An old friend is the best mirror. And old friends know I am not sorry for who I am… or about most anything. In fact, the most I can do is wholeheartedly apologize for not being sorry at all. Therefore, as Dan put it: If you’re going to do something tonight that you’ll be sorry for tomorrow morning, sleep late…

Ever since Dan and I first met in West Africa we quickly became old friends. And you know, it takes a long time to grow an old friend.

In the case of Dan Goldberg, who four decades back founded ‘For Eyes’ — the first chain of discount eyewear stores — it’s been over 34 years of friendship, business, ex-wives, deceased children, humor and respect. And a lot of bad jokes.

So when Dan and I got together the other Saturday to spend some serious time catching up – and to drink heavily – I was crushed when he happened to mention during our venturesome conversation that my ex, Stephanie Anne Blatt (now, Middleton), had called him. A number of times in the past couple of years. To speciously infer that I had stolen money. From him. During our Russian project days. Some 20 years back.

Hmm… the beetch is like death. Her mendacity keeps endlessly ambushing me, perpetually sneaking up like a windshield on a bug. That’s not to bring up the fact that a half-dozen years ago she did actually try to kill me. Spent 5 weeks in the hospital… But I think I already told you ‘bout that.

Hmm…

Needless to say I was crushed. Decimated. But what more can you sadly expect from someone like Stephanie. She is not so much mean, but, like a crocodile, just very primitive. Can’t help being what she be. Must have missed the first 27 chapters in the new testament.

Obviously it is fortuitous that Dan and I have always been as bare and nakedly honest with each other as two heterosexual men might be in life’s various steam rooms. That is, through our various business ventures in Africa, Russia and America.

So he well understood that the messenger pigeon is little more than the consequence of an uncommitted abortion.In other words Dan long knew that good friends are supposed to be like condoms – to protect you when things get hard.

But I guess I was simply devastated, once more, that Stephanie still hasn’t gone away, stayed away, buried herself deep in a pit of titanium cement… rimmed by concertina wire… religious crosses… garlands of garlic… and guarded by a monster like Cerberus to keep the dead from escaping thru the gates of Hell.

Although remarried and living someplace south of my mental borders she keeps resurfacing like Jaws. Her lies were thrown out of court each and every time — and for what I had hoped would be for the last time over 4 years ago. But apparently that wasn’t to her voracious and ignominious satisfaction. So she threw her fabrications at anybody who wanted to listen to anything she had to say that wasn’t very nice about me. She poisoned – besides moi — the well of our children, relatives, friends, and acquaintances.

Hmm… She even lied and cried on national TV. And, of course, no one thought to give me a call. You know, interview me. Just in case there may be 360-degrees to every story.

Yet in the end what is always remembered are not the words of your enemies, but the silence of your friends. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t know if I really have enemies, but am just intensely disliked by former friends.

And, believe it or not, many of those erstwhile, supercilious amicable folks, chose to believe her – despite the prevailing thunder and lightning that spoke otherwise. But I never pressed. Not even for all she stole. I never pressed charges for anything. But she did. And failed miserably. And that’s why I never bothered to explain myself. After all, real friends don’t need it. And enemies don’t believe it.

Indeed, when you face a crisis, you find out who your true friends are. And true amigos, at least, stab you in the front.

Obviously a friend today is nothing but an enemy tomorrow. So I moved on. Left what Stephanie didn’t take – and she took most everything. The walls are bare. Cabinets are empty. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, remains – except the echoes. And the scars where memories once hung.

Hmm…

“So?” Dan asked with a devious smile. “How much did you steal from me? Ten dollars? A hundred dollars?”

And then he laughed at his own joke. “I tried to tell her that I controlled all the money. I knew where everything was. And where everything went. I only gave you so much in cash for each trip to Russia. You spent it the way you needed to spend it.”

At that he made another corny joke: “Did they have receipts in Russia, then?”

“Just the prostitutes,” I weakly responded. “In fact I still remember the first time I had sex over there… Still have the receipt.”

I exhaled, softly. This cut deeply. I may not harbor many rules, but I don’t drink and drive, nor f-k my friends… Okay, sometimes their estranged wives… but I don’t play for the other team.

At that I recalled that on one return from Russia-with-love, I had a few hundred dollars left over. “And you told me to spend it. I think I spent it on a big dinner for Stephanie and me. We were just beginning the good parts back then. But obviously that dinner, like everything else with that creature, turned to shit.”

“Oy,” Dan burped with that wrinkled humor. “Talk about shitty relationships. You know, I’ve haven’t had a good one in two years.”

“Yeah, but at least yours all have big tits.”

“And yours,” said Dan while stroking his once black Smith Brothers cough drops beard, “all had big teeth.”

“But obviously not big enough to barricade all the lies and deceits that escaped,” I lamented. “Especially Stephanie. I guess I should have enrolled her in our free dental plan.”

“I don’t recall us having a dental plan,” mocked Dan.

“Yeah, you know the one where I quit wasting my backhand on tennis.”

“Ahhh, yes. The one that convinced that recalcitrant client to pay us. A very good dental plan, indeed.”

And then Dan simply pointed out the obvious: “Stephanie was just trying to drive a grenade between us. She was attempting to be deleterious to our friendship. Earn you another enemy.”

“If I cared to count,” I said, “I apparently have quite a parade marching over my grave. Friends come and go. But enemies seem to accumulate. Especially in Stephanie’s wake.”

“From what I recall,” admonished Dan, “you’d always rather be hated for who you are, than be loved for who you are not.”

Hmm…

He can be so poignant.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from Dan over the years — besides never leave a client’s office without a check – is that instead of loving your enemies; treat your friends a little better.

And at that Dan is a much better man than I, Gunga Din. He has remained in contact with some people from past forays who I would have dangled from our office 39th floor balcony. But Dan would simply smile and chide me to always forgive your enemies; “nothing annoys them as much.”

Without a doubt, Dan and I had a grand symbiotic relationship. He understood business. And I understood how to give everyone duh bizness. Dan was our rainmaker. And I kept the clients pleasantly inebriated. We had a lot of people working for us, as well as another partner, who barely worked.

But after Russia dissolved. And Africa had long vanished. And we lost interest in the pedestrian leftovers, we went our separate ways. I, in search of more adventure. And Dan in search of peace. With his lapdog higher degrees he now writes business books and lectures at colleges and universities on entrepreneurship.

“Why don’t you do that?” Dan wondered. “You have a lot of degrees.”

“I have alot of problems with co-eds,” I said. “They trigger my apodysophilia.”

Dan’s twinkling smile crept all the way up and under his Phillies baseball cap, sheltering hair long-departed from ear to ear – except for that pony-tail. He’s a Phillies fanatic more than the Phillies Phanatic.

“I lay down the law the first day of class,” he explained without smirking. “I tell them I know all their tricks. I don’t mix grades with pleasure. However, if I should see them after they graduate… well, such is life. And life can be quite a pleasure…”

But of course.

We got to talking from bar to bar like two young boys who refuse to acknowledge how time has decorated us with age. We still know each other well, and like each other anyway. And Dan still can’t start a joke that I can’t finish. ‘Rectum? (Wrecked ‘em)’… he began as usual, and I finished… ‘Hell, it killed ‘em.’

But the jabber eventually circled back to the annoyance of Stephanie. And enemies, who used to be friends and lovers. And Dan could sense that I was bothered. Even a tad hurt – if that really is possible.

Hmm… The bitch just won’t die. She lies and lies. Like she did about our older boy’s biological father. And the next guy. And the guy after that. And then me.

And she gets away with it — until she doesn’t — like pretty people often do – between fake tears and rehearsed blues.

“It is what it is,” Dan intoned from nowhere, refocusing my attention. “Think of all the people you’ve met around the world. They all wanted something. And for the most part you couldn’t give them the something they really wanted.

“Doesn’t make you a bad person. Or them bad people. Everybody wants and wants. And they’re hoping – more like grasping – that you will be the one that will give it to them. It’s life. It’s much like baseball. The game goes on. You try to help your friends. And everybody just takes their turn at bat.”

“Yeah, but she wore me out. She really was a bitch…”

“And then you die,’ laughed Dan. “And then you die, wondering, why you could never hit the curve ball. You clearly saw it coming. You knew what it was going to do. But voila! Whiff… Strike three! Some things just aren’t covered in the rule books.”

And, sadly, ain’t dat duh truth.

“Just remember, my brother from an uglier mother, “you give your friends everything you can. And you give your enemies the rule books.”

And, he added theatrically, before I could interject my two-cents… as usual: “If you’re going to do something tonight that you’re going to be sorry for in the morning, just sleep late… I always do.”

Hmm…

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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