Went strolling after another perfect dinner at one of our regular central Phoenix, hip eateries … FEZ ( link ) or was it Switch ( link ) or maybe Maizie’s ( link ) … with my closest Phoenician friend, Mike … closest because he is the only Phoenician friend who actually picks up the phone regularly to seek my company with … “hey it’s Maizie’s Burger Madness Monday tonight,” (permanently forgetting I’m vegetarian,) or “hey, you wanna catch Switch Happy Hour tonight, two-for-one Margaritas?” We strolled the summer evening streets near his apartment at E. Rose Lane and ended up near E. Maryland Avenue, slowly taking in an abundance of mid-century modern homes with their litany of linear designs, angled and flat roofs, large picture windows, all tucked-away behind perfectly clipped hedgerows, desert landscaping and ubiquitous palm trees. Interrupted by a chance encounter with the only other soul braving the baking air as he placed out his weekly garbage; a polite, perfunctory greeting that led to other light pleasantries then to pointed questions and enquiries to finally an invitation into his home to meet his wife and to witness their completed renovation.
Not sure what it was about Mike’s and my appearance, our demeanor or what we had said that suggested that we could be trusted, but here we were being taken into and toured through this residential renaissance of vaulted ceilings, large shiny, glazed tile floors, spa bathrooms, a petite oasis of a back patio complete with shaded portico, tiny, blue mosaic pool, and the suggestion of an audible therapy fountain yet to be installed. This mature couple constantly offering glasses of wine, him mid-century grey and handsome, she petite, preserved and pretty; both delightful, smart, educated, eloquent, articulate, interesting … and complete strangers … suddenly instant friends even if it was fleeting.
Pondering this unexpected hospitality much later, and considering a recent friendship disappointment, it occurred to me that these instant friends were thirsty. They were parched and dry for companionship and for conversations that were not obvious nor stilted, but inspiring. Thirsty for that razor-sharp spark that you feel when you are conversing with like minds, kindred spirits, where you don’t have to explain whom Marc Jacobs is nor have to connect the dots of his Fall collection as it relates to commerce and social direction and a slice of popular history. Where you are not derided with, “gee, tell us what you really think,” for expressing an enthusiastic opinion of the movie W./E., ( link ) and waxing on about how mesmerizing Andrea Riseborough was as Wallis Simpson with her fascinating facial inflections, mesmerizing gait and seductive shoulders. Since when was it not okay to have an original thought or the ability to express an opinion in “free speech” America? Yes thirsty as nomads wandering the desert from oasis to oasis finding the wells dry, yet constantly looking and desiring that certain friendship and kinship.
Like regurgitating a bad pickle, I reluctantly recalled again a conversation with a student at Philadelphia University whose sudden tears during a project review, and then her subsequent revelation, left an ever lasting imprint on my perspective of friendships and seeking them in America. This Brazilian beauty, truly the ‘girl from Ipanema,’ ‘tall and tan and young and lovely,’ was impossibly … lonely. ( link ) How could that be? This multilingual, articulate, interesting, gorgeous, worldly woman must surely have her pick of friends and boyfriends, surrounded by bubbly, gregarious, creative students with all their hopes and tomorrows? She explained that whilst living in Rio, and then Paris, she was able to walk everywhere, strike up conversations with complete strangers at a local brasserie, make and meet friends easily at sidewalk cafes. She was never without company. In America, she found that everyone was friendly and open, but every night they drove away home to self-imposed banishment all singularly living in a sea of self focus.
Somewhat nonplussed, slightly horrified and certainly wanting to correct her impression, I started to tell her about my own experience as a new American, about my social life, about my friends … but ended up finally confirming her every word. How had I not realized this before? When was the last time I went on a dinner date with my many local “friends” … oft promised, never realized? When was the last time someone just popped in, called to see how I was doing because I had just entered their mind … a place, it seems, where I often reside and where I am nurtured and cared for? My experiences were the arrogance of couples whose invitations arrived on the exact day, made through other couples because somehow my value as a single person didn’t warrant a first-person invitation in advance. Being single, how could you possibly have another appointment, other schedules, other plans? I began to realize anew that often, our American lives are so mill-pond shallow that we skim over anything with depth like skipping stones.
I cast my mind back though decades of friendships in comparison. Wondered about friends past, and wondering about friends, present. The ones who I had left behind because I had moved on, emotionally and practically, the ones who had left me behind because of altered geography, and the ones present that may or may not be friends. The pretend friends who make hiking plans or dinner arrangements in front of you … but don’t include you. Ask you for a favor, but never reciprocate. Or respond to your angst over a personal situation by thwarting your emotional exposure with, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Code for ‘I don’t care enough‘ or ‘I am too emotionally mute‘ or ‘I am too emotionally inarticulate to care‘ or simply … ‘I am not a friend.’ Three thousand miles away I could respond the same to a loyal friend’s dilemmas, her ‘she said‘ and ‘he said‘ and wonder why I listen. But, I listen because it is my friend’s issues and her concerns are my concerns. True friendships are about listening when your friend needs to talk, and talking when your friend needs to hear.
But perhaps life is, in the end, like a farmer’s chore, constantly separating the wheat from the chaff. Recognizing when I have mistaken congeniality and habit as friendship and then accepting those limitation. Taking assurance from the true friends that hold me up like sturdy pylons under an ocean pier. Like the friend who offered to help me move apartments … and actually turned up on my move day. The friends who realized I really needed help with my cross-country, moving yard sales and simply turned up and took over and made them a success. The friend who left a bag full of holidays gifts on my doorstep, all secretly marked ‘from santa,’ because she couldn’t bear the thought of her atheist friend waking to a christmas morn without gifts. The friend who realized long before I did, the futility after months not finding that next Manhattan design job, simply gave an instruction and set a timeline where, at its expiration, I was to terminate my lease and move to his Hampton beach house to regroup and plan my next destination and goals. The friend who, on a whim, booked passage to join me on my apartment search in Phoenix because she knew the Iay-of-the-land and that I was a stranger in paradise without a compass. The friend who journeyed on my road trip move to Phoenix as much to share my adventure as to support me. The friends who have known me since I was a teen.
These are my true friends. These are the friends who will sustain me through a world too filled with I and me and my and self consumption.
And the quench continues.