Tribute To A Friend And A Friendship: Sofianos “Sam” Hasapis (R.I.P.)

Repost from May 15, 2019 – Blogger.com

It was summer break, 1987.  I was sitting on my front porch with Sofianos (aka “Sam”) Hasapis, watching the girls go by and talking about our time away from each other at college.  He had just gotten into another one of his history trivia battles in the living room with my father, who majored in History.  Those two used to go at it something fierce. We were waiting for Bob to show up so we could get into some kind of unplanned shenanigans as if no time had passed since high school.  Sam had just finished cracking me up as he tried to sing along with Larry Blackmon as Cameo’s “Candy” played on the homemade cassette in my boom box.  Sam’s “OOOOOHs” and “OWWWWWs” were so funny that I knew I would never hear that song the same again.  And I haven’t. God, I wish we could have recorded video back in those days like everyone can today with their smartphones. 

We talked about growing old together and how we’d spend our days in the old folks’ home, hitting on nurses or sitting on college campuses, too old to chase the girls, but quick to stare through thick glasses while drooling.  It would be excusable, because we were old.  We weren’t going to be Dirty Old Men, but rather, “Sexy Senior Citizens”. At some point during our conversation we somehow got on the subject of death.  The details are sketchy, but I remember Sam concluding by declaring, “When I die, I want you to speak at my funeral.  And don’t you try being fucking serious Kenny Davis.  If you do, I swear I’ll jump out of my casket and beat the living shit out of you!  I want Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor!”  When I asked why it had to be those two, he said because I was black and had to do black people (you had to know Sam to know he was truly joking).  I replied, “FINE, as long as you promise to be George Carlin or Benny Hill at mine!”  Sam was hilarious when it came to his Benny Hill impressions, raising his hand to his brow, palm facing outward, smiling childishly as he blinked rapidly and rhythmically.

Wait, this is the internet.  Let me find a photo.

Well Sam, you went first; way too early and now I have a promise to keep. Forgive me if I fail at being funny because I had no idea this day would come before we were both covered in grey hair that came out of places we didn’t know possible.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  You just turned 52, four days before God called you home.  Dammit, man!  We weren’t ready!  I’M not ready!

To those of you reading this, I don’t know how long I’ll type, especially with tears in my eyes and a quivering smile as I reminisce about and share with you the Sam “I” knew.  His passing came, unannounced to many and I’m just finding out 10 days later.  Sadly, as a result, we missed his funeral, which was 3 days ago.  But I’m going to make sure you know.  Besides, it’s better than me fumbling through any attempts to speak in front of a church full of family and old friends.  I wouldn’t have lasted.  I know it.

Sam and I go back to being grasshoppers.  First grade at Franklin Elementary.  We played together, ate snacks together, walked home together and even got jumped in the park together.  Man, did we put up a fight that day.  We didn’t win, but we sure as hell didn’t lose.  Many afternoons, he and I hung out at my house with Chris Alcante, George Almendarez and sometimes Casey Mitchell.  We did so much together until the year his parents (or zoning regulations) switched him to another elementary school.  But we still hung out whenever we could.

I need to walk away from my computer for a bit before I begin.  It’s getting to me.

DAMN you, SAM!!

Ok, I’m back.

Sam was one of the founding members of the East Chicago Cruisers.  We weren’t a gang, more like the bunch from “Porky’s” and National Lampoon’s “Animal House”.  All we did was cruise around town at night, hang out at each other’s houses, play baseball, Ultimate and football against the boys across town, chase girls, go to the arcade and play practical jokes on our classmates and the community.  And you can best believe, Sam was almost always the fire starter.  That was Sam.

The E.C. Cruisers!  Clockwise from top left with the camouflage hat: Steve ‘Sefano Demero / Steven P.” Homco, Kenny “Zoot” / “Eddie (Murphy)” Davis, Pete “Road Warrior” / “Nick Nolte” Homco, Robert “Bob” Flores, Andrew “Erskin”/”Drew” Childs, Tony “Weird Al” Porras, Tim Hinton, Mike “Face” Puente, John “Dude” Sanchez and finally, Sofianos “Sam, The Mad Greek” Hasapis.  Not pictured: John “Starko”/”Hollywood JD” Starykowicz.

…and speaking of fireworks, Sam spent months, every year, creating his very own stick of dynamite. Yes, dynamite.  Each year we’d pick a spot (usually in a public park) and he’d blow that sucker at night.  It would wake people for blocks and the police were called, every time.  Thank God he never became a terrorist.  At least I think he didn’t.  I hope he didn’t.

Sam was hilarious and could match wits with the best of them.  When we played The Dozens, Sam could take you down in a heartbeat, without hesitation.  He loved making people laugh.  He LIVED for it.  He didn’t need any begging when I asked him to perform comedy on stage with me during the 1985 school talent show.  He was very limber and could sit on the ground and put his ankles behind his head.  He was going to do it onstage as part of a joke, but decided against it at the last minute when he found out I was going to grab his hands and swing him around in a circle like that.  He swore up and down that I was going to let him go, flying into the audience, ass first, where the rest of the Cruisers sat in the front row.

I sure as hell WAS.

He could also piss you off and calm you down in a matter of seconds.  I remember Sam saying something during a basketball game and a guy took a shot at him out of anger.  Sam took the punch as if it never hit him, then wrapped his arm around the guys neck and said, “Let me talk to you for a minute before this gets ugly”.  We all doubled over laughing as Sam walked with this guy in a huge circle, arm around his neck, until they returned to their original point where Sam released him and we continued as if nothing happened.  It was so funny because Sam was the shortest of us, so watching this other guy walking and leaning was historically hysterical.  Sam could do that to you, hit you with wisdom without warning, leaving you asking yourself what had just happened; all the while, entertaining any onlookers.  And don’t get me wrong, Sam was a scrapper.  He just avoided confrontation whenever possible.  In fact, I’m sure Sam would have whooped this guy’s ass, had he elected to go down that road.  But that was Sam.

You could always find him riding around on his Mag Scrambler, performing some of the craziest stunts, including half-block wheelies, 180 degree hops and ramp jumps.  Funny, the Scrambler is appropriately among the shortest bikes.  You should have seen dude get low (no pun intended) on the turn during road bike races.  And we were quick to tell him that he could only play the position of shortstop (pun INTENDED) during baseball games.  But trust me, if you got started with a short joke, that was yo’ ass… 

Yo’ Momma and race jokes were his specialty.

I remember the year that five of us Cruisers entered the Greased Pole event during the Mexican Independence Day festival.  Sam was the #5 position (or #1, depending on how you look at it), last to climb the bodies and the remainder of the pole in an attempt to grab the $250 prize at the top.  I remember the collective “awwwws” from the crowd as Pete’s knees buckled under the weight and we all slid down.  Damn, we came so close, too.

A little later in the day, we were approached by a few festival attendees.  One of them daringly asked, “Why would you guys use a short man to climb the pole?”  Sam, without thinking, replied, “Why do you Mexicans put flames on the side of your car?  Do you think it will go faster?!?”  Apparently, Sam The Historian did NOT remember the Alamo.  Thankfully, these guys were too busy laughing to see it as an insult because as always, it was Sam.  Besides, the way he told a joke and the fact that he was one white kid, often in the center of many minorities always got him a temporary insanity pass.  That’s why people often called him “The Mad Greek”.  He even told my father a black joke that made my father laugh for a good 60 seconds before he told me to go get his belt.  For a moment, Sam stopped breathing because he forgot that EVERYBODY is a “Davis” when visiting our home.  NO exceptions.  Yeah, Sam was just as “black”as me that day.

Thank God he never ran for office.  I’m sure his past comments would have him in somebody’s hearing on CNN today…

Steve Homco on the scrambler, Sam and George Almendarez

Sam came from proud parents, originally from Greece, who were good friends with my parents, through us.  I spent many days over the years at his home, where his father taught me Greek and quizzed me, just like Tony Porras and George Almendarez’ parents quizzed me on Spanish.  His father treated me like his son and told me many stories about Greece, giving me a strong desire to visit there.  Mr. Hasapis was just as funny as Sam.  In fact, couldn’t wait to talk to me after me and several of the Cruisers got jumped after the Hammond High football game in the fall of ’84 on Calumet Avenue.  “Kenny” he yelled in his strong accent, “I got a Bic Mac because you got a gold medal in BOXING!”Remember the 1984 Olympics McDonald’s promo where you got a Big Mac, drink or fries, depending on what type of medal the Americans won in each category?

And I can never forget my father telling me just how PROUD Sam’s father was; he and his wife sitting next to my family during commencement, when Sam received a special Perfect Attendance award.  Sam went all four years without missing a single day in high school (dude even reported to school on Senior Ditch Day!), even when he sustained a broken collarbone injury during the soccer game against Hammond High.  Yeah, we hated that school. As the coaches tended to his injury the ref asked if he was hurt bad, to which Sam quickly snapped, “You ever heard of anybody being hurt GOOD?!?” (Good ol’ Benny Hill)

Anyway, Sam’s same-height father stood taller than anyone in the gymnasium during that announcement.

And his mother.  LMAO.  If you ever heard her high-pitched, “SAMMMMMM!!!” when she yelled out of the window for him.  We all loved imitating her.  And dude STAYED on her bad side.  Every other morning it seemed, when we picked him up along our walk to school, he was always running down those 20+ steps at full speed, yelling, “MOVE!!!” just in time for his mother to appear at the top of the steps to cock back and throw something at him.  But that was Sam.  Sam’s family lived above a fortune teller on the 139th block on Main Street, so we used to joke that they were placing curses on Sam at night, inspiring his mischievous behavior at home.

(Pause)

I’m sorry.  I had to step away again for about 30 minutes.  This hurts.  God, it hurts. 

Don’t worry Sam, I’m back on track…

And dear God, don’t bring up or play any Prince music.  You didn’t have to say a WORD before Sam would start that same old argument: “You can’t tell me that he can play as good as Eddie Van Halen.  No fucking way!” 

Dude!!  Nobody ever said it!!  Let it GO!!! 

Well, I guess we all can drop it now.

One of my greatest recent joys was when he called and told me he was in Mansfield, Ohio, on business, only an hour away.  I was so happy when he drove down to hang out with me and my boys, who still remember him vividly from coaching them in soccer techniques during the 20-year class reunion picnic.

I’ll give you one guess.  Which one is Sam?

Even as I look at his obituary picture (below), I can’t help but guffaw while sniffing to keep the wet mucus from running down my lips.  Been sniffing and clacking away on these keys, listening to “Candy” on repeat.  That will always be his (R&B) song.  It’s funny how his obit pic has him doing what he loved so much; chugging a cold one.  I remember him, Steve and Pete Homco bugging me for years until I promised to drink my first beer on graduation night.  He chanted “Chug, Chug!” the loudest as I stood over the Cruisers and classmates on the trunk of Pete’s car, taking my first swig of alcohol.  He was also right in the middle of the mist when I spit it out.  Because it was Sam.  He deserved it.

I’m sorry, Sam.  I can’t go anymore.  I have a million stories to tell and could easily write a book about our adventures.  Even without spoken words, I’m stumbling and failing you.  I know I could never have spoken about you at a funeral without having been helped back to my seat because I love you!  So much.  I just hope you know how much you were loved, admired and will be missed, by everyone.

The E.C. Cruisers would not have been a fraction of as much fun without you.

Class wouldn’t have been as enjoyable and I know the teachers would have consumed a lot less aspirin if we hadn’t had you.  But my brother, we wouldn’t have had it any other way!  You were Sam.

Because it’s Sam.

Sam was an unrecognized genius.  An unknown scholar.  Ranked in the top 5% of the class and voted one of the Top 10 Citizens of our 1985 class.  Participated in every club I can think of.  Attended every sporting event.  Played with me on our horribly untalented intramural Basketball team, “Heavy Metal” (and after every loss, we went out partying.  One night, we snatched the school camera and took a bunch of mock “crash scene accident victim” photos on Tim Hinton’s car.  Sam cursed Slobodanka Jovanovich out for losing the photos.).  If you gave him a baseball bat, he was the meanest “air guitar” player as he skillfully rocked out while squatting low to the ground, which wasn’t hard for his midget ass.  Yeah, I said it, Sam (lol).  He could hang out with any ethnic group and blend right in, accepted by all, because he was Sam.  He was the first high school student that I ever saw execute a “bicycle kick” during a soccer game and he made it look smooth as hell.  Because he was Sam.  He loved everybody and everybody loved him.  If there was ever anything wrong with him besides his mental instability, you never knew it because he had a laugh for you and would get you in trouble with the teacher in an East Chicago MINUTE (while he sat there looking calm, removing himself from suspicion).  Because he was Sam.  He reeked of school spirit (or maybe even beer and Whopper Jr’s on Friday nights) and could often be seen mixed in with the Washington High School band, even though he didn’t play an instrument.  Him, Bob and Starko.  Just hand them some cymbals.  I think Starko even got away with playing bass drum in a parade once.

And man, that New Year’s Eve party when we rented those hotel rooms and he and George got so sick that they had to open the doors to the deck.  Everybody caught colds because these guys forgot to close them fully, while we slept.  The room was damn-near covered in frost the next morning!  He got what he deserved when we finally took him home and he immediately came running right back down those stairs from his mother (at full speed, as always) for coming home so late.  But I more than enjoyed letting him stay at my house that next day because she wouldn’t let him return home.  

Sam, my brother, I fuckin’ LOVE you and I just want to SCREAM right now.  

The screen is getting blurry on me as I struggle to type through the tears as they stream down my face from the memories.  I’m sure I’ve said too much, but nowhere near enough.

Father help me. It hurts so much…

Sam, you were indeed the best of us and NO ONE is prepared to say goodbye.  Definitely not me.  I’m not ready to see the end of us: Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.  Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson. That was us

Sam, my siblings adored you.

Sam, my children admired you.

Sam, my Aunt Dee loved you and asked about you for years.

Sam, my mother loved you and loved that you loved her sweet potato pie and homemade pizza.

Sam, my father loved you and was always ready to give you another shot at the History Buff title.

Now you two can battle for eternity and let God sort it out.

And by the way, THANK YOU for showing up to pay your respects and helping me send my father home to glory.  My sister Kim freaked when she saw you at the funeral, sporting your Rip Van Winkle beard and wearing a tie of all things.  She had me cracking up when she whispered, “Oh My GOD!  Is that SAYUM?”  Man, you made me feel so much better, the moment we embraced.  You were very much his son as well.  And he knows you helped me eat his Chick-o-sticks because I wasn’t going down alone.  Yes, I ratted you out.  Too bad you weren’t there to take the whoopin’ WITH me.

But you showing up at the funeral was your way of showing the VERY BEST part of you; the part that people got to see if they were fortunate enough to spend quiet time with you – your heart.  I could sit and talk with you for hours about anything.  You listened and you shared your thoughts and your heart.  People didn’t see it every day, if ANY day, but everyone knew that behind the laughs existed the gentlest of souls.  Maybe that’s why no one knew of your final days.  You went out on your own terms, leaving us with the laughter and nothing else. Just the laughter. Because you’re Sam.

I’m already missing you terribly and loathe the idea of sitting on a park bench by myself, staring at young girls and talking to an empty spot that’s supposed to be filled by you.  But if I make it that long, I promise to not let anyone sit in it, unless it’s one of those girls.  But then again, the rest of The Cruisers will eventually show up and probably run them off with their creepy stares and attempts to whistle without teeth.

I would tell you to Rest In Peace, but you don’t know how to rest and you’ve never been peaceful.  Why should it change now?  I mean hey, you’re Sam. Still, I’ll see you soon and maybe, just maybe, you’ll remember my words today and tell me if I did you justice.  But then again I won’t care if you liked it or not.  I’m still mad at you for opening and licking my Twinkies in the cafeteria, you wicked mother-.

I hope God gives you detention.

My final words to you:

Σ ‘ αγαπώ, αδερφέ μου, φίλε μου. Θα σε δω σύντομα.
Σε παρακαλώ, βρες μια βεράντα και περίμενέ με.

Sofianos “Sam” Hasapis

If you knew Sam and would like to comment on this or give him love of your own, please feel free to leave a few or many words.  This will be your only opportunity to say something, without him cracking back. Because it’s Sam…

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4 comments

  1. So authentic and we know that it happens without preparation. Even if you knew, it would still hurt. That’s love and his eyes look kind but mischievous at the same time ❤️. Memories last forever and you will see him again ⬆️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I couldn’t help but laugh when you said, “…his eyes look kind, but mischievous”. I think you put it best. You never knew what to expect around him and I think that’s what made our friendship so great. Between the two of us, not people stayed on their toes. Even thought we haven’t spent time with each other at length since the summers after high school, I still miss his presence and impact in my life. Thank God, he helped me understand the meaning of a true, lifelong friendship. He is definitely missed. Thank you for your beautiful words…

    Like

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