I ran into an old friend last week and it was so nice to see him.
He was an older gentleman who used to hang around a candy story in my neighborhood and he came walking out of the wilderness of my memory after an absence of nearly 35 years.
I never knew his name, where he lived, or what he did for a living. And I don’t know whatever happened to him, though I’m pretty sure that after all this time he’s probably gone to his reward.
All I know is that I was his buddy and that when he was around I was the most important guy in town.
I can picture him very easily, even after all this time, a stocky man with a ruddy complexion, gray hair, and a smile you could see from two blocks away. And I can still hear his voice.
“Hey, buddy,” he’d say whenever I ran into him. “How’s it going?”
I was in my early 20s when I first met him, just out of school with a head full of dreams about all the great things I was going to accomplish with my life and absolutely no idea how I was going to do it.
I was shy, a bit socially awkward, and more than a little too eager to be liked. There are plenty of people willing to take advantage of someone like that, but this man was different.
Whenever I walked into that tiny, hopelessly cluttered candy store, he’d make a big fuss, greeting me as if I had been just returned from overseas. He’d step aside, made sure I got waited on, and send me on my way with a heartfelt “take care.”
I ran into him one morning at the foot of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge as I was watching Sidney Lumet’s crew shoot a scene from Prince of the City.
There I was, a nobody, a wannabe movie director, watching the pros work their magic from the wrong side of the barricades.
And then my friend came walking up the bike path.
“Hey, buddy, what’s going on?” he asked.
“They’re shooting a movie.”
“Oh, yeah?” he said, all excited. “Gee, isn’t amazing what they can do in the movies?”
“It sure is.”
And then he was on his way, but in those few moments the barricades disappeared briefly and I became a somebody.
It felt a little strange having someone in my father’s age bracket treating me like an equal. To this day there’s a dark part of me that wonders why he was so nice—instead of just accepting his friendship as the rare, beautiful gift that it was.
I know that there were no ulterior motives—he wasn’t trying to sell me anything or lure me into his basement so he could jump my tender bones.
Maybe he was a lonely man who never had children. Maybe I reminded him of a son he had lost. Or maybe he was just a decent, friendly man. There are a few of them around.
My buddy faded from my life slowly. The candy store closed, I didn’t see him around the neighborhood, and eventually I stopped thinking about him. Until last week.
I have to wonder why he made this return visit. I suppose this could’ve been just an aimless memory circling through my subconscious like Halley's Comet.
But it’s been a tough winter, with the lousy weather and a nagging virus making me angry, depressed and anxious. So perhaps I needed to see the kind of friend that you can’t find on Facebook.
He’s also reminding me about the importance of being kind to people who really need it. Whatever the reason, it’s good to have him back.
Hey, buddy, how’s it going?