#49) Old friends, new faces, old feelings

In grade school, we were each others’ only friends.  In junior high and high school, we drifted apart but stayed in touch.  In college, we fought and excommunicated each other over–what else–women.  As young men, we lived separate lives on opposites sides of the country.  And now, as we approach our forties, we’re back together again, with a little help from Mark Zuckerberg.

After “friending” each other, we had a brief reunion last year at LAX, where he and his wife had a long layover on their honeymoon flight to Hawaii.  I practically had to fight him to allow me to buy them dinner as a wedding present – I held the check and growled like a pit bull.  On my recent trip to Boston, which happened to coincide with his birthday, we made plans.  On the phone, he sounded less like a father, husband and dedicated, successful employee of the Boston Food Bank than an insecure, awkward preteen fumbling for the right answer to a math problem, or to a bully’s taunt.

“There’s this new place in Brookline called Hops and Scotch,” I offered. “It looks pretty good.”

“We…could…go there,” he said.

“Is there another place you’d rather go?  I’m good with whatever.”

“Well, I’m here all the time, and you’re just in town this week…”

“Yeah, but it’s your birthday.  Where do you want to go?”

“Do you…like….Thai food?”

“Yeah, sounds good.  Which place?”

“Dok Bua.  But we can go to the place you mentioned.”

“No, it’s your birthday.  Dok Bua it is.”

We met at the Thai restaurant, walked in and sat down.  He was holding a large backpack.  I pointed to it and asked, thinking that perhaps he (like me, a hiker and lover of the outdoors) wanted to show me some new camping gear he’d picked up.

“Oh, that’s for the layers,” he said. “If its cold, I’ll need to switch layers of clothes.”

We ate (duck pad thai for me; chicken pad thai for him), caught up, and when it was time to go, he eyed the check nervously.  “You sure?  I can get it.”

“Dude, it’s your birthday.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t give you guys a wedding gift.”

I ended up winning the battle of the check, and after I signed for it, we headed out.  We walked up the hill on which we grew up, passing by both of our old houses, noting the additions that had been made.  Then we called it a night.

He has a heart of gold; he wouldn’t harm a fly.  Maybe that’s his problem, I thought to myself.  He’s still trying to be liked.

It was interesting to consider the way in which our paths had joined, separated and joined again.   As I thought of our lives now, I saw a lot of differences.  I’ve often told that (unlike before M. came into the picture) I photograph well; I show confidence and happiness.  When M. saw the pictures of my friend, she gave a piteous look and said, “Poor guy.”  I explained to her that back then, between him and I, was the cool one, to which she could only say, “Wow.”

But I started to wonder, how much had things really changed?  Was my friend the only one still desperate to be liked?  As I’ve looked back on the things I would have done differently in music, and perhaps in other areas, one theme comes up over and over: trying to be too many things to too many different people.  Trying to be nice.  Trying to be successful. Trying to be liked.

It’s kept me in bands that I should have quit.  It’s kept me accepting students that waste my time.  It attracted me to a string of women, broken only by the most recent one, who didn’t appreciate me.  I’ve often joked about how the “Darwinian” survival instinct in music, business and other aspects of life is a strong one; many people put up with a lot of crap for a six figure salary.  When M. expressed guilt about what she must have put her junior high music teacher through, I said, “Well, the guy probably had one hell of a mortgage.”

But I’ve realized that the survival instinct doesn’t just have to do with money.  It has to do with something far more powerful: ego.  Seeing the insecurity that my friend still feels–and recognizing that it still exists, however slightly, in myself–is something that I will keep in mind the next time I find myself tempted to give the wrong answer to a yes or no question.


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