I’m heading up to visit Anthony next weekend – another round of movies are on docket. Return of the Dragon is high on the list, as both Anthony and I were deeply disappointed that Enter the Dragon did not have, as both of us mistakenly remembered, a showdown between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
Guess who wins.
Anyway. A note about the visits. I want to emphasize that while I may be a good friend in this regard, I am often a failing friend in many others and with many other people. At a certain point, it’s a zero-sum game. How much time do we have? How many waking hours, how many vacation days, how much energy, how many friends in crisis? I have the luxury of being free-lance, of having an understanding spouse, of having my own wheels, a credit card for gas. Not everyone has these things, and it makes me a good candidate to be a guy who shows up periodically to Hang Out.
Of course, being a good candidate doesn’t mean that I would necessarily do it.
A brief divergence.
Last summer I worked on this baby-indie film in Milwaukee heading the construction crew. I divvied up work, checked in with the production designer (money quote from the production designer: “I snapped. I went all hillbilly on him.”) several times a day, was the buyer-driver for my crew, made sure they had water and snacks. I hardly ever put on a tool belt, so much so that when I did it was cause for remark. I prototyped a couple of key props and told my crew how to build them. And on our last day of load-in before our first day of shooting, me and my two carpenters worked nearly 19 hours straight. I had a less than five-hour turnaround before I had to be back on set Just In Case Anything Happened (for the record – nothing did, which is good because I wouldn’t have been able to do much other than to watch the catastrophe unfold). Brutal. It was a brutal start to the week. What made it not just bearable, but worth it and almost pleasant even, was the enthusiasm and appreciation we got from our bosses, the art director and the production designer, as well as from the director and executive producer. They could have just thanked my boss the hillbilly, but they thanked him and us. Every new location, they told us how good it looked, that they knew how hard we were working. They made a point of telling everyone on the crew, up and down the food chain, thanks.
It’s remarkable how much we were willing to do for a thank you. Sure, we were paid, but a certain point you don’t want the overtime. You want to go home and sleep and not take the turnaround or meal penalty. Overtime is a disincentive for employers and it’s an incentive for workers only as long as you’ve got the stamina, will, and homelife that allow it. We were paid to do a job, but we did extra just because our bosses were nice to us.
It’s so much easier to visit Anthony and Steph because they appreciate it. They don’t take my visits or my time for granted.
And it’s a fine line. If they were as happy to see me as my dog is every time I walk through the door (seriously – every time), it would be harder to go. I mean, that level of enthusiasm from another person? Creepy.
It’s not easy to ask for help (a sign of weakness or helplessness?), and it seems equally hard for a lot of us to express our thanks. Because I didn’t deserve to get cancer, so I do deserve the support? Because an expression of thanks feels like an admission of indebtedness?
I think friendships have to be reciprocal, but not necessarily equal – so my visits are returned in thanks, but not with a return visit.
Steph and Anthony are, in fact, much better at expressing need than I am, and better at saying thanks as well. We may die alone, but we don’t go have to go through the dying that way – or, for that matter, any of the rest of the living.
And for that lesson, which I hope to remember when the time comes, thanks.