Eight years ago, public relations guru Dan Klores received a distressing telephone call from Steve Satin, his childhood friend from Brooklyn's 2nd Street Park. In high school, Satin had been popular, co-captain of the basketball team and, presumably, bound for medical school.
But his life had unraveled during years of addiction to cocaine and heroin, Satin told Klores. Although he eventually got sober, his 5-year-old son died of leukemia, his second marriage failed and he found himself homeless and wandering the streets with a suitcase in 1995. Finally he took refuge in the Port Authority bus terminal, where he spent nights moving from bench to bench so as not to draw police attention. Three months later, he did draw their attention, for writing bad checks; he was about to be arrested, he told his old friend.
"So he came to see me and it was pretty shocking," said Klores, whose tender documentary, "The Boys of 2nd Street Park," revolves around Satin and their Jewish basketball-playing gang. "He hardly had any teeth in his mouth, his nose was bashed in, he wore a suit that looked like he hadn't worn it in 20 years ... he just looked like a beaten-down man."
Klores got Satin an attorney, a dentist, an apartment and a job driving a taxi, but he, too, felt beaten down. Around 1980, he had given up his first love, writing, for public relations, eventually landing clients such as Jennifer Lopez and Donald Trump.
"But I never really liked it," he said from his Long Island beach home. "In spite of my success, PR never gave me the feeling of satisfaction I'd had writing a book or a magazine piece."
For 20 years, he hadn't used his creativity to express himself, and he felt "trapped" and "frustrated."
As Klores pondered how to solve his dilemma, his thoughts turned to Satin and the other boys with whom he had shot hoops in Brighton Beach. He decided to make a film not about his rich and powerful clients, but about the friends of his youth.
"I knew this could be a good story because so many different things had happened to people," said the soft-spoken Klores, sounding more like an introvert than a schmoozer. "You have a group of guys, and one is homeless, one wins a $45 million lottery, two lose their children and one lives without electricity or running water in Woodstock, N.Y."
According to Satin, now a chemical engineer, the film works because Klores did the interviews.
"We opened up to him because we trusted him," he said. "Dan may not physically be in the movie, but it's really his story, too. He has the same background and he was there with us, part of it."
Like the other "boys," 53-year-old Klores grew up in a one-bedroom apartment, 30 yards from the "L," sharing a bedroom with his brother while his parents slept on a convertible couch in the living room. The 2nd Street Park provided a refuge from the cramped quarters and from the tedium of religious school: "Even on the High Holidays we'd sneak away and shoot hoops in our sports jackets," he said.
Klores' working-class parents, meanwhile, had ambitious plans for their eldest son. "The mantra was, 'All we want for you is to do better than us,' which is one of the things I reacted against," he said. The perceived Jewish pressure to excel did just the opposite; by the 10th grade Klores had become fiercely rebellious.
"I was the perfect candidate for the counterculture," he said. "I was alienated and angry and all of a sudden everyone was alienated and angry."
Klores said he failed classes, cut school and began using drugs at age 17. With Satin and some of the other "boys," he grew his hair long, spent weekends at an upstate New York farm and took road trips in a VW van.
The change came in 1973: "I woke up one day and I said, 'Whoa, wait a second,'" he recalled. Klores quit drugs, finished school and landed his first real job, at 29, writing political ads for $100 a week plus a bottle of Scotch. He went on to write a book on the popular culture of college basketball and to freelance for publications such as New York magazine; he switched to PR for a more steady paycheck around 1980.
Since founding Dan Klores Associates in 1991, his assignments have included representing Sean "Puffy" Combs after his infamous arrest and Rudolph Giuliani during his prickly divorce. Eventually, his past caught up with him.
Around the time Satin phoned in 1995, Klores was diagnosed with hepatitis C, contracted as a result of his youthful drug use, he said. He began an excruciating, year-long regimen of drug therapy that at the end, left him bedridden with pneumonia. It was that brush with mortality -- plus Satin's haunting story -- that helped push the now-healthy Klores to pursue more fulfilling work.
To make "Boys," he turned to another park friend, Ron Berger, a prominent advertising executive with ample production experience. The co-directors put up their own money for the summer 2001 shoot, when Klores traveled to nine states to interview 25 subjects, ultimately narrowing the major characters down to six.
"While we were editing the film, Dan would be dealing with his high-profile clients and taking calls from Giuliani," Berger said. "Meanwhile, I would be dealing with my high-profile corporate clients. But then at the end of the day we'd be in this small editing room, working on stories from our childhood and making them come to life, which was so fulfilling."
Satin said telling his story on camera was "cathartic and healing."
For Klores, who's now working on his second documentary, the process was also transforming.
"What's amazing for me is how the movie has resonated with people all over the country," he said of his film festival experience. "At the outset, the movie appears to be about Brooklyn and basketball but then it becomes something much more universal. A lot of people of our generation have taken a parallel kind of journey.... The film is about a particular generation as told through the lives of six boys turning to men."
"Boys" airs on Showtime Sept. 28.