What is A Friend?

me in Spain

What is A Friend?

I used to think I knew. Ever since my twenties, I’d declare that a person was lucky if they could count their ‘true friends,’ on one hand. And my definition of a ‘true friend,’ boiled down to two basic requirements; 1) if I was standing on a corner & twenty to thirty guys swooped on me & my ‘friend,’ but they gave him the choice to leave because they had no beef with him yet he stayed by my side knowing we were going to get our asses kicked big time; 2) I am down & out financially, and I don’t even have to ask a ‘friend’ for help, he offers me his couch for as long as I need it. My mother used to always tell me that I expected too much from people. I always disagreed with her and I think I still do? I say ‘think’ because maybe what she meant was that people just can’t be counted on & as long as I keep on counting on people, I am going to be disappointed? So, maybe mom was right after all? But I still cling to my idealism & don’t accept that I’ve been out of line in asking ‘friends’ from time to time for a little assistance e.g. a couch to crash on for a few weeks; a few dollars; etc.

Whenever this subject has come up over the years, I have argued that I don’t expect anything out of anyone that I’m not willing to do myself. And I have put my physical well-being on the line many a time for ‘friends.’ I have stood up against several guys at the same time who were threatening a friend or a stranger. I have invited guys who outweighed me by a hundred pounds or better, outside. Because they were picking on a friend of mine. I have shared my dreams, my fears, my hopes, & my worries with my friends. And I have sat & listened to theirs. Total strangers have poured out their life stories to me & asked me for my advice. And I have been complimented & flattered many times in my travels by people who have told me that they hadn’t had such a stimulating conversation for years. I have shared freely all that I have learned. Sadly though, most people don’t appreciate what is given to them freely & can’t see what a precious gift it is that they’ve been given. I don’t say this because I think I’m some sort of guru or something but rather because I have to spell it out for all those who love to proclaim they are my ‘friend’ except when I need a favor.

What’s the old saying, ‘a child doesn’t appreciate anything they are given without having to work for it?’ Well, I feel the same applies to adults as well. What the simple-minded or ignorant don’t seem to grasp is the fact that I have worked hard for everything I have learned i.e. I have earned it! Every bit of knowledge that I have shared with friends & strangers alike, came at a cost. You may ask what cost? I’ll tell you. I have read & made notes in the blank pages of my books for over 25 years. I make the notes for possible future reference but primarily so I can show others what I think or feel are very important ideas. I have read & dissected thousands of books. I have collected well over 7,000 books on subjects like philosophy, history, political science, classical literature, etc. I have hitch-hiked across the U.S., up & down the West Coast dozens of times, hitched & traveled by train around Europe eight times, been to Ecuador, Hawaii, the tip of Baja California, hitched several hundred miles in Canada, etc. I spent 14 years of my life pursuing a college education & dropped out many times half-way or even three-quarters of the way through a semester but I did eventually earn that ‘sacred’ bachelor of arts degree. As I have had to point out to people, just because I didn’t get the ‘official’ credit for the courses I dropped out of, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn anything in the time I was there.

In addition, when I ‘joined’ the U.S. Army in 1971 & took their battery of tests the first week of basic training, they were so impressed that they tried their best to sell me on ‘re-upping’ for another 4 years and to go to Officer Candidate School. In addition, they promised me the moon i.e. we’ll station you wherever you want & we’ll train you in whatever M.O.S. (Military Occupational Specialty) you want. Naturally, this was very flattering to my ego but my gut instinct told me not to fall for it. To make a long story short, a few months later, orders came down & I stood a 50/50 chance of being sent to Vietnam. I wasn’t politically aware at the time but I guess through osmosis i.e. just being alive at the time & therefore receptive to the vibes in the air, I knew it wasn’t a good thing so I kept going AWOL until I was finally discharged as an ‘Undesirable.’ And believe it or not, several years later in 1978, I was again at a very low point in my life & living in Portland, Oregon. I was so desperate that I was willing to give up my freedom and figured that if I joined the U.S. Navy, at least I’d be able to see a bit of the world & would have a roof over my head & three meals a day? So, I took their tests again but I didn’t tell the recruiter about my ‘undesirable’ discharge from the army because I reasoned that once they saw my test results, they i.e. the recruiter, would go to bat for me. In fact, after taking their 3 hour test in downtown Portland, the test administrator politely asked me if I’d take the vocabulary section of the test over again. He said, ‘we’re not accusing you of cheating but we’ve never had anybody score so high on the vocabulary section.’ And once my test results came back, the recruiter offered me a position in the navy’s ‘advanced electronics program.’ I was shell-shocked so-to-speak. I had always believed that I was a moron when it came to mechanics, electronics, etc. And the program the recruiter was talking about was a year and a half program. Well, I remember from my experience in the army that most ‘advanced training’ consisted of about 2 months of training. So, for the navy to offer me a year and a half of special training was pretty amazing to me, and to be honest, quite an ego trip.

I am mentioning all this not to show off but to substantiate my work! And I feel the need to substantiate my work because so many ‘friends’ have either overtly or covertly, labeled me a ‘loser,’ a ‘bum,’ a ‘leech.’ I’d love for any of my so-called ‘friends’ to challenge me either physically, mentally, or spiritually, because I know I can annihilate them! They are cowards but because they are the majority & because they have been brainwashed so thoroughly by the news media they watch religiously—especially those morons who watch FOX NEWS—they really believe they are right. Majority rules! The true leeches are those the ‘herd’ worship e.g. the president, the corporate cockroaches, etc.

Let me ask you this? If everyone who has labeled me as a ‘quitter,’ a ‘cop-out,’ a ‘bum,’ a ‘free-loader,’ a ‘leech,’ were right, then why would I have spent so much effort in ‘educating myself?’ Wouldn’t it have been much simpler to just eat, drink, & be merry? Wouldn’t it have been much simpler & more true to not bother with all the searching for knowledge? And just in case you think me full of bull-shit, I am ready and waiting anytime you’d like to challenge me intellectually, physically, or otherwise! I have known many who have attempted to dismiss all my efforts with simplistic statements like ‘if you’re knowledge is so great, then why haven’t you made any money from it?’ I have learned one very sad lesson over the past 30 years or so of my life i.e. most people, as Bertrand Russell put it, “fear thinking as nothing else.” What a truly sad & horrific thing to contemplate if true? If we shirk our duty to inform ourselves and hold our government accountable—the most powerful government on the face of the earth—then we are totally at their mercy & their judgment!

I have worked as an educator in one form or another, for the past 15 years or so & one thing I have tried to encourage my students to do is to think for themselves. Sadly, the vast majority of Americans don’t know how to do so. And even more tragically, they believe they have been ‘educated,’ after having passed through our public educational system & our ‘higher educational system.’ Yes I know that it probably sounds like I think that I have all the answers but I SURE AS HELL, don’t! What passes for our ‘higher educational system,’ is in reality a glorified trade school. True knowledge is discouraged at every turn. Why? because it quite simply represents a threat to the power elite. Yeah, I know, you think me just another conspiracy nut. Well, kick back and watch as the totalitarians take over & you are eventually locked up. You’ll be shocked and ask how could this be in the ‘home of the free and the brave?’ It happened my friend because you and millions of other Americans were asleep at the wheel.

Excuse me, I digress. But, not really because when you boil it down, all things are connected. I know that I am once again guilty of pontificating or going on for far too long but, I have been savaged far too many times also. And nobody is making you read this. I want to add that one of the greatest compliments I have ever received is when I told my class of ESL students from Nicaragua and El Salvador that I had to leave. Several of the girls started crying and tears came to my eyes so I exited the room to avoid the embarrassment of them seeing me crying too.

Furthermore, as I have gotten older, I have also gotten bolder. Quite frankly, I don’t see the point in worrying anymore about what people or ‘authorities’ think or say! And this has given me the false courage or daring to send some of my writing to well-known ‘intellectuals,’ and although I have admittedly only received a few responses, those who have responded, have reassured me that no, I am not a ‘voice in the wilderness.’ I didn’t want to go here but the viciousness of the attacks against me have kicked me back to my hind legs. I have written to Noam Chomsky —in case you are not aware, considered ‘arguably, by the New York Times, the greatest intellectual alive,’ and Michael Parenti, a Yale University professor, and author of many books, and they have written back that they agreed with many of my assertions.

Let me conclude my tirade with something that came to me at 5 A.M. in the morning. I’ve been a constant pep rally trying to show my friends & assure them that they can live their dreams. I’ve consistently tried to empower them by showing them how what’s going on in the world of politics & economics, affects them.

I’ve always longed for friendship but my love of learning has gotten in the way. Learning has been a blessing in that it has been a refuge, a comfort, and a nurturing force in my life. On the other hand, it has been a curse because the more I learn, the more the gulf between me and others grows.

I guess I am much more of an authority figure than I realize? I must remind people of how intellectually lazy they are because when I start talking they must feel inferior or embarrassed at how little they know as compared to me? I don’t say this because I feel I’m superior but rather because I feel so sad & lonely. I believe that I am trying to be helpful and encouraging but they must see it as arrogance on my part? Yet what baffles me time & time again is how when I run into someone I haven’t seen for months or years, and we have a few beers & get into a good conversation, they say, “I’ve really missed the intellectual conversations with you, Rob.” And what also amazes me is the ferocity of some of the verbal attacks against me by some ‘friends.’ Maybe it is as I observed years ago; people have one of two reactions when they meet someone they feel is smarter than they are i.e. they either want to pick their brain or; they mock, ridicule, or attack them?

My son, Ryan, blew my mind 12 years or so ago when he was around 8 years old. I was reading him a bedtime story & thought Hermann Hesse’s short novel Knulp would be a pleasant story. I had only read a few pages when Ryan said “that’s you dad.” What an insight from one so young. And how accurate he was. Unfortunately, I believe my son understood me better back then, than he does now? Why? Because, like Hesse’s character, Knulp, who was a vagabond, who wandered the countryside, I too have tried to live a similar simple life. Knulp is Hesse to a large extent. And like Hesse, I enjoy the simple things in life e.g. laughing & serious conversations in the local tavern; flirting with exotic women; hiking through majestic meadows, mountains, & by the sea; the warmth of the sun on my face; pursuing my writing; etc.

On another occasion when Ryan was about 6 years old, his mother, Ryan, & me were camping on the beach when it started raining. I made a dash back to our camp to save my books which were laying on the picnic table & cursed because they’d gotten wet. We had taken shelter inside our tent & Ryan asked me “Dad, what do you love more, your books or me & mom?” I was floored and didn’t know how to respond. I believe that I eventually responded that I loved him & his mother the most? Maybe I’ve been so obsessed or have lived in the world of books for so long that I haven’t even realized how I put or value learning above love or friendship? But I will continue to look for a true friend & perhaps like Knulp, my purpose in life is to bring a little homesickness for freedom into the lives of ordinary men?

Unfortunately though, in today’s world or perhaps it’s just more extreme here in America, we’ve become so greedy & materialistic that unlike Knulp’s world, where his friends welcomed him with open arms & truly enjoyed his stays with them for brief respites from life on the road, my ‘friends’ welcome me about as much as one would welcome the plague. Everyone is so obsessed with their comfort & in getting all the latest technological gadgets, that they don’t trust anyone i.e. they’re afraid someone or everyone is trying to get or take something from them.

So called ‘friends’ of mine, don’t want to be ‘inconvenienced’ by having me sleep on their couch for a few weeks even though I have always been a great house-guest & bend over backwards to not be intrusive. I cook and clean and buy groceries and try to find ways to be helpful to such an extent that some ‘friends’ and relatives have said it was like having their own servant. Yet I’m still greeted with about as much warmth as a slug! I haven’t felt this low since I was A.W.O.L. from the army when I was 19 years old & had some spooky, self-destructive thoughts. For the past several months, I have driven down to L.A. & back twice. I have been mostly living out of my van, working for those slave-drivers at Labor Ready, dodging the cops, & I have learned a lot about living by your wits. At times I have felt like I was king of the road or on top of the world. For instance, I was living in Newport, Oregon and got a job at the Oregon Coast Aquarium as a custodian. I’d sleep in my van which I parked at a tourist parking lot overlooking the ocean & I’d cook my dinner meal on my hibachi barbecue at a nearby state park which overlooks the bay. And at other times, like when I was in L.A., I felt so lonely & isolated from humanity as I was trying to get to sleep & the rain was pelting my van’s roof. What really shocked me was when I was working at the Aquarium, I met a couple whose names were Dave & Lisa and when Dave discovered that I was living out of my van, he immediately offered for me to stay with them. I didn’t want to be a bother so I asked if I could pitch my tent. I didn’t knock on their door to use the bathroom or anything because I had a paint bucket that I used as a porta potty & I could shower at work. I didn’t want to be a burden. And a few months later after I had left and gone back to L.A., I came back to Newport and stayed in Dave & Lisa’s house. They made me feel very welcome and have a home on a hilltop that is valued at $700,000. I bring this up because I found it so touching & sadly ironic that these relative strangers trusted me more & welcomed me into their home while so-called ‘friends’ & relatives I’ve known for decades, have turned me away. ‘Friends,’ whom I’ve taken to the hospital & ‘friends’ whom I’ve bought hundreds of beers for. ‘friends’ who have called me their ‘brother.’ ‘Friends’ whom I have shared my music with by giving them the only music they have in their homes. I can’t tell you how many times people in taverns have come up to me and given me money to play the juke box because they enjoyed the songs I selected so much. I have brought a smile to people’s faces on many occasions and when I enter the tavern, it’s like that sit-com “Cheers” and my ‘friends’ greet me with a warm ‘hello professor!’ I am telling you this because this also shows what I have given to ‘friends,’ and my generous spirit but my ‘dear friends,’ don’t seem to remember any of this when I have had to come to them hat-in-hand, so to speak, and asked if I could pitch my tent in their yard. I have had to swallow my pride & humiliate myself by even asking people whom I would normally never ask for anything or whom I’m not particularly fond of, for help. I even recently asked a guy whom most people consider a bum, if I could crash at his place & was turned down. A guy who often has asked me to buy him a beer & whom I usually have bought a beer even though he blows all his money on the video poker machines. I am so disgusted & disappointed with the vast majority of my relatives and ‘friends,’ that I want to leave America and possibly never return. These people who have hugged & kissed me and declared their undying love for me & gratitude for all that I have shared with them in ideas, music, travel adventures, are not worthy of my friendship & are too ignorant and shallow. Their loss! In brief, I have paid for my knowledge with my blood, sweat, & tears and my ‘friends,’ could give a shit. So fuck ‘em!

Rob DeLoss, Jan. 10, 2007

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