A little more than five years ago I posted a story about a minor Manhattan betrayal between two fellows (i.e., myself and a cartoonist-illustrator friend). It happened sometime in early ’80, give or take. The story alludes to a universally accepted code of behavior among guys worldwide, and a certain kind of deviance that is not accepted.
What follows isn’t so much a repost of the article (“Harold Pinter’s Betrayal“) as a reaction from an old friend to the piece, and a back-and-forth that resulted.
Posted on 6.12.16: Never rat another guy out when it comes to women. To put it more formally, one of the most paramount ethical codes between adult males is that you can never spill the beans on a friend or acquaintance if his girlfriend or wife asks you to reveal the truth about whatever (i.e., usually his deep-down feelings or some past behavior that has come under question).
Determining the factual or emotional truth of things is something that only a couple can sort out for themselves. It’s not yours to get involved. If a guy is lying to his girlfriend or wife about some indiscretion or affair or saying anything out of earshot that might get him in trouble, it’s none of your damn business and you’re obliged to say nothing. Omerta.
The truth will out sooner or later, but even if it doesn’t guys are absolutely honor-bound to protect each other. I’ve never run into a single fellow in my life who would even think of questioning this.
Except for one. He was a cartoonist-illustrator, and his betrayal happened in early ’80 or thereabouts. I’ll call him Saul. We’d met each other in ’79 by way of a fetching lady writer we both felt for and admired (I was the new boyfriend and he was an ex), and then we got to be actual friends.
At some point in the middle of ’80 (i.e., after I’d been dumped by the writer) I began a mild flirtation with an iconoclastic female cartoonist whom Saul also knew. Let’s call her Caroline. She was a respected, highly gifted artist and pretty besides.
By coincidence she and I realized one day over the phone that we had booked seats on the exact same flight to Los Angeles. A day or two later I mentioned to Saul that I’d love to indulge in a mile-high club thing with Caroline. It was just a fantasy, a wisp of a notion that came to mind and that I gave voice to. The anecdotal equivalent of a paper airplane.
A day or two later I called Caroline and immediately sensed a chill. “What’s wrong?,” I asked her. “Oh, nothing,” she said. “Except that you told Saul you’d like to fuck me on the airplane.”
Me to Saul later that day: “What the fuck, man…you told her about a dopey little daydream that I shared with you? What’s wrong with you?” Saul hemmed and hawed and laughed a bit, but the bottom line is that he didn’t know or care about a code of honor that exists among all men, in all nations, towns and communities in every region of the world. Takes all sorts.
I’m actually still “friendly” with Bob in a sense (we’ve hung a couple of times over the last decade) but I’ve always looked at him askance since that fateful day.
Writer friend to HE: “What in the world inspired this nasty piece about something that happened so long ago? Where’s your Omerta? I’m flummoxed.”
HE to Writer Friend: “What are you so upset about? This has nothing to do with you. Well, not really. I just thought you’d be amused by the recollection.
“I have different values than you. I write from experience. If something happened, it’s fair game. This minor little betrayal has been sticking in my craw since the waning days of the Carter administration, and it happened to me first-hand so I own it — it’s mine.
“I think that the statue of limitations would invalidate any sense of shock or hurt as the incident in question happened 36 years ago. On top of which it’s mildly funny.
“Saul was apparently looking to take me down in the eyes of Caroline to get rid of a possible competitor, and he used the story about my airplane fantasy to do so. And he succeeded — she dropped me like a hot potato.
“I for one have never betrayed a friend or acquaintance in such a manner. Saul is the only guy in my entire life who’s pulled this shit.”
Writer friend to HE: “I’m not personally upset, Jeff. Just very surprised for exactly the reasons you lay out here: That this has stuck in your craw for so long. That you’re still so angry about it — amazing. That you are so willing to accuse Saul of having the most base and underhanded motives and so unwilling to forgive what might instead have been just a stupid blunder of the sort we all made when we were younger in one way or another.
“You’ve never hurt anyone even unintentionally? There’s nothing you feel badly about looking back? You seem 100% sure that you and Caroline would’ve been an item if not for Bob’s betrayal of your confidence — which it was, absolutely, no argument there — so it’s all his fault that it didn’t happen. And that it wasn’t enough for you to write this obviously angry and not-at-all amusing or lighthearted piece.
“Sure, it’s your experience and you can do what you want with it. No argument there. I just don’t think this reflects well on you and was sorry to read it because I respect you so much. Bob made a mistake that hurt you. You’ve now evened the score.
“But you’re still my friend and I love you, and I hope I’m still your friend, too.”
HE to Writer Friend: “I love you too. I’m not pissed off about this, not really, but it did happen, and it was fun to resuscitate it. I’m okay with Saul. He’s a good fellow. But what’s past is present and vice versa. The ghosts swirl around us. I live with stuff that happened when I was 8 or 20 or 42 just as vividly as when these incidents were fresh and jolting. That’s part of the joy of writing every day. Nothing is dusty or faded. Everything that has ever happened or will happen is alive and crackling.
“And I must tell you I’m well past being concerned about whether this or that post will reflect well or ill upon me. I get derided and shat upon and called names every day of the week and twice on Sundays on Twitter. There is no tranquility in this life for someone like myself. No lingering solace, no serenity, no plateau. Well, there’s serenity in brief fits and starts but certainly not constantly. There is only the next story to write, the next film to see, the next experience, the next encounter, the next day or night…the river of it all. And it’s the happiest period of my life, by far.”