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June 7, 2010

Strong friendships can survive tests of time and distance

— They are your pals of long ago, with whom you shared some of the best years of your life.

Maybe it was high school, or college or that first job working for that crazy boss you all made fun of behind his back.

In your memory, their faces are forever young, their bodies trim and their hair intact. When you left them, you vowed that you would always keep in touch.

But, well, you know how it is. Life intrudes on those promises. Maybe you get together the first year or two, but then money gets real tight, and you just can’t see your way clear to visit.

You get married, have children, change jobs and cities and kind of lose track of where everybody is.

The phone calls become less frequent, the holiday cards somehow don’t get sent out. So, you look up one day, and it has been more than 30 years since you’ve seen anyone from the old gang.

That’s what happened to me a few weeks ago as I prepared to take a trip back to my college town, still, remarkably enough, infested with a couple of my old friends.

These are guys I partied with, drank copious amounts of beer with, shared my philosophy of life with and still probably have enough on me to get me arrested.

Trust me when I tell you this: It’s impossible to think about meeting with someone you haven’t seen in three decades without taking several furtive looks in a full-length mirror.

You try to pull your stomach in even as you look to see how much hair you have left, and whether any of it isn’t gray.

You tell yourself it’s not a matter of schadenfreude (happiness about someone else’s misfortune), because you’re far more noble than that. Yet, you wouldn’t mind it at all if your friends were:

a) fatter than you;

b) looked older than you;

c) were broke, divorced several times and had maybe spent some time in federal prison for tax fraud.

No such luck on my trip. My wife and I were to meet our friend Paul at a restaurant. Thirtyfive years ago, Paul was a great-looking guy, blond, athletic, terrific personality and very popular with all the girls. He was one of my best buddies, and I couldn’t wait to see how the years had miserably aged him.

So, of course he saunters into the place looking like someone who has a portrait of himself aging in his attic. Still blond, still youthful, still in great shape, still charming and personable. He’s been retired for two years after a distinguished career as a teacher, coach and school administrator. Owns two homes, and is free to travel the country.

Damn him.

A couple of nights later, we met with another successful, happy friend from the days of yore. Seeing those guys was what it must be like to be one of Al Gore’s old classmates.

“So ... Al, what have you been up to all these years?

“Oh, really? Senator from Tennessee? You don’t say. What? Vice president of the United States, too. Hey, that’s great, pal. That must have been fun. Oh, came within an eyelash of being president? Gee, I guess I don’t pay that much attention to politics, being busy with my own job and all.

“What’s that? You actually won the Nobel Peace Prize? An Academy Award, too? C’mon, you’re pulling my leg, you old dog. I suppose the next thing you’re going to tell me is that you’ve even won a Grammy.

“Oh .... really?

“You know, Al, the wife and I put in a new deck on our house, and we’re saving for a sailboat.

“Oh? You have a mansion in Montecito, Calif.? That’s nice. A multimillion-dollar house in Nashville, a condo in Frisco and a Tudor home in the Washington, D.C. area? A 100-foot houseboat? A farm with a zinc mine? Gee, you seem to have done kinda well for yourself there, Al.”

Rather difficult to match all that, but you never know, no one has it all to the good. Gore and his wife, Tipper, just announced they’re separating after 40 years of marriage.

Gore’s imaginary friend _ if he’s fortunate _ has, like me, a wife and kids he loves. They’re worth a lot more than Nobel prizes and Oscars.

It really was wonderful to see my old chums, to lie to them and hear them lie right back to me. (“Hey, really, you haven’t aged a bit.”) The tendency to keep a life scorecard goes away quickly when the friendship is real and the warmth is genuine. I’m definitely not going to let a lot of time pass before I see those guys again.

Of course, that’s what I said the last time I saw them.

SAM POLLAK is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at or at (607) 432- 1000, ext. 208.

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