Friday, April 8, 2011

Facebook & Time Travel

Days Remaining to Next Beer: 345
A strange thing landed in my inbox this morning via Facebook, one of those curious moments when you pause and wonder how, really, you might best respond. 

Like when my friend Alex talks about his high school experience, and how strange it is for him now all these years later when people that couldn’t be bothered to give him time of day or went out of their way to hassle him or perhaps were just into him for all the wrong reasons find him on Facebook now and want to “friend” him and share with him their posts about their kids, their pets, their causes, etc. On one hand, there is a sort of voyeuristic thrill about reconnecting with people from your childhood, especially since memories from teenage years can so easily look different with some life experience to better decipher what then could only be enacted and reacted too from the manic perspectives of passion, pathos, and hormonal pathology. On the other hand, if what you recall about those tender years, albeit utterly subjective, is sometime anger, depression, angst, mistakes, regrets, bullies, disconnected or abusive relationships, then you might not want to dredge those memories up to add another name to your friends list.

For me, curiosity and self-scrutiny always win. Often, I just hope to and like to discover that people I cared about once upon a high school dreary, people I didn’t show that I actually cared all that well, being even more self obsessed then than I am now if you can believe it. To see that those people now have families and kids, and / or great adventures, moreover have big, wonderful lives, makes me happy. Makes me feel like I didn’t do that much harm, must have been giving myself far too much credit. And also makes me feel a little proud, not for anything I did, but rather, for the quality of the people I chose to do it with. Good, strong people. Because as a kid I was insecure, and who isn’t, and I had a nasty self-loathing streak, maybe lots of kids had that, and I liked feeling like things were wrong, distressed, structurally flawed, because somehow that felt right and normal to me. I suspect latchkey kids and children with divorced parents get where I’m coming from now. So I tended to feel a need to be close to people that were strong, or self-sufficient, or had means to same. Strong opinions, strong tastes in music, strong connections to parents, abilities to drive, ride horseback, competitively kayak (that was in college, and will come up again in this rambling narrative), poster bill for a political party (two different occasions), excellent prose, impassioned poetry, extensive religious beliefs, ingrained atheist beliefs, hardcore soccer player, livid anti-male and anti-the “man”.  While I’ve come a long way from that insecure kid, I still feel glad for my friends, well chosen and particularly those long standing, and feel they are my friends because they fill in all the many aspects I lack, and likewise I hope I reciprocate something back that they might not find in amongst themselves.

To name drop a bit, and afford props I have never before made public yet this really is a long overdue exercise; here are some of the people that I learned from, and a few of whom I’ve been delighted to rediscover, whether through their finding me or me them, via Social Network aka Facebook. 

Steve is the guy that introduced me to John Byrne, the Hellfire Club, and the whole Phoenix saga; as well my fellow horror film adventurer in the wee years, cohort and roommate during the college years. 

Joe, also my cohort during high school as well as our beer connection via his father’s convenience store. Joe would sell himself a case of cheap beer, then for some reason hide it behind the dumpster out back of the store instead of in the trunk of his car, a fine plan until the local homeless guy figured out what Joe was doing and Joe had to buy another case from his sister when she took over for the overnight shift when the first case turned up missing, having to endure her ridicule because we’d given him case money with change left over for a White Castle run, the same run that Joe eventually hurled on my out of town parent’s couch cover and cost me my week’s salary from the theater to replace since I had no idea how to wash the stains out. During college Joe and Steve and I shared a couple cribs, and Joe was my inside man for cheap cartons of smokes. He also hated when I bought a cassette single for Wham’s “Wake me up before you go-go”, the sort that had the same song on both sides, and put it into his obnoxiously large boom box, the one with the alarm function on it, and set it to wake him up after Steve and I would have split for class. After the first attempt resulted with Joe not talking to us and a missing cassette tape, Steve or I bought a couple more and occasionally pulled the prank again. Poor Joe, he was working overnight shifts by that point, and it’s some small miracle he didn’t kill both Steve and I in our sleep, particularly me though since the Wham thing was clearly my idea.

Shawn, another high school chum and one of the two cats I knew that partied so hard during the first semester of college he actually failed out. He shared an off campus apartment with another guy, and I believe for a bit Joe as well, so parties were pretty much perpetual at his place. Shawn doesn’t use Facebook, just Gmail, though I think he got my contact info initially from Facebook. Shawn taught me about sampling, about recording snippets from movies through connecting the VCR to his stack stereo, all gear well beyond my means, and some of those samples remain ingrained into my psyche today, like the line, “Does the noise in my head bother you?” or “I object to taking a woman out for dinner and she doesn’t put out for you…” The latter line from Spies Like Us. I don’t recall which of us figured out that different boom boxes had different amounts of drag you could manually leverage when recording or playing back cassette tapes, but that discovery lead to my brief stint in an industrial band with a cat named Ed Bolin who could play ample piano and synth, but didn’t know how to sample since there were no digital solutions yet. So there I am on stage for our one show with every boom box I could find, a four track mixer, and a stack of well labeled cassettes full of samples from a variety of places, though mostly from Pump Up the Volume because that movie spoke to me somehow. “Got my Black Jack gum here…” and “This is an outrage!” most of all. The music show was after I’d returned from the Navy, and just before I bid farewell to the University of Kentucky to move to Cincinnati Ohio, pay off my student loans, and figure out what I actually, really, truly wanted to do with my life. The Navy had changed me, yet I still have no idea why I moved to Cincinnati other than to follow another strong person, because if you don’t have a plan, at least find someone else with the semblance of one.

Lara, a friend and sometimes more, though I think that’s where things got muddy and I made a lot, and I mean bushels of mistakes and selfish collect calls. That’d be a post for some other day, or maybe even project. What I will defiantly write about at some point is the story of getting beer when stuck on a highway headed to Canada after Kevin’s station wagon broke down. That was a hoot. Any rate, coming from a church drenched family and academic background, what with St. Mary’s Catholic School and Washington College Academy, and a bio-Dad still working as a Presbyterian preacher like his Dad before him, and loads of other church involvements besides that I have no one but myself to blame for, meeting someone so absolutely devoid from birth onwards of religious indoctrination immediately had my attention. And while I totally blundered and botched any sort of boyfriend role with Lara, in my own bizarre way I did and still do respect her, and deeply appreciated all the time her family took me in like a surrogate cousin, let me tag along for trips to Ann Arbor, a wonderful town for a kid that likes to read, and to their magical island summer property up north. 

Tonya, another friend and another person I did a horrible job of telling or conveying through action that they mattered to me or had my respect. Social pressure is a strange and ugly phenomenon in high school, stating the obvious there. And when I’d been younger, at Washington College Academy in particular during 7th and 8th grades and the summer in between, I’d been bullied mercilessly, physically and mentally. Never feeling I had anyone to go to for help, and never coming up with any real solutions except groveling, cowering, obeying, or serving. As a kid already disposed to self doubt, to a sense of diminished self worth, and sensitive all the more for being poor compared to most of the kids at the Academy, a place where rich folks dumped their kids when the kids were too much trouble or bother for public school or juvenile rehabilitation. I made for an easy target, socially awkward, geeky, insecure, small, and pretty frail, an ironic thing for the Falstaff I am today. Of course, our dog Boomer was runt of his litter and the vet thought he’d at best top out at 60 pounds, not the ripping 105 pounds he is today. My growth spurt hit between 8th and 9th grade, the same summer I chose to leave Washington College Academy behind and move with my folks and siblings to Lexington, Kentucky despite the generous offer of a Scholarship the Kennedy family, yes an arm of The Kennedy family that’s hanging out being Southern Aristocracy in Jonesboro, Tennessee. 

So when I met Tonya in high school, she had no issue with being different, of dressing how she wanted, saying what she wanted, and doing what she wanted. Not a film cliché rebel or anything, not at all, totally a sweetheart and could get along with anyone. So I just had to be friends with her. And we were, her parents were cool, she had awesome tastes in music and introduced me to the Dead Milk Men’s Big Lizard in My Backyard. We were both in the school plays together, both relegated to secondary roles yet that seemed to suit both of us fine. The issue is that all the things that attracted me to wanted to be her friend, all her strength and incredible individuality, all that also made me feel exposed, and while I never, ever made fun of her when in company of others, I didn’t do much to defend her either, I reverted to the wallflower, hope the bullies don’t hone in on me, just nod and smile, nod and smile. Because in high school, at least in Kentucky, if you’re an individual, even a well liked one, people still talk about you behind your back, how odd or weird you are like that Dead Kennedys song, and while I’m sure plenty of folks talked crap about me too, I actually didn’t care as much about that as I did on the moment, in front of others, in a group, only then did I cower, show weakness, and not stand up for a friend. And that is one of the most awful things I’ve ever done in a social circumstance. These days people find me abrasive at times, inconsiderately loud. Often it’s just trying to not repeat the mistakes I made as a teen; defend a person or concept or practice that is unusual or unconventional, make sure a thing gets a fair review rather than go along with the crowd. Don’t be weak, or cower, or let compromises rule the day; instead be objective, fair, open, honest, and if possible, willing to put myself out there with an understanding that I might be unpopular, unconventional, hell, might even be wrong. I have enough humility to accept when I am wrong, and to happily stand corrected should such case arise, as inevitably will. And that, ultimately, is what I learned from Tonya, and from the disservices I did for someone I secretly looked up too and admired.

Luke, and to some degree his brother Mark, seemed to have it all going on, and I envied the crap out of them. Could skateboard, drive, play music, speak other languages, paint wall murals in their bedrooms, form bands around bands, like their band The Edge, and overall were like Wunderkind to me. Luke introduced me to the Ministry album Twitch. Like the end track sample goes, “Ain’t nothing but a show. Entertainment!” And that’s how I saw Luke, as an entertainer, confident, complex, could sew his own clothes for goodness sake. I had possibly my first man crush on Luke, asexual sure, but no less the saucer eyes I give Mike Rowe, Tim Gunn, or Jamie and Adam on Mythbusters. Or real life paternal role models like Aeron, David K., Richard Williamson, David Bickers, or my own actual Dads. Have no idea what the German term would be for coupling “man-crush” with “father figures”, so simply going to move on.

Tuck, a cat I used to spend whole nights building Legos and watching John Carpenter movies with in his basement rec room. He drove his late father’s Ford Mustang, and cared for his invalid mother with diligence and compassion. He and I drove out to Louisville together to attend Sarah’s 16th Birthday party, had a helluva time, and sadly, though I have searched, I’ve yet to locate him on any social network. Tuck, wherever you are and however you’ve lived your life, cheers to you!

Sarah, long time friend and pen pal, stronger than I’ll ever be and set the bar for getting my to travel and to chase even a smidge of my dreams or ambitions over the years. To think I’ve known here since I was in 10th grade, wow. Though email is our primary method of exchange, Facebook has allowed her to keep tabs on Otis, since she is definitely a part of his family, and me on her as she returns with her diligent husband to shore up her family as they go through massive challenges I can’t fully appreciate the magnitude of, though can commiserate some from the circumstances Lindz is confronting here with her own parents here. My one mistake is that I lost a ring Sarah gave me, not sure how, when I was 17. Her friend gave me hell for losing that ring, and well she did, Sarah never said a thing. This is how I learned how much meaning can be in a bauble, and how the meanings can be different depending on who’s perspective you’re looking through. As a self-obsessed, utterly otherwise obtuse teenager, I’d not sense the significance or symbolism of the gift as an expression of kindred spirits and friendship. Since Sarah had seemed far, far more social and socially connected than I, far more confident at well, I’d just thought I ranked among many, and the ring something sort of thing she gave all her buddies. Wasn’t a romantic thing, I’d been right about that, however wasn’t like giving a pal a popsicle, either. Had been a gift, and I’d effectively squandered it. Not to get all heavy, I’ve certainly made amends for this through the decades since, just to describe what I learned, and how, and unfortunately, most of what I know stems from doing something wrong first. 

Or from searching for boobs, also a topic destined to become a different and utterly unrelated post!

Steve Barker and John Edwards, great folks I knew and geeked out with all through high school, and am thrilled to see all grown up on Facebook, with families and kids and exciting careers. I recall overnight slumber parties in Steve Barker’s big, wood paneled basement, everything smelling like the two burly black Labradors his family owned, watching sci-fi all night and talking about this Star Trek Next Generation show about to premiere, would it be any good? I dunno… More excited about the Star Trek movie coming out where they’re going to save the whales and hunt for a ”Nuclear Wessel.” And at 5 am as dawn began to highlight the edge of the horizon we all piled outside to help the kids with paper routes get themselves together to do their duty for press and paper, and after their routes were run, tried out expediting things by pulling John on his bike from Robbie or Kevin’s scooter, leading to a bleeding chin and likely concussion. These guys were the ringleaders for our group effort to try to make a zombie ninja movie in an afternoon, replete with t-shirts Steve silk screened of a line drawing I did for the cause depicting a ninja hand holding a shurikan popping up sneakily from a Herbie Curbie, one of those big green Rubbermaid garbage cans with the two wheels, the sort a couple years later Shawn and I would cause early hours mischief with, pulling all of a suburban streets cans down to one end and lining them up like a barricade. Shawn and I used to also sneak through peoples back yards and look for matching BBQ grills, the sorts with wheels. Once we found two identical ones, we’d switch them. I wonder if anyone ever noticed? Joe had been the actor in the garbage can with the black glove and the shurikan. I’d been the sound guy or extra or something, idly picking my nose and waiting around for someone to call “Action!” 

John had been speech team partners with Becky Davis, also now befriended on Facebook, when we were all in 9th grade. I’d partnered with another strong as can be woman named Ashley Thompson. John and Becky kept beating us, barely, over and over again. So annoying, but what can you do, both Becky and Ashley were evenly matched, and John had far more Michael J. Fox sort of charisma, while I was more like Eric Stolz, a touch stiff and made judges nervous. No wonder judges favored them all the way through state finals, despite the wonderful corduroy jacket my parents pooled their month’s scarcely disposable income to buy me that key competition. You know, the sad thing is that the scene we did from Barefoot in the Park remains the only scene I’ve ever seen from the film? And not by choice, I’ll be flipping channels and see that scene, and stop, watch it though, lips probably moving a bit, mumbling, and when it’s over and cuts to commercial, I move on. I don’t even know how the film ends, do they both die? Ah, this is how cruel childhood competitions are, everything stripped of meaning or context…

Ashley and Becky I’ve just mentioned, very cool. Got to catch up with Ashley when I dragged Lindz to the WRFL 88.1 fm college radio station’s 20th reunion in Lexington, Kentucky, and quickly realized why I’d always felt intimidated some by Uma Thurman in film just as I did by Ashley in high school. Uma totally stole Ashley’s look.

Another person that found me is Sherry, who I knew when I was in ninth grade and sort of tried out dating but the age difference, since she was in 7th grade, simply seemed too weird. Now she’s a proud parent and her military husband is serving overseas, and has been on and off again since she found me on Facebook not all that long after my Mom got me to join it when it was still just through universities exclusively. I may not support the perpetual war and believe this guy should be at home with his family, however I respect that he has a job to do and the balls to go and do it. Having been in the military, and been on the wait list to potentially get called should something come up that needed a qualified sonar tech, I can begin to imagine how surreal and intimidating it must be to get orders that will take you far away from the people you care about, and that care about you, to do work in a place that is hostile to your presence or the purpose of your work, regardless how sincere, earnest, or honorable your intentions are.

I’m going to be discrete about the name as to respect the privacy of this person; however I want to share an excerpt from the message since it sets the stage noicely for what I would like to take some of the next few posts to write about, largely because I think it high time I did. 

She wrote, “I developed an old roll of film recently and all the pictures are of you and your friends at basic training in CA. So, I decided to try and track you down to see if you want them. I hope everything is going well for you!”

I sat and thought about this a while before drafting a reply. Of course I’d like to see the pictures, as I have not a single image from the entire experience, from shaved head bootcamp through to being drunkenly steered onto a plane bound for Lexington, Kentucky, to take me home, or at least, where I lived before I’d gone away. However, don’t need Spidey-Sense to realize corresponding with this person, no matter how brief, is loaded like a baby full of beans. 

And then I look at the picture and see a person that is also some 20 years older, with children and a life that went on long after we’d parted ways under not the most pleasant of circumstances. And I think, this person made an effort to help me get a little bit of my memory back. A gesture, perhaps like a lot of this post, to make some small amends, or bury some hatchets in yards instead of backs. 

I hope to see the pictures. More though, I’m relieved to learn that this is why I have none in my possession. Clearly on that hazy evening when our headlights picked out two figures standing next to a still running sedan outside the gate to a storage locker joint off the beltline in Lexington like spies waiting to make the exchange, the box I received in exchange for what few belongings of hers I had did not actually contain all of my possessions. I’ve wondered now and then how it is I have so many pictures documenting my high school antics, and many more for the years following my time in the military, but I have nothing from my first year of college or my time in the Navy. Considering my seemingly natural propensity for snapping photos, something I’d admit helps to supplement my rather scattered sense of time and space with memory, would seem odd to have such a clean, clear gap like that. Either I willfully didn’t document, or destroyed the documentation. Or this third, unforeseen option; that some of my pictures were tightly coiled up in someone else’s attic waiting for tool like Facebook to help pass a message from one end of twenty years to the other.

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