Sunday, August 2, 2009

On Friendship

Recent developments in my life have caused me to reevaluate my core beliefs about myself and my relationship with humanity. Yes, I pass myself off as a misanthrope (or "Angry Liberal, picking his nose at the back of the classroom" as an old acquaintance so accurately described it), but at heart I have an abiding belief in the goodness of Man. Maybe misanthropy and optimism go hand in hand. After all, when one believes so adamantly in the possibility of humanity only to face the reality of what we do with it, how can one not come to despise Homo Sapiens?

I don't make friends easily. I can count on my fingers and toes the number of TRUE friends I have had in my life. As a young man, my naivete cost me dearly in faith, optimism, and money. I learned very hard lessons about trusting my fellow man. So I put up defenses to keep those who would get close to me at arm's length.

What I didn't count on, though, was the ability of certain people to get past those defenses; to vault the walls I had built around me and get to know me despite my best efforts to the contrary.

I'll give you an example: Eric Demas is a man I've know for about seven years. I met him at work, and at first thought he was one of the stupid rednecks this area of the midwest is so proficient at producing. And while he did prove to be a redneck, I couldn't have been more mistaken about the stupid part. The man may not be much on "book larnin" but he has an innate intelligence that is lacking in so many people with an alphabet after their names. He's so damn conservative he pisses me off on a regular basis, but he agrees with me on the issues that really matter. A hunter who feeds his family every winter with what he kills, he'll be the first one to admit that "you don't need an AK-47 to hunt deer". He's a member of the NRA (I think) but doesn't drink all their kool-aid.

Or consider this: Eric is a fiscal and social conservative who doesn't think he pays ENOUGH tax! He'd gladly give up more out of his take-home pay if it meant better health care and education for his children (and yours). I've always suspected he's a closet liberal, but he won't admit it because he loves our arguments so much.

Eric is my best friend. He's given me shelter when I needed it, advice when I didn't want it, and a nagging pain in my ass every time I've been around him.

And here's why: He gets me. I'm not that complicated a man, but I have my eccentricities. He knows when to leave me alone. He knows when I need company. Last week, he called me on Wednesday (July 22) just to say hello, and 30 seconds into the conversation he KNEW I was in trouble. (Not the trouble where you need an alias, a bail bondsman, and a good lawyer; not the trouble where you need someone who can keep a secret to take you to the free clinic; the trouble where life is getting to be a little too much to handle and you need a break.) I don't know if he heard it in my voice, or felt it in the air, or what, but Eric said "I'm coming to pick you up tomorrow, and we're spending the day together." Life being what it is, he wasn't able to make it to get me on Thursday, but about 12:30 PM on Friday, he was walking in my back door.

We went to a public access park near where he lives, grabbed two tubes and a six pack of beer out of the truck, and went out to float the river. His backyard abuts the same river about two miles downstream of where we put in, which gave us a couple hours to drink, shoot the shit, and work my problems out.

By the time we got to his house, we had solved all my problems. His, however, were just beginning. Shortly after we got out on the river, his wife received a phone call that Eric's little brother had been in an auto accident and was being airlifted to a hospital in Kalamazoo. (For distance reference, Google map Constantine Michigan to Kalamazoo Michigan. It's a fur piece.) Rebekah (don't call me Becky) Demas had waited patiently for two hours for us to get off our bullshit river float so that Eric could attend to very important family business. I naturally shifted into babysitter mode and immediately realized why I had packed an overnight bag.

That's Friendship, with a capital F.

Eric gets me. Karen gets me. And until this week I thought that was about the extent of it. Like I say, I don't make friends easily. And I don't keep friends easily. (I'm always reminded of the movie Wyatt Earp, granted a poor imitation of Tombstone and about 2 hours too long, but that's not the point. In the scene where Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp meets Dennis Quaid's Doc Holliday, Doc asks, "Do you believe in friendship, Wyatt Earp?" "Yes," replies Wyatt. "Do you have many friends?" Costner shakes his head. Or, better than that, the scene in Tombstone when Wyatt, Doc, and company had just escaped a shootout: Turkey Creek Jack Johnson: "Why you doin' this, Doc?" Doc Holliday: "Wyatt Earp is my friend." Creek: "Friend? Hell, I got lots of friends." Doc: "I don't.")

But I digress. In the past 10 days, I have discovered that I am loved much more than I ever realized. In a "wishful thinking" post on Facebook, I mentioned an upcoming Pretenders show in Asbury Park, NJ. I asked if anyone was up for a road trip, knowing full well I had no means or method for getting there myself. This led to a message from Dawn LaRue Kaminski, a dear friend from my days in Athens, inviting me to Boston to see the band there. Still thinking it a lark and a game, I started wheels turning. In my weekly phone call to my mother, I described the bill Dawn described (Blondie and the Pretenders) in her terms, saying it would be like her seeing Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller back to back.

Well, Mom's a sentimental sort, so she sent me money to get to Boston. Dawn's a generous sort (or maybe just nuts), so she said if I get myself there she'll cover the tickets. A couple miscues later, and now I'm going to Boston for a week to see Pat Benatar and Blondie on one bill, then the Pretenders at a separate show a few nights later.

My point is this: I haven't seen or spoken to Dawn LaRue in 25 years. And the time she knew me was the time when I was at my absolute worst. Doing one hit of acid was just to take the edge off, if I really wanted a good time, I was dropping at least a 4-way. I invited Dawn and my other friends out to a party once, when I shared a house in the country outside of Athens. When they got there, I was already peaking and out on my own little adventure. They politely stayed for a couple beers, then excused themselves and left.

THAT is the Swinedog Dawn remembers. And she is still inviting me to her house. That is friendship. And it took me a few days for all this to really sink in. These people, Dawn, Bart Weldon, Camille Nice, Steve Maag, loved me for who I was. Not some addle-minded acid head with no future, but the real me. THEY got me. And I never knew that until now.

Thanks guys. I love you all.

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