Were we old friends? In the very broadest sense of the word, I think. We traveled in the same pack of prepubescent kids, falling over each other and ourselves like puppies, but far too gawky and awkward to ever be considered really cute. In retrospect I see us all as adorable and goofy, hypersensitive and phenomenally clueless, not fully prepared to be accountable for our words or deeds, yet quick to pass notes and judgment on the unforgivable behavior of someone else.
So after forty-some-odd years, I drove into DC looking forward to seeing Alan and wondering if I’d recognize him in a crowded lobby. We are friends on Facebook, so there are some elements of his life that I have seen. His magnificent wife and daughters – pictures posted which require no artificial light for they seem to glow with the richness of love. There is no contrivance or pretense; they look like people I would like to know and more importantly, like people who are genuinely enriched by each other. He has built a successful greeting card company (greatarrow.com – their graphics are really lovely and unique) and is also an extraordinarily gifted photographer. His photos capture the magnificent moodiness of the sky, the sun in fits of pique. He has an impressive collection of Stetson hats and wears them well. All of this is well and good – but how do you find someone in a hotel lobby? I told him to look for a short, blond woman in her renaissance.
Fortunately, the lobby wasn’t crowded – but I would have known Alan regardless. Something about his walk (though the Stetson helped). Bobby used to walk a bit on his toes, Jo’s heels would scuff the cement, Bruce kind of pulled the sidewalk along with each step and Gary had a sort of walk/run. Alan’s shoulders were a little rounded, his eyes looked directly ahead despite the suggestion of the angle of his head and his feet always seemed to touch the ground gently. Our pack traveled in relative quiet – our shoes reinforced with layers of rubber. The cooler kids had metal taps on their shoes – stepping in a perpetual dance with sound and rhythm. Perhaps our development was more muted. It seemed loud to us, though I think for the most part it reflected sounds only we could hear.
Where do you pick up after lifetimes have passed? You can’t really say nothing is new, for to the listener everything is new. I didn’t know he thought I had a great voice, he didn’t know that I thought he had an artistic and thoughtful aspect I always liked. He designed sets for theatrical productions; I performed in them. He went to Stuyvesant (a high school for the seriously smart); I went to private school. We all dispersed for college. So it goes.
And yet after two and a half hours, we still had stories to tell. More than the memories of who we once were, we shared an understanding of those invisible threads – the ones that constitute the preliminary stitches which outlined the design of who we became. He became a warm, loving, devoted, creative man. I chose a career that required decades of performance and appealing to wide audiences.
Alan will return to DC next year for another annual meeting. I hope we meet again same time, next year. Were we old friends? We are older, and yes, I believe we are friends. We share seminal moments in our respective histories, and the comfort to quote Samuel Taylor Coleridge, of “a sheltering tree”.