I will be 69 years old later this year and I have friends that I have known for 50-60 years. I do not imagine that it is entirely unique to have a childhood friend, but in my case, I have quite a few. I still know and occasionally see some of the guys I played sandlot ball with at 9, played Little League, rode the west side of LA like a marauding cycle gang, who filled my Saturdays with adventures in 1955. I am still close with guys I shared my first beer with, rode my first wave with, and a number of other firsts that do not deserve to be chronicled here. I have surfed distant beaches and skied miles of runs with some of the same guys for over 50 years. While our lives, as life does, have taken us in our own directions, we have somehow kept in touch.
If you wish to know the world of the ten year old boy, revisit the movie Stand By Me. It did not miss a beat. Somehow lifelong friendships are forged out of fart jokes, belching, and crude insults about each other’s mothers. Yet, if you want to better know the next world we inhabited, I would direct you to George Lucas’ American Graffiti. Who knew that lifelong friendships could be carved from long summer evenings when nothing and everything happened simultaneously, from smoking together, drinking together, puking side by side on the beach and laughing so hard and so often that I can still nearly piss myself these 50+ years later by imagining any one of a number of outrageous moments? But mostly I recall the people. Somehow we built friendships in those days that have sustained such strength that there are at least a dozen guys that I could call on any time of the day or night and they would be there for me and I for them. That is not just old acquaintances, folks, that is friendship.
Perhaps the bonds were forged in the interstices, the parenthesis between events when we sat parked at the beach for hours with our feet on the dashboard, sharing smokes, nursing a quart of Olympia and contemplating the mysteries of life, of women, and our own growing awareness of the world. Maybe our connection comes from shared adventures, minor crimes, and near catastrophes. Probably all of the above.
They say that a friend is someone who knows you well and likes you anyway. Certainly some of these guys have seen me at my best and worst. They also say that friendships are formed by people who bring out the best in each other, for certainly I am a better man for the friendship of men I have long known. While I can say for certain that I did not really become a man until I became a father, I can also say for certain that the seeds of my life as it has unfolded were sown in the times of tee shirts and flip flops (maybe low-cut Converse) with people as lost as I was who shared with me and I with them our vague hopes, aspirations, unlikely plans, outrageous schemes, secret desires, and often our last dollar.
They also say that a friend is a gift that you give yourself. I believe this. It is heartening to see an old pal once a year and pick up the relationship as if you were together yesterday. Maybe this just reflects that everything and everybody is constantly changing yet always remains the same. Maybe it just feels good to be that person again….or maybe I have simply lucked out.