Herb Benham column

Herb Benham

Time to catch up with a friend so we had lunch at Mexicali. He’d had a year, having lost two people close to him.

Good friends, the kind you can’t replace, the kind you don’t have many of and the kind who occupy a special spot in your heart and other important places.

“I loved these guys,” he said. “I don’t know about you but I don’t have many real friends.”

I had a few but I couldn’t remember their names because I was plowing through a plate of Esther’s Delight. Friends vanish in the salsa-kissed air when you’re eating a taco filled with chile verde and melted cheese, and a chile relleno topped with ground beef, shredded lettuce and guacamole.

“You know, I’ve already taken ‘So and So’ off my favorites list,” he said of the friend who had died most recently.

He looked sheepish, as if he may have jumped the gun, as if he had denied his friend a chance at the immortality that being on a favorites list sometimes promises.

“Favorites” is hallowed ground on an iPhone. It’s where you put contact information for the people who are important to you. Your go-to people, your first-call people, your “you will always be in my heart” people.

I understood his dilemma. No one wants an out-of-date contact list. When somebody moves or dies, things can run sloppy if you don’t rejigger.

It behooves us as caring souls to remember people but as William Zinsser reminded us in his book “On Writing Well,” clutter is clutter:

“Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds — the writer is always slightly behind. ... Look for clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away.”

“Be grateful for anything you can throw away.” In this case, friends. Grieve but accept that their contact information has changed and you don’t have their new number yet.

“I’m thinking about taking ‘Whosie’ off my favorites list too,” he said.

“Whoosie” was the guy who had just died. Whoosie hadn’t even had a funeral yet. The ink was still wet on Whoosie’s obit.

“Would you like to be on my favorites list?” he asked. “I have a couple of openings.”

I was flattered. I almost said yes. Almost, but then I thought about it.

“I don’t know,” I said. “The last two guys on your list didn’t do too well. I’m not sure I want that target on my back.”

I was looking for stability and his list may have been more dynamic than I could stand: here today, gone tomorrow and off his favorites list the next.

“I appreciate it but let me see how I’m doing,” I said.

I wanted to take my temperature. Make sure I was at my absolute best. Maybe your head is stopped up because you have allergies but it might be a tumor as big as Morro Rock.

I wanted to get through winter first. Winter is tough on a favorites list. Some people disappear in the tule fog and are never seen again.

We’ll talk in April. When the trees bud. When the wildflowers bloom and are on everybody’s favorites list.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

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