beers & tears

“My friends are my estate.” ~Emily Dickinson

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1.15.06                                                                                           Placentia, CA

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE LIQUOR.

No, I’m not advocating we all need to go out and get wasted. But nights like this prove why alcohol can sometimes be a good thing. Sometimes it feels good to get sentimental. To remind the people in your life how much you care about them. To broach subjects that, in the light of sobriety, nobody seems eager to talk about. To confess mutual attractions and act on them. And to just laugh.

Tonight I got drunk with my old friend Sly Mee and a handful of good people I just met. The occasion was a Sunday barbecue in San Dimas. I showed up with Sister Jeni, my brilliant Bro-by-Marriage Warren and their 2 little boys. It started innocently enough. Watching the 2nd half of the Panthers/Bears playoff game while Sly and his dirt bike buddies flipped back and forth between the game and last night’s Supercross race in Phoenix.

We were at the home of Allison, Jeni’s best friend since high school. Last year Allison married Mike, a successful pool technician who’s become buddies with Sly, MY best friend back in high school. In fact, Sly and I started hanging out about the time Sister Jeni was born.

Sly and I were the old farts tonight. But still young enough at heart to party with the young folk. The last time we hung out was on my birthday in Chicago a year and a half ago. I was on my way back to Wisconsin from Detroit, where I’d just seen the Lakers get pummeled by the Pistons in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, my free ticket compliments of Phil Jackson’s girlfriend, Jeanie Buss. Carpet king Sly was in Chicago on business, schmoozing clients, cracking wise and making new friends.

We got drunk that night, too.

But tonight was a different kind of good time. Sly is a non-stop joke machine, the life of every party he goes to. He’d invited some of his dirt bike buddies over, guys that are nearly 20 years younger than us. But we don’t discriminate when it comes to friends. These guys were very cool and they were clearly fond of their old friend, “The Silver Fox,” who told us all about the 2 hot women he and his young buddy hooked up with last night at a crowded desert bar in the middle of nowhere. Sex in the front seat of a twin cab truck. After a day of dirt bike riding.

Dude, you still got it.

* * *

Sly and I have a storied history. A friendship worthy of a movie, no doubt. “Dude, you gotta write a script about this,” he told me tonight. “Dude,” I answered, a 6-pack into my buzz, “tell me about it. I’ve seriously thought about writing that screenplay. One day, man. One day.”

In high school we’d often wake up at 4:30 and make the 45-minute drive from Covina to Huntington Beach for a brief dawn patrol surf session, packing up our boards in time to get back in time for Miss Redmon’s 2nd period typing class. (The most practical, useful class I took at Charter Oak.) He was a wiseass water polo guy who hung out with me and my sarcastic, cheap wine-swilling basketball teammates. Sly never had a shortage of girlfriends and was always willing to talk about all the “poontang” he was getting.

I, on the other hand, didn’t even kiss my first girl until the end of my senior year. Pathetic. 7 months later Sly and I went to a Christmas party in his baby blue VW bus at the Covina home of his ex-girlfriend Monica. When she asked for a Christmas kiss–after much drinking, of course–I gladly obliged. Drunkenly assuming Sly wouldn’t care, seeing as how he had a new girlfriend he liked much better than Monica, who he’d dumped 6 months earlier.

Wrong.

When Sly went in the backyard and caught us making out, he snapped. Grabbing my shoulders and pulling me off the picnic table where I sat kissing his ex-girlfriend, Sly gave me an earful. It was ugly. Then he took off, as pissed as I’ve ever seen him.

A few hours later, I lost my virginity to his ex-girlfriend.

I saw Monica one more time. And before long, things with Sly smoothed over. By the time I graduated from UCLA 4 1/2 years later, we were all set to backpack through Europe together. Then Sly got a job offer from a carpet mill. He decided to be responsible and take the job. 20 years later, he’s practically running the place.

About a decade later, Sly asked me to be his last minute fill-in best man. Sly’s dad was his first choice. But Tom Sr. was dying of cancer, too sick to stand up for his only son. So I got called into duty–and promptly gave one of the worst best man speeches of all-time. I blame it on poor preparation. And way too much alcohol. To this day I regret not letting everyone at the wedding know how I felt about my old friend.

My “date” that night was Sister Tracy, who’d had a crush on him for years. The 2 of them had even had a brief fling when Sly temporarily broke up with the girl he’d eventually marry–then divorce 5 years later.

And that’s when he reconnected with Sister Tracy. Running into her at a Supercross race in Anaheim. Sly was a free man and Sister Tracy was loving it. Almost immediately, they began spending nearly every weekend together.

5 months later, they were riding in the backseat of a Chevy Suburban driven by a guy they’d just met that day at a desert bar near Victorville. When the guy took a turn too fast and rolled the car, Sister Traky–who let the guy know her seatbelt wasn’t working–broke her neck in 7 places. Sly got off with a gash across his forehead and the most horrific memories imaginable.

* * *

“What I wanna know is, did you love my sister?”

Sister Jeni pulled no punches tonight as a group of us sat around the gas fire in the backyard. The beer was making all of us ask the questions we wanted to ask, say the things we wanted to say.

“Yeah, I loved your sister. I wasn’t in love with her. But I loved Tracy. Definitely.”

Sly was getting emotional. We all were.

“If you don’t want to talk about it…” Jeni was willing to spare his feelings and change the subject. I, on the other hand, had another perspective.

“No!” I piped in, peering through my beer goggles. “We SHOULD talk about it. We NEED to keep talking about Tracy. We can’t forget her, we can’t avoid the subject just because it sucks that she’s not here. It bums me out that we don’t talk about her more. This is exactly the kind of night she would’ve loved. Fuck it! I say we should talk about her as often as possible.”

A while later Sly turned to his dirt biking buddies and said “I love this guy,” pointing in my direction. I got up off my ass, went over and hugged him.

“Dude, I love you, too.” And we’ve never been the hugging, touchy-feely types. But like I said, sometimes alcohol is a beautiful thing.

I’m glad it was said. I do love the guy. I’ll always admire how he handled a nightmare situation. I’ll always respect him for how he treated my sister in her darkest days and how he tried to be honest with her when she didn’t want to hear it. I love the guy like a brother.

I just wish I got to spend more time with him. Maybe now that I’m back in SoCal for at least a few months we can hang out once in a while.

I can’t think of many people I’d rather get drunk with.

 

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