The Fabric Of Our Lives

How do you know the people in your life are right for you?  If you stop and think about all of the different people you are surrounded by, it might be surprising to realize how different most of those people are from each other.  That doesn’t mean that our friends can’t be each other’s friends or wouldn’t at least get along.  But for whatever reason, for the most part, it doesn’t work that way.  Not that it’s the most original concept ever, but I believe it’s our need for different types of people in our lives.  To be well rounded, you have to diversify your assets.  Some types you may not even realize you need and some types you know you could never live without.  We all have these people and they help make up the story that is ours.  Some of our friends could have multiple  characterstics below but sometimes it’s necessary to find those who specialize in certain areas.

The one that you trust.  This one is a biggie.  There are several people that I trust to varying degrees but this is the person who would go to their grave with your secrets.  We all have things we need to get off of our chest, things that help us heal or move on from past experiences that would otherwise hinder our growth.  In order to do that, you have to have someone you can talk to and not worry about ending up being the subject of a Facebook rant.  When looking for that close friend or even best friend, trust is a top priority.  It takes a while to establish but can be taken away in the blink of an eye.  This person might know your PIN number or they might know your elaborate plans for world domination.  Either way, it’s locked in the vault of your friendship.

The one that pushes you.  By nature, I am complacent.  I find comfort in routine and normalcy.  That mentality helps me ride this emotional roller coaster that we call day to day living.  But  sometimes we need a nudge in a time of uncertainty.  We need someone to challenge us to improve or to convince us to take a leap of faith.  Like when you are comfortable in a job that isn’t going anywhere but is meeting your needs.  You could probably do better but why risk it when things are going ok?  Or when you are getting by and are “just satisfied” when total fulfillment is just an unknown path away.  That friend comes in handy in those times and not only pushes you to take chances, they walk with you down that dubious path.

The one that is rational and conservative.  Sometimes, you can get a little carried away with living on the edge and chasing the next “high”, so to speak.  Sometimes what you need is a reminder that your life is moving at a safe and sufficient pace.  You may have unreasonable expectations of what you deserve or what you should have but these friends have a way of putting things in perspective and helping you manage the risks vs reward when making those life decisions.

The one that looks up to you.  If you are doing some things right, there is likely at least one person looking at you and appreciating your knowledge or wisdom.  Imitation is the highest form of flattery.  So when things are moving in the right direction, you might find someone walking in your footsteps or leaning on you for advice or depending on you to be that person that pushes them.  It’s an honor to be seen in that light but should never be taken for granted. Your influence might be stronger than you think and should be managed wisely.

The one that you look up to.  Everybody has someone they look up to.  It’s usually more than one person but there’s always at least one.  This person can light the way for you when times are bleak.  Their advice or actions usually stick with you and reveal themselves when your back is against the wall.  Many times, they have no idea you have this image or appreciation of them.  We should probably tell them but they probably already know as well.

The one who’s always down for anything.  I have this one picked out in my mind and have already started cracking a smile.  While you always need a dose of rationale, you very much need that person in your life that will help say, “screw it” and throw caution to the wind.  You live by rules 24/7 and it’s no fun to break them by ourselves.  This person usually holds several roles in this list but this might be the most important.  What’s life if you’re not living it, right?

The worldly one.  You don’t know everything, despite how experienced or smart you think you may be.  Unless you’ve read the urban dictionary from cover to cover, there are going to be some things that just go right over your head.  Some of these things that go over your head make you look silly or out of touch.  That’s what this person is for.  Nobody wants to be accused of a “thotcrime” or be a victim of “ghosting” and not know what it means.  That’s where your worldly friend comes in and explains what these things mean, saving you from embarrassment.

The naive one.  In relation to the one above, sometimes you need to consider yourself the worldly one even if you are not.  The way to do that is to have a friend who is wholesome and set in their ways so you can help them and multiply your own street cred.  The key with this is to not hang out with the naive one and the worldly one at the same time because your web of self confidence will unwind before your very eyes. 

The work one.  Let’s face it.  Your job is not your favorite aspect of life.  Unless you are a professional athlete or musician or a lotto winner, you likely have to drag yourself to some job that you may claim to love or even actually enjoy to some degree.  But a job is a job and they all have their moments.  You’ve got to have that work buddy that you can unload on and find empathy with.  All of our friends can help sometimes but a banker isn’t going to understand the problems of a policeman and a policeman isn’t going to understand the problems of a teacher.  That’s where our work friend comes into play.  They can understand bad days and help celebrate victories because they understand what you’re going through.  Everybody needs a work friend.

The strange one.  Lastly, there is the friend that doesn’t fit neatly into any category.  When I say strange, I don’t necessarily mean that in a literal sense.  This could be someone that you can’t figure out how you’re friends to begin with.  Not that it’s a bad thing but on paper, it just doesn’t make sense.  The important thing is to not question it, just go with the flow if it’s working.  I’ve found myself friends with people from all walks of life that I share very few common interests with.  But for some reason beyond my comprehension, we just click and I enjoy their presence.  Of course, this could also be taken in the literal sense as well.  I’m pretty sure it’s common to have that oddball friend that brings a change of pace to our lives that is needed.

I could try and put a name and picture by each one of these but I’m fortunate in that many of my friends can be all of the above when they need to be.  I want to stress again that many of our close, personal friends wear multiple hats for the purposes of this discussion.  But, those that aren’t family usually become friends for one of these reasons originally and as we get to know them over time, we realized they bring so much more to the table.  Maybe the point is that anybody that brings something to your life that’s needed or missing deserves a chance.  They may turn out to be a one trick pony and that’s what we need at that given time.  But they could also turn out to be a jack of all trades in the friend characteristics department and we need to stock our cupboard with those because they are rare.

J-Dub

It’s 23 years, Not 15

  We first met in 1993, although that meeting was not indicative of what the future held for us.  Or maybe it was in some ways too.  I was umpiring Mitchell County Rec Softball and a hotheaded young girl decided to pop off at me for calling her out.  Nevermind she was out by a solid step, she wasn’t having it and chirped all the way to the dugout.  I can’t remember whether I warned her or her coach, but it was a warning none the less. We did not seem to care too much for each other that night but things would change over the next 2 years.  It just so happened that I met the woman of my life that night.  I just didn’t like her.  Those feelings changed drastically over time and I eventually asked her to take my name.

About a year later, at the illustrious Video Superstore, Alicia would pop in from time to time with her friends but rarely rent a video and would start conversations with, “can we come in without shoes?”  Years later I would discover that my derrière is what attracted those ladies to the store on those visits.  I would’ve loved to hear the conversations they were having when they whispered around the store. 

 Not long after that, my friend Jim and her cousin Jennifer were putting the wheels in motion to introduce us formally.  I was a bit older than her but we agreed to meet for a movie at her house.  Movies were currency to teenagers in those days and I was a rich man.  That first date was a showing of “The Crow”.  I’m still ridiculed by my father in law for bringing too many horror movies over during our teen years.  I honestly don’t even remember much about The Crow except Brandon Lee was accidentally killed during the making of the film in a shootout scene.  

One thing I do remember about that night was meeting my sister in law, Ashley.  She was quite the nosy host and would not leave us alone to watch our movie.  I distinctly recall Alicia telling her over and over that we really weren’t watching a movie, in hopes of getting her to go to her room.  That didn’t work.  As annoying as that seemed at the time, she became a tremendous ally to me down the road and is now the best sister in law you could have.  More on that “ally” talk in a minute. 

 The next three years was filled with good times as we grew up together.  We played tennis, watched every popular movie that came out, went fishing, rode four wheelers, swam in cattle troughs, bowled, played putt putt and rode dirt roads side by side almost 24/7.  I remember calling her everyday from the pay phone in the lunch room at school.  It was the only thing that got me through the morning in those days.  On the few occasions that the line was busy or no one answered, I was a wreck.  I would call her at night when I got home from her house and she would try to time answering the phone with such quickness that her parents wouldn’t hear it.  We would call each other in the morning before school, angering our parents.  I would even go to Mitchell-Baker from my house using the most ridiculous route possible hoping to pass her in the morning.

We had our down times too of course.  I broke up with her on a Friday afternoon as I pulled into Panama City with a friend of mine.  That was not a good beach trip.  She fell head over heels for some chump in Wal Mart while I was on my senior cruise.  Don’t dispute Alicia.  I spent so much money on that cruise making long distance calls that I had to borrow $20 from a chaperone to eat on the way home and I still run into him today and he asks for his $20 back.  During one of those break ups, Alicia exchanged letters with a young lad or friend, I can’t remember.  What I do remember is when we got back together, Ashley called me into her room, shut the door and pulled the letter out to show me.  She had stolen it from Alicia and was making sure I knew what a floozy Alicia was while we were apart.  Always looking out.  We eventually really broke up during her senior year and I thought that was the end of it.  I assumed that this high school love was a part of growing up and we were both grown by then so we were heading our seperate ways. 

 The following 3 years was up and down and we never completely lost touch with each other.  We may not have talked directly to each other for a while but I talked with her mom regularly and she was still good friends with my aunt.  Over time, I began to realize that there weren’t many, if any, women out there compatible to me like she was.  We both dated different people during that time but nothing was clicking for me.  I remember running into her while she was in school at Valdosta one night.  I imagined that night playing out with us getting back together and getting back on track but it ended with her dropping me off at Munt’s apartment and me snuggling up to Nut on the couch for some late night Sportscenter.  Not a bad second option but not my highest hopes.  

After Jim and I moved to Albany, I felt like I was turning the page and was settling into a nice job.  One night after a softball game, I got several calls saying that Alicia was looking for me and wanted to talk with me.  She was working in Albany then and was going to Darton.  I remember her coming over and just wanting to talk because her lengthy relationship had recently ended and apparantly she had not gotten ole J-Dub completely out of her system.  That’s the way I will imagine it and there’s nothing that can change it.  We talked that night rather openly and agreed to try to stay in touch and spend some time together.  I didn’t really know how to respond that night but I remember being really excited in my heart.  I had a very difficult time letting go of her and just when I thought I had done it, she was back, albiet as just an old girlfriend at the time.   

 We did spend more time together and it didn’t take long for the love feelings to resurface.  We sort of just found ourselves back together without really meaning to I think.  I did realize it was happening and I didnt want her to get away again.  After a short time back together and becoming exclusive again, I knew what I had to do.  I regret not being more romantic or spontaneous that night.  I tend to think of myself as a cheesy romantic these days and have always surprised Alicia with trips and gifts or just small tokens of love.  Not that night though.  At my apartment after she got off work, I sat her down on the bed and said, “we should get married.”  That was it.  I had a ring and I said we should get married.  No hiding the ring, no big presentation.  I was a dud that night and that is one regret I’ll always have.  I just didn’t want to risk blowing it I guess.

A short time and a lot of planning later, we were walking down the aisle at Hopeful Baptist Church making it official.  I was marrying the girl of my dreams.  It was a solid 8 years and a couple of breakups later but we were tying the knot.  A lot has changed since that day.  We have both grown older.  We have welcomed Bailey and Georgia into our family.  We have established ourselves at our jobs.  We have less money and more bills.  We have gone to awesome concerts, beautiful beaches, cozy mountains, relaxing cruises and spent countless days and nights traveling the countryside together.   

 As we’ve gotten older and responsibilities have grown, the one on one time has dwindled and is rare.  We enjoy it that much more when we do have it.  It’s just not often.  Our days are spent taking kids to school, working, taking kids to lessons or games, planning holidays and birthday parties, paying bills, folding clothes, cleaning house, cooking and doing dishes.  Just normal adult stuff.  But it creeps up on you one day when you realize that you have created distance between you and your soulmate by just trying to survive every day.  Tomorrow, April 21, will mark 15 years of laying my head down every night next to my true love.  Regardless of the things life has thrown at us, or the days we feel like we see each other for 15 minutes, we spend 8 hours laying next to each other every night and I know she’ll be there for me and I’ll be there for her.  That’s marriage.  That’s life.  It’s not always romance, getaways or fancy dinners.  Sometimes it’s pizza rolls and Kraft Mac n Cheese while the kids destroy the house and the dog tries to torture the cat.  Sometimes it’s crashing into a heap for a 3 hour nap on our only day without the kids.  But we are together and I know in my heart we will be until our days on this earth are over.  That’s what my relationship with Alicia Shiver is.  I love that woman, even though I didn’t like her when we met.  I guess the foreshadowing of that night, why I think maybe it was somewhat indicative of our future, is the fact that our first meeting consisted of me swearing I was right and her swearing she was right.  The problem is that is the last time I won the argument. 

 I love you Alicia and Happy 15 (23) years!

Joey

The Album List

My most recent musical choices have all been very similar in message.  The Deftones April 8 release aside, which has early potential to be their best so far (too early), I have heavily invested in songs about searching for answers and exploration of human emotion.  There are songs about redemption as well as songs about hopelessness but they all have undertones rooted in basic psychology.  There has been a recent post circulating on Facebook listing the top 10 most influential or meaningful albums in ones life.  

My cousin, Keekleneck Lamb, said Monday that he had been expecting to see mine float across the intertubes.  He may have been speaking in jest as my choices could be interesting fodder for he of the hipster variety.  Nevertheless, I have compiled a loose list of my 10.  I can’t call this THE 10 most because I’ll inevitably leave something out.  These are also in no particular order.  One other caveat – I don’t read music, I don’t play music, I don’t know chords.  But, I do have ears and I know what sounds good to me and I know what lyrics speak to me.  Without further ado…..

  

1.  Deftones – White Pony – Ok, this one was easy and predictable.  If you like the Deftones, you no doubt like this album.  There are raging debates within Deftones circles of which albums fit their sound (see Around The Fur) and sound out of place (see Saturday Night Wrist) but they are all appreciated and accepted.  However, there is never much debate surrounding which album was their best.  For me, this album reigns supreme.  Released in 2000, Alicia bought this for me the day it came out and I sat at her parents house on the computer playing the album and looking at the “new fad” video content provided on the disc.  “Feiticiera” has opened 4 of the 5 concerts I’ve been to.  “Digital Bath” introduced heavy doses of electronic pulses into their songs that are most present than ever in their most recent album.  “RX Queen” remains the text tone when I get messages from Alicia.  “Knife Party” and “Passenger” are Deftones Cult Classics and “Change” is their most decorated commercial hit.  This album is loaded with pure Deftones Magic and Power.  While these are in no particular order, there is a reason this is at #1.
  

2.  Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – Released in 1995, anyone between the ages of 30-40 are almost certainly familiar with the blue and pink double album.  The hardest part of owning this album was deciding on which one to listen to.  I wore both CD’s out in my Ranger decked out with two 10’s and black light.  This CD was perfect for such youthful decadence.  “Tonight, Tonight” is a classic alt rock song and was one of my first forays into lyric decoding.  “And our lives are forever changed, we will never be the same.  The more you change, the less you feel.”  Teen angst with the cryptic sting of truth.  “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “Zero” were two heavy hitters while “1979” and “Thirty-Three” were songs you could cruise all night to.  There’s no possible way I could have a list of top albums and leave this one off.

  
3.  Chevelle – Stray Arrows: A Collection of Favorites – Alright, I’ll accept it if you say it is cheating by putting a greatest hits collection on here but Keekleneck did put Garth Brooks Greatest on his, which in all honesty, should have nullified his entire entry.  This album was released more recently in 2012 but spans their entire collection up until that point.  “Face to the Floor”, “The Red”, “Vitamin R” and “Send the Pain Below” are all well known Chevelle entries.  But this album also introduced me to “Sleep Apnea” and “The Meddler” which I was previously unfamiliar with.  Chevelle is, without a doubt, the heaviest 3 piece band you’ll hear that still comes off melodic and smooth.  They remain unchecked on my bucket list of artist to see live before I die.

  
4.  Everclear – Sparkle and Fade – Another important 1995 release that was played from beginning to end on repeat on my many trips to Athens and Valdosta with Munt and Russ.  All of the songs were catchy and enjoyable but one song stood above all others.  The song that actually threatened one hit wonder status among non-alternative fans.  “Santa Monica” made me long for the beach and still makes me want to go to California.  “We could live beside the ocean, leave the fire behind.”  But beyond that song lies a treasure trove including “Heroin Girl”, “Summerland” and “Twistinside”.  Everclear is a popular band among alt fans and have had a couple of big time hits like “Father of Mine” and “Wonderful” but I still believe they are one of the most underrated acts of my generation.

  
5.  Blink 182 – Enema of the State – Maybe it’s Janine on the cover of the album that has stuck with me after all these years.  But aside from that, this was my punk phase and it was a great one.  The garage band I was in basked in the glory of three songs off of this one, “What’s My Age Again”, “All The Small Things” and “Adam’s Song”.  Blink 182 had an epic ride during the late 90’s and were a great side trip for a 20 year old that loved heavier rock.  I still have this one at the ready when I’m feeling immature.

  
6.  Pearl Jam – Ten – If you are 36-42, I dare you to argue with me on this one.  This might be the best album of the 90’s, period.  “Even Flow”, “Jeremy”, “Black”, “Alive”…..this is a greatest hits album in sheep’s clothing.  This plays today on my commute around the city.  You don’t always have to know what Eddie Vedder is saying to know that it is deep and meaningful.  There were those who said you were either a Nirvana fan or Pearl Jam fan.  I’ll raise my Pearl Jam flag and fly it proudly.  Another one on the bucket list to see live.  I’ve heard their shows are unbelievable.

  
7.  Deftones – Adrenaline – This has to be on the list simply because it’s the first taste of the band I ever had.  “Bored”, “Lifter”, “One Weak”, “7 Words”, “Engine No. 9”, “Root”, “Nosebleed”…..every song.  This was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with a band.  I had never heard anything quite like this when it came out.  I haven’t really heard anything like it since as their sound has matured and developed with every album.  This one is very raw sounding and is their least “produced” sounding record but that’s what makes it special too.  This was what they set out to be and what they have ultimately become; a band that plays music their fans want to hear, not the critics.  The most influential of the ever present 1995 releases.  If you like straight alt metal, this is the standard bearer.

  
8.  Breaking Benjamin – Phobia – The heavy hitting group’s third album is their best to me.  To be clear, I like them all but this one hits the hardest.  “The Diary of Jane” and “Breath” are household names among the genre’s fans and helped solidify BB’s rise to fame.  Other gems on this album include “Unknown Soldier”, “Until the End”, “Had Enough”and “Dance With The Devil”.  This band has come the closest to matching Deftones intensity in my collection over the long haul.  The newest album “Dark Before Dawn” could have easily made this list but as I run out of room, I could only include one and this one belongs.  If you’ve never seen it, this is one of the greatest live accoustic recordings ever – BB – Until The End.  Do yourself a favor and sacrifice the next 5 minutes.

  
9.  System Of A Down – Toxicity – I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with SOAD.  They have put out more songs that make me jump around and shout than they have that make me cringe with disbelief.  But they have put out several of the latter as well.  I like songs from all of their albums but this album was the best of their collection by far and made it in my top 10.  The title track, “Toxicity”, along with “Chop Suey” are a couple of the most memorable songs of the early 2000’s whether you like the genre or not.  Don’t believe me? YouTube either one and you’ll immediately shake your head and say “Ohh yeah!” – unless you are one of the honky tonk folks that hang around my blog.  You are welcome here anytime but this one probably hasn’t been your favorite.  This album is actually loaded with classics like “Aerials”, “Science”, “ATWA”, “Prison Song” and “Jet Pilot”.  When I started looking down the track list of this one it became obvious that it needed to be on this list.

  
10. Starset – Transmissions – It is risky to put an album this new on a top 10 list that includes the likes of Deftones and Smashing Pumpkins.  I realize this.  But, i can unequivocally say that this one will be a top 10 for life for me.  This one fits all of the description of the first paragraph of this blog and can put me in a state of mind that is so deep and introspective, it’s kind of scary.  This band opened for Breaking Benjamin in February of this year and I was smitten from the instrumental opener “First Light” all the way to the closer “Halo”.  The band and album has introduced me to an interest in space and greater forces that I never knew I had.  They have even released a 250 page companion novel with the CD that I am halfway through.  I’m addicted and it’s a weird thing.  This album speaks to me over and over and gives me a clearer perspective everytime I listen.  So, while a newby like this is risky, I know I’d regret not putting them here.  This one could find its way into the top 3 before its all over with.

So, there you have it.  I think the genre/theme is pretty consistent on this list and I’d have a hard time replacing any of these 10.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t have several 11’s right on the outside.  These just rose to that impressive level and needed to be set apart.  Maybe you’ll try some of these out if you’ve never heard them.  Maybe you’ll like them, maybe you wont.  If you don’t, I don’t know if we can be friends any longer.  😜

Joey

Love Anyway

 There aren’t enough words to heal a broken heart.  There is no magic pill that clears it up, no surgery that can help it mend.  No intense workout can build it back up to health.  No, it doesn’t work that way.  Time, faith and resolve are the only antidotes that are proven to help.  Even with that, the heart may never fully recover.  There may always be at least a tiny piece that is damaged beyond repair.  That doesn’t mean you can’t live with it, it’s just a little harder.  And that’s ok.  Because we all experience it but in our own varying degrees.

A broken heart can manifest in many different ways.  The most common is losing someone you love.  You can lose them emotionally, mentally and/or physically.  A breakup, a divorce, a walkout, a lie, infidelity, broken trust and selfishness can all lead to that loss.  The common factor is that it is always someone we love, trust, have faith in, look up to, depend on.  The one thing we are allowed to be selfish with is our heart.  Because we are the ones left in the wake of the destruction.  We live in the aftermath.  We sift through the rubble trying to put the pieces back together.  But it’s like putting together a swing set and missing a bolt or two.  It’s challenging but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put our heads down and push forward.  Surely, we can figure out a way to make it work.

The brain is affected by heartbreak.  You think you’re not good enough.  You think you should’ve done something different.  You think you should’ve enjoyed the last moments more.  You think maybe things will be different one day.  All of these thoughts are driven by a heart that is not functioning at full strength. A healthy heart doesn’t create thoughts of pain, regret, second guessing.  All of these are side effects of the broken heart.  Just like being overweight can make you fatigued, self conscious, and susceptible to health problems – Heartbreak can lead to depression, anxiety and questions of self worth.

Here’s the thing about heartbreak though.  It forces you, right or wrong, to look in the mirror.  You are naturally led to look inside yourself to examine your contents.  That’s difficult too because we are always harder on ourselves than anyone else.  But if we’re honest, really self reflective, we’ll see that in many cases, it’s not our fault.  The broken heart is not of our own making.

In fact, many times, it has little to do with us and a lot to do with others.  That’s who this is for.  The innocent bystanders who took a bullet from a violent, out of control gunman who has made a name for themselves taking people out.  Some people just don’t know how to love others.  They know how to love themselves but that’s pretty easy.  Real, true, unconditional love is work and the weak suck at it.  But they don’t know they suck.  They see how much they love themselves and think that it must correlate to others loving them or their ability to love in general.  It’s a vicious cycle of narcissism.

A major clue is a lack of remorse.  I’m not just talking normal sorries either.  This lack of remorse is extremely detrimental.  When plans get cancelled, when you have to continuously initiate contact, when the relationship revolves around them and no acknowledgment is ever made, that is what I’m talking about.  When people love you, they are supposed to feel remorse when things get in the way of being with you or even reaching out.  When that is missing, you have iron clad proof that it isn’t you.  Add in empty promises and guilt triggering and you’ve got the narcissistic trifecta.

Seriously, love is hard.  It takes sacrifice.  It is give and take.  It’s not always about you but it should be sometimes.  It is stressful when you want the best for someone and it doesn’t always work out.  It’s painful to see others unhappy.  These are pitfalls of love.  Things don’t always go as planned and when you really care for someone it hurts to see them dissapoined.  No one likes to hurt but when you share love with someone, it is a natural part of life.  That’s what I mean when I say the weak suck at it.  The weak are those who would rather avoid all of those pitfalls because it’s hard or because it doesn’t fit into their plans.  

But what of us with the broken heart?  If it’s not our fault, are we supposed to feel any better, any less hurt?  That depends on our resolve.  You see, when there are people who don’t know how to love us, there are inevitably people who do that are ready to step up.  Resolve is having the commitment to surround ourselves with those people.  Having the courage to move on with those makeshift bolts.  What we will find is that one or two more pieces will come along and fill the void if we will just continue to open up our hearts and work at love.  A broken heart can either bleed out and leave you lifeless or you can bandage it, stop the bleeding and let it scar over.  

It just takes time, faith in others and a stubbornness to survive the heartbreak.  It hurts, but the chances of survival are excellent.  Just keep loving and living.

Joey

Hermano de Otra Madre

  About 14 years ago, I met someone that has turned into one of my best friends.  A co-worker’s husband is usually one of those forced hang outs.  That first time might have been one of those but I honestly don’t remember.  That’s because there are so many other things to remember since that first meeting.  I do remember us playing basketball in my drive way while our wives immediately clicked inside.  We had to sort of size each other up, as men typically do.  A lot of time has passed since that day and a lot of water has gone over and under the bridge.  We’ve each had our own struggles.  We’ve each watched our families grow in numbers.  But one thing has remained constant.  No matter which way our paths have twisted, I’ve never had to question the loyalty or allegiance of Clem John Norman, CJ.

CJ is the adult equivalent to my high school pal in Old Friends.  An adult friend is different a few ways:

  • Adult friends don’t necessarily have to be with each other 24/7.  
  • There is a shared understanding of spousal and fatherhood responsibilities that are always ahead of all else.  
  • There is a reasonable expectation of confidentiality rarely found in immaturity.
  • Advice is sought after and accepted.
  • The best ones will fight to the death with you.  

Most of that simply comes from maturity, generally considered growing up.  But when you find that awesome friend, being grown up doesn’t always have to be the standard.  That’s one of the biggest differences in my normal friends and my best friends.  I am able to be my 17 year old self with my best friends and they know that it’s just who I am.  At the same time, they know I can be professional, respectful and well mannered, just as you would expect and old fuddy-dud approaching 40 to be.  It’s the best of both worlds; being your normal age but not being afraid to fall back into adolescence at a moments notice.  A recent text conversation CJ and I had about our upcoming kickball season perfectly sums all of that up.  But back to that confidentiality thing, you’ll just have to take my word for it.  But at one point I actually texted the fact that our even having the discussion was pretty surreal.  And yes, I did say kickball. 

 We have played many organized sports together; predominantly softball but also basketball, flag football, golf and the aforementioned kickball.  Throw in Cornhole, horseshoes, cards and video games and we have covered the competitive sector of friendship.  I’ll save kickball for last because it is the most impressive highlight on our resume.  But first, softball was our sport.  We played for some really good teams but some atrocious squads as well.  Our start was with Life Christian and we made a solid run for a few years and really enjoyed playing.  We hit a rough patch after that with Historymakers II (I wasn’t good enough for the original HM squad), Simon Sez, Bounty Hunters and Thunder Stix.  But the enjoyment remained and we have memories from those teams that we still laugh about today.  The tag line for Historymakers was “We aim to make history.”  We did if 0-10 was a first at Gordon.  Simon Sez gave us the great “run like you stole something” line.  And that’s really about it.  Bounty Hunters gave us Boot Straps.

 One of my most vivid softball memories before the Sticks came from Thunder Stix.  Never mind that the name and jerseys were equally atrocious.  One evening, we were having a particularly grueling night as we were playing neck and neck with the league’s #1 team.  One of our players decided that our half of the inning would be a fine time to take a bathroom break.  What he didn’t realize was that he was actually the 2nd batter up in the inning.  CJ was the 3rd.  After waiting awkwardly for our teammate to emerge from the can, CJ had enough and stepped up to the plate, resulting in the player being out.  This did not sit well with said player as he sprinted from the bathroom.  He was alone in his anger though.  The game remained tight and we lost by a thin margin.  A margin thin enough to cause said player to deduce an ill conceived notion that his non at bat made the difference.  He and CJ had a stare down in the handshake line and I stepped between them to bring CJ to the dugout.  I’m not sure what would’ve happened had they actually gone at it because they were both bigger than me but in that moment, my instinct was to get CJ out of the situation before that happened.  It’s the sort of moment that makes you think about how you react in the moment vs your usual nature, which hammered home our friendship.  It could’ve ended very poorly for me. 

 We spent a couple of seasons playing city league basketball as well.  We played with a great group of guys and I was in a lot better shape then.  We usually wound up guarding each other in scrimmages and had very similar game.  CJ had more of an itchy finger from beyond the arc but our percentages probably evened out.  One basketball memory I have is actually a regret.  I had always heard about CJ and Tabb playing basketball on Doles Road.  There was a basketball court on the side of the road and was home to where both of them spent some of their childhood.  I finally took a trip with CJ to Doles and about 5 minutes into the first game, fell victim to one of the home court advantages, the 5 inch curb used as a baseline.  I’m pretty sure I had, at minimum, a hairline fracture and still think of that day when my ankle bothers me.  My ankle had swollen up and forced me to take off my shoe before we hit the end of Doles.  After hearing all the talk, I spent a total of 5 minutes playing ball.  Never went back. 

 Although the other sports have been filled with ups and downs, nobody has been able to touch us in kickball so far.  We played 3 seasons in city league and recently played an exhibition against a current league team and we sit at a pristine 31-0 with 3 championships and a Ric Flair Quoted T Shirt to prove it.  We have made more enemies on the kickball field than we ever made playing softball.  Not because of attitude or anything but losing at a kids game tends to bring out the worst in competition.  To be clear, we are about to embark on another season and we may very well go 0-10, you never know.  It’s part of the reason we’ve waited so long to come out of retirement.  But right now, as I type this, we have not been beaten on the kickball field.  Out most recent game was a scrimmage against a league team to see if we “still had it” and to test out our new roster.  We traveled across town, to their home field and beat them 8-4.  They had jersey’s and a Pregame warmup.  We spent Pregame joking about Ashley’s dill pickle and bacon sunflower seeds.  Kickball, legends I tell you. 

 Besides sports, we have tons of other memories and common interests.  We spend time on the creek in the summer, we both like Dr Pepper and bourbon, we enjoy the grill and we both have all women in our houses.  We have a Halloween tradition of trick or treating, we spend Alicia’s birthday kayaking and camping and enjoy immature, crass movies.  “I don’t want a large Farva, I want a _______ liter of cola.”  We have a lot in common and are a lot alike but also have our differences.  We’ve spent considerable stretches of time not talking to each other, not because of those differences but because of life.  We both have demanding jobs and family responsibilities.  But the thing about our friendship is that I always know that he is only a call or text away. I’ve spoken before about my small circle.  There’s no doubt that he is well entrenched and I know he would be there at the drop of a hat if I needed him.  The same goes for me.   

 CJ loves his family, takes care of his girls, works hard, plays hard and enjoys time with his friends.  That’s what I try to do and that’s what has made our friendship stand up over time.  We don’t get wrapped up in petty differences or one up each other or get our feelings hurt when other important things are going on in our lives.  What more could you ask for in a friend, a brother?  It should go without saying that I love Michele, Cass, Annah and Eden too.  But that is all made possible by the respect and admiration I have for the man of their house, Clemmie Johnny.  Much love bro! 

 Nacho: “Chancho! I need to borrow some sweats.”

Chancho: “Are you leaving us?”

Nacho: “No, Chancho, I would never leave you. I just need to borrow some sweats.”
Joey