It’s Sunday night. I’m sitting at the table in the Jungle Mansion. One of their 13 friendly local racoons is messing around outside. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s an unseasonable California. The talented SRP is playing the piano. She’d asked what my favourite piece was. I didn’t have to think. Panis Angelicus. She’d not heard it before, but went online, downloaded the sheet music, and played it. Beautifully. Such unpretentious talent is humbling.
Getting a glimpse into how other people live their lives is a privilege not to be taken lightly. I’d not seen my mate J for more than 25 years and had never met S, although I’d been following the Facebook posts since they’d reconnected some years ago. Social media has a lot to answer for. It creates a virtual familiarity that’s so real that when you meet the person for the first time in real life, it’s straight to hugs and chats.
I remember being in Geneva a number of years ago and telling a colleague how well they looked, commenting that it’d been a while since we’d met. They reminded me that we’d never actually met, other than online. I was shocked. It had all been so real. Coming back to Torrance after all these years, reconnecting with old friends, well, it’s been a tonic.
Visiting (and having visitors) can be hard work. It’s hard to tell how comfortable you’re going to be, and how relaxed they’ll be with you around. But not an hour into the visit, I was helping myself to milk duds from the fridge. ‘Nuff said.
They asked what I’d missed about living in SoCal. I said In’n’Out. We went and got burgers from the family-owned chain that has been a feature on the California fast-food plate since 1948. And they still taste as good as they did all those years ago. The next night, himself had a craving for some decent Mexican food. We went to their local, La Capilla, another family-run venture with four restaurants to their name. I liked this local feel, this sense that America is more than multinationals and multi-state conglomerates.
We sat around and chatted, swapping stories of what we’d been up to in the years since we’d last met, moving inside and outside as the sun permitted. As the stories ebbed and flowed, stories that don’t make it on to Facebook or into blogs, the years melted away. We talked of movies and music (I hadn’t much to contribute to either conversation but thoroughly enjoyed listening to the accounts of happenings that made screen names real.) I came into my own when the scrabble board came out. They recorded me reading The Wonky Donkey for the first time – the first time I’ve read it or recorded it. [If you’ve not heard it before, this Scottish granny knocks great craic out of it.] After we’d eaten some home-made Australian meat pies, S played some more piano and the lads sang.
Evenings like these are what memories are made of. At the end of what’s been a mad week that saw me touch down in six countries, it’s nice to feel at home. I’m grateful that friendship can survive years and years and still be as strong as back in the day. And that it can multiply.