I met an old friend for lunch today at a neighborhood grocery store. Portions were generous. The food was good. Our sandwich and burger came with complimentary pickles the size of commercial pontoons.
We found a table in the corner. We ate. We laughed. We talked about ancient times. About our age.
He’s graying, there are wrinkles on his face, and his hair is so thin he now looks like the late Fred Mertz. It’s a shame that not everyone can avoid aging like me.
And as I sat there eating my monster pickle, I thought about how lucky I was to have friends.
As a child, I remember a framed embroidery hanging above the toilet in my Aunt Eulah’s guest bathroom. The embroidery read: FRIENDS ARE OUR CHOSEN FAMILY.
I remember being fascinated by this article when I was 10 years old. I remember sitting and looking at him for long moments of powerful thought. And while I was flushing the toilet and zipping up my Husky jeans, I thought about that sentence.
Friends are our chosen family.
What did that mean? Why would my aunt bother to embroider and frame these words?
Then again, my aunt has always been a strange bird. Her house was littered with porcelain clown figurines and her couch was covered in plastic. Her guest bathroom smelled of Shalimar bath powder.
Also, the entire bathroom was adorned with pink frills. Pink that. Pink that. Pink bath mat, pink shower curtain, pink decorative soaps in the shape of small pieces of fruit. Pink hand towels.
Even the toilet seat had a fluffy pink rug perched on the lid. Carpeted toilet seat covers are never a good idea. Especially if your bathroom is being visited by 10 year old boys with the wrong lens.
Friends are our chosen family.
This sentence mystified me. What is a friend? Why do we have them? Why are they important? Who were my friends? My real friends, I mean. Not the fake ones.
Because the world is full of fake friends. I have lots of fake friends. Probably you too. They are not necessarily bad people. They mean well.
They smile at you, they tell you what you want to hear, but they’re just a kind of comedy. They are not your genuine friends.
Deep in your heart, you are not even fooled by their actions. Because somehow you already know that these people are just fair weather people. You know that if you ever needed this person – really needed them – they would be “busy”.
If you ever landed in the ER, for example, a fake friend wouldn’t sit in the waiting room, text your family members, survive food vending machines, sleep on vinyl chairs until he knows you’re okay.
Your fake friend would never end his Hawaiian vacation early to return home after the sudden death of your father.
No. True friends, I believe, are the essence of life. Like condiments on a hot dog. Like paprika on a deviled egg. Like salted peanuts at a baseball game.
Have you ever eaten an unsalted peanut? Because I have. And they are an affront.
My uncle Tommy Lee had blood pressure issues, so his wife made sodium-free roasted peanuts. His peanuts tasted like they were eating limestone gravel.
Unsalted peanuts have no purpose in this world. Peanuts are salt delivery vehicles. This is their reason for being. And what is life without salt? It’s tasteless. It’s boring. It’s bland. It sucks.
Do you see where I’m coming from? Well, I hope so, because frankly, I have no idea.
I thank heaven for friends. For this particular friend. He met me for lunch today and reminded me that we went through tough times together and survived.
A friend of mine once joined me for lunch at this delicatessen when we were young. Young men who both lived on the wrong side of the trailer park. Young people who had no prospects in life.
He sat in that booth and once told me that friends are like stars. Sometimes you can’t see them, but they’re still there.
Once he let me cry in front of him when someone broke my heart. He told me I would be fine, even though he didn’t know if I would. And once I was done crying that day, he even let me eat his pickle.
Because that’s all a friend is, really. A friend is the pickle that accompanies your life.
Or you could say they are the salt of the earth.
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