Friday, July 1, 2011

A Pat On The Back

I've been thinking a lot about my old friend, Pat. He's that person, the one I've known the longest on this planet. We were zygotes together. Our mothers stood belly to belly in a gated park on the Upper East Side, while their daughters, my sister, and Patrick's sister, played. I imagine us as two tiny cartoon fetuses waving to each other through transparent belly domes. I liked him even before he was born.

Later, and he doesn't like me to mention this, a fact he'll deny, we took baths together as tiny kids. Sorry buddy.

Let me say this before anything else, Pat is now Patrick. He's maybe 6'3". He's got perfect teeth. He's a handsome, successful Ivy league graduate and owner of his own film company - that and whatever else he is, good and bad. But when I knew him, he was a chubby kid with buck teeth called Pat. Both our Dads worked for magazines. His for People, mine for Time. We were wrought from the same general genetic material. Both our moms were redheads. We had older sisters the same age. We both went to Dalton. We were both largely unsupervised by adults who, when they were around, were in their studies, or off somewhere having "grown-up hour", a euphemism for martinis. Pat and I were together and on the prowl.

Our primary prey, the focus of our plotting and sneak attacks, were our older sisters who, enough of the time, were in the next room. They "babysat" for us, by which I mean they spent the afternoon screeching, "GET OUT OF MY ROOM!!!!" We were uniformly hated by them. As proof of this, I once read my 10 year old sister's secret journal which had a chart of the important people in her life. Gillian was represented by a drawing of a rose, Gus, Pat's sister, was a daisy, and I was a line drawing of a garbage can, out of which green stink waves curled.

Pat and I were undaunted by their loathing. In fact, unrelenting- we taunted them, spied on them, eavesdropped, threw things and sabotaged them until we got bored. Then we set off into the rich unknown of the city for giant salted pretzels, Italian ices, and pizza.

We spent approximately four million hours playing at each others house. We walked the ten blocks or so to school together, carrying violin cases, or clarinet cases or school projects, then back again at the end of the day with heavy book bags. At recess, because the school had no outside space, they put up police barricades at either end of the block to stop traffic and we played between the parked cars. At dismissal time, we stopped at the Sabrett cart that parked outside our school (to get some of that upper east side allowance action - at that time mine was calculated by the cost of a daily pretzel, which was .25 cents or an Italian ice, which was .50).

We shucked and jived to and from school. The sidewalks swelled with our absurd and joyous repertoire of silly walks and slapstick. Pat was a person who would gladly do absolutely anything to make me laugh. He would walk into walls. He tripped over stuff, and let things hang from his face. He stuck things to his forehead. He could hide, sneak, pester and do voices. Not surprisingly, these are now the exact qualities I seek in my adult friendships.

We lived around the corner from one another which made the flow from his house to mine seamless. We had keys and divorced parents. We came and went, often together. We cavorted to Gimbel's department store- their 70's floor plan included a top floor devoted to pet supplies - for hamster bedding. To Azuma for whoopee cushions or posters or Chinese finger traps. We had school-issue public bus passes which enabled transport, free of charge, to movies, farther reaching friend's houses, and deeper city adventures.

Years later, he went to a fancy boarding school of one kind, I went to a fancy boarding school of another. His had blazers and tradition. Mine had moccasins, roach clip earrings and capes. But that distance didn't stop us from together attending his prom, on acid, I in a fringed flapper dress, he in a suit. We had a mind bendingly fun afternoon and evening, again prowling around, this time illicitly, but no less hilariously. We were too enlightened to attend the dinner, so we just walked around campus looking like what we were, old friends, while everyone else, with their imported dates, stood awkwardly holding elbows, dancing like white people.

I like to tell my daughter stories about Pat. She loves the idea of a best-friend boy. Her two best friends are boys, brothers, but they moved away and this has diminished her friend selection to an array of females. There's not a lot of cross-gender pollination in her group and its a bummer for her.

She's got what I had, a desire for loony play based on cockamamerie, so she likes to hear how Patrick would hit all the elevator buttons and pretend he hadn't as we stopped at every floor as if this was just how elevators worked. She likes the stories of how we walked around Manhattan, kicking at each others heels to knock the others feet out from under them. She likes hearing about Halloween, when we'd go to one apartment building, start at the top and hit every apartment on the way down in a helix of sugar-seeking, digging our hands into crystal bowls of pennies for UNICEF. She likes that we were both slightly below in station, compared to the celebrity children and heirs. She likes that we were free to move about in the world, with bus passes and allowance. It's a world she can only fantasize about, as I drive her to her friend's house strapped into our grimy van, the day formulated by adults, schedules, availability and supervision. She asked me recently if she could collect the mail and I had to think hard about the risks of her crossing our road to collect it. What the hell has happened to me?

I'm waiting for her to have that one best bud that fills her night sky with the constellation of possibilities. The one who loves her beyond all others, who will walk into a door to hear the tinkling of her laughter. The one who will squeeze mushed food between their fingers for her, armpit fart the national anthem and coat their teeth in chocolate sauce to better speak of serious matters.

I haven't talked to Pat in a few years now, but I know when I do, it will be because he calls me pretending to be a charity promoting better drinking water for parakeets.


  1. Oh God, Jess, this is so good! You captured so much, including, sadly, my own bad behavior. Gus and I were having pretty much the same relationship in the next room -- she was simply the goofiest girl I ever knew and we just cracked each other up. I miss them both.

    And I am sorry about the garbage pail thing.

  2. my eyes are brimming. this needs to be published for the sake of kids who will never know the freedoms--be them in NYC or rural lands--we had as kids.....
    and of course, you are "spot on" in your humor.....

  3. Slapstick friendships are the best. Loved this. Loved it.

  4. This is amazing! Beautiful words of art. Thank you Schickel!