I’ve never understood the tendency of some very intelligent people to either abhor the idea of randomness or to intuit a supernatural force behind it. There are really no accidents, in other words — he missed the light, you left the house at 9:14, he was traveling at 34 MPH and not 37, you stopped for 6 seconds at the corner and not 5. It’s all about perspective, whether or not you can spot the steps. Things happen for reasons, regardless of your philosophy.
So there’s a very good reason that four 50-something people (barely) who went to high school in Phoenix together now meet occasionally for drinks or dinner in downtown Seattle, where they all more or less live. It’s still remarkable, though, when you think about it. When I think about it, anyway.
One of these people is David, whom I met in the 10th grade and with whom I’ve shared any number of adventures, some of them not under the influence of anything, for the past 36 years. For about a decade, actually, he and I were among a group of high school friends who went away for a mini-trip every summer. It was an account of one of these trips, as a matter of fact, that became the first piece of writing I “sold” (that is, it landed me a writing job).
They also provided me fodder for a lot of columns, some better than others, all about friendships and road trips and aging gracelessly and questionable food choices. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but this one said what I wanted it to say, and still does. About me, and David, a small plane and what I thought of as
30 Years in Casablanca
(Originally published 9/15/2004)
A few weeks ago, my friend Dave and I headed south for the eighth time in as many years.
Eight Saturday mornings, bags packed, sleepy but smiling in anticipation of a weekend with the guys only. We’ve taken turns driving, heading for Oregon, starting off slow and then waking up and talking nonstop along the way. Thirty years is a long time to be friends and still in your 40s, still hanging on to stories. There are no blank spots in our friendship, no missing years. We remember 15 as well as 45, sometimes better. We graduated high school together the same night from the same school, we both got married in the same year, and we both ended up in Washington State, 1200 miles from home and glad to be here.
I can still see him, walking down the street on the way to my house, 30 years ago this summer, me standing at the doorway and telling him to hurry, Nixon had left and Gerald Ford was about to be sworn in. That’s how long it is.
Our transportation in the beginning was bikes, then junky cars that leaked oil a quart at a time. We’ve lived through parents’ homes and small apartments and finally houses of our own. We’ve shared birthdays and weddings and deaths and (mostly exaggerated) stories of girlfriends.
We’ve been neighbors at times, and separated by lots of miles at others.
Dave got out of night school one evening in late 1980, turned on the radio and heard the words, “John Lennon is dead,” and I came over and we had a wake, him and me, listening to music and wondering about the harshness of it all.
We walked to high school in the beginning, in Phoenix, and then one early morning in the late 1980s we stood together, as we usually did, at a bus stop on Capitol Hill in Seattle, on our way to work, and thought about the oddity of that.
One Saturday in our late 20s, we decided to rediscover our youth and took a basketball to a nearby elementary school. We shot around for about 40 minutes, huffing and puffing, and finally one of us made a basket and then we went and had a beer.
Over the years, we have seen hundreds of movies together and shared enough pizza and potato chips to give us sympathy for Bill Clinton’s arteries.
And now, the fall of 2004, we share something else.
Within a month or two of each other, Dave and I will have books published.
Can you imagine? Could we have?
Mine is nothing, a collection of columns and essays.
His comes from a particular passion for odd things, eclectic things, in this case a love of European spy films of the 1960s. It’s called “The Eurospy Guide,” published by Midnight Marquee Press and available at Amazon.com, I would imagine, by the time you read this column. It’s a reference book, essentially, a guide to a particular genre of cinema that intrigued him, so he wrote about it.
There’s an inertia about friendship, definable but still mysterious. There are great forces to thwart it, distance and time, maybe one final argument where things are said that can’t be taken back, families and responsibilities, and interests that create gaps that even a long history can’t fill. A guy who likes to golf is probably going to lose interest in a childhood friend who spends his Saturdays working with wood, for example.
So I have no explanation for why I’m still friends with this guy. Maybe it’s just the proximity. Maybe it’s just that we haven’t run across an irresistible force yet to call a halt to friendship.
It’s not a lifestyle thing. He’s never had kids, or wanted them. He lives in the city, and I live in the suburbs. The man has no lawn to mow. I mean, really. What do we talk about?
It’s not European spy flicks with subtitles and cheesy plots, I know that.
What we have, I guess, is 30 years. Thirty years of supporting, encouraging, taunting, chastising, enlightening and laughing a lot. And now he’s an author, and I think, damn. I’m proud of you, man.
We headed to Klamath Falls in early August, and we were dreading the eight-hour drive, so on a whim I booked us on a turboprop, a puddle jumper that took us to Medford. My wife dropped us off at the airport early, and as we walked across the tarmac I knew what Dave was thinking, because I was thinking it too.
We squeezed onto that 20-seater and looked out the window at the propeller, and we both started to laugh. We’d spent many hours in the dark, you see, in retrospective theaters in our early 20s, watching films from the forties, the great ones. We were on familiar terms with John Garfield and James Cagney, Paul Muni and Bogie and Bacall. So we knew what images were floating through each other’s mind.
We were heading for Lisbon, for the clipper to America, escaping the Nazis and saying goodbye to Casablanca, leaving Claude Raines to round up the usual suspects, and we laughed all the way to Oregon, because that’s what friends are for.
(Davd and yours truly, last Tuesday in Seattle)