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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

I keep a list of subjects someday I want to write about, including Why I Love Dollar Stores. That one would be three sentences long. Far lengthier, though, would be my rumination on friendship. What is it, really? The catalyst there is my dear friend A., and the fact that in no sensible universe would we have ever become friends. Me, the suburban Ohio girl who went to what they call "good schools," who dined at holiday time in velvet frocks at a table dressed with Georg Jensen silver. Him, the Italian-Irish punk from the Bronx streets, who served time in Vietnam, jail, and detox of various sorts. Our lives intersected, however improbably, in the park in Brooklyn, and the means of our linkage was the dog community. Then we found out that deep inside we are essentially the same person.

First, we saw that we would do anything for our dogs. Then we saw that we would do anything for each other.

Thus is the insider/outsider structure of deep bonding built. From the outside, to many people, our attitude looked at worst like insanity. At best like something inexplicable. So we learned not to try to explain it. This drew us even closer together. Motorcycles divide the world even more starkly than devotion to dogs.

In a former life, I traveled on two continents befriended and cared for beyond even what my family might do by people with whom I shared only a common love for a marque, Moto Guzzi. And my door was always open to them, too, strangers who could never truly be strange to me. Unknown people were invited to share whatever I could give, and I had absolute confidence they were "all right." It is really not conceivable that someone with criminal intent would arrive on a Guzzi.

Now I am embraced again by a brotherhood of altruists, motorcyclists who are bound together by something that is deep in our human natures, and that requires only the glue of commonality to flower forth. These are my villagers now. Their generosity is sometimes breathtaking. And I think I have found at least part of the answer why, in a new book by Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell, which is an exploration of the utopian communities that spring up in the aftermath of disasters, from earthquakes to fires to man-made devastation. Time and again, people come together under duress in acts of mutual aid that represent the finest that our evolution as social animals has bred us for. We need one another, and for these moments, we become the gift and the giver both. This is friendship. This is my life now.