The Pied Piper

Woman on Phone

The Pied Piper’s music was so persuasive that it caused a whole village of children to follow the piper out of town and into a cave; thus Hamelin, Germany lost its children. So the story goes.

Last week I wrote about my friend Susie who shared with me the wisdom about friends being “for season, reason, or life.” She also taught me a valuable lesson about giving good advice.

Susie and I met as neighbors in Los Angeles. Our friendship deepened over dinners and through pet-sitting swaps (her cat Romulus, my dog Goblin). When I left L.A. for Austin, I bought her a Frommer’s Guide and invited her to come. I talked up Austin: swimming (almost year-round), easygoing people, plentiful parking spots. I think it was the parking that sold her. She moved sight unseen, calling me the Pied Piper.

Susie wanted to enjoy the nightlife, and I was her only friend with whom to do it. But I had a job that required I get up early, so I shied away from late nights. For her first year there, she could not find a job that she liked, and so her world shrank further. In L.A. she sold paintings, but she was having trouble finding a place to do so in Texas. She grew unhappy and restless, and soon I began to feel that I had made a gigantic mistake.

I am the oldest daughter of a mother who dearly loves to give good advice (more about that on Thursday). It strikes me that there are some things we inherit from our mothers that are almost impossible not to pass on. My mother always gives advice in the same way: “I’m going to offer you some free advice. Remember, it’s worth what you pay for it!” This is to say, it is worth nothing. But because her advice is usually sound, and it is always said with love, it persuades her children to make U-turns—often for the better. But still, advice is a form of back-seat driving.

When advice is given, where does the responsibility lie? With the advice-giver for failing to keep her mouth shut? Or with the advice-taker for trusting the piper’s music too easily?

I think that I would be a worthier friend if I knew when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em. And the only time to hold forth advice is when explicitly asked—or begged.

In the end, Susie outlasted me in Austin. She pushed through her rough first year and stayed. Now she is the queen of the town. She has sung in bands, sold her art in markets and coffee shops, adopted a pound puppy, met an adorable boyfriend with whom she goes on all sorts of adventures, and bought a beautiful house and painted the walls burgundy. Two of her dearest friends-for-life have moved to Austin on her recommendation, and her mother just bought a house there. Texas suits her.

So perhaps I am absolved.