"With a Little Help from My Friends" – A Paean to Pandemic Friendship
Updated: Jul 8
By Naomi Serviss
In 1969, my tenth grade drama teacher, Mr. Sarkisian,
brought the class into Manhattan for a Broadway show.
Cheltenham High School was in a swanky Philadelphia suburb.
Swimming pool, planetarium, television studio,
art room and dental office were a few assets.
Field trips? A dime a dozen.
Broadway was a mere chartered bus away.
I sat next to Fern on the way back.
We gabbed nonstop. Seemed we had a lot in common.
Anti-war, anti-establishment, pro-civil rights
and slightly in love with Mr. Sarkisian.
Fern thought Hair was the best Broadway show she’d seen.
Didn’t mention it was my first one.
As a lonely kid raised in a toxic environment,
my gregarious nature cloaked an introvert’s pain and shame.
Rarely did I approach peers seeking friendship.
I studied school cliques for self-identity cues.
By tenth grade, my allegiance was pledged to hippies.
Hair reinforced my predilection.
The bus dropped us off at the high school entrance.
My mother said she’d pick me up but might be running late.
Fern’s mother was already waiting in the car.
Summoned up my Age of Aquarius courage.
I asked Fern if she’d like to hang out sometime.
She had been amicable and fun.
“Oh, I really don’t need any new friends right now.
I have so many already.
Rejection’s crueler when you’re young.
April’s pandemic was as cruel as T.S. Eliot warned.
No kids to hug.
Schmoozing with gym friends after Sam’s 92nd Street Y class was history.
Sharing sugarless fruit scones with Roberta and Barbara at the Third Avenue Bagel Shop was a fond memory.
We became cavemen, hunting for Lysol and gathering Cottonelle.
Hunkering down in our habitats, established friendships deepened over Zoom.
Nancy celebrated her milestone anniversary on June 26. She enjoyed the marmalade and scones I sent.
We talk on our cell phones nearly every day.
She sends good chocolate, so I need to stay on her good side.
Dee and I danced in front of a shuttered coal mine in Shenandoah, Pa.
Nearly 50 years ago.
We sang improvised lyrics as we kicked up dust.
"They're Closing the Coal Mine Polka."
Dee and her husband Tom helped save my life.
Making new friends was not a priority.
Not that I was looking.
Forced isolation wasn’t a gut punch.
Recuperating from foot surgery since last December,
I was used to being landlocked.
Negotiating my walking boot in the lobby was daunting.
I graduated to pacing with a cane.
My favorite doorman, José Perez, mans the fort from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
We’re both early birds. We text greetings to one another in the morning.
When the pandemic hit,
I brought José boxes of Emergen-C vitamin powder.
José was my touchstone long before quarantine hit.
He delivers the New York Times to our door every day.
He sends UPS packages up in the elevator.
José’s the first person I schmooze before my 6:45 a.m. Central Park stroll.
I text Central Park pup photos.
He replies with heart emojis.
Nona and I have been close friends since first grade.
We’re still tight.
Nona’s helming next year’s 50th reunion of Cheltenham’s Class of ‘71.
She knows how to get things done.
I’ve maintained friendships with Nona and Susie.
That’s about it.
Until a few months back.
Nona chatted about Jane, a friend in common.
She slyly suggested Jane and I reconnect.
Nona sensed correctly my surgeries were bumming me out.
I was lonely, isolated and morose.
Her matchmaking paid off.
Jane and I were buddies during Ogontz Junior High days.
We passed notes during Mrs. Mason’s class.
We fawned over The Monkees, a manufactured made-for-television boy band.
Wrote fan letters to our favorites, sprawled on her bedroom floor.
Mine were addressed to wacky Peter Tork.
Sometimes Jane’s annoying terrier dog Randy would hover and complain.
We agreed Davy Jones was the cute one and Micky Dolenz the clown.
Michael Nesmith was the ersatz John Lennon of the band.
Sarcastic, intellectual and a terrific musician and songwriter.
Nona sent us each other’s email address.
Swapped memories and caught up with each other’s juicy pasts.
A few weeks into our rekindling, Jane invited me to a Zoom meeting.
Comprised of an eclectic batch of ‘71 grads I didn’t know.
They’d been reuniting in person for years in the before-time.
It would be my first nonfamily Zoom encounter.
I balked because I only knew Jane and wasn’t
into hitchhiking down high school memory lane.
But my curiosity was piqued.
I screwed up my first encounter with the mighty eight.
Lighting was off, mute was on, and my husband wasn’t available to bail me out.
But still, I persevered. I didn’t catch any eye-rolling.
Everyone looked great!
I passed the first audition and was invited to join.
We Zoom with alacrity every other week.
Sometimes we’ll bemoan Toronto’s ass-backward vaccine distribution
or U.S. Supreme Court judgments.
Once we spent an inordinate amount of time
exalting the deliciousness of Cheltenham’s 35¢ brownies.
Robert is a neighbor and beneficiary of my unneeded
Single-serve coffee maker.
He wanted to meet and thank me.
I invited him to a crack-of-dawn walk.
Robert is 80-plus.
His beloved wife died three years ago.
Then his cat five months ago.
He’s as ruggedly handsome now as in his acting days.
Robert has great Hollywood stories.
He made a movie with Beau Bridges and hung out at the Bridges family home.
He worked with Thelma Ritter and Jack Gilford.
He played a doctor on a soap opera for years.
Robert’s having a blast on our walks. He loves interacting with my puppy pals.
Loki, a tiny terrier, cracks him up.
Loki’s dad is another José. He always good for a ready smile and a kind word.
Robert beams when he spots Jagger, an enormous, six-month old Bernese Mountain dog.
Allan walks Zeno and always pauses to say hi.
I worry about Marge, who hasn’t been vaccinated.
Gia is a 13-year-old Maltese who is royal in her stroller.
Miriam coaxed her into walking before having a sit.
She’s feeling better now life’s getting back to normal-ish.
I text her Gia’s photos.
Robert and I are brunching on Sunday to celebrate his eighty-something birthday.
Friends make life palatable in the unfathomable.
A good brownie doesn’t hurt, either.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com