I was fortunate enough to catch up with some old friends recently. Dinner started late–the restaurant had botched our reservation–but no one in our party really cared. We started at the bar with a round of drinks and a quick, ruthless inventory of respective hairlines that were going north and waistlines that were headed south with equal speed and commitment. Various theories were floated as to where they might collide and what might happen when they did. None of these theories made the slightest bit of sense and were in no way anatomically possible, which made them all the more amusing.
We were seated in a cushioned corner booth soon enough. We laser-scanned the menu and ordered quickly. The waiter sensed our desire to catch up. He refilled water glasses, then disappeared. The social masks that we all don in order to function with colleagues and strangers in the daily world were set aside instantly, and with palpable relief. We had nothing to protect, nothing to hide. We did not have to keep our guard up and demand respect. We had no hidden agenda to promote. We had no facade to maintain. Nobody was going to take any cheap shots. What was said at the table, stayed at the table. We knew each other. We could relax.
The conversation was a mixed bag covering recent events in everyone’s personal lives, sports, current events–although politics was skirted diplomatically–and a general, benign gossip about friends we grew up with and what was going on in their lives. The tone was candid but optimistic overall. The camaraderie was thick and tinged with the melancholy that sets in with men of a certain age, regardless of their accomplishments: life is just very different than you thought it would be, regardless of how it turned out.
Seated among us were a wide variety of outcomes, some planned and some not. The school teacher who fought to educate a few good students while having to corral a roomful of miscreants. The entrepreneur who had just sold his business for a substantial sum, but now was left empty, wondering what to do next. The Wall Street master of the universe who was having problems at home. The writer who was patiently hanging on, watching the horizon for that big break.
Congratulations went to the entrepreneur, who in turned expressed sincere amazement at the teacher, whom he deemed to have the most testicular fortitude of anyone present, citing his ability to deal with children eight hours a day. The Wall Street wizard begged to differ, noting that he dealt with children and their money for equal amounts of time. Expletives were hurled from all around when he added the lament that, given they masqueraded as adults, he was under-compensated for his burden. Everyone laughed, knowing the truth and outlandish lie he’d woven into one statement, and that was the end of the money talk.
Any stranger passing by our table could not have discerned by the way we acted or dressed who among us was the underpaid school teacher, the struggling writer, the Upper East Side trader, the Beacon Hill mogul. Our friendship was paramount, and so we dressed uniformly as we had in high school and college, without logos or bling.
We were once all students, and now we were men. We had all made different choices at different times, and we each found in the others things we admired, things we wished we’d had. And in ourselves we were reminded of the blessings we routinely enjoyed and often overlooked as we ran from a meeting to a lunch to an appointment to a…
We weren’t all the same, but we treated each other as equals. We weren’t all Old Money, but we could damn sure try to act like it. And in the end, that’s what counts.