by Daddy X
If you live long enough, you’ll die without old friends.
Considering the testy times a few on OGG have been lucky enough to live through, it wouldn’t be a leap that many of us have tested boundaries. A lot of people I knew didn’t make it through the test, however.
The 60’s and 70’s were experimental times, fraught with issues like gender, drugs and power. But for many of us that era was also a statement of a type of freedom that was seen as utopian. We became insular in our thinking, assuming everybody believed and acted as we did. But although this was, and remains, the “brand” of the times, in actuality, we represented just a small percentage of that generation.
The folks Momma and I hung out with became so insular as to become downright incestuous within our extended ‘family’, speaking in terms of sex or in our choice of drug delivery systems.
Near the end of the 70’s, scuttlebutt arose about a “gay cancer” that was making relatively young people very sick. Momma and I were living on Castro Street in San Francisco, a block from 18th and Castro, the nucleus, both then and now, of the SF gay scene. We were one of only two ‘straight’ apartments in the building. Not that anybody hanging out in our place was actually straight. Anything but!
Lots of people died in those first few years. Who would get it next? Someone sexually active became a pariah. The first ones to go never knew what actually killed them. Although the condition was known early on in the gay community, it wasn’t identified or understood on any medical level, and that information didn’t reach many folks until it was too late.
The druggies would catch on later—if they didn’t overdose first. We lost friends that way as well. Momma and I were two of the lucky ones, although she didn’t rock quite as energetically as I did when it came to drugs. Heh.
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” W. Shakespeare-- Polonius’ soliloquy in “Hamlet”
I could never stand to owe anybody money. Sure, a house mortgage, car payments, bills we owe as a matter of living in this modern world. I’m not talking that kind of debt.
Ever lost a friend because they owed you money? Maybe it was that I always kept some smokeables around back then. Everyone knew if they wanted any, I likely had it. I never needed to ‘push’. Nobody pushed back then. We just sold to friends. Finding buyers wasn't a problem. They found me.
Then there were the loans. Actual cash loans when a friend asks: “Hey, man? Can you spot me a twenty (fifty, hundred) until next week?”
I know how it can be, so I rarely said “no” back in the day, not if I had the money to lend. Then they’d drift away.
I can understand how it happens. The guy misses next week. Then he misses three weeks. Then it either slips the mind in an exercise in selective memory, or… and this is the big ‘or’… they become too embarrassed to even contact you. As time goes on, no matter how the debt originated, it can devolve into a situation of more and more embarrassment. Contact becomes uncomfortable for both parties. There goes another friend.
I recognized this phenomenon early on, and adopted not only a policy of not loaning money to close friends, but to use it as a device to get rid of losers. Working behind a bar put me in a position to be hit up for either a tab or money. If I had an asshole hanging around, I’d figure a way to loan him cash or spot him a tab. Sometimes it only took five or ten bucks. If they came back and paid, nothing changed. If not, I wouldn’t have to deal with the jerk.
There’s bullshit—and there’s the real shit. Mostly, it’s bullshit. Serious illness and death are real. The rest is often bullshit.
Ooooweee! This is a big one. Drama aficionados. If anybody wants to take a look at my bio in “About Us”, you’ll see that Momma and I are no strangers to dramatic situations. Even though the bio mentions nothing of Momma’s decade-long illness, including twelve major surgeries during her twenties, or the suicides of both my brother and her brother.
We are sensitive to other people’s problems, but clearly our observations are shaped by our own drastic experiences. The magnitude of our situations over the years leaves not much tolerance for those who manufacture drama for its own sake. Friends’ petty family or workplace squabbles will send us running. We see it happening. Someone will take something wrong, a word or phrase, and as the monster gets rolling, inertia carries it through to a full-out conflagration about stupid shit. Could it be they’re bored? nothing on their plate? nothing to get interested in? Is that why they create “meaningful discourse” out of some fabricated vision?
Of course these dramas are meaningful to people who engage in such folly. Momma and I do what we can: offer advice, material and physical support or simply listen. But when we see a friend running off a cliff over some minor misunderstanding, and try to put things in perspective for them, it’s often considered “Not supportive.” They want us to hold hands with them while they make the leap.
Conversely, if we support their drama, give friends the benefit of the doubt, assume they know themselves and are in close touch with their personal shit, we put our own common sense aside. We try and view circumstances from their perspective, and say, “Yeah, you’re right. You’ve been slighted.” More often than not, they’ll come back later, saying we’ve supported a bad idea with terrible consequences. And why didn’t we say something? Or worse—Why did we talk them into it?
What the fuck.
And now, as I write this post on Monday, a call just came in from a friend. His wife fell in the kitchen over the weekend. An active, vital woman, devoted spouse and mother of two. Solo singer in a choir. She’s broken her sacrum, an integral bone necessary to standing erect. Although younger than Momma and I, she’s still at an age where this may be a turning point, whether or not she’ll get up again. Still too early to tell.
We will of course be doing whatever we can for both of them. Although she’s the one laid up, illness is often less difficult for the role of the caretaker. Hopefully, modern medicine will have the answers.
That, and a little help from their friends.