Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Unified Theory of Post-Modern Friendship

So I collect friends like I collect shoes. I have a few special pairs I’ll wear forever.  I pledge fealty to them and keep them going until they can’t stand it anymore.  The same is true for friends. I make them for life.  Distance and time may separate us, but I’m proud to say I have two types of friends: those I’ve known for a lifetime, and those I will know for a lifetime.  If one doesn’t fit into either of those two categories, then I’m sorry, but he’ll be nothing more than part of the backdrop of my life.

Luckily, things like email and Facebook are helpful in this regard.  These digital tools have helped me to stay connected with my beloved friends, and I must confess, it has also helped me expand their numbers.

Copley Hall, Georgetown University

Take for example Thomas, whom I quickly fell in with our first year at Georgetown.  Friendships formed deep in the dark bowels of an antebellum dormitory are hard to quantify or describe, but he and I, and a couple others, drew closely together like a tight, wet knot.  In the end, we marched drunkenly side by side up muddy hills in that final Senior Week, feeling like we’d all been in the same platoon in Vietnam.

The last time I saw Thomas was probably 20 years ago in Buffalo.  I had come from Honolulu and he from New York City, to stand next to our other bestie while he took his marriage vows.  We were there moments after Larry had his “talk” with his Eisenhower-era dad, who offered a few terse words before the whole shebang fired off:  

“Tonight’s the big night , Son.  Be gentle.”

Thomas and I looked at each other with bemusement so familiar …

Anyway, right, the digital age.  So we email on a semi-annual basis, and these messages serve as a more substantive exchange than those we enjoy every few weeks on Facebook.  Here’s a lengthy one that is, I think, emblematic of men just like us, who have followed this path to forty-something OnceWereBachelorhood.   It is mostly unexpurgated.

Three of Us at a Wedding, Plus Backdrop

Totally random question that a) I should know about because it’s my field or b) I should have asked you about a long time ago, but do you remember this dude from Gtown, pretty sure his name was Ben Wallace — he was more my friend (for a brief time and never that close) around Village B time; he also lived in Village B with this totally wild crew who basically destroyed their apartment and lived like animals, with broken whiskey bottles on the floor, etc. — one of the dudes he lived with was like a [something infamous] and general problem child but was [vaguely well connected]; the other was some French dude who used to lie around naked in bed with this weird chick when I was over visiting. 

Anyway what I remember of Ben was that he had kind of dark ratty hair, a decent amount of it, and he was quiet and kind of writerly/literary, or maybe just an English major; he was from DC; and maybe that’s about it. We hung out for a small bit and then drifted apart I guess.

Anyway, do you think/would you recognize him from this shot/bio? All the details fit, I think, but it’s hard to gauge because he looks so “normal,” for lack of a better word, and without the big hair it’s hard to judge:

Hope all is well with you. I’m at the tail end of closing/shipping/putting out Sine Qua Non’s million-page September issue. Insane. I’m handling 37 stories over 125 pages. Psycho. Kid #2 on the way, supposedly due August 4, don’t know whether boy or girl. . . Kid #1, Funicular, now 2.5 and he/she sings early Stone Roses singles by himself/herself, unprompted. Good times. . . 

All best//T
THOMAS BUTTS (a pseudonym)
Senior Editor
SINE QUA NON FASHION MAG (a pseudo-title, for perhaps the flagship of its kind)
13th floor
New York, NY 10036



One day I was driving and half-listening to NPR.  I tuned into the middle of an interview; they were talking about this ancient bottle of collectible wine that supposedly belonged to Thomas Jefferson.  Sounded interesting so I perked up and paid attention.  Turns out they were interviewing the author of a book focusing on that particular bottle.  THE BILLIONAIRE’S VINEGAR.  I made a mental note to get it used on Amazon because the curious subject sounded engrossing in an esoteric but entertaining way, and because the author sounded engaging and intelligent.  At the end of the interview, they ID’d the author as Ben Wallace.

A chill went up and down my neck, because I remembered the following:

Many years ago, you had a brief man-crush on a fellow named Ben Wallace, or at least that’s what Larry and I thought.  Maybe Don, too, but as with everything Don, that’s hazy.  You would come home and tell us about this guy who was intelligent and engaging and living what I subsequently learned was what could be described as a BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY lifestyle.  Much alcohol, debauchery, and hateful characters whom one would years later regret being associated with.  One of them, I knew through my friend, Laura, as a John Belushi-type.  Anyway, this Ben, like you, was nurturing some nascent literary tendencies. I think I remember meeting him somewhere, probably that bookstore/bar/coffeeshop that was enjoying some of-the-moment cachet.  Dylan’s I think it was called.  You both smoked Camel Uns, I think.  Possibly weeks later, Larry came home saying that Ben had begun researching a book he wanted to write about vampires and was turning up at Lauinger Library with all kinds of requests.

Your man-crush, as with many of your misadventures of the time, inexplicably faded, never to be acted upon.

So I found the book and paid $ 0.99 plus $3.99 shipping on Amazon Used*, eventually turned my full attention to it, and concluded that I was right, the author was engaging and intelligent and had written an engrossing, esoteric piece.  It was a great read.  And that he in fact was the fellow you had a man-crush on, many years ago.

I never highlighted this discovery with you because I figured that you, being a New York man of letters of sorts, would already know.  Guess I was wrong.

[Take care].

*Incidentally, I just picked up GOJIRO used for a similar bargain basement price, after being swept up in the giant lizard craze of summer 2014, remembering that in your first year at some publishing house, you had shared an excerpt with me.  I can’t be bothered to read it, but it’s nice to have on my shelf, a remembrance of 1990.

I also just finished EMINENT HIPSTERS by Mr. Donald Fagen, a loose collection of his writing.  Again, the low low price being the common feature of this footnote.  He sounds like an asshole.  Be careful not to meet your heroes.


The whole thing is kind of nuts — I’ve seen his byline (off and on ... he’s been getting some good play lately at New York mag) for years now but never had the a-HA! moment until yesterday. (In fairness, it’s a somewhat generic name for a NYC writer, and there’s another more famous one named Ben Wallace-Wells throwing me off the scent.)

Your recollections are quite exact — more detailed than mine. I’ll cop to the man-crush and the literary vibe, and a big yes on the roommates, and the strange abandonment of friendship. (For no particular reason; I think we enjoyed each other’s company fair enough but we never really found like THAT THING that we were both obsessed with, or bonded over, or some such. And/or we weren’t secure enough in our literary man-crushes to be all “Hey — do you love William Blake and want to pattern your life on his work? Me too!") Don’t remember the meeting at Dylan’s (though I do remember the hot-spot-of-the-moment vibe of that place). I think I’ll look him up — though my initial note to him is bound to be quite awkward (“Remember some weird dude from Village A that you hung around with for like 5 minutes in 1987 and then never really saw again? Well it’s me!"

Anyways. . . GOJIRO! Yes. I remember everything about that book being kind of cool, though even I never read the damn thing. Have since become friendly with the writer, who’s a very cool cat. 

And Fagen’s book: It’s been on my maybe-I-buy-this-next list for a while now; frankly the only thing holding me back is what I have heard or read from reviews about the whole bummer/bitter vibe of the whole thing. Or maybe it’s just part of the whole thing. Though I think I do understand his frustration (I think I read some excerpt about his opinions of the crowds at his recent shows, and having seen he and Becker a couple years back at the Beacon Theater here, I second that emotion — I didn’t think the crowd would be filled with eminent hipsters per se, but I also didn’t think it would be filled with beefy men from Long Island in suits from 1982 with their wives dolled up like they’re seeing Frank Sinatra at the Sands in 1963.

That said, F@CK IT!!! If I judged bands solely based on the attire, demeanor and hipness (with minus points for the dark side of the hip coin, douchebaggery), I would have precious few bands to listen to. I’ve already doubled down over the weekend and downloaded lossless audio files of the entire Steely Dan discography, the better to nerd out on their particular genius of artistry, virtuosity, and production. Long live the Dan — though I may skip that book.



M.Lane said...

All of my great pals are post college from the law/Virginia era of the early 80s since I'm not sure that any of my undergrad fraternity brothers are out of prison yet. Still, I don't have this sort of written interaction with them and I envy that. All they want to talk about in email is politics which I find immensely tepid at best.

In person we are all fine though. Put us together when we can look each other in the eyes and see ourselves 30 years younger [with a drink or two] and there is nothing better. As you have shown here.

By the way, I am going to get this book right now, not having heard of it before; I'll skip the Zilla and wait for your review; and I am SO tired of people [even fellow artists] who bitch about the people that made/make them able to feed themselves. I used to do it to. When I was about a year into my career. Then I grew up. So, I still love SD music too but thank goodness we don't have to like the guy who paints the pictures who, in this case, can kiss....oh well, you know.

Also, as well as you write, there seems to be a GREAT book buried not so deeply in this email exchange of yours. What do you think?


Ben said...

Thank you Mr. Lane! You pay me the highest compliment by returning to read each and every post I write, you pay me the second highest compliment by always offering kind and positive comments, and you pay me the third highest compliment by suggesting that my writing could somehow amount to a book.

As we trial lawyers know, a lot more goes into doing a trial than just standing up and asking questions and giving a speech, so I may differ with you on my ability to turn something that is a lark into something that is serious. That's what I think, but thanks so much for your kind words.

… and yes, by all means read The Billionaire's Vinegar, and skip Eminent Hipsters and Gojiro. I'm pretty sure I'm not reading the thing either.

Looking forward to your next post. As Don Corleone taught us all, "Keep your friends close …"


brohammas said...

I don't think anyone I went to undergrad with has ever written anything.
Of course my undergrad days werent spent in class or the dorms and lasted 8 years.
I did get really good at snowboarding. Totally worth it.

Ben said...

I would've loved to have an 8 year college career. As it is I got 3 extra years in the Big Show (aka law school), wherein I behaved like an undergrad. Hence, the partner in a small firm, as opposed to one of hundreds of partners in a multi-national, heartless big firm (where most partners distrust each other, openly).