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Long-Time Friends

February 15, 2005

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. When the kids are farmed out to their friends' houses for overnight birthday parties and your husband is in Victoria, Texas, talking about strategies for self-fulfillment, and there's no one to cook for or pick up after, you have time to really listen. Which really is hard work sometimes, and other times it's like standing under a storm drain on a rainy summer day. I got to wondering how many people are out there listening to the show — curled up on living room couches or sitting at dining room tables or driving in cars, their faces lit kind of green by dashboard lights. Wonder how it feels to have that many people listening to you.

I listened a bit closer when Guy Noir, who was dressed as a frog, I think, for a parade in St. Paul, admitted he's looking for romance. You don't hear many people these days come out and SAY they're looking for love or romance, or a date, even, for that matter. It makes me smile to think how much easier things would be if we could just come out and say it without worrying whether or not people are going to laugh and think we're idiots or desperate or simply not hear what we're saying. It seems everything we do, we do out of fear or love. And sometimes both.

So during the Irving Berlin waltz, the phone rang. It was my long-time friend Jack who lives in New York where he works for an editor in a tall brown brick building. I met Jack at a Bible camp in eighth grade when he lived in northern Wisconsin up near Superior. I had a little crush on him, but after camp ended and we went home I learned from his letters that finding romance was about as low on his priority list as studying algebra so my crush faded out and a friendship took its place. We wrote a letter or two a month, and talked pretty regularly over the phone. Jack has always been a good listener — through all my stories about trying out for cheerleading and winning the geography bee and how desperately I wanted to be a pastry chef. In turn, I listened to his stories of play rehearsal and late-night drives along the North Shore and, later, how he'd been stopped again for speeding on his motorcycle. I would say we pretty much grew up together.

After I met Mr. Sundberg and Jack moved to New York, our calls became less frequent and now we talk once every season or so. It's always so good to hear his voice, even when he's down. Which he was Saturday night. "I'm lonely," he said. "And I have this feeling I can't get rid of. It's like I need to DO something and I don't know what that something is. I feel like such a bore." I asked him what he's afraid of and he said "failing" and I said, Well, aren't we all. I told him lately I feel something calling me and I don't know what it is but I mean to find out because fear can kill your mind if you let it and I'll be darned if I'm going to let it get in the way. We talked for a while and laughed for a while more. He said he's been listening to the show and it makes him miss home and he might very well make a visit one of these days once spring arrives if I promise to take him to a restaurant in the city where he can get some good calamari and a thick slice of cheesecake.

I told him I know just the place. It's a bit sophisticated for my tastes, but they serve calamari with hot cherry peppers and fresh strawberries on the cheesecake. We'll get a table by the window for an afternoon and talk and eat. And listen.

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