6 Sworn Enemies Who Teamed Up and Kicked Ass
Making friends is easy when you're a kid: you just become buddies with whoever's sitting next to you, or has the same sweater, or owns Castle Grayskull. It's a lot harder when you're an adult, especially if you and the other person come from different backgrounds, and double-especially if one of you is super racist/a drug fiend/literally at war with your country.
And yet, despite all odds, some truly remarkable friendships started that way. Hope you have some handkerchiefs ready when we tell you about ...
Teen Skinhead and the Gay Kid He Tried to Kill Meet as Adults, Become Buddies
In 1981, a violent young skinhead named Tim Zaal ran into a gay teen named Matthew Boger and, suddenly, their lives turned into a deleted scene from American History X: Zaal and his friends beat the crap out of Boger and left him for dead in an alley. Zaal personally delivered the boot in the forehead that snuffed out Boger's consciousness, then high-fived his friends and drove away, convinced he'd just murder-kicked a complete stranger.
This year, Zaal and Boger attended the Academy Awards together. Willingly. As pals.
It was almost as shocking as seeing Jonah Hill there.
Obviously, the reconciliation didn't happen overnight -- Zaal and Boger wouldn't meet again for 24 years. In the meantime, Zaal became a full-fledged white supremacist and even worked as director of recruitment and propaganda for the White Aryan Resistance, which we're guessing involved scrolling through a lot of Internet comment sections. However, Zaal renounced the neo-Nazi lifestyle (despite the dazzlingly low cost of hair care) after spending some time in jail and finding out that one of his son's first words was the N-one.
"I was halfway through giving him his second swastika tattoo when I thought, 'Wait, this is wrong.'"
Meanwhile, Boger recuperated from getting skull-stomped and became a successful hair stylist, but he still harbored some ill feelings toward non-gay people. To deal with that, he started volunteering at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles -- the same place where Zaal talked to students about his past. When they met, Zaal and Boger thought they were strangers. Then they started talking.
"Your scalp looks familiar. Have we met?"
While reminiscing about the good ol' days, the two uncovered the truth of their brutal acquaintanceship, which sort of put a damper on the whole evening. They didn't speak to each other for a few weeks after that, but eventually Boger reached out to Zaal and invited him to lunch. Mortified and probably half-convinced he was on a special hate-crimes episode of This Is Your Life, Zaal apologized for trying to pound Boger's head into brain gravy. Boger, clearly a much larger man than his stature suggests, replied: "But you are a good guy -- now."
Now Zaal and Boger are close friends who regularly team up to educate others on tolerance. The documentary about their story got snubbed at the Oscars, but we're pretty sure they'll get another shot when someone inevitably does a full-length drama about them starring Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper (they have experience playing unlikely friends, after all).
The Apartheid Prison Guard Who Inspired Nelson Mandela
While celebrating the 20th anniversary of his release from political imprisonment, South Africa's President Nelson Mandela, the Nelson Mandela of inspirational world figures, described how one friend "reinforced belief in the essential humanity" hidden inside everyone. That friend? A prison guard working for the same oppressively racist Apartheid regime that kept Mandela locked in a tiny prison cell for 27 years.
"Thank you. Now let's never see each other's faces again."
The guard's name is Christo Brand, and he met the civil rights icon when he was only 18 and didn't have a care in the world besides guarding political prisoners and being super racist. Despite having fully imbibed Apartheid's haterade, Brand's prejudices retreated in the face of Mandela's kind, humble demeanor, not unlike ears melting at the splendor of Morgan Freeman's voice. Before long, Mandela was providing fatherly counsel on the value of education, and Brand was secretly sneaking him stuff like food, his favorite shampoo, and babies. Specifically, Brand helped Mandela see his newborn grandson, who was the first child he'd seen in decades.
"Hey, man, this sandwich tastes kinda weird."
A friendship of this sort is kind of like a spicy burrito: under wraps by necessity and liable to wreck your shit if enjoyed too liberally. So Brand and Mandela not only kept much of their friendship secret, they also devised a special code that allowed them to circumvent government attempts to extract information from Mandela. Meanwhile, Brand also taught Mandela how to speak Afrikaans from behind bars, which allowed the future statesman to address white South Africans in their own language on the day of his release. Without Brand's help, Mandela might have needed to use an interpreter, which could have been disastrous.
Given the quality of the interpreters in South Africa, he might have started a civil war.
The rest is history: Brand returned to Robben Island to work with formerly imprisoned activists to heal old Apartheid wounds, and Mandela rocketed to political and philanthropic greatness. Meanwhile, some filmmakers found this story so inspiring that they did a movie about it ... based on another prison guard, who exploited Mandela's prison mail to fake being his friend. Because some people's essential humanity is hidden a little deeper than others'.
Black Musician Kills the Klan With Kindness
Black musician and author Daryl Davis has a collection of over 20 KKK robes in his house. No, he's not blind, a ghost fetishist, or a Chappelle's Show character. The truth is even more amazing: each robe in Davis' menagerie of racist wares represents a Klansman he has managed to reform through sheer force of friendship.
"Incidentally, anybody wanna buy a tablecloth?"
But how did Davis end up befriending people we imagine would sooner shank him than shake his hand? It all began at a bar, which makes perfect sense, since this is the sort of odd coupling that seems possible only when your BAC gets you confused with a jug of moonshine.
Back in the early '80s, Davis, a traveling musician, decided to share his craft with the patrons of an all-white country-western bar. After his performance, a guy approached him to say he was impressed that a black man could play the piano as well as Jerry Lee Lewis. Davis proceeded to blow the man's mind by letting him know that not only did Lewis learn to play rock 'n' roll by imitating black people (like, you know, everyone else) but he was a personal friend. The man, in turn, surprised Davis by mentioning he was a Ku Klux Klan member.
Then they recorded a rap album together, judging by this photo.
Somehow the two logical adversaries hit it off, and Davis never forgot the night he won over a racist man with his magic fingers. Nearly eight years later, the musician tracked down his barroom buddy hoping to gain insights from Klansmen for a book he was writing. Through his pal, Davis arranged meetings with other KKK members, sometimes without letting them know he was black at first -- some turned violent and attacked him, but others became so comfortable with the open-minded musician that they let him attend their Klan meetings. Here's a video of a KKK Imperial Wizard proclaiming his respect for Davis during a rally (he drops an N-word while doing it, but hey, it's something):
By the way, that guy eventually quit the Klan because of Davis, as did many others. In fact, Davis has even been credited with singlehandedly buckling the Maryland KKK under the weight of amity. Turns out some people are really awful, but others just want someone to hug them and talk about rock music.
Wealthy Attorney and Homeless Man Get Together, Start a Book Club
Most of us feel good about ourselves for like two weeks if we manage to walk past a homeless person without looking away -- say hi and you're officially Mother Teresa's second coming. So when high-end attorney Peter Resnik was greeted on the street by a homeless vet called Rob, no one would think any less of him if he'd just kept walking.
However, Resnik didn't keep walking. Not only did he engage Rob in a conversation, they became friends and, even more impressively, came up with an idea that's been imitated all over the U.S. and Europe.
Rob (right) thinks it's pretty good. Prettaaaay good.
It all started when Resnik, who made chit-chat with Rob every day on his way to work, decided to buy him a book after making the startling discovery that homeless people also like to read. Rob devoured the book (not literally, he wasn't that hungry) and then gave it to another homeless guy. That guy gave it to another, and so on -- eventually, Resnik found out that his book had been passed around all over the Boston Common park. So, Resnik and Rob decided it would be fun to get some homeless people together and talk about the book.
They all agreed that Edward was dreamy but Bella was kind of a bitch.
And then they just kept doing that every Tuesday. With the help of a third person who leads discussions and travels the streets with books acquired by Resnik, the pair brings together between a handful and a dozen homeless people, all eager to steep their minds in literature and munch on donuts -- and before you say that they're just there to eat pastries, Resnik actually offered to buy lunch every week, but they turned him down. They can get a free meal in many places, but being heard and treated like human beings? Shit, that's better than hot soup and bread.
The homeless book club idea worked out so well that at least 26 other clubs have opened from Boston to Barcelona. As for the original club, it's now short one homeless member: Rob, because he's not homeless anymore. As it turned out, his homelessness was partly driven by the fact that an outstanding parking ticket kept him from qualifying for housing assistance. With a fancy lawyer for a friend, Rob was able to beat the parking ticket and get a place to live. All because Resnik stopped to talk to him one day.
Drug-Addicted Convict and His Appeals Judge Team Up to Help Others
Pretty much the only thing Spencer Letts and Michael Banyard have in common is the sector of the universe they live in. Letts is a federal judge that was nominated to California's District Court by Ronald Reagan himself. Banyard is a former gang member, drug peddler, and crack addict who, after a string of petty crimes, received a 25-years-to-life sentence of dancing to the jailhouse rock thanks to California's three-strikes law.
Guess which one was on crack.
But, when Banyard's self-written appeal landed on Letts' desk, he saw something special in the convict. Perhaps he even saw a little bit of himself but, like, if he was involved in a teleporting accident with Rick James. Six years in prison turned out to be the best rehabilitation program Banyard could have wished for, and now that he was thinking more clearly, he decided he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in that shithole. So, he headed for the prison library and prepared his own appeals. The judge was impressed by the cleverness of Banyard's legal arguments -- gavel-stomping this man's life away struck him as a large price for purchasing what turned out to be just enough crack to give Verne Troyer a slight buzz.
So, Letts hired lawyers to help Banyard polish his legal defense, and the court ultimately overturned his case on the basis that of his three strikes, two were total bullshit. Seeing Banyard as validation of his lifelong philosophy that people aren't that awful if you give them a chance, Letts decided to mentor him at this whole "helping others for the heck of it" thing.
Not a promo image for a new David E. Kelley show (yet).
The two forged a fast bond that survived even the rockiest moments of Banyard's continued recovery from drug addiction. When Banyard relapsed and went missing, a distraught Letts literally walked down streets sketchy enough to put our bladders on yellow alert, armed with nothing but a photo of his friend and the determination to find him. And ultimately it paid off. With the support of an avuncular judge, Banyard got back on his feet, replacing his crack habit with a college habit.
And just to prove that being awesome rubs off on you, Banyard later founded Each 1 Reach 1 Teach 1, an organization that trains adults to mentor the children of prison inmates. Banyard is fully rehabilitated now, as evidenced by the fact that he looks younger in every picture taken of him.
The judge is in good shape, too.
Japanese Fighter Pilot Becomes an Honorary Citizen in the American City He Bombed
In 1942, Japanese airman Nobuo Fujita strafed his way to history by becoming the only wartime enemy to bomb the American mainland: he had the mission to start massive forest fires outside of Brookings, Oregon, under the logic that all of the U.S. would then be too busy freaking out to continue fighting World War II. The impact didn't exactly keep Smokey the Bear awake at night (firemen extinguished the small fire right away, presumably with their wieners), but his efforts still placed Fujita squarely on America's "Fuck That Guy" list.
As well as the "Fuck That Guy" lists of thousands of Japanese women.
But Fujita has another improbable record to his name: he's also the only U.S. enemy to bomb an American city ... and then be honored by that city.
How the hell does that happen? Through the power of forgiveness and stupid businesspeople. In the early '60s, the Japanese economy was booming and Fujita had become a successful store owner. That's when some folks at the Brookings Junior Chamber of Commerce had the bright idea of inviting him back to Brookings to garner some attention for the upcoming Azalea Festival. Local war veterans, however, poo-pooed the idea, citing "were you huffing cat farts when you planned this or did you forget that WWII happened?" as cause for concern.
Two things changed their minds, though: 1) the planners dropped the cash-crazed circus sideshow angle and approached Fujita's visit as an effort to foster goodwill between countries, and 2) Fujita himself offered to relinquish his 400-year-old family samurai sword to the city as an act of "final surrender."
"And here are the keys to the family Voltron."
According to Fujita's daughter, the former pilot was so ashamed of what he'd done that if he got to Brookings and people started booing him, he was prepared to use the same sword to commit seppuku. That wasn't necessary, though, because the people of Brookings received him with Beatlemania-esque enthusiasm (consider that the town's most famous celebrity is the guy who edited Cleopatra, "Uncredited"). Humbled, Fujita promised he'd pay for three Brookings students to visit Japan. Unfortunately, he then went bankrupt and lost his store ... so he just saved up money for 20 years until he was finally able to fulfill his promise in 1985.
Fujita's visits to Brookings became a beloved tradition, and when the city heard he had fallen ill in 1997, they made him an honorary citizen. At his request, some of his ashes were buried in the same forest he once attacked. No word on whether they borrowed a Japanese bomber to drop them.
The ashes promptly caught fire and burned the whole place down.
For more heartwarming tales, check out 6 True Stories That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity and The 5 Most Adorable Stories in the History of War.
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