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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, September 02, 2005

old friends

Late to the game: it's 6 p.m., usually well past the time I write my post. Indeed, 6 p.m. is wine time in our household: time to uncork a 1.15-L bottle of Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend and start the drinking portion of the day. Instead, I'm just now having my first cup of tea, and I thought I'd write my post like a good lad; I've been missing too many lately.

This morning I was keying more notes for chapter 18 when I got a call from my friend Chris, a friend I've known since high school but who now lives as a successful Euro-executive with a Canada-based high-tech firm in Munich. He's in Vancouver with his family, and suggested he stop by for a visit. I invited him over.

While his wife and two daughters spent the day cycling in Vancouver, Chris and I talked. He's tall and still athletic, with close-cropped dark hair and his characteristic soft voice. We walked down to the Honjin, a Japanese restaurant, and each had a bento box with teriyaki chicken.

Among many other things, we talked about having friends from as far back as high school or earlier.

"I really like having friends from that time," I said. "People know you from a time before you've taken on your adult roles."

I related a story that our mutual school friend Tim told me a couple of years ago when he was up visiting from Seattle. He was a partner in an automotive engineering firm, and drove, I believe, a BMW of some kind. But, in order to get his business house in order, he decided to drive a less expensive vehicle and bought a Ford of some kind. He said that some of neighbors felt bad for him, as though he had come down in the world because he no longer was driving the more luxurious car. It struck me at the time that this was partly because his neighbors knew him only as an engineer-entrepreneur, his social role, in a sense, and did not know him as someone who could make a non-duress decision to downgrade his transportation for rational business reasons. I've known Tim since age 10, so to me he is only incidentally an engineer or an entrepreneur.

"So here you are," I said to Chris, "a successful Euro-executive, lives in a certain area, has a certain lifestyle. People who've known you only a short time associate you with those external things. But in a few years, who knows, you could be in the dumpster. They might not be able to process that. But to those who've known you from way back, we've seen success and failure, happy times and sad. You're not just a collection of roles."

Chris agreed there is a difference between old friends and people you've known only four or five years.

"You feel you can be yourself," he said. "You don't have to try to impress anyone."

Yes, I have few friends now--mainly just those I've known for decades. I think about a Seinfeld routine in which he said, "You get into your 30s and you don't make new friends. You might as well put out a sign: 'Sorry: we're not hiring'." I've found that to be true. As I told Chris, I currently have the social life of one in solitary confinement. My childhood and school friends have almost all emigrated: Brad the ecologist to Tucson, Chris the accountant to Munich, Tim the mechanical engineer to Seattle and Tucson, Warren my writing-partner to Chicago, and now our friend Russ the telecoms marketer to Seattle to remarry.

There's been a brain drain away from Canada. Uh-oh: why am I still here?

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