Making friends has always come easily to me. I find that a handshake and calling the other person by his name tends to open the door to new friendships. Showing an interest in what the other person is doing or where he has lived tends to promote that friendship.

My father did not have that gift at all. My mother was an accomplished friend-maker. My brother Earl, an insurance salesman, made friends by the score. My other elder brother Charlie, who was given to lecturing on religious matters, enjoyed much less success in friend-making. I don’t work at it; it is simply a part of my nature.

If I were to do an analysis of my attempts to make friends, I believe that much of it would flow from being brought up during the destitution that marked the American Depression and from being an enlisted man in the United States Army. With that background, I have long since been accustomed to disappointments and rejections. Making friends, particularly among those who do the heavy lifting in this life, has tended to be one of my responses.

When I speak of heavy lifters, the best example I can give you is of one of our garbage collectors. This neighborhood is located about 300 feet from a wooded water reserve where wild animals such as deer and raccoons tend to live. Garbage put out at street level in a plastic bag will not survive the night. It will be torn apart by the animals seeking something to eat. For this reason, the plastic bags are placed in a garbage can or, in polite language, a garbage receptacle.

In the morning, if the garbage men reach our garbage before I go out to retrieve the can, they take the plastic bag and put it in the back of their truck. On the other hand, there are times when the garbage men are a little late and, when I go to retrieve the can, I take the garbage out and put it at the curb side.

Tending to the garbage in my current condition is one of my major accomplishments. I pride myself on finding my way down the 90-foot driveway, taking the plastic bag out of the container, and then, using my cane to tap the Belgian blocks that line the driveway, returning to the garage. It may not seem much to anyone who retrieves garbage cans, but to me it is one of my triumphs.

You may remember an earlier essay entitled “Thanksgiving 2006.” On the Wednesday morning before the Thanksgiving holiday, I arrived at the garbage can at about the same time as the garbage collector showed up. I reached into the garbage can, pulled the plastic bag out, and handed it to the refuse collector. He thanked me for my efforts. As he turned to walk toward his truck, I said to him, “Hey, come back here. I want to shake your hand and wish you a happy Thanksgiving.”

The refuse collector came to me, took off his glove, and we wished each other to have a happy Thanksgiving. One way or another, I am convinced that the refuse collector genuinely meant it when he said that I should enjoy the coming holiday. I know that I meant it when I expressed those wishes to him. Before this essay is finished, there will be a reprise about that same garbage man.

Before we reach the reprise, I believe it would be fair to site an example of making friends and one of making non-friends, or in plain English, making enemies. First the friend making example. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt met with King Saud of Saudi Arabia on a heavy U.S. cruiser off the shores of that country. The King and the Muslims in the Arab world understood that the American President was not their enemy but intended to deal fairly with them. The result was a low price for oil and the friendship of the nations in the Arab world.

While the President of the United States was meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia, there were raging battles in much of North Africa. Basically, it was the United States First Army pitted against the vaunted Afrika Corp of Germany under the leadership of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. During those battles, all of us who flew in combat carried a letter addressed to “Every Noble Arab.” A copy of that letter, which I have saved from early 1943, is included. To my knowledge, the Arabs did not turn over downed American airmen to the Germans but rather directed them toward water, food and rescue. I was the beneficiary of such treatment in early August of 1943. The Arabs have a long tradition of hospitality and American airmen were the recipients of those gestures. The United States profited from having the Arabs on our side during battles that would determine the fate of our invasion of Europe.

On the other hand, it grieves me to report that there are examples where making non-friends or perhaps enemies, seems to be in vogue. My former employer of 43 years communicates with all of its pensioners rarely except to ask us to support their efforts in an enactment of legislation. While AT&T is silent on the communications front, it has unilaterally imposed a draconian increase in the drug benefit program amounting, in many cases, to as much as 300%. This is no way to make friends, particularly among retired people who ordinarily would view AT&T in sympathetic terms. Simply put, the new AT&T could have made friends with its pensioners but it has decided to do otherwise.

Well, so you see, what the U.S. Government did under Franklin Roosevelt merits applause, and what AT&T has done, merits stony silence.

Earlier I had promised a reprise of the garbage collector incident, but upon reflection, it has grown by a factor of one. I find that my friendships with people who labor at the bottom of the social structure are very rewarding. The men who work in the produce section, the woman who sweeps the floor at the market, the waiters at restaurants, and the men who sell gasoline for our cars are my friends. They are the people who do the heavy lifting.

There is Rita, for example, a domestic who speaks limited English, who walked by me on her way to work. When she saw me getting the garbage containers lined up to be taken back to the garage, Rita became my friend and insisted that she would take them. Perhaps it is a fact that those garbage cans are friend makers. Rita is certainly one of my new found friends.

Now to complete the story that I had promised in the opening paragraph, we return to the refuse collector whom I met before Thanksgiving and met again today, January 30th, 2007. Every other week it is necessary to take a second garbage container to the street to carry bottles and cans so that they may be re-cycled. This morning when I went to the street, the recycle people had already been there but the garbage had not been picked up. As I maneuvered to get the recycle container in a spot where I

could bring it to the garage, the garbage truck came to a stop at the foot of our driveway. As it turns out, the man who had become my friend before Thanksgiving was on the back step. He came over to me and gave me a warm greeting and said that he would take care of the garbage in the plastic bag. He then replaced the tops on the garbage container as well as the recycle can and said to me, “Where do you put these? In the garage?”

I protested and said something to the effect that this is my job and that you guys have plenty to do trying to complete your run. But there was no point in arguing with this fellow. He grabbed both containers and headed for the garage. I tagged along, using my cane to tap the Belgian blocks. When I arrived at the garage, he had just completed putting the two containers well inside the limits of the garage. Once again we shook hands and held each other’s arms, and wished each other a happy new year.

I know this fellow is not a Phi Beta Kappa candidate and I know that he is not in the hunt to become the next president of the United States. He is a man who does the heavy lifting. I am privileged to call him my friend. And I am ashamed that I do not know his name.

So you see, making new friends is not a difficult task at all. For this nation, it would be helpful if we had more friends rather than enemies who wish us ill. I am sorry that my elder brother Earl was not here to see my encounter with the refuse collector. Old gregarious Earl would have held the refuse man in his arms and would probably have invited him to dinner. During dinner the refuse man would have probably insisted on Earl selling him an insurance policy. Earl, who was blind as I am, was a good man.

In my case, I feel blessed to be able to make friends so easily. Which brings to mind the quotation from William Butler Yeats’s poem, “The Courtyard Revisited,” which is “Count where man’s blessings most begin and end. My blessing is that I have had such friends.” A man or a person who is blessed with good friends such as Rita and the refuse collector, is a lucky man. I consider myself to be among the most fortunate of men.

January 30, 2007
Essay 233
making friends
Kevin’s commentary: You of course won’t remember the essay from Thanksgiving 2006, because it hasn’t been published yet, but that’s okay. I was actually going to link this essay to one called “Matter of Dignity” that I’ve read a few times before but it also turns out that that one is from 2006 as well. Perhaps I’ll publish it next anyway.

In any event I’ve always thought that this was one of the coolest things about Pop. And you have to be careful how you think about it, because otherwise it might seem condescending, but it truly isn’t. Pop isn’t stepping off any sort of pedestal to come down and acknowledge the people who make his life easier, he actively seeks them out to thank them and learn as much as he can about them. There’s something very different there than, say, the pro athlete who high-fives a ball boy at a sports game, though this sort of behavior also seems to elicit a lot of praise.

2 Responses to 'MAKING FRIENDS'

  1. Ezra says:

    I recently met the driver of that garbage truck who waited patiently while the the garbage men helped me with my work. His name is Ralph, who after the township contracted the garbage work to an outside firm, is now the animal control officer. My wife Judy asked his advice on removing an animal who was seeking shelter under our kitchen window. When Judy introduced him to me, Ralph said, “I know that guy. He is Louie’s friend.” Louie of course is the fellow who wished me a Happy Thanksgiving and a Happy New Year.

    • Kevin says:

      Nice work! I’ll certainly call that a victory. Was there anything more to the story of the shelter-seeking animal? Usually that area is just full of birds.

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