Should old acquaintances be forgotten?
Well, maybe. People and times do change.
When I was in the 10th grade, a young man sat in front of me in Spanish class. His name was Manny. I admired his brilliance and ability to retain facts and figures about various political issues of the times.
He was hardly an attractive person and certainly no ladies’ man. But Manny had a great sense of humor and was always an interesting conversationalist.
I lost track of my friend until 40 years later, when a phone call came out of the blue. It was Manny. He had tracked me down via some classmates and was now living in a Northern California city — a long journey from his original home in Bethesda, Md.
My long-lost friend wanted to get together, and we agreed to meet at my home.
But 40 years can make a big difference in the lives of people. The first thing I noticed was his overweight condition — a far cry from the skinny kid I knew.
His nose was running and he made several trips to the bathroom where I could hear sniffing sounds. Ruminants of white power residue dotted his navy blue collar.
We talked about old times, but Manny was extremely critical of his life and everyone he knew in it. Negative vibrations emitted from him like gamma rays from an atomic bomb.
He had never amounted to much in life. He did not attend college. As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure if Manny finished high school. He tried to make a living as a freelance writer but supported himself primarily on the labors of an admiring girlfriend.
Manny wanted to get together with me again, but needless to say, I made sure a future date was never confirmed.
Then there was Roland. He was an interesting kid I met while attending college. Well-liked by his peers, they elected him to student government. But Roland never felt he quite “fit in.” He was from a farm community near Bakersfield and somehow got the idea the people from the cities did not like rural people. He believed they only pretended to accept him.
Ever since childhood, Roland wanted to be a physician but could not cut the extensive work involved with the hard sciences.
After college, life was not an easy road. The disappointed potential healer spent most of his life as a military officer until asked to retire because of alcoholism. His first wife died of a rare disease in her late 20s. The second marriage ended in divorce. Roland entrusted his entire life savings to his stockbroker son, who in turn stole every dime.
The last time I heard from Roland, he was seeking new employment. He didn’t contact me after that. When I did an Internet search, I found out why. Roland was living his physician dream as a “life coach,” fraudulently claiming to have a degree in psychology as well as an M.D. degree from a major medical school. He also attested to have done a residency in psychiatry.
Another long-lost friend had gone over the edge. I did not want to be a part of his self-destructive process either.
People and times do change. Sometimes it’s for the better, and sometimes it’s for the worse. I suppose what attracted me to these two fellows in the first place was their exceptional creativity, intelligence and ability to laugh at all of our human imperfections.
However, 40 years and a variety of unwholesome circumstances can make all the difference as to whether one reaches the final road with contented happiness or unmitigated misery.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.