Sunday, February 24, 2008

Got Time For Friends?

One night, in early September of 2001, I got into a huge fight with my now-ex-wife Cynthia. I left the house that night and slept in my car. After that, for the next few days I stayed at my friend Mark's home, in a spare apartment he had next to his studio in the attic of the building he owned. I was one of a number of his friends with marital troubles who availed themselves over the years of this space, which he had dubbed "Mark's Home For Wayward Boys."

I've alluded in earlier posts to the reasons that marriage went down in flames. Cynthia is six years younger than I, and wanted kids and a house-- not unreasonable things for a woman in her early thirties to desire. My finances were in ruins over a custody fight with my ex-girlfriend a few years before over my son, and buying a house or having more kids was out of the question.

As i sat in my friend's home, pondering over what was going on in my life, I picked up a couple of magazines from one of the many stacks of magazines Mark had in his attic. One that jumped out at me was the most recent issue of the Utne Reader, pictured at the top of this post. The article that grabbed me was about the importance of friends in our lives.

In reading the article, I realized that I'd been neglecting friendships in trying to make my failing marriage work. After a couple of long phone conversations with Cynthia, in which we decided to try marriage counseling, I went home. I took the issue of the Utne Reader with me. I didn't think Mark would miss it among the enormous stacks of magazines in the attic.

I thought back to 1987, when I'd renewed my friendship with my friend Andreas. He and I had become great, great friends toward the end of college, in 1985. By 1987, we'd lost touch. Fortunately, during a trip to see some college friends that year, he also happened to have visited that weekend (his parents lived in the town), and we ran into one another in the Uptowner/Cellar, the bar we'd hung out at in college. In the course of the evening, I discovered that he'd survived cancer in the time we'd lost touch. I was stunned and a little angry at myself. I could have lost him, and would never had known what happened. I vowed never to let something like that happen again-- to make sure to work at and maintain my friendships.

Right after I got out of college, in 1985, I'd become friends with a guy named Joe Judd. He, like Andreas, Mark and I, had gone to Eastern Illinois University in the early and mid eighties. He'd hung with the same crowd I had. We knew, we discovered, all of the same people there. Yet, somehow, we'd never met in college. When we did meet, though, after college, we immediately hit it off. We'd end up with groups of college friends going out, or just run into one another all the time.

In the early nineties, I was in Myopic Books, a bookstore in the Earwax cafe in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, when I saw Joe behind the counter. I stopped to talk to him, assuming he worked there. Not only did he work there, he owned the place.

Over the next few years, Joe moved the store. He always maintained a little cafe in his stores. When Adam was little, we'd go to Myopic and hang out. Not surprisingly, Adam loves books to this day.

Over the years, I saw less of Joe. I started working two jobs, so I didn't get to his store often, though it was down the street from Adam's school for a while. When I did get to the store, Joe wasn't there.

When my friend Mark was murdered in June of 2006, we helped his family clear his home out. In addition to the huge trove of magazines and newspapers were thousands of books. It occurred to us that Joe might take some of the books, or at least give us an idea of where we could sell them, where we could use the money for a reward fund and a scholarship fund.

Joe remained mysteriously elusive. He'd was spending most of his time, we'd heard, on a farm in Arkansas.

We talked to Cat, the manager of Myopic Books, which had since moved back into its original location in Earwax. She told us that Joe had okayed us to bring in a lot of the books.

On Saturday morning, I was cleaning out the wicker basket in our dining room that I keep newspapers and magazines that I haven't had a chance to read in. I came to a Chicago Reader from last month that I hadn't had a chance to read. I looked at the cover to decide if I wanted to read the cover story. As I read the headline, I realized I most certainly did want to read it; it was about my friend Joe Judd.

Over lunch, I read the story; it explained why Joe was incommunicado for so long. It turned out that around the time my marriage to Cynthia was unraveling, Joe had been diagnosed with a disease called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a congenital disease that affected the veins in one of his legs. The doctors initially told him that he was probably going to lose the leg.

After a couple of years of grueling treatment-- lots of operations-- Joe left the hospital, leg intact. In deciding how he was going to spend the rest of his life, Joe decided that he wanted to live on a farm. In 2003, he bought a farm in Arkansas. He's found happiness-- and love-- down there. Reading the article, I was very, very happy for my friend. He only comes up to Chicago a couple of times a year, so I may or may not run into him again, but it made my heart happy to know that he's doing well.

I thought of my chance meeting with Andreas that weekend in 1987. I thought of last year, when I read about my policeman friend Hector Alfaro in the newspaper. I thought about how, when I started this blog, the fourth or fifth person to post on it was Lulu, a friend I'd long lost touch with.

I also thought about my friend Yomi Martin, who I'm still looking for. In the end, I seem always to connect back with, or at least hear about, old friends. I'm hoping my luck in that vein holds out with him.

In the meantime, I still have the issue of the Utne Reader that set me on the path of making sure that I maintain and nurture my friendships. Once in a while, I take it out and re-read the article on friendships, just to remind myself of the value and importance of friendships.

One day, last year, I happened to set the magazine out to reread the article. Kim was walking by, when she stopped, picked the magazine up, looked at amazement at the cover and asked me why I happened to have this old issue of the Utne Reader. I told her about what had happened, and how I kept the issue for the great article on friendship, and as a little talisman of my friendship with my late friend Mark. Why did she want to know, I asked?

The guy on the cover, she told me, was her good friend Keith Anderson, from her hometown, Minneapolis, where the Utne Reader is published.


cheer34 said...

You are a magnet of some sort. Mystical, spiritual, positive energy, karma. I think you have them all.

Natalie said...

Wow, how interesting how it all threads together. I had that issue of the reader on my living room table for weeks! The article about Joe was great.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the link to the article about Joe. Great read! As are your blogs.

lulu said...

Did I find your blog, or did you find mine? I don't remember. In any case, I think the most interesting part is that we didn't realize that we knew each other for several weeks. We thought we were new friends.

Interesting article on your friend Joe. I love the part about planting sunflowers with the little kids. Little kids rock.

Johnny Yen said...

Thanks! I'm also a magnet for weirdoes, especially when I'm hanging around my friend Andreas.-- I'll be posting about that soon.

It was funny that I hadn't really read the cover closely until a few weeks later.

Joe's a very cool, very nice guy.


I can't remember!

Joe is one of the many unique people that I met at Eastern, or through them.