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Friday
Feb042011

First Firsts and Last Lasts

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” the waiter at a local café said to me. “And where’s your older friend?” referring to my colleague who I regularly get coffee with in the mornings.

“Oh, he passed away.” I looked sad.

“I’m…I’m so sorry.”

The waiter was shocked and became a bit distraught. CC, my coworker and friend, enjoys the concept of being a regular and tends to befriend wait staff. He tips well too.

“Nah,” I said. “He’s not dead. He has a cold. He’s home today.” I laughed.

The waiter laughed pretty hard too, but only because of the jarring situation so early in the morning.

My comment was not entirely out of place. I’ve been contemplating my friend’s mortality ever since last week. And my own, for that matter.

CC and I had been debating—over coffee—whether he should buy or lease his next car. I had already lost the debate over what type of car he should get. After years of driving Jaguars (and once upon a time an Alfa Romeo Spider, in which he’d speed around town in a mustache and pith helmet that he’d picked up from Abercrombie & Fitch at the end of its previous incarnation), he’s decided on a Volvo SUV. I thought he should go with a Maserati. To win this point, I pressed him on the convenience of a lease. He resisted, demanding that he wanted to own his last car.

“You’re too young,” CC said to me. “You don’t understand. This is my last car, the last one I’ll ever own. That’s quite a realization. It means something.”

At the time, I thought that he was just proving my original point about getting a Maserati: If you’re going to go, go big. But upon reflection his comment made me realize that I am too young. I’m used to firsts: First kiss. First car. First sky dive. First ice axe.

I’m not accustomed to lasts. I can’t even think of a last I’ve had—only last firsts. If anything, I’m entering that middle phase where the firsts dry up, becoming fewer and farther between. The “middles” don’t offer much. (Though, admittedly, as excited as I was about my first car—a new Subaru—I was just as excited about my second car—a new BMW—which I actually deem my first adult car.) It is not that middles lack notable experiential qualities. They are just tempered, at times to the point of being completely overlooked.

Indeed, a great meal has to be exceptional to be noted, because we have meals all the time. Only to a starving person, whose every meal is a first and potentially a last, can appreciation or fulfillment truly exist at every sitting.

It must be then that the exhilaration of a first must have an equally potent counterpart in a last. Doom? Resignation? Contentment? I don’t know yet.

All I know is that you can provoke someone’s first laugh of the day by confronting them with someone else’s last breath. Though I bet the next time that waiter sees my friend, he will be as happy as if it were the first time he got one of his generous gratuities. 

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