When I take a serious look at the books, movies, TV shows that Pam and I are drawn to, they have two things in common: (1) Some highly nuanced ethical questions to be weighed out, and/or (2) Some underlying conflict regarding layers and degrees of loyalty such as: What comes first, loyalty to spouse, family, country, fellow soldiers…and humanity, or finally loyalty to your own ethical code. A movie can have monsters, flaming cars, exploding buildings and atomic bombs exploding, but consider this: The best books and movies eventually distill down to our individual systems of ethics and nuanced loyalties.
At first glance, you’d think the concept of friends vs. family vs. enemies vs. frenemies would be a slam-dunk set of decisions. Sometimes it is…but sometimes it really isn’t. In college, my aptitude tests had two distinct spikes in the graph. One suggested that I become some form of psychiatrist, or psycho-therapist. The other was a downward, spike, suggesting that I’d really be unhappy as an officer in the military. Well… I’m not exactly sure what all that proves. Pam’s and my favorite pastime is discussing humanity with close friends as well as what makes us all “tick”.
What I can promise you is that, ever since my first day of philosophy class: Plato’s Republic, my mind has become tuned-to trying to figure out ethics and emotions and loyalties. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but this is a topic which will remain eternally slippery. Your hierarchies will almost certainly differ from mine. Having said all that, let’s just dive in and thrash around.
Enemies are far and away the easiest to talk about, categorize…and handle. And as Lincoln once alluded, you can tell a lot about a person by their enemies as well as their friends. And in my growing span of years, I’ve had some pretty cool textbook-type enemies.
In fifth grade, there was a pale red-headed kid who was older and larger than I was. For the sake of argument, I’ll call him Tommy Byrd. One day on the playground, when it was cool to flip baseball cards, Tommy introduced me to a thing called a switchblade. It flashed open in the blink of an eye and he held it in front of my nose. “Gimme your baseball cards,” was all he said. To be honest, I didn’t even have time to get scared, BUT…I was also next up at bat in the softball game that was going on, and by instinct more than anything else, I swung and hit Tommy in the arm that was holding the switchblade. In the principal’s office, I explained what had happened, with Tommy standing next to me. I never saw Tommy again.
Same thing, freshman year at West Morris Regional. Your quintessential, central-casting, upperclassman bully decided to have some fun. His name was Donald Slack and the school bus bullying went on for about a month…until he pulled out, not a switchblade, but a tube of red lipstick, intent on decorating my face. Once again, he was larger and older, though I had one advantage. There’s a tiny switch inside my brain which flipped on, because…I’d really had enough. Two seniors finally pulled me off of Donald, “Donny.” Blood was flowing from his nose and lip…and that was the end of the bullying. Do I or did I hate either of these guys? Nope, not at all. It’s part of growing up and I believe this type of thing happens in some form to pretty much everybody.
I could go on and on, my encounter during OTS (Officer Training School) at Lackland, Texas, with my roommate, Sam Moon, who didn’t like any Yankees whatsoever. Things worked out after one memorable fistfight and we became fast friends. The point of all this is: Enemies are pretty easy to understand, usually easy to spot while most bullies don’t really don’t want an honest fight. They prefer picking on younger, smaller prey.
Frenemies, however, are a different breed, a different species entirely. And, I have to say, for my own taste and disposition, I’d much rather have an enemy than a frenemy. I like things straight-forward and frenemies, also often known as toxic people, are people who you meet with socially, but when you go home you either want to take a scrub bath because you feel yucky, or pop some Excedrin…or blow your brains out, because frenemies can make you feel bad about yourself. For the record, I am quite adept at making me feel bad about myself with no outside help whatsoever.
Traits of Frenemies: One thing, unfortunately, is that they’re usually smart…or perhaps clever is a more accurate term. They are clever enough to be able to smile at you, blink their eyes innocently, and then say something seemingly innocuous, though later, you say to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute.” Like a criminal who poisons to get his way, frenemies inject a small dose of poison, not enough to kill you, but over time you begin to feel it. Frenemies in general, will misplace their wallets when the check arrives and really prefer to come to your house. I believe it’s a subconscious…possibly conscious game they play.
When caught, out-and-out, the thing that frenemies use as a defense, is the fact that the poison darts and barbs they have impaled you with, are subtle enough that they can feign innocence. “Oh, gosh… Yes, I can see how a person might take offense but…why on earth would I do that???”
Fortunately, the arc of the frenemy is consistent. Eventually, they edge farther and farther out on that slender nasty branch until, you know for sure, that this person was never really a friend at all. At that point, it’s time to saw off the branch.
Friends: I don’t think there’s anyone on this planet hasn’t had a fight with a friend, but the arc is different from that of a frenemy. Good friends will lick their wounds if there are any, and then get together, go fishing, have a beer, go out to lunch, watch a ball game together and patch things up.
A key thing that proves friendship instantly is this: A friend is someone who wants to take your relationship in the best possible way, not look for an excuse to get insulted. And a true friendship, is one in which this reality is understood. Everyone can and will eventually mis-speak. Everyone will, eventually mis-speak with a friend, loved one, relative. The key to things is looking at that arc. Does this person make me feel good about myself? make me laugh, and blow coffee through my nose? Or do I want to go home and beat my head against the wall?
People Types: I don’t know why this is, but for some reason there is a physical type of person who just doesn’t seem to resonate with me at all. It’s like a cat and a dog…with me being the dog. Guys with orange-red hair, pale skin and pale blue eyes…and I never seem to hit it off. Don’t know why. It started with Tommy Byrd, went on to high school and even college, where a guy, I’ll refer to as Dave Hodson, took an instantaneous dislike to me in one philo seminar. That dislike quickly becomes mutual, by the way. Don’t know why and it’s not the same with red-headed women. Just men. Is it just me?
Interesting observations: Having spent a solid year down in the Asheville area, I have encountered…not a single frenemy. Not one. And far and away, the depth of friendship occurs much quicker here. To a one, the people down here want to laugh and they delight in swapping a story or two or three. Life is rough for all of us and it grows steadily shorter. Life is too short to play games as to whether one is a friend or an enemy.
Pam and I remain in awe at the courtesy, grace, and genuine friendship down here.
P.P.S. I wrote 95% of this blog before lunch and then put it away. About fifteen minutes ago a friend (and neighbor) Pat Thomas came over to see where we’re at on the carpentry work for our tree house/ sculpture/place to watch the world go by. We have 4500 pounds of timbers and lumber to erect and we’re just getting going. We went to the site, got muddy and adjusted the final plans. “Gotta go to Lowes tomorrow to get even more stuff.” And then a funny thing happened.
He handed me a huge knife in a black leather scabbard. I said, “Huhhhhhh?????” He said, “Here, I figured you’ll need this on your ship.” I mumbled something, unhooked the scabbard and this is what I saw: It looks like something a Klingon would use in a bar fight. I’m hoping I never have to defend Moon Dancer, the name for the new 45′ black flagship, but I’m ready. And I’m pretty sure, I have a good friend at my side. I’ve said it before, possibly ad nauseum, but the people down here play with a different set of rules. No frenemies down here. We all know where we stand.