New York: Part 3

Familiar Choices

I was 19 on May 22nd, 2009, the day my best friend went with me to the high school we graduated from less than a year earlier. I scheduled with my old world history teacher to visit during his conference period, something I had done over winter break six months earlier. It seemed like no big deal. I asked Trey if he wanted to go and he said yes, for no reason other than maybe we would run into some of our friends.

Rather than parking in front of the school, which is protocol for visitors, I ended up in the teacher’s parking lot. In others words: rather than walking straight through the front of the school, directly into the office to sign in, I parked on the side, meaning my best friend and I would be walking around a portion of the school before going to the office to check in.

While I was at Virginia Tech Trey got arrested for his history with graffiti, which was (allegedly) tied into various tags found at or around our high school. To say he was welcome to visit would be the stretch of all stretches, but I figured that would be negated by the Local Boy Does Good narrative I had going in my head, of myself. For what it was worth I was a “good” student in high school, got accepted into a good college and had good relationships with a few teachers.

The two of us probably made it 20 feet inside the gate before two security guards riding around on their little bikes stopped and escorted us to the security office — where an actual San Bernardino cop did his thing. Trey and I said we were there to visit teachers (which we were), but they didn’t care. The vice principal came in and confirmed that Trey was, in fact, the one who previously and on multiple occasions tagged up the school. (Allegedly.)

The real police officer started questioning us and checking items off a piece of paper in front of him, procedure for some form of pre-processing. Trey and I weren’t taking the situation seriously, because we felt we were being wronged and the worst they could do was take our information down. So we gave bullshit answers.

As it turned out, if we hadn’t been so casual and sarcastic in seemingly all of our responses, we may not have been put in handcuffs and taken to jail thirty minutes later, which is what eventually happened. The officer escorted us into the backseat of his squad car and drove down to San Bernardino jail. We stayed in a drunk tank for like six hours, and got released. Trespassing was our charge.

When Trey and I got out he called his dad to pick us up. The two of us stood around laughing and making fun of what just happened. My girlfriend at the time hadn’t texted me all day, and we hadn’t spoken the day before, so I called her and she didn’t answer.

I couple minutes later she sent me a text saying she was breaking up with me. I responded and asked if it was because I went to jail, but she wasn’t even aware I had gone. It was just a good old fashioned text message breakup.

I walked through the front door of my parent’s old house around 8:30 that night, and my mom asked “Where have you been all day?”

In cliché fashion I told her, “Actually I just got back from jail” and she laughed. Trey and I had a fine time just hanging out all day in a cell; when we were in high school we said if it ever happened, if we ever went to jail together, that would be something we could cross off our bucket list. So in some way we satisfied the gods.

I knew I would catch flack from my mom, and that came, but in the immediate I was focused on trying to make a last gasp to persuade my girl over the phone. I paced around the pool in my parents’ backyard talking to her, and after we hung up I received an appropriate ass-chewing from my mom.

Convinced that I’m generally a step ahead of the game, I explained to my mom the silliness of the situation, told her the cop literally told Trey and I the only reason he took us to jail was so we could “learn a lesson.” As if there was a lesson to be absorbed, or as if such a lesson would have — or could have — penetrated either of us at that age or any other.

It was over the course of the next month when Trey and I fell out of favor and stopped talking. On the morning of our court date, on June 22nd, I sat in front of the courthouse next to a fountain. A black guy in a suit came over and asked for a cigarette. When I gave him one he sat next to me and started talking.

“Newport’s? You know what they say about white boys who smoke Newport’s, right?” he asked.

“No what do they say?”

“They say white boys who smoke Newport’s do drugs,” he finished.

I didn’t know that! I have also never heard anyone else say it, so who knows. I guess at the time it was kind of true by happenstance. He told me his son caught a case for stealing TVs, which was interesting. The dad framed it like his son was innocent, but his details from his son’s side weren’t very convincing. I crushed my cigarette and headed through the metal detectors to get inside.

When I got in to San Bernardino’s court I looked to see where to go next. I’d never been there before. When they punched my ticket number into the computer no case popped up in existence, because the cop never filed it. I left.

On my way out Trey called me and asked where to go. I told him what I did, said the case wasn’t filed, and we exchanged a couple Fuck Yeahs and got off the phone. Since it was the first I had heard from him, and since it was our common experience, I don’t know. I thought for a hot second that we would squash whatever beef we had and move on right there. But that wouldn’t come until the following year during the fall.

May 22nd turned into an infamous day in my brief history, and like so many other problems that manifested out of choices I’ve made, it could have easily been avoided, and at multiple stages. I could have gone by myself. I could have parked in front of the school like I was supposed to. I could have feigned some contrition instead of making a joke of the questioning process with the police officer. But I didn’t do any of those things.

We’re drawn to the situations that offer the Just Right combination of certainty and danger.

* * * * *

On Day Three M_ and I went to the top of the Empire State Building. It was my last night in New York, as my plane left from La Guardia around noon the following day. We took a few shots before leaving her apartment, then headed downtown via subway.

That was the night we dressed up; I wore a black button-down long-sleeve and she was in a black dress. We were all business.

The street leading up to the ESB was still busy, even though it was late in the evening. The line leading up to where we paid and got on the elevator was long, but we waited and eventually got on with the show. I’m not anti-elevator or anything, but that particular elevator went way the fuck up there. My infinitesimal place in the world was established at peak level.

There was an observatory near the top, but then there was another mini-elevator that went to the very top, so M_ and I got on that and went up there. There were fewer people up at the pinnacle, which made it easier to enjoy the incredible bird’s eye view of the city.

M_ looked through the giant binocular thing and I did the same. We stood next to each other.

Out of impulse I turned and leaned in to and kiss her, but she backed off and calmly pushed me away. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Trying to kiss you?” I blankly responded.

And so goes the life and times: The rest of the night was weird. I suppose I made it weird. I could justify it by the text she wrongfully sent me, or that we were at the top of the Empire State Building so what the hell, or that I just felt like it. It was on a whim; I’m not sure what I was expecting, really, but it wasn’t that.

I wasn’t used to getting turned down, so that was a new one. I’m generally in the business of safe bets… so my mind obviously liked my odds. But my instincts were wrong.

We ended up at a bar that night and played it like everything was cool. And it was. But the kiss attempt was kind of the black hole that just sucked everything else into it. It was like there was no point to move on to from there.

I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, to be honest. But I could feel some form of tension in the rest of our conversations from there on. Like I mentioned in the last Part, I never had strong feelings for M_. I also didn’t have any expectations for her. To say I could take it or leave it wouldn’t be a fair assessment — because M_ was a friend — but it didn’t make me feel anything to get rejected by her. I lived in California and she lived in New York.

The next morning I got my things and prepared to leave. She said she would walk me out to get a cab, but I declined and said she didn’t have to. It’s not easy spending three days with anyone, let alone a person who, at most, I had spent three hours with at one time. We hugged each other and said goodbye, and I walked down some stairs and out to the New York street. I think we wished each other happy birthday the next year, but that was the last I saw or heard from M_ with any relevance.

It was the 4th of July.

I read Crime and Punishment on the flight from La Guardia to Atlanta, then ran into a three-hour delay before flying back to California. So I read some more. As the plane descended over Ontario, CA, I saw firework displays going off in the distance. A final treat from my first and only trip to New York.

 * * * * *

There is a name for people I consider to be my friends, but who I don’t see very much beyond when I’m obligated. They make the days go by faster. They have their obvious flaws like everyone else, but they are generally nice people. We share in our successes and failures, and when the sun goes down we do it all over again the next day.

I call them coworkers. In high school I would have called them my classmates.

I’ve never had an issue getting along with these people, because they don’t require any sort of additional investment, or commitment. They are constantly changing, but they’ll always be there. And that’s perfect with me.

The truth is I don’t require much more than that. I don’t feel any monkey on my shoulder, harassing me to get out and make more substantial, meaningful friendships. One thing I like about Trey, regardless of how opposite we are in many (or most) ways, is that we see like-minded on the important issues. So instead of having three or five or ten different people to grasp something from or share something with, in hopes of making my spectrum whole, there’s a greater than 90% chance I could have a meaningful dialogue about it with Trey. Whether it’s business or philosophy or your garden variety bullshit session.

Really the only thing we don’t talk about is sports, but that’s mostly for his sake.

For how layered our friendship has become over the last 13 years, it started as simple as two kids playing in a sandbox. One day during 6th period baseball, out in left field when we were freshmen, he asked if I wanted to be his partner to play catch. That was it.

It isn’t as easy to make friends as an adult as it was in college or high school, or even as far back as middle and elementary school. And I figure this is for a couple reasons: to start, I’m not and haven’t ever really been in the market for friends. Secondly, if it doesn’t make sense from a business perspective, where loyalty and trust and intellect and outlook count as currency, then it doesn’t make sense to be more than coworkers, or classmates.

I don’t have a lot of friends, but if you polled the 50 or so people I regularly interact with they would, with one or two exceptions, tell you I’m a nice guy. Or that I am on their side.

In reality, I’m on no one’s side; I’m only on my side. Which is different than saying I’m against everyone. Really, and I find it a totally reasonable stance to take, if it isn’t family or Trey or some extended branch on either side of that paradigm, I don’t care. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t hold the door for you if we were walking through the same structure, or that I wouldn’t say hi to you if you were walking past the craps table I’m dealing on, or that I wouldn’t pull you out of a fire, or something like that.

It just means if I don’t have to, I won’t.

* * * * *

Whenever I’m on an airplane, right before takeoff, I have to prepare myself mentally. I have to say: All right, Eric, this is it. This is how you die. This plane will be your tomb.

And it works. Only when I completely let go of the power that I have no control over my life for the next few hours, can I be at peace. I’ve found that reading and sleeping are the two most effective ways to pass the time on a flight.

For a handful of years — 2007-’11 — I’d done a decent amount of flying. In June of 2007 I went to Washington D.C. by myself; between 2008-2009 I flew to and from Virginia like six times; and in 2011 I flew out to New York in July and up to San Francisco in September. I felt like a veteran since I was only 21.

At La Guardia, on my way home from New York, the airline I was on made some error, so I got bumped up to first class. I sat next to an executive from Turner, whose headquarters were in Atlanta, where we were flying, and he made a comment about Crime and Punishment. “That’s a great book,” or whatever.

He and I spoke for like five minutes. He told me he graduated from the University of Virginia, and I told him I used to go to Virginia Tech. So we had some fun with that. (UVa/VT is the biggest rivalry in the state, and UVa is the school most of VT’s student body wished they had been accepted to. Not me, of course.)

In Atlanta there was a long delay, so I just sat around and smoked cigarettes while I finished my book. When the plane finally took off, the turbulence wasn’t anything like I’d ever felt. Every five or ten minutes the plane would shake, which was pretty unnerving.

The pilot went over the intercom and told everyone on board we were passing Wichita, Kansas, and to expect some heavy turbulence for the next 10-15 minutes.

Almost immediately the plane started shaking, feeling like it was dropping 20 feet at a time. The people who were walking in the middle rows were falling over, hitting their heads on the storage bins above the seats. A couple of them popped open and the contents bursted out. Little kids and babies were crying and screaming.

Finally my pre-flight premonition was coming true.

When I snapped out of this scene straight from hell, I noticed a little asian man next to me, holding on for dear life to my arm. Maybe it was the look on his face, like he was just asleep and had to wake up really fast to all these people freaking out, but I started cracking up in laughter. It was the funniest thing in the world.

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