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Old Friends… Old Friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends

Memorial Day weekend, I took two days off from work and flew to London to visit David. Left Thursday night, flew back Tuesday evening. My wife didn't mind; she had a project she was working on, writing up advertisements for a small local paper.

I've known David since freshman year of college. I probably met him in 1984, but we didn't start hanging out together until spring of '85. Seventeen years ago; that's a long time. I was only 17 when I started college. Means I've known him for half my life. Damn I'm getting old.

He was this weird preppy looking Canadian guy, stick thin with a reedy voice, used to talk about something called "Boxing Day" and use other strange colloquialisms that made no sense to me at the time. Now he's been in London for eight years, and uses British colloquialisms that required explanation. plus ca change, plus ca meme chose

David owned an MGB convertible, bright red, although he called the color "Khmer Rouge". It as old we were. Like all British cars, it was never "fixed", but rather "between repairs". An incredibly cool car, or "hoopy" as Douglas Adams would say. David always valued "hoopiness" over functionality. His current attraction to British plumbing is evidence of the same disease.

Two of Us, riding nowhere, spending someone's
hard earned pay
You and me Sunday driving, not arriving
On our way back home

I had my moods back then, had all sorts of reasons but the truth could be boiled down to one fact: I wasn't getting any. On especially bad days I'd stop by his room and say, "hey, I'm not up for classes today, wanna go for a drive"? We'd take off for somewhere, anywhere, usually the Coast, and I would go on about everything that was bugging me, and why. David would listen, patiently, make various comments, some insightful, and some patently absurd designed to make me laugh about the situation.

Every Day is a Winding Road
I get a little bit closer
To feeling fine

Our impromptu road trips would invariably develop a theme along the way, like the time we got thirsty and David decided that the one thing he needed was a Royal Crown cola (that's "RC" to the rest of the world.). We went hither and yon searching for it, growing ever more desperate in our quest, two college kids descending on unsuspecting local grocery stores demanding Royal Crown cola and disappearing in a frenzy of noise and activity upon learning of its absence. We finally achieved our goal at the General Store in the tiny Oregon coastal town of Arch Cape. For years afterward I would stop at that little store, and they always had exactly what I was looking for. Sometimes I wonder it really exists, or if my subconscious just conjured the place up.

I admit it, I was a little jealous of David because he was "getting some". This was early in college, when I assumed that all my insecurities were unique to me, and the rest of the world consisted of well-adjusted people without a care in the world. Then another friend of mine left college, packed up a U-Haul and went to the Bay Area, morose and dispirited. He killed himself on a motorcycle two months later. That sort of thing will make you mature real quick, start looking at everyone else and look at the world through their eyes.

By junior year the worm had turned and David was asking me for advice or to be a sounding board the majority of the time. We'd wander around campus, smoking and talking, David would give me information and I'd give him feedback, sometimes insightful, sometimes absurd, and so it went, our conversation winding with our path, until we reached an impromptu way point and returned indoors. The talks never ended, they just went on hiatus.

We followed a simple rule of finances: whomever had money at the time paid for stuff. Not that we were keeping score, we were friends, it's what you do for each other. David once suggested we tally it up, I said no, we'd only find out that we both owed a third party money, and then there'd be a knock on the door 'cause they wanted to collect. We laughed and went back to drinking our king cans of Foster's.

We moved off campus senior year and became roommates, struggling with strange neighbors and limited budgets, especially at the end of the month when we'd gather our pennies and try to scrounge up something edible. After three months his girlfriend joined us when she returned from an off-campus study program or her "overseas trip to New York", as we referred to it, and we moved to nicer apartment and became more domesticated. When college ended David and his girlfriend discussed where they'd go. He wanted Seattle, she wanted San Francisco. She prevailed and moved down first. David packed up, and a week before he left to join her, she broke up with him.

And so one foggy morning at 5 AM David packed up a U-Haul to head to the Bay Area, morose and dispirited. I remember grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him "you will keep in touch with me, right!? You know the number, you wanna talk, you want me to come and visit, just give me a call! Understand!" "Yes, I understand, no problem, could you please stop shaking me?"

I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease

I visited in May of '89, the summer before the earthquake, spent a week there. David had a tiny studio in Oakland, just down the block from a few rundown liquor stores with metal grates over the windows. We met his "friends" there, but they really weren't, they were just acquaintances, people to occupy his time, take his mind of the pain he was carrying around. He came up and visited me, once, in my new place in Portland. He took one look around and said, "this is so…peaceful. How do you do it?" I looked up abruptly and said "OK, what's wrong?". If he thought my life was peaceful…

I left for Boston in '92, then to New York City in fall of '93, then finally back to Chicago, emotionally and financially drained. In 1994, after several unhappy years in San Fran, David decided to pack up and head to London. He had a layover in Chicago, an hour at Midway airport. I met him there, still recuperating from my own debacle of dating a Thai girl some eight years my junior whose neuroses had neuroses. He didn't know what he'd do in the UK, but his life had reached one of those decision points where you must something, anything, to change your direction. Not much advice I could offer, just some feeble encouragement from behind walls of psychic fatigue.

Last time I was in England was October of 1999. I was with Syncspouse by then (she was just my "girlfriend", but it was only a matter of time), and the two of us stayed with David and his girlfriend at their flat for four days. Most of the time was spent with our respective significant others in pairs or as a group, but the last night David and I went out for a "short walk". For the next hour or so we wandered the streets of London, smoking and talking, as David rambled on about his relationship, where he thought it was going, where he thought his life was going, giving me information so I could give him feedback. For an hour, then we were back at his flat, back with the S.O.'s, and the talks were on hiatus. Again.

I wasn't sure what to expect on this trip out. David recently broke up with his girlfriend. He graduated from law school in the UK, but is still working as a court clerk (and has a part-time job in a department store selling shirts and ties). He's been making noises about returning to the States. Surprisingly to me, he seemed in good spirits. Life may not be perfect for him, but he has his own place and seems happy there. He's learned to cook, and does a respectable job. This trip was my first time as a married man. I guess I'm doing well: good job (although I'm looking for better), a cute wife who adores me. Heck, how many people can go to London at the drop of a hat? David still "sees" his girlfriend, as in…well, we're all adults here, you know what I mean. His flat is small but exceptionally hoopy, with a small enclosed "sun room" or whatever you want to call it where we sat and smoked and drank and talked.

I smoke about once every year or so, for several days at a time, whenever I'm around friends that smoke. David still smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish, so it was time to buy a pack of Dunhill's and get back to it. Now that I'm back on the other side of the Pond, I haven't even thought about a cigarette.

He's sick of London, but doesn't know if the States would be better. I tried to give him my perspective, giving him information, but it's been a long time, responses that used to be instinctive have to be re-learned. He's changed, and so have I, but in subtle ways, we still retain the same cores. Part of the process was a reappraisal of who we are, where we're at, and what we want. In some ways he's now jealous of me, since I have certain things that he's reaching for. Realizing that now, upon reflection, maybe I would have steered some subjects differently….

I keep on going, guess I'll never know why.
Life's been good to me so far

The last night we went to a pub, a rarity, a British pub that had good food. We ate, we smoked, we talked, and somewhere along the line we realized, it may not be perfect, but it's good. It's all good. We like where we live. We have significant others who fill a void in our lives, and make us feel better. I told David that maybe not being a close relationship is a good thing for him now, he gets most of the…er, "advantages" but can still focus on his life. And me…I realize that I'm a pretty lucky bastard, after all. "We don't get older, we just get better".

Don't it always seem to go
that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

Five days was too short. The privilege of travel hammers home a lesson that I never truly learned until after college, when the great diaspora of one's classmates occurs. The most precious gift is life experiences, good times spent with good friends. Dunbar was wrong; the hours might go slower when you're bored and unhappy, but the years go faster.

Somewhere there's a picture of the two of us from college, side by side, arms around each other's shoulders, cigarettes drooping from our lips, bedraggled and burned out, but surviving. One day down, many more to go, but we'd make it. Then. Now. Always.

Time it was and what it time was, it was
a time of innocence,
a time of confidences.
Long ago it must be,
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories.
They're all that's left you

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