In September of 1966, Sandy Koufax was winding up a season in which he would win 27 games and receive his third Cy Young award–and play his last game as a professional baseball player.
In September of 1966, Sandy Tolmachoff was enrolled in the 7th grade of a school so new it had not a name but a designation: Unit VI. Her homeroom was Mr. Gasser’s Room 55. (Gasser rhymed with Crosser; sometimes he was, and would crack a long stick across a desk to silence a rowdy classroom.)
In September of 1966, I was a sickly child, well shy of five feet and just north of 58 pounds. Sandy Koufax had been my hero for about three years, and I’d admired him wholeheartedly since October 6, 1965, when he took himself off the roster for Game 1 of the World Series, owing to its taking place on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. (I wasn’t Jewish, but as fate would have it I’d read a book about a Little League team of Jewish boys, and when I mentioned it to my mother, she reaffirmed that I could be any religion I chose; so I was imagining being Jewish, eventually having my Bar Mitzvah, etcetera–then Sandy Koufax’s momentous decision came along.)
It was also September of 1966 that I met Sandy Tolmachoff. She was a fellow Room 55er. I spoke to her for the first time in the Unit VI cafeteria. She was wearing a pale green turtleneck blouse with striped indentations–not pleats but I never learned the technical term. The blouse suited her fair complexion and arresting eyes.
WOW, she was pretty. GOSH, she was sweet and friendly. I was smitten big time…
…but then I was gone for awhile. On September 22nd I was a patient at St. Joseph’s Hospital. A myriad of airway-blocking polyps was excised from my nasal cavity by the Ear/Nose/Throat specialist Dr. Alan Frerichs, and a yard of packing material was shoehorned into my nose. Gauze and surgical tape held it in place and made me look like I’d had not a polypectomy but a nose-ectomy. When the next-door-neighbor kids came to see me as I convalesced, they left quickly, aghast and shaken.
In time Dr. Frerichs removed the packing material. That was the most pain I had ever experienced in my life.
In time I returned to school. Alas, Sandy Koufax had retired, his career ended due to arthritis in his pitching arm. It was about three months before his 31st birthday.
But the other Sandy, fair of face and bright and ethereal, graced the Unit VI campus till her grade-school graduation, and then attended Glendale High School, just like I did. We are friends to this day, and I last saw her just last year at a class reunion, in the company of her easy-grinning, bursting-with-vitality, congenial husband Bill “BK” Kalpakoff, the man who made her just as much a Sandy K. as my hero Sandy Koufax. Sandy and BK have raised a passel of beautiful children in their nearly forty years of marriage, and their shared life is full of travel and fun. Since their children had to be born, just as my own daughter had to be born, to make the Universe correct with their existence, I am ultimately glad I never confessed to Sandy the crush I’d had on her in the 7th grade. But I will never forget her, even if I live to be forever, and even if I forget Sandy Koufax.