That’s what friends are for - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

That’s what friends are for

So said the great Zen Buddhist Deniece Williams in 1978. Well, perhaps not a great Zen Buddhist, but one that is part of the same consciousness we all share nonetheless.

I mean to say, that when I was a younger man, and dreaming a younger man’s dreams, I read all the Jack Kerouac novels like you were supposed to (even managed to do what he didn’t and hitched across the states from the George Washington to the Golden Gate Bridge in 1986, but that is a story for another day) and retained a few quotes here and there, one of which was, “I find my Bikkhu’s on the street.”

I read everything by Jack. (Public domain)

It sort of found its way into my head, a stray thought, some forgotten article you might find in a dusty box in your garage one day when looking for a specific size of screw, and alongside it in the box was another thought, “A man may appear to be a fool and yet not be one. He may only be guarding his wisdom carefully.”

All this of course would be irrelevant had not Deneice Williams also sang the song, “That’s what friends are for.” Which becomes the subject of this week’s epistle from the Sainted Rob to the Ephemerals. Mind you, she also sang “Too much too little too late” with Johnny Mathis, but I didn’t like that song as much, so it doesn’t get to inspire me to write.

My wife and I (she who must be obeyed as Rumpole has it) have just said goodbye to our third group of visitors to our wee house in Scotland this year (there is a threat of a fourth such visitation, from my editor at the BPE, but unless he brings money with him I think I may be out when he calls) and their visit has been an unexpected pleasure as well as being a good reminder of what friendship might actually entail as well as how it is defined.

Let me give you a few examples of what it isn’t. In Japan five years ago on a mission so bizarre it requires its own novel to fully explain, the subdued and relaxed ambiance my wife and I had created over a magic month was suddenly diluted by the arrival of what can only be described as “a hippy.” To him everyone was his “friend” and it required some explanation on my part to inform him that our definitions of the word were somewhat different.

Another example was that of an American woman, hired as a “facilitator” for a “brain-storming session” on the future of our housing co-operative, whose psycho babble 101 had me in fits of easily visible indifference, culminating in her referring to me as “her friend here.” I am afraid I had to explain to her she wasn’t as she did not fall into the following category (due to her size she became stuck in the entrance to it and could not proceed).

My friends are people I have known and who have known me for many years, during which our friendship has grown and deepened like some simile or other. We have shared a whole bunch of stuff – to use the currently popular American collective noun – and as such have a good store of old stories we can go over when we meet and talk. That or even finding that there is no need for talk, we can simply enjoy each others company.

Hippie mobile. I was once a hippy. I used my thumb to hitch a ride. (Wikipedia Commons)

At this point I would like to clarify that I have nothing against hippies (or Americans) per se, I was one myself, (hippy not American) but long ago became aware that whilst my hear might be somewhere in the clouds basking in the sun, life was definitely going on down here on earth, in this most real of worlds. I guess from my lofty vantage point atop some craggy peak, I figured this was a lesson the hippy in question had yet to learn and a term the American woman had no business to use.

So it was that a couple of weekends ago I received an e-mail informing me there were Dolphins coming to Scotland from Vienna. Not your average dolphins mind you, the mildly humorous mistaken for something else kind of Dolphin that the wife and I had known for some years. Ten years in fact as we realized when talking about him.

He was someone else we had met during a visit to Japan (all these teases, I will tell you about it some day I promise) where the “L” in his name had caused the usual discomfort to our Japanese hosts. With the full name of Adolf (not the worlds most popular name for sure) but the shortened version of “Dolfi”, it was announced to us that there were soon to be “Dolphins alliving.”

How we laughed.

Mind you, we also did so when shown around a Japanese shrine by one of our Japanese guides, as we began to whistle the theme from “Bridge over the River Kwai” to the accompaniment of our marching feet on gravel.

Nothing like the Bridge on the River Kwai tune. (Publicity Photo)

So we met, bonded, and a couple of years later went to visit him in Vienna, where we found him almost unique in his ability to wear pastel colored blazers with style whilst not appearing in the least either effeminate, or like a sports reporter, who in my mind at least seemed to be the two groups who most often sported such apparel.

We also found he lived in a second floor apartment overlooking a courtyard with a cherry tree of equal height to his window from which we could pick fruit at our leisure, which was something I have envied him ever since. That and the bakery opposite the front door to his apartment building which sold the most fabulous all butter mini-croissants known as “Kipferli.” A couple of those and a cup of his Turkish coffee in the morning still rank amongst my top 10 all-time favourite breakfasts.

Rather than bogging down the flow of all this with another 50 anecdotal incidences of how we enjoyed things when we visited him, I will say that there is a very definite empathy between us. Something I find hard to succinctly describe. Something that was entirely absent between the hippy and facilitator and me. Maybe I should buy them pastel jackets.

Back to Dolphins in Scotland. Out of the blue he e-mailed, duly arrived a day after one of our last sets of visitors had left along with a wife in tow that we had never met and proceeded to be the same charming man we had already known and loved for a decade. He had also chosen his wife well, for she was cut of exactly the same cloth and (without any inference of deference or inferiority whatever) a perfect extension of him.

That Bolt guy can run, Man. (Wikipedia Commons)

They are a well suited and handsome couple. They were perfect guests. Appreciative of all we had to offer in the way of food (especially pleased by the freshness and variety of our vegetables, which we grow ourselves) suitably impressed by the local scenery and attractions on offer (their visit had coincided with a local festival) willing to share our interests as well as our dishwashing duties, and indulgent of our watching of the men’s 100 meters final at the London Olympics.

Of such pleasure was their visit that our house now feels empty now somehow.

What made their visit different to that of other guests (and I do not want any of them who might be reading this to be offended in any way) was that their visit was so remarkably comfortable and easy to deal with. Sometimes we can worry too much about how we might accommodate our guests, how we might amuse them and what we might share with them. This wasn’t that case with the Dolphins.

There is currently a multi vitamin on sale in the UK which is sold with the slogan, “You but on a good day.” This is how we felt when they were here. A completeness that is only fully appreciated by its absence. Fish without chips. Starsky without Hutch. In this case it has not been the quantity of contact over the years that has been of importance, but the quality of it, as large portions of it have remained in the forefront of my memory, where I keep most of the things I enjoy.

Maybe some of this calls something to mind of your own friendships. I hope so. It reminded me that friends are not just the people you see every day, but those that you enjoy seeing wherever and whenever you meet. Thank you for taking the time to read this, my interweb friends. I shall now play the part of the tacky TV show host and say, “See you all next week.”


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