Thursday, August 15, 2013

old man, look at my life, I'm a lot like you were

I had lunch with my friend Steve this week.

I met Steve when we were both employed in the Marketing Department of a national aftermarket auto parts distributor whose corporate mascots are three Jewish guys with out-of-proportion heads, one of whom smoked a cigar until it was unceremoniously removed in 1990. But I ain't naming names. Steve is a copywriter and I am a graphic designer. ( I used to be an "artist," until the corporate world reassigned me.)

Steve and I have commiserated about the trials and tribulations (and assholes) we have encountered during our collective years in the intriguing, yet utterly ridiculous, industry known as "marketing." While neither of us are in the employ of those unnamed retailers any longer and have moved on to other jobs, we still manage to get together, though not as often as we'd like. A few years ago, after a lengthy stretch in the freelance world, Steve began working at an ad agency just three blocks from my office. We meet for lunch frequently, but still, not frequently enough.

On Monday morning, an electronic whistle from my cellphone alerted me of an incoming text message. I unlocked the screen and read:
("Liberty" refers to the food court at Liberty One, a 61-story high rise building that houses offices, retail stores and the aforementioned food court. Liberty One holds the distinction of being the first skyscraper to break the decades-old agreement that no building can be higher than the statue of William Penn that sits atop Philadelphia's City Hall.)
Having no plans for lunch (actually, I never have plans for lunch), I rode the elevator down to street level. Steve greeted me at the corner of 16th and Market, just across from where the Preacher was delivering his daily midday message. We immediately began catching up as we made our way to the street entrance of Liberty One. Inside, Steve queued up for a big, Styrofoam plate of Japanese-prepared tan meat and cabbage. I opted for pizza, but when I discovered a darkened and stripped-bare location that — until recently — served that beloved Italian quick-bite staple, I settled for an overpriced egg salad sandwich. We reconvened at one of the many small, metal tables that populate the seating area and began eating and conversing.

Steve had been travelling for work non-stop since the beginning of June. As he related the whirlwind itinerary that included such exotic foreign locales as Paris and Lyon and such mundane domestic territory as Pittsburgh and Morgantown, West Virginia, he reminded me that it was strictly business. He was not there to leisurely stroll the romantic banks of the Seine. He was there to supervise the grueling production of a television commercial and put up with non-productive producers.

A subsequent leg of Steve's work tour took him to Austin, Texas... and that's where the real fun* began. Steve woke up in his hotel in the worst, excruciating pain. Soon, he found himself a stranger in the emergency room of a strange Austin hospital, just one buffer seat from a Mom and Dad trying to comfort their gunshot-wounded son — and trying to keep his obviously-disliked boyfriend at bay. Eventually, Steve was diagnosed with a kidney stone.

"I've been there.," I said, knowingly.

With that, we commenced on a tangent, trading tales of kidney stone episodes for the next twenty-five minutes. We consoled and sympathized over vivid memories of not being able to sit comfortably and fearing an addiction to Percocet. We nodded solemnly and re-experienced the pain. We began a lot of sentences with "Well, when it happened to me..." When, suddenly....

"Listen to us!," I said, "We sound like we're 80 years old! Is this what it has come to? This is what our conversations have been reduced to?"

We stared blankly at each other for a second.

We quickly changed the subject.

To something younger.

Originally published 8/15/13. 

* and by real fun, I mean no fun.

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