Sunday, June 14, 2009

How Could I Have Done This Without Facebook?

According to an article in THE WEEK (great mag-you should subscribe, even if it is your only subscription) a new study reveals that every seven years people change about half of their friends. Dubbed a seven year itch, the study shows that friendships evolve along with the facts of life and that people move in and out of the picture with convenience playing a big role in the longevity of friendships.

That article and the fact of a recent reacquaintance with my roommate from the 1970's (she has not changed a bit)got me thinking about my friendships and how, as usual, I am unusual.

My oldest continuous friend has been a pal since about 1975. Oddly it is a guy-Greg Nugent. We don't hang out alot but we do periodically and have been consistent friends for the entire time. Somehow I still possess his college ID card. Weird. We still get together with my 1970's landlord/friend and his wonderful wife, Bob and Sharlene.

Shortly after that I met my next longest continuous friend, Craig and his wife is my very longest girlfriend Michelle) and we have been close all this time; we can easily track the years as we met right after the birth of their son, our godson, Eric. We had a small gang we ran with and although two sets of them moved away we are still in regular touch with one and periodic touch with the others and see one another when we are within reach of one another. I am in business with one who lives in Indianapolis.

Doug's oldest consistent friends, who are now friends of mine, date back to high school. There is a substantial number of them and although scattered throughout the country they maintain regular contact and even use that as an excuse to go to Vegas annually.

We made a number of friends right around the time of our marriage (30 years) with whom we still have contact. Some have married and divorced and in some cases we are still friends with both.

Yesterday I ran into a guy I had not seen in many years who Doug worked with at Phoenix Magazine and we picked right up where we left off, genuinely very happy to see one another. We bonded with a bunch of people when Doug worked at a local alternative paper in the early 80's, most notably the Walkers, and we still socialize with a lot of them. One of my closest friends was my neighbor during my law school years and here we are 22 years later. Doug's Tribune days yielded some close relationships especially Jon and Bev.

A group formed in law school that is still regularly meeting for dinners 3 or 4 times a year, nearly 20 years later. We have another gourmet group that morphed into a travel group that has splintered and reinvented but are tight with that crowd for well over a decade.

I collected close friends at my various jobs as well, still having contact with a number of people I came to know in the early to mid 90's, with a couple of especially close friends we acquired through Attorney General and ADEQ connections.
We have a so called movie group that has been loosely organized for quite some time but as the late comers we have been involved for probably around 8 years or so.

And then there are the folks we connected with through our children, most intimately the Roneys and a number of others who remain in the picture. This includes those we met through girl scouts and traveled with. In addition, the mob of women known as the spa maidens have been hanging tight since the 90's.

My parents are the same way and as a result we count among our friends people we have come to know so well through my family. There are a bunch of them and we have been regulars for probably about 30 years.

And now we are acquiring friends in the generations below us. In fact we had a little party last week for a few of our "young friends"; thirty somethings who we have grown fond of. In addition we have the children and grandchildren of all of the above. And there seems to be a baby boom going on right now so more are on the way!

This doesn't even count the people who I count as friends but with whom I would be [happily] stuck with anyway because we are related either by blood or marriage and there are tons and tons of people in this wonderful category.

I realize that studies are generalizations. This is one I don't feel bad about being outside the normal range for. It prompted me to take this inventory and in so doing I realized two things: 1) I am incredibly blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life and 2) it is no wonder I get so panicked about sending out Christmas cards every year-there are so many I want to write personal notes to that it is almost overwhelming.

I love you all.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sarah Boyle Victim of Retard?

Figure 1AP Photo/Andrew Milligan/PA


Civilization is not always what it is cracked up to be. We pride ourselves in being at a sophisticated peak in the evolution of our collective maturity level, what with rising above the need for inhumane things like torture and all. But I believe the Susan Boyle episode exposes our collective humanity for what it really is-drenched with human nature's preoccupation with ego. It is that innate need to feel good about ourselves that drives us to continually find ways to set ourselves apart from one another. We may think we are getting close to obliterating prejudice but actually we are just more creative about fooling ourselves into thinking that our judgments are not about plain old disdain for people who are not like us.

The name of the show, Britain's Got Talent, a sister to the American Idol program, supposes a mission of finding raw talent that can be exploited as an entertainment career as opposed to being simply lost amongst the maddening crowd of the masses. But, as the name of the show implies, there is a difference between talent and skill. This year's British version apparently pitted talent against skill in its final round. In doing so it seems to have failed to distinguish between these two attributes and the public awarded the prize to skill in contravention of the very name of the competition. The winner was a dance troupe that performed an intricate set of timed moves. No doubt this was quite an accomplishment, but the act is the product of serious work and training on the part of the dancers who have honed a complex physical and mental skill. Indeed, while the choreographer may have tremendous talent, the troupe itself had tremendous skill. At best it is unclear whether the choreography is the focus of the achievement on the show. Susan Boyle on the other hand is the epitome of "talent" in that her innate singing ability is a gift that sets her apart from singers in general.

So how to explain why Susan did not win? Simple. Susan was deprived of oxygen at birth. In short, she is a retard. Having been "slow" all her life, she devoted herself to the menial task of "caring for" her parents. As poor people, lacking the resources to provide any educational opportunities to lift their infirm child higher given her limitations, they apparently settled for making her the scullery maid. While great for the family unit, which no doubt exuded tremendous love and true devotion, this did nothing for Susan's life after her parents are out of the picture.

People do not like retards. Much as we hate to admit it, as a group humans feel safe in expressing their gratitude that they are not like that. To face the fact that her singing talent could trump the lack of development of her other skills is just too tough to overcome. Even in that 1980's TV show Life Goes On about the family with the Down Syndrome child, dubbed the most heartwarming show ever, by the second season that kid's stories were taking a back seat to those of the normal members of the family. In the ensuing 20 years nary another show with a character like this has been seen.

My friend Cassie Sims pointed out that this phenomenon was very succinctly summarized in a scene from the Ben Stiller movie Tropic Thunder called Never Go Full Retard. The Robert Downey, Jr. character explains that as an actor the impaired character always needs a redeeming quality, like Dustin Hoffman's autistic Rain Man and Tom Hanks athletic Forrest Gump. These fellows both won Oscars for their portrayal but poor Sean Penn who went all the way with Sam was overlooked. Here is the link so you can watch it yourself:


I guess that when they get around to making the Susan Boyle movie, whoever portrays her has a better chance at winning the big prize than she did in her own competition. She does indeed have talent, notwithstanding what those dopey voters said. I guess you just can't change people. Sad.