Friday, August 29, 2008

John F. Bonfatti

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to come to work.

On Thursday afternoon, I turned on the computer to start the workday, and was greeted by a message telling me that my friend of about 22 years, Jay Bonfatti, had died of a heart attack while vacationing in Cape Cod. Jay had been working as a reporter at The Buffalo News for several years, although as friends we went back much longer.

The word shock never quite goes far enough to describe news like that, and not just because it's troubling to see 52-year-old journalists drop dead. Jay was one of those individuals who just made life a lot more pleasant. Let's put it this way -- whenever I passed him at the office, I'd always stop, say hello and get ready to smile. Because Jay could do that for me, and everyone else. It only took his usual low-pitched, long greeting of my name -- "Buuuuuuddddd."

The memories of Jay come pretty easily, as my co-workers showed by contributing to the Buffalo News blog, "Inside the News . But here are some of mine ...

* Jay and I played softball together a couple of days a week when he lived here first in the 1980's. In fact, I think he was one of those who thought of me when "The Media Chieftains" needed a pitcher, and I returned the favor when "The Question Marks" were formed a year later and needed an outfielder. Jay played a lot of left field behind me, chasing down deep blasts that I had given up. At one point after a few long drives in a game, he gasped out these words: "I'm giving up my hamstrings for you."

* When I worked for the Sabres, Jay hired me to get quotes for him at Bills' games in the late 1980's and early 1990's in his role as sports reporter with the Associated Press. I believe I visited more losing locker rooms than any reporter in that era. Still it was the best seat in the house -- 50-yard line in the first row of the heated press box, next to Jay. And when the locals stunk, Jay and I could finish each other's sentences. I'd would start with "As Jed Clampett would say..." and he'd quite follow with a drawn-out "pitttt-i-fullll."

* Speaking of finishing sentences, it's always nice to have someone who can make similar cultural references to yours in a conversation. In other words, I could make a reference to everyone from Frank Broyles ("Check out big number 99, Billy Joe Dumont of Beaumont. He has the speed of a cornerback and the size of a down lineman!") to a professional wrestling commentator ("That's gotta hurt. That man should be barred from the ring forever."), and he'd get it. A nice feeling.

* Jay worked for the Associated Press in Philadelphia for a while. At one point, fellow hockey writer Jim Kelley and I met up with him one night before a playoff game for dinner. It seemed like a quiet night in the bar until the bartender said that a bachelorette party would be arriving in about 15 minutes. As the only single guy among the three of us, Jay's face lit up like it was Christmas morning. Before we knew it, everyone was mingling and having a good time. I wouldn't have been surprised if Jay had gotten invited to the wedding somehow before the night was over.

* When I needed some company to go see a ska band, the Toasters, that I liked, there was only one man adventureous enough to do it -- Jay. Off we went to the Showplace Theater on Grant in Buffalo, where we were the oldest people in the place and probably had the best time of any of them. Jay loved all sorts of music; I recall us doing a brief duet as the organist played a Fifties' tune, "Sea Cruise," during an intermission of a Sabres' game. Jay used to make up a holiday CD that he handed out to friends in December. Eclectic doesn't do the song list justice. I stole the idea when we had a book-signing party last year as I handed out CDs as party favors. I'll have to do another one next year and dedicate it to him, secure in the knowledge that his version would have been much better.

Walking out after work Thursday night at 1 a.m., I noticed that there were a couple of balloons placed on Jay's desk, a bit of brightness in an otherwise quiet place. That was Jay.

It's usual to say rest in peace in such moments, but it's hard to picture Jay's spirit at rest for long. So I'll merely say I'll miss him and think of him.


Becky said...

Much sympathy on the loss of your friend.

Mary Kunz Goldman said...

Budd, your blog tribute to Jay was so sweet. What a loss for all of us. It made me feel better to read what you wrote.

Mister E said...

Nice job on the remembrance. ... Jay stuff just keeps bouncing around in my head. Yesterday I was wearing the Blasters tee from when he, Phil Fairbanks and I went down to see the reunion tour in 2002.

This is a strange jump in thought, but when I see how many people he affected the same way the role of a priest is brought to mind. He didn't have the other nuclear family connections of spouse, children, so he was able to give himself fully to being a friend in a way that very few can.