Sunday, September 07, 2014

A Story of Friendship that Begins on the First Day of Kindergarten, 1973

Anyone who reads my blog posts with any degree of regularity should be able to learn a good deal about me, for most of my reviews of music and theater or discussions of other subjects not only convey my tastes and tendencies, but typically include a long-winded introduction that provides a good amount of  background, biography and opinion beyond the topic at hand.

So I have certainly mentioned several friends and relatives, and shared numerous recollections involving many, but very rarely have I written directly about personal matters, such as relationships with those I know and love (or once did).

But today seems like a good day to do so.

Especially as last night was a relatively rare Saturday not spent at a performance of some sort (such as Billy Corgan, Tom Petty/Steve Winwood and Rod Stewart/Santana over the past three).

Rather, I had dinner with a friend and his family.

While always agreeable, this might not sound particularly noteworthy or newsworthy, especially as the restaurant--the original Chinatown branch of Lao Sze Chuan--was one I featured last year in my Chicago Dining World Tour series. (The service last night was still a bit spotty but not nearly as bad as I wrote about then, and the food remains first-rate.)

Even to say I was celebrating a friend's birthday would not ordinarily seem like anything worth documenting for history, or even the cyberspace black hole that this blog represents (hence the Seth Saith nameplate design at top).

But in celebrating the 46th birthday of my friend Jordan, I was also celebrating a friendship that has now lasted 41 years--since we met in Kindergarten at Highland School in Skokie, Illinois in the fall of 1973. 

And while the active friendship and Jordan himself in the present tense merit greater celebration than the accumulation of years, the continuity our friendship represents is undoubtedly one of the most intrinsic parts of my being. 

Though I can't specifically recall our initial encounter, as pictured at top Jordan and I were in the same Kindergarten class--along with a handful of other kids I'm connected to on Facebook plus another with whom I've stayed in fairly regular touch--and so I assume we met on the first day. 

After all, what do you do on the first day of Kindergarten if not meet all the other kids? (And the teacher, Mrs. Boaz.)

In the early years, our friendship revolved around going to each other's house after many a school day...and a lot of baseball. 

Jordan sets the record--over 400,000 points--on my family's
pinball machine, circa 1978. Like our friendship, the record
and the machine still stand.
We played in Little League together, traded baseball cards, spent numerous hours competing in Intellivision Baseball--I still recall one time when things were going more my way than his in the video game, Jordan chucked the console across his family room--and went to Cubs games together, taking the Skokie Swift and the Howard L likely as young as 10 or 11 years old. 

After a junior high graduation party that had us each drinking more hard liquor than either of us ever have since--and Jordan tripled my intake of Jim Beam--high school escapades include hijinks in freshman Algebra, Geometry (or was it trigonometry?) and Mr. Jackson's AP U.S. History Class, in which I recall us clandestinely listening to Game One of the 1984 NLCS in which the Cubs beat the Padres 13-0.

...on their way to a ball rolling under Leon Durham's Gatorade soaked glove and a Game 5 loss that gave the Padres the pennant.

I don't think that's when Jordan switched allegiances and became a White Sox fan, but who could blame him?

It was at some point during junior year at Niles North High School that in a library study room Jordan and I used primarily for flicking folded-paper "football" field goals, he told me he was moving to New Mexico to live with his dad and would not be spending senior year in Skokie. (Jordan's dad had taken us to my first Bulls game ever--circa 1978--and had been our Little League coach during our best season, but had moved to Taos at some point.)

Though Jordan would spend summers back in the Chicago area before and during college--which we didn't attend together--once he wound up in Champaign-Urbana in 1988, we haven't ever lived in the same vicinity. 

So in being proud of maintaining a close friendship over 41 years, I can't help but be self-impressed that roughly the last 2/3 of those years have not been abetted by geographical proximity.

I typically only see Jordan 2-3 times per year; usually when he and his wife Erin come up for a birthday dinner with family--his mom, step-dad, sister and brother-in-law have long been like a second family to me--and again on Christmas Eve, which I have spent every year for decades at a party hosted by his mom & step-dad.

And in most years, I have ventured down to Urbana at least once; lately to attend Ebertfest in late-April.

We have gone to a handful or two of ballgames over the years, and a few random concerts, but our friendship has primarily been maintained through a monthly phone call of good length.

Although the multitude of small moments are more important than the amplitude of overt experiences, well-worth mentioning is how Jordan and Erin (early into their enduring relationship) drove a car I bought from another Skokie friend out to me after I moved to California in early 1990.

And how I went to Ireland along with a small group of family members and other close friends when Jordan and Erin decided to get married there in 2000.

Or that just days after I got fired from a job in October 2005, I went down to Urbana and watched the White Sox win the World Series in Jordan & Erin's company, furthering my conviction that personal connection & continuity trump periodic ups & downs in shaping one's being. (And yes, I was delighted the Sox won, having long been a fan of both Chicago baseball teams, however heretical it may be.)

Nowadays, the retention of real, long-distance and/or tenuous relationships is a lot easier given one's Facebook community, but Jordan has opted to abstain--not incomprehensibly--from social media, and it is not lost on me that I literally know more about the daily activities and thoughts of fleeting co-workers from years ago than I do of my best friend since Kindergarten.

But I know that he reads nearly everything I write on Seth Saith--which means more to me than traffic stats that suggest over 20,000 people stumble across something here each month--and he has closely followed all of my travel adventures, which I have incessantly shared in recent years on a dedicated travel blog.  

As Jordan has developed into the most avid soccer aficionado I know, he has helped further my fandom of the sport--though still not nearly to his level--and I was delighted to share his insights in some recent World Cup and English League Soccer posts here. (Best seen in sum here.)

This love of soccer is what suggested this year's edition of my annual self-made birthday card for Jordan, shown nearby, which he and his family got a big kick out of (at the expense of Luis Suarez).

I still genuinely and acutely enjoy every occasion on which I see or speak to Jordan, and interactions with the wider circle that includes his family and Erin provide a warmth that I elsewhere only derive from my own family and a few other close friends.

But just as important to my existence has been 41 years of knowing simply that he is there.
"You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead"
-- The Beatles, "Two of Us"
The above lyric comes readily to mind as rather apt, and I can't help thinking of it without a sense of happiness and pride, but also--as he has turned 46 and I will in about 5 weeks--a suspicion that its sentiment could well be literally true. (I'm also reminded of the days Jordan and I would spin Beatles records backwards, searching for the "Paul is Dead" clues.)

One never knows what the future, let alone each day, will bring, and we've all been given numerous reasons not to take anything, or anyone, for granted.

But all you can do is the best you can, for as long as you can, and along with much else my friendship with Jordan has meant, I see it as proof that I have at least done one thing right.

So, thanks and love.

And, of course, a song by the Boss, my favorite of any about friendship.

Despite the fact that you aren't much of a Springsteen fan, the lyrics don't largely fit our relationship and that this clip of "Bobby Jean" was from a different London concert than the one I attended in 2013, well, Jordan, this one's for you:

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