One difference between being 20 and being 40 is that where I used to think about life situations, I now think about patterns and cycles. For the fourth time now I am in the pattern called “the end of a social circle”. There was the set of high school friends, then the set of college/radio/music business friends, then the set of post-college musician and artist friends, and now the Orange County coffee house friends. This is, I think, the last turn for that cycle.
The first time was a cliché. We all either went to various colleges or began working full-time, and most of us moved out of town at least for a while. Lifetime friendships from that early are rare in the land of sprawl and mobility. The changes were quick and brutal, but at 18 I was flexible, and I had an exciting new world to explore. I remember friends breaking down and weeping over spring break when we all met up back home, but soon enough we all got over it and forgot each other.
The college experience is another cliché. There were the usual dormitory neighbors and classmates, but my permanent group surrounded the radio station. We were elitist culture geeks and lived for pop music, and it was the classic big circle of 20somethings sharing a subculture. That group lasted past college mostly because I went into entertainment journalism and carried my scene with me; my friends were musicians, music business types, or at least obsessed scenester fans. We carried our college culture with us.
The end of that one was harsher. I lost my cool job and left that business. Flat broke, without connections, and in deep clinical depression, I was of no use to anyone. Yet another cliché showed up: the entertainment people who only love you if you’re in the business. A condensed symbol arrived one night when a we had dinner and then talked at a friend’s apartment until very late. I had no car and my friend J. had given me a ride. As we were leaving, she abruptly said that she could not take me home, that it was the wrong direction and too late, and left. I walked a mile to the bus stop, then waited an hour and a half for the 24-hour bus down Santa Monica Boulevard back home. Sitting on a West L.A. bus bench looking across the street at a car wash on a cold foggy night, I realized I was out for good.
The friends I kept were musicians, artists, and young urban failures (we called ourselves yuffies). Most of us worked crap temp jobs and lived in bad neighborhoods. We were on the outside. None of the bands got signed, none of the art got sold, none of the stories were published. We were bound by a particularly Angeleno sub-Bohemian bitterness and sat around in little apartments in Van Nuys drinking cheap beer and cracking sick jokes. That group got me through the riots, the fires, the floods, the earthquake, the recession, the first Bush administration, and everything else that made the early 1990s a horribly shitty time to be in your late twenties.
Then my dad died and I moved back down to Orange County and lost all those people. I miss them; they were genuine, and creative, and loyal. Geography is a bitch. I talk to maybe two of them now.
One day in 1996, between jobs and getting my car fixed, I wandered down the street and sat down at a coffeehouse to kill two hours. I have stayed for nearly a decade. Here was another outsider group: an assortment of slackers, computer geeks, subculture kids, perpetual students, and mostly a loose group that had known each other since high school. I met some people who may be friends for life. It felt like a permanent social group to me. I guess you’d call that blindness.
Almost all of these people are fifteen or so years younger than me. A lot of them have felt stuck for a long time: stuck in high school, stuck in their home towns, stuck in bad situations in their lives. They are unsticking themselves and moving on. The ones closer to my age are unsticking themselves too. I am happy for all of them. Being stuck is horrible.
It’s taken me forever to figure this out, but what I’ve done is circled the whole way back and re-created my high school friendships, somehow assuming they’ll continue this time. In the same town, within sight of the school itself, I’ve joined the gang of outsiders with a spark that I had in 1981. I have performed a service as the Ghost of Christmas Future, and that work is fairly well done.
And I’m done with social circles too, I think. The choices for middle age are pathos or solitude. I’ll take the latter. I have a lot of reading to catch up on, and letters to write to my friends, wherever they end up.