New Best Friends
Speaking of best friends, when I left high school our group of buddies promised to stay in touch forever. That promise lasted about six weeks.Everyone who went to college quickly went their own separate ways, while anyone who stayed behind got jobs, married, had families or went to Vietnam.
Even at the one class reunion I attended, which I believe was number five, there was little to discuss except to say hello. then bring everyone up to date on whatever new life cocoon one happened to be wrapped up in at the time. For the most part what I was doing was just as boring to them as their ennui with my life.
Reminiscing or a few guffaws over the few anecdotes we had shared in high school got old in a matter of minutes, followed by too much drinking, then predictably by the single people or the unhappily married ones, trying to hit on each other for dates or sex.
- I never told you this, but I always had a big crush on you. I was just afraid to tell you so.
- I’ll also bet you would probably tell me later not to worry; because you would either pull out in time or you wouldn’t come in my mouth.
When I left college, the same thing happened, except for the fact that I never even bothered to go back to any reunions at all.
Maybe it was just a case of my being typically antisocial. But by the same token, either I just never felt enough of that great brotherly bond for anyone. Or perhaps after going forward with my life, just found it too hard to discover how many people’s lives had become arrested or stuck at some point in time, such as high school or college, and then have to suffer in silence while they behaved as if anything happening afterward was of no great value or significance.
At least war veterans have an excuse for their psyches being frozen at a single point in time. The psychology of war trauma can become very deep seated. Near death experiences or seeing death played out continuously in front of you on a daily basis gives the veteran a special dispensation for his reactive fixations on his unsolicited personal nostalgia dump.
But repeatedly yucking it up about the time you tied tin cans to the gym teacher’s car or wrote lipstick graffiti on the bathroom mirrors is pathetic.
Then there is the odd breed of character that moves to a retirement community and still tries to act in the geriatric community theater. Arsenic and Old Lace personified.
When I went to medical school I left any friends I had made at Duke behind, with the exception of Arthur, and even then, saw very little of him afterwards. When I did, he would sometimes bore me to tears about the good old days that I could only remember as being emotionally confusing. Eventually, however even he seemed to tire of nostalgia as life moved forward, careers and children came along, leaving the good old days fading to black or sometimes only to shades of gray.
I spent the first year of Medical School in the dormitory across from the school, which had the value of forcing immediate acquaintances and at least this time, as opposed to college, I did not have to share a room with anyone.
Two of the students I met in the dorm, Eli and Bob, and myself decided to move into an apartment after our first year in school. Another student, Michael, who was a sophomore also decided to go with us.
We found a large, marginally maintained second story apartment in Brookline near the trolley line. The rent was cheap and there was easy access to public transportation.
Each of us was eccentric in his individual way.
Bob, the proverbial good natured slob, was the son of a successful surgeon in Massachusetts. He had also competed in college at the Division 1 level as a side horse gymnast. Having been invited to train with the U.S. Olympic team, he was having trouble deciding weather to remain in school or take some time off, which caused him to spend more time at the gym than at the desk.
He never spent any time cleaning up his room that was a messy mixture of medical textbooks, dirty smelly sweat clothes and despite the athletics, also ashtrays full of cigarette butts.
It is hard to believe he went on to become a highly skilled transplant surgeon, but then again it is hard to believe that any of us went on to achieve successful careers.
He came form a family of seven children, the youngest of which had Downs Syndrome, being a child born in an era when the disorder could not be tested for in utero by amniocentesis or other blood sampling. This disorder is caused by the inheritance of 3 chromosomes at number 21, other wise known as Trisomy 21. It is not fatal to the fetus and is probably related to a chromosomal aberration occurring in “old eggs.”
Chromosomal aberration does not happen to sperm, because sperm cells, being continuously renewed by the millions, tend to want to be continuously ejaculated. Most men accommodate this urge whenever they can or whenever the urge simply overwhelms them.
On the other hand, a woman carries all the eggs she is born with. Because they are expelled only one at a time, after age forty, then having had to sit around for decades waiting their turn, they tend to be more susceptible to becoming blighted.
You would become blighted too if you had to wait forty years before it was your turn to have a chance to mate.
Bob once confided to me that when the baby arrived, the Obstetrician, knowing the burdens that lay ahead in raising this child, had offered his father the option of “taking care of the problem.”
But Bob’s father had declined the offer without malice. He knew the other physician was only trying to help, because after all, there were already six normal children in a household that was always in overcrowded chaos. And now mom was expecting to bring home a mentally retarded person who would never be emotionally older than eight years old.
Bob’s father and the family accepted this genetic mishap fatalistically, loved her, took care of her and went on with their lives.
In perhaps rationalizing the Obstetrician’s concern that a Down’s baby may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, Bob’s family home reminded me of one belonging to an Irish Catholic’s I went to high school with.
Both households always looked as though bombs had just hit them.
My high school friend’s home was a center of chaotic clutter, excessive noise and the expected unrelenting traffic that goes along with seven children stomping through a small four-bedroom house.
The incongruity was that although my friend was in high school, there was also a baby in a crib; making my friend potentially old enough to be the baby’s father.
The mother of the brood was sweet spirited and kindly but also overweight, out of shape and old before her time. She had given up a long time ago trying to fix her prematurely grey hair or to clean the house while her personal aura always projected a sadly exasperated, perpetually fatigued and defeated individual. It was as though with each of her seven births, every new baby had taken away a small piece of her beauty, her looks, her optimism and worst of all, her hope.
The father, who having already obeyed the Catholic prohibitions against birth control or family planning, progressively drank more and more, had probably turned to alcohol both as a reliable method of keeping his penis inert as well as a reliable way to avoid facing the reality of having to deal with his procreation.
Then as might be expected, the increasing use of liquor also led to the increasing incidents of domestic violence.
Less money to go around combined with the progressive loss of parental control at home resulted in the children having to fend increasingly for themselves, with the attendant wayward or dysfunctional behaviors that go along with that. Some of them could not help but run afoul of the law or using drugs and alcohol themselves.
I never knew how things ultimately turned out for Bob’s family, as we parted ways after Medical School, but there is a bottom line common sense approach to family size. Do not bite off more than you can chew.
Despite his athletic prowess, Bob chain-smoked cigarettes as we delighted in goading him into walking around the apartment on his hands while he smoked upside down.
We also tried to get him to hold a cigarette in his ass while he did hand-stands. Especially because he could fart at will; we wanted to see if he could expel them like little Roman Candles. In our way of thinking that feat would have given him a perfect score of 10, with a Gold medal on the floor exercises.
Eli was addicted to Oldies Music, had a huge collection of 45-rpm records that no one could touch, kept in a dresser drawer in pristine condition, He couldn’t help the fact that he came from Philadelphia, which explained his inability to branch out into any music produced after 1962. Speaking of old tunes, this is a city that could not even undertake patching the crack in its iconic bell. Dong, ding.
Michael was a brilliant student who being fortunate enough to have had a photographic memory made learning medicine easy for him. He did everything in half the time it took the rest of us. It was also fortunate for the rest of us that being one year ahead in school he could successfully forewarn or forearm us in what was yet to come and in what expectations would be required in our educational future.
He was blessed with the gift of common sense and had an innate ability to clearly see the forest for the trees, as well as being able to see the all the individual trees at the same time. This gave him the ability of cutting to the bottom line faster than anyone I had ever met. He and I clicked immediately on the level of a commonly perverse sense of humor.
Although he eventually went on to become a successful Emergency Room physician; our long-term friendship turned out not to be quite as successful, through no fault of his, and is one of the several truly regretful things I have had to deal with in my life. But that is another story.
I was the resident hippie as well as being an “expert” on new wave music, had broad musical tastes in general that ranged the gamut from Classical to Country Western; and like Arthur, set out on a mission to musically enlighten my friends. Oldies Eli was refractory to having a musical epiphany. Being pushed too far his ire increased to wrath. Having to reluctantly respect the fact that he was stuck in his own antiquated grooves; I backed off.
He eventually impregnated a Finnish girl on an overseas vacation, and although never marrying her, faithfully supported his daughter financially while also visiting her whenever he could. Not getting married was entirely the girl’s idea, not his.
I was a cocky little bastard, because aside from having good looks, I also happened to have a beautiful girlfriend, whereas at the same time none of my roommates were dating. Michael used to call me “pretty boy” always advising that I should use this asset to find a rich woman and marry for her money
He would say:
- Become an arriviste; a gigolo. You can retire young. Drink and dine at the Country Club. Take up golf and tennis. Have a few affairs and one or two illegitimate kids.
Sometimes, especially now that my looks have faded, while at the same time it took me a lifetime to get out of debt, I think he may have been right. But not me, no, I would only pathetically and stupidly “marry for love.”
In short order I managed to wreck that part of my life because, justifiably my girl friend left me. She had enough of me being cavalier, behaving in an exceedingly macho manner in front of my male friends, and also got tired of my combined fear of wanting to show I that really cared with an uncontrollably sharp abusive tongue or a quick temper.
At the time, I shrugged it off because I honestly thought that pretty women were a dime a dozen only to then find out the hard way how difficult it would be to find someone else who similarly combined her good looks, her sense of humor and her wonderfully pleasant personality. That quest, in taking half a lifetime, was not based on maudlin sentimentality, but rather on the reality of how difficult it really is to find a soul mate.
Chalk it up to naive youth.
I did eventually luck out and found someone, but it took close to forty years.
Chalk that one up to good fortune, the fact that it is never too late, and the fact of having had a realistic standard for comparison.
Too many people I have known have settled or excessively compromised in their spousal or interpersonal relationships, usually for a litany of rationalized excuses. Settling is never a necessity and sometimes being alone is better than being in relationship hell. In all aspects of life, it is always better to “shop around” than to settle on the first great bargain you happen to stumble across.
It is only regrettable that Internet dating sites cannot create personal profiles based on similar criteria to that found in The Consumer’s Digest; or at least for the candidate in question to attach below their bio a short reality background check critique by any of their ex or exes. That would certainly soften the usual schlock about everyone seeming to love “sunsets, quiet times, fireplaces, romantic evenings at home, fine dining and walks on the beach.”
In any event whereas Michael’s recreational drug of choice was marijuana, and although Bob preferred beer, Bob was still partially corruptible to the point of occasionally smoking a joint or two.
Eli, being a Jewish preppie, was straight laced, drug free and spent his free time playing tennis or working out. Although he was refractory to corruption, and we tended to make fun of him for that, little did we realize that instead, we should have probably used him as a role model.
He eventually made an avocation of hiring himself out as a D.J. for oldies parties when they became “all the rage” in the 1990s. So, there you go; just stick to it long enough and any avocation might be fulfilled.
At that time, I would smoke some pot or took LSD or mescaline once or twice a year, but for the most part did not partake in excesses. None of us did because none of us would have been able to keep up with the rigorous demands of Medical School while at the same time being a dope-head or a drunk.
Hallucinogens also backfired twice.
One occasion occurred when I was off duty on a surgical rotation in Springfield and was cornered by a staff Internist in the vending machine bistro. He kept trying to animatedly talk to me about medicine while I was watching the birds on the wall paper border animatedly begin to fly around the room. My only thought was that he must have known I was high and would report me to the Chief of Staff.
The other bad trip occurred when I walked into a bar near Harvard where a fortiesh middle aged woman tried to pick me up. Her front teeth were so large; I began to see a small horse instead of a woman, the vision of which made me flee the scene without getting a drink or getting laid by a Cougar.
As a hippie hangover, I also painted my room dark maroon, moved in some Big Funk decorations, along with a great sound system complete with the Marantz speakers that had made my cousin Jimmy green with envy when he found out I owned them.
I never heard the end of that one.
- Marantz, Marantz. You got Marantz. I can’t believe you got Marantz
- Shut up, shut up. Go buy your own. I know they made more than two.
The place, in retrospect, vaguely resembled a Chinese bordello such that although the room color would have made the happiest idiot on earth depressed to this day I cannot remotely remember the rationale behind the color choice. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, it worked well for me at the time.
Right now, psychedelic purple is working out well for my wife’s 15 year-old (now 23) daughter, because in making me sea-sick just to look at it, this also tends to keep me from going into her room, disturbing her, or furtively sneaking a peek into her private life and property.
For the most part, studying took precedence over any other priority with things proceeding harmoniously until the day that Bob decided that we needed a dog. It simply appeared one day after he came back from a vacation and was a decision made by fiat.
The dog was a black and tan mixed breed mutt, about a year old, and at least if not adopted by our consensus, he was unanimously assigned his adopted name, Golgi, after an intracellular apparatus we learned about in Microbiology.
Although by the same token of the dog not having been greeted by unanimous applause, no one had enough lack of compassion for Bob and his pet to throw the dog out.In retrospect, we should have sent both Bob and his new mutt to the pound together.
The problem pivoted on the fact that because we all had to be in class during the day, the dog lacked company as well as lacking regular walks or exercise. This predictably resulted in the dog trashing the apartment out of sheer boredom, then followed his destructive romps of urinating and defecating all over it out of the sheer inability to hold it in.
He ate or chewed everything in sight, nearly rivaling my Uncle Oak’s dog Lucky in his ability to produce more matter in his excrement than went into his mouth. So, who ever said that you couldn’t make something out of nothing? Golgi could make sow’s shit out of silk food and defied the laws of physics when it came to conservation of matter.
Michael particularly hated the dog and probably would have sold him to an experimental lab if he would not have to lie about the disappearance.
The quick fix was to leave the dog on the small balcony porch, which might have been all right except for the fact that he would either nearly cook or freeze to death depending on weather conditions, and for the fact that no one cleaned up the dog shit regularly enough so that it would not pile up into massive heaps.
That problem was solved by shoveling it off the deck into the courtyard behind the apartment. We tacked a sign to the deck rails that only we could see: “Watch out below.”
Amazingly enough even though the backyard began to resemble bat-cave guano piles, none of the tenants complained about it until mid summer when the giant cones began to ferociously bake, attracted flies; and emitted aromatic vapors that made them look like quasi dormant mini-volcanoes.
Perhaps it was the very fact of Bob coming from a large family that then caused him to illogically come up with the idea that the solution to the dog problem lay in the fact of the dog simply being lonely. In his perverse way of reasoning, he assumed that Golgi would be much happier and would behave much better if he had a friend.
So once again without consulting his roommates, he arrived back from a school vacation with Golgi’s newly adopted brother, another mutt from the pound, who was promptly named Wilson Woodeye Farquard, a name derived in part because he had a lazy eye and in part because he looked like a nerd.
Wilson was a shaggy ball of brown fluff covering a barrel shaped body supported on spindly little legs. He also had a long nose, strabismic eyes, and a small flat head that housed a brain the size of a pea. He was dumb as a post, could not be trained in rudimentary dog skills, but redeemed himself with his sweet personality. He also had the great attribute of never barking, so he may have also been a deaf mute. It really was hard to tell.
If human, he would have been the equivalent of the proverbial good-natured slob; or perhaps was the ghost of our lobotomized cadaver.
However, between the two of them, and as one might predictably expect, the dogs wreaked double havoc on the interior destruction of the apartment as well as tripling the size of the back yard guano piles. The only thing Wilson proved to be adept at was in quickly picking up, almost by osmosis, all of Golgi’s bad habits.
The saga of this ridiculous perversion of logic in having “doggy friends” somehow reminded me of the completely illogical thinking that drives couples in bad or even marginally successful relationships to believe their interpersonal problems can be solved by having more children: other wise known as the theory of putting out fires by pouring gasoline onto them.
It may have been the same logic that drove my Catholic friend’s parents to breed uncontrollably and discounts entirely the tiresome theory that when it comes to having children the more is the merrier.
That does not even happen in nursery rhymes.
You know what you are doing is plain dead wrong, but you have the next kid anyway because you just simply cannot help yourself; and then you either masochistically stay in the relationship “because of the children,” or you quickly run for the exit door labeled “Divorce.”
Or, worse yet, and even if in a good relationship, it becomes rationalized with the prayer-plea:
- Don’t worry. God will provide.
This same logic applies to marrying the girl you knocked up in high school.
- Don’t worry, mom, love will find a way.
In the end, Michael and I decided enough was enough, that school was too hard to have other distractions such as pets when we could barely take care of ourselves, and decided to divorce our other two roommates and to look for other accommodations.
The terms of the separation were simple. Bob could keep his four legged kids, Eli could keep his 45s oldies, while the landlord would have to deal with the dog shit, the pee stained floors and the oddly colored dark red room.
( In the Red Room; studying genetics )
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.
So she gave them some broth, without any bread.
And she whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed.