“Cold” isn’t the right word. It’s accurate, in the same way “nice” or “fine” is accurate in most settings, but not quite good enough.
It was a brisk, jarring, sobering chill. It wasn’t quite an ice cube down the shorts, more of a splash of water in the face. We both needed it as we ambled out into the night.
“Ah,” I said, taking in the chill. “I have no idea what I’m going to write about for tomorrow.”
“How about this place?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, drawing out the words in that way that implies a guilty admission. “I was thinking about writing about us slapping the shit out of each other.”
So here is the story about how one of my truest friends, my brother from another mother, my sister from another mister, my second cousin from a fecund dozen slapped the holy hell out of me at a bar.
I met Ben Feldheim at a corporate retreat for a job we both took at a tech company that, it turns out, can’t run a news organization. They had hired thousands of journos from across the nation for a plan that didn’t pan. It went from 1,300 employees to 50 within a three-year period. All I can say about my performance is that I didn’t get fired.
But that’s mostly due to me quitting in the middle of an unsavory performance evaluation.
I did get Ben out of it.
We met, as I said, during a retreat shortly after we got hired for suburban beats in adjacent cities. We met during one of those corporate get-to-know-you games and bonded that night at a bar after one of the traditional journalist games of try-to-top-this.
He told his NIU shooting tale. I told the crime beat piece I lovingly describe as “The Dogfucker Story.”
And a friendship was born.
We’re both back in Chicago now, doing the freelance slog (incidentally, check out the April 1 Chicago Magazine for a piece by Ben). We talk. We hang. We have what we call “work parties” where we meet to laptop up and get freelance done.
At a night intended to get freelance done, Benji said something open, emotional and needlessly self-deprecating, critical and depressing.
So I do what all true friends do and did the thing he’s been annoyed at all night. I mumbled a response while leaning against my palm.
“You’re talking into your hand again,” he said. “You’re talking. Into. Your hand.”
So I repeated what I said. Quietly.
He leaned in to hear.
I flicked what I mean to be his forehead.
This would have been a nice, funny, “You’re better than that so don’t be so depressing” gesture had I not accidentally flicked a finger directly into his right eyeball.
“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!”
“God DAMN it!”
“God DAMN it!”
“I meant to flick your forehead!”
“God DA- OK, OK, OK.”
“You can flick my forehead if you want.”
“I can SEE a thumbprint!”
“Technically, it was my middle finger.”
“God DAMN it!”
“No, it’s OK.”
He noticed what I had been doing the whole time since I flicked his eye.
“This is nervous laughter,” I clarified.
“God damn it,” he said.
“You can flick my eye if you want,” I said, closing my eyes and leaning in.
“No, no,” he said.
“Are you su-”
And then he slapped me so hard my ear rang.
“It’s better when you don’t expect it,” he said, taking a sip of his beer.
“True,” I said, taking a sip of mine.
And that, dear readers, is the stuff true friendships are made of.