Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Old friends

I spoke with an old friend yesterday. He called me on my cell phone out of the blue. I was walking around the mall with my Dad, killing time as we waited for my wife to show up for lunch (she's never on time!).
My friend Alvin says he's coming to Florida this week. His company is sending him to Orlando for some safety training, sponsored by his Union. He'll be there all week. It's about a three and a half hour drive from where I live. Not exactly around the corner, but certainly a lot closer than the continental divide we've had between us since I moved away from California 7 years ago. We both vowed that we'd make an earnest effort to see each other on this trip, whatever it takes.
Back in the day when Alvin and I first became friends, we were very different people from who we are now. Not only younger, but also driven by other motivations.
Alvin grew up in a small oilfield town in south-central California. One of the younger brothers in a large family of mostly men, he and his brothers were all athletes, and participated in most of the team sports the local schools offered. Alvin was the biggest and strongest one of them, a hulking 6'4" tall frame, with a back like a bull and 280 lbs of pure muscle. He was an intimidating presence wherever he went. In a town where you're only as tough as your last fight proved (and everybody had to be tough!), nobody ever chose to mess with Alvin. He'd established a reputation in town since his early days for being a fair and smart individual, a loyal and caring friend, but also a fist swinging bruiser with innards as hard as nails. He's the kind of guy you always wanted watching your back in a bar room brawl...not the one you wanted to face.
I met Alvin through the local bar scene. We both played darts at the weekly tournaments. We were decidedly the best two dart players in town, and we alternated as top dog for long stretches at a time. It was good, clean competition in a town where your options for recreation were limited. We had a lot of fun.
Our wives became good friends and, as has been the case for me before, Al and I became close friends as well, just by being forced into each other's company by our spouses.
I miss my buddy Al. As you get older it becomes much harder to become friends with anyone. The lack of time available to invest in the kind of circumstances that create the environment necessary to foment the requisite experiences that bring about true camaraderie makes it very hard for responsible, grown family men to bond.

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