My Friend Paul

My homeslice Paul and I just had a public tiff on my blog.  Which sucks, because there aren’t many people in this life more important to me than Paul is, so I thought maybe I’d write a blog about our friendship.  Although it should be noted that we do have a nice history of being little bitches to each other and arguing about stupid shit, but that was mostly over a decade ago, while we were cooking together at the same restaurant, probably sleep-deprived and hung-over, but still.  We fight.

I’m sure I knew who Paul was before he knew who I was.  Why?  Because he played football for my high school.  He was a year ahead of me, and we weren’t within light years of each other’s social groups.  I wasn’t extremely aware of him, but I was aware of him.  Years later, I’d frequently have dreams that I’d been transported back to high school (with all of my intervening memories and experiences intact) and I’d seek out Paul, who, when I found him, had also been transported with his memory intact.  And so there we were, in high school, finally knowing each other.  They were weird dreams.

In the months following high school, I became a regular at the restaurant Paul worked at.  I frequented it late at night with my friend Jeremy and his girlfriend Cory (who I would later coup d-etat away from him); Jeremy had known Paul in high school, so Paul would come visit our table.  I remember being suspicious, because Jeremy had been the star of the soccer team, and here was this Paul guy, also an athlete.  And Cory, although she didn’t attend our high school, was the captain of her cheerleading squad.  I suspected I might soon find myself on the outside.  I know you’ve all seen pictures of me in wrestling or baseball uniforms, but I assure you, I was no athlete.

Fate is a fickle broad.  Before I knew what was happening, suddenly, I worked at that restaurant, too, and before long, I was a cook there, too, and before long, I was working overnights in the kitchen with Paul, too.  And (long story short here) we ended up going to the same college and being roommates and having the same group of college friends.  Paul and I had quite rapidly become insperable, the kind of friends that when you show up somewhere alone, people always ask you where the other one is;  although how that sort of thing happens is beyond me.  All these years later, it just seems natural that Paul and I are hetero-lifemates, but back then, it didn’t seem so simple.  Paul and I are quite different men (as good friends often are).  We share some simliar interests, but actually have more differences than similarities.  And not just the surface items like, he’s into sports and I’m not, or I’m into poetry and he’s not, as these differences are what can make a friendship keep ticking over the years (the male friends I do have whose interests most align with mine, I mostly don’t care for all that much, and I just keep them around because I might need them some day…for what, I have no idea).  But Paul and I’s differences seemed a bit deeper than that to me.  Mostly, he was a good soul and I was a bad one.

Now, he’ll probably want to argue with that, and he certainly could make a case for it.  After all, we were damn young, and drunk and tired pretty much ceaselessly, and in college, and—dare I say it—completely captivating to the opposite gender.  Neither of us were perfect young men.  But in Paul, one could see the seed of a quality adult, and a man who could discern right from wrong (even if he still sometimes chose to ignore that distinction), and how to be honest, and forthright, and helpful.

I, on the other hand, was a total shit.  It was probably obvious fairly early on that, while a whole bunch of us were partying constantly, I was the only one who couldn’t have stopped if I tried.  And no matter what you believe about how much I am to blame for that addiction, the fact is that being a drunk is not often accompanied by positive personality traits.  All those positive traits I listed above for Paul, think of their opposites, and apply them to the me of back then.

But somehow, we fit together.  We picked up some company on the way (“Nature Boy” Chris Davey, Burke “Testudo” Bowen, Heidi “Heidi” Dagen, “Mello” Cory Kelso, “Sultry” Joel Holtry, and quite a few others) and within a year of meeting Paul, I suddenly had a brand new group of friends and a new lifestyle, the old high school chums all-but forgotten.  And this was just in time, of course, for my descent into serious alcoholic oblivion.

There are lots of people to thank for how they handled my alcoholism and for what they did to help me, but as far as my friends go, nobody can really get more credit than Paul, a fact I’ve never really told him (fuck!  I’m crying now!).  Paul never made me feel like I was a bad person because I was unable to stop drinking.  He always seemed to understand that it was like any other addiction; for instance, his own reliance on cigarettes.  Now, he never said that to me, but his actions and the way he treated me suggest he thought that way.  He never told me I needed to stop, or slow down (that might sound reckless to you, but it’s my philosophy that “intevention” methodologies are counteractive.  Making somebody feel like shit never chased an addiction out of their skin, a philosophy my parents also seemed to share, which is another big reason I think I’m alive today);  when I would, on rare occasions, talk to him about my addiction and my fear relating to it (being in the grip of an addiction to a mind-altering substance is absolutely terrifying), he was understanding and helpful, never demeaning or judgmental, but forthright and honest in ways that showed a maturity and understanding that I’m not sure I could master even now, at age 34.

I still remember the day I decided—firmly, absolutely—that I could get sober, and that I would go to rehab and attempt to live the rest of my life and not die ASAP. I was at the apartment of Paul and his girlfriend at the time, Shelley.  I was drinking, but I wasn’t sad, I was just talking to them about being addicted, and how much it sucked.  I’ll never be sure which one of them said it first, but someone said, “Why don’t you just go to rehab?”, and they said it so…normally.  Like it was just something you could do, if you wanted.  Now, obviously the time was right, and there were plenty of other factors and people that contributed to that moment in time, but I said, “OK.  I’m going to!”  And I got the phone book and called a rehab and reserved a bed, that very afternoon, and then called my mom and dad (by then, that was two seperate phone calls) and told them “I’m going to rehab“.  It would be close to a year by the time I celebrated my final sobriety date of April 3rd, but that afternoon in Paul’s apartment stands out as the beginning of the beginning.  And he’s been so beautifully understanding and intuitive in regards to my sobriety.  He was my first friend to order an alcoholic beverage when out to dinner with me;  it was time, I was OK with it, and he just knew.  He knew that at that point I’d prefer him to do what he’d normally do.  It was more important to me that I not feel like the freak.  He was the first friend of mine who seemed to understand that I hadn’t really changed; sure, I had always been known as the guy who drinks all the time, but the core me was the same and now more me than before; the diseased filter had simply been removed.  Many friends felt the need to treat me, for a few years, like a kid who had just barely recovered from Leukemia.  Paul seemed to know that was unnecessary, and just kept treating me like the same guy from before, only without a drink in my hand.

I would love (really, I would) to just keep writing and writing and tell tons of little stories from our lives together.  Paul and I have lots of great stories.  But maybe I’ll just hit some highlights (and maybe there will be more blogs like this in the future…I feel as though I could write a book.  Tonight.  In two hours.  But anyway, the highlights):

—Paul and I share an intense love for two bands: Seven Mary Three and Hey Rosetta!  And these loves mark two distinct eras in our lives: college (7m3) and now (HR).  In an intereting twist, the first TWO times I saw both these bands, it was Paul and I together (along with others).  And these were amazing experiences that have shaped my idea of how concert-going should feel: like you are touching the hand of god.  It rarely is that good, but it is an ideal to strive for.  In many other ways, Paul and I’s musical tastes diverge, but they align where it counts. (hey Paul…the trip to see 7m3 in York…remember D’Marco Farr?  And please always remember, I called the opener in DC (“Peel”), and also, remember that fancy restaurant you picked for us to eat at in Ithaca, NY, the night we saw Hey Rosetta!?  That night was the beginning of my ongoing love affair with the Americano.  But I now drink them iced.)

–The Chair of Good and Evil.  Paul and I found a horrid, ratty, falling-apart recliner by a dumpster when we lived in college.  For reasons unbeknownst to us, we took it into our dorm room.  It really was a horrible chair.  It’s existence to us was more of a joke than anything else.  We wrote all over it in magic marker.  Quotes from movies, things we said all the time, lines from 7m3 songs (“A little motivation goes a long way down, down, down.”)  I somehow got the chair to my dad’s house for a year or two after college, but I’m sure it’s long gone by now.

–Remember that dorm room I mentioned? Yeah, we got kicked out of it.

–“Circus Midgets Ate My Balls”.  That’s all I’m saying about that.

–Movies we watched dozens or even hundreds of times together, even if they weren’t that good:  “Friday”, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, “The Borrowers“, “Mallrats”.

–The first time I visted Paul after I got sober and moved to New Jersey, we played golf and I beat him.  Which is the only time I can remember beating him at anything other than MarioKart.  So I bring it up here again, even 8 years later.  The gloating continues.

–I had the disctinct pleasure of giving the toast at Paul’s wedding to his fantastic wife, Liz.  I have never felt more honored in my life, and that honor continues to this day.

–Paul is a big Baltimore Orioles fan, so for his “bachelor party”, fellow Paul bud “Mello” Cory Kelso and I took him to an Orioles game, making the odd fact true: the last major league baseball game I attended was a Baltimore Orioles game.

–Mr. Turnpike, Nature Boy, and the Wise Guy (Man) in the Back Seat

–Ham on Both Ends

–Aint got me on tape.

I love you, Paul.  You continue to be the model for the type of man I want to be.  Thank you for being part of my life (and helping to save it).

L-R, Paul, Me, Davey (code names: Mr. Turnpike, Wise Guy in the Back Seat, Nature Boy)

Davey, me, and Paul, the first time we ever saw Hey Rosetta!, in Ithaca, NY.

Picture of Paul on the day I beat him at golf. He sucked that day.

5 Responses to “My Friend Paul”

  1. I wanted to reply to this after I first read it (14 minutes after its post), but I was fighting back my own tears to string together a coherent thought. I’ll do my best here, days later, to respond in kind, paragraph by paragraph
    I never saw it as a tiff. I saw it as a discussion to a point and never wanted it to be any more than that. Part of what makes our friendship special to me is how we play the game with one another. I don’t know how often we really felt the side of the debate we were/are currently arguing was most correct, but I do know we were never ones to back down from our points of view. Those conversations changed who I was as a critical thinker. I never would have told anyone that I loved a good debate before I met you. That was one of the gifts you gave me.
    It would have been awesome to travel back in time to when we were both in high school knowing what we knew about each other. I may have actually enjoyed the experience. Not that my high school life was disappointing, I just don’t look back at that time with the wanton desire. It always seemed, to me anyway, that you had the “typical” high school years that I always felt robbed of a little. The time we have shared together has been some of the most enjoyable of my life.
    It’s odd to hear you felt threatened upon or initial meeting. My experience with Jeremy really had only extended to having gym class with him one year (which was probably a good 2 years prior) and his time coming in to the restaurant late. A familiar face in a crowd of strangers is what led me there and there was never any discussion of hanging out together outside of that time. I was merely his (as he was mine) friend at the restaurant. I never really tied you to Jeremy either. In my mind they were complete and separate friendships. Although, I was coming at it from a different perspective.
    I remember connecting with you fairly immediately when you started working there. Now some of that was probably from “knowing” you from some late night conversations, but I think most of was because you were/are a unique individual. It was at a time when I was just making my move to the cooks’ line and the entire staff was changing. I was one of the “good” cooks within a couple of weeks of being trained (and not because I was so awesome, but because everyone with seniority was leaving). In a lot of ways, I could see a person doing my old job, going through the same struggles I was in my new job, and it made you a kindred spirit. Given the opportunities to speak during smoke breaks, I learned the depths of this person and saw a similar skewed version of humor that I had. We did become the “life mates” at that point in time. One of the hardest things for me in the time that life diverted our paths just enough that we didn’t see each other as much was not being able to answer the questions about “Where’s Seth” and “What’s Seth up to.” I felt a true loss of myself for a long period of time afterwards until I came to grips with life inflicting its will on our spirits.
    I will certainly argue the point concerning who was “good” and “bad.” I think we were more accurately defined by your early statement of our age and lifestyle of the time. You can say you’re a bad soul all you want, but it was you that would always make me extend the olive branch to new employees so they felt welcome. I know it was based on your experiences being the new guy, but that type of empathy toward the feelings of another person is uncommon in the world. You have to care to do something like that and a “bad soul” would not be capable. It was a trait I admired in you. Also, I will agree we were totally captivating by the opposite sex…..we were/are some sexy bitches.
    I will not go as far to say that you were not some of the traits you speak about here, but they weren’t you either. Inability to discern right from wrong, not being honest, not being helpful (or being selfish) all seems to be the exact traits alcoholics seem to share in their dealings with other people. You weren’t those things when you weren’t drinking. I’d even go as far as to say you weren’t those things during the time frame of this piece of the article. Heading that way yes, but mostly these times were youth interacting with the booze in the natural way that should be expected. It was the stopping that was the problem.
    You mention the crew (all people whose lives I’ve been truly blessed to be a part of and essential to who I am). They came together around us, but they were mostly brought about by you and your personality. I’m not one that forms a lot of close relationships with people. I don’t know if I’m just too selfish give up my time to other people, or my social inadequacies don’t allow me to form those bonds. Either way, without you, those people together wouldn’t have existed. I connected with you and you connected me to the other people. Your personality (not your drinking) brought that group together as a cohesive unit. I’ve never overestimated my roll in this. Even to this day, you continue to bind people together that often wouldn’t be joined. It’s a gift you have.
    You do give too much credit to how I handled your addiction. I’ve always lived by a mantra of treating people in a way that you would like to be treated (the Golden Rule). I’ve extended that courtesy to treating everyone pretty much the same. There is/was an honesty there that made me feel good about myself. There lies the demon, though. I do it to make ME feel good. It’s all very selfish, and I understand that now. It doesn’t make it bad, but it’s interesting how guilt finds a way to play its role. To me, you had a problem that needed dealt with, but not in any way I was capable of. I agree with the idea that you needed to decide to fix you. Had I pushed against you, you would have pushed away and the sentiments expressed in this blog would never come to pass. As we started spending less time together, I felt guilty that I wasn’t around anymore to “control” your drinking in the small ways I always seemed capable of. You were getting obviously worse, and I wasn’t friend enough when you needed me. I realized later that you needed to travel that path to get to the one you are on now. At the time though, I felt completely inadequate and like I had left someone I loved so dearly down.
    I remember the conversation at me apartment. I will say that it was Shelly that said that and led to the further conversation. It was completely a “Shelly” moment and thing to do. She had a bluntness about her that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way (including you on many of occasion). She and I had talked about you and your path many times before then. I continually told her what an incredible person you were behind the glazed eyes. She could sense my frustration and opened the dialogue. You thanked her afterwards at one point and it was a moment she really cherished. With all the bad blood you too had, I believe it really taught her a lesson about humanity that you were able to say that to her. Of the many things that Shelly is/was/has become since her and I’s time together, I thank her for two things 1: our wonderful son and 2: she helped bring about change in someone I love so dearly. In regards to how I treated you after, that just reflects back to what I stated earlier. I try to treat everyone the same, and at no point in time were you not Seth to me. For all the drinking we’d done together, our friendship was based on time we’d spent together completely sober. I always felt there was a large contingent of your friends that needed the drunken Seth and only felt connected to that guy because that was who they found “so hilarious.” I knew you were hilarious every minute of every day. I didn’t require you to be all lubed up find you riveting, ingenious, and comical. I have always laughed with you, and I thought there were a bunch of people you were close to that really only wanted to laugh at you. The perfect line in this portion of the right up is the one where you describe yourself as “more me than before.” I couldn’t agree with you anymore. You are the man I always knew you were, and I’m proud of you.
    Stories of the depravity and hilarity of what we were would be an interesting case study. I’ll comment on a few of the ones you brought up and maybe interject a few of my own:
    -The bands we love are more a matter of your excellent taste in music (except for the Glam Rock). I think they’ve come at the right times in our lives. It’s been nice to see you mellowing (overall) in your musical tastes as you age. We do like very different styles of music. Even with those two bands, we like them for different reasons I am certain. I believe that is what makes them great though. They fit into the strange dichotomy that we have created with our lives.
    -I will never understand the Chair of Good and Evil. To us it was genius, but I’m sure everyone else we know thought it was ridiculous. I don’t believe we’ve ever achieved eccentricity better than that moment
    -The trail of beer from the lobby to our front door
    -“I’ll eat your soul”
    -There’s a new animated movie based on the Borrower’s coming out. I thought of you the first time I saw the commercial……”A rather large man…..well that could be you sir”
    -I pretty much suck at golf every time I play it. YOU can live with this accomplishment if you like, but I don’t see it as a giant one. I’m the kind of “bad at golf” that when other people tell me they’re bad I laugh in there stupid faces and tell them they have no idea what they are in for today
    -Your toast at my wedding was beyond amazing. A lot of the sentiments you’ve expressed here you expressed in that toast. It took all I had to not completely break out into tears as you gave it. I had several people that were in attendance, that didn’t know you, compliment how wonderful a toast it was and how lucky I am to have a friend like you. I know Liz appreciated it deeply and earned you a place in her heart forever. I still have it and occasionally glance at it when I am missing you
    -That was the best bachelor party ever and completely fit my personality. All I have ever required is a couple of good friends and spending time with one another. For as much drinking as we did in the past, I didn’t ever envision my bachelor party to be one of those black out drunk occasions
    I miss you on a regular basis. You’re one of the few people I’ve held onto over time, and even some of them have started slipping away into their lives. I can count my truly say that I count my great friends on one hand….guess which finger you are.
    I love you

    • sethdellinger Says:

      wow…now that is a long response! I’ll give a response to your response later tonight.

      • It didn’t take 4 days because I’m lazy….althought I am lazy

        • sethdellinger Says:

          It’s funny, I feel like we could go back and forth making enormous replies to each other’s replies for a LONG time haha. Let’s see: I really never thought you and Jeremy were becoming or were good friends. My jealously was kind of a very momentary thing. We were just out of high school and I could already feel Jeremy and I drifting so I think I was worried about that. Of course, taking Cory from him didn’t help! Him and I haven’t spoke now for almost a decade; mostly because I actually can’t find him.

          What about your high school years do you think was not “typical”? From the outside, it certianly seems pretty OK. You essentially ran with the “popular” crowd. That’s gotta be…not bad, no?

          I think the gathering of the “crew” around us was succesful because of the combination of our personalities. I was the totally unhinged one, and you were a fun but reliable voice of reason. It worked well for the two of us, but also as the centerpiece of a group of friends.

          OK, I’ll reply to some of your other points later. And thanks for such a great reply. You’re the man, man.

          • sethdellinger Says:

            Obviously, you weren’t as virtuous as I felt, and I wasn’t as vile as I felt, but those were my impressions at the time. And really, no matter how or why you treated my addiction and recovery the way you did, it still had the same effect of helping me beyond measure.

            I’m glad I told Shelly how important what she said was to me. I would regret it very much if she didn’t know. I always thought she spelled her name Shelley?

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