When to look away, and why
I met him in a high school hallway, when he was still 14 and still had hair, although it was covered by an interesting hat. I called him “Zorro” for a while, actually, although he didn’t seem to mind. As long as I didn’t disrespect the hat.
Forty years is a long time for anything this side of redwoods, but this particular span, from teenager to wherever we are now (middle age? Late middle age? Pre-death?), contains multitudes, a lot of which we probably aren’t remembering correctly and some of which might have technically been illegal at the time. We grew up together, in other words.
He moved up to Washington from Arizona three years after I did, so even geography helped the friendship, and now here I was, a bunch of calendar pages away from high school, on a boat docked on the north end of Lake Union, about to watch my friend do something I’d never seen him do.
Two things, actually, since I’d missed his first wedding. But watching an old friend get married, under blue skies on the penultimate day of summer, was easy.
I’d seen him change over the past few years, under the spell of this wonderful woman who now stood next to him on the deck. He was happier and calmer, it seemed, now surrounded by friends who loved them both, on a beautiful night. As I say, that part was easy.
But I’d never seen him dance, and I was going to go out on a limb and assume there was a good reason for that. The same reason that none of you have ever seen me dance.
Over four decades of friendship, it’s possible to observe any number of judgment errors, but this one just had never come up. And now, apparently, it was about to.
Drill down into significant affection and you’ll find this feeling, this empathy, the fear that someone you care about might be put in a position that makes them look clumsy, or awkward, or worse.
We grimace, we cover our eyes, we hold onto our stomachs and we try not to watch. That pretty much sums it up.
It also explains why, despite my curiosity and easy availability, I’ve not watched Clint Eastwood’s recent appearance at the Republican National Convention.
I know, I know. That was WEEKS ago. This is what I’m talking about.
Affection is what I have for Clint Eastwood. He was The Man in my formative years, the one movie star who had me waiting for his next film. I saw a lot of them, actually, in the 1970s with my newlywed buddy up there, afternoons spent in dark theaters watching Harry Callahan roam the mean streets of San Francisco.
The only reason there’s not an “Outlaw Josey Wales” poster up in my bedroom is that I’m married.
I’ve never lost my respect, either. Even when his co-star was a monkey. He seemed like a good guy, an honest man, a passionate person who loved his craft and did it well, at least more times than not.
And even though he was never a typical Hollywood political type, never a Chuck Norris or Sean Penn, he had his beliefs and those too seemed admirable. He seemed traditionally conservative on some things and surprisingly liberal on others, but mostly he seemed sincere.
This was something to respect, I thought, and it never occurred to me to wonder whom he voted for or why.
But this wasn’t about politics. This was about awkwardness, about satire, about appearing old and lost and fumbling on stage. I didn’t want to look. Not Clint, please.
To be fair, lots of people thought he did a great job. There seemed to be a consensus, though, or at least a widespread feeling that it was embarrassing for him, and I couldn’t watch. Still can’t. Still won’t. I hope it wasn’t that bad.
And he’s not the only one. The world has changed in the past four years, since we last had a national (i.e., presidential) election, by which I mean your grandma has a Facebook account and maybe a Ron Paul membership card.
Politics won’t tell you who your friends are, but it sometimes sure tells you what dumb things they’ll believe.
So I cover my eyes, wait for the silly season to be over, when we can go back to funny cats and Clint’s latest film. I’m a coward, of course, but sometimes it spares me a lot of grief.
On the other hand, I closed my eyes and held up my cellphone instead, recording my buddy’s wedding dance, and surprise: He did great.
Obviously some rehearsal had gone into it, so I was able to breathe easier and pat him on the back. “Nice dancing,” I said, and got a Dirty Harry look for my efforts.
Some things are better left unsaid, apparently. There’s a lesson here.