Meg and I have these two friends in Santa Barbara who, just by being their irrepressible selves, got me thinking about stories and history and the past fading like an old photograph. They are old in years and experience, but not in attitude or outlook. We go to breakfast at the beach with them every time we are in town. We always have the same thing to eat.
One of them is an early riser. The other gets up much earlier than he does normally to come to breakfast with us. We’re his eight o’clock class, but it is he who is the professor and we the students.
Our friends are men of the arts. One was a publisher in New York. The other is a writer (books, movies, television) and raconteur. He is Felix to the other’s Oscar. They are both perfect gentlemen. Without fail they ask about us and our children. They remember all our interests and endeavors.
But when the formalities of civility are complete, the sport begins. If there were an Olympic event for competitive storytelling, they would both be multiple gold medalists. They know (or knew, or knew of) everyone in the arts in America and Europe for, as best I can tell, about the last hundred years.
One will be discussing and old film or Broadway show and the other will jump in with “Not many realize that the producer of that show also was the man who wrote Guys and Dolls.” Or, “You know, of course, that actress was from Bulgaria, where she was married to a count who was a perfect beast. When she left him, she took nothing but her suitcase.”
It’s entertaining hearing them one-up one another, but also a little sad. They are the last men I know who know these things. Their knowledge will not be lost to humanity when they die (there are archives and libraries, and Google, of course), but it will be lost to me. The life of it. The spontaneity. The savoir-faire.
We sit at a table on the edge of the sand looking out at the ocean as we eat banana-wheat-germ pancakes made by Francisco, the cook who now owns the beach grill where he started as a busboy thirty years ago, and these men carry on a lively banter that Meg and I enjoy the way one does watching children on the playground, all that joy and laughter. I told them when we were last together that I should be recording their exchanges for posterity. What I think I meant was that I should try to stop time, with the gulls circling over the sand and the beach crowd ambling by on the walkway as our friends tell their stories and make me feel that their time, and mine, will never be old.