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In My Next Life: Old Life Meet New Life

Posted By Karen Young On March 9, 2010 @ 12:51 am In Features,In My Next Life,spotlight | 8 Comments

BY DAVID NICHOLS

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” says My Beautiful Grown Daughter, referring to Delaney and me. “When the two of them get together it’s like…” Her voice takes on a searching quality, as if she’s just returned from studying some remote Himalayan tribe and is trying to explain the behavior she’s observed to a group of wide-eyed undergrads. Ultimately words fail her and she trails off. Her Handsome Folksinger Boyfriend comes to the rescue. “They’re like some old-time comedy team,” he says. “They crack each other up, but they’re not really funny. Sort of like those guys who talk about cars on NPR.” The Boy’s expression turns pensive as he takes in this information. He considers my solo attempts at humor questionable at best. I suspect the prospect of having to endure two middle-aged jokers has him considering whether now’s the time to actually run away from home.

I’ve been blessed with an abundance of great friendships in my life, but Delaney has known me longer than anyone I still see on a regular basis. We met when we were 14. Since then we’ve seen each other through the gamut of high school romances, college road-trips, twenties career angst, marriages, births, deaths, and unfortunate personal grooming decisions. In other words, this guy knows me well enough to be dangerous. I know it and N. knows it. “I’ll bet he can tell a lot of stories,” she says with a mischievous gleam in her eye. “He’s as old as I am,” I say. “He’s senile. And anything he does remember is a lie.” She gives me the enigmatic little half-smile she brings out whenever she knows she has the upper hand. “We’ll see,” she says.

But before we can see we have to actually have Delaney on hand, which turns out to be a bit of a challenge. Delaney’s a savvy traveler and has arranged for his flight to take a southerly route, hoping to avoid any winter weather delays. However, he’s neglected to factor in global warming and gets stalled by a foot of snow in Dallas. In Dallas! He gets as far as Phoenix before time and spare airplanes run out and he’s forced to spend the night. At last, a day late, Delaney does indeed turn up at the Burbank airport. Unfortunately, his suitcase does not. The baggage people put out an APB and promise to deliver the luggage to his hotel as soon as it arrives. At the hotel the desk clerk promises to send it on to the room as soon as the airline drops it off. With that settled, it’s time for the moment of truth.

I’m guessing we all know one of those “love her/hate him” couples, but certainly none of us wants to be part of one. We want our friends to like our Significant Other and vice versa. It’s an important form of validation, especially when you’re starting out in a new relationship. Falling in love sometimes feels like a benign form of temporary insanity. You need your friends to reassure you that you haven’t, in fact, lost your mind. Or that if you have, you’ve done so with good cause.

We come into the house and N. and Delaney express their mutual relief that he finally made it here.

Delaney notices two paintings that hang prominently in our living room. “I really like those,” he says. He points to one next to the fireplace. “Especially that one.” Without knowing it he’s gotten off to a good start. “Who’s the artist?” he asks. N. smiles modestly. “I am.” The painting is a large canvas featuring three earthy but vividly colored horizontal stripes. Written across the bottom in bold, black letters is the word “hola.”  To me it represents the essence of N.’s spirit: vibrant, forthright, and ready to welcome life. Anybody who gets that painting gets N. and Delaney gets it. “You’re obviously a very talented woman,” he says. “So what’re you doing with a cretin like him?” N. laughs. And so it begins.

Delaney and I start trading the insults and aspersions that make up 90 percent of our conversation and I have to admit we do sort of sound like the “Car Talk” guys, but without the Boston accents. Sitting in the kitchen, having a snack, I pick up my glass with my pinky finger extended. I always do. I don’t know why. I just do and N. and The Boy love to rib me about it. “You’re so posh,” they tell me. Now N. has a chance to investigate further. “Has he always done that?” she asks Delaney. “Oh, yeah,” he says. “He’s always been dainty.” N’s delighted. “Dainty! That’s exactly it! Honey, you’re dainty.” Just what I need. A guy to fly 1500 miles through two days of blizzards to give my girlfriend a new phrase to tease me with.

By Friday evening the errant luggage has yet to appear, so I take Delaney to Banana Republic down on Ventura to buy a pair of pants. “I’ve got spare underwear,” he tells me. “But I packed a couple of flasks of some pretty good rye I wanted you to taste.” He may think I’m dainty but he knows what I like. Now I’m really rooting for that suitcase to show up.

Later, we go to dinner at one of our favorite spots in Hollywood. N. and I have been there three or four times the past year. The food’s delicious, the service is sophisticated but friendly, and every time we’ve gone we’ve had more than one really interesting A-list spotting. Tonight, with our out-of-town guest we see…nobody. You know how it goes. You have houseguests hoping to go home with an exciting L.A. story. You send them back empty-handed and the next day Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel walk their dogs past your house. So we talk amongst ourselves. A long-suffering Detroit Tigers fan, Delaney mentions that they may be about to pick up Johnny Damon from the Yankees. N.’s right on it. “I think the deal closed today,” she says.

Saturday and still no suitcase. Meanwhile, somewhere along the way I’ve lost my glasses and I’m forced to resort to an old pair for backup. They’re wire rims, and completely bent out of shape. The only word to describe how they sit on my face is “cattywhompus”. In order to see through them I have to squint constantly. Needless to say, this provides ample fodder for Delaney, N., and The Boy. It’s pointed out that I look like a very amateurish drawing of Mr. Magoo. The three of them just stare at me and giggle. It’s nice to see them bonding like this. Or it would be, if I could actually see them.

On Sunday N. plans to make her legendary shrimp tacos. My Beautiful Grown Daughter and her Handsome Folksinger Boyfriend can’t come for dinner, but they want to see Delaney before he leaves so they come with us to the Latin Supermarket to pick up ingredients. As the six of us wander the aisles we look a little like one of those big, extended Latin families you see out shopping together, even though only one and a half of us has the proper ethnic qualifications. Still, the HFB is inspired to order some food to go. He opts for the bluntly but accurately translated “Beef Guts Burrito.” This affords Delaney and me the chance to aim some of the hilarity he loves so much in his direction.

Back home, Delaney has high praise for the shrimp tacos. He announces that he could happily move to California and spend the rest of his life sitting at our kitchen counter watching N. cook and eating the results. The Boy and I inform him that all of those positions are filled. The evening ends. Delaney’s leaving early the next day, so he, N., and The Boy say their farewells with hugs, kisses, and solemn handshakes.

I drive him back to his hotel where, it turns out, his luggage has been in hiding for 24 hours. All I can figure is the desk clerk gets some kind of kickback from Banana Republic. Back in his room we finally sample the rye, which, as promised, is quite tasty.

“Sorry your trip turned into kind of a pain,” I say.

“Hey, it was 18 degrees in Detroit today. And I’m really glad I got to meet N. and The Boy.”

“Yeah?”

“She won my heart when she knew all about the Johnny Damon thing.”

“And baseball’s not even her game.”

He lifts his glass. “You’re doing okay.”

In the morning I drop him off at the airport. We embrace with the required amount of male backslapping. Then he trundles off, headed back to the frigid Midwest where we were boys together. Watching him, I’m reminded of the lyrics Paul Simon added to “The Boxer” for his Central Park reunion with Art Garfunkel: “After changes upon changes we are more or less the same/after changes we are more or less the same.”

Old life, meet my next life. Say hola.

David Nichols is a TV writer/producer who has worked on such shows as “Caroline In The City”, “Grace Under Fire”, and “Evening Shade.”

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