Friends in Weird Places

by Jake Block

Two men were hiking in the desert of the American Southwest when one announced that he needed to “drain the lizard.” They chuckled as he moved over beside a thicket of bushes and, pulling his penis from his pants, began to urinate into the bush. He never heard the warning from the large, diamondback rattlesnake, as it struck from inside the bush, its fangs sinking deep into the man’s penis, pumping its venom momentarily before scurrying off behind a stand of rock.

Shock quickly overtook the man as he dropped to his knees in pain. “Oh fuck,” he yelled… I’m bit. I need a doctor.” His friend said, “I remember a pay phone about five miles back. You just wait here and I will run back and call for help!’ The injured man watched as his friend sprinted off into the distance. “Hurry back,” he yelled, then he sat back against a rock, there in the aptly named Death Valley, to conserve his strength.

The hot, desert air scorched his friend’s lungs as he ran, but after some time, he found the pay phone, dropped in a handful of change and dialed 9-1-1. Within seconds, a voice on the phone announced that he was a 9-1-1 operator and asked what the problem was. The friend told the operator that his friend had been bitten by a rattle snake about 5 miles from his location. The operator told him that this was a life and death situation, because the snake was indeed highly venomous and it would take approximately 40 minutes to get an ambulance to that location. He then said that the friend needed to get back to the stricken man as quickly as possible, use a knife or sharp instrument to slice between the two bite marks and suck out the poison. Time was of the essence, the operator warned him, because if the friend didn’t complete his task soon, his companion would likely die before help arrived.

The man hung up the phone and made the long, hot run back to the area where he had left his companion. He found him, lying against the rock, sweating and very weak. His companion asked, “What did they say, bro?”

The friend reached into his pocket and felt the shape of his pocket knife, then looked at his friend lying in front of hims, holding his bloody penis tightly. “Well, man,” he said, “It looks like you’re going to die.”

A friend in need may be a friend in deed, but it’s been my experience that they’re as rare as hen’s teeth, and the more they will actually need to do to help you out of your predicament, the less of a friend most people actually become.

Friends. We all have them, and we all have some who we can count on and some that we can always count on to do the wrong thing. Some we trust with our lives and some we wouldn’t trust to feed our pet gold fish over a long weekend while we took a break and went to Vegas. Some friends we think enough of to make “godparents” to our children, and some we wouldn’t trust alone for ten minutes in close proximity to our kids’ piggy bank. Why our acquaintances become friends, we might not even know ourselves, but for better or for worse, there they are and like it or not, we’re stuck with them.

I know of people who boast of having hundreds of Facebook friends, which is kind of like having thousands of Monopoly dollars. It looks impressive, but is pretty much useless for any other purpose than playing the game. Most of us have many, many fewer friends in real life simply because our lifestyles aren’t expansive enough to handle hundreds of friends.

“Dunbar’s Number,” an idea postulated by the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, in the 1990s, found that there appeared to be a correlation between brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can comfortably maintain only 150 stable relationships. Dunbar explained it informally as “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

Those who accept his theory believe that at numbers larger than 150-200, the personal relationship potential breaks down and becomes too ponderous for the individual to handle, so we impose rules and order and structures to manage larger groups. These groups can be associates… they can be followers… they can be adherents, but they’re out of the “friend zone.” The larger the group, the more rules and controls, and we eventually begin to develop cultures and societies more or less loosely defined by the “friendly interactions” of those in that core group… ones that the “average Joe” might like to be a part of, but participates in the periphery.

Dunbar aside, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, if you are like me, you have fewer than 150, 100, or even 50 people for whom you can say, “This is my FRIEND,” and define that as someone you can love and trust on an intimate basis. Now, that doesn’t mean your brain is smaller than average, just that as a rational, functioning human in today’s world, you just don’t have the time or personal energy to maintain functioning and intimate relationships on that kind of labor and emotionally intensive scale. I would postulate that one generally can count the number of “friends” that they can maintain close relationships with as countable on the fingers of both hands. Intimate friends, perhaps number no more than five. So for that “best friend status,” someone you would stand by through thick or thin, forsaking most others, outside of your wife, husband or children, probably at best numbering no more than two or one.

People sometimes get upset with you if you delete their friend requests on Facebook. I delete a hell of a lot more than I accept based on the simple rule that if I haven’t interacted with someone on a conversational thread on a consistent basis, I’m very unlikely to hit that “confirm” prompt. Of those that I do confirm, I “unfollow” most when I go to their pages and find that they post nothing but memes or political rants, etc. It’s just not my cup of tea, but I do enjoy interacting with them from time to time, so they stay on my friend’s list, at least for the present. If I don’t hear from them for a long period of time… well, I cull my list from time to time and Dunbar would recognize my numbers. But now we see the Messenger list… and I have a total of FIVE that I have open. The most I’ve had was seven. No offense fo anyone not on that list. I simply don’t just chit-chat with most people, and those I do are on that “one hand list” on the web and in real life as well.

We all set the emotional currency for our friendship, either on the web or in real life. If a person feels that our companionship is worth their time, and they value us, they’ll accept our limitations, just as we will happily do for them. It’s nothing personal that the rest of my list are associates. I simply find that I need to manage my time and my energies. We can still interact, just not on the same instant access basis as I can with the few.

Besties… BFF… how do we choose them? That’s probably about as individualized a process as anything else in our lives. Sometimes there is just something that “clicks,” and we know, “this is a person I can trust and confide in… someone I need in my life.” Other times we might have specific needs that they fill within our lives in a tangible way. One of my military associates, Dale Grabowski, had his own theories about everything, and one was what a best friend is. I asked, and he told me, “Jake, a best friend is someone who goes to town on Friday night and gets two blow jobs… then comes home and gives you one.” UH… thanks, Dale.

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