Friday, March 28, 2014

Friends

In a few weeks I'll be visiting friends in Missouri, so I thought I'd write a little about the role of friends in my life. Although female friendships have been of much greater significance to me than male friendships, I'll concentrate on the males, since they won't be reading this. Male-female relationships are far more problematic than male-male relationships, if only because males and females are very different. In this respect, I found Timothy Treadwell's monologue in Grizzly Man amusing. He claims that, despite being heterosexual, he has encountered so many problems in his relationships with women that he has often wished he were gay.

I am a very solitary person, partly because I'm introverted and like being alone, which makes me want to limit the number of people I'm with, and partly because I'm different from most of the people I know and don't have much in common with them. I have noticed that people are willing to make large compromises in order to maintain a certain level of social activity, whereas I, because I have less need for it, am less willing to compromise. I usually consider socializing a waste of time.

Male friendships tend to be extremely superficial and revolve around activities such as games and sports. I have always liked games and occasional participation in sports, but by the time I graduated from high school and ever since, I have found professional sports incredibly stupid. I thought people would outgrow them, but they didn't. Presumably they satisfy deep tribal instincts.

None of my male friends are close to me. Although I've had various male friends over the years, there was never enough commonality or motivation to perpetuate the friendships over time. The group I'm visiting consists of residual friends from college who were not close to me while I was there. After college, I lived in Indiana on and off for ten years and came into contact with them then. The critical feature for me has always been the primary meeting place: Grubville, Missouri. The family of the leader of this group has owned a former farm there for four generations and uses it for recreation. It consists of about 200 acres southwest of St. Louis in the foothills of the Ozarks. This was originally a nature experience for me, and I usually camped out by the creek. The house was once two log cabins, and they were later joined together. There was no plumbing when I started going, and water came from a cistern. It has been modernized since then.

My major non-family social events starting in 1977 were Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends in Grubville. At first a few of us were married, some had small children and some were single. The main activities were volleyball, badminton, croquet, bridge, beer-drinking and cookouts. By the mid-1980's it got pretty crowded because of all the kids.  Eventually the kids grew up and most of the adults got out of shape. The first death occurred last year from lung cancer. The gatherings are very small and infrequent now.

Going to Grubville meant a lot to me when I had no social life and was living in a hick town. I also liked taking my kids there, and they enjoyed it. The discussion wasn't usually very high quality, though. The married men were too uxorious for my taste, and frankly I never thought their wives merited it. But I was always able to meet my easily-satisfied male bonding needs and catch up on news, and I never held high expectations that might have been dashed.

My closest friend from this group was named Jay. Jay didn't always go, because the leader in Grubville is a classic alpha male who calls all the shots, except when his wife disagrees. The primary pattern for males was one of a dominant, extroverted male and several introverted males. Jay was too extroverted to pass the test.

I had a few things in common with Jay, because we both grew up in New York, went to college in Indiana and majored in Philosophy. Jay was energetic, talkative and intelligent, but a little flaky and lacking in self-confidence. Like me, he came from a dysfunctional family. His mother was from the Midwest, and his father was from New York. His father's family made one of the best-selling beers in the U.S. and once operated a large brewery in what is now midtown Manhattan. However, his father developed adult-onset schizophrenia and his parents separated when he was young. His father's family, though extremely wealthy, offered his mother little support, and she raised three children on her own, living in Brooklyn. His father moved to a farm in Pennsylvania and became a recluse.

When I knew him, Jay was a loyal friend. I don't think I had my best talks with him, but he was better than the other Grubville people. In any case, it all came to naught because his life resembles a downward spiral. He always worried that he would become schizophrenic, and perhaps he did. He seems to have been unable to make changes in his life. When I moved to Oregon, he said he would but never did. He spent his entire career in the Indianapolis area. Most of that time was in fast food, and he became an area manager for Church's Chicken. This put him in some dangerous neighborhoods, and he used to take a gun to work. Over the years he had several decent girlfriends, but he ended up marrying one of his employees, who divorced him after a brief period.

Just before my divorce, I was living in Terre Haute and commuting to a job in Indianapolis. In 1984 we sold the house in Terre Haute and moved to an apartment in Indianapolis. It was a three-bedroom apartment facing woods and next to a large reservoir. My wife and kids moved out in 1985 and we got divorced in October. Jay had been looking for a new apartment and moved in with me. I moved to Louisville at the end of 1985, and Jay has lived in that apartment ever since - 28 years.

I have had very little contact with Jay for several years. He stopped going to Grubville and became born-again. I think he must have received a sizable inheritance when his father died, and he probably quit his most recent job at FedEx. I get friendly e-mails from him once in a while, but he doesn't respond to my replies.

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