Insight, News, and Opinion by Nick Abramo
  • April 13, 2021
High Tops And No Socks: An Ode To The Doctor

“Oscar was a wild boy. He stomped on any terra he wandered into, and many people feared him….His birthday is not noted on any calendar, and his death was barely noticed….But the hole that he left was a big one, and nobody even tried to sew it up. He was a player. He was Big. And when he roared into your driveway at night, you knew he was bringing music, whether you wanted it or not. I have never liked writing about him, because it makes me think too much, and I can never find the right words to explain the terrible joy that he brought with him wherever he went….You had to be there, I guess, and you had to understand that the man was never comfortable unless he was in the company of people who were crazier than he was.”

-- Hunter S. Thompson, on Oscar Zeta Acosta

One of my biggest regrets is not attending the funeral of one David Anthony Lively. Hey man, there will never be another like him, and HST’s description of his infamous cohort Acosta is also a near-perfect summation of the man friends knew as “Doc” or “The Doctor.” My lifelong friend since about age 5. Like Oscar, he stomped. There is little doubt about the veracity of that statement and it will ring clear to just about everyone he got to know in his short 55 years. And he brought with him, haha, so perfect, “a terrible joy.” His circle of activity was not for the faint of heart. It was best to take him in small doses.

The ironic thing is the bastard didn’t know most people would rather stay at home in their safe zone than to romp around trying to soak up as much fun as possible. Fun to him was fun, plain and simple. To others, that fun could turn south fast if you happened to be in sync with his “Let’s Do This” mood. Yes, it was much, much safer to be like Nancy and “Just Say No” when David said, “Let’s go skiing.” Or “Let’s go to the Celtics game tonight.” Or “Let’s hitchhike to Florida.” We did that last one together in 1981, a 44-hour, 15-ride exhausting jaunt from Marlboro, Mass., to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break. All on a whim. If you went skiing for a weekend, you can bet your only option on Monday morning was to call in sick. Not so much because of the hangover as much as it was that you were just worn out. If there was any possible chance for the party to continue into the week, Doc would be all over it.

“Nick, why would you want to go to work today?” he would ask. And more than anyone I have known, he would never take a simple no as an answer. Up in heaven right now (I have no doubt that’s where he is, despite the fact he was a sinner like all/most of the rest of us, and that’s because if they locked the gates, he would have surely found a way in somehow, some way), he is incredulous that I didn’t go to his funeral in May 2017. “What?” he’s saying. “How could you not go, Nick?” It just so happens that I was hit with the wonderful Triple Whammy of three family members graduating that weekend — my wife with a Master’s Degree from the University of Hawaii, my daughter with a bachelor’s degree from the University of San Francisco, and my son with a diploma from Mililani High School.

I don’t think I’ve been able to fully digest that he’s gone. These words I’m writing about him will help with the closure that I didn’t get by not going to the services. We kept in touch every couple of months the last few years of his life, and there is still a feeling that I could pick up the phone and say hi. His number is still a contact on my phone. He is still my Facebook friend.

A screenshot of Doc at a Celtics game.

When we were teenagers, maybe young 20s, the Doctor often told me he wanted me to write a book about him. “High Tops and No Socks” would be the title. That was his preferred footwear choice while playing football — a fullback — for Hudson Catholic High School. There is a great photo of him, with his proud grandfather after a game. In it, the Doc has a shaved head. His grandfather Anthony Leone is smoking a cigar, I think. It’s a classic and perfect for the cover for the book … if it is ever written.

He brought up the book idea not long before his death, and he couldn’t believe I had forgotten the projected title.

And now, a few tangents that need some attention: >> In his Class of 1980 HCHS yearbook, accompanied by his name and photo, are these words from Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than die with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.”

Do you know anyone else in the history of man who could get away with writing such a thing in a Catholic high school yearbook? Well, that was Doc.The nuns absolutely loved him. Right?

>> David, Tommy Sullivan and I shaved our heads together about three years later — just because. The three of us grew up together on Grace Circle in Marlboro.

One simple story that gets to the heart of what Doc was like comes courtesy of Dana LeMarbre, who lived a half-mile away on Applewood Drive.

One day, Lively showed up at LeMarbre’s door and said, “Hey Dana, let’s celebrate.” “Celebrate? Celebrate what?” “It’s Wednesday.”

Hoho. A little snippet that sums it all up, for sure. And it’s so true. You can’t make this stuff up.

One of David's Facebook friends referred to this photo taken on the Boston Red Sox's dugout during a game as the "money shot." David's cousin commented that a few seconds after the photo was taken, a police officer and a security guard came over to get him off but were laughing too hard to kick him out.

The funny thing is, though, as Peter Reynolds (who grew up two miles away on Front Street) once observed, Doc was prone to mega exaggeration when retelling the stories of high jinks, even though the real facts already pushed the envelope to the Nth degree. My mom, Geraldine Abramo, originally from Waltham, Mass., would say about the Doctor: “Larger than life itself.” That would always put a proud smile on his face. She knew this about my friend, even though she was never in his presence during one of his so-called “five-drug nights.”

OK, so let’s stop there and take a break. A menace, you’re thinking? A monster? Well, maybe so. At times, they both certainly applied. I am not recommending this party-guy behavior that I was often a party to and can say with all certainty that had I had five substances in my body at one time, I would probably not be here to tell the tale.

Underneath all of Dave’s outwardness and bold personality was a soft puppy dog underbelly. He had a heart. He went to church (albeit occasionally). He would help anybody who needed it. One time, Dave and his wife and six kids (yes, he was a loving father and many people wondered how that was possible) invited my mom (who was in the middle of a move) to stay with them for a week or more. If my mom needed anything, a ride, a bottle of brandy for after dinner, David and his family took care of her. That is something I always, always appreciated.

There is no time in this screed to get deep into the reasons behind his overindulgence. And I can only guess that it has something to do with his parents’ divorce at a young age. His younger sister Pam once told me that David was one of the most insecure people she knew. That knocked me for a little bit of a loop and I get it now, but it wasn’t obvious then. Outwardly, he acted like the world was his oyster.

This is already a five-minute read. How long can people who didn’t know him stick around for this? Which direction of the million this could go in will it actually go?

I guess the next obvious thing to mention is his die-hard love of the Boston sports teams. In this area, he was legendary, and there is no hyperbole there that I can tell. At least five times in the last 15 years, I have been watching a highlight show about the Celtics, Patriots or Red Sox and have gotten a glimpse of the Doctor shouting or gesturing. No kidding.

One time, the clip was by NFL Films from a Patriots vs. Colts game in Foxboro. He’s standing high in the stands at about the 25-yard line. The camera shot is far away and you see a sea of Patriots fans, mostly sitting with winter coats on. There is a big-bellied guy standing up, no shirt on, jabbering away. The camera zooms in a little closer. It’s Doc. He is giving the NFL officials’ signal for a safety (two hands, palms together directly overhead) and you can clearly see him, in slow-motion, mouthing the words, “That’s a safety.” It came after the Pats sacked Peyton Manning in the end zone.

Classic, classic Doc.

Within the last 10 years, Barstool Sports, a website, picked up on David, who became a recurring subject of stories. I don’t know how, but he became known as “Big Daddy Smooth” and the writers often commented about his status as a Boston super fan. There’s photos of him at games in Indianapolis and other NFL cities.

On my 40th birthday in Y2K, he and Tommy called me from a Pats-Steelers game in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are my team (that’s because the Patriots were the worst-run franchise in pro sports when I was a kid; click this link and buy this book on Amazon if you would like more than enough evidence to support it), and I remember these words from him to me, “You’re old.” Years before, he sent me a Steelers hat, the same kind of black winter beanie with a yellow pom-pom that I wore as a kid. Just thought of this: We were in his backyard soon after O.J. Simpson was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1969. We threw a football around and wondered if the USC star would become a great pro.

So, as you can see, we go back pretty far. Another thought that hits me from time to time: There were some wild grapes growing in the far back left corner of his backyard. We would eat them and they were really sweet.

 

———————————— RELATED: Ranking The Top 10 Current NHL Jerseys Keeps Us Close ———————————

There’s another great photo that would look great on the back cover or in the middle pages of any book on this complicated, lovable, crazy, demanding and, yes, sometimes highly obnoxious creature.

This one has to do with his love of the Boston Garden and the Celtics. It was taken the night the fans gathered inside for the last time — a ceremony to say goodbye to the old place that would soon be greeted by a wrecking ball.

Well, in the next day’s sports front page (my guess is the Boston Herald), there is David Anthony Lively, front and center, balling his eyes out. He loved those Larry Bird-led teams. He went to nearly every home game. He knew how to get tickets. He knew how to scalp tickets. He knew the best seats. He begged sportswriters to give him a floor pass. That little story has a kicker, too.

Here’s how David told it, “Yeah, Nick, I was the last fan out of the Garden. I told the ushers I wanted to be the last one out and they let me do it.”

I wasn’t there. Was he fabricating? I doubt it. Chances are he knew the head ushers by name.

And the following is no lie. After the Celtics wrapped up the NBA championship in 1986, when all the fans ran on the court, he stood under the basket, waiting for Tuna to throw down the netting he had just cut. Tuna, real name Paul Tunnera, the quarterback of those HCHS teams, grew up about a mile down the road. I tried but did not get into that game. Instead, I was at nearby Quincy Market bar, and afterward the two of them cut off a couple of inches of net and gave it to me. That scrap is long gone, but I know Dave kept his piece of the net with the rest of a large load of memorabilia that also includes autographed photos with Shaq and Dr. J. That night after the victory over the Rockets, there was a TV clip of Tuna up on the rim. Having gone to many Celtics games with David, getting on TV was kind of his thing, but it was in the nascent stages then. He became much more proficient at it in later years. The first step I remember back then was: Know where the cameras are.

Those are just a few of the stories of, as Peter used to say, “Riding the Davy Train.” A typical Davy Train day would inevitably start with a phone call in the morning with him saying, “Let’s go to the Red Sox game or let’s go to the beach.” When we would meet up, he would usually say, “How much money do you have?” With me, it was never a lot, so he would say, “OK give it to me.” I would complain and then he would say, “Look, Nick, we’re going to the Red Sox game and we’re going to eat food and drink beers. Your money is not going to go very far anyway.” So I would hand over my measly sum and pretty much give him the keys to the night. He needed to have as much cash as possible in his pocket to buy the scalped tickets or any needed supplies. Ye gads, we’re up to an eight-minute read already. Gotta wrap it up soon. Something tells me this should be continued. We’ll see.

Two more stories will probably get me to the end of Part 1. One has to do with David’s fun, dumb time with an ATM. We were visiting my mom, who was living in Gloucester, Mass., and we were broke. So he goes to an ATM (a relatively new thing at the time), knowing he has a zero balance. I was working for a bank at the time and I knew exactly how the thing worked. He was in for a wonderful, wonderful surprise. Instead of getting a message that he would not be able to withdraw money, to his utter surprise, $50 came churning out of the machine.

 

He laughed and laughed and laughed. And laughed some more. It was like he won the lottery.

I told him that he could probably get as much as $250 and he just couldn’t believe it. He had no intention of listening to any “buts” that I might add, so he continued to take out money, $50 at a time. “But David, you will pay a penalty for every transaction and you will owe the bank all of the money you are withdrawing,” I said. To this day, I truly believe there was something in his DNA that made sure my warning did not come across loud and clear. He was just too high on the adrenaline that free money gives.

Warning: If you don’t want to hear 53 F-bombs, don’t play this video. This is more of a persona than his personality, but there was definitely a lot of crossover between the two. I tried hard to find the version that doesn’t say “Masshole” on the link, but couldn’t find it. If anyone knows where to find it, let me know. Yeah, yeah, even if it’s true, that word is not the point of this story.

The next story is one which gives credence to my thinking that the Doctor is with our Lord in heaven.

The day after he died, I drove into work thinking, “OK, I know Doc is going to send me some kind of message from the other side, a spiritual communication. A few weeks earlier, there was a particular song that I had heard for the first time in a long, long time, one that will always remind me of him.

I thought maybe it would come on, but it didn’t

On the way home, I thought about the possibility of hearing it or maybe another one that reminds me of him. I was about halfway home when I heard “One of These Nights” by the Eagles, a song that reminds me of my sister Cyndi who passed away when I was 16. It made me remember that, um, oh yeah, I nearly forgot, I was seeking a sign from above. So I immediately changed the tuner to another station. Sure enough, I was completely flabbergasted and blown away that there, indeed, was the song I wanted to hear — “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris — playing. I was numb. I did not know how to feel. What are the chances of hearing it at that moment? Less than one in a zillion, probably. One in a million? Maybe even less than that. But what did it mean? I’m going to take it as a sign that Dave is in the afterlife and he found a way to communicate with me. I’ve told that story to a handful of people and, though they believe me and all, it just doesn’t resonate all that much. Hey, maybe it is just a coincidence, but I don’t think so. For posterity, I used my phone to record the last few minutes of the song and made sure to keep it running when the DJ came on afterward as proof that it was actually on the radio and not on Spotify. I then took the time to ramble on the tape recorder, explaining what I thought it meant to me. You can listen to that here. Why MacArthur Park, though? Well, when he was about 10, he told me that it was his favorite song. I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I asked him to sing some words. He couldn’t, he said. Later, when I learned that it was the “Someone left the cake out in the rain” song, I asked him why he didn’t just tell me that because I obviously would have known what it was by that description. He still didn’t have a good answer. In retrospect, I guess it was because the song meant much, much more to him than that particular line, which is all I knew about it.

 

I have not heard that song on the radio since that day and I’m glad for it. If it was played over and over again on the radio after that day, it would have weakened the gift of hearing it that one special time. A gift that I will cherish, no matter what’s behind it all. And so now David Anthony Lively is gone. He’s the guy who I successfully said no to about 10 times when he asked me in 2009 to go to Spain and do the Running of the Bulls. Ah, but saying no, is that really success? In one way, yes. I thought about going, but there was no way I was going to leave my wife and kids of 14, 10 and 5 to go halfway around the world for that kind of adventure at that time in my life. He had no idea how I could say no. He is still up there wondering why.

 

Well, I guess, I lost a chance at a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Kind of like leaving the cake out in the rain.

And as for the party guy, super fan Doc, the world just won’t have that recipe again.

 

“It might even come to pass that he will suddenly appear on my porch on some moonless night when the peacocks are screeching with lust …. Maybe so, and that is one ghost who will always be welcome in this house, even with a head full of acid and a chain of bull maggots around his neck. Yeah, that’s him, folks — my boy, my brother, my partner in too many crimes. Oscar Zeta Acosta. Stand back. He is gone now, but even his memory stirs up winds that will blow heavy cars off the road. He was a monster, a true child of the century — faster than Bo Jackson and crazier than Neal Cassady….When (he) disappeared, we all lost one of those high notes that we will never hear again. Oscar was one of God’s own prototypes — a high-powered mutant of some kind who was never even considered for mass production. He was too weird to live and too rare to die….”

— Hunter S. Thompson, on Oscar Zeta Acosta

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