The Ben Era
No sooner had I established my friendship with The Shuffleboard Kid that I became acquainted with Ben. I don't know just where and how we met, but we managed to find each other - two kids of the same age seeking an ally in our two week stay in an alien land (i.e. Miami).
Naturally, finding a friend of the same age under these circumstances is like hitting the jackpot. It didn't matter what we actually had in common - we were perfectly in tune in our fight against boredom. While Shuffleboard Kid was happy to find a friend, Ben and I were happy to find comrades.
There were just a few opportunities to establish a friendship, and even fewer responsibilities to maintain it. We could play at the beach of course - naturally, the primary form of entertainment at a beach-front hotel. The beach provided the backdrop for my only record of Ben - a movie of him goofing off for the camera and writing his name in the sand. If Shuffleboard Kid had come down to the beach, I suspect he would still have a name today.
Ben stood by me during the Bingo Incident. Our hotel had a bingo night, and Ben and I decided to join in. After all, there were prizes involved! Mostly, they were pens and pencils and paper wieghts, but that didn't matter. Winning the Prize was important - not the prize itself. We sat down, hoping to win some prizes.
That evening, I was to experience one of my most successful winning streaks, before or since. The Bingo Gods seemed to smile upon me as I won game after game after game. The Game Official (probably some cabana boy), checked each bingo card closer than the last - but my wins were real. Ben and I were giddy with excitement, while old ladies grumbled around the room. I won more prizes than I could handle, and began to hand some over to Ben, whose Bingo cards were sadly devoid of winning numbers. It seemed as if I couldn't be stopped. If I was in Vegas, I would have brought down the house. This wasn't Vegas, however.
The grumbles grew louder, and we grew happier, and the Bingo Gods grew more generous. Then, without warning, I was told to leave. I had won too much. I had to give other people a chance, they told me. WON TOO MUCH? I WAS TOO LUCKY? We were outraged! In this case, that meant it was my turn to grumble, and Ben's turn to grumble right along with me. I am convinced that I will one day have the chance to continue my interrupted streak of good luck, but as yet my efforts to summon the Bingo Gods have failed during my trips to Las Vegas.
Shuffleboard Kid, with an earlier bedtime, wasn't around for the Bingo Incident. As friendships unfold in the much-slower non-vacation world, we drifted apart. Sure, I would see him around the hotel over the next few days, but didn't spend that much time together - not like in the old days earlier in the week.
The unique character of a holiday vacation was always that everyone was there on the same general schedule. Most schools took off the last two weeks of the year, and so most families planned their vacations accordingly. When it was time to go home, we all parted. Nobody was left behind. We ALL moved away.
Ben, and Shuffleboard Kid and I became fast friends, and they were the first of many friends I would leave behind the following summer when my family moved across the country to California. Ben and I vowed to stay in touch - we had been through the Boredom War together - and survived With Something To Do. I guess you could say we're veterans. We might not have been fighting for freedom or our lives, but for the most important value in our lives at that single moment in time: Keeping Ourselves Entertained.
So....what ever happened to Ben? Until recently, I thought that we had attempted to write one another, but I didn't pursue the relationship when I realized how poor his writing skills were. My nephew, however, found a passage in a diary I was required to keep in my sixth grade class (in California) declaring, in bold letters, I GOT A LETTER FROM BEN! Unfortunately, that's all I wrote. Until I find that missing letter, the nature of our post-Miami friendship will have to remain a mystery.
With my nephew's help, I recently thought I found Ben on MySpace. He didn't respond to my odd little inquiry, so I can't be sure that particular east coast businessman is actually him. Of course, if it was him, we really wouldn't have all that much to talk about, anyway. Two Weeks. As an adult, that's practically an instant.