For All the Teargas in the World

A good friendship, everyone knows, should withstand tears, slurs and the occasional glove slap. It seems like they should have to endure teargas as well. A week before the Republican National Convention, a close friend of mine âÄî letâÄôs call him Tomas âÄî was called up by an old friend, who weâÄôll call Valentine. Tomas was used to the sporadic phone calls. She had called him every time she returned from one her jaunts into communal acting farms in Massachusetts or rural life in South America. He loved her for her raggedy clothes, her sexuality choices (currently in between genders) and her unconditional support (he told me how she would be pissed off about the bussing system for the university she didnâÄôt attend). Still, he sighed heavily when she told him she would be in town only until she got arrested. He drove over to ValentineâÄôs house, where her parents were housing 10 persons from the âÄúpolitical underground.âÄù The strangersâÄô clothing usually came in used browns or grays, and generally their bed-heads synched up with their style. The extreme left ruled most of their lives, but politics was hardly the discussion when Tomas was with them; they found themselves discussing a possible âÄúAlien vs. PredatorâÄù sitcom, or jokingly being forced to say grace with ValentineâÄôs parents at the dinner table. And Tomas kept on telling them, slightly mockingly, how he wanted to get to the hot protest girls, even if he had to withstand all the teargas in the world. The anarchist twang of folk music bounced throughout the house, and everyone tried to be normal, but politics included paranoia with raids just miles away. Gradually, plans for the Republican National Convention made over the course of the last year were exposed to Tomas. On Sept. 1, Tomas walked into downtown St. Paul, looking for his friend Valentine. He sat down at MickeyâÄôs Diner âÄî choppy metal fences surrounded the premises and groups of armored police roamed outside. A lone, anxious girl inside the diner gave him a phone number to text for radical updates. Tomas followed the textâÄôs information to Wabasha Street, where a line of riot police marched down the street, heavy on gear, followed by rubber-necks, admirers and the press. Teargas blew in from the wind and into his eyes, and a gray-haired woman tossed bottled water on the soreness while a broken-footed hottie sympathized with him before hopping off to protest. He hurriedly caught up with the radicals, where they stood 200 strong blockading a street until rubber bullets flew and teargas dispersed them into several splinters of coughs and shouting. Tomas ran to one of the familiar-faced medics, and asked him where Valentine had gone. âÄúShe left earlier today,âÄù the medic answered. Tomas got the hell out of St. Paul amid the arrests and chaos, which he avoided by just, oddly enough, âÄúseeming nice and smiling.âÄù He hated politics of any kind, so he was happy to be out of that. Valentine stayed in town for another week, protested, and saw Tomas a few more times. Yet, already, she is gone again this week. She was obscure enough to me, an outside source. Still, in or out of the teargas, friendship never seemed so clear. Please send comments to [email protected]