Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Just Friends

Early in the game, your best understanding of a friend was someone a teacher had to seat you apart from.  Distance was only a temporary solution.  If there were real chemistry, the anticipation of it expanding was a powerful draw.  

The way you saw it, you were well aware of the mischief your curiosity and enthusiasm brought you on your own.  In a sense, you knew or were driven to levels of excitement and investigation from which you launched an adventure that might have you arriving at home or school later than expected, thus consequences, lectures about promptness and responsibility.  

You even had a growing awareness of the price you'd have to pay for such things as forgetting to honor time commitments, or coming home with some injury serious enough to cause concern.  

To take matters from merely being young to the dawning of greater sophistication, you understood that your presence was likely due to the fact of an older brother who was dead before you appeared.  You understood how, well beyond your control, your promptness and safety meant more to your parents than to you.  

In effect, your absence or forgetfulness was a reminder of someone you never knew and never would know.  In further effect, you were at pains to investigate potentials for adventure, discovery, and risk wherever you could find them.  As an example of this sort of adventurousness, the walk home from grammar school, using the detour of two specific blocks of a single-dwelling neighborhood where each house had a detached garage.

You knew of eight or ten such homes with detached garages, homes not usually occupied at that time of afternoon.  This gave you free rein to find your way to the garage, use a nearby wall, tree, or shrub to assist you in reaching the roof of the garage,  The ideal single-dwelling home with a detached garage had a nearby area covered with grass onto which you could direct yourself after leaping from the roof of the garage.

On good days, two or three jumps per garage before moving on to the next house on your route.  By the time you got home to greet your mother, you'd had as many as twenty-five leaps from the rooftop of various garages, more often than not with no serious smudges of grass or mud on your knees.  The occasional skinned or bruised knee was easy enough to conceal, obviating the need to lie about how you came to get it.

A friend, or a group of friends were individuals you could count on for the chemistry that would take you beyond your singular pleasure of jumping from the tops of garage roofs.  The chemistry often involved role-playing games based on current reading or evening radio serials such as The Lone Ranger, Captain Midnight, and Red Ryder.  

You had two standards to rely on for the ways you'd expand your lone boundaries.  You had to outdo some feat by a character you'd read about or heard on one of the radio serials.  Imagination counted.  A risk had to be more than dumb, it had to be imaginative and something that might result in you being elevated to the lead actor status in the next day's or week's round of play.

Friend meant someone who had imagination, a clear disregard for personal safety, and an admirable sense of nonchalance after an act of daring-do.  One particular friend, Max, who lived some distance from you, excelled in acrobatic feats inspired by Tarzan and Robin Hood movies.  Max was worth the long walk home, which also gave you the opportunity to walk off some of your more notable failures and, thus, skinned elbows, hands, or knees.

Friend involved someone who extended your own tastes in reading or, as in the case of Gabe, had musical tastes that paralleled yours to the point where you were each, again with studied nonchalance, listening to the then classical AM radio station, KFAC, until one or two in the morning, trying to find a composer or composition or both the other had not heard.  

Gabe thought he'd remain unchallenged for some time with his discovery of the Hungarian composer, Zoltan Kodaly, and his memorable folk epic, Hary Janos.  But then you heard Erik Satie's Gymnopadie, and the competition was on again.

To be sure, boys would be boys; friendship extended to include not only the ability to tolerate various alcohol concoctions but to find places out beyond the mainstream where alcoholic beverages were sold under what you considered romantic circumstances.  At that time, romantic circumstances meant places such as cowboy bars, biker bars, and working class taverns and saloons where young persons such as yourself might find the adventure of being challenged.

Friends now have come to include characters, man, women, children you set in motion like a wind-up toy in some existential maze you've created in order to observe their behavior.  You push at them the way you pushed at your own self back in your pre-teen years, first in the Los Angeles of your birth, then the shabby back alleys of your parents' home towns in New Jersey, onward to Fall River and Providence, then the humid crush of Miami Beach.

You dare them to jump off garage roofs, construct river rafts, invade drinking establishments, and compete with their brother and sister characters in ways that will replicate the chemistry you experienced when you engaged with your early cadres of friends.

For what it's worth, you ran a Google search on Max, who has retired from a career as a gym teacher.  Gabe is a ranking player with a major symphony orchestra now and once spent two years with one of the major jazz bands of the fifties and sixties.

And you?  You are pushing characters and ideas to the edges of boundaries, then calling out, "Jump!"

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