Giving Thanks for my Friend Rockin' Robby Kasino PDF Print E-mail

He wanted to be a radio disc-jockey with his bachelor’s degree in broadcast media from the University of Northern Iowa. His alter-ego was Rockin’ Robby Kasino, and he had a novel in the works. He loved animals, especially dogs. Animals don’t criticize, he once told me. They love you unconditionally.

I met my friend Rick Levitt at Grant Community School in 1999. We were volunteers in the Fantastic Fridays afterschool program, which set the stage for the many fine afterschool programs in place today. Rick signed up as a general volunteer, but had big ideas for a radio class and a Karaoke class. He was always on time and very dependable. He was awkward socially, which created some cautions and concerns. But you could always count on Rick … until the drinking started. Rick was a teetotaler when we first met—his girlfriend had significant addiction issues and he didn’t want to follow the same path. But when she broke up with him, and broke his heart, he turned to the bottle to ease his pain.


It turns out Rick had mental-health issues and deep hurts, which were made worse by his drinking. He had a complex family history, which included a loving mom but fathers who were lousy dads. He longed for positive role models and friends who would see past the awkward (and increasingly angry) attitudes. Despite my inclination to lean away from Rick and his dysfunctions, I felt the Lord urging me to lean in. At first I had the misguided and prideful notion that somehow I would help solve Rick's problems. It took a while, but I began to realize that God was working on both of us.


Rick and I had many good times together. Coffee at the IKE Box, breakfast at the Sassy Onion, walks around downtown. He loved music, especially the Beatles. He was an ardent patron and advocate of the Salem Public Library, and he owned an extensive map collection. If only there was a TV game show called “Pop Culture Trivia,” he would have achieved his lifelong dual-dream of media fame and financial fortune. Did I mention his sense of humor? Second to none … on his ‘up’ days.


There were down days, too. Trips to detox and rehab, visits to the hospital, late-night calls of despair and desperation. Many times I was a good friend and responded well; too often I was scoldy and impatient. Together we navigated systems and programs, emotions and behaviors, highs and lows. And God was in the midst of our journey, working on both of us, teaching and guiding us.


It was easy for people to assume that Rick didn't have many friends. He had a tendency to wear out folks or scare them away. And so, on May 21 at Rick's memorial service, it was a bittersweet surprise to see the IKE Box ballroom filled with people who loved him. Friends from the street. Friends from Recovery Outreach Community Center (ROCC). Friends from the Library and YMCA. Friends who loved him. Unconditionally. May God impart that gift to each of us, in memory of my friend Rick.



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