I have been fortunate to have a number of long-term, close friendships with both men and women. Lately I have been thinking about how my friendships with males are different from those with females.
It seems to me that my friendships with women are based on things like shared interests in family and mutual friends and, very important, support for each other as we hit potholes in the road of life. While personal concerns also are important in friendships with men, there is another ingredient that makes these unique. The male bond is forged, in part, by a mutual delight in something boys of every age love to do, which is to go outside to play and engage in mischief.
I am almost seventy years old. Some of my male friendships were formed in grade school. Most were created well into my adult years. Common to many of these is the idea that inside every man is a young boy eager to be let loose. To give an idea of what I mean, the following is about one of my best male friends. His name is Hank and I have known him for almost forty years.
Hank and I met in the mid-1970s when we were neighbors in New York City. Our friendship grew as our lives expanded with girlfriends, wives, and children – and has withstood changes in where we live, what we do, and life’s other surprises. Our bond has been strengthened by a mischievous game we created and have engaged in for over thirty years.
The game began without intention, as the best ones usually do. One winter night in 1979, Hank and I walked out of the bar on Third Avenue and saw a man pushing a long cart filled with yellow, plastic ducks. They were enormous – about three feet tall. How could we resist? A duck would be the perfect companion to take with us on our search for new female friends in the bars further up Third Avenue. At that moment it seemed totally reasonable to us that these women would be amused by our duck.
Not surprisingly, the duck’s presence didn’t change our usual lack of success in late-night safaris. After stops at a few bars, we called it a night. We decided the duck should go home with Hank.
The duck reappeared the next spring, when Hank presented a large, beautifully wrapped box to me at a party celebrating my birthday. Inside was the duck. That exchange started our game of finding unexpected ways to pass unusual objects back and forth when we least expected.
My favorite duck exchange took place a year later.
Hank and I were neighbors, living in a converted townhouse on the upper east side of Manhattan. He lived on the third floor in a studio with three large windows overlooking the street. I was living with my girlfriend, Lisa, in my apartment on the second floor in the back.
One night, Lisa and I had a brainstorm about how to ‘pass the duck’ back to Hank. We had come home late from clubbing and saw that Hank’s window shades were down. We knew that he had a new girlfriend sleeping over.
Our plan required lots of twine, which we luckily found in an all-night drugstore in the neighborhood. Once back at the apartment, we took the duck and the twine up to the roof of the building. We made a noose around the duck’s neck, tossed it over the front of the building, and lowered it to the point where it was hanging in the middle of the center window in Hank’s apartment. It had started to rain, so our yellow duck looked even more weird than usual.
Hank’s new girlfriend was the one who raised the shades the next morning. Her scream was so loud that it woke us up.
The years were not kind to the duck. As we passed it back and forth a few more times it lost its feathers … then its color … then its shape … and then its existence. Hank condemned the duck to a trash landfill in New Jersey.
Our game took a decidedly tacky turn when a store called The Pleasure Chest opened near our offices. Sex paraphernalia raised the level of challenge in our game of ‘just try to re-gift this!’ For example, I came home one night to find an inflated, life-size, female doll waiting for me in my bed (with a printed ‘tattoo’ on her shoulder that said, “Hi, I’m Tammy!”). Hank accomplished this feat by borrowing the apartment keys from my girlfriend
The back-and-forth surprise appearance of these gifts continued over the years, but less frequently. Hank got married and moved out West. I had moved to the South.
One year Hank was rummaging through a used bookstore where he found three books of nude photographs. Soon after, he arranged for these to be handed to me by the owner of my favorite restaurant while I was having lunch. The following year, with his wife as co-conspirator, I was able to have Santa leave these books under their Christmas tree for Hank.
In the late 90’s, I decided to move back to New York City. Being the good friend that he is, Hank offered to visit and help pack for the movers. Another year passed and nothing was exchanged, the game seemed to be over. Then one day Hank called.
“Where are the books,” he asked.
“You know what books. The pictures of the girls. I packed them in your moving boxes.”
I had moved from a large house to a small, New York City apartment. After keeping my overflow belongings in mini-storage for a while, I shipped the boxes, still sealed, to Goodwill. Most of these contained family hand-me-downs from my late mother’s house. Hank and I got a laugh from the vision of someone opening the boxes and finding the books alongside yellowed lace table linens and other artifacts from earlier era.
The disappearance of the books presented a question we hadn’t confronted for a few years. Should one of us look for a new, absurd object to start another round, or has the time come to call it quits? In a game like this you never know for sure, but I think it’s over.
Now, it is a bit disconcerting to look back and see that part of your life can be described as having all the maturity and taste of an Adam Sandler movie. While some may view our game as adolescent, my response is that it was an important component of real friendship. And I’ll pass along some advice to men of any age. Go outside and play and get into mischief. It will add a lot of joy to your life.
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