2002-06-25 3:55 AM
Gilgamesh and Enkidu

It's my last week in the States, and I've been frantically tying up loose ends.

On Sunday, I went to visit an old and dear friend (nearly my oldest, and certainly my dearest, as a matter of fact). I hadn't seen or heard from him in far too long, and it's been bothering me like a loose tooth, so I scoured the 'net until I managed to dredge up his phone number.

I'm fatter, but he's balder.


No, wait, there's more!

The funny thing (for me at least) about going to see an old friend after a long time apart is the inescapable dread of being the only one who has changed. I don't just mean physically, although that's certainly a factor. It's difficult to picture the youthful beauty of your long-losts turned to wrinkles and chromedomitude, so one's own decline seems magnified immensely as the clock ticks its relentless way towards the appointed hour of reunion. And yet, when the door opens, there's your friend, and (thank god) he's approximately as decrepit as you are.

The real question is: has he grown up and straightened himself out yet?

For most people, this isn't an earth-shaking concern. Rank immaturity preserved well into senescence can be awfully obnoxious, but it can also be charming, and it's usually only relevant to how long it will be before you're ready for the next reunion. For me, and for this particular friend, it meant the difference between that epoxy-and-catalyst warmth that remakes a strong bond, and an afternoon of inwardly squirming discomfort followed by a hasty change of any contact information given out.

In case I haven't made it clear, I should point out that the anxiety was thoroughly mutual, and for very good reason. In fact, to be truly fair about it, I have to say that he had more to be anxious about than I did. Those of you who have not known me for many years may not be aware of just how masterfully I misspent my youth, but I certainly know, and so does my friend, because more than any other human living today, he helped me misspend it. It's even possible that the ONLY reason he agreed to meet with me was because, of all our many mutual friends from that time, the great majority are as dead as the Macarena.

We were and are different people, he and I, but our similarities have always been so profound in both their abundance and their uncommon character that, practically from the day we first met, they resonated between us in a constant, prolonged shock of recognition. In stark contrast that only served to accentuate our sameness, our differences were jarringly polar, and aptly externalized in the white-blond color of his hair, and the jet black of my own. Contemplation of the bond we shared always made me think of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and the story of their first meeting in the dusty streets of Uruk.

Like Gilgamesh and Enkidu, we contested amicably with each other in everything, having no other, closer rivals... and like them, we often led each other into questionably advisable adventures. Unfortunately, we did not have the luxury of living in a relatively untamed world where opportunities for good, wholesome adventuring were readily available, and so the nature of our activities was somewhat less heroic than it might have been had we not been trapped in the ineluctable semicartoon that was Ronald Reagan's America. Thus, we drove each other to dizzying heights of oneupmanship, but to no good purpose other than our mutual entertainment.

Having no Humbaba or bull of Anu to slay, we sought our glory and our friendly competition in trading remarkably pointed aphorisms, epigrams, and in-jokes while performing remarkably pointless acts of wanton nihilism. To put it bluntly, we did stupid shit... and egging each other on, we did even stupider shit. Inevitably, having no other peers quite as equal to us as we were to each other, we effortlessly peer-pressured one another into doing the STUPIDEST shit, and then outdid ourselves again, vying mightily to push the very envelope of stupid, knowing full well the whole time that the incredibly dangerous things we were doing *just for fun* were so obscenely and undeniably retarded that to have to admit to them in case of a slip-up was just unthinkable.

I'm sure that many of you think that you know what I'm talking about, but trust me: you don't. You may think that you've been there and done that, too, but you haven't. I'm not exaggerating when I say that shooting heroin in the men's room at McDonald's was inconsequentially incidental to one of our typical nights out on the town together, a mere stupid aperitif, no more notable than cocktails before a seven-course dinner of stupid. We exceeded the speed of stupid so often and by such a frightening margin that, when I reminded him of the time we attacked two armed drug dealers in South Central L.A. by luring them to our car and then discharging a fire extinguisher point-blank in one's face before speeding off into the night while the other one shot at us, HE DIDN'T EVEN REMEMBER IT.

I could spend all day and all night and all day tomorrow spinning anecdotes like that, each one the gospel stupid truth, but I won't. For now. Suffice it to say that, after all these years, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from him, and vice versa.

As it turned out, we ended up having a pretty good day together... but within a few minutes of my arrival at his reassuringly normal-looking house, I found myself sitting face to face with him, both of us on the edges of our chairs, as he struggled and stumbled his uncharacteristically awkward way through the kind of stiff, impromptu speech that only righteously concerned family men make when some tumescent ghost of bachelorhood threatens to poke rudely into their happy domestic lives. He labored intensely to express his reservations about me both honestly and diplomatically, and I struggled not to finish too many of his sentences for him. I KNOW, I KNOW, I kept thinking. If we had been in my living room at the time instead of his, I'd have been making more or less the same speech.

Good for us.