Birthday Boy

Today is my Londoner Andy’s birthday.

If I were in London, I can tell you exactly what we’d be doing. We’d be meeting outside a tube stop—his choice, because when we make plans to meet, he barks orders at me and I never argue. It’s not because he’s rude or I’m timid; it’s just that he’s lived in London his whole life, and he knows every bus and tube route the way a chemist knows the table of the elements.

When we met, I’d throw my arms around his neck and kiss his cheek and he’d groan and yell at me for wearing my contacts when my eye doctor’s told me not to, and snarl at me for smoking. And I’d poke his side and tell him to shut the fuck up, even though he’s right. I’d make fun of whatever he’s wearing, though he dresses fine, just because that’s what we do.

I’d hand Andy his birthday present—a book about pop culture or Alfred Hitchcock, maybe—and he wouldn’t even open it, just hand it back to me and tell me he didn’t want it. “At least open it,” I’d tell him, and he’d moan but do it, then look at it and hand it back again. “Why did you buy this?” he’d ask, as if completely unfamiliar with the concept of birthday presents. “Keep it. Read it. I know you’ll like it,” I’d insist. “That’s not the point,” he’d reply. “I haven’t even read all the books I already own, and I don’t need another one staring me in the face waiting to be read.” So I’d be stuck carrying it around for the rest of the day.

Then we’d start walking to the nearest sushi place, and although we’re the same height, he’d be ten million yards ahead of me in no time. He’s not especially fast, and I’m not especially slow, but he walks down London’s ever-crowded sidewalks as if they belong to him—straight down the middle, determinedly, oblivious to the people he bumps who don’t get out of his way fast enough, never hesitating for a moment to notice their looks of shock at his clear violation of polite sidewalk etiquette. Meanwhile, I’d be weaving and dodging, side-stepping, apologizing, and slowly falling behind, convinced as I watch him surge ahead that Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony video, in which Richard Ashcroft walks over cars and never stops as people bounce off him like pinballs, was conceived after one of them saw Andy walking down the street.

Eventually he would stop, and turn impatiently back toward me, and roll his eyes and sigh, and I would burst into laughter while he glowered at me.

We’d stop into record shops and bookstores to browse, and point out things to each other that we think the other would find interesting. I’d buy something—a biography of Tennessee Williams, perhaps—just to have a bag to put his stinking present in, and he’d say, “I didn’t know you liked Tennessee Williams,” and I’d nod and head for the door, on to our next stop.

When we got to the restaurant, Andy would sit down, even if there was a “wait to be seated” sign; we’d place our order immediately, and he’d never take off his jacket. We’d talk about our families, and then films, and then TV, interrupting each other constantly with seemingly random nonsequitors, which make perfect sense to us. (No one has ever enjoyed dining with Andy and me.) Soon it would disintegrate into a rapid-fire exchange of Woody Allen lines, and then Andy would say, “Tell me something,” which I know is my cue to introduce him to a new band or film or book that I know he would love. “More,” he’d urge, when I had finished, and on I’d go.

All the while, I would look at him, hard, and try to see the differences in his face since the last time we were together, which is always far too long. I might see a new crease around his lovely coal black eyes when he smiles, a few new gray hairs. It’s the only way I remember how much time has passed, because I lose the sense that it’s been years as soon as the long stretch has been broken. And I would take a moment, if a quiet one presented itself, to think about how I made this friend long past an age when lifetime friends who know you so well are supposed to be made. Suddenly, unexpectedly, there he was, and I can hardly remember not knowing him.

And after the meal, we’d walk through a park, and sit on a bench. The conversation would wind and curve, and we’d both be laughing far too loudly, and if it rained a little, that would be okay.

Happy birthday, Andy. I miss you. I wish I were there.


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