Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Old friends. (A Monday night dinner.)

Monday night two friends and I got together. Nothing terribly unusual about that. Except these were my two oldest friends.

We met in September, 1971 as ninth-graders. Our parents for whatever reason, felt they could shield us boys (Chris was 14 when we met; Fred and I, just 13) from a world that seemed to be spinning off its axis. So they sent us to an elite private school in the leafy and demeroled suburb of Rye, New York.

Fred had enrolled in the school back in 1969; Chris and I were newcomers in 1971.

We quickly became friends. Chris and Fred were my first high school friends. I was painfully shy in those days and I felt horribly out of place in this new school that seemed to prize authority and rules more than I ever did, and Chris and Fred seemed to be around to help me get through this. And laugh along with me.

In those days, or maybe with my parents, kids were less apt to go to their parents with adjustment issues. And in the era of 17-martini lunches and narcotic cocktails, parents were less likely to notice.

Besides, I was out of their hair, being metaphorically whacked across the knuckles by various Latin and Physics and Algebra teachers. I was unseen and unheard and that was pretty much how my parents liked me.

Of course that was way back in 1971. In that year, lest we forget, things were like they are today, tumultuous. “Time Magazine” summed up things this way, “…by 1971 protest bombings had spread across the country. In a single eighteen-month period during 1971 and 1972 the FBI counted an amazing 2,500 bombings on American soil, almost five a day.”

If you’re my age, and you have a memory, as I am cursed with, nothing in today’s tumult really scares me. Even September 11th, didn’t seem that earth-shaking to me. When you grow up with office buildings and townhouses being blown up on almost a daily basis, and routine street closures and building evacuations, you grow a little calloused in your soul.

Maybe that’s how you survive into old age.

Four dead in O-hio.

Even the Trump-McConnell horrorshow is really just a reprise of the depravity of  Nixon-Agnew. And the National Guard killing four unarmed students (I was told about it over a loud-speaker while staying awake in eighth-grade English class) is, to my eyes, only an overture to the fascist opera that’s coming.

During all that, we boys grew up. We grew apart. We moved. And we moved on.

We played sports. Got in trouble. Dealt with girl-related sadness and hurt and girl-related joy and laughter. We got bad grades and we got good grades. We got sick and we got well. A time to every purpose under heaven. 

As time goes by, of course, we drifted apart. We had wives to worry about. And our own kids—like me Fred has two, while Chris has four. We had careers to attend to. Parents to say goodbye to.

And illnesses and firings and fights and troubles to reckon with. We still do.

Fred and I always stayed in touch, we were even at Columbia together. But Chris, the most gregarious of our trio, has over the last five or seven years orchestrated our twice-or-three-times-a-year dinners. Fred and I have always been better at being loners. 

(In fact, Fred taught me one of my favorite poems, by one of my favorite poets, "Impasse" by Langston Hughes.)

Langston Hughes, 1901-1967.

Our dinners are filled with almost 50 years of, yes, love. They are one-part memory, one-part present-day and one-part wondering what comes next.

Nothing amazing happened Monday night. It was actually all-too-typical. Laughing at my usual one-liners. Re-hashing some of the old stories. Catching up on mutual friends.

But mostly it was being together.

Being together with friends.

Friends you’ve been with for half a century.

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