On Friendship

By Tardsie

And A Little Gay If The Ponies Are To Be Believed.

I believe that friendship is important. It’s soul-affirming. A bad friendship is like a bad relationship–you’re better off not having it at all. But a good friendship is a powerful thing, and can help keep your ship afloat on rocky seas. I’ve been very lucky to have wonderful friends–dudes who have always accepted me for who I am (while mocking me for the same reason), who have loved me and seen me through some rough patches sandwiched in between a lot of kick-ass times. All this for a guy with as many faults as I have. Truly, I am not worthy.

On Wednesday, five of us gathered in LA for an impromptu remembrance of our friend Joe who died earlier this month. Of the four other guys, I’d seen three of them within the past six months. One guy I hadn’t seen in almost seventeen years, although it didn’t seem like that long. The last time we had all been together Bill Clinton had been president, and we were a pack of pot-smoking do-nothings with our whole lives ahead of us. Now we were pot-smoking do-nothings with families, careers and crow’s-feet. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time, and I laugh a lot.

It Was A Lot Like This, But With Better Music.

Being in the rejuvenating presence of such wonderful friends got me thinking about the bonds and boundaries of friendship, and how sometimes the tiniest things can make or break a friendship. It took me back to my junior year of college to a time when, through a mutual association, I’d met and become fast friends with a freshman who had started hanging out with our group, fitting in easily.

It was assumed this kid would pledge my fraternity. He had expressed interest, and was well-liked not only by myself but by many of the other members. But there was a snag. His older sister, who had just broken up with an alumnus from my fraternity, turned suddenly against us, and began to exert heavy pressure on her brother to join a different frat. He was conflicted: the other frat seemed to better represent the kind of guy he was coming out of high school (think the Omegas from Animal House), but he had so many promising friendships among us and just seemed to fit better.

I knew this was going on, and while I very much wanted him to come with us, I’d seen potential brothers scared away by the hard-sell, so I tried to express my opinions only when asked. I got that opportunity one day when we were hanging out.

“Hey,” he asked me one day, with no artifice, but definitely some trepidation, “If I pledge {Clan Douchebag}, we’ll still be friends, right?”

I Wouldn’t Even Be Able To Look At You The Same Way, Bro.

I looked at him seriously and said, “No. Not like we are now.” I could see he was a little stunned, and I could definitely understand, having been a freshman once.  I explained that if he joined the other frat, we’d try to be friends, but that our two very different circles would intersect but rarely, and that usually, those meetings were acrimonious. As painful as it was, I told him that his choice might very well dictate the future of our blossoming friendship.

It Is The Natural Way Of Things, My Child.

I’ve lived a long time since then and learned a lot more about what it means to be a friend. I wonder: If that young man had asked me the same question today, what would I tell him? Gatherings like the one I just attended inevitably bring to mind not only who is there present among the gathered, but also, far more poignantly–who isn’t there who maybe should be.

And so I think of that long-ago kid with whom I had such a great rapport and with whom I took such an implacable stance with my friendship. I wonder how things might have happened differently. And sometimes, I wonder what that kid is doing now.

When I do, I usually just call him. He’s one of the guys I saw on Wednesday, and whom I see pretty regularly. We were each in the other’s weddings, and I’m godfather to his son. We’re the best of friends to this day.

When faced with that long-ago choice, he totally made the right one. Keep your friends close, and don’t have enemies if you can help it.

Everyone Seen Here Made The Right Choice.

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34 Responses to On Friendship

  1. Nice, very nice. Because if you can’t strong-arm someone into friendship, well, what the hell good are they anyway?

  2. Mooselicker says:

    First, sorry for your loss. Second, it’s good you have these other guys who appreciate your friend probably as much as you did. It’s always nice to get together and pay tribute to someone who has passed on, they’d want it that way.

    Friendships evolve over time for everyone. People become less stubborn, some forgive, some disappear and do their own thing, others stick around, etc. I can’t imagine not seeing someone for 17 years. I saw a few friends last fall who I had not seen in 4-6 years and that was strange enough. Not that we changed all too much but that we weren’t sure where the time had gone.

    • Smaktakula says:

      Thanks, Moose. Yeah, it was nice to share memories with my buddies. And you’re correct in pointing out that he was important not just to me, but to the whole crew. We realized once we got together, that every single one of us had lived with Joe for some time during our college or post-college lives.

      And believe me, I was flabbergasted when I realized it had been seventeen years since I’d seen the one guy. If you’d asked me, I would have said “ten years.” Time speeds up as you get older. When we all went our separate ways in the world, scattering all around the country (and in some cases, the world), email was in existence, but social media had yet to be born, and it was easier to fall out of touch. Fortunately, social media wasn’t too far behind, and we were able to reconnect. Thanks to social media, you may never lose track of your friends that way.

  3. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Great story, Smak. Whenever I get together with my old homies, we laugh so much..lots of remember when stories. Friendship has always been important to me. In fact, my best friend has called me several times over the last few weeks and I have not called her back – I think I will sit down tonight and do some catching up! :)

  4. El Guapo says:

    A great story of history and friendship.
    I wouldn;t be too hard on younger you and what you said to the freshman, becauses
    1 – he was a freshman, and
    B – I think most college guys would have said the same. We just didn’t know any better.

    (And y’all make a great pack of bronys. Yes, that’s a thing.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/bronycon-2012-bronies-my-little-pony_n_1196695.html )

    • Smaktakula says:

      You constantly surprise me with your awesomeness, Guap. I was aware of Bronies, and have been trying for months to think of something to write about them. It takes all kinds, man…

  5. I never got into the whole Sorority thing. Maybe if I had lived on campus, I’d have been exposed to it more, but it’s something I feel almost automatically averse to. I spent half of high school fitting in the “not-trying to fit in” goth crowd, so to try to be part of a group that would exclude others simply for NOT being in said group is kind of ..meh.
    This post seems especially relevant to me, given what I recently went through with a close (former) friend. I never thought after 20 years something so dumb would come between us.

    • PS… lovin the choice of MLP Friendship is Magic pix! ;)

    • Smaktakula says:

      And your reply is relevant to me, for reasons I’ll explain. And hopefully this response will prove even more helpful to you.

      As my post was already getting too long, I didn’t put this in the piece. Two of the guys I hung out with on Wednesday had been estranged for about two years. I was witness to the incident that caused the ridiculous schism, and even innocently contributed to it. These guys are both big basketball fans, and I asked them if Dennis Rodman was deserving of the Basketball Hall of Fame or if he was just all hype. They had two very different opinions on the subject, and it led to a rift that didn’t heal until a friend died.

      Dennis Rodman? FUCKING RIDICULOUS! RIDICULOUS! I’m glad they reconciled, but c’mon–Dennis fucking Rodman.

      I’d try to make up with that friend, unless she (or he) did something unconscionable.

  6. Carrie Rubin says:

    Great piece. I’m kind of a loner, but that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with the words (though you would’ve never found me crossing the threshold of a sorority, or even a dorm room). And I treasure loyalty, so if someone from my small circle sought me out, even years later, I’m there. Nice you guys could get together. I suspect your friend Joe would have liked that.

    Now, as for the blue squiggles taking out you and your friends’ eyes? Well, who needs photoshop with moves like that?

    • Smaktakula says:

      Those blue squiggles represent the limits of my photo-editing skills. I express myself much better verbally than I do visually. I’m just disappointed no one noticed and got mad at me for doing the Asian guy’s eyes with two quick strokes.

      People seem to have such viscerally negative views of fraternities (disclaimer:I am not responding defensively to something I imagined I saw in your comment, but expressing a different thought inspired by the aforementioned comment) that I’m sometimes hesitant to mention it. I understand not wanting to be a part of one, but not the animus sometimes directed against them.

      All I know is that for me, pledging was, after the decision to marry my wife, the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. No foolin’.

      • Carrie Rubin says:

        I only mention it from an introvert’s standpoint. I have no qualms against fraternities or sororities. But I’m the type of person who didn’t even want a single roommate.

      • Smaktakula says:

        You don’t have to be an introvert to not want a roommate. I am an only child, so you KNOW I need my space to this day. I only shared a room for 1.5 of my five years in college.

  7. Brigitte says:

    What a fine group of dudes you are. I think it’s way cool you got together to reminisce (did I spell that correctly?) and celebrate your friend’s life. He’s probably doing what’s making him very happy wherever he is since I’m assuming he’s most likely in the happy place. It stands to reason that you weren’t in the Clan Douchebag fraternity. Whom did you liken yourself to — Bluto, Flounder, that dude that wanted to make out with all the women, John Belushi character?

    Anyway, glad you had your Big Chill weekend — that’s nice getting together with friends. I’ve moved around so much, I don’t have that close of a circle of friends and if I had gone to college fresh out of high school, I most likely wouldn’t have joined a sorority.

    Oh, and if you go to picmonkey.com, you can put sunglasses on your eyes instead of those blue squiggles.

    • Smaktakula says:

      Next time I will picmonkey it. Thanks for the suggestion. As I said to Carrie, my tech skills are very limited.
      I’d say I was most like John Belushi’s character. Sadly, I don’t mean that in a flattering way (as if that could be flattering). That makes it all the more remarkable that my friends still like me.
      I was very lucky to have fallen in with this crowd in college. I think it’s fair to say they helped save my life. I don’t mean that in the “I’d be dead right now” sense, but in the “I don’t know what kind of life I’d have now” sense. When I got to college, I didn’t really know how to be cool, I thought it meant acting a certain way, or being an inebriated party guy. Gradually, these guys let me see that I was pretty cool just being me. I’m forever grateful.

  8. I just went to my school reunion. I almost didn’t. Fears of gravity induced body image featured large in my conflict. Admittedly, I still see a lot of these girls anyway, but this was FORMAL. It was incredible. Time could have stood still. http://furrynuff.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/20-years-on/

    • Smaktakula says:

      I never kept in contact with people from high school. I wasn’t a very well-formed person at the time, and made very few lasting friendships in high school (I did make lasting friendships at this time, but not with my classmates). Some experiences I had at the end of my senior year and that summer (most notably this) as well as my college experiences really helped to finish me off.

      • My class is a strange anomaly born out of the Facebook generation. Some have fallen off the map, some missed, some not. But all in all we keep tabs… Does that make us stalkerish and scary?

      • Smaktakula says:

        It most certainly does! However, you’re in good company. Ours is an age of voyeurs. The only reason I’m in contact with people from high school is Facebook (by which I mean FB is the thing which connected me with them, not that some of them aren’t worth keeping tabs on ((and I chose that wording over ‘in touch with’))). Had I been ten years older I’m sure I’d be in contact with far fewer people; ten years younger, far, far more.

      • There is a very voyeuristic aspect to it. Have they got fat? My children are better looking etc. Sadly, some of the ones who fell off the map are the ones I would love to see again.

  9. I’m surprised that you were in a fraternity, or maybe I shouldn’t be? My college days were all over the place. When I transferred into NYU, it never even occurred to me to join a sorority — I was a lesbian from San Francisco and a few years older than most of my classmates (I took time off college when I worked to pay for NYU). What matters most is that you were in a place were you developed long an lasting bonds. My father, who loathed his sister, was find of saying, “You can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family.” It sounds like you’ve made some very good choices Smak. Sorry that your reunion was bittersweet at its core.

    • Smaktakula says:

      Thanks! You know, I think as we get older, more memories are bittersweet. I don’t mean that in a depressing way, because usually there’s a lot more sweetness. But sometimes the touch of bitterness adds a tremendous poignancy. Christmases with my boys are somehow more special because I CAN’T be with my mother.

      A lot of people are surprised about the fraternity thing. I should explain that my school didn’t have Greek fraternities, but rather our own fraternities, which we called societies (one of which which was founded by our country’s most famous disgraced president). The only external difference was that we didn’t have a national charter. On the plus side, this allowed these institutions to evolve separately from Greek institutions, with our own, very localized traditions. On the downside (to the school’s thinking), not having a national charter made it more difficult to control us–at one time the men’s societies were considered to be among the top ten hazers in the nation. I don’t necessarily agree with that characterization, because while our pledging program was extremely rigorous (through which I shed my freshman fifteen), it did not involve alcohol and was very purpose-driven.

      Like any organization, we had bad apples (I’m mainly talking about being aggressive with women), but they were very rare. We even had a couple openly gay guys, although relationships within the brotherhood were STRONGLY discouraged (that still seems wrong to me, almost incestuous). I don’t pretend that was the norm, there were only a handful of openly gay guys in my time–it was a different time, but we were a pretty accepting group. It sounds counter-intuitive, but my membership in this institution made me a more tolerant person.

  10. “Keep your friends close, and don’t have enemies if you can help it.” That’s a gem. And great post. Your friendship with these guys is enviable. You could say it stood the test of time. I’m 21 and the longest time I’ve never seen a friend was probably 13 years. But I guess you really couldn’t call a friend someone you exchanged slaps with in the third grade? I just wished the friendships I formed and could form could be as good as yours is.

    What’s wrong with the asian guy anyway? All three of you looked happy with your smiles, but him…nah, probably just not a smiler.

    • Smaktakula says:

      Thanks, Happiness! I do feel that I’m very lucky to have the friends I do. At the same time, I try to be a loyal friend myself, to try to deserve what I’ve got.

      But I guess you really couldn’t call a friend someone you exchanged slaps with in the third grade?

      Maybe you could. One of my dearest friends is a guy I pledged with. He was born in Korea and only came to the States when he was 17. We could not have been more different–like oil & water–he spent a lot of time cursing at me in Korean. We fought like cats & dogs (it never devolved into a fistfight, fortunately–he’s a black-belt in Tae Kwon Do), until suddenly we didn’t any more, and discovered instead that we were great friends. You never know.

      Also, at 21, I don’t know if I knew how much these relationships would mean to me twenty years later. You’re so young (I had thought you a few years older, but that’s not a bad thing!). You may be forming (or have formed) those relationships as we speak. If I can offer some words that proved true in my situation and maybe will in yours, I’d say to be true to yourself. Understand that you bring a lot to the table–your intellect, enthusiasms, passion, culture, experience and other intangibles, and that while there’s room for improvement in ever human being, you’re pretty cool just the way you are. Don’t waste your time with someone who can’t see that (although give people a chance to see it). It’s easiest if you first accept yourself for who you are, but in my case, I lucked out and fell in with a group who accepted me and gave me the courage to do the same thing. It sounds very Hallmark-y when I say it, but that’s the truth.

      What’s wrong with the asian guy anyway?

      Read this and you’ll get an idea.
      In all seriousness, Dave’s a wonderful guy and I love him dearly. He’s very bright, but he doesn’t seem to have a “Stupid Shut-Off Switch.”

      And he’s just not a smiler. Great guy, though.

      • I’ll keep those expert words in mind, Smak, thanks (although I love myself so much already, I really don’t see me having a problem with accepting myself…OR maybe not). I’ve made so many friends in just 21 years and so many of them have become total strangers again over the years. And you’d think with Facebook around that would already be an extinct problem! But there’s a few I can still call at 3 am and not be sorry I did (well, there’s a ‘lil cursing…). I think it’s better you get them young, too when you’re still the insecure, socially-awkward, broke, losers that we are because these people know you at your worst and still chose to hang out with you (as if they really have any choice, haha!) I only wish I knew that earlier than wasting all those times trying to act cool. And failing. Well maybe I haven’t really wasted all those years…

        As with all things in this earth, people and friendships included, quality over quantity. Except money maybe.

        I’ve read that post of yours and I conclude: your friend Dave has only one thing wrong with him—he got half his chromosomes from Satan.

  11. jmmcdowell says:

    There’s nothing like a friendship where you can go several years without seeing each other in person, and then when you do, you pick up like you just saw each other the day before. I’ve got a friend from way back in kindergarten where I can do that.

    And I’d like to think Joe was hanging out with the rest of you, enjoying the good company.

  12. Alex Autin says:

    Nice post Smak, and I’m glad you enjoyed your reunion. I’ve very few college friends I keep up with, mostly because it now seems we exist in entirely different universes. They have husbands, kids, and mortgages and I have a backpack, hiking boots,and a passport. Reading this has made me realize that the most significant, life altering, friendships I have have all taken place in the last 5 years or so. I’m wondering what that says about me.

    • Smaktakula says:

      most significant, life altering, friendships I have have all taken place in the last 5 years or so. I’m wondering what that says about me.

      Only that you have significant and life-altering friendships, which is a real good thing.

      I’m proud to say that my friends and I stayed close despite our lives, at times, taking different directions. Like you, a lot of my friends started getting married and having kids after college. Although I’m married with kids now, I was one of those delayed adolescents who didn’t get his shit together (as much as I have it together now) until much later. If that sounds regretful, I don’t mean it that way. Anyway, during that time, I remained close with my friends who did have their shit together (or who were at least on the “family track”).

  13. Oh Smak, that was absolutely delightful…!
    Friends; so lucky to have a few close ones. It doesn’t matter how long in-between visits either; it’s like you were never parted.
    Sorry for the loss of your friend, Joe. Though, when I think about a good friend who passed a couple of years back I can’t help but smile at the sweet memories… I can remember thinking, at the time, there hadn’t been many I had truly loved and enjoyed as much as this man – sort of like you were saying – there’s a bond that can’t be broken…
    Here’s to good friends, Smak….. Cheers to you, and to them…

  14. I’ve always envied/admired people who can keep friends from school days. Lifelong friends can be a treasure I’ve recognized, but it’s never been mine. Congratulations on being such a good friend.

    • Smaktakula says:

      Lifelong friends can be a treasure I’ve recognized, but it’s never been mine.

      Not yet, perhaps, but life is funny. You never know. At the same time, not everybody needs friends to the same degree. It’s not out of the question to suggest that what you lack in lifelong friends may be compensated by a highly developed character or sense of self.

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