The other day my daughter's friend Anne told me her father once wore a ponytail. "He used to be a hippie," she said. "Can you believe that?" I told her I most certainly could. She shook her head in disbelief, but after all, she is 13. Her Dad is not a man with a past life, as far as she's concerned. Her dad is simply her dad.
I told her that in another 10 years this fact wouldn't seem so strange. The incongruous gradually blends in with whatever stereotypes we have of others, family members included. Which is why her dad, the nice guy who volunteers his time on countless boards, doesn't fool me for a minute. He's an upright - though never uptight - citizen, through and through. But he's also a rebel with a cause. He just doesn't wear his jean jacket any more.
There are two kinds of transformations in this life: real change and loose change. Real change comes about usually through enormous effort. Real change happens, but it's hard. Breaking bad habits, changing careers, becoming a Republican, these are difficult things to do. But I've seen them happen, so I know they can be done.
Loose change, on the other hand, is the stuff that, in the end, doesn't really matter. Like changing the color of your hair, with a bottle or the passage of time. Superficial changes that don't add up to much: moving to a different house in the same town, taking golf lessons. Loose changes are perfectly fine; they're part of the movement of life. But they shouldn't be taken for something they're not. They're not meaningful.
Change, both real and loose, was the reason my friends and I went to New York City recently for a farewell dinner. We took the train, then walked over to the Algonquin Hotel, home of the famous round table repartee of The New Yorker writers of yore. Yes, I made the reservation in the name of Parker. We even sat around a round table and toasted our departing friend, Laura. She and her family are moving to northern California.
Now, that's a real change - new school for her kids, new house, new career for her husband. And yet it's also loose change, too, because they will still be themselves. Just on another coast. Sure they'll start to dress differently, but that's just surface stuff. I don't think Laura's husband, Marc, will grow a beard or sideburns. I'll have to wait for their Christmas card photo to see just how Californian they go.
An evening away from home is pretty rare for my friends and me, especially one spent out of our zip code. So we made the most of it. We lingered longer than we'd planned, talking about life, the universe, books to read, books not to read, and anything and everything. We made promises to visit Laura, made her promise to visit us, kept our fingers crossed that these promises will be kept.
It was almost 10 by the time we finished dinner. One of my friends, with the unusual name of Skip, had hired a car for the homeward trip, thinking she'd be leaving early (as if). There was room for only two more, so we pushed Laura and another friend, Cynthia, into the waiting car with Skip.
That left Linda, Hondi, and me to hightail it over to Grand Central Terminal. We were hoping to catch the 10 p.m. train, which was leaving in about 10 minutes. Hightailing it is not usually done in four-inch heels. But there you have it.
We were running as fast as our tony toes would take us. We were laughing all the way. I can't speak for Hondi or Linda, but I felt about 15. And when we got to the stairs of the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance, I turned to Hondi and said, "I think we may even have time to do a victory lap around the information booth."
Hondi's motto has always been, "What are we waiting for?" As in, "This is our life, so let's get going!"
So, as we bounded down the stairs, Hondi made good on her wise-acre words. Hearing my challenge, she lifted her arms in the air, and ran - not around the famous clock in the center of the station, but straight to Platform 32 and our waiting train, which pulled out of the station 30 seconds after we took our seats.
The sight of her running ahead of me, arms up like an Olympic champion, nodding and grinning at all the weary end-of-the-evening commuters, was both silly and sublime.
I'm not certain what we looked like to everyone around us. Fortunately, we were in New York, where nobody much notices anyone. But I could easily imagine our teenaged daughters behaving exactly the same way. Giggling, sprinting, having a ball. Which means, I think, that friends have a knack for making us act a little loony, no matter how old or young we are.
The only thing missing was a ponytail. I bet Hondi used to wear one, too. And her hair is still long enough for it. Next time we make a mad dash in heels, I'll make sure she wears one so I can watch it bobbing in the breeze, waving me on to victory.
Life isn't well served when it's static. Loose or real, I'll gladly keep the change.