Lemons, limes, oranges: A friendship bears fruit

Lemons, limes, oranges: A friendship bears fruit

“They should have called themselves the Lime Pipers,” I said.

My friend stopped scribbling and looked up from his notebook.

“Who?” he asked.

“The Lemon Pipers,” I said. “You know, ‘Green Tambourine?’”

“I’ve heard it on the radio,” he said. “It’s pretty good.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but now some people might think that lemons are green.”

“That’s stupid,” he said as he finished jotting something down. “Hey, what do you think of this?”

And with that, he began to strum his guitar. We were eighth-graders by then and had been friends since I’d moved to town four years earlier. We’d both begun taking lessons in the winter of 1965, but he’d stuck with it long after I’d given up being very good.

“Let me hear it,” I said.

"How does it feel," he sang, “living there in Orange Peel?”

I waited.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“So far,” he said.

“Too much like Dylan,” I said, adopting a nasal twang. “How does it feel, to be on your own ... ”

“It’s nothing like Dylan,” he said.

“So you say,” I said.

“Like I’m going to listen to somebody who thinks lemons are green,” he said, putting his guitar in its case and snapping it shut.

My friend had spent a year studying abroad, well, Chicago, actually, where he’d done his time as a seventh-grader. I don’t think he liked it all that much when his family moved back home.

He wasn’t quite the guy I knew before.

It reminded me of a transporter beam malfunction, something you’d see on “Star Trek.” He looked the same and sounded the same, but on some molecular level, something had changed.

Looking back, I think he’d grown up a little faster than I did.

Seventh grade — like the fourth — was one of those crucial, critical crucible years, one that went a long way toward forging your essence, the person you’d eventually become, for better or worse.

Living in a big city gave him a perspective I’d never know, stuck in a small town, even as I peppered him with questions about cafeteria food, record stores and what the girls were wearing.

“Let me put it this way,” he said, slashing a line about a foot above his knee. “Their skirts are way short … and they wear stockings.”

“No way, not in school, not possible,” I said, but I knew he was telling the truth, a sojourner who had returned with alien tales.

He’d broken free of Catholic grade school, where female fashion was dictated by piety and enforced by nuns who loved embracing arcane rules nearly as much as they did commanding utter silence.

In a year we’d both enter the eddying currents of our little town’s public school system, one that found us on opposite shores. He assimilated easily, an amphibian equally at home in the swirling waters as he was on dry land. I, conversely, foundered, not so much adapting to the new environment as barely surviving it.

I sweated a lot, for example, because even at the relatively advanced age of 14, I had yet to discover deodorant; consequently, I found myself horrified at the half-moons of embarrassing moisture that stained my Paisley-print shirts by lunchtime.

My friend, though, was the personification of cool, effortlessly accumulating a new cadre of friends as he walked the hallways, never in a hurry and always arriving to his next class just in time.

He took to a new reality of confusing locker combinations, up-only stairwells and the potential humiliations of gym class with the casual aplomb of a guy who’d been there and done that.

Which, I can see clearly now looking back at it all, he had. It was as if we were playing mini-golf on a layout he’d already mastered.

Eventually — and by that I mean many, many months — I found my sea legs and began my own cautious forays into the new world. I made friends, got used to seeing so many pretty girls and understood if I didn’t climb that stupid, knotted rope all the way to the ceiling of the gymnasium, my life would still go on.

I also discovered Ban roll-on, which was a vital lesson in hygiene, up there with using Stridex pads and Herbal Essence shampoo.

My friend still plays the guitar, though I’m not sure if he ever finished his “Orange Peel” lyric or completed the song he shared back when the Lemon Pipers’ tambourine was green and so was I.

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