Not so many years ago I was sitting at a bar, at an old Irish place on Eight Avenue, the kind of place that used to have a steam table and hardboiled eggs in a yellowing jar on the bartop. It was the kind of place where the bartenders were old--not hip--and still wore aprons and kept their lit cigars in the ones' till in the cash register. All those places are gone now. Knocked down for dry-wall condos and CVS drug stores and the antiseptic filth of the modern world.
My friend and I were prototypical men. Closed-mouthed men, and though my friend needed to talk, he couldn't open up for 107 of the 120 minutes we sat on our torn vinyl stools.
Instead, we stared at our glasses like the soldiers in the end scene of Ice Cold in Alex. Maybe we touched a sweat rivulet with love. Maybe we watched the carbonation shimmy and viewed it as Odysseus viewed Circe.
After those 107 minutes, my friend downed his whatever. He cleared his throat. It was Shakespearean, in its own way. Maybe Shakespeare play-acted by the cast of Dobie Gillis, since we were ad friends.
"George," he said. "I'm heading toward the end--I'm 65. I've gone through three marriages. I'm coming to the end. I've been in psychotherapy roughly my entire adult life."
I joked, "I hear I'm on a stamp in Austria."
He ignored, a wise move. "You know what I've learned."
He played with his glass and I, mine. It was better without eye contact. So many things are.
"You know what I've learned?"
I was used to his pregnant pauses. This one was surely having twins.
"You have good days. You have bad days. That's what I've learned."
All that is prelude to something I've learned of late--or at least reminded myself of.
Friends, Stephen King wrote in Stand By Me, come in and out of our lives like busboys in a busy restaurant.
It's easy--too easy to let friends go.
Someone switches jobs, accounts, partners, apartments. Someone else takes someone's place. We move on.
Your place setting is cleared by someone different. You hardly look up to notice, you just move on.
That's not good.
It's hard to stay in touch with the good people you've grown to like or even love in the business, in life. It's way easier to move on. To go home and watch the Knicks. I know, I'm a loner and have spent the best part of my life not returning phone calls.
But the other night I was back in the city and had dinner and maybe a drink too many with an old partner. We hadn't seen each other since we were fired on the same day almost two years ago, and it would have been easy--isn't it easy?--to let another two years slip by, and then another and then another.
Then before you know it, you get an email.
"Did you hear who's sick? Or, you'll never guess who just died."
Life is motherfucking short, as we used to say in the old neighborhood.
Some time soon, call someone up you haven't called in a while. Grab a sandwich someplace or a cold Schaeffer. Tell a joke. Talk about what an asshole Phil was. Tell another joke. Pay for your friend. Hug goodbye. And take a taxi home.
It's almost Thanksgiving.
Give thanks now and again.