“Man, am I glad to see you,” Jake greeted his friend. “I was afraid I was in front of the wrong McDonald’s. There’s like a million on Manhattan.”
“Well, I said the one across from Starbucks,” Matt panted as he rushed to Jake’s side. He looked at his friend. “I can’t believe it’s been thirteen years. Thirteen years since college,” Matt pulled Jake into an embrace. “Look at you. You haven’t changed.”
“Of course, I’ve changed. I’ve got two kids and a dental practice giving me ulcers. And,” he added with pride, “I’ve overcome my shyness. I’ve developed my social skills. If it hadn’t been for you in school, Matt, I wouldn’t have had a social life. You knew everybody.”
“I didn’t know everybody,” Matt protested. “But you were my sensible rock. You were disciplined. You were stable. I should have learned from you. I have no stability in my life. I’m ending another marriage and am at my fourth TV station,” Matt said with defeat. “I thought I’d be more settled by now. No longer a reporter, but an anchor. And in a bigger market than Rochester. I thought I’d be a recognizable television journalist. A star.”
“But you are, Matt. In upstate New York.”
“Whoopie,” the newsman snorted with sarcasm.
“Let’s walk,“ Jake suggested, “until we find something better than Micky D’s.”
“Fine with me.” The friends started walking. “So, you and Emily are on Long Island and both your kids are in school.” Matt paused. “Instagram sure is a godsend. I wouldn’t have found you without it. I had no idea you were in New York State.”
The duo reached the corner. A red light glared at them. Traffic flitted by, roaring obscenities. Jake gazed across the intersection. “Hey, isn’t that the mayor over there? Bill Di Blasio?” Two men, apparent bodyguards, boxed the mayor in as they waited for the light to change. “Who’s he waving to?”
“Me, I think,” Matt said.
“I interviewed him at length a few nights ago.”
The signal turned green. The mayor and his entourage neared Matt and Jake. “Good to see you, Matt,” Di Blasio greeted as they passed.
“You know the mayor of New York City?”
“Yeah,” Matt answered matter-of-factly.
They reached the end of the block and turned. A limousine pulled into a loading zone ahead of them. Two security men stepped from the vehicle. One opened a curbside door. A man stepped out.
“Oh, that’s the governor,” a startled Matt sputtered. “Andy. Andy!”
“Jeez,” Jake gasped. “I’m looking at Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York State.”
“Matty,” the man called in their direction. “How’s it going, my friend?”
Matt signaled a thumbs up to the governor.
“You know the governor of New York State?” Jake asked with disbelief.
“Wow.” Jake thought a moment. “It’s like you still know everyone. Everyone. Important people.” He tilted his head. “But they’re all locally important. Do you know anyone of national importance? Do you know Trump?”
“No. Does anyone?” Matt smiled. “But I do know Barack Obama.”
“No way, Matt.”
“I play golf with him.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Matt pulled his cell phone from a coat pocket. “Well, I’ll show you,” he said, accepting the unstated dare. He dialed. A moment passed. His eyes widened. “Hi, Mr. President. It’s Matt. Listen, I’ve got an old college friend here, Jake, and he doesn’t believe I know you. Could you say hi to him?”
Jake could hear muffled laughter as Matt reached the phone toward him. He took it with trepidation, placed it to his ear, and said “Hello?” He listened and nodded. “Yes, sir. This is Jake.” He swallowed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—” Jake returned the phone to Matt with a snap. “He’s eating his lunch. I interrupted his fucking lunch!”
Matt laughed, took the phone, and replaced it in his pocket.
“Well,” Jake exhaled, “you know everybody. But that has to be as high as it goes, the top of the line. I’m impressed.” He chuckled and shook his head. “I know people, too, you know. The West Islip Rotary Club president and I are very close,” he said with exaggerated sarcasm.
Matt smirked. “I can go higher than Obama.”
“Who’s higher than the president of the US? Jake stopped and glared at his old friend. “Don’t tell me you’ve gone all religious on me and that you know God.”
“No. But I do know the pope.”
“No, you don’t,” Jake challenged. He started walking again. “You report from Rochester, not Rome.”
A beat passed before Matt responded. “Care to make this interesting? I’ll make you a bet.” He eyed Jake as his friend stared with skepticism. “We fly to the Vatican. If I know Pope Frederic, you pay for the trip. If I don’t know him, I’ll spring for it.”
Jake assessed the proposal. “You’re not even Catholic. You’re Lutheran and never go to church. There is no way you know the pope. Deal.”
Two Sundays later, as Jake and Matt stood in St. Peter’s Square, amid thousands of pilgrims, they gazed at the small porch from which Pope Frederic would give his blessing. Matt looked at his watch. “It’ll be at least twenty minutes, more like thirty before he appears. I’m gonna run to the bathroom.” Matt disappeared in the crowd.
Several minutes later, a dark-haired boy, perhaps nine, sidled next to Jake. He stood on tiptoes and craned his neck to see the balcony. He peeked at his watch, then back to the small perch. The boy glanced at Jake and, realizing he was American, used the opportunity to practice his English. “You come see important man?” he asked. “I want see him too.”
Perhaps ten minutes later, Pope Frederic stepped from the Vatican onto the balcony. A man was with him. It was Matt. Jake stared slack-jawed. The pope raised his arms to bless the crowd. The thousands roared.
The young boy tugged at Jake’s sleeve. “Who,” he asked, “is man with Matt?”