Holiday ReminiscingOnce I hopped on the bike with my 12-pack tucked under one arm, heading off to t-day dinner with 2 good friends, I started to think a bit more about my post from Thursday afternoon. I mention a best friend, and while "best" is accurate (compared to other friendships, I hung around, talked to, etc., with him the most) it wasn't what you might think. We were best friends at school, but I can't remember us doing much of anything together outside of school for those 2 years we were best friends, 7th and 8th grade. Meanwhile, at the end of 5th grade (age 11), during summer break, I enrolled in summer school classes at a local High School, sort of a place to send kids from the area who I guess weren't doing the sports thing, and I took Current Events, and a few other classes I can't remember. The first day of class, there I was in the assigned homeroom, with about 15 girls filling in the other desks. The classroom continued to fill, and oddly enough, I was still the only other boy. Finally, at the doorway, a boy showed up - he looked around the room, scoping things out, and then came over and sat next to me. We quickly became friends for the summer. And for the next 2 summers, we both attended this summer school, and tried to sign up for the same classes (once we even did a Presidential debate - he was Nixon; me of course, McGovern). He lived in another part of town (but still South Side) so during the regular school term, we only occasionally talked by phone, but never saw each other in person. Graduating from grade school, my parents insisted I go to the so-called best High School in town, all boys, and it scared the crap out of me. Of course, High School anywhere scared me, as I am fairly fearful of change, then and now. The good news, my pal from summer school was also enrolling in the same High School.
This was the boy who would become my true Best Friend. I turned him on to pot when we were 16; he asked about my sexuality when I barely understood it myself (and was the only person I was "out" to for years); I saw one of my first concerts with him (Bootsy Collins Rubber Band), he had a years-long crush on one of my sisters. Graduating was tough, as I had settled on a school in Alabama, and he was going to the West Coast (where my first 3 choices of college were located, actually). But we stayed in touch, hung out during Xmas breaks, and summer breaks, and still referred to each other as Best Friend during those years, and even later when I moved to New York, and he eventually made his way to Boston for Grad School.
Have I ever mentioned my addiction to Lifetime? You know, "Television For Women" - Lifetime, the cable channel. I often joke about it, as it's mostly the made-for-TV movies that I watch. But in the last few weeks, I have gotten into a bit of a routine late at night. I get home, read some emails, check auctions or webpage stats, and by 1 a.m. I am watching CNN, then switch to Lifetime for Any Day Now at 1:30. I had watched it only occasionally before, having liked the black woman star from her recurring role in older Law and Order episodes as the feisty public defender, but was a bit disappointed at what seemed to be a more lightweight character in this newer series. But when I'd watch, I always enjoyed it, and recently, getting to see 3 or 4 episodes a week, the friendship between the 2 woman - the subtleties, the arguments, the understandings without speaking - I've grown to really love this show. If you know the show, you know it's a white woman and a black woman, in modern day Birmingham, Alabama, but the show also includes storylines in each episode of their growing up together in the segregated South of the 60's. Last night's episode dealt with how, as close as they both are to each other, race is still a huge issue, and affects them quite differently. And it occurred to me that that is another huge reason why I enjoy the show. Sure, sometimes it's sappy, and some things do seem to resolve too easily, but the friendship challenges each woman, and "the race issue" isn't dealt with in one episode, tidied up, and they move on. And some of the stories of their childhood are the most compelling to me. I know, I know, who likes reading about someone else's favorite TV shows. And while my life was nothing like theirs back in the 60's, (I think the characters are perhaps just a couple years older than me) it is the only show I know of that deals with one of the big issues of my childhood (Civil Rights, race relations, etc) and ties it in to how far we have, and have not, come since then.
So, sometimes when I see the conflicts the two women have in understanding each other, it reminds me of my 30-year friendship with my Best Friend from my youth. These days we only see each other at the Holidays when I go back to Chicago (he settled back there several years ago), and not necessarily each year. So we aren't Best Friends anymore, how could we be with so much time and distance between us? But, remarkably, we can slip very comfortably into conversation about just about anything when we do see each other, and last Christmas, having dinner in a restaurant, of course race relations in the great city of Chicago came up. And we argued. And it was heated. At one point, he looked at me and said "how many black people are in this restaurant?" As I started to look up, he said "no, don't look, just tell me" I guessed 5 or 6. He said I wasn't even close, that he was the only one in the restaurant, and that he knew that as soon as he walked in the door. We talked about hypersegregation, how blacks and whites still don't mix socially, about how we still we never see the world the same way, how fucked up things are. It saddened me; it angered him. His anger made me angry, and defensive, but we stuck it out, not resolving anything, just kept talking and disagreeing and I got some understanding that perhaps towards me it's not so much anger, but frustration - that you can be close to someone, and yet experience things so differently, and hate having to explain yourself over and over - for decades, in our case!
We left the restaurant, it was late; we had talked about going to a bar (he's usually nice enough to let us go to a gay bar where I'll be more comfortable) but decided to head home, and we got in his car and headed back to my Mom's place where I was staying. Having gone only a few blocks, we hear a siren, and lights flash. A cop, behind us. My pal pulls over, visibly angry, but once the cop got to the window, very polite, formal, answering questions, showing driver's licence, etc. Everything was done slow and meticulously, it seemed odd to me, but I was getting it eventually. Black man, nice car, white neighborhood. We tried talking about it after the cop left, but he couldn't - shaken, angry, saddened, and I think also embarrassed - he acted respectfully and formally to the cop, but it clearly enraged him that he could not question the cop, the public servant, about what the fuck he was doing and why. Here we were, two 40-year old men, being treated like guilty teenagers.
The next day I called, only to get the answering machine. I remember telling my family later that night, and without explaining, just when they heard "cop pulled us over" they knew. They were angry, and sad for my friend, who we've known for 30 years, who put himself through Stanford and Harvard and has done community service jobs all his life, is the smartest man I've known, works his tail off - but is still seen as someone who shouldn't have that car, and be in that neighborhood.