Cumberland Times-News

Columns

February 16, 2013

‘A Glimmer Of Hope,’ but that was about all

What exactly is a “best friend,” anyway? That’s a term we hear often.

One criteria I apply to someone I consider a best friend — and there have been a few of them — is that neither of us has killed the other, in spite of all the provocations, and we still hang out together.

Some of us once teamed up to chase girls, but not any more. If we had caught anywhere near the number of girls we chased, we’d have been sorry individuals indeed — and we were sorry enough as it was.

One man who has been a best friend for decades is now happily married, and he has learned to drink Scotch. Neither of those things can be said about me.

I dated a girl for a while, and then she took me to The Landfill of Love. After a discreet amount of time passed, one of my buddies took up with her. Didn’t bother me any, because another of our friends had dated her before I did — and a fourth guy went out with her after she dumped No. 3.

We have collectively come to decide that just as we passed them around, they also passed us around.

Another term that’s in common usage is “The Kiss Of Death,” but what is it?

I came to realize that every time I heard one particular friend say, “Hey, Jimmy? I think that girl really likes you,” that was The Kiss Of Death.

Here’s how it worked:

Our wolfpack used to make the circuit of dance halls, one of which was the old Knights of Columbus home on Christie Road.

Two girls were sitting by themselves at a table, and my “Hey, Jimmy?” best friend and I asked them to dance. I got to their table first and asked the one who was cuter. She was really cute, too.

Both of them agreed. After the song was over, they remained on the floor and began to talk to us. (We saw this as what frequently is referred to as “A Glimmer Of Hope.”)

The girls were sisters and invited the two of us to visit them at their home on such-and-such an evening. We said we could do that.

At the appointed time, my buddy picked me up in his car, and we set off to meet our fate.

He said, “Hey, Jimmy? I think that girl really likes you.”

That’s when things started not to go smoothly.

We had the address, but after making several orbits of what we thought was the right street, we were unable to find a house with a number that matched.

Turns out we were on one of those screwy Cumberland streets that comes to what you think is a dead end, only it isn’t. You have to go around a zigzag that takes you across another street with a different name in order to find the rest of it. This has happened to me at least three times.

Upon arriving, we found a party in full swing. Being young, dumb and befuddled, we asked what was going on.

My buddy’s potential target of opportunity pointed to her sister — my potential target of opportunity (the really cute one) — and said, “Her old boyfriend called her today from Florida and asked her to marry him, and she said ‘Yes.’ We’re having a party to celebrate!”

It was at this point that my best friend reached under the seat of his car, pulled out a brown paper bag and held it up, telling the girls:

“But we brought these two bottles of wine!”

I did the only reasonable thing I could have done under the circumstances.

I swatted him across his right shoulder with the back of my left hand and hollered, “Whattinthehell’s the matter with you? Let’s get outta here!”

Froggie went a-courtin’, and he did ride ... as fast as he could away from that place. We went to The Famous North End Tavern and wound up having a better time than we probably would have otherwise.

One of my best friends asked if I would help him coach a Rec League baseball team. I told him I hadn’t played baseball since ninth grade — but neither had he.

Slow-pitch softball, yes, but not baseball, and there is a world of difference. In baseball you have to run farther to get from one base to another, and the ball comes at you faster and is smaller and harder to hit. Softball is far more user-friendly for older guys who smoke, drink, eat too much and have bad knees.

We actually did OK. It was fun, and every now and then we meet some of the other Rec League coaches from that era for lunch. It’s almost like a class reunion.

My buddy and I were mid-twenty-somethings coaching high school kids, a couple of whom were pretty good ballplayers who realized we needed some help and provided it as discreetly as possible.

One was a heck of a nice young fellow who was a bit on the shy side. He showed up for a game displaying a crop of what appeared to be ... let’s see ... I know what we used to call them.

Scattered around his neck and the nape of his neck was evidence of a ... a close encounter: spectacular red, orange and purple examples of collateral damage inflicted with what must have been great enthusiasm by someone other than himself.

“Boy,” I said to him, “you got any idea how lucky you are? Any closer, and one’a them bullets would’a taken your head clean off!” He turned as red as our team ballcaps.

My coach-buddy and the other players took up where I left off and rode his (beast of burden) unmercifully — a mass demonstration of envy, more than anything else.

A few days later, we played our next game. After it was over, and all of our players had left, my coach-buddy asked me:

“How come you got your shirt collar buttoned all the way up, and you never did that before?”

“Probably for the same reason,” I replied, “that you’ve got yours buttoned all the way up.”

Apparently, none of our players had noticed anything was out of the ordinary with us. Or maybe they did notice, but didn’t say anything. Young people back then seemed to have more respect for their elders than they do today.

Goldy’s Rule 128: Your best friends are those who give you reasons to smile and laugh that will remain with you for the rest of your days.

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