"Do you guys want to watch Garden State with me tonight?”
“I’ve been looking for an excuse to watch that again.”
“Cool, I’ll drive us over then.”
“Norris. They’re playing Garden State tonight.”“Wait, they’re playing Garden State at Norris tonight?”
“I was just going to bring my DVD over, but we can do that, too.”
“Wait, you guys didn’t know they were playing Garden State at Norris tonight? You would have just been down in general to watch Garden State on DVD on my couch on a Saturday night?”
“It’s a great movie.”
We didn’t end up watching Garden State that night. I think that was the night I drove us to the Steak ‘n Shake on Oakton at one in the morning, talking about school and work and girls and our futures, ravaging our bodies with burgers and cheese fries and blended milkshakes because we needed to feel gross about ourselves for a little while. One of them’s a writer with a knack for the hard sciences, like me (if you consider my linguistics as hard a science as his chemistry — which I do), and the other wants to be a doctor, like my father. I can’t help but think about the niche identities we establish for ourselves in college, how we seek out like-minded, familiar spheres of influence to supplement and complement our own.
“This was a terrible decision,” one of them might say. “Why did you bring us here, why did we come with you here?” the other might respond, but they’d be smiling. They know this isn’t the kind of thing you do alone. It’s a side of yourself you only show a handful of people in the entire world; a vulnerability, one that comes from washing down a plate of cheese fries with a peanut butter cup milkshake, that you only share with your best “bros,” and I know they’re having as good a time as I am.
Urban Dictionary describes a “bromance” as “the complicated love and affection shared by two straight males,” with a surprising number of definitions attributing the origin to Socrates and Plato’s relationship. I personally have never been a big fan of the concept. Samwise always freaked me out a little bit, how clingy he was to Frodo, and there was definitely a little something going on between Gene and Finny in A Separate Peace. “Han and Chewie,” my best friend from back home suggests, when I tell him the idea for this story, but I tell him their relationship always seemed a bit more like master and subject than a true “bromance.”
“Plus, the bestiality,” he posits. Apparently there’s no bestiality in “bromances.” “Murtaugh and Riggs?” he asks, and I tell him Lethal Weapon hasn’t been relevant for 10 years, ignoring that night last summer when we ordered two pizzas apiece and watched all of them in a row, afraid his parents would yell at us for raiding their basement mini bar. “Jay and Silent Bob,” he suggests, and I tell him he’s on the right track. There are 30 or 45 seconds of silence as we brainstorm together, trying to come up with the quintessential, be-all end-all example of a “bromance” before our minds reach the same conclusion. “J.D. and Turk,” he yells at me during my own eureka moment, shouting “Turk and J.D.!” like I had just won a race.
That’s how I know we’ve got it down. You can switch the names around and still have the essence of the “bromance” intact. A separate Urban Dictionary definition, which also hearkens back to Socrates (what is it with the Socrates arguments?) states that in a “bromance,” “the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.” The definition gives the equation “George Clooney and Brad Pitt (a classic “bromance”) is greater than George Clooney or Brad Pitt.” “The movie’s not called Hooch and Turner,” I tell my friend.
“Again with the bestiality,” he answers back.
There’s an episode of Scrubs where Turk and J.D. spend the day waiting for their shifts to end so they can go out to a steakhouse after work, just the two of them. “Steak Night,” they call the annual event, and even came up with a special duet for the occasion. All they want to do is put away their work lives and eat steak and feel gross about themselves for a while.
They didn’t end up going to “Steak Night” that night. I think that was the night they stayed in and had a beer with a patient who was about to die, talking about work and death and girls and life. They know dying’s not the kind of thing anybody wants to do alone.
“Man, what a good show,” one of them says in our booth at Steak ‘n Shake. “R.I.P.,” the other says. “It’s funny because it’s all true,” I say, dipping a cheese fry into my milkshake.