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A phone call with a dear friend takes serious, strange, and silly turns
The other night, I wanted to shoot the shit. But shooting the shit isn’t a solo activity, so I called my friend Bridget, who lives in Cleveland Heights, not far from the heart of rock n’ roll, which according to The News, is still beating.
“Mikey, what’s going on?”
Bridget is the only person on Earth who calls me Mikey. Actually, there could be others who call me Mikey, but I don’t return their calls because I’m still a little traumatized from the Life Cereal campaign, which ran in heavy rotation from 1971 to 1983, much to the chagrin of Michaels everywhere.
But Bridget and I didn’t waste time talking about our childhood traumas. We were there to shoot the shit, like I said, and Bridget fired the first shot.
“What’s new with you, Estrin?” she asked.
I brought Bridget up to speed on my life since the last time we spoke. There were more more ups than downs to report, which was good, but it felt like bragging, so after Bridget was up to speed, I wrapped that shit up.
“That’s the four-one-one,” I said. “Do people still say that anymore? Probably not. I’ll bet kids today don’t even know what four-one-one means.”
“Kids? I hate to break it to you, Estrin, but I’m older than you. I was making bad life choices in the ‘80s, back when you were playing Life, the board game.”
“Spiritually, I’m way older,” I said. “People say I’m an old soul. My dad said I was born an old man. But chronologically, you’re just a little older. You’re squarely in the Gen-X cohort.”
“Fuck yeah, I am.”
“Whereas I showed up a little late to the Gen-X party—too late to make a meaningful contribution, but just in time to experience profound disappointment. The quintessential Gen-X move.”
“I always think of you and Christina as my millennial friends, but that’s probably because you guys seem so young to me.”
“Nope. We’re the last of the Xers, which sounds a lot cooler than it is. If you want to get technical, which I don’t, we might be xennials, but that’s a lame name. Also, the whole micro-generation concept is proof that this generational stuff has totally jumped the shark.”
What I was getting at with all this generational talk, without actually saying so, is that these days there aren’t many friends I can call out of the blue, without texting first. Increasingly, many people believe that receiving a phone call out of the blue, even from a friend who just wants to shoot the shit, is actually rude, bordering on aggressive. That’s a generational thing, I think. The whole text-to-call rigmarole seems silly to me, but that’s probably because I’m old enough to remember a time when you just called, if you wanted to speak to someone, and if they weren’t home, you left a message, and when they got home, one of the first things they’d do was check their messages on their machine, and then, after they kicked off their shoes and used the bathroom and got comfy, they’d call you back, and if you were on the other line, but had call waiting, you’d tell the person you were talking to that they were about to lose a phone face-off. Those were the days, my friends.
These days, the polite move is to engage in the text-to-call rigmarole, or better yet, just text, or send a DM, or best of all, post the shit you want to shoot on social media, so your friends can Like that shit without having to show up for the emotional work of actually shooting the shit with you.
But that’s not how Bridget and I roll, and I think we’re better friends for it. Because after I got done telling her about my shit, she offered up her shit to shoot. And for a few minutes, we shot that shit. But then, Bridget got another call—a business call. And since Bridget is in business to do business, I lost the phone face off.
“Estrin, I’ll call you back in five minutes.”
The first thing Bridget said when she called me back was that she was sorry the other call took longer than expected. But I didn’t mind, and I told her so. I was just happy to talk with a friend, and as it turned out, Bridget needed a friend to talk to after her other call.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“That fucker owes me money, Estrin. And the thing is, he knows he owes me money. He even said so. But he’s also one of those people—a narcissist, or a fucking psycho, or whatever his deal is—so his promise to pay isn’t worth shit. So that call was about me reminding him that he promised to pay me, but he probably won’t pay me.”
A younger version of me might’ve offered to fix the problem for my friend, somehow. But the older, wiser me knows that you can’t really fix another person’s problem. All you can do is listen, and hear them, and crawl into whatever hole they’re in and just be there with them so they don’t have to go through one of life’s shit-storms alone.
“I really need the money,” Bridget said. “I just did my taxes and I fucking owe. Not a lot, but more than I have right now.”
“Are you freaking out?” I asked.
“No. I’ll deal. I just need to find a way to make some extra cash.”
“I’ve been there,” I said. “It sucks.”
“It does suck,” Bridget agreed. “And you know what else really sucks? I feel like I was making good progress this year. I moved, I found a job, and I bought a house, and then I found a better job. But now all that progress feels like it didn’t happen because of this shit I’m dealing with. Do you ever feel like it’s all just a hamster wheel, and even when you think you’re making progress, you’re really just fooling yourself?”
“I worry about that all the time.”
Bridget sounded surprised, which wasn’t surprising because it’s natural to think that everyone you know is crushing it when you’re getting crushed by it.
“Of course. When I think about where twenty-something me thought he’d be at forty-something, I get sad. Well not sad, exactly. More like melancholy. Bummed, actually. It’s a bummer. When I compare Present Me with the image Past Me created of Future Me, I can’t help but think that I’ve wasted half my life, and that I’m going nowhere slowly, but still kinda fast.”
“Shit, that’s a head-fuck,” Bridget said.
“Exactly. Total head-fuck. And kind of an emotional punch in the nuts too.”
“Well, I don’t know what you’re worried about, my young friend. You’ve accomplished a lot more than me in less time.”
“Life isn’t a dick-measuring contest.”
“For some people it is,” Bridget said.
“Yeah, but they’re dicks.”
That made Bridget laugh, but as quickly as her laughter came, it went away.
“Holy shit, I gotta get to the store before it closes.”
“OK, but I wanna make sure you’re OK.”
“I’m OK, Estrin.”
“You’re better than OK. Life throws some gnarly shit at you, Bridget, but you always survive, and you know how to find the upside.”
“Hey, you wanna come with me to the store?”
Through the wonders of mobile telephony, Bridget took me with her to the store, which is the next best thing to actually hanging out with your friend and going with them to the store IRL.
“What are we getting at the store?” I asked Bridget.
“That’s it. I want eggs, and I need hot sauce on my eggs.”
“So this is a Tabasco run?”
“Right. A Tabasco run.”
“Are we gonna make it? How much time do we have? How’s the traffic? I need a situation report.”
“Jesus fucking Christ!” Bridget screamed.
“What’s happening? Are you OK? Is it aliens? A biker gang? Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
“What’s going on? Talk to me, Goose!”
“That kid looked like he was thirteen.”
“What kid?” I asked.
“This fucking kid who cut me off. Little fucker pulled right in front of my like I wasn’t even there.”
“But he wasn’t actually thirteen, right?”
“He probably was thirteen. Or, twelve.”
“It’s a real problem here. These fucking kids steal cars and go for joy rides. Whenever I see a driver who looks younger than thirty, I keep my distance.”
Thankfully, Bridget didn’t see any other underage drivers on the way to the store. Also, she made it to the store before it closed. But as it turned out, the store was bad news.
“Motherfucker!” Bridget said.
“What now? Aliens? Bikers? Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
“Did a teenage car thief crash into the store, steal your hot sauce money, and leave you with a tax bill?”
“No, Estrin, you’ve got an overactive imagination.”
“Then what is it?”
“They don’t have any regular Tabasco. All they have are these giant bottles of that sriracha shit. I want the OG stuff. That’s the only reason I came here.”
“Giant bottles? Send me a picture.”
Through the wonders of mobile telephony, Bridget sent me a picture.
I was about to say something sympathetic, but before I could speak up, Bridget remembered an important detail about her condiment situation.
“I just remembered that I’m out of ketchup.”
“Do they have regular ketchup, or is it gigantor-size? Is this one of those stores where everything has been super-sized?”
“No, it’s a regular store. And they have regular ketchup.”
Then Bridget remembered that she also needed a few other things, so she made the most of her trip by picking up some supplies.
“Forty-three dollars later,” Bridget said as she left the store.
“Wow, forty-three dollars ain’t what it used to be.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Did you got your Tabasco?” I asked.
“Fuck no, Estrin. I’m not using that sriracha shit. This big Tabasco-run was a fail.”
“Sure, but there were some upsides. You got ketchup and some other stuff you need.”
“Yeah, and I got to shoot the shit with you, Estrin. That was what I really needed.”
“That’s the real win,” I said. “I’m glad we got to talk.”
“Me too, Estrin, me too.”
Shopping list coda
The next day, I texted Bridget to ask if it would be OK if I wrote this story up for Situation Normal. Bridget said yes because she’s a good friend with a great sense of humor and an OG situation normie. Then, for the sake of accuracy, and because status details are the key to writing creative nonfiction, I asked Bridget what she ended up buying at the store. Here’s what she texted back:
OK I bought Triscuits stoke iced coffee ketchup. Damn what else did I buy half-and-half Lacroix orange flavored? I’m sure there was some thing else and I’m not remembering yet. That kind of stuff takes up valuable real estate Estrin I can’t recall I’m sure there was some thing else in there but that’s all I can remember for now. OK yes stoked to see the peace and I did not get the Tabasco so let’s be clear about that. They only had the gigantic 20 ounce Sriracha Tabasco and they didn’t have the original small one so I left sans Tabasco OK love you bye.
This was voice dictated while driving. 🤣
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Special bonus story!
Last September, Christina and I visited Bridget in Cleveland. I wrote a story (paywall) about visiting The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, touring a witchcraft museum, and all the other cool shit people who flee to the Cleve experience everyday! Read the story here👇
Stick around and chat
You know the drill. I’ve got questions. Maybe you’ve got answers.
Do you call friends to shoot the shit, or are you one of those modern people who texts-to-call, or just texts, or posts their shit on social media?
Did you ever play the Life board game? It’s total bullshit, right?
Does Present You feel bummed out when you think about the image Past You had of Future You, or do you, like Garth Algar, always live in the now? If so, what’s your secret?
What’s your brand of hot sauce? I’m a fan of Tapatío, or Cholula, and I’ll do Tabasco in a pinch. But don’t come at me with that hipster Sriracha shit! That’s my hot (sauce) take. What’s yours?
After you read this, are you going to call a friend just to shoot the shit? Please say yes, and then do it!