“Hey, Jernigan — could you pick me up in about 10 at my office?”
Pete, along with his wife, Robin, is a regular weekend customer, so the call was no surprise. What was odd was the very late hour; with two preteen girls and the babysitter back at home in the New North End, this couple usually packs it in much earlier. When you’ve reached your forties, you may on occasion burn the midnight oil, but the 2 a.m. oil? That’s pushing it.
“You said the office?” I asked. “Where is that again — on South Willard?”
“Yeah, you got it. Between Main and College.”
Pete runs a successful consulting firm that provides marketing strategies to nonprofit organizations. He’s great at what he does, and the company generates a nice income for his family, as well as his employees. I’d work for him in a heartbeat if I had the skills and wasn’t hell-bent on hacking. He’s just a good dude, pure and simple.
When I pulled up to his building, Pete came bounding down the driveway and jumped into the front seat. On his face was a wide smile. He looked as if he had experienced a particularly satisfying evening.
“Where the hell is Robin?” I asked, in mock alarm. “Did she finally leave you?”
Pete chuckled, saying, “No, I’m on my own tonight. Robin told me, ‘This is your night,’ and I can’t really blame her. This weekend’s my 25th alumni reunion, and I’ve been hanging out with all my UVM buddies. Man, it’s been great. Some of these people I haven’t seen since our college days, but it’s like no time has passed at all.”
“So you gathered at your office?”
“Yeah, there was an event at the Davis Center, but we rendezvoused before and after at the office. Last night, we all hooked up at Rasputin’s, you know, for old times’ sake. But it was so freaking loud, and everybody really wanted to talk. So the office tonight was perfect. It was me and about a dozen or so old friends.”
“None of the others brought their partners with them, either?”
“Jernigan, this is how it is. I remember, like, the fifth reunion. Everybody who had a spouse or partner seemed to bring them along. You know, it’s like, you’re 25 or 30 years old, and you’re really proud and want everybody to see how well you’ve done since graduation. But, by the 25th, that motivation kind of fades. You’re no longer so much trying to impress; you simply want to get together and hang out with old chums.”
“It’s probably boring for the spouses, anyway,” I said. “They’ve probably heard the old stories a thousand times. It’s like, Oh, yeah — remember the time when Joey was so drunk, he passed out on the guy’s lawn on Maple Street? Did I ever tell ya about that, honey? And then, in the morning, the guy put the sprinkler on? I’d say all of these ‘hilarious’ tales of college high jinks fall under the category of you-really-had-to-be-there.”
“Well put, brother,” Pete said, laughing. “I think you nailed it.”
“So what was the event at the Davis Center?”
“Something at Brennan’s Pub, I think the place was called. The Davis Center is gorgeous — what a building — but this pub area was kind of food court-y, if you know what I mean. Anyway, we all just wanted to get back to my office where we could really chew the fat.”
“Brennan’s Pub?” I asked. “I wonder if it was named after the old basketball coach, Tom Brennan. That guy was the living embodiment of good cheer and affability.”
“Either that or some rich alumnus named Brennan paid for it.”
We scooted up North Avenue, passing the Ethan Allen Park entrance. Idling in the Rite Aid parking lot, a police cruiser gave me two shots of his high beams — slow down, cabbie — a signal to which I instantly complied. I had been going 40 in a 30-mile-per-hour zone, not really dangerous at this late hour, but that explanation is not apt to fly with the police. At any rate, I appreciated the informal warning in lieu of being pulled over. Deeply appreciated.
Taking the left at Shore Road, I asked Pete about the nature of the conversation with his old classmates. In this era of Facebook, I wondered if “catching up” is even required.
“No, there’s still catching up to do,” he explained. “Some of us are on Facebook, but we’re not really of that generation. What’s weird is having to fill in the basic biographical events, like kids, work, health — that kind of thing. Because you’re looking into the face of a friend you know like a brother or a sister, and then you realize you may not have spoken for, like, 20 years.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I have a handful of friends going back that far, and some I rarely communicate with, but when we do, it’s just as you put it — like no time has passed at all. I think there’s something special about relationships forged during the crucible of adolescence, where you’re all just figuring out who you are, who you want to be. Those bonds run deep and may not be replicable, even with close friendships you develop later in life.”
The crucible of adolescence, I replayed the phrase in my mind. Who do I think I am — Henry Miller? Sometimes my pomposity is more than even I can take. I flashed on that old Green Day lyric: “Sometimes I give myself the creeps.” Fortunately, the people in my life — including old customers such as Pete — cut me a lot of slack, and that’s another thing I deeply appreciate, along with the lenient cops.
We turned into Pete’s driveway and pulled to a stop. Robin had left the porch light on — a warm gesture, I thought. Pete still had that contented look on his face as he paid the fare and left the cab. It occurred to me that old friends are carried in our hearts like a movable feast, to lift a phrase from Hemingway — pomposity be damned.