Friendship, friendship Just a perfect blendship. When other friendships have been forgot Ours . . . will still be hot. -- Cole Porter Song, 1939
TIMES CHANGE, and friends. This need not be so.
A friend is someone with whom you have been through events of note, and both survived and are thereafter T stuck with each other like a face and its mirror. As years pass he or she may come to reveal a long list of shortcomings. Be that as it may, you are stuck with each other. It is the character of friendship that matters, not the character of the friend.
At least that is what used to matter. Today, alas, you often cannot tell a friend from a horseshoe. The chap who saved your life in the Army, or the four-year roommate at East Carolina Normal School, is likely, upon a change in zip codes, to erase you forever from memory; nay, not intentionally: but by the press of business and distance and that certain modernity of the spirit hateful of the past. For this is an age, or a moment in an age, in which the imperative of change has devalued the selves of yesterday in favor of the me's of man ana. Thus we are abandoned. More than kisses, letters mingle souls; for thus friends absent speak." -- John Donne, Writing to Sir Henry Wooton
In our age, Donne would telephone and the line would be busy. Nowadays the letter is as dead as Hannibal's elephant and soul-kissing mingles perfect strangers, but let us eschew random lamentation in favor of a single point: A friend's worth is not to be exaggerated.
On the day you have spilt vichyssoise on the prime minister, it is the friend who appears with the towel of succor. When your daughter's dowry is returned with a chilly note, it is he who cosigns the renegotiated marriage. Let the cat be ill, or a storm-tossed oak bisect your porte-cochere, or the gulf of ambition grow stormy, a friend will be there to apply the bandage of himself. To let friendship die away by negligence and silence, is certainly not wise. It is voluntarily to throw away one of the greatest comforts of this weary pilgrimage. -- Boswell's "Life of Johnson"
Once there was a man who had been so busy making a lot of money that he hadn't had time to make a lot of friends, and so he bought himself a monkey. But it was not the same thing, and in any case the monkey died before he did.
A friend will stick by you. Joseph Conrad told of a great friend named Marlow. Although a boy named Jim was rather a hollow-head and dreamer without much substance beyond the pleasantness of his visage, Marlow followed him down to Patusan just to say hello. This was only in a book, but rings true. There are Marlows.
A friend is one from whom you may borrow the price of lunch three times in a week, never making good on Monday's loan, and then disappear on vacation for a month, and return broke, and ask for $20 for trout almandine. You will be at Nora's spending his money, but as he stands alone in line at Scholl's Cafeteria nevertheless shall your friendship sustain him there, and make the tray light in his hands.
Distinct From Love
Friendship lies distinct from love. That must be, for any who have lived, a fact as plain as the beak on a bird. What we label love bears washing like a drip-dry suit; it should be undertaken with a certain tolerance for wrinkles. Friendship and love are like ape and man; they share a common origin, but by the time one has evolved into the other the link is forever lost. Michel de la Montaigne grasped the difference thus:
"Love . . . is more active, more fervent, and more sharp. But it is a rash and wavering fire, waving and divers: the fire of an ague subject to fits and stints, and that hath but slender hold-fast of us. In true friendship, it is a general and universal heat, and equally tempered, a constantly and settled heat, all pleasure and smoothness, that hath no pricking or stinging in it, which the more it is in lustful love, the more is it but a ranging and mad desire."
The character of friendship we know already to be fine and strong and unwavering; yet it is the character of our friends that sometimes spoons up for us the sour pudding of despair. Remonstrance is unfitting in such cases. What is needed is more straightforward appeal; a gentle urging back to the folds of kinship, a call again to bonhomie; in short, my friends, some leverage.
We have in this nation a tradition already proven successful in dealing with issues much thicker than these: our court system, which reliably and with less fuss than some would have us believe daily confronts murderers head on, resolves landlord and tenant disputes and disperses Iranian assets.
These selfsame courts are already used to resolving more personal sorts of conflict than should ever result from neglected friendships; as for example in the enforcement of our unalterably fair-minded and uniform divorce laws; or whether a president owns the bulletproof glass at his seashore home or whether the people do. Give the courts friendship to enforce, and they shall do the same for errant friends.
Thus we are brought unscratched through clear paths of logic to the threshold of a new and timely concept of the law, and one which may well be introduced immediately. I refer, of course, to Friendship Alimony.
The concept of Friendship Alimony gains credence daily among legal scholars. In a meeting in the second tier at Bowie, during the falling out of the exacta Wednesday, it was thoroughly applauded by several well-known attorneys there, and judged thoroughly workable.
A few examples suffice to make clear its potentially profound influence upon friendship as both a restitutive agent and preventive.
How Friendship Alimony works:
Example A: The Forgetful Farmhand
For many years, Jim Y. and Bill G. work side by side in a grain elevator in Horizon, Neb. One day, Jim moves to Washington, D.C., to get other work, whereupon a correspondence between the two friends begins. All is well until Jim is named a justice of the Supreme Court. Thereafter, postcards from Bill are routinely returned bearing the stamped inscription: "Mr. Justice Y. has no recollection of ever knowing you."
Bill files a suit under the F.A.A. (Friendship Alimony Act), presenting photos of the two together, earlier friendly correspondence and an affidavit from the owner of the Silver Star Cafe in Horizon, Neb., stating that they were for years "a boisterous twosome."
Mr. Justice Y. is indicted and brought to trial. The jury finds that while pursuing his career, Y. "did fail to maintain the ties that bind with Grainery Worker Bill G. and shall in future make payment of $50 monthly for each month in which he fails to respond to overtures from complainant, either verbal or written."
Example B: Love and War
Nick S. is the best dancer in La Plata, Md., and a close friend of Walter R., who has two left feet. Nick is also friendly with Roberta-Giselle P., with whom he frequently is seen dancing at the hall in Waldorf. Nick and Walter are boon companions, fishing, hunting together often. Walter R., without any notice, takes a year of Arthur Murray dance instruction, astonishes the crowd at the Christmas Ham Dinner, and sweeps Roberta-Giselle off her feet. Thereafter, the men are no longer inseparable. Months later, Roberta-Giselle moves to Albuquerque, but Nick will still not talk to Walter.
Walter brings suit in F.A. Court, claiming that all is fair in love and war, and asking the court to order Nick not to cross the street when he sees him coming and to generally resume old ties. Nick countersues.
A judge finds that "although Walter's behavior is defensible under the 'love-and-war' provision, so is Nick's under the 'stole-my-girl' convention, a tradition that stretchs back to Lancelot and Guinevere.
"Friendships eroded by the acid of love cannot be recemented as easily as a cracked pot, nor is that the intention of the Friendship Alimony Act," the judgment concludes.
Walter and Nick shake hands. Roberta-Giselle is extradited from New Mexico and imprisoned until she understands the nature of her crime, that of busting up pals. The Friendship Alimony Act is not without teeth.
After years of partnership, Peter P. and Jake R. have a falling out while taking inventory in their hardware store. The dispute centers on whether to use Roman or Arabic numerals in accounting, and becomes bitter enough that Jake utters an oath and walks out. Peter follows him for a number of blocks in an automobile. When Jake continues to insist on Roman numerals as a matter of principal, Peter runs over him back and forth multiple times in his automobile.
A jury is convened and the case brought up in Friendship Alimony Court. The Judge finds that although arguments are inevitable among friends, they must be given time to heal themselves and that one friend may not take precipitous action of an unalterable nature.
Peter P. is found guilty of "intentionally cutting off the discursive process," in this case by the commission of a homicide. The defendant is remanded to the slammer for prosecution under the criminal statues, which vary from state to state.
In the hearts of us all lie untapped repositories of loyalty and an abiding love of steadiness and constancy, on which every friend may count even in times as confused and troublesome as today. Yet it is not too much to ask that those whose repositories of friendship turn up empty should at least be required to pay.