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Friends in cyber-places

May 7, 2010

I've got a question for you. How can I have 215 officially certified friends but never hear from any of them? Give up?

Well, the answer's simple - I'm on Facebook.

In case you're one of the five people in the hemisphere who doesn't know what Facebook is, allow me to explain.

It's defined as a "social networking website," and what that means is it's a "place" in cyberspace where people communicate with each other for all sorts of reasons. They can join groups, take quizzes, play games and meet tons of people to their hearts' content. And they certainly do, since, with more than 400 million members, only China and India can boast bigger populations.

You could say everyone and his brother's on it except for my brother. He refuses to join Facebook, like it's too desperately dependent for his cool and independent nature. Of course, he logs on to his wife's account so he can indulge in mega-distance voyeurism while still holding the moral high ground.


Joining the crowd

I got on Facebook last year when my longtime Denver pal Emma Rose breathlessly told me she was on it and that it was a lot of fun and a great way to catch up with old friends and if I joined and was her friend then she'd e-mail me a whole bunch. Since she'd previously been e-mailing me maybe once a month, the promise of hearing from her frequently made me join immediately and request to be her FB friend.

She confirmed my friend status, and we chatted back and forth every few days for maybe 10 days after which we e-mailed once a week for maybe a month after which we went back to our once-a-month e-mail shtick.

So was I disappointed with this promise unfulfilled? Not at all, because I didn't have time to be: While Emma's e-mails dropped off, I started getting e-mails from people all over cyberhell's half-acre. And that's the essence of Facebook?- everyone who's on it is constantly running across everyone else who's on it, so you can't help but connect with people.

Mostly I heard from former students, which only makes sense since they comprise the majority of people I've ever known; plus, they're a whole lot more involved with computers than older people.

But that doesn't mean the denizens of Wrinkle City aren't represented as well - I heard from high school and college chums and sundry other Alter Kockers whose paths had crossed mine sometime Back In The Day.

But as I said, it really doesn't matter how many FB friends I have - after the first few e-mail exchanges, everyone vanishes whence they came like vampires in the light of day.

Ultimately, I don't mind being a wallflower of the Web. First, it's just the way it is. And second, let's get real: If I regularly e-mailed 215 people, I wouldn't have time to do anything else, including eat, bathe and change the kitty litter.

So FB occupies the same place in my life as my membership in The Society of Hebraic Winter Carnival Pages. It's there, I know it's there, and it makes no appreciable difference in my life.



Nonetheless, while I pretty much dismiss FB most of the time, I don't do it completely, and I'll tell you why.

It goes back to 1969, when I was in Navy Class A School in Pensacola, Fla. My best friend was a guy named Cliff Estes, who was a delight to be around. He was smart as a whip, funny, gutsy, loyal and almost as cynical as me. We palled around constantly for the last four months we were there, promised to stay in touch afterward, but never did.

But even though I had no contact with him, over the years he'd reappear in my thoughts. I'd recall our good times - jokes we swapped, our shared underground loathing of the moronic power-trippers, playing Scrabble games - and I'd wonder, really wonder, where he was and how he was doing.

And there was a reason why I was so bugged by losing touch. Cliff was a guy I knew would end up well. That may sound corny or obvious, but it's neither. Whether they knew it or not, for a lot of the guys, the Navy was the best deal they could ever get because once they got out, for whatever reasons, they just weren't going to make it in civilian life.

But I had a sense of certainty - call it faith, if you want - that by any measure, Cliff was going to be a success in life.

Unfortunately, I had no way of finding him. I knew he'd been raised in California, but he was on his own early in life and had wandered around as a door-to-door salesman before he joined the Navy. I also knew his father was named Fred and his brother Dana, but that was it.

In the mid-'80s, when telephone software came out, I started looking for him. Since he came from the West, I kept my search there, but never found him.

Then about 10 years ago, it looked like I struck gold. I found a small town in Texas with three people named Estes: a Cliff, Fred and Dana. I called, only to find out they were no relation whatsoever.

After that, I looked for him from time to time, in a desultory fashion, but figured I'd never find him yet still, at the oddest moments, I'd be saying to myself (sometimes even aloud), "I know he did all right, I just know it." I'd try to conjure up the particulars of his success, but never could - he just remained this guy, out there somewhere, doing well.


and found

Now we fast-forward to last May. I was on Facebook about five days when, just for giggles, I typed in Cliff Estes in the "search" box. A Cliff Estes came up -?the only one in all FB. I stared at the picture for minutes. I tried to find something familiar about him. I couldn't.

Clearly, he was not my Cliff Estes. The Cliff I'd known was a skinny, clean-shaven kid with a full head of dark hair, wearing a uniform. This Cliff was a viejo farto my age, bald and burly, with a silver goatee.

But on impulse I sent him an e-mail asking if by chance he was the Cliff Estes who was my pal in Pensacola.

The next day, I got an e-mail that said, to paraphrase and euphemize, he was so shocked to see my name in his mailbox, he almost had to change his skivs.

My 25-year search had been a resounding success.

And so, by the way, had he.

Before he left the Navy, he took correspondence courses in boat design. Then, upon discharge, he essentially apprenticed to a naval architect, acquiring the competence he needed to become a full-fledged designer, which he is. He's been happily married for almost 40 years, has a son who's also done well for himself and is a proud grandpa.

And here's the best part. He lives in Seattle, where, coincidentally, one of my favorite twin nieces lives, whom I visit almost yearly. And last June I did just that and of course hooked up with Cliff while I was there.

He was pretty much as I'd remembered; if anything, he was more fun and upbeat than in our Navy days - for sure, another sign of success.

Each time, we hung out for hours, talking nonstop all the while, though I'm sure no one would've considered what we talked about noteworthy. No matter. What was noteworthy was that we ever got to do it at all.



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