Sunday, September 12, 2004

LA Stories (Part III)

As I’ve already mentioned a couple times, my week in California was crazy, to put it mildly. My dance card was absolutely jammed, which isn’t something that I’m usually accustomed to. The normal pace of my life is anything but fast.

Although I’m not easily bored, practically the only time it happens is when I’m around people too much in general, or around the same people for too long. I don’t know exactly what it says about me, but I’m never bored when I’m alone, yet I adore the time I spend with my friends.

Psychoanalysis anyone?

As a result, I like to have a lot of time to myself. My wife has learned this, and I honestly think it’s one of the reasons we have such a happy marriage. It took a while for her not to take it personally, but now we come together for a time each evening, and then we go and spend time doing our own thing. She seems to enjoy the solace as much as I do, although I’ve learned when it’s time for me to come downstairs and spend an extra hour or two watching TV or talking with her. We’ve become much more in-tune with each other’s needs as the years have passed. It’s nice. But in reality I know that she accommodates me more than I do her, and sometimes I feel badly about that. So I make a conscious effort to make it up to her every now and then by going shopping (yes Leese, I am an excellent shopping companion for my wife — and I don’t even try to embarrass her…most of the time…*LOL*). I'll also go antiquing, and run errands with her whenever she asks. I do it because I know she appreciates it. She knows that I’d rather not. But it's the least I can do for her in giving me the space that I need.

I like to have time to think and/or veg. Too much activity usually frustrates me. I could so easily become a couch potato that it scares the hell out of me. I’ve written about it before, but when I’m left to my own devices, I am a ruined man. That’s why even when we’re on opposite sides of the house, I am just so happy to know that Michelle is there. When she is not, I feel hollow inside. I don't think I'm over-dramatizing the point to say that Michelle is the failsafe switch that keeps me from self-destructing. I guess I’m really just a big baby, and though I’m a little ashamed of it, I’ll be the first to admit it. If push came to shove, I have no doubt I could learn to function on all levels by myself again, but 25 years is a long time; and it’s not just the things that Michelle does to take care of me that would be hard for me to deal with if she wasn't there. She’s a part of me — a huge part, despite my efforts to sometimes try and deny that fact. That is something that only our years together could have taught me. I am now able to understand the phenomenon of elderly, longtime married couples, in which when one passes away, the other soon follows. The hole in their life left by the departing spouse is so huge, that while they may not necessarily want to die, they simply no longer have the will to live.

So what, you ask, does that long preamble have to do with my trip to California? Or with the title of this entry, “Friends?” I just wanted to lay it out as a backdrop for the continuing impressions I’ve gained as I think about the time I spent there; the time I spent with my Dad, but mostly the time I spent with my friends.

Mirrors and Smoke
In my opinion, the truest reflection of a man is the one he sees of himself in his friends. There is a saying I heard once that said “Love is when you take away the feeling, the passion, and the romance and find out you still care for that person.” I would add a similar corollary with regard to friendship to say that a true friend is someone you find who can’t ‘do’ anything for you except make you feel good about yourself. Ultimately that’s what friends do for one another. They go out of their way to make the other person feel appreciated and special. It doesn’t have to be anything more than acknowledging a kind gesture, laughing at their jokes, or showing genuine interest in what they have to say. Sometimes it’s a fine line that determines the veracity of such a relationship, sometimes it doesn’t really even matter, but always, when you hit upon one, it’s a wondrous thing indeed. Years and miles can separate you and your friends, but the love never dies.

It’s pretty easy to find people who want to be your “friend” when you have something they want, or can benefit from. You know, the kind that blow bubbles up your ass until they perceive that you no longer have some tangible benefit to offer, and then they move on. Not so coincidentally, I refer to those kind of people as, “Jacuzzi Friends,” based on a guy I once knew.

There was a guy who was pretty popular among the crowd I ran with in high school and my early years of college. Dude never gave me more than a passing hello for years even though we had almost an identical list of friends. Oh, but that changed once he discovered that I’d moved into an apartment complex that had a Jacuzzi. Suddenly when I’d see him around he was always stopping to talk to me, asking how things were going, etc. At first I felt pretty good about the fact that this cool dude was finally treating me as if I existed. Then one evening when I was almost out the door headed for work he called and said that he’d just finished working out and that he’d really appreciate it if he could come over and sit in the Jacuzzi for awhile. I told him that I wasn’t going to be around, but my roommate would be, so sure, come on down. I didn’t think much of it until he’d called two or three more times within the next couple weeks, not to get together or hang out, but just to use the damn Jacuzzi. I started to get the picture. I cut him off after he came over one day, and finding no one home at the apartment, tried to jump the pool fence but was confronted by the apartment manager. Of course I found out about it later and of course, got my ass chewed for it. Funny thing, he never had much more to say to me after that incident. Go figure.

The Pursuit of Happiness
Now to be completely fair, no one is completely non-mercenary in their expectations regarding friendships. The nature of any healthy relationship is give and take. We all have every right to expect to receive something in exchange for what we give. However our “takeaway” can be many different things. I have found that in most of my friendships as an adult, that I have had to be the “pursuer” in most cases. There have been few friends I’ve had who’ve made the effort, either to engage me initially, or to continue striving to keep the relationship vital. I always seem to be the one who sends the e-mail, or makes the phone call. If I haven’t seen someone in years, and have fallen out of touch with that person, it’s generally me who makes the effort to find the new contact information, make the call, and reconnect the flagging relationship.

But while it probably appears that I’m painting myself as some kind of martyr here, please understand that is not my intent. Pursuing and keeping friendships vital, I have decided, are one of my callings as a social being. It’s my “give.” A lot of people aren’t willing to do it. However I am, because the “take” is so precious to me. It’s hard work, and it’s often humiliating to sometimes discover that your effort is wasted on people who, while they mean no disrespect personally, just aren’t interested in being your pal.

There are a very few friends whom I have that I would go to the ends of the earth to keep. My week in California was filled with them.

Next: Friends (continued)
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