The Beauty of Friendship
Several weeks ago, my wife and I drove from San Diego to Laguna Beach to meet with our good friends, Mary and Peter, who live in Santa Monica. We often meet half way, splitting a drive made unbearable by the Los Angeles traffic. This time we enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of a restaurant perked on the steep shore of the Pacific. It was lunchtime and we ordered a light fare with lots of soft drinks and desserts to last us several hours while we talked with the glare of the ocean dancing on our happy faces.
The four of us have been friends for a lifetime. Literally.
Peter and I were born two days apart in the same Bucharest hospital, and my first memories of him are from first grade when we shared a homeroom. We remained classmates for all of our twelve years of schooling. In fourth grade my family moved into an apartment across the street from where he lived, and we became neighbors. We walked to school together, holding hands when crossing the wide street in front of the Military Academy. We stayed best friends through the years, played together in the streets or in each other’s apartment, competed on the same swim team, learned ping pong on a makeshift table in my backyard, studied and, later in middle school and high school, smoked our first cigarettes on the same street corners and went to the same parties. All we had to do was walk onto the street and whistle, a window would open, and soon, the two of us would be together. Peter played team sports like soccer and basketball. He was a walking encyclopedia of sports personalities and game results and statistics. I preferred swimming and skiing. Peter was a good student. I was a good student also, but not as dedicated as he was. We went on trips together, first with our parents and later on our own, to the mountains, and more often to the Black Sea resorts, where we spent many weeks on the beach during our summer vacations. We read the same books, saw the same movies and listened to the same French and American music. We influenced each other. We both went to the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest to study engineering, each pursuing different branches (he studied electro-technical engineering and I mechanical). Our schedules coincided, and in the freshman and junior years we might have had some of the same professors.
We met Mary in high school, and we quickly became part of a group of teenagers who enjoyed spending their free time together. One evening Mary took me to the Opera — the first and one of the few live opera performances I ever saw — and I complained so arduously that we left at intermission. I don’t mean to say that I don’t appreciate opera — I do, but on an intellectual level and only as an artistic interest to be respected in others and admired from an insurmountable distance.
My wife, Vio, joined our group of teenagers through me, a little later. In college, the four of us vacationed together in our beloved Doi Mai, a fishing village on the shore of the Black Sea, enjoying the benefits of the merciless summer sun and the salty waves in that simple manner that nature had always intended. In the winter, we spent lazy afternoons playing Whist in Mary’s parents’ beautiful apartment — a joyful if mindless experience complete with friendly competitiveness, a ton of banter and plenty of bite-size sandwiches of French baguette, butter, canned liver pate and pickles. We drank sweet vermouth with club soda and lemon slices. I realize none of this seems too impressive today, but in those times and at that age, we felt we were reaching the upper pinnacles of sophistication. We shared a worldview, a value system, and a dose of superior cynicism unavoidable in a country strangled by the abuses and disappointments of communist rule. Like countless others, the four of us constantly dreamed about leaving Romania.
After graduating college, we got married — first Vio and I, then Mary and Peter a year later. Soon we left Romania. We came to America via Israel and Greece, and they arrived via Italy. We made it here before them, waited for them at Kennedy Airport, and they spent their first night in the States sleeping on a convertible sofa in our living room in New York City. The next day they flew to Los Angeles.
Life took over. We started our professional careers in our new country, went back to college for advanced degrees, had children (a boy and a girl per couple), bought houses and cars, got mortgages, made investments, brought our parents over to America. Before long, the carefree days of our youth became memory. We established ourselves in Columbia, Maryland; Peter and Mary settled down in Santa Monica. We stayed in touch, and over the years visited each other when possible.
Neither Peter nor I had siblings and growing up we sometimes felt as close as brothers. I know I did. What I find remarkable is that our friendship has survived decades of physical separation since our college years, and that in spite of that, our paths through life have been so similar. When we get together the old jokes and banter are resurrected. Our intellectual interests and political views are the same. We have common friends — lots of them.
I like talking to Peter and I’m always in awe of the range of his interests and his knowledge of facts: sports (including baseball and American football, which I simply ignore), movies and the arts (lately he confessed he likes opera and ballet, which left me utterly speechless), politics, travel, investments, and, of course, technology and business. Of all the people I know, he has had the most successful professional career, at the basis of which is his technical knowledge. If I approach the subject he modestly responds he got lucky. But I know better — I have known him well in an earlier life.
Since my son moved to San Diego and started a family there, we began visiting the West Coast often. Our focus, of course, is spending time with the grandchildren, but every time we go, we also plan to see Mary and Peter.
So this time we met for lunch in Laguna Beach; last year it was in Dana Point. It feels like we’re establishing a new tradition. If not, we will always have…Facebook!
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