It was a warm summer evening and Marcus, the quintessential and eternal middle-aged bachelor with biracial good looks, wore a light tan suit with matching silk pocket square and a multi-colored pastel ascot (an accessory that few, but he, can carry). He strode out of the building, avoiding my eye contact, to a waiting white sedan, an S Class Mercedes, no less, and I glanced over my shoulders to watch him enter this car driven by a slender Argentinian-looking woman with white linen attire and two others resembling her in the back seat, I was floored by this scene; it seemed that my grandmother, who lived in the same building, was living in the midst of James Bonds.
I had seen him a week before that day driving a heavily damaged, Yugo, not sure how it got thru U.S. customs, a subcompact car so badly wrecked that it should be garaged in a junk yard; he was down on his luck, living with his frail divorced mother but this was not evident in his attire. Neighbors in hushed voices would ask each other: who is this mysterious man? Few knew him personally as Marcus would rarely engage in small talk with anyone. He only spoke to one neighbor, Larry, only because his car broke down and he needed a ride to the city and asked him for help. It turned out that these rides would occur regularly and usually ended at Area, Paladium, Tattoo and Nell’s, the most celebrated NYC nightclubs of that era. As he was always dressed to the nines with his jet black hair, styled slick back like Al Pacino in Godfather 2, the velvet ropes manned by obnoxious club denizens would open rapidly when he approached. Came to find out later, that Marcus knew many of these velvet rope handlers and club owners but never revealed how he established these connections. Over time, I came to know this man, who was over a decade older than me, and tried to imitate his dress style but could never get it right as he did; we engaged in boy’s talk, mainly on women, NBA games and politics at home and abroad. And so he became a friend.
“Man, I hate this country. I need out,“ Marcus mumbles. “This job is a hell hole. You don’t know how lucky you are, bruh…you have a profession, you own property…you don’t have to deal with my crap” he continues, referring to his city government inspection job; work that he claims has no upward mobility; co-workers he dismisses for their blue collar pedigree; supervisors he despises for reducing his overtime hours. This pessimism also spilled over to his views on women, describing them as gold diggers for judging his attractiveness strictly on the make and model of the vehicle that he owns (he doesn’t have one) and the number of digits in his bank account (barely four). Marcus, a very proud man who is part Jewish or Italian (refuses to say which) and part Caribbean, was not always this cynical and is far from being the confident man that I first saw, over ten years ago, the 007 replica, living in my grandmother’s building. “Dude,” I said. “You need to change your attitude; this negative energy will only make you more miserable.” I continued, knowing full well that he’s a lost case.
It is not easy to put aside friendships that, despite some personality clashes and increasing incompatibilities, endured throughout the years; they last because we need the human contact to discuss the mundane of sport highlights and celebrity gossips (yes, men do this too) to the serious matters relating to career decisions and relationship complications. Although many men, especially us silent types, can cope with minimal male friendship, something which our female counterparts can’t do without, I have come to appreciate these occasional talks and meet ups for a balanced life. In times when professional and adult life occupy the bulk of your daily routine dealing with office politics, relationship stress and economic insecurities, it’s refreshing to dial a number and hear a familiar voice on the other line to simply talk, whether it’s purposeful or not; it starts with a “wassup man” and usually followed by “did you hear about this…” and continues on to a thematic convo until we both lose steam or when the life duties call for the next shift.
Leaving this friend behind is what I struggle with today as he has changed from his earlier years of bravado and confidence; his life now is laced with cynicism and uninspired conversation; ask him about the World Cup games, he cites only the corruption of FIFA officials, the games organizers – and shows no interest in the games themselves, the header of the Flying Dutchman, the artistry of Messi and the quick demise of Spain; call him to join us at the BAM African Street festival in Fort Greene for jerk chicken and people watching, he declines and says only soulless women will be present; I won’t dare ask him about work for fear of a long tyrannical monologue about how hopeless it is. I have tried to tell him that his friends and family have shun him due to his toxic ways; that he should seek counseling for his depressive mood; that he needs to overcome his personal battles to see the positives. I used to put aside those calls and one-on-one meet ups, thinking the occasional text was a substitute (it wasn’t), that Facebook could fill the void (it didn’t) as social media is more media than social for the few egomaniacs who dominate my newsfeed. It’s been over two years witnessing Marcus’ decline and it’s time to let him go to maintain my own sanity and to continue a positive outlook on life.