Monday, March 22, 2010

A Tribute to Friends

"Kids are dangerous. I've lost a lot of good friends to kids."
-Marc Maron, comedian
When you work in TV, friendships tend to come and go as people move onto different shows. You may have a really good friend for four months, and then lose track of that person when the season ends. Because of this, I habitually talk about friendships in the past tense. I say things like, "I wish we could talk about [future movie]," or "Too bad I won't be able to prove you wrong about [something yet to come]." In other words, I phrase things in a way that implies I won't be friends with someone in the near future. It's not a defense mechanism; it's learned from experience.

I first met Stephanie at the beginning of season 9 of "The Amazing Race" (the season with "the hippies" BJ & Tyler squaring off against "the frat boys" Eric & Jeremy). It was my first season as an associate producer, and her first season on the show at all. Not dissimilar to first grade, there's assigned seating when you're working in the story department at The Race, and Stephanie and I were seated facing each other across a table. Jordan, who had worked at The Race longer than me, knew Stephanie from before and was the one who helped her get this job. On Stephanie's first day, Jordan introduced us and said in a jokingly maternal way that she hoped we'd get along since we had to look at each other all day. In my sarcastic way, I shook my head and said, "Nah. That's not gonna happen." This, of course, doomed it to happen.


Before long, we discovered a few things we shared in common, like an interest in musical theater and Billy Joel. Most people give me shit for liking those things, but Steph was on board. She was from New York; so not only did she like Billy Joel and Broadway, but she had a hometown connection to them. We found it easy to relate to each other since we spoke the same language (with references to "original Broadway cast recordings" and Idina Menzel and Cold Spring Harbor and such).

We were somewhat isolated in our little corner of the office. This type of situation leads to inside jokes and exclusionism. (If that wasn't a word before, it is now.) I remember at one point we were discussing forming a vaudeville act and taking it on the road. Things like that are very funny when you're bored at work.

She began reading my MySpace blog, which sent her stock through the roof as far as I was concerned. Anyone with good enough taste to be a fan of my blog is obviously someone who deserves a great deal of respect and admiration.

It was also through my MySpace blog that I first started communicating with someone I'd only heard about, Steph's then-fiance Cooper. I'd written some bizarre diatribe about how Ontario should become part of the U.S., and the U.S. would give Alaska to Canada in exchange. Unknown to me, Cooper was Canadian. Steph passed the link along to him, and he left a comment detailing flaws in my land-swap idea that I couldn't have anticipated due to my lack of knowledge about Canada. He later confessed that he'd needed to look up those facts in order to sound better informed about his homeland.

I soon learned that Cooper was a singer-songwriter, and cautiously inquired further about this. Cautiously, because I didn't want to find out that he sucked and have to avoid the topic of his music anytime I was around either of them. Steph brought me a sample CD and, to my relief, I discovered that he writes the kind of music I actually like -- folksy with a hint of rock -- and that he was good at it.


Then came "Lost." I'm sure every office has its core group of fanatics of certain types of shows -- nothing unique there -- but that became central to my group of friends at the office. We started having "Lost lunch" discussion groups the day after air to discuss what was going on with the show and to help everyone keep the story straight. This eventually turned into viewing parties hosted at our apartments. That's probably where I met Cooper in person for the first time, and where Steph met my girlfriend Helen.

"Too bad The Race will probably be cancelled before 'Lost' ends," I said. "We won't be able to talk about the entire series."

"I like how you think we won't be friends after The Race ends," Steph responded.

This was the first time anyone had called me out on my habit of assuming friendships end when shows end. Interesting. And honestly, why does something as insignificant as moving to a different company seem to end so many friendships?


True to her word, Steph kept in touch and we remained great friends after I left The Race (which, by the way, now seems poised to outlast "Lost.") We'd go to movies, meet up for birthdays, celebrate Thanksgiving and New Years together. Steph and Cooper were the ones who introduced Helen and me to The Groundlings and the Hollywood Bowl. We introduced them to Gallery 1988 and beach cleanups.


As 2009 drew to a close, Steph and Cooper invited us to a craft show in their neighborhood in West Hollywood. (Steph and Helen are both into crafts; Cooper and I are both into doin' whatever.) Afterwards, we were eating at the M Cafe when Cooper turned to Steph and asked, "Do you want to tell them our big news?"

Steph didn't seem like we she wanted to, but what choice was there now? Cooper continued, "We're moving to New York!"

This came out of nowhere. They'd mentioned the possibility of moving to this place or that before. But when you live in L.A., people are always talking about how much they want to move; it's usually just talk. This was a commitment. But Steph was originally from New York, and Cooper was from Montreal, so they have roots in that whole region. They explained that they'd considered moving for a long time, and figured they ought to try it now while they're still young. They could always come back if it doesn't suit them.

Later that night, I asked Helen, "When they said they had big news, didn't you think they were going to say Steph was pregnant?" She agreed that it seemed that way initially. Still, this was just as life-changing.

That New Year's Eve, Helen and I took on hosting duties. Steph and Cooper brought pink champagne. As we started to pour, it became apparent that Steph was avoiding having any.

"Do you want to tell them the big news?" Cooper asked.

They were, indeed, going to have a baby. That's what pushed them to commit to moving, and why it had to happen to soon. If they were going to do it, they either had to do it now, or wait some 14 to 18 years.

We made sure to meet up with them one last time. We met at a restaurant. They gifted us some items from their apartment that they wouldn't be taking to New York with them. We wished them a safe trip, and good luck in all their new endeavors, then parted ways.

But it turned out they still had some time left in town, so we arranged a little going-away party for them. Everyone ate, talked, laughed, and had a good time. Then we all wished them well, and parted ways.

Then it turned out Helen and I were going to be in their neighborhood on their last day in town, so we went over to their apartment, hung out a bit, and stole some things from their cabinets. Then we wished them well, and parted ways.

I'm pretty sure they're actually gone now.


Steph and Cooper were great friends, and Helen and I miss them severely. But we know they did the right thing for their family, and that they'll be happy in New York. Still, if there's one thing I hope they'll always remember, it's that they suck for leaving.

But there I go again, talking about friendships in the past tense. I like how I think we won't be friends now that they've moved. They've already left a rather open invitation for us to visit them in New York "any time; all the time!" Helen has a business trip later this year that's going to take her out that way, so a visit is already imminent. I'm not surprised, given Stephanie's track record. And honestly, why does something as insignificant as moving clear to the other side of the country seem to end so many friendships?

2 comments:

Mary Beth said...

Aww, this is really sweet, Joe! (And I like to think that we're still friends, even though you moved clear across the country!)

Stephanie (the one from the story!) said...

We miss you guys terribly. Especially thinking about not going to the Hollywood Bowl together this summer. Not only did you introduce us to the things mentioned, but also UCB, which is cheaper than Groundlings + BYOB. So, better? Hope you're able to join Helen on her trip in June. This friendship is NOT over.