Friends: A Tragedy in Parts

As I clutched my last 24oz Coors Light Tall-Boy can in my hands, I was witness to a sight I’d rather wouldn’t have seen and which I did see for too long a time.

A girl I had just made a “date” with sitting in a young man’s lap in front of me perched between his crotch and his leg, stroking his neck while playing with his necklace, occasionally contorting to kiss parts of his upper torso. In retrospect, it almost seemed more like an absurdist performance, something like out of one of my movies than out of my actual life.

And the young man whose lap my (now former) date was sitting on was none other than my best friend from college, Jonny-Jon-Jon.

Ironically, we were listening to the Human League.

Or maybe not, Jonny-Jon-Jon has a sick sense of humor.

But as I sat there, taking in this spectacle, I moved, intractably for the evening, inward, trying to examine exactly how I might have gotten here and where exactly I fucked up so bad.

***

My other best friend from college, the second one I ever made was a guy named John Weeke.

As I often recount, I met John Weeke my second day of college on an NYU-sponsored tour of Chinatown. We must have been destined to be friends back then or at least the result of good planning by the NYU Freshman Welcome Week committee.

We were both there to see if we could scam good food off of NYU, we both already knew Chinatown. We both admired video games and anime–to lesser or greater extent: John was obsessed with the works of Miyazaki, while I had a broader range of anime interest that encompassed but didn’t stop with the Master. I talked a lot, walking around Chinatown, John talked a little. I admired him for his thoughtfulness, he msut have admired me for my freedom and goofiness with words. What’s more is that in him I saw someone close enough to myself, yet different enough, that I could aspire to the good qualities that he had, that I could learn something from him–and maybe him from me.

We spent Freshman year in a haze of acrid smoke, smuggled beers and lengthy (psuedo)intellectual conversations, held sitting in the pathetic prison block dorm rooms that were assigned to us as freshmen. Eventually, John accrued what we called “the harem”, a group of women who were all pretty interesting in their own way, who all were united by a common cause: wanting to fuck John. I marveled endlessly at this phenomenon. “I hate to tell you this, John.” I would tell him one day, trying to riddle-me-this, over a walk down to Gray’s Papaya. “I hate to tell you this, but you’re just not that much more attractive than me, no offense. How the fuck do you have all these women on you?” But John would shrug and say little. Maybe a lethargic “I dunno” to complement his slightly-stooped tall-and-curly gait.

Fast-forward to recently, John and I had fallen out of touch.

As was the plan, thought up upon meeting, we had complimented each other well in film school. We held parties, we lived together, we collaborated on projects. At least two of my films (The Big Night and I Wanna Hold Your Hand) were co-directed with John, a result of both my admiration for his sense of aesthetic and my terror of facing the lack of my own. He was always around to throw ideas off of, to talk about baseball, to want to catch a few beers or a good bottle of wine. After Freshman year, we decided to move in together as roommates in Carlyle.

But there were problems as there always are. John was always short on cash and he sometimes put me in a tough spot, allowing me to pay for things that we really should have split. There were creative differences, the insistence uniformly of all my teachers that I should find my own voice and that my reliance on John was a crutch. There were relationship issues as I kept making new friends who were sometimes vibrant, sometimes crazy but mostly active, while John seemed to reclude into his crowd of, what I deemed then, unsavory characters who I credited for John’s withdrawal into himself and to drugs and alcohol. Finally, there were personality clashes, John was often cold and calculating, something that had served him well in a life where people weren’t always looking out for his best interests, as they had for me growing up, but which made him at sometimes a fairweather friend.

It’s difficult to describe a friendship and impossible to do it in so few words. All I can give is a sense of a bits of how I feel about it looking back.

The last time I saw him was about a year-and-a-half after we moved out to separate places from our place together in dorms. It was a party for his graduation, a semester early. We hadn’t been involved, by that time, in each other’s projects for a while. John had made his Junior film, his last, with a skeleton crew with only one person I knew, while I had just shown him the script for my advanced, which he gave me kind words for, saying it was “the best thing you’ve ever written”.

It was at a superhero bar in the scummy part of Brooklyn he was living in and I think I might have written about it then, though I don’t care to look back.

We talked a while, while his irrepressible father filmed the event and, for once again, John was the life of the party, the center of the storm, amidst free PBRs and cheap shots.

There’s a lot of moments I could mention, good and bad. How we stayed at his house in Rome one summer while I wrestled one of his many dogs, one of the first times I overcame my fear of them. How we would sometimes go down to Chinatown repeating the ritual of ice cream and food I had founded with my friend Frank. How he would ask for a six pack and then pretend like he thought I was buying it when we got to the store. How he left with a girl I liked a lot, sitting heart-broken in my room on Valentine’s Day. How we made some of things I’m most proud of artistically in my life together and how we laughed the whole way through it, chuckling and giving each other silly high fives.

I got too drunk at that graduation party of his, kissed a girl I shouldn’t have and haven’t heard from him since.

And that was it.

***

Jonny-Jon-Jon, not to be confused with John Weeke, has been well documented on this blog.

On a crazy voyage we once took walking across the Williamsburg bridge, we had once stopped in to a bar I used to frequent, Goodbye Blue Monday, to hear the live music on a late Tuesday evening. The songs were uniformly terrible, but I had at least sympathy for the group of 17-18 year-olds from Baltimore who had driven up all this way this morning so they could play for free at a shitty bar in Bushwick. The band was called “Sharks with Knives”, which the lead singer, who looked like a chubby-clone of the lead singer of Green Day, described as his “solo project”.

The worst stuff we heard there though was a black dude in drag wailing the words “White Pussy” over and over again, over an equally wailing piano.

“This is fucking terrible.” I commented to Jonny-Jon-Jon, sitting at our table.

Jonny-Jon-Jon answered non-commitally, flipping through a late 50s LIFE magazine, several of which were scattered throughout the bar.

“What are you talking about?” Jonny-Jon-Jon said. “Pitchfork would call this: haunting.”

If John Weeke was a friend because he was relatable, Jonny-Jon-Jon was one because he was different; a character or caricature representing a sort of ur-cool, or, as I’m sure he would put it: “I am the Neil Cassady of my generation.”

He isn’t, but I always had a good time hanging around him, or at least usually did, or at least the good times outbalanced the bad.

Jonny-Jon-Jon and I had met the first day of orientation, when he put on his name-tag, “Jonny-jon-jon-jon-jon-jon-jon-jonjon” and given my wise-assedness, I decided to keep calling him that, or at least an abbreviated version and it mostly stuck.

The nights I spent hanging out with him managed a difficult interplay: he was certainly harder into everything than I was, drugs, alcohol, women, but I made a good straight man to his craziness and maybe I needed a bit more craziness in my comparatively button-down life while he needed someone who wasn’t such a goddamn phony.

Mostly I saw my nights with him as miniature movies: stories I witnessed with minimal audience participation. But they usually involved pretty girls, crazy times, darkly little bars and other things out of songs by The Doors, who I found out the other day, were film students from UCLA.

Usually, I’d come out with him on a random whim or phone-call. He’d be flaky and not come, or I’d expect his flakiness and not show up, but when we managed to get together, we both seemed to have an appropriately fun time for our respective fun levels. I had my boundaries (Don’t depend on him, expect randomness, don’t go anywhere near any girl he’s ever been with) and usually they held up well, to the effect that I got to get out a little more and hangout/have a good time with someone different than me, but with mutual respect/admiration of sorts within our own confines.

At least, usually.

I read in the New Yorker the other day that the singer I had seen that night at Goodbye Blue Monday, M. Lamar (a name I found out by searching “white pussy” and ignoring spurious results) was featured by a critic in that magazine as “haunting” among other raves. I called up Jonny-Jon-Jon to tell him in disbelief when he told me that “was I still coming tonight”, Diana was going to be there.

***

“This sounds bad.” I told Ashna. “Diana. This sounds like a bad idea.”

Diana, best remembered here, was a girl among the line of girls who had previously broken my heart and also just about the only girl that had caused Jonny-Jon-Jon and I to cross swords. Jonny-Jon-Jon and I had both falled for her while she was wearing ridiculous big-hipster glasses and a big human smile at a party that Jonny-Jon-Jon was bartending. I got into a balloon fight with her which she didn’t remember before I lost her in the crowd. I told Jonny-Jon-Jon to look out for her and let me know if he saw her, at which he saluted, shook and afterwards took her home and good and fucked her. They dated for a while and though Jon was aware of the story, Diana didn’t remember me, though I of course, remembered her. My friends advised me to forget about it, but as Jon and her relationship came apart, as relationships with someone who described himself as “the Neal Cassady of our generation” are prone to do, she started spending time with me and Diana is very beautiful and very open and she has a good smile and I didn’t have a chance. I fell for her hard as she spent time with me and my friends, went out drinking, giving me a playful impromptu kiss-on-the-cheek before running away one night. It’s funny how small things like that can seem so significant to a person, compared to the sudden insignificance of the hours of sex and affection she’d lavished on my best friend.

After the incident described in the aformentioned post, I had stopped contacting her, a measure taken to protect myself as much as anything else. Diana was too happy-go-lucky, too pretty, too nice, I could forgive her too easily, but it wouldn’t be good for me. What’s more, I couldn’t even trust or gauge her on how she felt, which made me feel even worse about myself, that I was blowing up any sense of scale of us having been involved.

But when she started contacting me again recently, I at first didn’t reply, but then feeling came flooding back to me, all the good moments, how my friends envied me for hanging around this beautiful girl and that kiss down near Bed-Stuy and the shortness of breath I felt around her. First I asked about a movie but when our schedules didn’t sync she asked about a “dinner date” and it was all I could do to cotnain myself as if nothing had happened.

“Relax.” Ashna told me. “It’ll be okay.”

Ashna, another best-friend, my third chronologically perhaps at college, was someone who I shared an emotional bond with. Another beautiful girl, smart as a whip and fierce with her reasons and feelings, Ashna and I shared both a similar work ethic but also a predilection for difficult emotional situations. Throughout the years we’d known each other, we’d remained somehow platonic friends, a difficult feat for me with women. We were always going through though, our own personal earthquakes, through which we maintained our friendship by stabilizing and cleaning up each other’s tremors. By supporting each other and just being there, corny as it sounds.

“i’m just worried.” I told Ashna.

Jonnny-Jon-Jon already had a tendency to place me inconveniently between him and his lady-friends as a sort of cat-and-mouse exercise, but with Diana it would be especially uncomfortable.

“I just don’t want to be put in a bad position.” I told her. “I just don’t want to be stuck there.”

Ashna looked into my eyes as I sat on the edge of my bed while she kneeled beside me. It had been a tough day for her too, full of family craziness and interpersonal angst and self-loathing, qualities I could all relate to, too well.

“Don’t worry.” She told me. “I’ll be here for you. I won’t let that happen.”

Impulsively I picked her up, her light 5-foot-frame easy to manipulate, “portable” I’d called her and smushed her on top of my bed.

“Thank you.” I told her. “Thank you for being there for me.”

I stifled an impulse. I felt sad. I wanted to tell Ashna that the way I felt emotionally fulfilled smushing her on top of my bed, talking, being there for one another, is the feeling I had been chasing looking for a girlfriend or a partner in my life. The idea of an emotional intimacy, of knowing someone and listening to them and knowing how to be there for each other in ways that are subtle and significant. I wanted to tell her that, but I didn’t want to ruin the moment by making it “off” or “weird”.

“Don’t worry.” Ashna told me. “I’m coming with you to Jon’s tonight. And if anything gets weird. We can leave.”

***

“I think I’m gonna stay a while.” Ashna told me boozily from the top of McKibben roof.

After the horror of having to observe Diana, the girl I’d made a date with, make out with my best friend (JJJ)’s neck while my other best friend, Ashna, took swigs from a bottle of Wild Turkey 101, the night had progressed to a party at the McKibben lofts, close to Jonny-Jon-Jon’s place.

At this point, I was just pretty depressed and out of it. I was done with my beers, done with drinking. We had showed up at the party and it was hot, sticky and humid. Instantly, people showed up I knew and knew I didn’t like and suddenly there felt like no reason to stay and invite a worse-off night.

Ashna assured me she could take care of herself. I just left, a disappointed blank.

Ashna, Jonny-Jon-Jon and, mortifyingly enough, Diana had come up to me throughout the evening seeing if I was ok.

“Yes.” I’d give them back and continue staring flat-forward.

To Ashna’s credit, she noticed how the shit with Diana was hurting me and told me repeatedly: “Don’t sweat it. You’re better than her.”

To Ashna’s demerit, she told me the next morning how she had made out with Diana after I left and said with an excited lilt in her voice that her and Diana were planning on “being friends”.

“You know, to put it bluntly, I’m vaguely horrified by that.” I told Ashna, blunty, vaguely horrified.

“Yeah, I guessed that.” Ashna said.

I ended the conversation and furiously ate the plate of fries in front of me, stuffing them into my mouth, like that could shut up my brain.

I had left last night telling Jonny-Jon-Jon at least what was on my mind: That I shouldn’t have come tonight, that he shouldn’t have invited Diana and that if he was going to invite her he certainly shouldn’t have invited me.

I told him, frankly, “this whole thing is too fucked”.

He agreed.

And I did too.

***

I sent a message over Facebook the other day to Margaux, John Weeke’s sister. I had always had a soft spot for her, in a brotherly way, since she was an outspoken, blunt red-head–something I could get behind.

My message was simple asking if she knew where John had gone since no one I knew had heard from him. John had become increasingly isolated in the months before he disappeared of everyone’s radar, breaking off contact with my friends, just as I broke off contact with what remained of his. But I began to wonder to myself what might have happened to him as my friends I continued to flail about, like beached fish in a post-collegiate atmosphere.

She sent me a nice, prompt message back.

John was fine, she told me, happy. He was working as a sous-chef in Alask and managing a trailer park, where he lived.

It sounded like a good life for John, a quiet loner who had loved Alaska when he went there for its rugged independence, strongly resembling his own.

It sounded like somewhere he might be happy.

Somewhere he might have started over again.

She told me that he was responsive to text and email and that he had gotten a new number. (He had deleted his FaceBook and his old number didn’t work.)

She said if I contact him if I wanted.

I told her that would be fine, just to tell him that I had asked.

He had a life to get to.

I had mine.

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One Response to Friends: A Tragedy in Parts

  1. Matthew Chao says:

    “Where you went wrong” with your “date” for the night was bringing her within a 2 mile radius of John Foster.

    I guess I’m just going to be another one of these friends that gives you the same advice that is a hell of a lot easier to give than to follow. “Fuck ’em” (the girls)

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