Owed to a Friend

I want you to meet my friend Dylan, a full-color cartoon living in a black-and-white world. You’d think that society couldn’t handle a guy like that, but it turns out that society has no choice. There’s no law against laughing too loud or singing in lobbies or changing your clothes on the street. Wait -- there may be a law against that last one.

And while some people cannot, in fact, handle the man, the rest of us are attracted like moths to his light.

Last week I pulled up beside Dylan at a stoplight. Instead of waving as you might, Dylan opened his door and ran over to say hi.

“Hey, stranger!” he said, banging my car. “You don’t write, you don’t call…”

Dylan’s Labrador, Leopold, who considered himself Dylan’s brother, got out of the car and also ran over. The driver behind gave us the stink eye, and Dylan, sensing the the pressure, said goodbye and demanded that I call or else he’d order an air strike.

The light turned green while Dylan chased his dog around the car, a couple of Keystone Cops. Drivers honked and grumbled and otherwise played their parts. Dylan finally muscled Leopold into the car, smiling like a man who can appreciate an unplanned dog chase.

He owns six cars, but Dylan chose to drive a rusty Cadillac ragtop that belonged on Sanford and Son. Dylan said it’s a classic, but I, a layperson, called it a piece of duker. The top didn’t close, passenger door stuck, and oh yeah, there was a giant happy face on the hood. This is the car that Dylan insisted we drive to the beach.

Halfway through the canyon, the engine started to lose important-sounding parts. To address the situation, Dylan turned up the radio. Smoke began to trickle through the vents.

“No problem,” he yelled. “We’ll run the heater to cool off the engine.”

Flames now.

“Okay,” said Dylan … pausing for comedic effect … “We may have to stop.”

Dylan lifted the hood to release a column of smoke. Native Americans could read it from miles: “Oh, white man screwed.” Dylan took off his shirt and whacked at the flames, jester to the gods. Then he looked at me and shrugged.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” he said in a Mexican accent. It was Mexican today. The day before, he did British. “Today, amigo, we surf!”

Dylan turned to solicit a ride from passers-by, not by sticking his thumb out but by standing in the road. Moments later, we bounced up and down on a pickup en route to the beach, our Cadillac smoldering yonder. Dylan called a tow truck and asked them to give it a proper burial. They were happy to do it, and would that be Visa or MasterCard.

These things happen every time I see the guy. You might find Dylan playing basketball with the guys at the car wash. You’ll catch him parked the wrong way on a residential street, chatting with the meter maid. When he leaves a voicemail, it’s always in song. Last time, Jim Croce:

“Operator, would you help me place this call … you see my friend has become just a little bit flaky…”

I’m not saying the guy is superhuman; I am just suggesting that we can, by one man’s example, break free from the stares and become who we really are. Or Dylan will order an air strike.