Thursday, March 12, 2009

Goodnight and Sleep Tight

"A man makes a beast of himself to free himself from the pain of being a man" -- Dr. Samuel Johnson

They say that a true friend deserves much more than a last chance. My true friend deserved as many as he could gather, bull-rushing drunkenly through my life like a tornado as I had doubtlessly torn through the peaceful affairs of others. We had met when we were young--both young beneath our years--immature, partying, trading international addresses as simply as people swapped baseball cards, manifesting all our sundry ills in new climes, with new faces, and the same old outcomes.

We had been chased by a bull in the Galilee, dodged the Federales that time in Mexico, evaded capture at the border for carrying hashish in our shirt pockets, and eluded self-appraisals by living in that expatriate fuzziness of local customs, insisting on proper food and service and taking the piss out of foreigners who doubtlessly granted passage in exchange for precious Yankee dollars.

On the kibbutz, where we met, he was a godsend, a native speaker of my language in a ghetto of foreigners, aeriodite, articulate, with a grin that outlasted long, brutally hot days in the sun and nights of fear trying to sleep in the bomb shelter while rockets fell on the Lebanon border. By days, we swapped stories of home in gallant one-upmanship at a time when American or British nationalism didn't quite cut it abroad, shameless, arguing the differences between cookies and biscuits, trucks and lorries, fries and crisps. We were Banana Buddies, harvesting hundreds of pounds of fruit by day, pints of beer by night.

For fun, we stuffed women's underwear or raw St. Peter's fish in the backpacks of departing fellows, sure to be sniffed out by airport security as they left the country. Or we crept about with buckets filled with bone-chilling ice from the Galilee fish-packing plant, splashing hot co-workers in the blistering 100-degree sun.

And so, after visiting him in England and meeting his mum, I went sadly to Heathrow for my flight, stopping with him in the airport bar for a few goodbye pints and a stop in the bogs--as he called it--for a last toilet stop, whereupon he stepped nimbly behind me at the urinal and pissed up and down my legs, sending me off to my transatlantic flight with the steaming odor of a bar accident. All good fun for him. And so I vowed that was the end of it.

But a year or so later, he petitioned for a visit to Santa Cruz, where he showed up full of high alcoholic octane and vinegar, camping on the floor of our beach house, flirting with Maki and telling her how horribly possessive I was. All pardonable, I suppose, since I eventually drove her off with my overprotective, fearful obsessions; and so I chose to give him yet another chance and we drove to Mexico where we lit a joint on a sand dune a million miles from anywhere, but only a binocular's view away from black-uniformed Federales with automatic rifles.

We could "pay the ticket immediately" a Federale told me in Spanish, or go to the local hoosegow. I opted for the former and brokered a student price while my friend stood chagrined with his gap-toothed leer. All in good fun.

The next time I gave him a last chance was the year after I went into recovery in Washington State. I told him he could stay in my cabin, but there were rules against drink. He agreed to comply. We took the ferryboat to sightseeing in Seattle, where he insisted we enter a local pub for lunch. I said sure, but nothing for me, thanks. He ordered a platter onto which were arranged small glasses of beer representing each of the eight or ten varieties featured at the pub. He ordered a pint for me to "hold in your hand, mate" for the purposes of a reunion photo.

When I declined, he got stroppy, chugging down his own portions and mine as well. Then, fully steamed up for the tour, he insisted we charter a float plane for a ride over the Seattle skyline. The pilot took one look at him and shrugged his shoulders, but I talked him into going. My friend reeked of it and made horrific commentaries en-route to an abbreviated landing splash landing. So when we deplaned safely in Lake Union, I told him it was time for him to go, to find another place to roost.

He went off angrily and, weeks later, left a furious message on my answering machine, citing all my shortcomings and failures as a true friend. I chose to leave it alone.

A few years ago, he noticed my collection of short fiction for sale and sent an email to my publisher: did she know how to get hold of me? He had lost track, our being separated for reasons that eluded him.

I had heard once that drinkers bind together in a whirlwind, holding each other in orbit as links in a dangling mobile. When one link comes off the artifice, the mobile spins wickedly off balance in kinetic disarray. Drinkers will search with undying devotion to bring their wayward sober friend back into the gin.

Not at any price.

I love you dearly, old Banana Buddy. But goodnight, godspeed, and off I go. This is my stop.

5 comments:

Char said...

very powerful and strong. I think that's all part of the misery loves company.

Starlene said...

About one year ago, I had the first real conversation with my father. I had written him off as 'might as well be dead'. We talked...or rather HE talked...regularly but it was always the booze. Always. I'd accepted it and I knew nothing would ever change. And then it did. Right out of the blue and suddenly I have a father, after 30 years.

You never know...anything could change at any moment. Looks like you did. : )

tangobaby said...

A fantastic story. I am amazed at how this blog is bringing all of your stories full circle, or at least some of the very important ones.

If anyone else had written this, I would have assumed it was a treatment for a buddy-movie screenplay (well, I guess it could be), but here I know it's all true.

A Cuban In London said...

'On the kibbutz, where we met, he was a godsend, a native speaker of my language in a ghetto of foreigners'. This is powerful stuff. When you feel all alone, that dim light at the end of the tunnel is so important.

What an honest post this is. I might not visit frequently but when I do pop by I always find gems like this.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

jaykbee said...

Great post--very touching. For some reason I thought it would end in a death. In a way, I guess it did. However, as others mentioned, there is hope that he will change. I enjoy reading your posts.