In March of 1988 I invited three of my friends to lunch at the Rathskeller in Chapel Hill. They were Bill Ray who I had known since 1964 when he worked at Kemps Record Store; Richard Abbott my best friend during my freshman year at UNC in 1968-69 and probably the most charismatic person I have ever known; and Fred Castrovinci who had been a teaching colleague at Durham Community College in the early 1980s and with whom I was then a partner with in a software company in Chapel Hill.
Since I was 12 I have been making tape recordings of conversations with my friends and family first on reel-to-reel tape, then cassette, and since about 1981 on a microcassette recorder that was about the size of a large candy bar. When we got to the RAT I told everyone I wanted to record our conversation for posterity and possible use in a newspaper column I wrote called CHATS WITH CHARLY.
The purpose of publishing this conversation is simply to give you an idea of how four late-30s to early-40s men carried on a conversation in 1988. I don't think most conversations are like this today. Almost every time I get together now with more than two other people I notice how little eye contact is made between the person talking and the other people I am with. Much of this is caused by almost everyone checking or using their smartphones fr. Not only does this show disrespect for the person talking, but it distracts everyone else. As a result I think conversation is usually far more trivial than it once was.
Finally I do not think true friendships can be made or sustained through the social media we so often use today, but that it requires hours of intimate conversation to develop and maintain. Without face to face focused conversation we will have no true friends, but only acquaintances.
We were seated at the large table at the rear of the Train Room in "The Rat" and our waiter was "Pops" Lyon.
"Pops": Gentlemen have you decided what you want?
Richard: Let me have the Manicotti, your house salad with French dressing, and a Coke Mug.
Bill: A Double Gambler, French fries, and iced tea.
Fred: Your Lasagna, house salad, and coffee.
Charly: A small mushroom pizza with black olives, your salad with blue cheese dressing, and iced tea. Pops how long have you been working here?
"Pops": This is my 25th year.
"Pops": Thanks … I'll bring your drinks and salads right out.
Charly: What do each of you guys think your best character traits are?
Richard: I have very active imagination, and I can entertain myself, even when I have nothing to do.
Fred: I like that I don't get depressed or have self-esteem issues. I'm pretty self-confident most of the time.
Bill: I am open to music. Sure, I have preferences, but I don't dismiss anything until I've heard it, and I'll listen to anything you think I might like. And if I don't like it, I will tell you. What about you Charly?
Charly: I'm exceptionally resilient to anything in life that tries to derail me from getting what I want. Anything else you guys like about yourselves?
Fred: I'm nice to practically everyone I meet.
Richard: I'm not afraid of getting out of my "comfort zone". Anything else about you Charly?
Charly: I try to see all sides of an issue and keep an open mind. Okay everyone what about your worst features?
Fred: I take almost everything to the heart, which makes me very sensitive to other people's comments.
Fred: And Charly what's your biggest fault.
Charly: Well there are a lot. One that it bothers me is that I often over or underestimate a person's ability or nature. My worst fault though I think is my materialism. It seems like I am spending my entire life accumulating things.
Richard: Welcome to the 20th century Charly – everyone is doing this.
Charly: Yeah… but it bothers me that I have vast collections of so many things – I want to stop it, and just enjoy what I have.
Bill: So why don't you stop?
Charly: I guess because there always seems like there is another movie, book, or CD I need to add to my library.
Fred: I am sure a lot of authors, film makers, and musicians are happy you haven't quit buying these things.
Charly: I know, but you know I really do not think I derive the same satisfaction from my things as I do from my friends like you guys, my family, playing tennis, my morning walks in the woods, or even my cat.
Fred: Taking some time to enjoy nature brings me peace and fulfillment as well.
"Pops": Okay men I think I've got everything you ordered here.
Charly: Thanks Pops.
Bill: I think our culture places a lot of status and esteem on people who own a lot of things, live in a big house, and make a lot of money.
Fred: Yeah, and Charly you have all that, and for some reason you still have some friends too.
Charly: Well – yes I guess I'm fortunate, but I truly care more about my moral integrity and character than my enormous music collection for example.
Richard: Wait a second Charly … Do you enjoy listening to your albums or do you just collect them?
Charly: No I usually listen to them for several hours almost every day …
Bill: ... Then Charly you are getting real pleasure from your music.
Charly: I guess so – sometimes music seems almost spiritual to me. Are you at all spiritual Bill?
Bill: I think life is completely meaningless. What's important to me are the things that make me happy.
Fred: My kids are really important to me, nothing else really matters. I really want to pass things on to them that will make their lives better after I'm gone.
Charly: I think raising child well would be both the hardest and most fulfilling thing to do in life. And to me that means making sure she would be happy, curious, confident, and well intentioned from adolescence through adulthood.
Richard: I think everyone lives their lives like they are going to live forever. Obviously we don't know when we are going to die unless we commit suicide, but I think I'm guilty of acting like life is an inexhaustible well. I really need to keep reminding myself how short it is. Lately I have been wondering just how many truly great days I am going to experience. I'm 38 now and think I've had about 30 really incredible days thus far.
Train Room table where this conversation was held
Charly: All right Richard you have had more incredibly beautiful and intelligent women lovers than anyone I think who has ever lived. So in the end did you really love any of them?
Richard: I was certainly physically attracted to all of them.
Fred: You mean they all infatuated you.
Richard: Well yes ... but love ... well what is real love?
Bill: I think love is more like a long-lasting infatuation.
Charly: Now come on – I think real love should be permanent – like the way a parent always loves a child and vice-versa.
Bill: I'm not sure that kind of love really exists in a romantic sense.
Fred: I think it does, but it takes two people who really make a serious commitment to each other.
Charly: I think it probably also means connecting with someone who is not just physically attractive to you, but is also nice and shares most of your interests. I think true love can only happen with someone who is a soul mate – and while I believe some people have them, I have not met mine yet as far as I know.
Fred: I think it is easier than that. You find someone you are attracted to and share some interests with, and then work really hard to get to know them better so you can create a deep friendship.
Cave Room at the Rathskeller (Note the German Shephard sitting in the chair at the table. My German Shephard "Lucky" often came with me to the Rathskeller between 1961 and 1964.)
Richard: Are any of you guys still doing drugs? I just recently quit doing cocaine.
Charly: I did LSD quite a lot in the early 70s, but nothing much else since except a snort of cocaine a few times in the late seventies. I still have honestly never inhaled marijuana nor had more than a couple of sips of beer.
Bill: Cocaine gives me a wonderful feeling of euphoria and energy. It also really enhances listening to music and is incredible for sexual pleasure. You guys should try giving it to a girl you want to sleep with. It will really make her horny and her orgasm will be incredibly intense.
Richard: I agree it is somewhat of an aphrodisiac, and confess to giving it to several women I wanted to have sex with, but I also began having my only experiences of not being able to get it up after using it regularly for about six months. I also had one girl who was incredibly sexually aroused after giving her cocaine yet after more than an hour of trying she was totally frustrated out of mind because she could not have an orgasm.
Charly: These days I often wonder why people drink or do drugs.
Fred: I think it is because most people are really shy and need something artificial to loosen their inhibitions.
Richard: I see alcohol used a lot more to overcome the intimidations of life. I call it liquid courage. That's why it is especially useful on a date or in a bar or club situation when you find yourself attracted to a girl and want to put the move on her. I never needed it for this, but it is obvious people are imbibing to feel comfortable.
Charly: I think that's probably true but really sad.
Fred: Face it Charly most people are just uncomfortable in their own skin and alcohol is their social lubricant.
Charly: My experience with people who are drinking is that more often than not it makes them too uninhibited, and it is not uncommon for them to behave in a highly inappropriate or obnoxious manner.
Bill: I have been guilty of drinking too much on a few occasions, but I did it as a stress release. It helped to temporarily put some of my problems on hold.
Richard: I don't know. I sometimes drink too much for the same reason. I have had a lot of stress in my job, but my drinking wound up worsening my stress which actually made me drink more.
Fred: Why don't we give up on drugs and alcohol for a while and ………………..
Charly: … talk about why people hate and fear.
Richard: Like why so many of us were born with negative thoughts about blacks.
Fred: I think we may be biologically programmed as a defense mechanism to distrust and fear people who do not look like us. It's probably a tribal thing and would be the same in most other species too.
Bill: Yeah I agree. I bet Asian and African kids are born being as mistrustful and uncomfortable with a white face as we are with a yellow or brown one.
Charly: I'm not sure I agree. I think there are some races and cultures that are just more innately trusting of other races than we are.
Richard: I think most people see the world both close up and far away as us and them.
Charly: Yeah people just simplify things so much. Everything is black and white. To most people I know being a Republican is almost equivalent to being evil.
Bill: Well I bet there are a lot of Republicans who think the same things about Democrats.
Fred: Yeah – people really do seem to simplify things. I doubt if most people even have the depth of knowledge to look at the complexity of most issues.
Richard: And of course among most Christians I know you're either saved or damned.
Charly: I do wish that peer pressure could be more a positive than negative for adolescents.
Bill: You mean like studying and reading more?
Fred: I think peer pressure can be good if it induces us to be more outgoing and creative.
Richard: I am pretty much a non-conformist and rarely bow to peer pressure.
Rathskeller rear entrance from Amber Alley
Charly: Actually the main reason I invited you guys together for lunch is you are the three most independent minded people I know.
Bill: To me peer pressure seems to be more based on one's emotion than one's intelligence. It's all about trying to achieve a superficial level of acceptance and popularity.
Charly: Yeah, I still see people our age embracing the political beliefs and choices of their popular or powerful peers. I think Madison Avenue understands this and that is why most ads imply their products will make you more popular.
Fred. Advertising is the ultimate peer pressure.
Charly: Yep and I think all of us are susceptible. Okay then what makes us such individualists.
Bill: With me I think it was that I always knew I was smarter than most people around me which made me less susceptible to peer pressure.
Richard: I just always wanted to be unique. I can't imagine why anyone would not have this desire.
Charly: What always makes me smile are people who say they are different, yet they are part of groups that wear the same kinds of clothes, have the same political beliefs, and listen to the same music. To me they are the ultimate conformists.
Bill: I see them all over Chapel Hill – elementary school students, high school students, and college students especially - people form cliques and they think and act like each other. They are totally predictable …
Richard: … and so boring.
Fred: I just don't see as much self-confidence among people as I used to. Now if someone tries to be an individualist he is no longer respected.
Richard: Exactly – people say "he just doesn't fit in".
Wisdom from a Rathskeller booth
Charly: Do you think people are happier today than they were in the 1950s and 60s?
Richard: No – and I think they are far more ignorant. I mean in my grandfather's generation the average life expectancy was something like 35 and now it's over 70, yet they think the world is worse off now than it was then.
Bill: Wow – I guess most of us here would have all been long dead then a hundred years ago.
Richard: Yeah and economically we are so much better off. Look at the size of houses today and the number of TVs. ……
Charly: … and every house and building is air conditioned. That sure has made a big difference from when we were growing up.
Richard: Yep … but so many people I run into are so whiny and critical of our economic system and government.
Charly: And from what I hear people usually vent their criticisms with insults rather than substantive complaints.
Bill: I just think that's the way people are today.
Richard: Look guys it's been great having lunch with you but I need to head on back to Asheville.
Fred: It's been great meeting you. Charly has told me a lot of stories about you.
Charly: … and most of them are true.
Bill: Hope we can all do this again soon.Comment
What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.