Bette Midler and others have sung about you gotta have friends, and you know Bette’s a sharp cookie. The New York Times also has this ‘blog item floating around on the Interwebs, most especially in my Facebook feed, which got me thinking.
The other things that have got me thinking are our bonanza of visitors this year and a goofy talk with a current buddy. That last bit might be the amusing part of this whole entire stupid thing I’m writing right here and now, in the here and now.
I might be lucky or I might have the personality of a serial killer. Hard to say.
Lucky because I’ve always had some friends around. People who you could maybe call if you needed a jump start or bail posted. Folks who would let you cry on their shoulders, both of them. And, enough acquaintances that I could find something interesting to talk about or do, on those seldom occasions when I’ve felt like leaving the couch.
Social media is an extension of both. In some cases it’s an, albeit light, touch or tenuous hold to people who have been important to me in the past. Episodes of life that will never be forgotten, even as other events, meetings and distances have pushed them physically in another direction.
I might be a serial killer, because I don’t know that I have ever had that one single defining friend through thick and thin that has remained immutable. It all ebbs and flows, and at the risk of shallowness or being feckless, besties have come and gone.
Like lovers, I kind of just assume friends ebb, flow, appear and disappear, as you need. I take the existence of both lovers and friends for granted, that they will be there in some form or another. Foolhardy and arrogant for sure, but for going onto five decades, something’s always worked out, even when I have only ever wanted a hermit’s garret on an isolated island.
I’m probably a big, fat douchebag in that I look back on some people, and it is as hard to pinpoint what brought us together as it is why we drifted apart.
Although, there’s a whole group of folks I found as I was finding myself in a time when I needed the cliché of “finding myself” the most. Grieving, unsure of my future, unhappy with my current life, I discovered my tribe. Writers, performers, artists, musicians and fools. The people I picked, and they picked me, although our only common bond is entertainment.
M., despite not actually going on stage, is part of that tribe for me. He, his energy and his unstoppable optimism and grandiose plans share the ethos of everyone who has ever tried to create.
In truth, I am the worst, and perhaps the most awkward about maintaining and cultivating and reaping and sowing and any other gardening metaphor that group of friends. However, they are the ones who post the most interesting things on the webs. And, they are the ones with whom, if they show up on my doorstep, I feel an instant flow. No time or distance is between us in those moments.
I tested that early in the summer when a working actress crashed a couple of days at our place, while filming in San Jose. The conversation and the wine was easy.
Other friends challenge me.
Have I changed, here in the more frequent sunshine and moderate temperatures of a California coast town? Am I, as my native California friends have mockingly claimed, now more native than they are, barely a transplant, grafted to a foreign tree? Apparently, every time I choose spinach over fried anything a little bit of Massachusetts cries.
Or, have my friends back in my native, birth state changed?
Maybe it’s neither. Maybe the alchemy of time and place is too ephemeral. Remove time or place and the gold changes back into another element. See above and the possibility of my emotional depth as akin to a serial killer.
In all of the wondering about my own shallowness and reading the NYTimes about how other people struggle with friendships, I did have one interesting realization. This section is the possibly interesting and amusing part.
At every stage of my adult life, or adult-ish, I’ve always, always, always had at least one male friend upon whom I thrust any responsibility for my imbibing of frothy, malted, hops-filled beverages. Those might be the friends I love the most, because nothing is too difficult when you have beer money and know how to use it.
I deny responsibility for my own control of sobriety, because the best thing about all of these friendships is my susceptibility to peer pressure. Some nights of laughing and talking would ideally never end, and I happily will get talked into “just one more” to see if time might stop. Although, in more recent years, I have been known to skip a round or two to save my head and growing wide body as long as the jokes still continued.
In high school, it was the nerdy group who later all came out of the closet. Among the players was Jimmy, perhaps my first sexual crush, who served his beer-serving role twice in my life. As kids and into college summers, and then again, we met up years later coincidentally working in the same profession, to people watch and entertain ourselves at an annual convention.
In college, it was Al. Everyone pushed us to date or assumed that we were, but we just talked into the wee hours.
Early post-college, it may have been Kevin, the American version. He’s my longest in years and endurance friend, since we met in junior high and bonded on the 8th-grade field trip to Washington, DC. Apart from a handful of rocky years, we’ve generally been able to enjoy a cocktail and amusing conversations. He too was of the nerdy pre-gay high school group.
Then, late 80s into the 90s, it was the Brits. Biologists, postdocs and beer drinkers unparalleled. Kevin, the British version, and I had game plans and essential daily checkins on how to drink, when to drink. We always kept our eye on the ultimate prize — getting laid. If it were not for his Mephistopheles qualities, several local drummers may not have gotten laid so easily. There certainly would not have been a renaissance of balloon-animal making in pubs, bars and clubs across Cambridge, Boston and Somerville.
The new millenium brought comedy clubs into my routine. Comedy clubs have no shortage of young men willing to hang out, tell jokes, talk, people watch and drink. I couldn’t list all of the drinking buddies I met in my years of hitting Boston comedy clubs hard. And, in those years, some of the guys who shared beers were also women, proving to me I wasn’t a freak of beer-drinking nature.
Today, it’s my co-manager of our company softball team. It is insane and improper and all sorts of things that have to do with decorum for a middle-aged woman like me to hang out in a city ball park once the lights have been turned off and cradle a cold one. But, it’s a comfortable place to be with shadows of summer evenings and nostalgically remembering sporadically mispent time.
Fortuitously, as a work event was under-crowded and they opened the food and drinks up to the rank and file, my current peer-pressurer beckoned me over with an ice chilled bottle on a warm day. As others sat down, it was one of those moments on one of those days where friendship is as hard as swapping stories and reveling in simple, good times.
If I’m emotionally stunted and shallow, at least I find time to unwind. Isn’t that what friends are for?