I'm worried that this column is going to come off as being really depressing, so let me be absolutely clear: I have a fine number of friends. Not an abundance by any stretch of the imagination, and certainly not a plethora. I am not a friend hoarder. But neither am I starved of the casual, platonic affection of human companionship. When I so desire, I am able to surround myself with warm, breathing peoples, and often we exchange casual pleasantries and anecdotes. Perhaps you would like to join us sometime? If not, that's cool too.
My concern is that if my friends were eaten by crocodiles or just got sick of my horrible personality, I'd have no idea how to replace them. Every friend I've ever made has come from A) going to school with them, B) working with them, and C) there is no C, but it's important to always list three things. And that's always worked out, because, again, I have plenty of friends and you guys don't need to worry about me, I promise, but it's kinda frightening, right? How can I be sure that I'll always have friends?
That's the question that I tried to answer. And though things didn't go quite the way I planned, I still managed to learn a few lessons.
#5. The Only Way To Make Friends Is To Take Risks And Experiment
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The first place I went to learn how to make new friends was Google. Google had never let me down before. Whenever I had the urge to buy anything weird, like an obscure video game, a stylish new scarf, or industrial-grade laboratory equipment, it always seemed to know the answer. I really felt like Google understood me. Sort of like a friend. But, sadly, this time it let me down.
I tried taking this advice, but running up to strangers and saying "cheese" didn't work at all.
Most of the Internet's friendship advice is stuff like "be persistent" and "be yourself" and "be open about your feelings." None of that stuff helps when you haven't made it past the first hurdle, which is "manage to start a conversation with a stranger." My impulse when interacting with a new human being is to hiss like a feral cat and menacingly snap at them with my flip phone. Is persistence really my friend in that situation? Can I honestly "be myself" when that self is a snippish goblin-man whose favorite conversation topics are David Fincher, StarCraft mythology, and the precise dimensions of his personal space?
That's why I retreated into my basement to seek the comforts of my books and my laboratory. It is ironic, perhaps, that the solution to my woes came from darkness and solitude. For days I tinkered in that musty darkness, mixing different chemicals in my various vials and beakers, filling fish tanks full of strange fluids -- artificial, organic, and otherwise. In the third month, I had to seal the windows with duct tape to keep the strange odors from alerting my neighbors to my experiments. They are small-minded fools.
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They could never understand my work.
On the ninth month, my solution was perfected, and I began testing it on animals. The cockroaches and cats I trapped in the street. The betta fish I purchased at the pet store. Children, from the preschool down the street.
On the morning of the first day of the 13th month, I approached my terrarium, coffee in hand, preparing to take the day's notes. The glass case was half full with a thick, greenish-black fluid.
When those first ripples spread across the water, the only betrayal of subtle movement beneath that dark liquid mirror, I convinced myself it was a trick of the dim morning light, the hallucinations of my own overworked and sleep-deprived mind. After months of straight failure, I swallowed my optimism not out of a sense of defeat but out of self-preservation. I feared that if I continued to thrill myself with hope only to euthanize those hopes along with yet another one of my experiment's grotesque stillbirths, my enthusiasm for my work would wane, and my progress would stall. In those first pregnant moments, I convinced myself the water was still.
But then a small black claw, less than an inch and a half wide and just four inches long, slid from the murky brine and pressed against the glass. Behind it emerged a head -- flat, black, and featureless except for small reptilian slits of eyes and twisted, scaly lips stretched thinly over a row of jagged yellow teeth. The lips parted, and in a wet voice it spoke to me.
"Friend," it rasped.
Perhaps I did know how to make them after all.
#4. Friendship Is About Getting To Know Someone Else And Getting To Know Yourself
Friend grew quickly. At first I named him Alfonso Cuaron, because I was under the impression that Alfonso Cuaron had made Birdman, and I thought he sorta looked like a Birdman. But then I realized that it was actually Alejandro Inarritu who made Birdman, and Cuaron's filmography didn't really have any touchstones that made sense for this guy as a name. But rather than stick him with a new name, I figured "Friend" was fine. It was, after all, the only word he knew, and that approach seems to work fine for Pokemon.
"Scraggy" also would've been a good name, but hindsight is always 20/20.
As soon as Friend was able to leave his incubator, he began trying to escape. At first he was just slightly curious whenever the mailman would arrive, but eventually he was scampering toward the door whenever he heard footsteps tippy-tapping down my front yard's walkway. Sometimes he moved so fast that his claws would lose traction, and he would fall, skitter across the hardwood, and slam into the wall. For a while I was worried he would hurt himself, but I didn't have to be. Friend's DNA was made up of cockroach, Komodo dragon, emperor scorpion, human being, and several types of fungus (DNA is weird). He was a sturdy beast. The real concern was that someone else could see him. He was far uglier than Scraggy.
No, still too cute.
"You have to be more careful," I told him. "You can't let anyone from the outside world see you. They'll tell others, and they'll take you away."
"Friend," he said to me, pointing to the door. His eyes were wide and watery.
"No," I said. "You have no friends out there."
A moment passed. Then Friend scurried up to my leg and hugged it.
"Friend," he hissed.
I stroked his head. If Friend were discovered, there would be questions. Investigations. I was probably breaking some kind of international law. I bet there were people who thought what I had done was unethical. The ACLU probably wasn't too into this. And if they didn't have a problem with it, PETA would. At the very least, I would lose control of my work. I would need to go on the run. I would have to abandon my lab. And without my lab, how could I make more friends? Without my lab, I risked being alone again.
There was only one way to avoid catastrophe. Friend had to die.
#3. It's Hard To Stand Up For Yourself Without Coming Off Like An Asshole
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"I need to explain something about friendship to you," I told my creation one night as I lay him in his crib. "As a friend, I want what's best for you, and I'll happily lend a hand whenever you need it, or keep a secret, or have your back. Remember that scene in The Two Towers when Aragorn picks up Gimli, tosses him from the wall of Helm's Deep to the bridge, and promises to never tell Legolas? He kept his word and that secret until his dying day.Even though it was fucking hilarious to see that little dude flying through the air like that. Because Aragorn's a good guy, and he has Gimli's back. That's the kind of friend I am to you."
I pulled the blanket up to Friend's chin with my right hand and slipped my left into the back pocket of my jeans. The industrial syringe's steel was cold against my finger tips.
"But there's another movie I want you to think about now. Remember Devil, the M. Night Shyamalan movie about a haunted elevator or whatever? Remember the part where Logan Marshall-Green is trying to make the elevator and he asks the wormy little nerd guy to hold it for him, but the wormy little nerd guy is like, 'Sorry, I ...,' and makes a helpless gesture? But then just as the elevator doors are about to close Logan shoves his hand in the elevator anyway, like a total Logan. Then he steps inside and sarcastically quips, 'Thanks for the help.'
So. Bad. Ass.
"Then the wormy little twat replies, 'Don't mention it,' because he has no idea how comebacks work.
"I always admired Logan in that scene. Do you know why? Because he was able to take charge. He was able to put himself first, right there. I've always aspired to that kind of confidence. The ability to put myself first. If Logan's friends had been in that elevator, he would've done exactly the same thing. Just stuck his hand right in that elevator door, not giving a shit how it inconvenienced his friends, because at the end of the day, Logan's No. 1 priority has to be Logan.
"That's also the kind of friend I want to be to you, Friend," I said. "I have to put myself first."
I wrapped my right hand around his throat and jammed my syringe into his beady little reptile eye. But before I had the chance to push the plunger, Friend grabbed my left arm above the elbow and snapped my humerus like a toothpick.
So I don't alienate people who don't know bones as well as I do.
And that's when things went fucking crazy.