Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Not A Saint ...

Years ago, many years ago, many, many years ago, I traveled to Sag Harbor, N.Y., for an interview with Joe Pintauro.

Joe is a playwright, but for the purposes of this story, the germane detail is that Joe was friends with Nelson Algren.

I was in Sag Harbor, really, to visit Nelson's grave. I was writing a paper about him for a college class, and wanted to open the paper with some exposition about the grave site, the look of the headstone (very simple), whether or not there was shade (there was), but my parents had balked at me going out to New York on my own to visit the grave of a man I never knew. And I couldn't have rented a car, anyway. I was 19.

So my father went with me, and while the alpha interview was with Kurt Vonnegut, alpha only by virtue of the fact that the name Kurt Vonnegut rings more bells than Joe Pintauro, Nelson had lived in one of Joe's houses, so I wanted to talk to Joe, too. (There's a sweet photo of Nelson and Joe at the top of this page.)

He was a perfectly lovely host. At one point during our conversation, he got up from his chair on the screen porch on which we were sitting, disappeared into the house for a few moments, returned with a cassette tape and a cassette-tape player, set it on the table in front of me, inserted the tape, closed the door, and pressed Play.

And for the first time, I heard Nelson's voice. Which was different than I expected it to be, not nearly as deep or weary, but which overwhelmed me just the same.

Joe regarded me as I regarded the machine, rapt.

"Nelson instantly decided whether people were bitches or saints," he said. "He would have liked you."

With that, my eyes began to well, and so I looked up, hoping gravity would spare my eyes from spilling over. "Your parrot matches your ceiling," I said, making very little sense, saved only by the fact that he had a stuffed parrot hanging in the corner and it did, in fact, match the seafoam-green color that he had painted the ceiling of the porch.

I put that detail into my paper, but I had since forgotten about that exchange until a few days ago.

Of course, I am far from a saint. But it set me to thinking about the relationships in my life, of which there are many, and which span the spectrum from acquaintance to confidant.

According to both the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and my own assessment, I am very much an introverted person. I like one-on-one interaction with people. Groups do not thrill me. I do not like wandering into a party. I can make small talk, but I'd rather not.

And yet, when the opportunities arise for those one-on-one interactions, I forge very strong bonds very quickly.

My college friend Brian asked not too long ago, "What is it about you? You meet these people and become friends with them." He was referring to the few "famous" people I know, but the question applies to everyone I meet.

A few years ago, on a consulting project in Denver, I met George and his son Brian. The company for which I was working had partnered with their company, and we met in suburban Denver for meetings with the client. We all checked into the hotel at separate times then convened in the lobby to go to dinner.

And from the moment I laid eyes on George, I knew we would be friends. Brian and I got along just fine, too, but there was something about George that resonated with me.

Last week, an e-mail arrived from him. He was stuck in an airport on a layover. He was writing to find out how the interview went with Melissa. He had been very helpful in pointing me toward the right gear to record the interview, and I had written to tell him that it all worked like a charm, but I hadn't given him any details beyond that. So he was writing to find out more.

I replied, telling him how much I adore her, how she very kindly invited me to meet her backstage when she's in Chicago on tour, that we really seemed to hit it off.

In his next note, he wrote, "I'm not surprised."

To answer Brian's query, "What is it about you?", I said, "I don't know. I just sort of presume a level of familiarity with people and many of them respond."

Truly, I have no idea why so many of my relationships stick. I surely have my share of those that don't. Really don't. I mean, really, really don't. Sometimes, I'm really wrong about people. Misjudge them completely. Give them far more credit than they deserve.

But for those relationships that do – stick, that is – I am glad. They enrich my life in innumerable ways.

As for why they stick, I remain stumped.

Though whatever it is I do, unwittingly, I wish I could make it a career.

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