Thousands of Emory students each year spend a tremendous amount
of time, as well as thousands of dollars, toiling for the right
to wear a black robe and go to commencement.
I get paid to attend. I get to sit in the front row, too. I’m
not complaining; it’s a good assignment. With apologies to
everyone involved, my favorite convocation of 2002 wasn’t
Emory’s (although a fine one it was). My favorite was one
I flew more than 5,000 miles roundtrip to see, spending several
hundred dollars along the way.
I hadn’t seen Regina for about a year-and-a-half. The last
time was October 2000 at the wedding of a mutual friend (an old
boyfriend of hers, actually). She’d flown back east from California
for it, which made my drive from Atlanta to Tampa, where it took
place, look much less impressive.
Last summer she knew I’d be coming out to see her receive
her PhD from Stanford, but when we first saw each other—underneath
some trees at a picnic in her honor at a California state park in
the Santa Cruz Mountains—she visibly froze. It’s odd
to see old friends in new settings.
I don’t remember meeting Regina; it feels like I’ve
always known her. Actually, I’m sure I knew who she was before
we were actually introduced. We have a lot of mutual friends, and
while our suburban Tampa high school had more than 2,000 students,
everybody pretty much knew everyone else.
We must’ve met formally in 1987 or 1988—my senior year,
her junior. We ran into each other on and off over the next few
years, usually during the summer. I went away to college, then grad
school, while she went to the University of South Florida in Tampa
to get an engineering degree.
When I moved back to Tampa in 1994, Regina became my go-to gal whenever
I needed a second. Free tickets to Busch Gardens—ask Regina.
Need a wing woman for my first company Christmas party—ask
Regina. When she entered Stanford in 1996, except for the rare occasions
she’d come back to Florida during the holidays, we didn’t
have much contact.
I like the way Stanford set up its convocation. Each department
had its own diploma ceremony. That made the entire event quite intimate.
Especially if your graduate
is getting her degree in small program like statistics and mathematics,
which had something like 30 recipients.
The ceremony was nestled under some big trees outside the math building
and the laid back aura of the event (a tradition at Stanford, I
learned; Regina wore a lei) made for a great afternoon.
Even the little departmental get-together afterward at Regina’s
advisor’s house was fun. Good food, moderately interesting
mingling. I didn’t get to talk to Regina much; she was engaged
in the necessary departmental schmoozing. I knew we’d have
another chance to catch up soon, probably at her next school—she’s
a lifelong student.
Regina and I have a lot of similarities, and that makes our chemistry
pretty good. We’re both high maintenance but don’t like
being categorized that way (She wouldn’t order crepes a restaurant
because they weren’t buckwheat. I didn’t even know there
was a difference.) We’re fiercely independent; we like movies
in foreign languages and books without pictures. However, despite
the fact that Regina’s an engineer/statistician/math geek,
she reads more books than me—something she enjoys reminding
Finally, we are two of the very few of our gang who remain unmarried.
Regina is the only woman; there are only about four guys, and one
of them will fall pretty soon, I think.
As the years have gone by, we’ve observed our friends’
relationships, their marriages, sometimes the children that result,
and—unfortunately—on occasion their divorces. That’s
what friends do. And we generally agree on most counts, including
the fact that dating, for the most part, is rather annoying.
It’s a wavelength thing. And I mean that literally. Regina
is hearing impaired, but I know exactly what tone of voice to use
so that she will hear me properly. It’s not even something
I realized I did. It just happened.
People in Montreal smoke. A lot. It’s the European influence.
Can’t go a block without seeing someone puffing on something.
Some-times it’s legal; sometimes not.
Sitting at the bar of a moderately fancy French bistro waiting for
dinner (It’s only moderately fancy since the snooty maitre
d’ let me in the door wearing cross trainers. My sweater was
nice, though.) is like rolling around in a giant ashtray.
Regina is now at Montreal’s McGill University working on a
two-year postdoc in psychology. I visited her for a long weekend
in September. We packed a lot into the time: the last Expos game
of the season, a road trip up the St. Lawrence, a nice walking tour
of some of the funkiest (and most beautiful) neighborhoods on the
continent, and some very pleasant—albeit smoky—dining.
The impetus for the trip was the baseball game, which at the time
might’ve been the Expos’ final one in Quebec. I’ll
go to great lengths to see a ball game. I’m kinda like that.
The real reason, though, was getting to reconnect with a friend
I see criminally little of.
Yeah, the whole Stanford thing was fun, but there really wasn’t
a lot of time for the two of us to talk. She was well occupied,
as she should’ve been, with all of her graduation activities.
Now, plop the two of us in some intown neighborhood with everybody
speaking French but us? That’s the time to catch up.
More than one of my buddies here in Atlanta—none of whom have
met Regina—have told me that, since we get along very well
and she’s smart and that she’s pretty that, “You
should go out with her.”
My reply is pretty straightforward. “She lives in Canada.”
That usually serves as a good segue to something else.
Sometimes friendship is shoved down your throat; other times it
is a rather pleasant choice. I am not a believer in Billy Crystal’s
famous mantra from When Harry Met Sally that men and women cannot
be friends. I don’t know if this makes me progressive, naïve
or repressed, but one thing I do know is that I have more close
friends of the opposite sex than anyone else I know—male or
female. And I’ve known a lot them, like Regina, more than
half my life.
And it’s not like Regina has unattractive qualities. After
all, she gets hit on by most every single guy she knows. That’s
pretty flattering on one hand, but also maddening on the other.
How can you trust anybody?
Regina doesn’t know it, and she surely wouldn’t say
it, but she is one of those women who becomes more attractive as
she ages. That could be one of the reasons why so many guys hit
on her. She’s a catch.
It puts her in a quandary, though. She intimidates some of the younger
guys, and the older guys, more often than not, are retreads.
“If we were seeing people, would I be up here right now?”
I ask as I finish the last of my steak. The bistro was snooty, but
the food was sure tasty. This is all part of that fiercely independent
thing. The story goes both ways—if she had a boyfriend, you
think he’d have a problem with some guy sleeping under the
same roof as his girlfriend? Is an answer necessary?
Regina shakes her head. We had just finished a rather lengthy discussion
of our friends and the ways they approach their relationships. It’s
generally positive, but a few are deserving of some criticism.
Hey, they talk about us, too.
Neither one of us is itching to trade places with anyone else, but
something comforting floats around subtly with the smoke the entire
evening. I think we both grasp it.
I smile, push aside my dinner plate and sample my salad. It, too,
is excellent. Regina had told me earlier that in Quebec, the salad
is eaten after the main course.
You learn something new every day.