The other day my old friend Dudley, whom I haven’t talked to in a quite a few years of fallow fields, called from North Carolina. And somewhere in the ceremonial catch-up conversation he wished me a Happy New Year. I hate to confess that for some reason I do a deep belly wince when people say that to me. Even if it was from a good ol’ boy like Dudley.
Perhaps I am just a curmudgeon. Or in a holiday alcohol funk. It’s a yearly dismay. No doubt because I never trust what people say when they’re in love, drunk, running for public office, or issuing New Year salutations and resolutions. You know, people like your burnt-out aunt and uncle whose VW bus got lost coming back from the 60s.
I know. I know. It’s been going on for thousands of years. Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. And the Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
But it seems like people offer it because they don’t know what else to say most times – outside of the traditional enervating palaver. And three weeks into the New Year, it’s as old as three-day houseguests. Like trying to keep the spark in the tinsel on the shriveled Christmas tree.
Besides, I hate Hallmark holiday greetings. I mean I enjoy the holiday season – even in a sort of post-nasal-drip reflection. But I can’t stand all those empty merry greetings and cheery cards. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if folks saved their ‘happy’ affectations for funerals… when cheeriness is needed.
So, in response I asked my old southern writing chum if he was still having sex with his wife.
“Which one?” He laughed as he announced: “I got divorced… again.”
‘What a coincidence,’ I nonchalantly replied. ‘So am I.’
“Again?” He seemed more than a tad amazed. “You got divorced, again?! What? She couldn’t find the elephant in your pajamas?”
‘Well, not quite divorced, this time.’ I don’t know why I felt the need to clarify. But us over-circumcised Jewish guys always seem to be clarifying. ‘She was a long time girlfriend who simply disappeared on me.’
“Did you check the Pine Barrens? Doesn’t every-body up there get found in the Jersey Pine Barrens?”
‘Except Jimmy Hoffa.’ I countered, as Dudley continued.
“How long did this one last?” I could hear the mixture of astounded amusement in Dudley’s deep southern lilt. Obviously misery is comforted by another man’s woes — particularly because Dudley never cottoned to me returning to my damn Yankee roots, abandoning him to the hills and dales of tobacco roads he would never forsake.
‘I guess it was about 6 months. Same thing as most always, I figure. She didn’t say. Probably because I talked too damn much. You know me, curious about everything. Just never run out of random topics to go on about. I don’t know how people have the time to have empty air. She said I even thought out loud in my sleep… Told her what my father used to instruct his secretary: Take notes because I might say something important.’
“Just the opposite with me,” said Dudley in some noisy exhale that dispensed with any mirth. “We just stopped talking. Seems like we had used each other up. Wore out the all the amusement rides. Not only didn’t we have much to say to each other anymore, she stopped listening. Guess I did too. The flavor just went bland in our conversation. Maybe we just live too long.”
‘And our dicks get too short.’
Dudley found the black humor in that, of course. That’s why I always liked him. And then I added:
‘Go figure, huh? I just figure I am bad at relationships. The one before this one claimed, after six or seven months, that I didn’t want to be serious. And all I wanted to have was fun… which I told her from the start that that’s exactly all I wanted. And then this one disappeared after I happened to let slip that I was crazy about her. It gets sooooo confusing.’
“Yeah,” he mocked. “What does a woman want?”
‘Hell, what does any guy want: besides a warm place to shit… And a warm woman who puts up with your shit.’
At that Dudley plaintively muttered? “I don’t even know what I did wrong. Do you?”
‘Everything,’ I said. ‘It gets to that. Like the price of oil. It just drops when there is too much of one thing and too little of another.’
Then Dudley got to wondering about whatever happened to my last wife. “The cute little thing. Except for that voice. Damn, that bit you in the ass. Made a hog hollering contest sound like opera… Didn’t you have kids?”
‘Oh,’ I said, ‘one day she suddenly announced with all sorts of coitus interrupt-us she didn’t want to have sex anymore in our favorite position. And I thought that was about the only thing we had left. But then she actually poisoned me. Spent 5 weeks in the hospital. Kind of killed that lovin’ feeling. Interrupted us entirely.’
Dudley certainly found my escapes from death to be more entertaining than big-fish tales.
“That must have made you go limp,” he exhaled. “You put in some serious overtime on that one. Was she evil? Or just Southern Baptist?”
‘Nothing southern about her,’ I said. ‘She came from Illinois. Her parents had been missionaries. They smiled a lot. She didn’t.’
“So how did it end up?”
‘In court… of course!’
‘No one ever wins, Dudley. You know that. You Rebels are still fighting that very uncivil war. You win a few battles. But no one ever really wins. No one side is always right or wrong. Campaigns are won. And lost. But the only thing that changes hands… is money.
‘She lost. But she still got the money. And the kids. So what did I win? Who got punished. You thought punishment was justice for the unjust? In the next world you get justice. In this one you get the law. And you are constantly left wondering: Where does the law stop and justice begin? Because someone seems to have kidnapped justice and hid it in the law.’
You see what happens, like with Dudley and me, when you get past the ceremonial bullshit and nattering. You actually tell each other something that doesn’t sound like a weather report. Or a football concussion.
Look, I know that ‘How are you?’ is a greeting… and not a question to send you into great constipated lengths about your sciatica. I usually respond with ‘I am glad you asked’ before smirking: ‘You got a few hours?’
And when their eyes go into the panic of a man who suddenly realizes he has mailed the wrong letters to his wife and mistress, I simply offer: ‘I am effervescent.’ And you can see their relief, like a bus just ran over the mailman.
The trouble, as I told Dudley, is now I’ve met this dentist from Siberia who’s confusing me. After 2 years she’s still healing from an ex-husband, who was a veteran with mental wounds. He drank himself to death after they were already divorced. But she seems afraid to let go of the past. You know, and at least give herself – and us – a chance at the ring on the merry-go-round.
After texting her some metaphysical concoction the other day she replied that she “liked people who have the life of the mind. Your words are so… free and extravagant. I didn’t know many people like you in life. I always gravitated to suffering, stoic types with no emotions.”
“Uh-oh…” said Dudley, “set your stop watch.”
Sooo…. It’s three weeks into the new year. And obviously I feel things are getting recycled. I don’t do resolutions because I don’t need to lose weight. Or quit drinking. Or get something done I’ve been promising to do. I just need to get to it. All of it.
And finally Dudley, getting back to being a tad melancholy, ventured into exploring what he apparently had been investigating most recently in his own life. And no doubt why he suddenly phoned instead of spitting in the wind. He was missing not having someone in his life to share the morning smiles and pillow talk. He was lonely. And now he poignantly asked if I was too.
And I told him that I have made good friends — with loneliness. I am able to lose myself constantly in crowds. Forever the observer. The voyeur. The wanderer. The itinerant journalist still lingering in us.
I have enough ‘buddies,’ I told him. But then rather candidly confessed: ‘ But I do miss companionship. I also miss being in love. I know it can be suffocating. I know it is like smoking an exploding cigar. But I need it. I need somebody to love.
‘I guess I need to suffer,’ I said.
Dudley chuckled softly: “That’s why g-d made Eve.”
But of course. In the meantime, I admitted, ‘I always leave a light on and the radio playing so I don’t come home to a dark and empty house.’
It’s strange to be telling this to someone like Dudley who’s not really a close friend any more. Just somebody I used to know well before life and fate and inconvenient truths intervened. I guess we all need a tell-tale heart of someone to just talk with to get the words flowing. And here’s an old friend, who just called to say hello. And wish me what we all wish for — to learn from yesterday. Live for today. And hope for tomorrow.
True conversations can be like that. You catch a person with a smile in his voice and a humor that masks all those nagging thoughts. It helps to keep the wind at your back for another trip around the sun.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…