Where do your old friends hang out?

Ernest Hemingway after a deep-sea fishing excursion.
Ernest Hemingway after a deep-sea fishing excursion.

I HUNG OUT with some old friends last Saturday.

Haven’t been with them for a while.

And I missed them.

They get together all the time.

In fact, they are hardly ever apart anymore.

But me?

I’ve had other things to do.

The time away was my loss.

They had no idea I would be there.

I walked in and they barely noted that I was back among them.

I, obviously, have not made as big an impression on them as they have on me.

Ernest, big and boisterous, was talking about bullfighting.

He loves bullfighting.

And he kept everybody laughing with his stories of bumming around Europe during the days when a man could leave London with four dollars in his pocket, spend some time in Paris, get drunk in Rome, fall in and out of love in Madrid, and arrive back in Great Britain with his pockets full of so much money he could throw most of it away and never miss it.

Some of his stories really were funny.

Others were wracked with tragedy.

He was the way he lived.

But at the moment, he would have preferred to be fishing. “Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”

All he needed was an old man.

And the sea.

William Faulkner
William Faulkner could always find the evil and corruption of life.

William was morose as always.

He saw the underbelly of life and he found it mostly in Mississippi where he walked the back roads and good roads, the dirt roads and roads to nowhere, content to find evil and corruption festering in the strangest of places, in the hearts of man himself.

“I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire,” I heard him say. “I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”

Tough words.

Strong words.

They were all sound.

And fury.

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck, champion of the underdog

John was distressed.

But no one worried about him.

John was always distressed and usually lost and adrift on a long, lonely road that led him from one ruin of the Great Depression to the other.

He cares deeply about the poor, the defenseless, the helpless, the man down on his luck, the woman who has never had any luck, the great American underdog. These are his people. He knows them well. He’s one of them.

They need a voice.

They have his.

A man may be rich.

Or poor.

It doesn’t make any difference.

At the core of our existence, he explains, life is all the same.

He leaned back in his chair, props his feet up on the table and said, “I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

Of course, John was traveling.

Charley was with him.

And he was somewhere just East of Eden.

I had a good Saturday.

My old friends were hanging out as they always do, and, for a time, they let me hang out with them.

But the time came when I must leave.

I left Ernest, William, and John sitting on the shelves of the library and walked away.

I promised I wouldn’t be gone so long this time.

It was probably a lie.

The lie didn’t bother any of them.

They had forgotten me by the time the glass door closed.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Two things about my friends. I always know where to find them, and they never grow any older. Their words are forever.

  • Linda Pirtle

    Picking up a well worn book is like reconnecting with a old friend or sometimes with a new one. And, as I mature, I enjoy the escape from the day-to-day breaking news that is always scary about our world. It’s always more fun to frolic through the pages of a good book.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      A book solves all of its problems in a few days. It takes network news years, and then they never solve a problem. They just move on to new ones.

  • Linda Pirtle

    You are correct.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Linda, good books, like good friends, only get better with age.

  • I have friends like these, we share Hemingway and Steinbeck. I have a few others, some younger, some older. You can always depend on them to be there ready to receive your company. I have a few books that I always circle back to, books that I can read again and again, my go-to reading for nurturing specific moods, or for revisiting a specific time in my own history.

    A beautiful and sentimental piece, but it makes me a little sad, too. I feel a sense of loss despite knowing we have their words forever.

    Anyway. Another great post, thanks, Caleb.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Woelf: It’s sad knowing they will never write again. It’s a joy to know they wrote the first time.

  • Several times a year, I re-read an old favorite. These friends are immortal, they never change, and they always delight.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      It’s a strange phenomenon, Chip, but their stories are as fresh today as when I first read them decades ago. I guess that’s why they stick around.

  • Christina Carson

    We should all have friends such as these. Ones that never leave you wanting. Delightful piece, Caleb. Clever indeed.

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