With Friends Like These

I posted a little side-by-side, before-and-after picture to Instagram of the debearding. With some interesting comments.

I will note that I’ve always thought Instagram was the perfect social media platform; really, we’d all be a lot better off if we stuck to communicating with relatives and distant friends with snapshots, maybe a quippy caption.

People use it in interesting ways, too. Aside from the business ventures and the porn, I mean. People show their artwork, their kids’ artwork, remodeled kitchens, beautiful vacation shots; it’s a pretty pleasant experience, checking in, and I don’t feel compelled to do it more than a few times a week, for a minute or so.

And I post, occasionally, usually when I catch something interesting or amusing. Not that often. And rarely, almost never, will someone comment.

But this time, there were three. One agreeing with another, and then a third that offered the opinion that, sans beard, I resembled actor Hugh Laurie. This apparently is the second person who thinks this. I have no idea. I think finding doppelgangers is fun; I just can’t see myself in that way. Just my face. But I’ll take Hugh Laurie, why not? Fun actor, good sense of humor, same bald spot…

It was the first comment, the one that another agreed with, that stopped me. “Thank God,” it said, which, I mean, whatever. This person didn’t care for the white beard on me, I get it. But it continued. “Now go eat a sandwich.”

Ah. See, a year ago I took that drive with my mom from Phoenix to Austin, and I ended up with an extra day in Arizona because Mom had to see a doctor about her blood pressure being a little elevated. So I sent out messages to friends in the area, rented a car, and spent the day driving around and visiting. It was a great day, in fact, beginning with lunch with a former teacher and ending with dinner with a high school friend and his son. It felt like a solid way to fill an unexpectedly empty day.

And in the middle of those two events, I had coffee with this person, someone I hadn’t seen in decades. Another great visit, but I get it now. I was the shrinking dude back then, unable to eat much and dropping a pound a week when I should have been heading in the opposite direction.

I’m much better now, but my friend couldn’t tell that from just those two head shots. Thus the sandwich suggestion.

I almost never eat sandwiches anymore, by the way. I had a Subway club a few weeks ago, hungry and away from home, but I gave up sandwiches at some point. It seemed dumb to wrap bread around food that didn’t need the help.

It struck me, though, how much I depend on this sort of thing from my friends. How much we all do, or should, if we’re fortunate. Of the seven people I saw on that trip, four commented that I looked great, this coffee person made just a joke about me being a rail, and two didn’t have anything to say.

The seventh person, my daughter, just kept an eye on me. She understood how Bix’s diabetes has affected most of us who know him, how we look at sugar in a different way, and Lord knows I’m better off not carrying an extra hundred pounds.

Even my wife was fine with it, and I should point out that she sees me every day. She sees me naked. She sees me eat. She thought I was fine, if slender.

So I appreciate my friends who thought something was wrong, and said something. It was a tricky thing; dipping a little below 160 pounds is not exactly a warning sign; there are plenty of charts that show that as an ideal weight for someone my size. But people are different, and the whole point wasn’t the number, just the fact that it kept going down and I wasn’t trying to make that happen. That’s when friends come in.

There were several, then, including a couple of guys I have coffee with every few weeks. They were more than a little concerned. Good on them. I was in some serious denial.

All good now. My exercise has increased lately, but I’m trying to keep up with the intake. Seems like I bounce from week to week, but I’ve stayed about the same for a long time now, since September at least.

So here’s to Sid, and Larry, and Marilynn, and my dear friend Pat, who said nothing but later on told me how worried she’d been, her son having gone through some disordered eating earlier in his life along the same lines. I just love Pat.

And here’s to friends, just on general principles.


One of my friends is Gordon Atkinson, a long relationship that has been mostly virtual but we’ve had a few person-to-person visits. His latest book, “Foy: On the Road to Lost,” has just been published by Material Media. I have more to say about this, and about some of the concepts, but here’s the newspaper column published this week. Everything Gordon writes is worth your time to read; this one is no different, if, um, different. But, yeah. More later.

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