Category Archives: Ghostland
Last week was the 16th anniversary of the suicide of my friend Walt. It hits me a little less and a little less each year. It used to give me nightmares. Now I find myself feeling glum towards the end of April and not even sure why until the day hits or the word “suicide” comes up. Which it usually does, because April also happens to be when the previous year’s suicide statistics are released.
Having gotten it out of my system, I’m not going to dwell on the events of April of 2000. Instead, I’m going to reflect on how the world has changed since then.
Most notably, I have no pictures of Walt. Not one. Since the nightmares stopped, I have to reconstruct his image in my mind completely from memory, which is a long time past.
This day in age, it’s just strange not to have any pictures of someone you know even moderately well. When I’m putting people’s pictures in my phone, I can go on to Facebook and download from a selection of them. That’s if I don’t have one myself, which I often do.
But having a picture of someone you are close you seems like something you can take for granted, because pictures are something you can take for granted. We don’t have to worry about having a camera on us because we have cameras on us at all times. Good cameras. Amazing cameras. On our phone. No film required, and not enough storage space to even worry about.
When Clancy was pregnant with Lain, I went ought and bought a video camera. We had a video camera when I was a kid and it was a big deal The one I bought is far better than that one, and I’ve used it maybe a dozen times. A regular camera? I have one of those, too, but it’s old and the camera on my phone is 1000x better.
Clancy and I have remarked how happy we are that Lain was born into a world where I could take a dozen pictures of her a day, never miss a moment, and will have a visual catalog of her growing up.
People going to school now will have dozens and dozens of pictures of just about anyone they ever knew, including those who pass before their time.
The closest thing I have to a picture of Walt is the below drawing. I drew it shortly after his death, as I was trying to come to terms with it. I’m not a great artist. But in the absence of a picture, I needed something. While I was thinking about it, I wanted to see if I could track down the digital copy of it that I have, and much to my delight (I think?), I found it.
It’s an ethereal representation, obviously. The trenchcoat was his trademark and he wore it even in humid summers. He loved The Punisher. The wings’ presence are pretty easily understood. As is the gun’s. The cigarette was actually because he hated smoking and believed that anyone who did smoke clearly had no use for life. The empty face is because he had none left when they found his body.
From high school on to college and beyond, I knew a girl by the name of Sally. She was three years or so younger than me, very attractive and gregarious. It’s not surprising that I developed feelings for her. What unfolded over the better part of a decade can be fit into any number of narratives. I could tell a story about a girl who used a boy’s affections for her own emotional enrichment. I could tell a story of a creepy stalker who tried to Nice Guy his way into a friendship. I could tell the tragic tale of the romance that never was. All of these have an element of truth, but really aren’t very accurate. It was… whatever it was. She wanted my presence in her life, and I don’t regret my station in it. I don’t regret the time spent. Nor do I regret never doing the “go for it” thing because, even if she hadn’t shot me down, any relationship between the two of us would have had me willing to go to Hell and back for her… and her taking me there.
Sally had some problems. More problems than most upper middle-class white girls from the suburbs have, for certain. She had unusually bad taste in boys, even given the givens of high school life. She could have done a lot better than me, but she truly didn’t. She didn’t have great choice in friends, either, despite some exceptions (ahem). The bigger things, though, involved health. While other kids were undergoing a more typical high school experience, she was battling cancer and cancer treatment. She had a mentally ill mother who blamed her for the cancer that she inflicted on the family. And perhaps most of all, she inherited some of her mother’s condition.
It was the last thing that seemed to involve me more than the others. There were two Sallys. The first Sally was funny and gregarious and a joy to be around. The second was very dark and alternated between extreme anger and inconsolable depression. The first Sally was the one that was taking her medication, while the second was the one who wanted to conquer her problems without it. She was conquered, pretty much every time.
It was, generally speaking, the second Sally that needed me. When things were well with her, she had lots of friends. She had guys lining up around the block to spend time with her. She was going places, doing things, and all was right with the world. What use did she have for me at that point? To be clear, she did not cut me off during these periods. We still chatted on AIM and things were fine. The Second Sally, though, would chat with me for hours. I would wake up and there would be over 100 instant messages airing out her thoughts on what her roommate was doing, her boyfriend was doing, her mother was doing, President Clinton was doing, and so on.
Now on one hand, the attention was nice! Had I truly been an obsessive creep who wanted to swoop in and save her, I would have loved these times because she needed me. But I didn’t. Not just because interactions with Second Sally were less pleasant than with First Sally, but because I genuinely cared about her, and I cared about her whether there was the potential for a relationship at the time or not. For a big chunk of that time, I was in a serious relationship. Other times, I was looking for one. In either case, I genuinely wanted the best for her, and that meant that I wanted her to be taking her medication. I didn’t push her about it any more than gently (“Maybe you can start taking medication again until this passes.”/”No! It’s times like this I need to think most clearly!”) because that wasn’t the kind of support she needed, but that was always a hope.
After Walt’s suicide, I had ceased being able to deal with people suffering from depression without it taking more and more of a toll. It was getting harder for me. At some point, I made the determination that I needed to extricate myself from the lives of some of the people with whom I was (platonically) involved. Sally was one of those people. So… I quietly made my exit. I got a new AIM handle and didn’t let everybody in on it. I convinced myself that, ultimately, she would be fine. We did talk a few times afterwards, though, as I would dust off the old AIM account after a friend let me know “Hey, Sally’s been asking about you.” They were pleasant conversations and updates in our lives. I couldn’t tell whether she had improved, or didn’t want to waste limited time with a litany of complaints. But they tapered off and AIM ceased being a primary mode of contact for my subgeneration, and that was that. Until Facebook, anyway.
There are a lot of stories like this that have unhappy endings. I am happy to report that, by most accounts, Sally is not one of these stories. I don’t know whether she finally stopped stopping the medication, she found a new medication that didn’t cloud her mind, or she conquered her demons without medication. But the Sally I see on Facebook is First Sally, for the most part, and not in that way people tell me that everybody acts positively on Facebook (That’s another post entirely). She has a fascinating career that has her rubbing elbows with NBA stars and quoted in national newspapers. A couple months ago, for the first time that I’ve seen, her Facebook status was actually changed to “In a Relationship.” It made me smile.
Around the same time I knew Sally, I knew a guy named Jesse. Jesse and I were never as close as Sally and I were. As far as I am concerned, we were never particularly close at all. He wasn’t a bad kid, but if you’re pin-pointing the line between Generation X and Millennial, it’s in between him and myself. There was also probably some unseemly resentment on my part for the effortless success he had with the ladies despite being… weird. The vast majority of his group was female. Guys couldn’t get past the weirdness.
He was difficult to talk to. His mind was all over the place. He made jokes that made absolutely no sense. He would find some connection with you, such as having seen an episode from a TV show that ran for three episodes ten years prior, and whenever you met up he would want to talk to you about it. Except that there wasn’t much to say. He also had some mental issues going on, though of something of a different sort. He was not at all dramatic. He was a combination between stonerdom and mania. He was smart, but flunked out of high school and ultimately went to the Alternative School and got no higher education than that.
I can’t really say that I ever thought of Jesse as a friend. He mostly falls into a very broad category of people I knew at a general point in my life, like the guy who got drunk on Cuervo and put his hand in a tiki torch flame, or the girl my friend would go visit and make out with so that she would give him some Ranma tapes (we will always be grateful for his sacrifice, though now we may cringe at the immorality of it all).
There was never a 119-part airing of grievances or anything of the sort, but I would wake up some mornings and get a large string of completely nonsensical messages. And I mean completely nonsensical. At some point I would touch base with him, and usually then he would be fine. Like Sally, he talked of medication and his desire to free himself from it. I felt pretty safe assuming the pattern behind First Jesse and Second Jesse. I ended up cutting him out with the AIM handle transition.
We did end up becoming friends on Facebook some time later. Things don’t appear to have changed as much for him, other than that he appears to have a pretty nice job with a major computer company. He leaves nonsensical replies on my posts, as well as some lucid ones.
Sometimes I wake up, though, and I would have a barrage of Facebook messages. Typically, it’s a bunch of links to European techno and rock videos. (I have never expressed any interest in European techno and wouldn’t know a Daft Punks or Rammstein if I heard it.) Sometimes it’s the equivalent of a National Geographic video. I have to admit that a part of me is flattered and endeared by his desire to share something that brings him pleasure with me. The other part of me is kind of sad that Jesse has stopped taking his medications again, and is hopeful that this doesn’t disrupt his employment and personal life.
I had three people I would call “auxiliary mothers.” One, my adopted brother’s mother, could be included in family perhaps. The other two fell into a category that may be atypical or might be my own manifestations of something that is typical. Both involve the BBS.
In one case, it was a mother who held an overnight party of BBSers where she mostly stayed out of the way noticed that I was upset and asked me about it. We became close after that in a completely non-creepy way. I would almost chalk it up to “I was involved with her daughter” but that didn’t really happen until later. But I regularly made trips out to her house just to spend time and hang out and I’d even spend the night there as it was way on the other side of town. She was somebody on the outside that I could talk to things that I couldn’t talk about my parents to. Clancy has an uncle (technically a cousin-once-removed, but an honorary uncle) with whom that is the case, though I suspect she was not as open with the uncle, but the dynamics were there. Anyway, this woman would later meet my wife and attend my wedding even though we had drifted apart by then. I still think of her very fondly, though I haven’t talked to her in some time.
One that I think of less fondly, Cyclone, did have aspects that might be considered inappropriate. Once again, it was someone who had kids my age though I was not very close to either of them. Her primary insertion into my life was that she was heavily involved in the BBS. In retrospect, her involvement was kind of weird. Specifically, there were a lot of things going on that would put most adults and most parents on-edge. Perhaps it was less surprising because she was surrounded by young people all day in her job as a science teacher.
Be that as it may, the BBS environment included a lot of things that were scandalous in some ways that shouldn’t have been but in other ways were rather illegal. Specifically, statutory rape laws were publicly and brazenly disregarded. Not Romeo & Juliet Law Exempt stuff, either. If you ever want to know why my freak-out reflex on large age differences tends to be relatively dormant, that’s why. Young adults had sex with high schoolers and no attempts were made to hide it. It was considered as close to normal as any of us could be. Which wasn’t very, because we were mostly freaks and outcasts. But while state law said that sex was wrong if one of the participants was under 17 and there was a larger than three year age difference, our norms were that age difference alone didn’t raise any alarm bells until we were talking about an age difference of at least seven years, someone under the age of 14, or someone over the age of 25. There were relationships of large age differences that were considered inappropriate, but they dealt in part with the particulars of the situation. One of the cosysops (assistant system operators) was nineteen and his girlfriend was fourteen and there was nothing considered to be untoward about it. The guy who ran it, Excalibur, was 24 and his girlfriend was 17 and they’re now married with 3 kids.
And it’s a bit interesting to look back and notice the schoolteacher who was aware of all of this, and objected to only those outside the bounds listed above. She was very hawkish about the 30 year old dude who was obviously sniffing around. She was worried about a sixteen year old who seemed to be trying to groom 12 and 13 year olds. But those were things that were pretty transparently wrong, and her role – to the extent she had one – was to make sure that something was done about it. Would I behave differently if I ran across an online community of youngsters? Well, given the environment in which I came of age and my thoughts on it, probably not. But I am about the same age now and she was then, and you couldn’t pay me enough to spend that much of my free time socializing with kids. Which perhaps helps make Sheila’s point. Of all the weird things, that she was there at all – as much as or more than her kids – is perhaps the strangest thing of all. And yeah, if I found out someone in my community was there, I would probably look askance.
But Cyclone never had sex with kids. Never tried, as far as I know. And I’d be surprised if she did. I say that I remember her less fondly, and that’s only tangentially related. It turned out that much of the time, she was sexually involved with Excalibur, who was fourteen years her younger. More to the point, though, Excalibur was like a brother to me. And when an auxiliary mother is sleeping with your auxiliary brother, the dynamic is lost. But there was no question of consent. No question that he was an autonomous individual who chose that relationship (indeed, his previous girlfriend had also been in his thirties and had a child in her teens). So I find myself not exactly thinking less of her, and if she friended me on Facebook I would probably friend her back (her daughter did, and I did, though I was never as close to the daughter), even if things around me were not exactly as I perceived them to be at the time.
Which leaves me in the position of thinking that she was mostly just unusual. She was married to a guy who was good and decent and did not at all make her happy. The BBS was as much an escape for her as it was for us. Her continued presence was probably related to her ongoing whatever it was with Excal more than anything. Her relationship with me (where, once again I would go and visit her and hang out though I never slept over because it was a much shorter drive) was of the adult-child variety.
So… did any of y’all have auxiliary mothers? Do you think such relationships are creepy even without the specificities of Cyclone? And for those of you who are parents, what sort or nature of attention would it take before you started getting nervous?
 I had somehow missed the word “maybe” in what she said, so the original post did not include this word.
So there is a story of the man who hacked OkCupid to find love. Actually, “hacking” isn’t quite the right word for it:
On average, respondents select 350 questions from a pool of thousands—“Which of the following is most likely to draw you to a movie?” or “How important is religion/God in your life?” For each, the user records an answer, specifies which responses they’d find acceptable in a mate, and rates how important the question is to them on a five-point scale from “irrelevant” to “mandatory.” OkCupid’s matching engine uses that data to calculate a couple’s compatibility. The closer to 100 percent—mathematical soul mate—the better.
But mathematically, McKinlay’s compatibility with women in Los Angeles was abysmal. OkCupid’s algorithms use only the questions that both potential matches decide to answer, and the match questions McKinlay had chosen—more or less at random—had proven unpopular. When he scrolled through his matches, fewer than 100 women would appear above the 90 percent compatibility mark. And that was in a city containing some 2 million women (approximately 80,000 of them on OkCupid). On a site where compatibility equals visibility, he was practically a ghost.
He realized he’d have to boost that number. If, through statistical sampling, McKinlay could ascertain which questions mattered to the kind of women he liked, he could construct a new profile that honestly answered those questions and ignored the rest. He could match every woman in LA who might be right for him, and none that weren’t.
I remember a dating site that wasn’t completely a dating site around before OkCupid. It was a cross between a dating site and a site you could just use to meet people through. I’m not sure anybody actually used it for the latter part. Nobody my age, anyway. And yet, oddly, the fact that it didn’t expressly devote itself to dating was actually a plus. It made things just a little bit less formal. I’m not sure I met anyone through the site I am talking about here, but I “met” Eva and Porky through another site that worked the same way.
Unlike the site I met Eva and Porky on, the site I am thinking of now was quite mathematical. One of the fun things was that you could actually find compatibility ratings with people you knew. Which was kind of interesting. Especially given how remarkably well I was apparently doing at selecting partners. I got a 95% compatibility with Eva and something on the order of 92% with Julia, both of whom were significant factors in my life at the time. I was somewhere in the mid-sixties with Porky, but the incompatible thing there was a known thing. The average compatibilities weren’t exceedingly high and the high scores among people I felt myself compatible with were outliers.
I had left Julia a few months prior to this. I can’t remember my precise status with Eva at this point, but it was somewhere in between “We’re happy together” and “I’m completely without her and without hope of her.” Because I remember seeing the 95% score and saying “See?! See?!” Had I been a little more pathetic, I would have emailed it to her saying “See?! SEE?!” but fortunately I wasn’t. Besides, I suspected that she would see that for herself in due time (I was right about that).
My relations with Julia were not particularly good at this point. I had left her broken-hearted and I’d had my heart broken. She reveled in that. Especially given that she and Tony were already madly in love. Her happiness, and my misery, were proof that there was justice in the world. I hated that at the time. I mean, I was happy that she had found Tony and was “out of my hair” but I hated that she rubbed it in. Looking back, I was kind of an asshole for not being more gracious about that considering what I had just done. I wasn’t done being an asshole, though.
She and Tony scored a 98% on the math-love site, higher than my score with her and my score with Eva. I’d never seen a score that high. I scored that high with nobody. And even though I was, of course, very happy for them in the abstract sense, my competitive jerkwad part got the better of me. I went back and retook the test, answering how I would have answered the questions three years earlier, before things had gone sideways between Julia and myself. My score with Eva had fallen to the seventies. My score with Julia? 100%. I shared this with her, and then she pointed out that I was a huge asshole for changing and a huge asshole for trying to one-up her real relationship with one she couldn’t have even if she wanted (which she didn’t, at this point, but still.)
In retrospect, hard to disagree. Guilty as charged.
I’m still not entirely sure how one set of answers had Julia and Eva being 8% apart and another over 20% apart. That represents either a really good formula (it was certainly true that the Julia I was more compatible with the Julia I left than I would have been with Eva when I was with Julia) or something bordering on random.
Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler waded through a rockin’ teenage party in search of his son and didn’t notice all of the drinking underagers:
Gansler, a Democrat who is running for governor, said this week that he stopped by the Delaware beach house to talk briefly with his teenage son and then left. He said he does not remember whether he saw anyone drinking. But even if he had, Gansler said, it was not his responsibility as a parent or a high-ranking law enforcement official to intervene.
“Assume for purposes of discussion that there was widespread drinking at this party,” Gansler said. “How is that relevant to me? … The question is, do I have any moral authority over other people’s children at beach week in another state? I say no.”
That’s a good point. It’s not as though he is the chief legal officer of the State of Maryland. Except he is. Nor is there an element of hypocrisy here because it’s not like he has made underage drinking one of his issues. Which he did.
This is low-hanging fruit, though. There is a fundamental truth here that underage people will drink and will party if they are invited to them. Should his son have to live in fear because his father is a politician and if his son finds the party it’s bound to get busted up by Johnny Law? In a sense, that’s unfair to the kid. Of course, it also goes to show the problems of things being against the law even when everyone pretty much knows that they are broken on a pretty regular basis. One would also assume that had the police been called, the treatment of the sorts of kids attending a party with the Attorney General’s son might be treated differently than a party attended by rabble.
Back when I was in high school, I attended one of my brothers’ frat parties. I remember some cops coming around beforehand offering their services for security. If you have a cop on sight, apparently you can get an insurance break. “Don’t worry, they said, we are keeping our eyes looking out and not in, unless asked to do otherwise. Which pretty much goes to show the nature of the law as it is in effect.
The only time I ever came close to having to deal with the consequences of such a thing is when I was about 17 or so and at a drinking party of my friend Charlie Langston. There was a cop there who came out of nowhere. Actually, judging from where he was, he had probably been there a while. He was sitting on a deck chair by the pool talking to a female attendee of the party. I am guessing he was acting as apartment security or something and not in his official capacity as a cop. I just remember screaming “Holy $%@#, you’re a cop! What are you doing here?!”
I was, in all likelihood, inebriated at the time. And seventeen.
Fun fact: I held up the left leg of the son of the State Treasurer (at the time) of Deltona while he did one of those keg things.
When I was in the fourth grade, I developed a crush (to the extent that fourth graders have legitimate crushes) on a Becky Blaszkiewicz (her real name is enough along those lines that I couldn’t look her up on Facebook if I wanted to – too many z’s in inopportune places). Becky was kind of hard-boiled, for a fourth grader. Tough-minded and unpopular. Dreadfully unpopular. Relentlessly ragged upon by even people who didn’t typically do such things. I almost told her I liked her before a superficial analysis of the social structure of West Oak Elementary told me not to.
Three years later, I was in the seventh grade and there was this girl in the sixth grade named Leslie Kaufer. The divide between sixth grade and seventh being what it is (sixth graders were kind of isolated from 7-8 grade, though we went to the same school) I never knew her social standing except to say that it wasn’t good. I think she had conservative parents because day in and day out she wore homemade dresses. I barely talked to her at first, though by the second semester fate had intervened and we had some mutual friends. We sat at the same table in breakfast and at lunch.
The biggest coulda-been break came when she read one of the comic books I was drawing at the time and absolutely loved it. We still almost never spoke, but when we did, it would usually be along the lines of her softly asking “Hello. Will. When is the next Blankman coming out.” By virtue of my latent feelings and the fact that she was a girl and one of the few I talked to, she actually became the second person to read each issue as it came out. She was extremely territorial. She’d read it repeatedly and if anyone tried to talk to her, she would say something along the lines of “Shush. I’m reading.”
Ultimately, I never asked any of these girls out even when doing so became age-appropriate (Leslie would go on to date one of my friends). Given how desperate I seemed at the time, and how these were girls I actually liked other than on the level of “girls are pretty and they smell good” (especially Leslie, whom I had access to which was a rarity in itself) I would later ponder why I hadn’t ever made any effort to do so.
Becky and Leslie were not remarkably alike. They did have at least three things in common. First, they had dark hair. Second, they wore glasses. Third, in their own ways they were both similar to the woman I would eventually go on to marry. Especially when Clancy describes her grade and middle school experiences. She describes them in such a way that I want to go back and kick some middle school arse.
But ultimately, what can I say? As with Marianne I never extended real friendship (beyond the silent exchange of comic books) at the cost of social disapproval. The fact that I myself was not remarkably well regarded in middle school was not a reason to reach out, but an additional reason not to. I like to think that had I gone to school with Clancy, I would have at least been her friend and helped her through difficult times (difficult beyond the usual, even), but my own history seems to suggest otherwise. I don’t think I would have been among her tormentors, but I wouldn’t have been a help.
My inactions, as they were, did not occur in a vacuum. I mean, with the guys I shunned, I can point to specific ways that they were not just unpopular but were unpopular for a reason. But that wasn’t all of it, was it? Marianne, Becky, and Leslie were unpopular for all of the wrong reasons, but that ultimately didn’t matter as much as it should have.
When I was in middle school, one of the things we had to do for physical education was “dance.” Like, partnered dancing. To do this, obviously, you needed partners.
The way that the coaches had it set up was that they lined up all of the guys on one side of the gymnasium, and all of the girls at the other, and you picked your partner. Guys or girls would walk across the gym and ask someone to be their dance partner. By rule, if asked, you cannot decline.
I’m not entirely sure what the purpose behind this ritual was. Maybe there was a confidence-building aspect to it. “Hey, I asked a girl, and she said ‘yes’! (never mind that she had to)” Maybe it was just a way that partners could partner off by their own volition and that allowing people to decline would be fraught with hazard (because junior high kids don’t know rejection)? Maybe it was a way in which nobody could be blamed for saying yes.
I remember that when I learned of this, my thought was that I hated it. I didn’t care if they had to say yes because, if they didn’t want you to be their partner, you’d find out about it. As conspicuously as possible. I had visions of the girl I was dancing with trashing me relentlessly just to make sure everybody knew she was only doing it because she had to. That was the way things worked. You made dang sure that even if you were partnered with someone, if you didn’t want to be associated with them, you made sure that everyone knew it. It worked this way with school assignments. With dancing? That times ten.
So I sure as heck wasn’t going to ask anyone. And it was doubtful that anyone would ask me. So I’d end up in the randomly assigned group. This, too, lent itself to conspicuous disassociation, but at least then you could both claim that it’s not what you wanted. That was how it worked with school assignments. If they rolled their eyes loudly, I would do my part to make sure that everyone knew this was an assigned partnership. I didn’t want to be associated with someone that didn’t want to be associated with me. Which meant asking nobody.
I didn’t expect many people to cross the gym. I figured most people would do what I was going to do. We shuffled our collective feet for what seemed like half an hour but was maybe a couple minutes. Then, finally, #14 (a jock) crossed the threshold and asked a hyperpopular girl. She looked relieved. I recall her having a boyfriend of higher stature than #14, but I guess she thought that he would do and was much better than the alternatives (like, me).
Come to think of it, it was the ultimate opportunity for the worst reject to put a cog in the works of the way that things were supposed to work. The nerdier, the more power you had. It was a transient power, because you wouldn’t get anything more than a dance partner, but it was something. Only if you were willing to do what I was not.
After he broke the ice, more people started moving. Almost entirely from the boy’s side. This was my worst nightmare. The more people who boycotted the ritual, the more safety there was. At the rate things were going, I was going to be among a small group without the gumption to pick a parner. The only upside is that I would get coupled with a fellow reject who would have little room to loudly roll her eyes. Oh, but who was I kidding? She’d roll them anyway.
Then, out of nowhere, came Ashley. If the class photo is still expandable, I’m pretty sure the Ashley is the girl next to #30. Ashley and I had conversed very lightly before, of the “Can I borrow your pencil?” variety, but that was about it. She was leagues and leagues above me. She was… actually kind of attractive. It was, in retrospect, quite amazing that she hadn’t been picked yet. Then there she was, picking me. She didn’t “ask” like she was supposed to, instead opting for “let’s go”, but who the flip cared.
It was all kind of chaotic, so I don’t know who I might have been partnered with otherwise. But having avoided the lottery, I was on cloud nine. That she was attractive was nice, but not as important as that she wanted to be there. Well, that may have been an overstatement: she wanted to be there more than all of the other available options. Well, that may have been an overstatement: she felt a warm enough pity for me that she picked me rather than let me twist in the wind.
She was also a great partner. By which I mean, she was patient with me. She never rolled her eyes. We did okay together. It was a good thing, too, because my class critics/bullies didn’t relent. A few people, perhaps assuming that we were an assigned pair, made fun of the asymmetry of our partnership. “Oooh, look, Will is dancing with a real live girl!” and more than once she would say “Because I asked him.” (Standing up for me! In a fashion.) One of the more persistent critics was actually #27, who was dancing with #30, both of whom would later become friends (and #27 my guardian protector). Boy I hated him then, though.
I really don’t know why she did it. Very few guys would have rolled their eyes at being picked by her. If any. She wasn’t a 10 by our school’s standards, but she was a solid 8. Maybe minus one for her general dress.
I always felt an immense appreciation for what she did that day. I consider it a grand favor on her part, though looking back at it almost 20 years later she surely had her reasons. I just can’t imagine what reason it might have been. She went into it with a positive attitude and made what could have been a very long six-week term one of the highlight of my days.
A good part of my formative years was spent in relative social isolation. Or, at least it felt that way, even though I can now point back to a number of people that I would have called friends. Things started getting better by high school, but they didn’t really start to change until I started logging on to a local, multiline BBS with a chatroom and its own sense of community to which I felt like I actually belonged.
In a sense, though, it was too much for me. Going from a transient social network of a couple people here and a couple people there to having dozens of people that I talked to on a regular basis. Some of them… girls! It was, as I have stated before, a godsend. It was through the BBS that I actually started to learn how to socialize with people. There were, however, some bumps on the road. I’d been rejected by girls I had asked out before (I was roughly 0-7 when I logged on for the first time), but I’d never felt the betrayal of being rejected by people that I had gotten to know really well and who seemed to genuinely like me (if not in that way, of course). Needless to say, I didn’t always respond to this with the levity and sense of proportion that I wish I had, looking back.
There were periods of rather tremendous darkness. I was no longer used to being so hopeless, and so when something would go wrong, it didn’t just make me upset at a girl, or girls, but often life in general. And I would respond to this poorly. And things would get worse. Then, eventually, things would get better again. Typically when a bunch of new people would log onto the BBS and I’d have new friends and new fish in the sea.
There was a major turning point that occurred after a while, and it occurred under some of the worst possible periods. I was going through one of my darker times and was acting really, really obnoxious. Nobody called me on it directly, but I stumbled on a conversation about me in which people – people I had considered my friends – were discussing me in the most unflattering of terms. I can’t even remember what they said, but it was along the lines of “If he’s going to be that miserable, he should just crawl in a hole and die.” Now, I wanted to tell them all to go to hell, but for a couple things. First, I was listening in to a conversation I shouldn’t have been.
After thinking about it, I couldn’t at all blame them for feeling that way. Looking it from their point of view, I was shitty company. More to the point, I’d never built up the good will with them to expect them to tolerate it or actually confront me about it. We’d been friendly, yes, but not in the “helping see you through the hard times” sense. And beyond that, a couple of them had tried to help and I… did not reward them for it. It was no surprise then, that (as I’d thought about it further) they’d all been avoiding me lately.
This was rather groundbreaking because, up to that point, I thought that if I wasn’t actively mean to someone, then I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. It was the first time I realized that it wasn’t just enough to be not-mean, but you had to be pleasant. It’s such an obvious concept. Looking at my own behavior, of course I had discriminated against the unpleasant in favor of the pleasant. Who the hell wants to hang out with an anvil?
This revelation did not, in itself, turn everything around. I had to learn, among other things, how to be pleasant. How to bite my tongue not just to spare someone their feelings (that part I knew, at least) but to spare them the discomfort of being around a dark cloud. And that when someone asks you how you are doing, the answer is fine, good, or great, and not an actual answer to the question they are asking if (a) the answer is going to put them off or (b) you have not built up the good will that they are genuinely interested.
Some day, I am going to write A Nerd’s Guide To How To Interact With People. This story will make it in there somewhere.
This is an entirely apolitical post, but I thought I would share it anyway. I am reminded of it every Easter. A family that is close to ours used to have a Crawfish Boil every Good Friday. One year, there was a crawfish in the huge bucket that was talking around injured. His daughter said “That crawfish is in pain. You should kill it, Daddy! It’s hurting…”
To which the father, “Sweetie, how do you think it feels when we put the crawfish into the boiling water?”
The girl paused, looked confused, looked at the bucket of crawfish crawling around on top of one another, and burst into tears. The father burst into panic.
I think both the father and daughter learned something that day.
It’s probably because I don’t have a daughter that I find this story hilarious.
When I was growing up, our pastor was Father Brames. Brames was a very good and earnest man. There were really only two problems with him. The lesser issue was that he smelled so bad that even I could smell him (this was only a problem when I was acolyting). The greater issue was that he was extremely boring. He never had a memorable sermon. As the church grew, and it became apparent that we would need to build a new church, some folks got together and decided that they would donate a significant sum of money under one condition: Brames retired.
Brames was replaced by Father Carren. Father Carren was a convert to Episcopalianism from Catholicism. Carren was the opposite of Brames in many ways. He gave a great sermon. Great sermons. His best was his Easter sermon, which he gave for three or four years before people started tiring of it. But the people who were new and hadn’t heard it over and over again would always comment on what a great sermon it was. What I remember about the sermon is actually not all that flattering. I can’t remember a point to it, exactly. I remember it mostly being emotionally manipulative. But rarely was their a dry eye in the house save for those who had heard it at least a couple of times before.
Carren’s problem was not on the pulpit, but rather in the office (at least at first). Carren’s wife did not make a whole lot of friends with the broadly conservative congregation when she refused to play the role of pastor’s wife. She had a job and she wanted to do that job. That meant that social duties, traditionally split between husband and wife, were lackluster. Carren capitalized on what time he had, though. There were long rumors (that were proven to be correct) that he kept a spreadsheet of donations and only those who donated a certain amount of money would get hospital bedside visits and the like. The other issue was the empire-building. He fired people who had been with the church forever so that he could install his own people. He fired our youth director, who was amazing. He fired the choir director. He fired the front secretary. This didn’t make him a whole lto of friends. Beyond that, he was also big into building things. The new church was a done deal, but he used a much-beloved perisher’s death to push through a columbarium.
After about eight years or so, he moved on. Our church went from being a really attractive one due to its growth and its comparatively well-to-do congregation, to being one that nobody wanted to touch. There was $10m of debt. There was a tremendous divide where half of the people loved the outgoing pastor and half hated him. He left behind a lot of his own people that most never wanted at the church to begin with. Carren initially left the ministry overall in order to go into the construction business (which we found fitting). The best replacement we could find would come with problems of his own* and would prove to be nearly as polarizing as Carren.
Carren would leave the construction business in order to become chaplain here, and there. He got another pastor gig a few hours down the road, where he never wore out his welcome because he left quickly. This became a pattern and the archdiocese grew tired of him. But he gave a heck of a sermon. And there’s a shortage of pastors. The final straw came when it came to light that he was having an affair with a perishoner. Even Episcopalians have their limits. He was called to Charlton and dismissed.
He would later reconvert back to Catholicism, where I guess his extramarital affair was considered better than a lot of what was going on with its priests at the time. He is now a roaming pastor, serving congregations too small to support their own pastor.
* – He was twice-divorced, which was considered problematic. The big thing, though, was that he refused to marry people during lent or allow the church to be used for ceremonies. Carren had a similar rule, but regularly waived it when it came to those who filled the offeratory plates. Father Shelby made no exceptions. A prominent family had three children married in the course of three years and all wanted – but couldn’t – be married during lent. They eventually left the church altogether.