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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Clown Car

I remember when my friend bought at 1974 Volkswagen Beetle-- white with red aftermarket velour interior-- back when we were in high school.  For my tastes, after 1967, the Beetle got too modern, bloated, and ugly, so I wasn't terribly jealous of this purchase, and was therefore able to enjoy the few rides home from school or "Into the Woods" rehearsal I got from him in his VW.  It had oversized rear tires and a big-ass exhaust system.  

Very gaudy.

One brisk winter's day, a bunch of us clammored and cajoled our way into that sweaty little car and cadged a ride through ice-covered winding suburban streets.  A bunch of us.  Me and my friends.  It was exhilarating and terrifying and funny and stupid and high school and fleeting.  It could have ended on the front page of the local newspaper.


Looking back on that moment in my life, frozen as it is in time and weather and memory, the only thing I can think is that the number of friends I have in my life today would fit far more comfortably into an antique Beetle.  With room to spare.

I don't like those thoughts.  They're sullen and self-serving.  But they're there, I guess.  

It's funny-- when people typically think about aging, growing older than they were or are, I think the things they typically fear the most are wrinkles and grays, crinkles and creaks.  The inevitable breakdown of the body and its internal components.  The changes in how we look.  We're vain sonsofbitches, I guess.  What I never gave much thought to when I was younger was the fear of changing relationships, of the people who just... fall away.  They drift away slowly and you really don't notice it at first.  Time between emails gets longer, texts become more superficial, phone calls are-- well, what are phone calls?  I don't call or write like I should, bubbuluh.  

Oh, I have the trump card, though-- I have twins!  But here I am, writing this, instead of a heartfelt email to a friend of mine who just had a baby and a birthday of her own, I could mail a card to a friend in Chicago who's probably forgotten what my handwriting looks like.  

I could say hello.

My parents like to torture me, probably like yours like to do to you, by asking me how my friends are doing.

"How's so-and-so?"

"Have you heard from thus-and-so?"

"Where's what's-her-name living now?"

"When's the last time you heard from thing-m'-bob?"

When my father started in along this line recently, I abruptly terminated the Comfy Chair-style interrogation by announcing that I no longer spoke to anyone about anything.

"I have 2 friends, I think," I said, "and one of those is debatable."

"Oh," said my father, "well, I wouldn't think too much about that if I were you."

I wanted to hit him, but I didn't.  I had to stop myself and force myself to remember that I was talking to a man who saw his best friend drown in the sea in Israel.  My father, then a young, hot-blooded man, tried to save Gagi from the hungry and brutal ocean one hot sandy day-- but it was not to be.  I wonder how often he thinks about that day.  I wonder how often he thinks about his friend.  I wonder how often he thinks about the Six Day War or the Yom Kippur War or Israel or his youth or his dead sister or my mom or his business or anything.  Probably as often as I think about my friends-- wherever they are.

My daughter loves to point at a picture of my wife and I dancing at the wedding of a friend of mine-- the friend who used to own the white Volkswagen.  She and I had only been dating a few months when the picture was taken.  I'm wearing a rented tux and antique Harry Potter glasses.  My wife looks radiant with a super short haircut and I remember how I used to like to run my hand up and down the buzzed part of the back by the base of her neck.  That was damn near ten years ago.  My mother had the picture framed in a little heart frame and my daughter points at it and makes us take her straight to it at least 30 times a day.  She'll have friends, so will my son.  I know they will.  And some day they'll all pile into an old car together and go tooling around in the snow listening to Dennis Leary's "Asshole", singing it out the open windows as loud as they can, to startle the Orthodox Jews walking along the sidewalk to synagogue.  

Just be careful in the ocean, my babies.  My friends.