Just when I think Facebook has worn out its welcome, it surprises me.
Today I saw a birthday notification for my old friend, Dayan. Well, I’m not sure “friend” is the right word today, except in the Facebook sense, but “acquaintance” isn’t sufficient either, and neither is “coworker,” though that’s what we were.
It was the late ’80s, and we worked together at Waldenbooks in Columbia [Mo.] Mall. A group of us would sometimes go out after work for drinks at Murray’s, a jazz club that’s still there. We created a little community, the way only the kind of people who dream of working in bookstores–even chain bookstores, in a mall–can.
Nerds, geeks, oddballs: we’d proudly take any of those titles, wear them on our chests, shout them from the rooftops. It was who we were.
But back to Dayan.
The bookstore’s little office area was elevated above the magazine stand. She would sometimes go up there and glare down at the guys lingering too long over Playboy or Penthouse.
If they didn’t get the hint and head down to the food court, or were so committed to soft-core porn that they just had to bring it home, she’d take their money like it was like it was the pathetic wad of moist bills it probably was and hand them their rag in the least friendly way possible–no smile, no eye contact, no “Thank you, come again.” Just, unspoken, “Here, take your damn magazine and get out.”
Yet she loved the Rolling Stones, the most gleefully misogynistic band in history. Keith was her favorite.
I thought that was so cool.
We would run into each other around town. At the Blue Note (original location) watching the band East Ash (named for a Columbia street). Seeing the movie Do the Right Thing–she was alone because she’d just had a fight with boyfriend. I considered asking her to join my friend and I, but let it go. Not her thing, I figured.
Once, when I was briefly dating a member of the group who had a reputation for being, let’s say, temperamental, Dayan took me aside and said, “Be careful.”
“Of what?” I asked.
“Oh just … be careful. You know how [she] is.”
“I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.”
“I know but … just be careful.”
That’s how it was. We looked after each other, even when the people we needed looking out from were ourselves.
I’m not sure there is a word for that in English.
A few weeks ago, I sent her a New Yorker article I thought she would like, about “a lecturer in applied positive psychology” who was collecting words from other languages that had no English equivalent. The article was called, “The Glossary of Happiness.”
It included a link to the lecturer’s website, where he has lovingly collected more than 400 of these words.
Among them, from Japan, is “nakama: best friend, close buddy, one for whom one feels deep platonic love.”
I think that may be as close as I’ll get, for now.
So happy birthday, to my nakama. My protector. My friend.