Friday, July 13, 2007

Why we keep some friends but not others (MNA July 07)

Associate Editor

I have known my best friend for over 30 years. We’ve kept in touch despite what parts of the state or country we’ve lived in, throughout each stage of our lives since grade school.
That is a long time to maintain a friendship, and it has had every chance to falter, fail, or fall to the wayside, but it hasn’t.
With email, cell phones, and instant messenger, it isn’t so hard to keep in touch with those we care for -- or so it would seem.
There are friends I had in high school, or college, or in other cities I’ve lived in, that I have since Googled and can no longer find.
Some of these are friends I saw every day at work, or even roomates I lived with for a couple of years.
And forget about finding old friends of the female persuasion. Most change their last name when they get married and become almost impossible to track down.
So what makes us keep some friends but not others?
What is the glue that holds some friendships together, but doesn’t bind them all?
There appears to be different classes of friendship. We have the one best friend, or group of good friends, the ones you would take a bullet for or hide a murder weapon for if asked, and then there’s whole other classifications of friends.
There’s the work friend, who, you might hang out with once in a while, or get a beer with after work, but once you get a new job, the tie is lost and you dont’ really talk anymore.
There’s the high school and college friends who tend to move away, move on, and lose touch, scattering into the wind like dry leaves after graduation.
The friends who tend to drop off of the radar the fastest are the “friends of a friend.” These are acquaintences who we only know through someone else. Occassionally, we hit it off with one of these folks, and they graduate to a friend first-class, but usually they fade away once the mutual friend you both share moves on.
This is similar to the friend through marriage. These are the people you hang with because they are your spouse’s friends, or the boyfriend/girlfriend of your friend. If you want to chill with your buddy, you have to endure their romantic partner, whether you like them or not. Break-ups or divorces end these acquaintences quickly.
What really gets awkward is when you hit it off with this third party friend, and continue to stay friendly once the relationship is over. Divorce the spouse, and the friends go with him/her.
I guess the big questions is: What makes us keep in touch with some people, but not make the extra effort with others?
With me, it’s often a three strike process. I move to a new town, maybe share a few phone calls or emails with a friend from the old town, and once they don’t return a call or an email three times, they fall from the frequent friend list.
Pretty soon months and years pass, and they’re ancient history.
My really good friends will call back, and I will call them back. It just isn’t worth the effort to keep up a one way friendship.
There is an exception to the three strike rule, however. We all have those friends who are just lazy, or scattered, who aren’t really good at getting back to us, but once you do connect with them, you both feel as if you’ve never lost touch. These friends require extra care and feeding, and patience, but usually are worth it.
That old saying really does apply. Good friends can go a long time without speaking or seeing each other, and just pick right up where they left off.
So, the answer to why we keep some pals and lose others really boils down to how much we want to work to keep in touch, and how worthwhile it is. And how good we feel when we keep in touch with them.
So, if you haven’t touched base with a friend in a while, call, or email, or instant messenger, fax, or do whatever you have to do to keep the lines of communication open.
Don’t let them fall into the abyss of ex-friendshipdom. It’s a lonely place, populated by old work friends, friend of friends, and other assorted characters who didn’t cut the mustard.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

The river lets you get away from it all (MNA July 07)

Associate Editor

Canoeing. The word doesn’t look right. It totally breaks that rule about dropping the “e” before adding “ing.”
Or maybe the word just looks strange because it’s been so long since I’ve actually done it. That’s why I jumped on the chance to take part of the Forest Festival canoe tour of the Big Manistee River on Tuesday.
I figured I already had a canoe that wasn’t being used, so why not?
You see, I’ve had a canoe for almost 13 years, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually put paddle to water while sitting in it. We received it as a wedding gift from one of my wife Tiana’s dads (long story). At the time, we were kind of land-locked, living in an apartment in Lansing. So the canoe lived at my mother-in-law’s house for a while.
Then we moved to Washington D.C. The canoe stayed behind. A few years later, we moved to Los Angeles. The canoe stayed behind. Somehow — and I don’t recollect how — the canoe moved around on its own. I think it was at my other father-in-law’s house for a while, and then somehow ended up at my parent’s little piece of land on Little Platte Lake in Honor. There wasn’t even a house there back then, just land. I think we had it with us when we rented a house on Little Platte, too, but its all fuzzy now. For at least the last eight years, it has sat overturned on the bank of Little Platte Lake, awaiting some action.
What I’m trying to impart is that the canoe moved around a lot, and saw very little paddle time. Which is odd, because I used to take a canoe trip every June with my father and some other father/son duo’s as a kid. We canoed rivers all over the state — even the U.P. We would research which rivers were the fastest, or most challenging, and off we’d go the first weekend of June each summer to tackle ‘em.
We would always camp out, and spend a whole day on selected waterways, racing each other, tipping each other over, and generally doing that male bonding thing that we guys do. We even canoed a river with all of our camping gear once, camped overnight in the middle of nowhere just at the river’s edge, and then got up the next day and did it all over again.
That ritual of canoeing went on for years, until we reached college age. I don’t think I’ve been in a canoe with dad since. My wife and I went a couple of times while we were dating, and that was the last canoe trip for me. And as I recall, they were all good times.
So it really surprises me that I went so long without hitting the river again. I guess jobs, kids, and the other time restrictions imposed by a 21st century existence sometimes crowd out simple, enjoyable activities like a good float down a lazy stream.
Fast forward to Tuesday, when I convinced sports editor Matt Wenzel to come with me for a paddle session. I tried to practice canoeing by myself on the lake once a few weeks ago, and the front of the canoe tilted up at an alarming angle, making it difficult to either steer or see. So I needed some weight in the front.
That’s where Matt came in.
He made better conversation than a bucket full of rocks, and could pass back treats from the cooler to me. Plus I found out he makes a darn good spotter/steerer.
I’m proud to say we had zero collisions, and not even a single close call. Pretty good, considering we were out of practice. I suppose canoeing is like riding a bike. Once you’ve got it, you never lose it.
For two city boys, who weren’t even sure where the boat launch was initially, it was nice to just float, make simple course corrections once in a while, and enjoy the trip. We saw a couple of big birds, fish, what looked like some sort of river mammal who swam right in front of the boat, and some fishermen and other assorted gawkers along the shore (see Matt’s column.)
The trip was quiet, serene, and un-cluttered with the auditory graffitti of daily life. No television, radio, traffic noise, or telephones ringing. For a few hours, we unplugged from the world, and reset our brains.
Seems like everyone could stand to do that once in a while.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Thursday, July 05, 2007

My favorite running partner (MNA July 07)

Associate Editor

My three-year-old yellow lab’s name is Gunnar. But his name should be tow-truck.
I’ll explain.
I have been an on-again off-again runner for over 20 years. I’ve done one marathon -- probably my last -- and a couple of triathlons, along with several 5K’s and 10K’s to round things out. I wouldn’t say that I’m a great runner. I’m not fast, and I don’t ever win my age group.
But I enjoy running, and it makes me feel good. So I try to run a couple of times a week when the weather is nice. And I also like to exercise Gunnar. He gets plenty of exercise during bird hunting season, but the winter leaves him a little chunky. It just isn’t fun to take him outside for a walk during the bitter, cold, northern Michigan winter. So, it only made sense that I drag him along on my 5K workout runs.
Usually, he keeps up with me just fine. With his boundless energy and four legs, he stays just a bit ahead of me, sometimes pulling at the length of his leash. The only time I ever outlasted him on a run was when I foolishly took him on a five mile run. About halfway through, he just gave up and sat down. I tried to pull him along, but he refused to move his little legs. He was like one of those stubborn old mules in an old Laurel and Hardy film.
It turns out, he isn’t completely destructible. He can get tired. He does get overheated.
But at the 3.1 mile distance I usually do, he is a fantastic running partner. And a good motivator too. That’s why I said I should re-name him tow-truck, because when I’m dragging a little bit, maybe because I didn’t get enough sleep, or I ran the first half of my workout too fast, or simply because I’m not in the mood to run, he tows me along.
Gunnar keeps pressing on, keeps those paws pounding the pavement, and looks back at me with a “c’mon, man, put it in gear” kind of look. And that gets me going again.
He does exactly what you want a good running partner to do. He helps me through the rough spots.
There are some days when I really don’t want to work out, and I see him sitting by the door with that drooly perma-grin that says “where are you going? We’ve got work to do, partner.” I try to ignore him, but the guilt overcomes me more often than not, and we at least go on a brisk walk if we can’t make it for a full running session.
I’ve run with friends, co-workers, and in running clubs -- but the best running partner I’ve ever had is a furry yellow guy with a Scandinavian name who used to eat his own poop when he was little.
In fact, the only drawback to running with him is the occasional, shall we say, by-product, that I have to clean up after him when the run is over. But I suppose it’s the price to pay for his friendship, and his companionship.
So, as long as he is able -- and I’m willing -- I’ll continue to use him for motivation to exercise, and I’m sure he’ll continue to follow me out the front door and down the driveway for our two or three time per week running sessions. You’ll see us out there, along the side of the road -- sometimes with me pulling him along, other times with him pulling me along.
Mostly with him pulling me along.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

Monday, July 02, 2007

The girl, the motorcycle — and the rest is history (MNA June 07)

Associate Editor

About 14 years ago, I was blissfully unaware of how a motorcycle would change my life forever.
Single and working my first job as a legislative aide at the state capitol, I had few cares in the world. The rent on my tiny, slightly furnished studio apartment was relatively easy to meet each month, and the only other bills I had were a small monthly fee for the privelege of driving my Geo Tracker, and payments on a $500 credit card balance.
My days were spent toiling away at my little government job, and the nights were wasted on cheap beer and free bands at any one of East Lansing or Lansing’s assorted taverns. It was at one of those beer gardens that a mutual friend introduced me to a cute, curly-haired girl on a noisy Thursday evening.
After a few minutes of light conversation, the time came for us to part ways, and I felt the courage to ask her out slipping away. Then she said something that made my ears perk up.
“I have a motorcycle — you should take a ride with me,” she said.
That’s when I knew I had to get to know this girl better. How cool is a chick with a motorcycle? I got her number and asked her out a few days later.
If you haven’t guessed already, that motorcycle chick eventually agreed to become my wife, Tiana. We’ll celebrate our lucky 13th wedding anniversary in August.
The funny thing about her saying I could take a ride with her was that she hates riding with someone on the back of her bike. You see, my wife’s somewhat of an independent spirit, especially when it comes to the cycle. I can remember only a few times (maybe two) that I actually got to take that ride she promised.
So, the only way I could really ride the bike was by myself — if she would let me. And she wouldn’t let me until I took the state certified motorcycle class and passed to get my motorcycle endorsement. Which I did.
And then I got to ride the bike.
When we were first married, we were flat broke. College bills, credit card bills, and all the costs associated with starting a new marriage kept us poor but happy. With finances tight, that old Yamaha of my wife’s became our second car.
Rain, shine — or even snow sometimes — one of us would ride the motorcycle to work, while the other drove the car. Until one day we finally had enough money to buy a second car. So the motorcycle sat.
And sat.
The demands of work and other diversions of life kept us from even taking pleasure rides on the bike. That’s when Tiana was offered a job in Washington D.C. It didn’t make sense for us to take the bike with us, so we sold it.
When two guys showed up at our door to pick the cycle up, it wouldn’t even start anymore. It had done it’s duty. The machine which had opened the door to our relationship moved on to greener pastures.
We went years without buying another motorcycle. Despite moving to Washington D.C. and later Los Angeles, we both kept our motorcycle endorsements current on our drivers’ licenses, hoping that one day we might again eventually buy another bike.
It wasn’t until over 10 years later that I got a call from Tiana while she was down in Detroit on a business trip. “I’ve found a bike and I fell in love with it. Can I get it?” she asked.
How could I say no?
So we became the proud owners of a 1989 Harley Davidson Sportster. It had a flashier paint job than our old bike. It was 1200 cc’s compared to the old Yamaha’s 550. I’ll admit, it’s a cool bike.
With gas prices soaring, I like to ride the cycle to work now. Six dollars worth of high-test gas will last me weeks. And it’s a blast riding down the road with the wind in my face, my shirt blowing back, and nothing but sunshine and road dust between me and the rest of world.
But I have to admit, I wonder sometimes, what ever happened to that old Yamaha. Is it sitting in a junkyard or backyard somewhere, rusting and unused? Or is it in someone’s garage, lovingly cared for and enjoyed by an owner who somehow senses the magic and history the bike had for a couple of it’s owners from over a decade ago.
I like to think the latter.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

“It has to be up to you” (MNA June 07)

Associate Editor

“We decided, I’m going to go into the service because I had the feeling that I was needed.”
This is what Louis Shapiro said, and what many veterans of World War II say when asked about their choice to enter military service.
The other part of “we,” was Shapiro’s wife, Annette, who told her husband when he said he was considering entering the army “I can’t tell you what to do. I can’t tell you to go or not to go, it has to be up to you.”
It was a decision that the couple made together, which would separate them for almost three years, while Louis went off to the war in the European Theater as a Sergeant. There, he had the task of keeping tanks and other machinery repaired for Allied troops.
He says his training was for “repairing anything from a watch to a shaft for an artillery piece.”
So, like many other citizen soldiers, Shapiro had to leave his wife of a year and a half, his family, and his civilian job in an auto supply/auto machine shop, and go off to support the troops who invaded Normandy.
“We went down to the depot, all the family there — I felt very sad. And here I am going all alone, don’t know what I’m going to do or what, and I got on the train,” says Shapiro.
Once in the army, his experience wasn’t limited to repairing machinery, though. In training, one of the guys in his company asked, “Hey Sarge, would you like to go for a ride in this tank?” to which Shapiro replied, “Sure, show me how it works.”
“Now, I’m going to go up in the turret,” the soldier told him. And off went Shapiro behind the wheel, at breakneck speed on the base’s test track, with the other soldier up top.
“So I was really traveling along there, and I’m talking to him. Man, I’m hitting bumps and everything else,” says Shapiro. “And I’m not getting an answer, and I look up there, and all I see is eight fingers hanging onto a ledge.
“I had hit a bump and knocked him out of the turret.”
“I finally got it stopped and he come in — I hate to tell you what he said to me, but he wasn’t very happy.”
Once he finished with training and shipped off to Europe, Shapiro’s unit was tasked with supporting the 3rd Army, moving with trucks filled with all manner of machinery. “We could make anything that we wanted, and it traveled with us and our company. Our company was on its own quite a bit, many miles at times from headquarters. And so we were able to do a lot of service for the different organizations.”
His unit did more than just maintenance. They performed other tasks such as re-tooling rotors for jeeps, and even made a new screw shaft for a large piece of artillery.
But Shapiro’s unit was also assigned to guard Fort Jean Darte, an underground fort left over from World War I, which the Germans had used to manufacture airplane parts. Twenty soldiers from his unit, Shapiro, a lieutenant, and soldiers from other units, went into the subterranean fort with eight foot thick cement walls to protect it from falling back into German hands.
He recalls that the fort was littered with the remains of cart horses which the former German inhabitants had eaten when they ran out of food. Sleeping on straw which was originally for the horses, the American soldiers had to contend with rats which “were bigger than cats,” according to Shapiro. His unit remained there until after the Battle of Bulge.
While at the fort, one of the soldiers picked up an anti-tank mine and tried to open it. It was a gruesome occurrence which Shapiro says “has never left my mind.”
Another memory burned into his mind was from Dachau, which his unit camped only four miles away from shortly after the war ended.
“There were a couple little girls that were in the prison camp that had come out and I had visited with them, and they’d speak a little bit of English, and they were so swelled up from malnutrition. I was fortunate enough once in a while to get (them) food from home or some rations that I didn’t eat.”
When his service was over, and Shapiro finally was able to go home — he almost lost his paperwork. Catching a ride to a train in an ambulance converted into a mail truck, the driver allowed him to sleep on the mail bags in the back. The driver woke Shapiro when they arrived at the station.
“I got up and thanked him. And meanwhile I had forgot and left all my records on his truck. I said ‘oh man, I’ll never get home now.’”
In an attempt to get his paperwork back, Shapiro enlisted the help of an MP, who took him to headquarters. In talking with the MP, he discovered that he had grown up in Easton, only eight miles from Owosso, where Shapiro was from.
The Michigan born MP was able to help him track the records down to an office at headquarters, and found a major who retrieved them from a desk. By luck and a joint effort, the two had managed to find his valuable ticket home.
Shapiro never saw the MP again, despite living less than 10 miles away from each other back in the States. “In all my days here in Michigan and at home, I tried to find him and I never could find him.”
It wasn’t the only face from back in Michigan he would see on his journey home. “Believe it or not, as I was on the deck (of a ship) and we were going home, here was an officer, up on the top deck, that I knew was from Lansing. His name was Bernie Friedland. I hollered up there and he hollered back. He said ‘I’ll get home before you. I’ll tell your folks you’re on your way.”
After arriving at Camp Attlebury, Ind., Shapiro caught a ride to Detroit in an old Plymouth — from a guy who was charging for rides — where his wife was waiting for him with her sister, whose husband was also in the service.
“I got to the house and there was my beautiful wife standing there to greet me. I can see her as though it was yesterday with her hair done way up high, and she was just as pretty as a picture.”
“And that,” says the humble Shapiro of his war experiences, “that’s about it.”
Cean Burgeson can be reached at: