Thank You for Being a Friend

According to my recently unearthed diary (it was not missing or anything, I just do not like to refer to it too often because of the cringe factor), my teen years were full of seemingly perpetual anguish related to various betrayals which I would never recollect but for this traumatizing written record.  I was, at times, surrounded by The Mean Girls—but who wasn’t in their teen years?  But in a period of just three days recently, I interacted with a variety of people who, in various ways, reminded me how incredibly blessed I have been by friendships in this lifetime. 

  • I auditioned for several parts in a show at the local community theater.  I did not get cast for several reasons. 
    • First, for one of the characters, my Russian accent is no longer convincing.  Yes, and I feel slightly stupid even writing this, but I am only identified as vaguely Eastern European to someone with a very good ear.  There were literally women on that stage who sounded authentically foreign-born (and weren’t), while I was doing a desperate impression of Crazy Russian Hacker.  And I am terrible enough with accents that I cannot just summon it.
    • Second, the director decided that the part of a “wanna be lawyer” should be played by a man, because, well, lawyers are men.  Triggering, and certainly nothing I have not heard from every corner over the past three decades, but for reasons passing understanding I always expect more parity from community theater.  What an unlikely source of optimism!  This actually reminds me of a time when I was not cast in another show.  It was a dual part—Eastern European mother in her youth in Act I, and then her daughter, a lawyer, a couple of decades later, in Act II.  The director called me and told me that I was believable as one but not as the other, and for the life of me I cannot remember which one was which.  There is great irony somewhere here, but ultimately, I guess I would prefer to think that I am an implausible lawyer.  Frankly, I usually feel that way anyway…
    • But, my point in all of this is that I ran into two women I know at the audition.  The camaraderie, the emotional support, the cheering each other on and complimenting each other even though we were up for the same couple of parts was absolutely lovely.  I have not known either of these fine humans in my youth, so cannot tell with certainty if we are all improving with age or if I am meeting a better class of people. Perhaps a little bit of both, which is both sensible and hopeful.
  • Not to make it sound like my American youth was misspent in the friendship department, the following day I drove to Hell (a real town; I am not this inventive) for a “Still 50” party of a high school classmate I have never met before.  Well, we met during a series of Zoom calls that were held on the regular during the darkest days of the pandemic, and encompassed a group of pals who all graduated within three years of each and now live all over not just the continental U.S., but as far as Hawaii.  I count myself more than a little lucky to enjoy the company of almost a dozen folks who knew me at my utmost awkward, clueless, and, in my mother’s characterization, gloomy, and who still willingly interact with me going on forty years later. 
  • The following day I had a lunch lasting several hours with a college friend.  We have not seen each other in about a decade, which is a ridiculous and inexplicable gap, but there it is.  The old saying of picking up where you leave off without missing a beat is always true with this friend, and has been for over thirty years.  I often see people question if there can be genuine, non-romantic friendship between men and women, and this long-standing unshakeable bond between an introverted engineer/scientist and a [seemingly] extroverted lawyer/amateur thespian is a testament to the fact that friendship, like love, is a gift that you take where you find it.
  • And finally, there is my childhood BFF.  She is the one whom I met on my first day of school, and who is the closest I have come to having a sister in this world (I have known my actual sister for a fraction of the time, both in quality and quantity—but that is another story for another time).  We have lived world apart for over forty years, and have averaged one in-person meeting per decade during this time.  Right now, she is on a road trip to the Russian Near North.  From each scenic stop, she has been sending me daily videos, narrating the town histories, telling fun local facts, showing scenic views.  They visited Novgorod the Great, Petrozavodsk the capital of Karelia, Murmansk above the Arctic Circle, stopped on the shores of the Barents Sea.  I have felt included in this wonderful adventure.  In return, I send videos of my foster dog.  And beer.  And my office.  And I feel unbelievably fortunate that my first school friend is still my best friend.  She is, and always will be, family.

The wisdom of the years taught me that not all friendships are for always.  Some relationships are for a season, and every season has its ups and downs.  Looking back, there have certainly been some downs.  But, as the song goes, thank you for having been a friend (this is the Russian/Georgian version—not to be confused with the theme to “The Golden Girls”).  The ups have, and continue to, fill this life with meaning, warmth, and laughter. 

Three Worst Fears

Three of my worst fears came true this week.  This is a true story, and one I did not ever expect to recount, but it’s just so unlikely that I cannot leave it untold.  I had a bad day.  I think the only way to look at it is that I am due for some fantastic great luck very soon!

  1.  First, I got stuck in an elevator at work.  The weird thing is that it was not even my first time.  The first time was in Italy, in the little seacoast town of Ladispoli where my mom, my grandparents, and I were living as refugees.  There is more to that story, but not today.  Today, it’s about how my mom and I were visiting some other refugee friends in a building with an elevator, and I decided to open the elevator door to see what would happen. It was one of those old cage elevators, and it was coin operated.  I do not think my mom even noticed that I was the culprit, because the alarm immediately went off and there was a lot of commotion.  Of course, we had no more coins to get the elevator going again, being refugees (I did not think that through).  Luckily, the friends we were visiting had a coin, and were able to slide it into the cage for us to get moving again. So when I say I got stuck in an elevator in Italy, what I really should say is, I was an idiot child and stopped the elevator due to my own naughty curiosity.
NOT the actual elevator in which I got stuck in Italy

This week’s experience was not quite the same.  My work partner was going to look at the new office space in the building next door.  He had four women with him—the landlord’s rep, the furniture rep, the interior design rep, and someone else whose name and function I did not catch—and I felt that I needed to tag along to be sure that I did not get saddled with a windowless office, or no office, or far from the kitchen, or other similar debacle.  Serves me right.  We were going to the fifth floor, and barely made it past the fourth when the elevator shuddered to a stop.  Well, it did not really shudder, it just stopped moving, and it actually took us a few seconds to clue in to what happened.  All buttons were pushed, and 911 was called.  It took over an hour and a half, because in this day and age (and litigious society), hopping out of an elevator between floors, from about waist-height, is apparently frowned upon.  My partner was ready to spring into action and out of the elevator, and had a rather funny chest-pounding (figuratively) altercation with the elevator guy.  The four women, clad in short tight dresses and high heels, took selfies and fretted.  I, mentally kicking myself for not visiting the bathroom before going off with them and for not grabbing my cell phone, tried to calm everyone down by telling my Italian elevator story (omitting the part about my part in it) and the story of how a neighbor back home, Aunt Vera’s son, had his legs crushed when an elevator car fell with him in it, but survived.  He even drove a special “invalid car”, as they were called in those non-PC days, meaning all the controls were hand-operated.  Surprisingly, neither story was received in the spirit it was told.  Eventually we were rescued, and the landlord sent us bagels and coffee next day.  I expected a month of free rent. 

Mickey. What a monster he was!
  • Second, I was bitten by a dog.  This was truly my worst fear for many years.  I had a nemesis dog in my childhood, Mickey, who belonged to another neighbor, Aunt Rimma.  He roamed the neighborhood off leash, as dogs did in those days, terrorizing children.  I remember an occasion when my friend Tanya and I were desperately holding closed the outside door to the apartment building where she lived (Mickey lived right above Tanya), because he was barking madly on the street and we were afraid that he will barge in and tear our throats out.  For reasons that are passing understanding, I have a photo of this monster beast—pretending to be friendly and peaceful.  This must have been after he fell off the second floor balcony.  He broke his leg and was never as ferocious after that.

So, living for decades with the fear of being mauled by a dog, I finally was—and lived to tell the tale.  I was walking with my spouse and my two dogs (yes, I have two, two dogs—another story for another time), and my baby dog, Vanya, picked up this huge crust of bread off the sidewalk two doors from our house.  Of course, I tried to pry her teeth apart and get the bread out, and of course she was desperate to keep her teeth clamped shut while chewing as fast as she possibly could.  Next thing I knew, sharp pain, blood everywhere.  I fell onto the grass, crying.  I am not proud of this.  I was a little overly dramatic, because the pain was not the worst I ever felt.  It was more the shock of seeing my bloody middle finger with a missing nail.  But the joke is on Vanya, because my nails are fake. 

  • Finally, when I came home, with my finger wrapped in paper towel offered by a kind neighbor, I decided to enjoy a calming mug of beer.  And here is the worst thing—I spilled the beer all over myself and my couch.  I can’t even blame the shock of the dog bite.  I have all these cords from my phone, my Kindle, and my laptop on the couch, and the beer mug tangled up in them and fell.  Mad dog Vanya immediately started licking the couch.  I drank YooHoo instead (also good).  Now my couch (#100 on the list of my favorite things) smells like beer.  So maybe it was not a waste after all.