d nervously move around the things on my desk.

I’d say, “Don’t touch my desk”. He’d stop for a minute and he’d go right back to it. I’d have to be more direct.

“Ya wanna keep your paws off my stuff?”

He’d only stop when he finished what he had to say.

One day Mr Touchy brought me a flower. I was touched. I put it in a glass on my desk.

“Thank you so much. That’s so sweet”

No sooner had I said this than he stood in front of my desk and started moving stuff around.

“Please don’t do that”. He stopped for a moment…..then he moved my stapler next to my phone.  I did what anyone would do.

I picked up his flower and threw it in the garbage.

That’s when Ernie named me the nicest and meanest person he’d ever met.

Our friendship continued even after we left the Bronx. I worked in the Central Office and he worked at Special Investigation kind of a welfare cop.

Our offices were very near each other so we had lunch every day often with my niece Stephanie who absolutely loved him.

He’d drive me home most days. He parked in a lot that was clearly a dog walking spot for the neighborhood and it enraged him that I walked to the car without looking down and stepped in nothing while he tiptoed through like a ballet dancer and never reached his destination without stepping in something distasteful.

I got married and stopped working and he moved up the ladder in the department. I’d see him once in a while on TV at some fraud bust but that was about it.

I searched Facebook and Twitter hoping to meet up with him online at least but I wasn’t surprised that he wouldn’t be part of that. I never didn’t miss him but we had lost touch.

Until about an hour ago. He found me through my blog.

I’m so happy.





12 thoughts on “929. The Best Person I Ever Knew

    • I love everything about this. It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like to be a NYC social worker in the 1960s and 1970s. I salute you for doing it. You guys needed to be able to laugh. I have a friend who was a NYC social worker in the 1970s, originally from Atlanta, and very idealistic, with a master’s in social work. I met her when she’d left social work, gotten an additional master’s, and begun working in high tech. She was a delicate strawberry blonde woman who said to me one day in her soft southern accent, “I couldn’t deal with all the poor people any more.” I know she meant the pain of seeing poverty and dealing with crazy laws, and not being able to fix things, but it sounded like she found poor people annoying, full stop, which made me laugh. The part about the flower? So funny. I hope you and Ernie, can reconnect. Maybe his wife and four sons are nice as well.

      • I accidentally incorrectly commented as a Reply to your comment, Gail. I noted that as an actual comment below. (I’m so confused. Comments are hard.: )

  1. Oops. Somehow I managed to put my comment as a reply to Gail’s comment above. Apologies to you and to Gail. (You can dress me up, but you can’t take me out.: )

  2. Happy for you…..Great to find someone who made you laugh and was so meaningful in your life. YAAAAY. xoxocarol

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