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When my sister was a young mother living in a new town, she was very hesitant to let my four-year-old nephew play with the neighborhood riff-raff. My nephew would stand by the window in their second-story apartment and call plaintively through the screen to other children playing below: “Frieeends! Frieeends!” My sister would scowl and respond firmly, “Those are not your friends!” Of course she was only concerned for his safety, but believe me that child was outside making friends as soon as he was big enough to pick up my sister and haul her away from the front door.
The issue of friends (and not having any) has remained prominent in our family; every time one of us five kids reports that we might be making a new one, rumors fly from Maine to Minnesota to Arizona: “So-and-so met somebody new. Hope this one isn’t a loser. Hope this one doesn’t steal. Hope they’re not a freak like the last one.” If it happens than any of my scattered siblings are gathered together for a holiday or vacation and somebody mentions the name of a new acquaintance, the rest of us will exchange looks and fall into our usual chorus, howling “Frieeends!” The fact that there are five of us, resulting in twenty friendships between us (if you do the math), has ultimately paralyzed us as friend-makers in the real world.
But still, I try. I took some sandals to my shoe repair guy Luis the other day and commented on some truly fabulous spiked heels that were already fixed, sitting on a shelf waiting to be picked up. “Those are gorgeous shoes!” I said.
Luis, who is four feet tall, responded, “Yes! But you know, no matter how expensive the shoes, they are always made with a plastic heel! I don’t understand! Plastic makes noise and is not safe!” He placed his little hands on the counter and looked up at me. “This lady, she bring all her shoes in here and I replace all plastic heels with rubber. It is safer and softer—she can walk and not go click-clack, click-clack, and not slip. Every shoe I fix for her. Every one!”
This inside information about shoes from a passionate man with whom I shared a common interest made me want to be Luis’s friend. I thought about how maybe we could meet for coffee since I lived so close to his store, or how I could bring lunch to him and we could hang out together back in the shop, my Pinocchio to his Geppetto.
Any dreams of real friendship with Luis went poof when he wrinkled his nose and said, “Your shoes, they are cheap and made poorly. I cannot fix them, waste of time. You can buy some glue and fix them yourself.”
Feeling gonged, I paid for the glue and took my fraying, smelly shoes out to the car, then drove to the gym. It was Silver Sneakers Afternoon, which meant that elderly people were everywhere: sitting in the lounge drinking coffee and visiting, moseying along on the treadmills, dancing to the oldies in the aerobics room. I climbed up on a Stairmaster next to a seventy-ish black man with sweat pouring off his bald head. “How do you like these machines?” he bellowed with a smile, friendlier than anybody I’d run into in a long time.
“They’ll kick your butt!” I said.
“That’s for sure!” he said, and we both returned to punishing ourselves.
Thirty minutes later I was on a treadmill and the same man was riding a bike off to my right. “You’re still at it?” he yelled across the room.
“That’s right!” I yelled back. We both smiled and chuckled the chuckle of total strangers.
Finally—sweaty, exhausted, my sciatic nerve poised to snap at any second, my left foot pulling me in circles—I slowly made my way towards the front door. “Goin’ home now?” the man called out, the same friendly smile on his face.
“Yup!” I called back, and we jinxed each other by shouting out “See ya later!” at the same time.
Gonged and jinxed, I slowly twirled out to my car, my left leg out like a kickstand. I got in next to my cheap stinky shoes, and off we went. Thinking back on the day, I knew that my shoe repairman would never be my friend; he clearly preferred well-heeled company. And I could never be the sweaty old black man’s friend because he asked too many questions. That would drive me crazy! I wondered if I could ever make a new friend with…I don’t know…a woman. Rich or poor, no matter what race or religion…just a woman who liked shoes and working out, somebody with a deformity or two like me.
I went home and got out my Guiness Book of World Records. I looked up “Longest Life Lived Without Making Any New Friends.” Surely I would connect with such a winner, or at least learn a bunch of what-not-to-do’s. But it’s such a new category, only one living person had been accepted: Me! There was my mug shot from that one time I got caught doing that one thing! Somebody had submitted my life story, and apparently no one else could beat it, living or dead.
(This post originally appeared as a column on the web site Funny Not Slutty.)