Joel is genetically optimistic, and despite trying very hard for decades to mutate his cheery DNA in my empty half of the darker, more anxious glass, it simply doesn’t seem to be working. I find myself being happy and relaxed for weeks on end. I’ve been laughing before I even get out of bed, whistling on my bike, smiling at how lovely it is underwater while I’m swimming, and generally thinking compassionate thoughts about neighbours I’ve previously wanted to slap. There just doesn’t seem to be a good excuse any more to be any other way.
Naturally, I worry a bit, should Ted wake me up with an isolated miaow in the dead of night, that I’ll be punished for my extended good humour. Experience (or maybe my DNA, or possibly those few early Catholic years at the Sacred Heart Convent at Mount Anville near Dublin) has shown that to be entirely possible. I turn toward the snoring heap of positively firing neurones next to me, reach out lightly so as not to disturb him, feel a little electricity, and am buzzed back to sleep. Even as a bump in the gloom, Joel’s happy mitochondria overpower mine. Thank goodness it hasn’t been the other way round.
I like happy people. It rubs off. We recently had a visit from Steph, my old high school friend and winner of the Happiest Person I Know award. We met when we were about 13, I guess, at Spring Valley Junior High School in Rockland County, NY. She and her family couldn’t have been kinder or more generous to me around that time. As we got older, we used to race around in her (even then old) brown Mustang, cutting school now and again, unaware at the time that we were tying the kind of knots that never, ever come loose. When I met Steph and her husband Ken at the airport in Nice, they were waiting outside, and as I walked up to them I saw Steph’s mother there; she’s grown to look so like her. It seemed so natural, and yet unnatural, there was nothing to do but embrace her and our history.
Now, Steph and her husband have been pretty singular in turning, over 30+ years, from regular people who worried about car payments and such into people who’ll never have that kind of worry again. This means that instead of staying with us, they were able to stay at the Negresco hotel, in a vast sea-facing suite. Steph, who’s never given much of a damn about propriety, lay on her back on the balcony in order to get a photo of Joel and I with the Negresco façade above us.
When I asked Ken what he knew about the Côte d’Azur, what he wanted to see, or not to miss, he gave me the best answer: just show us your favourite places. Consequently, we dragged them around for nearly a week, to the Fondation Maeght in St Paul de Vence, to the Villa Kerylos in Beaulieu-sur-mer, to Villefranche, to the bar at the Belles Rives in Juan les Pins, to lunch in Vallecrosia… We even spent a long, noisy night at the craps tables in Monte Carlo. Steph’s dad had taught her the finer points of shooting craps, which until then had been a mystery to me. When we arrived at the table, I could see the four croupiers were uncertain, but within a few minutes, the whole table was whooping and clapping, and the pitboss and his team obviously couldn’t resist Steph’s delight. Everybody won, even those who lost. A couple of young Russian men were so happy with my throws that they shouted my name and shook hands when they finally decided to cash in their chips – even their youth and good fortune didn’t give them the staying power our happiness gave us.
When Steph and Ken left, I mooned about for the morning, missing them. With some 3,900 miles between us, it could be another few years before we see each other again, by which time Steph will look even more like her mother – I don’t like to think what I might look like. Nevertheless, her visit, coinciding with my prolonged happy phase, has simply affirmed it. I remember being with Steph more than 40 years ago, and that feels as recent as if it were a vivid dream I had last night. Everything that’s happened in-between slips in with ease, difficult, painful or otherwise. From this cheerful perspective, everything is close, and all can be well.