Tag Archives: friends


The Challenges of Mount Magazine.

By: Chris Warren

I consider myself a reluctant adventurer, meaning, I don’t go looking for challenges but if one is pushed upon me I’ll take it. Sometimes the challenges are mental, other times they’re physical. When I recently got caught completely unprepared for a long hike in the woods and came out of it feeling affirmed and positive albeit beaten and tired, I made the connection between mental and physical challenges and how they complement each other to make us stronger and better.

I was in Fort Smith, Arkansas visiting my active, outdoorsy friends who love taking long hikes in the many hills and mountains of the Ozarks. A day of bad weather finally gave way to sunshine and they invited me to to join them on a hike to the top of Mount Magazine.

Mount Magazine is 2,753 feet straight up and the highest point in Arkansas. My friends had never been there, so this was going to be a totally new experience for all of us. I had no idea what to expect so I stuffed my backpack with a jacket and some bottled water and we were off.

Mere minutes in I realized that this was not going to be a gentle stroll on a nicely groomed, clearly marked trail designed for retiree tourists and grade school field trips. What the map called a “trail” was barely a clearing of very rough, uneven rocks. I thought maybe it would smooth out after a while but it didn’t. It actually got worse.

The mistake of not wearing proper hiking boots became apparent almost immediately. All I brought with me to Arkansas was a pair of light Nike running shoes. I felt every sharp corner of every rock through those thin soles. It was going to be a long day.

It took us over an hour and an half of walking through this very rough inclined terrain to reach the summit of Mount Magazine. I’m glad I had the foresight to bring a jacket because it was cool at the higher elevation. My feet were killing me, and we still had to go back down, but the view and camaraderie with my friends as we pushed ourselves was uplifting.

On the descent the rocks were becoming even more painful on my feet. One of my friends happens to be a doctor and I joked that she might have to refer me to a podiatrist when we get back. After three-plus hours of walking on rocks, half of it uphill, we arrived back at the trailhead where we started.

We plopped on a bench and looked at each other in weary silence. There was a sense of “We did it together. We were given challenges and we beat them.” When I got up to leave, the consequences of my poor choice of shoes reached its peak: Everything below my knees was numb and in pain. I was walking like a ninety year old man! Fortunately, I was not crippled for long. The hour and a half ride back to Fort Smith gave me a chance to stay off my feet and by time we got home I was mostly back to normal. I was surprised and grateful that I recovered from that much pain so quickly.

Later that night when I was laying in bed waiting to drift off to sleep, I was contemplating my exciting day. A hike in the woods is more than just hard physical challenges. Nature is a classroom of philosophy and spirituality and introspection. My takeaways were:

1. With the right mindset, challenges can be overcome. We all must walk over the same rocks but how you approach it determines the outcome. Had I worn the correct hiking boots, the trip would have been far less physically painful, but I kept up with the others and finished because I wanted to. There is an analogy to other life situations: If your progress in work or relationships is difficult and painful, it may be because you have the wrong attitude. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is usually in their outlook.

2. With the right friends, challenges are easier. I would have never walked that trail alone. And the others probably would not have either. The physical pain of aching feet and the emotional pain life sometimes thrusts upon us is greatly reduced when you have friends to encourage you along.

3.  When you succeed in completing challenges as a group, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When it was over, every one of us felt bigger than just individuals. And none of us would have felt as good had we done it with random strangers. People who think they can do everything themselves usually get lost in the woods. Having friends matters.

Our day on Mount Magazine was far from a high adventure trek worthy of a North Face commercial, yet it was something we will be talking about years from now, and will probably do again (Note to self: Bring appropriate footwear!). Had we decided to bum around a mall or go to a movie that day, I doubt it would have made much of a lasting impression on me. To really understand the world, one has to get out in it, push one’s limits, and share the challenges with a friend.

social media

Calling Out The Social Media Prima Donnas.

By: Chris Warren.

I’m somewhat proud of how rarely I appear on my personal social media pages, and in weak moments when I scroll through my feed and see what everyone else is prattling about, I’m reminded of why I’m rarely on social media.

Those in my circle who must announce to the world their every ache and illness, every visit to the doctor, and the subsequent results of the visit, are annoying but tolerable. I have offline personal relationships with most of these people, so I just roll my eyes and give them a pass.

And the person who posts more selfies than a thirteen year old girl might be cute if they actually were a thirteen year old girl. But they are, in fact, an unattractive middle aged man who is fairly easy to dismiss as a creepy, narcissistic, pathetic attention whore with more vanity than a Hollywood champaign party. Luckily, I’m not friends with him in real life. I’m not even sure why I’m “friends” with him on line. Maybe I’ll explore that in a future Twenty First Summer article.

social media prima donna


Another breed of social media bottom feeder that has been popping up more and more and needs to be added to my list of things to deride is the social media prima donna.

A social media prima donna is someone who, not always but usually by the nature of their employment, think they are worthy of an elevated status or deserve special recognition for their sacrifices, both real and perceived.

The professions that fit the profile are diverse; teachers and public sector employees are the most common in my sphere. One piece of electronic flotsam that recently drifted my way reminded me how teachers selflessly help students and grade papers off the clock. It continued: Teachers put up with so many headaches and hassles and boo hoo! they want the whole damn world to know how awesome they are for it. Honestly, they are pretty awesome for it. But that’s not the point..

Here’s my problem with this whinefest: Accountants, IT administrators, engineers, utility workers, auto mechanics, insurance agents, office managers, secretaries, veterinarians, flight attendants, and tons of other people also make unrequited sacrifices out of duty to their vocations, and they also put up with a lot of headaches and hassles. But I don’t see any of them fishing for sycophants on Facebook.

The internet princesses want everyone to genuflect and offer perpetual accolades because they teach our kids or drive a truck or do whatever it is they do that makes them think they warrant more square inches of platitudes on my screen than anyone else.

To be clear, I’m not saying that what these people do is unremarkable or not worthwhile, or that they don’t merit respect. What I am saying is that they are not better or more deserving than anyone else. “The whole world would suck without me!” crybaby act is a tiresome trope even if the basic premise of the statement is true.

These jobs are and the people who do them are indeed very important. But so are carpet cleaners and bar tenders and cashiers and pizza delivery guys and every other occupation that does not lend itself well to compulsory hero worship by others. It’s not easy to find a social media meme extolling the virtues of being a plumber, yet we are never more than one toilet flush away from finding out how big of a deal plumbers are.

This issue is much more than sappy social media memes. More disturbingly, it is the growing attitude of entitlement, amplified by the internet, that induces people to believe that they are owed an elevated status. Every “like,” every “share,” feeds the pig of superiority.

For reasons even the social media prima donnas themselves might not understand, the simple, silent dignity of leaving work every day knowing they busted their asses and did something meaningful is not enough. Social media prima donnas can’t feel whole until  they’ve announced to the entire internet how much they sacrifice for us ingrates.

I’m not taking the bait. I don’t owe teachers and other public employees any more respect than I owe cab drivers and call center service reps. Everyone is valuable and needed and worthwhile. Get over yourselves. You know who you are, and regrettably, so do the rest of us.


When All You Have Is A Hug.

By: Chris Warren.

Luckily, it is rare when I find myself in a situation where someone important to me is in a lot of trouble and pain and there is absolutely nothing I or anyone can do about it. No matter how much I want to help them, no matter how much I care, no matter how much I empathize with them, none of it changes the ultimate outcome. When there is nothing left to give, or more appropriately, nothing to give, all that is left is the power of a hug.

I find myself in such a situation right now; it involves a close friend who is going through a painful and difficult period and all I can do is stand back and watch. She doesn’t deserve it. Then again, does anyone? Fate can be a both a bastard and an angel, often at the same time. It’s also indiscriminate. Good and evil happen to everyone at some point in their lives. Evil can be avoided to some extent with good judgement and money, but sooner or later, the bastard is going to catch even the smart, the rich, and the lucky.

I sat in a hospital lobby with my friend for several hours late into the night while waiting for her husband to arrive. The place was quiet, very well appointed, with deep comfortable chairs and soft light. They even had a fireplace! My friend did about 80% of the talking, describing in great detail the storyline that was soon going to end sadly in that hospital. The whole scene: The nice furniture, fireplace, and personal conversation made me feel like I was in a therapist’s office, except I was the therapist.

Other than listening and hugging, we bystanders in an untenable position. We can’t really help, and we can’t just stand there either. For those who are hurting, an attentive ear and a hug go a surprisingly long way. A hug has warmth. A hug has hope. A hug has meaning that cannot be expressed with words. A hug has power. A hug is what you have when you have nothing else. And that’s a lot.



What Advice Would You Give Your 17 Year Old Self?

By: Chris Warren.

The other night I was on the phone with a buddy I’ve kicked it around with since we were young brats. We are still close friends and we sometimes get carried away while shooting the breeze and yapping about whatever. What started as a five minute check-in call turned into a lengthy introspective. It was a sometimes serious, mostly funny conversation, contemplating what advice we would give our seventeen year old selves. As it turns out, it’s not really an original idea.

If I were having a face to face talk with my seventeen year old self, the list of advice would be far longer than can be fit into a few hundred words on a commentary blog. But there are two Big Things old Chris wants young Chris to know:

“First, you somehow got it in your head that you have to go it alone on everything, but there are a lot of people on your side, and letting them in, even just a little, would make your world a lot better. There is no shame in asking for help, nor is there any particular glory in struggling by yourself. Decades from now you will still be doing everything yourself, but by then you will have become a very resourceful person and learned to work it to your advantage.

“Second, take yourself less seriously: You brood over inconsequential junk that you’ll barely remember five years from now. I understand that friends, school, and life seem very heavy to you. It may shock you to hear me say this, but the world you are in now, the one that gives you so much stress, is not reality. It’s not even close. Everything gets harder from here. Your life will never be as easy as it is at seventeen. Toughen up and stop thinking that no one has bigger problems than yours. Not everyone who superficially treats you well is your friend, and not everyone who kicks you in the balls is your enemy. Learn the difference. If you can’t handle your present day problems, then there is no advice that will save you from becoming hopelessly dysfunctional as an adult.”


Today I hear young people say stuff that sounds amazingly similar to things I said and felt myself when I was in their shoes. In their limited life experience, their problems seem very real. I feel a responsibility to help them gain some perspective and make them see that these things do pass.

One of the worst things an adult can do is trivialize a kid’s problem, even if the problem is, in fact, trivial. Yes, I get it: Breaking up with a girl/boyfriend after a two month “relationship”, or not making the team, or not having a date for the dance, or not getting cool new clothes don’t rank high as the most profound concerns in the world, unless of course your world is not that big to begin with. That is the viewpoint teens see things from. My advice to my seventeen year old self was to take myself less seriously. The advice goes the other way for the adults: Take kids’ concerns more seriously, because to them, making the team, or whatever, is a pretty big deal.

When I think back to those times I am somewhat embarrassed about how much I used to let trivial things bother me. I am certain that pretty much everyone my age feels the same way. If we all had the benefit of our adult selves counseling our teenaged selves, would we follow our own advice? I don’t think I would have listened. The paradox is that had I listened to my own advice, I would have missed out on the failures that resulted in the life experience that allowed me to give the advice in the first place. As the cliché goes, no pain no gain, at least until someone discovers time travel. My seventeen year old self will just have to accept the growing pains and wait a few more decades to see that my older self was right about everything.


Charge It To The Forgiveness Card.

By: Chris Warren.

Every day, often more than once, there is a celebrity, politician, or large corporation making a public apology for something or another. Some of these pleas for absolution are sincerely offered for genuine slights, others are purely for appearances. On an interpersonal level, there are two sides to everything, and the other side of “I’m sorry” is “I forgive you.” Sometimes forgiveness is given as a one-way sentiment when the offending party is not the least bit sorry and is not asking to be forgiven. No matter which way we work this, it’s a lot easier to offer an apology than it is to respond with forgiveness.

Being sorry (usually) carries no price tag other than an implication that the offensive behavior will not be repeated in the future. Forgiveness requires a much larger investment of faith. When we forgive someone, we are basically extending them credit. We are trusting them not to do whatever it is they did that incited  the apology in the first place.

When all is right in the world, forgiveness is given and received in equal amounts. We subconsciously do a little emotional accounting to decide if the offender has enough “credit” to warrant forgiveness. A frustrated parent is not likely to believe any recycled assurances to be on time, next time, when a teenager is caught sneaking into the house late at night after promising many times before to be in by curfew. Meanwhile, the typically punctual kid who slips up once in a while will probably get a pass. A fair person will also take into account their own previous misdeeds: It’s easier to be lenient with others when if you can admit you’re less than perfect yourself.

One of the biggest fallacies about the apology-forgiveness transaction the presumption that the damage is fixed and everything can return to normal. Forgiveness in itself does not really “fix” anything. All it means is the someone has let go of their anger. Some damage cannot be fixed. Compensation, when it’s possible, is at the discretion of the forgiver.

It’s a tiresome but truthful maxim that love is what makes relationships work. Yet no one ever talks about how forgiveness is what makes love work. Every relationship is going to have moments when each side commits some kind of violation against the other. There are only two solutions: Extend forgiveness and move on, or don’t forgive them. Both options may or may not include ending the relationship. Withholding forgiveness but staying in the relationship anyway is a dead end conclusion that assumes living in resentment and mutual disrespect is a legitimate path.

The whole point of my mental hopscotch here is that love cannot exist without forgiveness, and vice-versa. By the way, this concept is a basic tenet of several major world religions, including Christianity. It’s not that difficult to grasp. Apology-forgiveness recognizes that we are all imperfectly human. It recognizes that you can’t be indefinitely angry at someone while at the same time claiming to love them. Forgiveness gives both wrongdoers and the wronged at a path out of their respective dilemmas, even if it’s only a partial path. Forgiveness does not promise a perfect outcome, nor is it an assurance that “everything will be the same,” nor that all damages will be undone.

There are uncountable books and television shows and websites dedicated to the pop psychology of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise but very few dedicated to forgiveness. Forgiveness is the neglected stepchild of human emotions. A truly wise and loving person kindly gives others a forgiveness credit limit equal to what they expect for themselves. No one wants to be placed in a position to forgive but everyone wants to receive it. Forgiveness exists because it has to.


Fifteen Square Inches Of Gratitude.

By: Chris Warren

On the way in from work I stopped my motorcycle at the mailbox to grab whatever crap the Postal Service is supporting itself with these days. At least 90% of the mail I get I would not know the difference if it never arrived. The other 10% is a bill or something that will evolve into a lot of hassles if I blow it off. The mail seldom brings lasting gratitude; today was the rare exception.

Mixed into this otherwise typically disappointing delivery was a small envelope. I knew right away what it was. My “adopted” nephew James, whom I have written about before in this blog, sent a thank you card for the high school graduation gift I gave him. I was getting a good vibe before I even opened it. I really care about this kid and since he was born I have not passed on a chance to let him know it.

Let’s be honest: When it comes to gratitude, we can’t expect too much from guys his age. It’s just part of being eighteen. It’s not an excuse or a defense; I’m only saying that I understand the mindset. Back in my young days I wasn’t exactly gushing with appreciation for all the things my elders did for me either. That I received an actual physical card at all puts James well ahead of my formerly adolescent self.

James fulfilled his portion of a basic personal courtesy. Had it ended there I would have been completely satisfied, but he also included a lengthy handwritten note of gratitude to me for always being there for him. He filled up almost the whole inside of the small card telling me how cool I was and how much I meant to him. I always knew he respected and looked up to me but had never seen it in his own words; moments like this are my reward for giving a damn.

People who are true of heart do not do nice things for others with the expectation of bringing attention to themselves. In other words, if all you’re looking for is adulation for a good deed, then maybe you are doing the good deed for the wrong reasons. At the same time, no one wants to go totally unnoticed either.

Gratitude is the mechanism used to resolve this conflict. Most people expect to be thanked as a matter of social convention. I don’t see it that way and I know I’m in the minority. Gifts and favors are (supposed to be) a freewill gesture, so too is being grateful for them. I’ll thank those who are good to me but I’m not offended when someone does not send a written thank you for something I’ve done for them, even though I’m extra happy when they do. I already have the warm feeling of knowing I did a good deed. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Being kind to others has no net negative.

That brings me back to the simple lesson in James’ card. My thank you is knowing I played a small part in helping him become an amazing person. His putting it in writing was the bonus. I’m going to keep that card always because it reflects the sentiments of a young kid who thinks of me as a favorite uncle. I didn’t need to be told where I stand with James, nor did he need to say anything out of some concern that I was unaware of what he thought about me. The beauty of this transaction is that gratitude turns a good deed into a two way street, and that’s more than good enough for me.

Friends: All The Gold You Can Carry.

By: Chris Warren.

After completing a fairly large favor for a buddy (it involved my convenient status as a truck owner), he thanked me and said, “You are truly my best friend. You have supported me more…and done more than expected.” I’ve known this guy for thirty years. We have never kept score of who has done the most for whom. If one of us needed something, the other would come through with no preconditions. Some relationships cannot be fully quantified; it’s the unspoken and un-numerated vibe between two people that makes friends so special.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice the contradiction of more and more isolation in a time when we are more and more connected. These relationships, such as they are, take place almost entirely via the internet or cellphones, which is a big part of the problem. What can be seen in all the forlorn Tweets and Facebook posts are the results of trading quality for quantity. The bar has been lowered to the point where the definition of “friendship” includes dozens of people we are acquainted with to some degree but rarely see in person and in some cases have never met. There is such a thing as having too many friends.  It’s like a pirate plundering gold: Nice for what it is, but if you have more than you can carry, more doesn’t matter.friend friendship

There are less than six people in this world I consider my sincere, true friends. One of the things that makes us different is that we almost never communicate over the internet. We do talk on the phone or text a lot, but that is in addition to regularly meeting up face-to-face, not in place of it. I get a feeling of warmth and acceptance knowing a friend is excited to see me that cannot translated into an on line exchange.

One of the main barriers lonely people face is they usually don’t want to put any effort into friendships. They often claim they don’t have the time to invest in friendships due to family or work commitments. Being a good friend is more than just clicking “like” once in a while. A generation ago people also had families and jobs yet still found time for neighbors and friends and socializing. It’s not like personal obligations didn’t exist pre-Microsoft. The excuse is weak. Trucking my buddy’s stuff around in the cold, miserable rain was not my idea of an awesome weekend. Actually, it really sucked. I carved out the time and did it anyway because he matters to me. Great friendships are never effortless. Things are only as important as you want them to be.

I’ve lived my whole life under the principle that having a few tight friends I can always count on is better than many loose associates who maybe possibly will be there when you need them. Why there is so much isolation in a world where everyone and everything is electronically linked doesn’t matter to people who for whatever the reason cannot make any interpersonal connections, or worse, think the internet and whatever Dr. Phil is selling this week is a replacement for interpersonal connections.

It may not be possible to quantify friendship, but it is certainly possible to measure the effects of (or lack of) it. It’s been well researched and established that people with real, meaningful friends live longer and better. Self help books and television shows are a multi-billion dollar industry. Prescription drugs to treat mental health issues are so popular, there are commercials for them. The mental health & self-help cartel would go out of business if everyone would just get out and meet other people and their natural goodness run its course. I don’t need science to convince me of the value of friends. For thirty years I’ve been able to see and feel it for myself in every smile and hug.

The Play Was Over, But The Plot Kept Going.

By: Chris Warren.

We who have been out of high school longer than high schoolers have been alive don’t often consciously associate the experiences of our younger years to how we think today. Other than an occasional nice (or not) thought and attending (or not) a reunion, high school is a time long past blurred by the advancing calendar. But for some of us, certain aspects of that four year block of time has a very strong connection to the here and now.

I was barely a week into my freshman year at Naperville North when the morning announcements included an invite for anyone who wanted to be on the theater lights & sound crew to attend a meeting after school. It sounded pretty cool even though I wasn’t exactly sure what it involved. I was shy; I walked past the room twice trying to get a read on who might be there. I almost blew it off before taking a breath and pushing myself through the door where I found the sponsoring teacher and five or six offbeat looking students. I was the only new guy. There were no lengthy introductions or chatter. Within minutes we were in the auditorium organizing equipment and getting ready for the fall play. I was officially on the lights & sound crew.

My parents seemed genuinely pleased that on my own I had found an extracurricular activity that I was good at and really liked. It fit well with my interest in electronics and was a good alternative to athletics. Rehearsals started after school and would sometimes run until after 10:00pm. It was kind of funny how the jocks would make fun of us “theater geeks,” yet we were there long after the lights went out in the gym. We were as dedicated and serious as any athlete. We all wanted to stay until we got it right, and it showed when the curtain went up. For the first time in my young life I was part of a team. Theater companies inherently tend to have a very high proportion of prima donnas, but everyone seemed to understand they were involved with something that was bigger than the sum of its parts. There was a sincere group cohesion.

One night during a rehearsal break, an actor who was also a piano wizard sat down at the house piano and started playing Billy Joel tunes. A crowd slowly gathered around him. About 15 or 20 kids –performers, technical staff, even the makeup artists– formed an         ad hoc sing-along. We were all smiling and hanging on each other. It was a terrific feeling. I had friends. I was wanted. I can’t remember a single detail of what else happened that night but the sense of belonging still makes me smile.

There was a custom that the seniors were supposed to write a farewell letter and tape it to the backstage door on the closing night of our very last production. We gathered again like we did at the sing along but this time the girls were crying and the boys were bummed. After being on the lights & sound crew all four years and absolutely loving every moment of it, the reality of finality was right in front of me. I taped my letter to the door, hugged a few people, and the curtain went down on my run. I never set foot in that theater again. The meeting I attended on a lark and almost skipped as a freshman led to an amazing experience that to this day is one of my life’s brightest lights.

Facebook Therapy

By: Chris Warren

Twenty First Summer was conceived in part out of my disgust with social media. Somewhat hypocritically, this blog does have a Twitter account that I hope all my readers follow  @twentyfirstsum because it’s an unfortunate necessity for reader interaction. Yet even while I’ve happily been able to keep social media at the edges of my life, there are others, actually many others, who have turned it into their psychologist.

Here’s the kicker: I’m sort of thinking this may not be such a bad idea. Not for me of course, for them. I know that sounds a little way out there coming from a guy who has made mocking the stupid that is Facebook a recurring theme, but venting is a legitimate form of therapy. Just because it’s not done under the supervision of a $150/hour therapist doesn’t mean it’s not effective treatment.

In between the the ubiquitous cute puppy videos and trite “post this on your wall if you love someone with (insert name of unfortunate malady here)” memes, are things along the lines of rants about the weather, the boss, significant other, job loss, divorces, death, gastrointestinal issues, traffic jams, kids. All the turds of life are well represented.

The appearance of “too much information” personal issues may be shocking, but the reasoning behind them is legitimate. The on line catharsis provides a release that in another time would have been taken out on family members, coworkers, store clerks, or held inside until it could be contained no longer. For all its ridiculous vanity, Facebook at the very least gives users a platform to clear their frustrations in a relatively harmless, nonviolent way.

I very seldom post anything on my personal Facebook page but I will scroll through my newsfeed fairly regularly to lurk around and see what others are doing. My feed probably looks like everyone else’s except with different names. What takes me aback is the amazingly revealing public comments made by people I consider to rational, mature, and level-headed, at least when they are not on line.

Since screaming into a pillow is overrated, Facebook therapy works only when the rants are made when others will hear (or see) them. Part of me thinks these people are a bit kooky even though I otherwise respect them and understand why they have these outbursts. The problem: How do I respond? Should I respond? When I say I “very seldom” make a Facebook post I mean maybe two or three times a year, so clicking “like” or making a comment opens the door to an on line back and forth I’d rather not get involved with.

I’d prefer my friends just call me if they have something heavy on their mind. If they’d rather blow digital steam, I’ll be listening there too even though I probably won’t reply. If it gives them a comfortable outlet they might not otherwise have for their frustrations, then why should I hate on that? I still think Facebook is one of the most hopeless wastes of bandwidth since the Kim Kardashian YouTube channel, but even a pile of crap is useful as fertilizer.

From Podcast to Outcast.

Editor’s note: The lawsuit of Misraje v. Carolla was settled after today’s blog article was prepared. I’m going to run the article in its original form anyway because the issues it discusses regarding personal relationships and money are still valid. Details about the conclusion of the case are available here

By: Chris Warren.

In my early years me and my brother and our friends would come up with all kinds of crazy schemes to make money. Some were remarkably clever. Genius even. Most were beyond ridiculous. None ever got farther than the “wouldn’t it be cool if we…” stage, which, thinking back, may have kept us out of the back of a police car. It was a blast staying up far past midnight eating cheap Little Ceasar’s pizza and slugging down soda, colluding together on our get rich hustles and talking big of how everyone else is an idiot and we’re going to haul in gobs of their money. My brother had the most twisted mind of all of us and came up with the best way-out there rackets. We were adolescent male minds in their highest form of creative buffoonery. Still today, our young adventures will occasionally come up in conversation. All I have to do is mention “Magic Fountain Scam” to my brother and three-plus decades out he still knows exactly what I’m talking about and starts cracking up.

Had one of our dopey ideas actually taken off, I’m not sure what would have become of us. It’s nice to think that hey, we’re all friends and the pie is big enough for everyone. That’s a pleasant sentiment until someone thinks they are entitled to your slice. Countless friendships, families, and marriages have been permanently ruined because someone made it to the big time and, rightfully or not, others felt entitled to a taste of the pie. When it’s all over, the lawyers end up rich and everyone else is left to wonder if being right was really worth it.

Hardly anyone recognizes the name Donny Misraje, but he will be a lot more well known after the court case he’s involved in circulates through the media. Misraje is suing a name almost everyone knows, legendary comedy superstar Adam Carolla in a scenario that is a nearly exact copy of the kind of nonsense me and my brother and our friends used to dream up, except unlike our birdbrained ideas the Misraje-Carolla venture actually did become a huge success and made a mountain of money. As it’s so easy to predict, two once-close friends are now letting their lawyers do all the talking.

The personal disagreement that turned into a big-dollar court case involves a podcast. Today, even top of the pyramid names like Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh earn millions from on line programming. But not long ago podcasting was the exclusive realm of wannabes and pretenders who took advantage of the low barrier to entry and either didn’t have enough talent to make a career in the broadcast industry or whose choice of obscure topics could not attract much of an audience. The nuts and weirdos are still out there, but thanks in no small part to Carolla, the medium is all grown up now and there is a huge field of well produced, very worthwhile programming out there.

old-radioThe short version of the lawsuit story is that back in 2009 Misraje quit his $230,000 a year job as a video editor to help Carolla produce a podcast. Because a non-compete clause from Carolla’s previous radio contract was in effect, the new venture could not sell advertising or otherwise accept money. For all intents and purposes, everyone connected to the project including Adam Carolla himself, worked as an unpaid volunteer for nearly a year. According to court documents, there was a verbal agreement that Misraje would become a 30% owner in the business once the old contract expired and the operation could generate revenue.

By the expiration of the contract, the podcast was an enormous success and started bringing in oh-my-god amounts of money. What happened next should not come as a big surprise to anyone, but here goes: Carolla and Misraje had different recollections as to what was owed to whom, and since nothing was written down the whole mess ended up in court with all the makings of a celebrity smackdown. The paparazzi and Hollywood gossip shows are going to eat this up.

I have friends who I’ve been hanging around with since I was a college kid. We’re not “Christmas card” or “Facebook” friends. We talk on the phone often and regularly visit in person like real friends do, and have kept it up through many years and major life changes. I would be reluctant to get involved in a business deal with any of them for the reasons Misraje & Carolla so sadly illustrate, but if I were talked into it, I’d want something in writing. I trust my friends to keep their word, but money has a way of making people forget what they agreed to.

Reflecting on my own friends and their importance to me, I conclude that the issue is not deciding under what conditions it’s ok to dump a friend over money. It’s an issue of not mixing money and friendship in the first place. It always starts with the most honest of intentions but hardly ever ends so nobly. It’s sad that we live in a time where handshake deals are an anachronism and almost no business gets done without a lawyer being involved. Even marriages have become quantified in the form of prenuptial agreements.

I’m just an honest, average American working guy with no special legal knowledge. From my perspective I believe that anyone who quits a six-figure salary job to help a buddy get a new business off the ground, then labors for free for almost a year with no promise of a payoff, deserves something for his loyalty once the money starts rolling in. Written contract or not, this seems like basic fairness. Heck, I won’t even ask a friend to help me for an afternoon without at least buying them some pizza.

It’s lost on me why Carolla thinks that he owes Misraje absolutely nothing. Carolla is either not the decent, relatable regular guy I thought he was, or there is more to this story than can be gleaned from the media. I truly want to believe it’s the latter. Carolla must have been fully aware that cutting Misraje out of the deal was going to end the decades-long friendship. I doubt I’ll ever be faced with an analogous defining moment , but if the crazy Magic Fountain Scam starts pumping out dollars, I hope that everyone involved knows right from wrong even if it’s not written down.