18 May 2017

Tribute to a Friend

Paul on the left with the author circa 1986.
“You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see.” 
-- Black Elk from Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

Freshmen year in the dorms 1971 at Chico State there was this gangly geeky looking guy. He was tall, slender, face pocked from acne. He wore plain glasses and clothing so ordinary it was darn near weird. He had short dark hair and walked with a stoop. His name was Paul and I’d never seen a nerdier looking guy in my life. He was especially nerdy given the time period as this was when most everyone in their late teens and early 20’s felt free to wear whatever — usually colorful — clothes caught their fancy and let their hair down, figuratively and literally.  Not Paul, though. His roommates once gave me a peek into his chest of drawers and closet. Everything was lined up neatly in order and this included white undershirts, no one was wearing white undershirts then. Well, except for Paul.

One of my first “encounters” with Paul was while walking down the halls of the dorm. Someone said my name. I looked around and Paul was the only person I saw, walking a good 15 yards behind me with his head down. There was no indication that he’d said my name but if not him, who? This was a weird trick of Paul’s. Saying a person’s name and pretending he hadn’t. I never quite saw the point of it but then again if you weren’t the target it could be amusing.

I became friends with one of Paul’s roommates and with Paul himself shortly thereafter. No, I wouldn’t have predicted that I, coming from Berkeley in the Sixties, already a veteran of anti-war demonstrations and LSD trips, would befriend someone who seemed to be the straightest, squarest, white male on the planet. But Paul defied all expectations. He was never what he seemed.

Yes, we were both athletes (Paul was a runner and I was a soccer player) and sports fans and we liked the same teams (SF Giants and 49ers) but our friendship was and has always remained about much more than sports.

Paul won me over when he expressed admiration for 17 year old Jonathan Jackson who brazenly took a judge and others hostage in an effort to negotiate the freedom of the Soledad Brothers. It was a doomed mission and arguably a bad idea but Paul was impressed by young man’s display of courage. Indeed Paul may have looked the young republican but his political views were nearer to my New Left philosophy than to conservatism.

By the end of our freshman year Paul and were buddies. Like all my close friends I was attracted to Paul for two main reasons: he loved life and he marched to the beat of a different and very hip drummer. Here was a man who, far from succumbing to cynicism as many of us then did, maintained an infectious enthusiasm for life. Paul also was gifted with a strong work ethic which accounts for academic achievements and long and successful career in engineering. Paul didn’t just hit the books, he beat them to a pulp; yet he managed to fill his free time with the kind of silly nonsense college males have long been notorious for. Paul and the Durham Boys were a highlight of Chico’s annual Pioneer Week parade.

We were roommates twice in college so I was witness to the long hours he spent sequestered with textbooks, t squares, pencils, paper (graph and lined) and notebooks. But I also enjoyed shenanigans with him a few of which I would blush to make public. Suffice to say we were were rowdy, randy lads with senses of humors that veered between sarcastic, slapstick, bawdy, surreal and outrageous. We also embraced irony. Paul and I hosted what we called the Donald DeFreeze (Cinque) Memorial kegger in “honor” of the slain SLA leader. We didn’t really admire Cinque at all, it was just funnier than naming a party for a real hero or — god forbid — just calling it a party or kegger.

Approaching his mid twenties Paul metamorphosed, his acne was clearing up, his hair was growing to a more natural length. Still around the fairer sex he remained painfully shy. A girlfriend of mine at the time and I took it upon ourselves to set him up with a likely lass. This worked out so well that the Paul and the woman eventually married. Then again they subsequently divorced. In any event I take partial credit for getting Paul active in the game of love. His continued participation bore fruit with his second marriage which remains a raving success to this day. A person like Paul deserves a happy marriage and his second eventually led to two beautiful children who today excel as athletes, students and people. How could Paul produce anything less?

My two turns as a roommate of Paul’s were a delight. He was as responsible as I was irresponsible, as clean and neat as I was sloppy and as reliable as I was flaky. Of course while he was setting a course for career success I was perfecting my drinking and womanizing skills neither, of which do I put to use anymore.

Paul graduated and immediately got a job in Southern California and eventually earned his MA. I stayed in Chico and drank but also started a career in journalism. Over a seven year period we did not see each other and our only contact was one phone call around the time the 49ers won their first Super Bowl. But a few years after that Paul re-located to the Bay Area as I had a year before. We immediately got together and it was like we’d never parted. We knew and understood one another so well that we were more like family than just ole college buddies. I loved the guy.

A few years after returning Paul and first wife realized that happily ever after did not apply to their relationship. This is always a difficult time for a man and I was more than happy to help Paul through it. He actually rebounded quite quickly and went straightaway into the dating scene. This is always problematical once you enter your 30s and I listened to Paul’s war stories offering whatever hope I could. Meanwhile I had stumbled into marriage with the woman of my dream’s and we had two daughters. I gave Paul the honorary title of Godfather to both of them. This was more an homage to the film and less to religion. He earned the title. I actually bragged to people about how nice my friend Paul was to my daughter’s. Once after a Giant game I lamented that I couldn’t quite afford the Giant’s teddy bear I wanted to give my oldest. So Paul bought it for.

Paul was a frequent visitor to our abode in his bachelor days. I once told oldest daughter that this regular guest was the governor of California and being a toddler she believed her dear old dad. Thus Paul was, for a time, referred to around our place as the governor.

We regularly attended sports events together particularly Giants’ games. The team is Paul’s great love and the two make a great couple because they are both classy as hell. Paul has always possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of sports, particularly in regard to his favorite teams. Going to games with Paul is like being with a walking talking reference book. But it’s also like going with Jerry Seinfeld. I’m a bit of wit myself so even during the most dreary defeats Paul and I could chuckle, guffaw and snicker our way through. You couldn’t go to a game with Paul and not have fun. Of course it wasn’t just giggles, Paul and I have explored all manner of topics such as politics, films, family and history. Paul can talk, but he can also listen.

When Paul met Deb it was a great source of happiness for me. It was clear from the beginning that here was a couple destined for one another. Paul did not gush sentimentally about her, he just matter-of-factly explained why they worked together. Not as romantic maybe but a better sign for the future. I was honored to be part of the wedding party and just being at the wedding was an early highlight in my daughters’ lives.

Paul’s children, Darryl and Chloe have proved what I long suspected and that is that Paul had all the makings of an all star father. His patience and love have guaranteed that his off spring would do Paul proud.

Bu Paul shares a common characteristic with all people I’ve ever met: he’s not perfect. I could omit reference to his shortcomings but that would render this writing meaningless hagiography and deprive of it of a crucial point.

So sure, Paul has his imperfections (I hasten to add they are few in number and none are serious). Over the years with me he became self absorbed and omitted me from our conversations. I often felt that I was sitting through a monologue rather than participating in a dialogue. As my career changed Paul showed little curiosity in my new doings. Often when I made observations or offered opinions Paul would gratuitously contradict me. People have been guilty of far worse. I finally tired of feeling like a second class citizen and let Paul know it in no uncertain terms. Did I look Paul square in the eye and articulate my grievances? No I wrote an email and my tone did not leave open the possibility of reconciliation. I can be and have been a grade A idiot. To Paul’s great credit he responded most graciously and acknowledged his behavior. I then spent several years having second thoughts about what I’d done. And not trying to rectify it.

It is true that I am bipolar. Generally speaking this causes periods of bottom feeding depression. It can also cause me to be impulsive and stubborn and to get stuck in situations. No excuses though, I own what I did. I have learned an important life lesson that I want to here pass along: if you have enjoyed a long term friendship, you have participated in a great gift of life, don’t squander it. If issues arise between you and your friend, resolve them openly and honestly and try to maintain contact. Friends are far too valuable to toss aside.

I finally reached out to Paul after years in an effort to make amends. It was shortly thereafter that I discovered  that he finds himself in a physical struggle. It’s the kind of thing he doesn’t deserve to be saddled with but that he is just tough enough a customer to handle.

I wish I’d been there for him from the beginning of that struggle and I hope he knows I’m with him in spirit now and that I regret those years of playing the aggrieved. When you spend years building a strong friendship there's no sense in abandoning it.

Paul deserves all the love and respect I can provide. He’s a damn good friend because he’s a goddamned good person.

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