The old joke goes: I wish I had ten friends like you instead of the twenty I have.

A Best Friend Forever is someone that doesn’t pounce when you tell a story they’ve already heard 50 times. It’s someone who watches out for you. Someone you can leave your kids with.

I have a BFF. Judy. I happen to be married to her. She is my rock and she would tell you that she feels the same way about me. There is no one I trust more. Yes, I would kill for her. And her for me, so tread lightly.

In one of her previous lives before me, Judy trained to become a lab tech. We’ve talked about her experiences in the field several times and one of the things I was most curious about was the subject of needles. Syringes. Specifically, how do you navigate the process of sticking a needle in someone’s arm?

Judy matter-of-factly replied, “You start out in the morning practicing on oranges. Then in the afternoon when you come back from lunch, they tell you to pick a partner.”

And Judy was clear on some of the finer points of this scenario.

1. Pick someone you like.

2. Make sure you go first.

3. Be oh-so-careful sticking that needle in.

Pick a partner. That made me laugh and at the same time made me happy I never had to take that class.

There are always unlikely pairings that are successful together. But there are also friendships that seem destined to work, where nothing should have gone wrong. Case in point – Creedence Clearwater Revival, or CCR, for short.

The first time I ever heard of CCR was in the 8th grade when a kid walked into music appreciation with a 12″ vinyl copy of Bayou Country under his arm. In August of that summer, the Green River album dropped and I was hooked.

The drummer was Doug Clifford, the bassist was Stu Cook. But the 2 driving forces in the band were the Fogerty brothers – older brother Tom and his sibling John.

At first, Tom and John shared being the creative nucleus, but as CCR’s success exploded during a ride that lasted roughly 5 years, Tom bowed out because his brother John had basically taken over the group. What was left of the band continued bickering. Like Tom, Doug and Stu didn’t like being bossed around either. Creative differences. There were tons of legal problems. Suing each other. It wasn’t pretty. Acrimony wasn’t just in the air, it was the air. The band officially fell apart in 1972.

CCR had many influences, but what filtered down into the final mix was 4 young musicians creating a distinct American sound made to turn up loud. Their style was so unique, when John Fogerty attempted to release a solo effort, he was sued by CCR’s old record company for making a CCR record. They accused him of copying CCR’s sound. John Fogerty’s retort was simple. Of course it sounded like CCR. Who did they think had been writing, arranging, playing lead, and singing on Creedence records?

The band members never patched their fractures – especially the Fogerty brothers. John Fogerty was so upset, he refused to play CCR songs in concert for 15 years after the breakup.

Despite their differences, when Tom got married in 1980, all of the band members were invited and attended. They even momentarily laid down their arms and reunited for a jam.

Tom Fogerty died 10 years later in 1990 from AIDS. He’d received a tainted blood transfusion during a back operation. He was 48 years old.

At Tom’s funeral, John Fogerty spoke.

“We just wanted to grow up and be musicians. I guess we achieved half of that, becoming rock ‘n roll stars. We didn’t necessarily grow up.”

In 1993, when Creedence was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the problems in the group continued to manifest. John refused to play with surviving members Doug and Stu. Tom’s widow was there, convinced there would be a CCR reunion. She reportedly showed up at the affair with Tom’s ashes in tow. But when it was time to play, Doug and Stu were barred from the stage and John sang with other musicians. Some might say: Cold-blooded.

There’s a myriad of famous and/or intense relationships that have imploded when we go back through the sands of time. While I’m typing this, I’m thinking of CCR and flashing on other musical acts that looked great on paper, but fell apart anyway.

The Everly Brothers. Didn’t speak for 10 years. Long after younger brother Phil died from COPD, Don lamented, “I always thought about him every day, even when we were not speaking to each other.”

Simon & Garfunkel split at the height of their success after arguing through the Bridge Over Troubled Water sessions. Occasionally they would show up together in the years after, but then would part ways again. When they recorded Hearts and Bones, the album was meant to feature them as a duo again, but there was a flare-up, and in a tiff, Paul Simon went back and removed all of Art’s vocals before putting it out as a solo album.

Lennon & McCartney started out as boyhood friends. That didn’t stop them from blowing apart and suing each other. During a quiet moment at a particularly contentious legal meeting, John looked over at Paul. John lowered his glasses, smiled gently, and said, “It’s only me, Paul.” Still, they never fully repaired the damage.

And that’s how friendships can go sometimes. Things can go awry over practically nothing. Things can go smashingly good as well. I’ve had that and everything in between. I’ve had deep friendships that fizzled out over time and distance or abruptly melted down right before my eyes. Often the people you bank on can’t keep it together, but in all honesty, I have had days when I was not money in the bank.

Sometimes the best friendships are cemented by polar opposites.

When I think of odd pairings, my mind goes to what is for me the number one contender. The friendship of Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell definitely qualifies for the “I never saw that coming” award.

I was a young G.I. when Hustler magazine was introduced in the 1970s. The guys I knew were familiar with girlie magazines, but Hustler was a shock. It was much more aggressive than the mainstream. Raunchy pictures. Incredibly crude, offensive jokes. But it had something else between its covers – the political opinions of its publisher Larry Flynt.

Hustler had its ups and downs. Flynt was hunted down multiple times on obscenity and pornography charges. In fact, he was literally hunted down.

Larry Flynt is still a publisher. He’s in a wheelchair now and has been for quite some time as a result of picking up a white supremacist’s bullet to his spine in 1978. His assailant, who was later executed as a convicted serial killer, had seen photos in Hustler where Larry Flynt had published an inter-racial couple simulating sex.

Larry Flynt later forgave his would-be assassin. “A government that forbids killing among its citizens should not be in the business of killing people itself.”

Larry’s legal woes extended to the Supreme Court in 1987. As he sat in front of the perched judges, in typical Larry Flynt style, he infamously wore a T-shirt that prominently declared F*CK THIS COURT! in big block letters.

I put the asterisk in there for you. Larry didn’t bother.

The case had been brought against Mr. Flynt by none other than world-famous evangelist Jerry Falwell, a long-time archenemy and founder of Liberty University. Freedom of speech was being challenged over a parody cartoon in Hustler insinuating the first time Falwell had sex was with his mother in an outhouse.

Falwell claimed emotional distress – that the lie was damaging to his character and reputation. His feelings were hurt. The court ruled in Flynt’s favor saying that if you’re a public figure, parody is allowed. The turning point seemed to be when Falwell was asked if he thought his religious followers actually believed the story. When Falwell said, “Of course not,” that was it. Point.

All 9 judges sided with the pornographer. Hurt feelings were trumped by free speech.

Said Flynt, “Everyone was shocked at our victory – and no one more so than Falwell, who on the day of the decision called me a ‘sleaze merchant’ hiding behind the 1st Amendment.”

The next time they were in the same room together was 15 years later.

Flynt reflected on meeting Falwell again on The Larry King Show.

“The thought of even breathing the same air with him made me sick. I disagreed with Falwell on absolutely everything he preached, and he looked at me as symbolic of all the social ills that a society can possibly have.”

Soon after, “I was in my office in Beverly Hills, and out of nowhere my secretary buzzes me, saying, ‘Jerry Falwell is here to see you.’ I was shocked, but I said, ‘Send him in.’ We talked for two hours, with the latest issues of Hustler neatly stacked on my desk in front of him. He suggested that we go around the country debating, and I agreed. We went to colleges, debating moral issues and 1st Amendment issues.

“In the years that followed and up until his death, he’d come to see me every time he was in California. We’d have interesting philosophical conversations. We’d exchange personal Christmas cards. He’d show me pictures of his grandchildren. I was with him in Florida once when he complained about his health and his weight, so I suggested that he go on a diet that had worked for me. I faxed a copy to his wife when I got back home.

“The truth is, the reverend and I had a lot in common. He was from Virginia, and I was from Kentucky. His father had been a bootlegger, and I had been one too in my 20s before I went into the Navy. We steered our conversations away from politics, but religion was within bounds. He wanted to save me and was determined to get me out of ‘the business.’

“I always kicked his ass about his crazy ideas and the things he said. Every time I’d call him, I’d get put right through, and he’d let me berate him about his views. When he referred to Ellen Degeneres in print as Ellen ‘Degenerate,’ I called him and said, ‘What are you doing? You don’t need to poison the whole lake with your venom.’ I could hear him mumbling out of the side of his mouth, ‘These lesbians just drive me crazy.’ I’m sure I never changed his mind about anything, just as he never changed mine. I’ll never admire him for his views or his opinions.”

Flash forward.

Larry Flynt appeared as a guest of the Virginia Film Festival in 2011. Some 30-something years after goofing over Hustler magazines in our stuffy little office in the 70s, I got to see Larry Flynt speak.

They wheeled him out on the stage in his gold-plated wheelchair.

He was fascinating to listen to.

We’d just finished watching him being portrayed by Woody Harrelson in The People vs. Larry Flynt. Larry said Woody plays Larry Flynt better than Larry Flynt does.

He was asked about politics and his free speech activism. He spoke intelligently about both.

When Mr. Flynt was asked about Jerry Falwell, he spoke of the deceased evangelist with kindness. He wasn’t blowing smoke. He meant it. It was in his face.

Larry chuckled when he told us, “We both had a product, and we both knew how to sell it. So we found a way to communicate.”

Flynt reflected fondly on his mother.

“My mother always told me that no matter how repugnant you find a person, when you meet them face to face you will always find something about them to like. The more I got to know Falwell, the more I began to see that his public portrayals were caricatures of himself. There was a dichotomy between the real Falwell and the one he showed the public.”

I stood in line to speak with Mr. Flynt briefly after his Q&A. It was a surreal full-circle moment for me. Regardless of our outcomes, I am always fascinated with evolution.

When I drove home that night, I thought about Larry Flynt’s journey from pornography to free speech to reminiscing about Jerry Falwell and his mother.

In 2011, when John Fogerty was asked about a CCR reunion, he had relented a bit. “If someone started talking, I’d sit still long enough to listen.”

That’s a step. Friendships can be fragile, often requiring healing massage. What I’ve learned is anything’s possible. If you give it a shot.

I haven’t been all around the world like some folks I know, but I have made my way to quite a few places during my journey. For me, among the friendliest people on the earth are the Dutch. They are required to learn English in school and they don’t mind switching from Dutch when talking to an American like me. And always with a smile.

When we went on a vacation to Germany and Holland with the kids over a decade ago, our last few days were spent in Amsterdam. One morning in our hotel, I struck up a conversation with the poised and highly efficient woman behind the front desk. I asked her why the Dutch were so friendly.

She didn’t hesitate. “Tolerance.”

She went on. “We live in a small country with many people. The policeman lives next door to the doctor who lives next door to the politician who lives next door to the drug dealer who lives next door to the prostitute. So, yes, tolerance. We couldn’t survive any other way.”

So if you want a shot at a BFF, you gotta gamble a little. You have to be willing to lower your glasses from time to time and say, “It’s only me.”

Like Larry’s mother said, you have to be willing to sit down for a minute and listen.

So you go first.

Go ahead.

I dare ya.

Pick a partner.