What do you say about an umbrella?

I don’t like the phrase ‘best friend’: it seems ridiculous to place friends on a hierarchy. That said, I have a friend with whom, over 13 years of friendship, it has become not only allowed but, at this point, kind of necessary that I become my absolute weirdest self when we’re together.

Unfortunately, he lives in Seattle, so we rarely see one another. For a while, we’d call each other about once a month and spend two hours reminiscing about various stunts that we got up to in high school. It seemed unfortunate, though, that our longtime friendship at that point remained rooted in the past.

So, while I was in Miami, we started something new: we Skyped one another and read books aloud together. One of us would read until our voice became hoarse, and then the other one would pick up. We mostly stuck to works of fiction. One book, though, was a book of his choosing: a nonfiction self-help book, complete with exercises. Supposedly you’re meant to do the exercises with your romantic partner, but we decided that we’d be just as capable as any two people of doing a few of them together.

One of the exercises in the book is called the Airport Exercise. The point is to sit in an airport or another public place, pick people out, and guess at what that person’s theoretical partner’s favorite feature is about them.

Since we live 2,000 miles apart, my friend and I could not do this exercise sitting next to one another. So instead, one of us would take a creepster picture of someone in a cafe and send it to the other one, whose job it was to guess at this person’s partner’s favorite feature. (Yes, ‘person’s partner’s favorite feature’ a mouthful. Try saying it aloud).

Now, when you have two people being their absolute weirdest selves while following the instructions for serious exercises, you end up with interpretations of the exercises that the author did not intend.

So, before long, the game became a competition for each of us to stump the other one: that is, to find someone about whom the other person could identify nothing worthy of a partner’s admiration.

Believe me, I know how terrible that sounds. It sounds like I went around taking pictures of people who I thought were ugly. This isn’t what happened. Brynn and I are both too creative for that to work anyway. Even Beetlejuice had a gleeful expression that someone might find attractive!

Instead, we would take unbelievably blurry photos where basically none of a person’s features were recognizable. In one case, I sent Brynn a picture of some guy’s tattooed calves—just his calves. But out of sheer competitive spirit, we both learned to identify something attractive about anyone, regardless. Let’s face it, stupid competitions could produce much worse.

Ultimately, the game degraded into ludicrousness. Brynn sent me a picture of a cafe umbrella, forcing me come up with something that, if a cafe umbrella could have a partner, said partner would find attractive about the cafe umbrella. Once that happened, I felt compelled to find something even more difficult to call “attractive” and I walked around for thirty minutes looking for a conspicuously ugly inanimate object to snap for his turn in the game.

I wanted something made of shit-smeared concrete. I don’t think I ever found it. But now, a year later, if I did find something made of shit-smeared concrete, I bet I could text it to Brynn without context and he would know exactly what I wanted him to do with it. Minutes later, I would get a text to the effect of “Irresistibly stoic resting expression.” It would be as if no time has passed at all.

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