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You've Got a Friend In Me 8 min read

You've Got a Friend In Me

The difficulty of adult friendships, plus the Oscars, F1, Wyoming on my mind, Jimmy Breslin, Shogun, and more.

By Cary Littlejohn

Yesterday was one of my best friend’s birthdays.

We’re a long way from each other, so while we chatted through various messaging services throughout the day, it struck me how odd this version of friendship would seem to those just a wee bit older than she and I. I didn’t call, but then again, I don’t think she expected me to. We talked on that day, the same as we do every day, which is to say nearly constantly, updating each other on the most Seinfeldian of trivial and banal minutiae.

Sure, part of the lackluster nature of our recognition and celebration of her birthday is the simple fact that we didn’t quite grasp when we were kids and our parents didn’t seem to make much of a fuss about their birthdays: It’s less fun as we get older. Our diets don’t work half the time. Our hearts threaten to beat all the way out of our chests, pack their bags, and never come back just to avoid all the work we force them to do when we decide that we’d like to ride the Peloton for 45 (and not 20) minutes or go for a jog that involves hills (ok, one hill, but a big one)(ok, not big but a definite incline). She said she tried to crack her neck and ended up injuring it instead, as if it had a warranty of 36 years and not a day more. I told her that, on this same day, I’d raced to the front of the line for senior citizen stereotypes when I slipped and fell in the shower. Like, all the way down. My bones still seem intact, but just barely, I’m guessing. I’m no doctor, but it did hurt like hell.

Beyond the birthday aversion we develop as we get older, it made me think more generally about friendships as we age. They’re incredibly hard to maintain; that’s the simple truth of the matter, one that the lucky of us cannot conceive in youth, the same way we, those same lucky ones, cannot fathom birthdays being anything less than exciting.

I had a meal with another friend recently, and it was a delight. But when I thought more about it, I questioned the interaction. Not for any hidden agenda or potential snarky slight in what was said, but mostly as a study of what wasn’t. It had been a long time since we’d last visited, easily many years. The ease with which we fell back into our broken-in friendship was time-tested and true. I’m not sure that’s such a good thing though. A lot had happened since we last sat across a meal like that, years before. Hell, a lot had happened to me and my family in 2023 alone: my father got diagnosed with cancer and passed away a month later, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and is currently undergoing treatment; my brother got married; I went to South Africa. And that was only one side of the equation; he had a full life all his own.

I mention it because our easy friendship allowed us to elide all of that. We just picked up with the random stuff that had been going in life, midstream—last week’s annoyances, some stories from a recent vacation, what a pain in the ass buying a car is. It would have been totally normal and unremarkable had we not gone so long without talking. Was our meal evidence of all that’s good about adult friendships, those that take more work than they used to but result in fewer visits, the ones for which we pat ourselves on the back because they just pick back up where we left off last time (no matter how long ago “last time” actually was)?

Or is it the sign of a friendship that’s died on the vine? Did we kid ourselves that a closeness that once was necessarily will always be, thereby papering over any need for actual effort, to put our backs into the act of catching up? Is it actually a condemnation of the friendship that we didn’t try harder to bridge the gap of so many years with more deliberate questions? 

I suspect, like so many things, it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s neither/nor, both/and. 

But it makes me thankful for this simple, unending, truly rock-solid friendship with my g-chat friend. The value is in its constancy, not always its profundity. We’re lucky enough to talk so often that we don’t have to catch up; we’re undeniably caught up. Conversations about the deep things in life don’t need to have time made for them; they’re just the next thing up, before we go back to complaining about snacks we shouldn’t be eating and wondering where the end of the workday is hiding.

Here’s to friendships, wherever you can find them, eh? The constant companions, the never-text-you-backers, the dinner-every-five-years-oughta-do-its, the ones you work for, the ones for which you should work harder, and the ones for whom a simple g-chat is more than enough on their birthday.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I liked a book review because of its somewhat snarky tone. In case you’re still looking for opinions on some of the films from Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, this collection of short reviews in n+1—just a few hundred words each—contain honest assessments and plenty of snark.
  2. A delightful first-person reported piece was circulating on social media, famous as much for its lively, humorous writing as it was its unfortunate circumstances: After having been published for a brief minute, it was summarily deleted from its website with no real explanation. The story was called “Behind F1’s Velvet Curtain,” written by Kate Wagner, who regularly covers cycling, not F1. It was a great testament to an outsider’s perspective, the stuff you get when a non-beat writer tackles a subject with fresh eyes. It was smart and funny and relatable, and I’m glad it got reposted here.
  3. The fine folks at Defector tried to get a satisfying answer to why the story was removed from the Road & Track website. Spoiler: There’s an answer, but it’s not all that satisfying.
  4. Here’s a beautiful story with a unique angle, a real treat that’s afforded to carefully considered and thoroughly reported magazine features. The Atlantic doesn’t just chronicle cystic fibrosis or the advancement of what’s accurately described as a miracle drug, but it goes a step further: How are these patients adjusting to the unexpected promise of a longer life, when they’d for so long taken it as a given that they’d die far sooner than their contemporaries without CF?
  5. “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Famous Wyoming words. While I don’t actually wish it, the sentiment does apply to how I think about Wyoming news. After living out there and reporting some of it myself, it never fails to catch my attention when the rest of the world remembers this massive landmass with a tiny population actually exists. The New York Times recently published about one woman’s work to establish an abortion clinic in the notoriously conservative state.
  6. Julie Burkhart, in the Times story, was mentored by Dr. George Tiller, the Kansan doctor who was murdered by an anti-abortion extremist. The circumstances of his death couldn’t help but bring to mind a National Magazine Award-winning story—“The Abortionist”— by my favorite writer,  Tom Junod,  in the 1994 issue of GQ. It follows Dr. John Bayard Britton, who replaced David Gunn after the latter was murdered by anti-abortion extremists in Pensacola, Florida. Not that I need a reason to go back and read Junod’s work, but it was a treat to do so here.
  7. Every now and then, there’s still some useful stuff on Twitter, and this find was one of them. New York Times journalist Dan Berry edited a recently published collection of articles by Jimmy Breslin, one of the best newspaper reporters to ever do it. It was published by Library of America, which not that long ago, I celebrated for its publication of a Charles Portis collection. Barry joined Tom Robbins on WBAI-FM to celebrate the book. It’s just a meandering conversation between host and Barry on all things Breslin, and it made sure to include lots of readings of Breslin’s own words, which were absolute magic when one considers he was almost always writing on a daily deadline.
  8. This Slate article on the profound confidence of a new show—FX/Hulu’s Shogun—and how clarity of narrative storytelling (without so much of the requisite homework shows come with these days) as what viewers are responding to so positively is pretty much right on the money.
  9. Another one of my favorite writers working today is Brian Phillips, and here he is, doing a very Chuck Klosterman-style essay on Dune 2 and the chosen-one narrative through a very particular lens. Let’s Talk About Magic Dick Theory in ‘Dune’
  10. Since this is going out a day late, I got the chance to read this gem from Jill Lepore in The New Yorker about the new AppleTV+ show Manhunt. The show is about the search for John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Lincoln, and Lepore’s piece is a mixture of critical review of the show (complete with a surprising number of pop culture references and obvious evidence of Lepore’s cultural appetite) and a handful of books on the subject as well as meaningful historical context the likes of which you could only expect from a Harvard professor of American history.

More From Me

Over on my blog, I’ve been writing about various topics of interest to me.

2024 Oscars Live Blog

Wesley Morris on Criticism and the Oscars

For Sale: Used Books, Gently Worn

Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been consuming in the past week.

The legend for my list was stolen from Steven Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film,  Italics is a book, and bold is a live performance or show. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

3/4: The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz; DRAFT DAY* (AppleTV+)
3/5: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, S11 (3)
3/8: Shogun (2) (Hulu)
3/9: Shogun (Hulu)
3/10: RADICAL WOLFE (Netflix)