I saw an old friend this evening. I ran into him at the dump. I haven’t spent time with him since 1992.
I was wearing sunglasses and with a full beard at the dump. Somehow he recognised me across the ages. “Al!”
There in the recycling centre. Who would have thought it. A place where old things go to have a new life, and maybe this old friendship will have a new start.
We were at boarding school together. I had been friends with his older brother, so I sought his friendship despite him being a few years below me. I had a racket going on and wasn’t able to sustain it on my own, so we became partners.
Over the week we would assemble a list of weekend booze requirements from all the locked in boys in our house. We would add “Danger money” to the order, making it pretty profitable. Then we would wait for darkness and set out with two military backpacks to one of a number of local off-licences. Different one every time, ideally. We would quickly stock up and fill the packs until we could barely lift them. I was tall and my voice had broken. I usually had some mocked up ID but we quickly learnt the shops to avoid.
Once the backpacks were full we would trudge out and into the darkness, and the hunt would begin. Some of the teachers were obsessive about trying to catch people breaking the rules. Stuffy busybodies with nothing better to do. We had to predict their movements and get back up the hill without them seeing us. They knew it was going on. Their attitudes ranged wildly from mild amusement to raging apoplexy. As with all minor rule breaks at such institutions, you have to do it well. If you’re cavalier about it you get busted. It’s part of what they teach you…
We never lost an order, thankfully. But we took some extremely convoluted routes, particularly when we sensed that the business proprietor might have called their neighbouring school about these suspicious characters in baseball caps and camo buying up all the booze. One time, someone switched the floodlights on as we were halfway across a dark pitch. We scarpered, and he was probably killing himself laughing as we hid in a bush for an hour and then set off in completely the wrong direction to try another point of ingress. We were careful to the point of paranoia. But I had seen the results of overconfidence in others. It was easy to get caught.
Sitting in the pub with him helped me put a face on that strange institution that I was lucky enough to attend, that I’ve almost deliberately wiped from my fresh memories. It helped me realise it wasn’t so bad there after all. I needed to go away from it awhile. But maybe there are old friendships left to rekindle. I’ve been avoiding a reunion dinner that’s planned in May. Perhaps I’ll go after all…
Life is so very long. We change as we grow.