Everyone needs a friend. Hopefully, everyone has more than one friend but if you have only one you are still blessed with a special relationship. Over the years, and there have been many, I've had more friends than I deserve. Some have been good, one or two I've considered "best", and unfortunately one or two have been bad.
There's an old joke that describes the difference between being just a friend and being a good friend. It goes, "A good friend is someone who will visit you when you are in jail after a wild night of partying. A best friend is someone who will be sitting there next to you saying, 'Wasn't that fun?'".
I've never had to test my friendships in this way and hopefully never will. My few hospital stays over the past five years have given me a glimpse of the many good friends I have. That is enough of a test for me. However, once upon a time I had the unique experience of having a good, good friend who was also a bad friend. Since I don't know where this bad friend is incarcerated today and feel I shouldn't use his name I will refer to him only as Bad Friend. One of my good friends, Billy Taylor, will be able to figure out the identity of Bad Friend from the story I'm about to tell.
I met Bad Friend at church. He was popular with all the girls because of his confidence and smooth personality. Bad Friend was just in the eighth grade and already wearing a letter jacket in football. He attended a private school while the rest of us losers were in public. We didn't know at the time the reason he was in private school was because he had already been asked to leave the public school system. Bad Friend was cool....cool indeed.
When we all moved up to ninth grade and started classes I saw Bad Friend in one of my classes. I walked up to him and asked what was going on. He told me his parents decided he needed to be in public school so he could experience real life with his peers. This translated to, "My suspension was up so they had to let me back in public school". Bad Friend and I started hanging out together and I found him to be a great guy. We had all kinds of things in common and enjoyed each others company.
Bad Friend introduced me to things I had never experienced in my guarded earlier years. He invited me to go fishing with him and his dad. I had never been fishing. I liked it. There is another story there in itself but I will save it for another time. He introduced me to "flipping". Flipping was a form of tossing your hard-earned allowance in the air for heads or tails. Bad Friend was very good at flipping....me, not so much. Bad Friend usually wound up with my total allowance every week but boy oh boy, was it fun!! Bad Friend taught me new ways to have fun at the roller rink. We would target good looking girls and impress them by knocking them down as we played "Roller Derby". This led to my introduction of being tossed out of the roller rink with instructions to never return. I learned from Bad Friend how to scare the beejeebers out of movie viewers by stomping on a soda cup during the scary part of the movie. This also led to an early dismissal with instructions to never return.
By the close of the ninth grade my dad had tolerated all he was going to tolerate of Bad Friend. He told me I could not go anywhere else with him and should consider our friendship a thing of the past. That was hard to do. Bad Friend was pretty much my best friend! Besides that, Bad Friend had already been given a car from his dad. It was an old Willis which was ugly by design and made uglier with Bad Friend's decision to paint it dark green with a brush and old house paint. Bad Friend would drive over to my house when my dad was at work. Although I knew I wasn't supposed to go anywhere with him, my mom would allow me to go "just around the block" for a few minutes of freedom. Those were mighty long blocks. One Sunday I asked my mom if I could get a ride home from church with Bad Friend. It was less than a mile and how much trouble could I get into in less than a mile? Evidently, quite a bit as it turned out. It was a beautiful day and the feel of fresh air flowing though the open windows cleared the terrible odors coming from the old Willis. Bad Friend thought it would be great to take a short ride before dropping me off at home. I disagreed for at least a second or two before going ahead with Bad Friend's plan. Our short ride lasted over two hours and included a stop at the local airport to watch the planes take off and land. When we finally made it back to my home on Elm Street my dad was sitting in the shade of the front yard. A Kodak moment for sure but the look on his face told me all I needed to know. Bad Friend was able to make the wheels on the old Willis squeal for the first and last time when he took off. I bravely walked across the yard to hear these fateful words, "You are grounded until further notice!". Bad Friend had just introduced me to another new experience.
My grounding lasted all the way through my sophomore year in high school. This effectively ended my friendship with Bad Friend....and all other friendships I may have had at the time. That was a long, long year and I felt the punishment was far greater than the crime. However, I'm thankful today for the way my dad handled the situation. Who knows where I might be today if Bad Friend had stayed around a while longer.