I grew up in South Jersey where I lived until 1995. Hung around with a pretty small circle of friends in the 70’s through the mid-80’s; got married in the late 80’s; bought a home; and in the early 90’s, through very little effort on my part, fathered a couple of great kids. My wife of course did all of the heavy lifting and required pushing to bring them out into the world. Since then parenting has been one long tag team event; we usually win, but once in awhile we let the kids have one just for their confidence. It’s also called picking your battles or the more graphic but appropriate…choosing which hill you want to die on.
In 1995 we moved to Southeastern PA; the move necessary due to the constant consolidation in the drug industry. I should probably clarify that by saying we didn’t lose our corner to a rival drug gang, it was the consolidation in The Big Pharmaceutical Industry. The guys who sell the drugs with the incredible side effects which seem to be worse than the actual ailment your treating with their product. You know, the really big drug gangs.
It has been a long time since I’ve seen or talked to any of my friends from South Jersey, apparently crossing the Delaware River is every bit as daunting a task as climbing up and over the Great Wall of China. But then that goes both ways, doesn’t it? It also put us in the geographical center between our two families. Closer to her family; but farther from my family with the…been nice knowin’ you attitude.
I tried thinking about some of the changes in my life since I’ve seen any of my friends (still can’t bring myself to call them former) which I estimate to be September of 2001 or just once since 1995; changes in my personality, family changes…what my kids do now…called parental bragging if you will; changes to technology, things like that.
I have a much different personality than I did in 2001. A change in jobs from a comfortable middle management existence to a failed entrepreneurship with FedEx has made me much more cynical when it comes to the motives of corporate America; I now understand that I wasn’t a partner with Fred Smith and FedEx, I was a business model that saved them millions upon millions of dollars in employer taxes, insurances, and employee benefits. And stupidly, instead of putting FedEx in my rear view mirror, I’ve chosen to stay on and now drive for the company that owns my former route. The owner is a good guy and probably one of my three or four friends, but like my friends from Jersey…would I ever here from him again if I were to leave? Cynical…angry…distrusting…grumpy…sober…old man. Much different than the often intoxicated, lovable loser my friends knew. Sometimes I really miss beer.
And that may be one of the biggest changes since I last saw my friends. Beer! Growing up cash strapped and in need of a couple of beers, often me and the friends would settle for anything cheap. Genesee Cream Ale, the disgusting, but affordable King of Beers, Budweiser, and whenever possible a cold Carling Black Label, free from mom and dad’s fridge. Not only do I no longer drink, I wouldn’t know what the hell to drink anyway. With all of the craft beers and small micro-breweries around, simply choosing a beer would be enough of a chore to turn me sober. The last time I had a beer with my friends, not one guy said it was too hoppy or too wheaty or whatever. You just twisted off the cap and talked or argued about sports or girls or cars.
The last time I saw my friends, my daughter was in elementary school and my son was just beginning kindergarten. Actually, he was in kindergarten twice a day, once in the morning in daycare and then in school in the afternoon. He really hated that. Since then, my daughter has graduated with honors from an expensive liberal arts college that my wife and I probably couldn’t afford, and my son will be graduating very soon. My son has earned his Eagle Scout rank from the Boy Scouts and my daughter has moved to Florida where she works for the House of the Mouse. All of this…since I last saw my friends.
The last time I saw any of my friends, I didn’t own a cell phone. The only two people I know who had cell phones were Gordon Gekko and Maxwell Smart. I had never sent a text message, never skyped, opened a Facebook account, tweeted anything, or created and saved anything to the cloud. I didn’t know I would one day own something called an iPad; never created my personal playlist of music that I could save on a SmartPhone and play over a Bluetooth wireless speaker…none of these things were mine the last time I saw my friends.
The last time I saw my friends was September 9, 2001, when we watched the first game of the Eagles season. And just two days before the terrible events of 9/11, a day no one should ever forget. Since I last saw my friends hundreds of thousands of lives have been changed forever because of the War on Terror. Why do the wars on our societal issues never seem to have a solution…a compromise; how long have we been fighting the War on Drugs…On Cancer…On Poverty…On Gangs…and even on Christmas?
Since I last saw my friends, the country was once swept up in the great secrecy around Ginger, an invention many thought would change the world, an invention that would change the way cities are laid out, an invention that ended up being The Segway. An invention that nobody thought to ask one simple question, “Where the hell can we use this thing?” How cursed was this invention? The owner of The Segway Corporation drove his off a 30 ft. cliff and into a river below. Irinically…he has seen his friends for the last time.
The last time I saw my friends, Peter Jackson had yet to send Frodo, Aragorn, and the rest of The Fellowship to return The One Ring to Mt. Doom…They had yet to prove or dis-prove anything on The Big Bang Theory…Jack Bauer still hadn’t killed anybody on 24…Colonel Jessup had yet to order the Code Red for Private Santiago in A Few Good Men…Sean Bean still had numerous death scenes to play on TV and in the movies…The Philadelphia Eagles still haven’t won a Super Bowl, and the Flyers haven’t heard the ovation that comes from parading Lord Stanley’s Cup down Broad Street in over 40 years.
A great many things have come and gone since I last saw my friends from South Jersey; I often think about them and their families, wonder why they haven’t called, or why I don’t pick up the phone and call them. I guess the real reason is because I don’t want to think of those friendships also as come…and gone.