November 29, 2003
I always liked those movies where someone comes home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. They are reunited with friends who have known them their whole lives. They drink too much and get into trouble. They make peace with something that has been gnawing them back in their new lives. The film ‘Beautiful Girls’ springs to mind, though I’m sure there are plenty of other films in the same category.
There is an ease that you have with old friends that I find harder to establish with newer ones. I spent some time with two groups of my friends recently and felt this more than ever.
Last week, I went to a party, on the Lower East Side, of friends who have known me since before I spoke English. These are my childhood friends. The ones I know because they lived next door or down the street or around the corner. To paraphrase a Douglas Coupland line: they were outside, I was outside, we were the same age and that meant we were friends. If we had something in common ‘you like grape juice? I like grape juice!’ we were best friends. We all hung out at Mr. Kim’s Luncheonette on Foster Avenue, played video games and, when we got older, read magazines like Kerrang and Circus (we were mostly metalheads). Don’t try to buy cigarettes from Mr. Kim, even today, because the chance that he’ll tell your grandma is huge. When I’ve come in there with boys he didn’t like, he made sure my grandma was aware of his opinion. When Peter came in with me for the first time, Mr. Kim had no problem blatantly asking when we were getting married.
It was immediately comfortable to hang out with these friends despite the fact that we hardly see each other. We talked about how easy it is when we’re together, how we don’t watch what we say and how everything just flows nicely. We can tell big secrets to each other. It’s a trust that comes from knowing what the other person looks like holding their mom’s hand to cross the street, scraping their knee when they fall down from running too fast, or spending rainy days riding our bikes around the lobby of the building in which we lived.
My other group of friends was made later in life. It was a case of one person introducing another person to the group, who introduced another person, and so on. Our crowds when we go out could get really out of hand. I never knew what rappers were bragging about when they sing about ‘rolling 20 deep in the club’ (translation: going to a club with 20 people). It seemed like it was hard not to draw a large crowd to go out. I’ve seen movies and gone to dinner in groups of 20. Everybody has a friend or two that they want to bring. The size of the group invariably gets outrageous.
If my friends from childhood were made because they were there (and don’t get me wrong, that is as good a reason as any), this other group was made because they fit me so well. I came back from Scotland after living there 6 months the first time around (I would go back within 2 years to spend a longer length of time there), and my non-Russian best friend had started hanging out with this Russian group. I couldn’t have been more sulky. I was a bratty teenager right in the middle of my ‘America sucks’ phase and there could be nothing worse than not only hanging out with Americans, but hanging out with Russian-Americans who I considered, though I was one of them, aliens from planet Versace. I never fit in with my community and didn’t think I was going to start then.
I was wrong. I fit in better than I ever had. We know little things about each other that are impossible to convey. We understand each other’s families and the problems that they have. Russians, in particular Russians who have made it to America, are the most realistic people I’ve ever met. There is no idealism whatsoever. What you see is what you get. Those who gravitate towards Russians tend to be the same. There are plenty of non-Russians in the group now but they have that same quality, a super-realistic brand of thinking to them. I tend to appreciate that these days. I played cards last night until 4am with 9 guy friends (I won!) and it’s the smallest thing but I know, without asking, that none of them were against the war in Iraq, none of them think that 9/11 was payback for some abstract crimes the US committed and none of them have any respect for those who draw moral equivalency between the Israelis and Palestinians. There was discussion, at one point in the game, about changing the rules from ‘winner takes all’ to someone also winning second place and getting their money back. There were plenty of ‘what is this, Communism’ comments. I thought that was funny.
I make friends rather easily and am in touch with almost everyone that ever passed through my life. But it’s nice to go home sometimes and connect with people who really know you, and probably always will. At the height of my sullen teenager days, when even spending the summer in Brooklyn made me feel like I was suffocating, Dawn Summers said ‘think of Brooklyn as homebase, like in tag, you’ll always feel safe here.’ She isn’t often right, that Dawn, but she was then. This Thanksgiving I was thankful for having somewhere to go that feels truly like home.
Small update: a friend of mine forwarded a link to an invite I had made for my 24th birthday party. He writes that he always thought it was cool that I had such a varied bunch of friends. The evite is here, I have to admit I think it’s pretty cool too.