I have a friend.

My temporarily Floridian friend turns a year older today. We are in the eighth year of knowing each other--it will be nine years in mid-August. He has been my favorite sparring partner and my best confidant for nearly a decade, in other words.

When I first met my friend, he was wearing his yellow U2 PopMart t-shirt with the lemon being orbited by the shopping cart; this image is as close as I can get, because apparently no one took a picture of a yellow PopMart shirt and put it on the web (bastards!). We were at a barbecue in a backyard on North Cayuga Street. We talked for awhile at that party, but (because I hadn't yet figured out that one doesn't go to parties simply to leave them) I was mostly focused on figuring out when to drop my excuse for going home--which was (ironically enough, given my later track record) that I needed to mow the lawn.

We ended up in several classes together--four, at first, then only three. I was there when he explained Michael McKeon by drawing an analogy to the catalytic converter. We were both there when our Victorianist professor did the spot-on imitation of Rosamond Vincy that still shapes the way I teach Middlemarch. I watched in horror as he and another of my friends got savaged by the rest of our cohort (and probably me a little bit, too, conflicted thing that I was, over what we were discussing) during a seminar they had foolishly been directed to lead. We were both there the afternoon that it snowed a foot in four hours, during two make-up seminars in December, and my friend fell down several times on the way down Buffalo Street's giant hill.

We were in classes together again--especially, unforgettably, the Bulgarian's bad French class--in the spring semester. By summer, we were good enough friends that my father, visiting from Indiana, cut spare ribs (or maybe even chicken that he and my mom had specially bought for him) off the bone so that my friend could eat, because he doesn't like meat on bones. I don't remember when we started having our marathon phone conversations, when we started logging the arguments that we still wheel out and have occasionally now, even though we've had them, and mutually acknowledged they'll never really be settled because that's never really the point, for years.

My friend is how I know what I was like, all those first years in grad school. He took the pictures that show me how I looked--including one so bad, from such a bad angle, that I never wore that particular dress again and also destroyed the picture. He cracked the jokes that still make me remember certain people in certain ways ("slopy Lacan," anyone?). When I started loosening up a little, as our graduate career wore on, he was the one who let me know I'd been kind of uptight and self-righteous when we arrived. He is the person who remembers when my e-mail signature line was "Do not taunt Happy Fun Girl."

We danced ballroom together, and I wanted to kill him, to polka him to death because his feet wouldn't work right. But he's also the other person who remembers what our teacher looked like, lying on her side in the middle of the dance floor, laughing so hard that she'd fallen down. We learned to bowl together, in the semester of recovery after we'd finished our master's degrees, and we didn't even do that in corresponding ways. I helped paint his old apartment, along with my then-somebody. He helped pick out and stuff a pinata for our friend's wedding. (He is also the person most likely to hope that something horrible is about to happen to the small child in this picture of a pinata that is nowhere near as cool as the one we picked out. And he's the one who [with my help] convinced our friend, when we visited her the next summer, that we should open the pinata and eat the stale candy, even the stuff we had to microwave in order to be able to chew.) He went with me when I needed to buy a dress for a friend's friend's wedding, and he was patient throughout the six hours I looked for the right thing, before settling on the one I'd tried on within twenty minutes of arriving at the mall. He talked me through the arguments I kept having with my then-somebody about the 2000 election. He expressed the perfect combination of genuine regret and utter lack of surprise when I left that somebody. Nearly two years later, he laughed at me when I felt funny about confessing that I was trying to "date on" someone else. Another year later, when that someone else completely dropped the ball in the overnight leading to my turning in a done dissertation, my friend not only called up to see how I was doing but even came over and proofread half a chapter for me. He sat up with me several nights in a row, helping me pack my crap so that I could get out of town on time when I was moving. He made the trip to Rochester; he offered a couch in Ithaca; he helped me have something like a home in both places during a difficult year.

He is the person who drove me to the airport. He is the person who always sends postcards. He is the person I called up when one or both of us needed to go to the Pines for burgers and pinball and that awesome bowling game. He is the person I've fought with most in my life, the person I've been genuinely angriest at (and the person who, I think, has been genuinely angriest with me) but then always made up with. He is the person who, inadvertently, taught me to be less competitive in playing certain games, simply because it's too much effort. He is the person who has never begrudged me what I do or where I've gone. He is the person who both broke and repaired my mirrorball--and was the person from whom I'd learned I could buy a mirrorball in the first place. He is the person I know most likely to use the phrase "pert sawcebox"; he is the person I know most likely to say bo to a goose. He is the person I know most likely to be excited to hear that the Spice Girls are reuniting. He is the only person with whom I've gone shopping for lingerie for someone else. He is the person who helps me remember that my taste (in all things, really) is not shared by all. He is the person with whom I love to eat sour cherry gels around this time of year, even long distance (and he is the other person for whom my mother buys them, when she buys me my annual supply--don't worry, guy, I'm still going to send you yours, and I haven't opened mine yet). He is the person who reviewed my first online personals ad, when I was still feeling embarrassed that I'd even taken that step, and let me know that it looked all right but that my picture was selling me short because it didn't have enough in the way of "boobages." He is the person for whom I have high hopes, and the person to whom I devote some of my most sustained worrying and fretting and feeling powerless to help. He is the person whom I've sometimes neglected without meaning to or wanting to, though sometimes it's been because I've needed to, for all of which I'm sorry. He is the only person with whom I've ever had five-hour phone conversations, lots of which I can't even remember afterwards. He is the person I call to giggle and guffaw with after a tremendous night out. He is the person I would call if I were really in trouble. He is the person who's already pretty much heard it all from me.

Happy birthday, my friend.

(Those of you who share him with me--and you know who you are...it's possible you were even at the Bistro Q craziness several years ago!--feel free to leave him some mad props and love here.)

(And a postscript: the man himself has told me--and of course I remember this now--that his U2 shirt was not actually yellow. My memory has made the requisite correction, but his second birthday gift is my compliance with his request that I let the mistake stand here. I will think of it as something akin to Amish quilters' building an imperfection into their work so as to maintain contact with their mortality.)

sources for today's images: 1) a big ol' fan site about U2 stuff; 2) a British site selling kids' party supplies; 3) OH. HOLY. JESUS. a site where one can apparently buy THIRTY POUNDS of sour cherry gels (don't do it! don't do it!).