I have a few stories I’d like to tell about some of these friends of mine.
Riding in a red minivan: He’s a neighbor, and whenever he sees me walking and he’s out driving his red minivan he always rolls down his window to ask if I want a ride. I’m usually heading to a convenient store or to the bus stop, but I have a feeling even if I was going to Louisville he’d take me there. It’s always a bit of a production getting into his minivan, because the passenger seat is always loaded with newspapers, magazines or junk. It’s alright. I appreciate the ride.
Looking for buried treasure: I couldn’t understand his fascination with his ground search metal detector. He would tell me tales of his ground searches using this thing and the treasures he’d find: some coins, a chain and other stuff I can’t remember.
I didn’t know why he thought this was fun until he took me out with him one afternoon into a field past Mercy Hospital off Queen City Avenue. The metal detector would make a loud noise if it detected something metal underground. He was always respectful when digging something up, always replacing the dirt and sod afterwards.
On this outing, we found parts of a beer can, a penny and a Bud Light bottle cap. That bottle cap is on my desk. I hope he invites me to his next digging adventure. I like the thrill of the hunt.
Brother, can you spare a dime?: I’m usually pretty anal when it comes to having the exact bus fare, but once this past winter I found myself a dime short. Standing there on Sixth Street downtown, I was freaking out a little when a friend who’s homeless passed me by. I told him of my problem. “You’ve given me plenty of change over the years,” he said as he handed me the money I needed.
Mental illness R us: I’ve made no secret here that I suffer from depression and take medication for it.
I have friend who also suffers from a mental condition and, even before we knew this about each other, we were hanging out together sometimes sort of knowing we had something in common.
Now that the something is known, we’ve become even closer. We talk about the stigma that surrounds mental illness, sometimes joking about it and often cheering each other on. She says we’re “special” people. I know she’s special to me.
Me behaving badly: Speaking of mental illness, I have a friend who happens to be a bartender. When I was going downhill and trying to figure out why I was a complete mess, my bartender friend put up with a lot of bad behavior and verbal abuse. Now I can look back on those days and understand where I was coming from.
At the time, she had no idea what was wrong but stood by me anyway. You can’t ask a friend to do more than that.
Larry’s escort service: She’s gay. She’s a lesbian but in the closet. She doesn’t want anyone to know she’s hiding in there, so from time to time I’m her date when she needs to make an appearance somewhere with a guy. I find it all rather silly — I mean, come out already — but I’ve known her since college so I often go to these silly parties with her.
Mr. Forgetful: He’s one of my oldest friends, but when it comes to follow-through, forget it. “Yeah, I’ll e-mail you next week.” “Yeah, let me send that to you.” “I can’t get together tonight, but maybe Saturday. Yeah, I’ll call you.” None of it ever happens, and it’s maddening. Yet when I really need someone to talk to, he’s there. I can’t and won’t forget that.
Ms. Needy: This young friend has a lot of boyfriend problems. When things aren’t going well, I become very aware of it. She knows I don’t like to talk on the phone, so she sends text messages, which she knows I don’t like either. So we end up meeting in bars or restaurants and she asks a bunch of questions like “Will he come back to me?” or “What if I never see him again?” and things like that.
I haven’t heard from her for a while, so I think things might be going OK. My fingers are crossed.
The asshole: You probably can relate. You might have someone you’ve known so long that you simply can’t dump him or her, but most of the time it’s a guy. You can’t bring yourself to say, “We no longer have anything in common” or “I’m tired of your farting in public” or “I’m tired of your belching loudly in bars and thinking it’s funny.” Somehow, you look the other way. Somehow, you find a way to put up with it.
The best heart in the world: I met her shortly after my twin brother died in 1994. We volunteered together at AVOC (now known as Stop AIDS), and she led the way in being friends with people living with the illness and recruiting others to join the cause. She’s tireless, always making time for others and never putting herself first.
We no longer volunteer together, but she’s helped me through health problems, through family deaths, through just about everything. She’s one of a kind. I’m lucky she’s in my life.
These friends of mine … I think I’ll keep ’em.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org