Friday, October 15, 2010

I'm Not Sure I Know How to be a Friend...

I haven't heard from this friend of mine since I last visited Los Angeles in November of 2008.
I was there a week for the SILA/Air Force event at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and coincidence being so"happenstancicle," he had just recently landed a job that was in a building directly across the street from the Renaissance Hotel, where I was staying.

Though we haven't worked together in years, whenever I get in town, I immediately try to get in touch with him to catch up on the biz, LA, our families and, of course, the Dodgers. It always made me feel good to hear his voice with a distinctive accent that sends me back to simpler time and to hear him say so genuinely, "Ben, how ya doin? What are you doin' back here in LA?"

The nature of what I do for a living makes sincere friendship, the kind I wish I had more of at this point in my life, nearly impossible. Whenever I am with a "client," I am not relating to them as a friend, but as a business associate. Most of my friends are just that and yet, it is so much more. This particular art director has kept me busy enough over the years to provide me with a pretty good income and, in turn, I'd like to think I helped him sell his ideas which kept his boss and clients happy and him, employed. This symbiosis is not unique to our relationship, the advertising business or any business. It happens all the time all over the world.

Still, Mike is one of the many clients that I have worked with together all day and throughout the night, seeing sunsets from large picture windows that overlook the expansive LA basin, sharing coffee and cold pizza on the roof top of a building as the sun rises, meeting crazy deadlines and sharing similar goals. Like the long lost uncle that one sees only at Christmas or when there's a death in the family, when the job is complete, I am gone and not seen until the "next debacle." It was so rare to set up and keep a lunch or dinner date with my art director and writer friends because we were always too busy or distracted. Therefore, I never got to know them well enough to really be able to call them friends. Sometimes, I felt I spent more time trying to set up a dinner date than the time I spent actually having dinner with that friend.

The big difference between Mike and all my other business acquaintance friends is that he is, like me, the ultimate New Orleans Saints fan. A tried and true"Who Dat," who was born and reared in New Orleans. He moved to Glendora, CA after high school and has spent most of his adult life in LA. Mike was constantly bemoaning the state of the Who Dat Nation long before that term was popularized. We would run down Wilshire Blvd. and catch a quick lunch at Sizzler or McDonald's and in horror, dissect the latest Saints lost and plan celebrations for the upcoming win... whenever that was. For over twelve years, we have spent countless hours wondering how great it would be to just get passed the "49ers and win just one playoff game. We conjured up all kinds of conspiracy theories which would explain our hometown team's inadequacies including everything from Mafiosos infiltrating the NFL to voodoo and
God 's Wrath. Certainly, it would have been blasphemous for us to even try to form the word, "Super" from our lips. Other creative colleagues at the agency would just shake their heads and laugh at our loser antics.

In our 2008 luncheon visit, which included subjects I have little interest in... politics and religion, we shared a glimmer of hope that the team would bounce back from its Katrina soaked losing ways and rebuild. Or, just give it all up and move to San Antonio or LA. In the following year, the Saints started to put it all together and with each passing nail biter, I hoped Mike would call me instead of the other way around.

I never received one call.

It got to the point where I surmised, that like me, he didn't want to put a hex on the team by changing anything, like calling his "best Who Dat friend" and boasting. I could not believe how great our season was going and as we got into the playoffs and I could no longer excuse Mike from sharing the joy.  Surely, if we win the Super Bowl, he will call me, but I got nothing so far, so why should I expect anything more? BECAUSE IT IS THE SUPER BOWL, MAN!

Maybe he is going through the same hard times I am and doesn't care to talk about it. Cool, I got it!
Well, damn if we didn't take it all and actually win the Super Bowl. The black and gold win the Super Bowl. Whoa!

I was on a trip for the Air Force in the sports bar of the Shreveport Hilton Hotel watching the game with fellow illustrators when I thought of Mike. Although my friends here at the hotel bar were mostly pulling for the underdog Saints, they really had no idea what we southern Louisianians have gone through the pass 43 years. But Mike would. He probably would have understood the strange schism between northern LOU-si-anians and the southern LOUIE-si-anians which is not unlike the NoCal and SoCal rivalries that include not only athletic, but social, political and religious differences. So, I shared with my friends and bar mates the shear elation of our victory and later that night celebrated over the phone with family and friends. I even got congratulatory calls from some of my SoCal friends... but no Mike.

It is now a new NFL season with a whole new excitement brewing as we try for the first ever "Two Dat". I will be there, but will Mike? Does it matter? Do I need his continued friendship after all these years? Are we too far away, now? Is all this concern too wussy? As one man to another, maybe I should tell him to "eff off" and just move on. Turn the page, it's a new chapter. It's not that important, is it?

One night, years ago while I laid in bed trying to either wake up enough to get up out of the darkness and do something productive or try to go back asleep, I got an idea. I get so creative when there are no distractions and no light, but like those floaters that bounce inside of one's closed eyes, ideas are all ever so fleeting.

Catch 'em while you can...just don't turn on the light.

Because of my strange AADD, which stands for, ARTIST ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER, I've gotten pretty good at writing and scribbling in the dark. Well enough to be able to read it the next morning. I had a thought for a painting so personal it would have little meaning to anyone but me, which, for a change, was perfectly okay. It was a very large canvas just full of colored and overlapping names in various styles and sizes acknowledging the people I love, of friends I needed, of teachers who inspired me, coaches who encouraged me and taught me value losing as well as winning, of the heroes and villains in my life, of people, who in some large or small way, affected me. If they come to mind, they are valuable to my life and therefore, valuable to this painting.

It would probably be a very large painting.

Well, even if I only produce the painting in my mind and whether or not I ever make the call to, once again, together cheer on the Saints... or tell him where to shove his fleur di lis, Mike's name will always be a part of my life and therefore, a part of who I am. In the end, it does really matter to me if for no other reasons than the selfish ones. Besides, it is probably as much my problem as anyone's because I find it hard to have people come into and out of my life. I expect more from me and my friendships than is ever possible here on earth. Maybe, most of my acquaintances don't feel the need to validate a friendship as often I might. It could also be that my definition of what a friend is, is too narrow. Maybe it's time to redefine the meaning and give it some space to grow. It's not like I am collecting friends like some do on social web sites though those sites do make it nice to reconnect with old friends and buddies. Maybe, after all these years, I just don't know what to expect from a friendship anymore. Or maybe, I just don't know how to be a friend.

Then again, maybe it's just time to put on a game face and say, "Geaux Saints"... Two Dat!

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