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February 19, 2000

Spring is coming. It's almost here. I can tell because . . .

No, not by anything growing out of the ground. I wouldn't know a crocus from a day-lily. And if there are buds on the trees, they're still too small for the naked eye.

But pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week, and full squad workouts start next week. The Chronicle now has daily reports from the Giants' camp in Arizona. Baseball is a game of limitless possibilities, and spring training is such a time of hope, when any team can believe in the prospect of winning. There are always surprises in spring, unknown players who suddenly become household names, and then usually fade just as quickly.

Today's article was about Robb Nen, the Giants' high-priced closer who was successful in his first year with the team, then lost some speed on his powerful fastball last season because of injuries. The team has at least two other pitchers who have the potential to take Nen's job away, if he can't make a comeback from elbow surgery.

A closer has to believe that he's unbeatable. He has to forget those times when he gets beaten, because he might have to go into a game the next day and be unbeatable again. It will be interesting this season to see how well Nen can maintain that air of belief in his own invincibility, after being shown a glimpse of his limitations.

For ten of the longest minutes this morning, I didn't know where my glasses were. I always put them in the same place each night when I turn in, but last night I'd fallen asleep on the couch and stumbled off to bed very late, so who knew what I might have done with them. I was in a blind panic. My life flashed indistinctly in front of my eyes.

After about five minutes, I started making contingency plans. I knew I could read without my specs, because I often do so. I can see my monitor if I sit close enough. In fact, I can see individual pixels without my glasses, if it comes to that. Can't drive, though. And before I started thinking about who could take me to the optician, I'd have to remember where I put my prescription. Any time I put something like that away for safekeeping, it tends to fall into a black hole and is never found again, unless I happen upon it while looking for something else.

After stumbling around the house, looking in the logical places and then looking in those same places again, I decided to go back to bed. Seemed reasonable, somehow. As I pulled the comforter up around me, my glasses slid onto the sheet next to me. I put them on and got up, ready to face the day.

One thing I wouldn't have been able to do without my glasses was take my usual walk. The street I walk down features such an uneven sidewalk that you have to keep your eyes cast down most of the time. It's no wonder it's so rare to see strangers make eye contact. And that's why it seems so special when anyone does acknowledge me. Most look away, but some will look directly at my eyes and then immediately shift focus so that they're looking through me instead. If I make eye contact with someone, I feel obligated at least to twitch my mouth or nod my head slightly, just enough so that they know someone knows that they're there. Sometimes that's all I need to make my whole day — for someone to recognize my existence.

I saw Boys Don't Cry this afternoon at the Rialto. Since the basics of the story are well known, I was interested to see how it was handled. The film actually presents it in a straightforward narrative, without overdoing any psychological basis for the character played by Hilary Swank, a young woman who decides she must live her life as a young man. There's really no need for deeper analysis into motive, because Swank's performance, from the first scene to the last, is so true to the character of Brandon Teena that you have no doubt this is a person following a course that feels instinctively right. Swank's compassionate portrayal shines through the grit and brutality of this starkly unsentimental film.

When I got home tonight there was a message on my answering machine from an old friend. He moved to Texas a year ago, and it's been almost that long since I've talked to him. I lost his phone number, and when his birthday came around in November, I couldn't send a card because I didn't have his address. His message said that all was well. He and his girlfriend have bought a house and are getting married in less than a month. He's happier than he's ever been and doesn't regret moving so far from the only home he's known.

He said he'd be home the rest of the evening and I could call no matter how late, but when I did call I had to leave a message on his voice mail. He didn't call back, but at least I now have a way to reach him.

At one time he was my best friend. The kind of friend who can knock on your door unexpectedly and say, "Let's go to a movie," and you're glad to see them and you drop what you're doing and go. Since I don't make friends easily, I probably placed too much value on the relationship, and I'm afraid I was somewhat resentful when he moved so far away. I don't know why I thought I should have any say in his life. But I was a different person around him, more outgoing and more fun. Everyone is comfortable around him, and that made me fit in better. Outside of family, I haven't had that much in my life.

I may never have it again, because I don't have any longstanding friendships. That kind of longevity is what it takes to make a relationship free and easy. If you don't have a shared history with someone, you don't have those conversations where one or two words can tell a whole story, and the other person knows exactly what you mean. You can't just look at each other and laugh, and both of you know why. It's something to treasure. If I ever have it again, I know I won't take it for granted.

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