When I was a kid, I asked a kid named Collins if his dad was the astronaut Michael Collins. It didn't really occur to me that he might not be even though this kid was black. He had a common name so I figured he was related one way or another. My name is Bowen. Aint many of us around. But because of my memory I always try to recover people and things. I have failed in many ways, and so perhaps it is my fate to be a Bowen, different.
My impulse to make and maintain contact with the people who come and go in my life is best manifest here at Cobb. Only recently have people who know me professionally come to know that I'm a blogger, but I'd say at least 75% of the people who know me personally know about my online writing. I've even had friends tell me that strangers have talked about Cobb. That's lovely, but I'm actually much better, in some ways in person. That's why several years ago I endeavored to start a small men's club.
I originally wanted to call it "The Brother's Cup", and I still might. But there were some connotations in that song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers that I wasn't trying to have, and so I ended up calling it "The Regulars". The idea was simple. Get eight black men together on a monthly basis just to chill at a restaurant. We'd have a regular table, perhaps in the upstairs room, and we'd eat, smoke, drink and enjoy each other's company. This is something I've never had because my education, career and interests have taken me all around the place. Since I turned 18, I've never lived at one address for more than 5 years. Even since I've been married, I've lived at six different places in three states.
The same is true for my best friends. Mini Me, The Cartoon Hero, The Dancing Professor, & Felix Unger are all in different states, Baby Boy is in London, and The Spy is either in the Seychelles, Khazakstan, Sweden or the middle of the Pacific. Only The Last Blackman, The Playa and Moleman are in LA, and they mostly have no time, them being on toddler lockdown.
All of these men are doing well in their lives, and if I were another kind of writer I'd probably write stories about us. As you can guess by the nicknames, these are interesting brothers. Few of us show up anywhere in common. There's just the occasional email. So I'm going to say a few things about some friends I've collected over the years who endure in my heart if not in person, my real best friends.
Spy got married. I have yet to meet his spouse. It's killing me to know, because he's essentially gone all around the world looking. We were talking about whether he should get married after 40, and I said that I wouldn't. But he went on and surprised me. See the thing about Spy is that he's one of those men who guys actually admit - OK I wish I looked like him. Spy and I have a lot in common in the vein of arrogance, but I think he has mellowed out considerably. We once thought about becoming submarine officers, he ended up attached more closely to the military. Spy is the man you want to have your back if you ever get in a scrap in a parking lot with an ex-convict. The problem is, no matter what happened, Spy would get blamed for starting the fight. That's because he looks exactly like a spit & polish Special Forces guy with a superiority complex, or he did the last time I saw him which had to be 6 years ago. I always admired him because I could see what kind of man he really is behind all that. He's got a great laugh. Oh, and women hate him like they hate James Bond.
Moleman disappeared on us and went underground. He and I used to throw the biggest beach parties in LA amongst the young, gifted and black. It was our reputation. We had something of a monopoly. But some years after I moved to New York, Moleman just stopped calling folks and going out. The weird thing is that he knows everybody's business. I mean I can't believe his memory. Moleman is the guy who got me to pledge Alpha and he's the one who convinced me that sleeping more than 6 hours a night is for lazy people. He's a certifiable programming genius, but these days he is totally dedicated to his wife and family. We deserve to be rich, Moleman and I. But we were just kids without capital. What did we know?
The Playa exemplifies another aspect of my personality (as do all of my existential partners). Because of that, my wife can't stand him. Playa is the man least likely to hold down a j.o.b. but most likely to have more cash than most people. Thing is, he's an entrepreneur, and has been since day one. He cannot be managed. The scourge of pointy-haired bosses everywhere, he grew up in the grit of Gary, Indiana and you can see all that in him. I'd call him the brother most likely to say "I'm your worst nightmare, a nigger who can hack your Merill Lynch account and sleep with your daughter on the same night." Except he's a very happy dude. He is a pig in the slop of humanity without lightning fast reflexes, a true independent. Anything that can be done with low level drivers in Linux, he's done it. He can smell a hoochie mama from six blocks, and rope her in within six minutes. But that's about all I can tell you. I'm indemnified. And even though he owes me $3,000, I trust him with my life. Oh and women love him.
The Cartoon Hero is one of those preternaturally hard working individuals who likes to think circles around everybody and everything. He cannot be fully understood except through a combination of inconsistent absurdities. Like the other gay buddy in this crew of my best friends, he is everything he appears to be, and yet none of them at all. As far as I know he's not open, but he's safely ensconced in a community that would be plenty friendly if he chose to be, I think. We share a passion for black politics and culture and I think he is one of the few people that can actually call me on my bullshit without breaking a sweat. At least he can lead me to believe that he's called me on my bullshit. The problem is he's well... too academic. But you know the kinds of grudges I hold against black academics who get deep into racial theories. I personally think he would a better MD than PhD, then again, I think that of most PhDs.
The exception however is the Dancing Professor, my homie who gets all of my musical references. Not that I make them any longer. Still, I like that he's the most practical and dedicated of my politically minded existential partners. He takes himself exactly the right amount of serious, which is damned hard to do when you know as much as he does. He's the kind of down to earth guy that you wish could hit the lottery because he works so hard and is so earnest. I want to get rich so I can endow him a little somethin' and I wish my kids could grow up around his kids. Who knows? Someday all that could happen.
Speaking of rich. I expected The Last Blackman to do that. I don't know what happened. Well, the story I tell is that he decided to get off the corporate hamster wheel, but I never pushed. The Last Blackman is the kind of Old School cool guy that you immediately recognize - the kind of brother that is always insulted if you don't give him the full dap and speak in the dialect. He's what I call astonishingly under-cover. Could describe to you the inner workings of synthetic aperture radar, but would much rather chill and watch the basketball game. He's the man that hooked me up when I was dead broke. I always think of him in three contexts. One, he was the brother who hipped me to John Coltrane and Pacifica's Black Metal Liberation Weekend with Kwame Person Lynn, while we were doing benchpresses. Two, he's the brother whom I watched all the hotshots at Stanford's EE department break their neck trying to get him to come for his Master's. He did. Three, he was Lauren Hill's biggest fan, to a somewhat creepy degree. We share a deep love for the P-Funk, the uncut Funk, the Bomb. Plus he can play a mean bass guitar.
Mini Me is my actual best friend. We are the most alike of all the guys, and not a season goes by when I don't think that there ought to be a way that I could move back to Atlanta, just so we could hang out. He's an AI researcher and has the biggest collection of videodiscs, yes the big 12 inch ones, left in the country, probably. We're both BMW fanatics, and I remember driving his new one as one of the highlights of the day I stood up at his wedding. We both have the same inner conservative, mom, apple pie and family selves, masked in big baldheaded knobby kneed blackman-ness. We both talk a mile a minute and could live on Thai food if it came down to it. But most of all, I like his matter of fact, directness and ability to hold five conversations each at varying levels of complexity and seriousness at one time. I don't think I've ever seen him truly uncomfortable or lose his cool in front of anyone but me. I think I need to call him because it has been about 3 months and he probably has something to complain about.
Felix is well, just what you would think. He's the most charming, neat, clever and damned near perfect individual you could possibly imagine a man to be. In fact, he's probably the most famous of us all for attracting women looking for Mr. Right. Except that Felix doesn't swing that way. He's a rather flawlessly generous character and I have to tell you that I actually get him. That is to say I think that if I were a young black gay man who felt really out of place in that way I suppose only young black men who look like Urkel might feel, then I would be happy as hell for Felix to pick me up. Of course, Felix is a heartbreaker because he's such a hot dude, something he likes to remind me every time we speak. There are times when I think that's the only reason he became my friend. Just kidding. He actually does dress better than me, and he actually is more conservative than I am - that's the reason that people just felt like we had to know each other.
Baby Boy is in London. I think. He was a shy kid who came up with a cool idea, sold the company, bought a Porsche started hanging out with Hollywood starlets, all when he was about 27. The last time I heard from him he had just been hanging out in Liberia and had done his own Middle Passage between Ghana and Brazil dining every night on the bridge of a container ship. That was many years ago. Baby Boy got the bug, and he bugged out of the States. Where are you Baby Boy? You need to bring your ass home and take care of Stockton. You know what I'm talking about. The strange thing about Baby Boy is that we thought we corrupted him, at least that's what The Spousal Unit would say. But they don't know.
Friends. How many of us have them?