You can't beat 'em, my man friends. What did I do to deserve them? I'll never know.
You may be asking yourself, "What's a man friend, Andy?" Well, it's not a friend who is a man. That's a great thing unto itself. To define what a man friend is, let's start with a description of how I met my first man friend. This was years ago, before I even knew there was such a thing.
David pulled up to the Orchard Street party on a noisy Honda 90CC. Somewhere along the line he'd lost the gas tank's original cap. In its place he twisted on a French's mustard jar lid. It fit perfectly.
"Could I take it for a spin around the block?" I asked David in the first minute of our first encounter.
"Sure," he said, and handed me the key.
Neither of us can explain the trust we felt in that initial moment. In retrospect, it wasn't a feeling at all. It was a done deal. Trust is a key ingredient in the man friend pie. Trust based on a gut feeling.
Earned trust is for regular friends.
"True friends stab you in the front," said Oscar Wilde. We would have been man friends for sure.
Man friends are humans you've yearned to know long before you ever meet. An instant connection, bordering on attraction, is a preeminent condition of man-friendship. This love-at-first-sight feature defies all experience and age differences.
A man 25 years my junior I encountered at a YMCA camp job bet me that for an entire week he could drag a stuffed animal around tied to his ankle by a rope. We shook on it.
I haven't seen that particular man friend in a couple years, which leads us to another definer. If he walked into our house right this second, as I'm writing this, I wouldn't even get out of my chair. I'd finish this paragraph, then we'd start up right where we left off, which was, if I'm not mistaken, sharing ideas for the best use of empty refrigerator crates.
Here are some things that are not man friends:
A pal. This is someone you have in the Navy.
A buddy. This is someone you borrow a bike pump from.
A friend, a regular, traditional friend, is someone you count on and love. It's someone with whom you navigate personal changes, ups, downs, complications, expectations, highs and lows. They say friendships take work. They're right.
Not man friends!
Man friends are cartoons in a world of melodrama. Carefree and off-the-leash. Think of Max and the beasts in Where the Wild Things Are.
Man friends aren't just close. They like to be close. These are hands-on friendships. The guy with the plush toy roped to his ankle? I've read books to him while he sat in my lap.
It should come as no surprise that men who have man friends are capable of developing man crushes. While it's true that any man friend I'm with at the moment is the one I have a crush on, I also maintain several celebrity man crushes.
Ryan Seacrest. He's at the top of the list. So ordinary. Yet so talented. He's a freaking announcer. That's cool. Who's an announcer anymore? That smile? Ooo-wee. He still likes to do radio! That makes him humble in my opinion. Humble dudes are good man friends.
Former NBA superstar Larry Bird. Again with the humble part. He ain't much to look at, but he's a Hoosier of the highest order, and I know we'd hit it off.
Bass players. Any of them.
Dead guys I'll never meet like Oscar Wilde. Warren Zevon comes to mind. And I could have chucked the hell out of the old football with Bobby Kennedy.
There are personal characteristics man friends share. A man friend doesn't have to be a father, but every man friend I have connects with children. My man friends can chat up a child in effortlessly brilliant, fun ways.
Moving into a child's world requires a calm confidence, the same clarity of purpose called forth when latching up with a man friend. A melding of hearts that results in "a single soul dwelling in two bodies," as Aristotle called it.
He would have been a good man friend, too. I would have shown him some guitar chords. Enjoyed some read-aloud. We would have dropped in on Plato and popped a few hand-puppet shadows against the old cave wall.
I feel greedy writing about all this. I'm lucky to have lots of friends who are men. Our children are fortunate, too, to have grown up in a world swimming with solid, loving, kind-hearted males.
To have a small pile of man friends on top of that seems almost unfair.