Northern California is a strange place. Speech is slower, at least a bit, than in other urban areas. The rate of social change is significantly higher in our more rural areas than in other urban areas. Voices are softer, burnished. Talk goes to areas most would deem ‘radical’ with ease, but the gift of directness is an elusive thing.
I have talked often—at at length—about how I’d taken to San Francisco like a fish to water, but there are, of course, aspects of it that elude me. I’m too trenchant, even too brusque, for many here. My expectations, even insistences sometimes, that others cast aside the politesse and just be honest and be candid are serous.
That’s gotten me into big trouble, as one might expect. Gravitas is not always welcomed: I come across as blunt, not direct. I come across as churlish, not candid. I guess too much of my developmental years were spent not in San Francisco, specifically in a more East Coast/Midwest setting.
That’s not an entirely satisfying explanation, either. Perhaps it’s one of those “Is Life too short to put up with shit, or is Life too short to care?” scenarios. I generally come down on the side of not wanting to be the source of that kind of shit, and of generally wanting to keep at a safe distance those who do generate that kind of shit. Maybe it’s an avoidance tactic, but I’m not so sure it is.
I think it’s more of a preventative. It’s about taking care to be a good social citizen, and gathering together with others to provide a sort of nucleation site for good will. And along those lines, it turns out that it’s a pretty good litmus test for gauging friendships. I mean to say, friendships vs. those you just happen to see out and about.
It may seem like a no-brainer, calling this one a friend, and that one merely an acquaintance, but the lines are forcibly smudged here in San Francisco. You meet people you’ve happened to see around a few times at the same times in the same places and a dialog is struck. Pleasantries are exchanged, topics are shallow—it is just at a bar, after all—and a nice time is had by all.
But before you know it, these people are calling you their friend; people are speaking about you in glowingly praising profundities, calling you one of their favorite people.
Sometimes it feels merely weird; other times it feels forced; still other times it feels like a setup. A setup, as if they’re wrapping up an alterior motive in warm-fuzzies, in wait of some future payoff.
It’s all so tedious, having to set aside the incongruous overtures, having to set aside the quest to uncover the real motives (if any), feeling somewhat a lonely despair that you’re the only one who still remembers the difference between wheat and chaff, between pleasantness and pleasantry, between friendship and base familiarity.
Maybe there’s a quiet desperation that personal worth can only be calculated by external metrics: how many friends do I have, how many people know my name, how many people have I fucked, and so on and so on. Maybe people really are that shallow, or at least only truly comfortable at that lack of depth, that acquaintance and friendship are actually one and the same.
No one is immune from wanting external corroboration at least, most especially myself—I mean, I do have a blog and I am writing here. Different people do have different depths, however, different comfort levels at different depths—and even different comfort zones on the geography of each level. Some of us can resolve the differences, some of us cannot. Some of us choose not to notice the differences.
The vigilance to keep a watch out for the differences isn’t something that can be done fulltime…otherwise, you’d have no time for anything else. So sometimes mistakes are made and the declarations of ‘friendship’ are taken to heart, taken as real. But this comes back, always bites back. That’s an eventuality, a certainty, if friendships (acquaintances?) last for time intervals considered by mammmals to be signficant.
But then again, I suppose, not all mammals are created equal.
There’s a positivity to it all, too: those people who never plant a flag to declare a friendship, whose first utterance of friendship is one of cognizant of an existing truth instead of predictive. Those are the people who value what they already have instead of—or yes, in addition to—despairing over what they may not yet have. Those are the people who make sure you know you can count on them, instead of just assuming they can count on you. Those are the people who are there for you and not just there around you.
Those are the people who talk less and say far, far more.
Those are the only people who I call Friend.