A Tribute to Charlie, 1953-2010

A celebration and tribute to the life of Charles S. Kaplan ... my friend, long-time companion, and partner for over 25 years.

This above photo journal is divided into four sections:

Part One: Pictures of his world travels in the past few years (travel was his number one passion).

Part Two: Pictures dated prior to 1985 (before I met him).

Part Three: Pictures of us together with our friends from 1985-2000.

Part Four: Pictures of Charlie with my family (my parents adored Charlie and I dare say that these were the happiest times of all our lives).

Mark Winkler - Video Moments 10

Two months after we met each other. It was taken at the Rainbow Mountain Resort in the Poconos, Pennsylvania in 1985.

The picture to the right is of Charlie and his best friend Steven Quint when they were in college together. Steven and his son Paul (Charlie's godson) were at the hospital with me a few hours before he died. To this day we all just stare at each other in disbelief that Charlie is no longer with us.

Mark Winkler - Video Moments 08
Mark Winkler - Video Moments 09

Charlie at the age of 28 with his godson Paul. Paul is now 29 years old and attended Charlie’s funeral. To this day I keep in contact with him. In fact...

in 2013, Paul purchased Charlie's old apartment from me. This is Paul's first home purchase and he wanted Charlie's apartment as he knew Charlie took great care of his property. Paul moved in with his now wife Yuen. The picture above was taken at their wedding in July of 2015.

OH, AND ONE MORE LITTLE MOMENT ABOUT CHARLIE: A SHORT STORY

As I previously mentioned in the section entitled “An Artist’s Moment,” I’ve only painted one picture in my entire life. To my surprise, it was a huge success. In fact, it was chosen as the front cover for a literary magazine.

Well, you should also know that I hate to write. So much that I find it very painful to write any kind of letter to anyone, including emails. My assistant however coaxed me into writing a story that I told him years ago about how I met Charlie. So, what follows is the short story that I wrote. Please note, like my one and only painting, this is the one and only short story that I will ever write. Coincidentally, it too turned out to be quite good. In fact, it was published in the same literary magazine as my painting, one year later. Enjoy...

A Crazy Thing

By Mark Winkler

Love is a crazy thing. For a long time I never thought I’d find it. I didn’t think I even knew how to recognize it. And when I did find it, I didn’t know I had. I was so naïve that I almost missed what was going to become the greatest gift of my life.

It was 1985. I was going to a stranger’s house for a blind date. He lived in Brooklyn, Bensonhurst to be exact. His name was Charlie. When I got to his door, I noticed he had a mezuzah on the side of the entranceway. He was Jewish, that had to be a good sign.

Another good sign appeared when he opened the door. Charlie was one handsome hunk. He wore a tight-fitting black T-shirt, washed-out blue jeans, and a pair of Adidas. You know, the traditional ones with the blue stripes on the white background. It’s funny the little things you remember from so long ago.

Unfortunately, despite his good looks, it was an uncomfortable first date. We talked about mundane things…the weather, where are you from, what hobbies do you have. Part of me wanted to leave since I was kind of bored by the small talk. It’s just not me.

We actually did make out a bit, but it was awkward. I never did feel great about getting intimate with somebody on a first date. So, as I was leaving Charlie’s apartment, I thought I would never see him again. After all, our first encounter was hardly the sort of earth-shattering experience that would necessitate a second date.

Now I should tell you that I drove from Connecticut to Brooklyn for this date, and was living on a very tight budget at the time. In fact, I had exactly 35 cents in my pocket. Charlie had no way of knowing this. Yet, as I was leaving, he asked how much money I had on me. I told him the truth and made the excuse that I hate to carry cash, in case I get mugged.

He then did something that caught me totally off guard. He went to his bookshelf and pulled out a book. When he opened it, I was shocked to see that he had actually carved out a rectangle in the center of the book where he had stashed a wad of $20 bills. He handed me a twenty from the pack and said, “take this, you should know better than to only have 35 cents in your pocket. What would happen if you got into an accident?”

I was simultaneously put off that he was lecturing me, and touched that he actually cared about me. I thanked him, but, mostly because of my inner embarrassment, blocked the entire exchange out of my mind. After all, I was never going to see him again.

On Wednesday of that week, Charlie called me at precisely 4:15 PM. Another one of those little details you never forget. He asked me if I wanted to go lampshade shopping with him the following Sunday on Delancey Street. I thought it was kind of a strange venue for a second date, but he extended the invitation and so I accepted.

Big mistake! We spent six hours going door to door to every frickin’ lampshade store on Delancey Street. That’s two dozen stores, if you’re counting. And don’t even try to count the number of individual lampshades we tried on. None of which -- not one single one -- was the right one for Charlie. Too tall. Too short. Too wide. Too skinny. Too beige. Too contemporary. Too declasse. Too louche. Charlie’s encyclopedic arsenal of rejection criteria completely obliterated the purchase possibility of any lampshade available for sale in the largest lampshade district in the largest city in North America. I now knew for sure I would never see him again. I wasn’t going to be driven out of my mind with his obsessive antics.

When I went to my therapist that week, I told him the story of my exasperating date with Charlie. His response was not what I expected. He said, “So let me get this right. You go on a first date with a stranger who gives you $20 because he’s concerned about you getting home safe. On the second date, you spend a whole day with this man who proves to be a very discerning person. He knows exactly what he wants. And this man, who’s good-looking, compassionate and very, very particular, shows initiative and interest and calls you for a second date. Are you blind, Mark? Do whatever you can to get a third date.”

Well, my therapist earned every one of his $125 for that session. Charlie turned out to be my soulmate for 25 years, the only person I could ever love. We had such a wonderful life together. My family adored him (being Jewish didn’t hurt). Charlie’s sweet simplicity was in stark contrast to my high-strung alpha dog directness. I cherished his calm nature, his ability to relax and not to let things get him down. I’d like to think that I also taught him a few things about being more outgoing and taking more risks in life. It was just a perfect combination.

Oh, and by the way, Charlie continued to call me on Wednesday’s at 4:15 PM every week for 25 years, no matter where I was, just to make sure I was okay. Our love was unconditional, and the years we spent together were the greatest times of my life. Since he passed away in 2010, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Charlie.

As I said, love is a crazy thing. When it first comes your way, it may feel awkward and uncomfortable. But here’s what I learned. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. Keep your eyes open, keep your mind open and, most importantly, keep your heart open. You never know when love will give you the chance to turn your last 35 cents into the treasure of a lifetime.