Sunday, October 24, 2021

you've got a friend

Did you have someone you knew but weren't sure why you were friends? I did. There was one guy — Wally — who was always "in the picture. As best as I can figure, I was "friends" with Wally because he was in my homeroom for four consecutive years, based purely on the fact that those classes were formed alphabetically. Just because Wally's last name began with the same few letters as my last name, we were — as they say — stuck with each other. 

Where it all began.
When I first met Wally, we made small talk about music and concerts. Then, he invited me to his house... which I'm sure I declined on the first few invitations. You see, I had come to realize that Wally was a jerk. He was very full of himself. He bragged. He was a loudmouth. Among my group of upper middle class friends and acquaintances, Wally and his family were — what was considered — rich. His father (who I met only once or twice) possibly owned a construction company — which in 1970s euphemisms — meant connections to organized crime. Wally's father owned a giant silver Lincoln Continental at a time when other dad's drove second-hand Chevys. Wally live in a big house with an in-ground pool on the furthest outskirts of the Philadelphia City Limits, still allowing his to attend Philadelphia public schools. The official county boundary was across the street from his house.

Wally's pride.
Wally always had the latest technology gadgets. He was the first person I knew with a VCR, a push-button phone, a big-screen (projection) television. His split-level house had a built-in intercom system. For his 16th birthday, which came in February (before any of my other friends), Wally — of course — got a car. And not just any car... a brand new Datsun B210. It was a cool, sporty little car with racing stripes and he flaunted it conceitedly through the school's parking lot — stopping short of screaming "I GOT A CAR!" in the face of everyone who looked in his direction. However, one day, Wally came to my house to pick me up (I did not have my own car. Not many of my friends did.) in his father's Lincoln. That thing was like a tank and Wally, who was small of frame, was dwarfed by its massive dashboard and gigantic steering wheel. I swear, he had a hard time seeing over the dash and out the windshield. I climbed into the front passenger's seat and we headed out to whatever our destination was (probably a Sam Goody record store at a nearby mall). Wally gunned the engine in a typical "show off" move and we took off up an on-ramp of the highway near my house. As we approached our exit, Wally — who was going way too fast — veered off the blacktop and into the overgrown grassy area that followed the contour of the road. With wide eyes and a grimace of panic across both our faces, Wally managed to bring the mammoth vehicle to a halt. He gathered his breath and turned to me. Instead of what I assumed would be an apology or at least an "Are you all right?," Wally grit his teeth and seethed, "Not a word about this to anyone at school!" Wally was indeed a jerk, but I kept my word.

Wally had a huge record collection. An entire wall of his bedroom was occupied by shelves and shelves of albums. Wally would happily record any one of his albums on cassette for me (if I provided the blank tape) but he would never ever lend an album to anyone. Never! No one was permitted to touch Wally's albums. When he removed one from its protective cardboard sleeve, one was barely permitted to breathe near the vinyl disk as it spun on his expensive turntable. Wally was a big fan of The Who, a band who — to be honest — in the middle 1970s, I was not familiar with. But, they were gods to Wally. I remember I was at Wally's house when the news came out that Keith Moon, the Who's wild man drummer, had died. Wally sank as though he was just informed that his father had died. Actually, I don't believe the death of his father would have elicited the same reaction, until he realized that his source of unlimited funds had now run dry.

During the course of high school, Wally's house (suspiciously)  burned down. Another time, Wally and his girlfriend were accosted and tied up by three men who muscled their way into his house (also suspicious), the place cleaned out of valuables as Wally and his girl sat helplessly. (Again, unsubstantiated.)

After high school, I lost touch with Wally. Actually, "liberated myself from" would be a better way of putting it. A friend of a mutual friend told me that Wally had opened a retail store not far from my home. I was talked into attending the grand opening. Surprise! Wally was still a jerk. Not graciously welcoming his acquaintances to his new venture, but thumping his chest and stopping short of screaming "I GOT A STORE" in the face of everyone who looked in his direction. A few years later, Wally and his new wife wandered into my father-in-law's store, where I worked with Mrs. Pincus on weekends for years until it closed. I introduced Wally to my wife, choking on the words "my friend" as they passed through my lips. Wally's wife, a nice enough woman who I secretly wondered what was she doing with Wally, suggested that we all get together sometime. I smiled... with no intentions of ever making that happen.

A few years ago, I had an accumulation of vacation days from work that had to be used before the end of the calendar year. I took random days off with no real plans to do anything. On one of those days, I found myself in the neighborhood of Wally's store — still in business, but in a different suburban location. I parked my car and entered the store. There was Wally, looking a bit older and a bit grayer, but it was Wally. He was behind the counter, surrounded by stacks and piles of haphazardly displayed merchandise — and not a single customer in sight. He looked up as I entered. He did not recognize me. Granted, at the time I had flaming red hair, something I did not sport in high school. I explained who I was and Wally lit up. Not with a "Great to see you after all this time," but with a barrage of boasts about his business and his overall success.

Yep. Wally was still a jerk and I wondered why on earth I ventured into his store and why I wanted him in life again.

More recently, Wally tracked me down on social media. He made himself known by making a succession of very racist comments on several of my posts. I immediately blocked him.

If only life was that easy.

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