More on Friendship 3: Mush, where are you?

Each gender of course, has its idiosyncrasies at various ages. Many people believe that teenagers of any age or gender cease, for the most part, to be human for the greater part of that stage of life. They seem to take on some unrecognizable form that only the likes of Steven Spielberg are able to deal with. Male children between the ages of ten and thirteen are, however, distinctly unique in the way in which they view the world. Such was the case with me and Mush. 

Martin, or Mush as he was painfully but universally known, was my friend. The moniker came as an aberration of his Hebrew name "Moisha" and the fact that he carried substantially more weight than was appropriate for his frame...actually, he was fat. We contrasted dramatically. I was probably ten inches taller and weighed half as much; he was quite religious and I couldn't spell the word; he was very athletic and I always grabbed the fat end of the bat. But we were friends anyway. It was at eleven that I got my first pair of glasses, and when I first met Mush. Today, we'd be a classic, nerd twosome in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello, and people would want to invest huge sums of money in us, but then we were just a couple of lonely kids. But we did great things for our country. 

The Korean War was in the news regularly, so being slightly underage, we decided to do our part and join the Civil Air Patrol. Joining was a bit of a drag because we wanted guns and ammo and walkie-talkies, but all we got was a little card for our wallets. But never mind. We went down to the local Army-Navy surplus store and bedecked ourselves in white M.P. belts and canteens, and those little white, round WWII Navy sailor caps upon whose vertical sides we laboriously hand lettered "CIVIL AIR PATROL". A significant part of me wants to go hide even now as I realize we actually went to school with those get-ups on. We thought everyone would be insanely jealous, and girls would just love us. No wonder we were always getting beat up.

The amazing thing was, we couldn't figure it out then. Mush and I were inseparable for two years. We did our homework together. We sipped cherry cokes at the fountain in the local drug store, arguing about what next year's new cars would look like. We looked at dirty magazines whenever we could find them. We discovered our sexuality together. We sought the wondrous secrets hidden beneath girls' sweaters together and spent endless hours pondering them. 

One of the reasons I became friends with Mush in the first place was that they had one of the few TV sets in the neighborhood. In the early days of TV, wrestling was a big attraction...guess it still is We watched wrestling on TV with his mother, who was a world authority on the subject and never missed a match. She even took us downtown to watch it live at the Knights of Columbus Hall from time to time. She was also very overweight and the first woman I had ever known with a mustache. Mush's Mom was also one of those delightfully entertaining people who could vicariously experience the pain of the wrestlers. Every move, every slam, every twist was her own. She vocalized it in perfect synchronization so as to cause windows to shake and shutters to slam shut and, no doubt, neighbors to move. 

I don't remember much about Mush's Dad. I think he prayed a lot and the only time I ever saw him was watching the wrestling. 

Anyway, after the eighth grade, Mush went to Hebrew High to become a Rabbi, and I went on to Central High to become confused. I don't know how successful Mush was, but I sure did create my goal. I never saw Mush again. Some time after high school started, he moved and I moved and we lost track. In those days people didn't move like we do today. Even if someone moved a few blocks away or across town, it was like moving to another country, and we separated ways. 

By the time my own boys hit seven or eight, they delighted in hearing stories about my youth. I guess that's pretty normal. In many ways, dads are very much anomalies to their kids, and it helps a boy develop his sense of relationship to Dad and to himself to hear that Dad was once the same as he is. I always tried to tell them stories that happened to me at whatever age they were at the time. That process, in fact, had a lot to do with my developing an appreciation for the art of story telling. The day came eventually when Mush came into my mind during one of these story sessions. The name "Mush" so impressed my boys that they never let me forget him again. Every so often as they grew older, if I had a problem, one or other of them would say something like, "Well, what would Mush do?", or " Why don't you call Mush?" and then roll on the floor in belly-busting laughter. They seemed to like the idea of Mush, and I guess each created his own image of him.

All of this, eventually, brings me to a point. I recently read a book about the life of one of America's great millionaires. A man who built incredible monuments in great cities, and was on a first-name basis with all the political officials, mayors, governors, presidents. He built a great hotel in New York City and lived on five floors of it, they say. But he is also described as a friendless man. One who would come home in the wee hours of the morning and sit alone, his wife in a separate bedroom, with only his money to count. I am not against wealth. As others have said, I have been poor and I have been rich and rich is definitely better. But I can't help think, as strange a friendship as Mush and I had, it was something to be treasured. I feel deep concern for a man who has dedicated his life to money, but has not a single fat little kid for a friend. As men, I think we hunger at deep levels for intimacy with other men, for a male friend to cry with, to exorcize our fears and troubles to another man who will not judge us, but will simply listen and tell us it's O.K.

It's been nearly half a century years since I last saw Mush, but our friendship lives on in the depths of my memory. That memory is behind my appreciation of all those men I can today, call my friends and those who have been in my life over the years.  

If there is a meaning of any kind to life, perhaps it is in the friendships we make along the way. Mush, if you're out there anywhere, I hope you remember too.

© 2008, Kenneth F. Byers

Other Transition Issues, Books

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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