I liked him in the first 10 seconds I was in the room with him, even though I had no idea why. And over the course of the evening, as he and I and a few friends played games together, I began to understand why Jason Snape would quickly become a good friend - one I would only engage on occasion, but one who would be true and be real.
I’ll get this out of the way RIGHT NOW, and not make mention of it again. I think he’d appreciate that: Jason Snape is in no way related to Severus.
A couple of years back, Jason designed the cover of the magazine I TRIED to establish (he didn’t do the art itself, but everything else is his, and in retrospect, he probably could have done a fine job on the art, too). He’s also on tap to help me create graphics and artwork for a couple of game ideas that I have in mind. So I suppose I’ll be engaging Jason a lot in the future, and I’m excited by that. Writing is a lonely vocation sometimes, and the idea of collaborating with someone makes me feel all tingly - and all the moreso because it’s Jason.
When the prospect of our future collaboration (along with our other friend, Michael Collins, whom I’d be remiss if I failed to mention) came to the fore again a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that I could and SHOULD give voice via my web site to Jason. He is an artist as I am, and since I occasionally use this great forum I have to showcase people whose talent I admire and respect, I decided to dedicate a post to him. As you will see from Jason’s words below, he and I see eye to eye in this respect: we are all “in this together”.
So here’s Jason Snape, artist, cartoonist, graphic designer, writer, and friend….
Let’s start with one of Jason’s one off cartoons!
C’mon! It’s fucking funnier than Ziggy!
Anyway. Jason was born in a small, rural town, not far from where Lily Evans, Harry Potter’s mother, also grew up. His parents were a Muggle named Tobias and a woman descended from wizards named Eileen. At an early age, Jason showed an affinity for potions and the Dark Arts. All of that changed, however, after having what he calls “violent disagreements” with physics and calculus. Somehow, in the ensuing years, he wandered into design, and left the wizarding world behind.
With his eventual MFA in graphic design, he came to Atlanta for a job at an architecture firm. Since then, he’s worked with a software company, a number of small design boutiques, and a few big dot com entities. He’s taught at a university, does freelance work, and sometimes builds houses if times get tight.
If you replaced a few words in the above paragraph, you might be describing me. Hmm.
Another thing we have in common is our attitude toward the state of the arts in the United States today. We were talking one day, and he mentioned that he thought Frank Zappa would never get signed as a musician, were he trying to make it in today’s music industry. I asked him to elaborate, and here is what he said. I’ll give it to you word for word, and ask you to imagine me standing beside Jason, nodding in agreement with everything he says:
“I never considered myself an artist until a few years ago; I’ve always been more comfortable calling myself a designer. An Artist is someone who sculpts, or paints astonishing canvases, or creates music. There are amazing Artists at KSU [where he taught], and it saddens me, because I don’t know what they do (and they usually don’t either) with their Painting degree. Do they become Painters of Light©? Work for Disney? Why can’t they just create? Artists in the old world seemed to have stipends from their families to go out and create, or explore without need for income. This seems extravagant and, in this country, frivolous and wasteful somehow, because we put value on industry, labor, profits, and constant improvement. We don’t see value in culture. Do we have culture? Maybe it is consuming. I have a sense (probably romantic and naïve) that Europe and the rest of the world value art and their culture, and cultivate it. When I talk with people about art in our country, in our world, I bring up my theory of Frank Zappa. I do not know a lot about Zappa; I do not have all of his music. But like Monty Python, it’s hard to believe that someone like him could get a music contract today, for the same reason I am doubtful about my book publishing aspirations – unless it’s a guaranteed profit, they don’t have an interest or the time for you. Too risky. The encouraging thing is that, as creative people, there are new avenues to explore. Frank would be all over the Internet, I’m sure. That would be his way of creating and getting his music out there. But would it pay? The internet is awash with blooming and previously-unpublished creative endeavors (and everything else). So the interesting question comes down to, do you want to create and get your art out in public? There are countless ways to do that. Do you want to make your living through your art? If so, it is a more difficult path. Here is one example of why: Story magazine was created by Whit Burnett in 1931, and published such young unknowns as J.D. Salinger, Truman Capote, John Cheever, Joseph Heller, and Norman Mailer. In an excellent book about writing, Burnett describes how these authors’ initial works were promising but unrefined, and that through the act of publishing, editing, and evolving, they became some of our most important writers WHILE BEING PAID FOR THEIR WORK. Story invested in them and helped them grow. Salinger did not hit the ground with The Catcher in the Rye, and yet that appears to be what the “artistic” industries expect of musicians, writers, and maybe artists too. Where is there room for experiments, innovation, the chance to fail and make improvements learned from the failure? In politics and corporate America, the failures appear to have enormous, real consequences that hurt people and affect the way we live, yet the ramifications seem slight in comparison. Art is about creativity, and creativity is how we discover new things, find new solutions and break away from old, obsolete parameters. It is supposedly still one very distinctive way that America remains far ahead of China, if that is a motivating factor. So how do we best foster creativity? Math time tests. Art class once every 9 days in elementary school. CRCT bubbles.”
And… with that stuck in your craw, I’m gonna sign off on this post. Read that again, if it pleases you. Read it out loud. You see why I admire Jason? It’s not just that he’s an artist, as I am, as you might be. It’s that he thinks deeply and with feeling. He takes time to play (his cartoons indicate that), but - like a child in his formative years - his play has substance and meaning. It’s a process by which he grows and learns.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve personally lost that ability. Then I spend a little time with Jason, and I can feel it coming back just a little bit.
For more examples of Jason’s art and design work, visit his site: www.jasonsnape.com. BTW, the title of this post, in case you’re wondering, comes from the name he’s given a portion of his site: Snape’s Ridiculorum - Finely Crafted Illustrations, Stories, and Nonsense.
I know a lot of you are old enough to remember Cheers, and you remember the opening song, how it went:
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name
You may also remember how, whenever Norm would walk in, he’d say, “Hey, everybody,” and everybody would say, “Norm!”
Well, Norm - even for the drunk that he was, even though he bemoaned his life and his relationship with his wife - was in truth a very lucky man, because he WAS the guy who had that place - that place where everybody knew his name.
I feel lucky as well, because I have a place like that. And even though there are bars in the ATL with better food and better beer selection, there is no place on Earth like my favorite bar: the East Point Corner Tavern.
It’s down the street from me, literally 5 blocks away - stumbling distance, as many would say (especially those who’ve seen me stumble home). And when I’m there, I feel as safe and welcome as I do in my own home - sometimes safer and more welcome. Plus, believe it or not, I usually don’t keep booze or beer in my house, and there’s ALWAYS booze and beer at the Tavern.
Get this: when I walk into the Tavern, usually in the mid-to-late afternoon, I usually walk in and say, “Hey, everybody!” and several people will always say, “Will/Bill!” (That’s my nickname, because of the confusion over what people call me, which is in fact… both.)
It’s a scene right out of a beloved and trendsetting sitcom.
If you’re visiting for the first time, then I suggest you eat there. Like I said, there are places that MIGHT have better food than the Tavern, but I have NEVER had a bad meal there, and it’s always consistently inventive and tasty. As a side note - although they have excellent “never been frozen” fries, I usually get a side of green beans or asparagus with my sandwiches and hamburgers. I don’t know what they do that makes said side dishes so fucking good, but it’s always reassuring that while I’m consuming something that’s so bad for me (alcohol) I’m at least eating my vegetables.
Of all the Corner Taverns, owned and operated by Mike Rabb, Jayson Da Luz and I THINK one other person, East Point’s establishment has in the past had the absolute WORST beer selection - but I know that this was because it’s a business, and the clientele inherent to East Point have not in the past been the most discerning of beer drinkers. Why stock beer that won’t sell, right?
Ah, but thanks to some small changes - and the awesome addition of an additional row of taps - I can now go in and drink some of my FAVORITE beers, like Dogfish Head’s 60 and 90 Minute ales, Victory’s Prima Pils, and Kona’s Pipeline Porter. And I bet that if I asked really nicely for Andrea Kruse to score my current favorites - Dale’s Pale, the Great Divide Yeti, and Moylan’s Hopsickle - she’d make every effort to have some waiting for me when I returned. It’s like that.
The idea for this blog post came to me a week or so after I stopped writing articles about Atlanta bars for Examiner.com (ask why I stopped and I’ll tell you, but it’s not something I should bring up in a loving, positive post like this one). While I worked for Examiner, I was limited to lauding only bars in Atlanta proper, and East Point Corner Tavern didn’t qualify. BUT IT’S MY FAVORITE BAR, hands down.
I finally started writing this post on Monday, and here it is Friday and I’m just now finishing it up. The point of telling you all that is because, coincidentally, today, THIS Friday, is the last day for Miss Starr Neel, one of my current favorite bartenders at the East Point Corner Tavern. The fact that she’s leaving and that I’ll miss her should give you some indication of how much I adore this bar. I don’t think a lot of people genuinely miss the people who serve them beer when those people go away and the beer is still flowing. It’s kind of like when Coach died on Cheers (although Starr isn’t dying, she’s just moving to Denver).
So yeah, I dig the booze and the food, but most of all, I dig the people who work there and most of the people who go there - at least the ones who are as regular as I am (the ones who recognize something great when they see it). I dig Mike and Jayson and Deb and Angelica and Amy and Anna and Heather and Andrea and Starr and Deedlebug and Tony and Candace and Chris and countless other people who’ve come and gone while I keep coming and going as well.
And speaking of going, I’m finished with this post, and I’m headed to guess where.
We all have memories from high school which we believe define us as people - memories of first kisses, first loves, critical exams, abysmal fashion failures. The first time you heard THAT song. THAT first date. THAT football victory.
Also, that car wreck, that pregnancy scare, that alcohol or drug overdose.
Well, I had similar moments in high school as well (nothing from that second paragraph, though - thank God I waited until I was a “mature” college student before that shit happened to me). But now that I’m a 30-something adult with kids of my own and a little bit of hindsight available to me, I realize that moments like that didn’t really define the fantastically sardonic and wonderfully talented asshole I am today.
Rather, it was the little bitty moments - instances that some of you who might be reading this may remember, though most of which you will not - that affected me the most. There are hundreds of them, many still fresh in my mind.
In fact, I could go on for days, but for the sake of SOME brevity, and to keep from boring you to absolute tears, I’ll just tell you four of them. Some of them are pretty funny, most of them as “moments” are pretty insignificant, but all of them changed me integrally as a person. Now, one caveat before I begin: these are MY memories, and much time has passed since these things happened to me. For that reason, what I’m telling you may not be entirely accurate. Or it may be accurate, and YOU’RE the one who’s remembering it wrong. Either way - the truth is in there somewhere, and the greatest truth of it is that these moments changed me. Which is the point.
1. The Boy On the Bicycle
This one actually happened the summer before I started high school, but the ramifications of it echoed throughout the next two decades. One day, I was picking up pecans in my backyard - a pointless chore which my father insisted on me and my brothers doing. The pecans were small, bitter, and wormy, and pecans didn’t fetch much money when we sold them, but it was something we had to do whenever Dad didn’t think we had enough money or didn’t think we had enough to do. As I was picking up pecans, a boy rode up to me on his bicycle. I knew the boy because he lived a few miles down the road and because he was related to one of the kids in my class, but since this boy was a year younger than me and went to a different school (his Dad taught there so he was able to attend it despite zoning bullshit) I didn’t know him very well.
I guess he was bored - he didn’t having any fucking pecans to pick up - so he decided to stop by and see what was up. We said hi, made some small talk, and then he says to me, “I heard you liked to play Dungeons & Dragons.” Which was true - I’d learned the game a couple of years previous from an older cousin, and it appealed to me greatly. I didn’t really PLAY much, because there was no one close by to play with except my little brother, but I goofed around with making up characters and I read all the books and magazines that dealt with it.
Long story short, we started hanging out, and eventually got my brother and a couple of other neighborhood kids into the game, and on many, many weekends throughout high school, we’d all play D&D at my house or his house.
So… how did this define me? Well, first of all, D&D allowed me to exercise my imagination and intellect outside of the usual academic arena, subtly demonstrating for me the value of deep and far-ranging thought. I think that, had it not been for that outlet, I might have devalued such things, because in high school, I actually strived NOT to be a nerd. Sure, I was a little geeky, a little nerdy, and still am - but I might have abandoned altogether the rich possibilities of an intellectual life (in a quest for shitty beer and pussy) had I not had that tether.
Secondly, that boy on the bicycle went on to become my longest-lasting true friend. It’s 27 years later, and I JUST got off the phone with him - we were planning a Thanksgiving excursion together, his family and mine. How many of us can say that we still have a deep and lasting relationship with a non-family member that has endured so long? And at great distance, too - he lives on the other side of the U.S. If you can, then you should count yourself fortunate. I do.
2. You First
In high school, we had a substitute teacher named Ms. Presley. And when she came to our class to sub for an absent teacher, we… didn’t behave very well. Looking back now, I can say that I really liked Ms. Presley - she was actually pretty cool, even if she was prone to long speeches about really asisine stuff, and even if she never stuck to the teachers’ lesson plans. That was fine, I think, because most of the time the teachers’ lesson plans were “busy” work anyway.
You guys from high school - you remember her, don’t you? Ms. Presley, God bless her, was batshit crazy. In a good, harmless way.
One day, Ms. Presley was substituting for our Honors English class - a class which my grade shared with the one above it. I can’t remember if this thing I’m gonna tell you about happened when I was in 10th grade or 11th, but I don’t think that matters. Anyway, we all started goofing off as we usually did, and Ms. Presley launched into a speech about how we were someday gonna regret our behavior because God was gonna get us. And at some point in her speech, she says, ” If ya’ll cain’t behave, then ya’ll can just leave my classroom.”
Jamie Cooper stood up. He was in the year ahead of me, and this was just the sort of thing Jamie would do. In elementary school, Jamie had been a bully - faster, stronger, and meaner than most of us and a real pain in the ass to wimpy little shits like me - but Jamie was also pretty smart, and in high school, even though he was rough around the edges, he’d mellowed out a bit. Still, this was typical Jamie - defiant and bold - and the envy of all of us who never dared to be rebellious.
Jamie walked to the back of the classroom and headed for the door, with Ms. Presley railing at his back. And then, up stood Tal Milner, who was in my grade and who was obviously trying to emulate the great rebel of our time. Tal followed Jamie to the exit, and Jamie stopped and opened the door for him. Tal walked out, his shoulders squared, his jaw set and… Jamie closed the door behind him and returned to his seat.
We all cracked up. Ms. Presley laughed so hard she almost hyperventilated. And when Tal came back a few minutes later - he’d made it pretty far down the hall before he realized Jamie wasn’t behind him - the laughter surged again. Class was over for the day - even the part where Ms. Presley preached to us.
There are countless movies and TV shows and books about how tenuous being popular in high school (and even afterward) can be - about how it seems like “rough kids” and jocks and kids with money seem to have the advantage, but can so easily lose their edge if they overextend or defy the repercussions of karma. As I watched Jamie and Tal get up and make to leave the room, a huge part of me wanted to join them, to walk out of the room and make the kids in my classroom wish they were as cool as I was.
But the sheepish look on Tal’s face when he returned reminded me why I didn’t.
3. You Are SO Arrogant
One of my teachers in high school had her hands in a lot of extra-curricular activities which I participated in. She also had a lot of pet students who participated with me - needless to say, I was not one of her pets. I think I could have been, but something in her manner and the manner of her pet students bugged me, so I never went out of my way to suck up to her or try to please her. Also, there was ANOTHER teacher who was also into a lot of extra-curricular activites to which I gravitated, and I WAS one of her pets. I think there was some rivalry between them, too, which fueled the fire that caused this moment.
Not much to it, actually. This teacher and I were talking about my position on one of her “teams” and she was more or less threatening to take me off the team if I didn’t do something she wanted. I told her I didn’t care, but that I thought she was making a mistake,and in response, she gave me this vicious, poisonous look, and told me I was arrogant.
I’ve gotten that a lot over the years. In fact, you may be sitting at your computer right now thinking, ”Well, asshole. You ARE.” But this was the first time anyone had genuinely called me out on it, and for days I had to think about what she said and what might cause her to say it. It stung. I didn’t - I DON’T - want to be arrogant. Arrogant people don’t fare well in the grand scheme of things.
Then I realized a few things, and it is these realizations which changed my attitude about the world and my place in it.
First, if you think I’m arrogant, then you don’t know the meaning of the word. To be arrogant implies an assumption of one’s superiority to others. It also implies an overblown sense of one’s value. Now, we are not all created equally in certain capacities: I may be smarter than you. I may have more money than you. I may have more friends on fucking Facebook than you. But that DOES NOT make me better than you, and I have NEVER believed myself to be better than anyone simply because I had certain advantages over them. I am CERTAIN, in fact, that every person in the world can do SOMETHING better than I can. I bet you can name at least one thing you can beat me at. I bet you can name more than one.
The problem in the past for me has been that I have no problem with acknowledging those things which I can beat YOU at. If I can do something better than you and we both know it, then what’s the harm in acknowledging it?
But it has taken years of maturing before I became comfortable with not actively competing against people that I personally had no business competing with - in other words, it took becoming a man to be able to openly acknowledge those things which I can’t do so well, and to just “let it go.” As an example - I SUCK at anything car-related beyond changing a battery or a tire. I have no fucking clue where the oil drain is on my car. But in 1988, I’d have bent over backwards to demonstrate that I was as good at automotive stuff as you are, and God forbid I ask your help.
Another thing that took time was understanding that some people, if they cannot do something well, do NOT like to have it pointed out. I have tried over the years since I figured this out to refrain from doing so, but I have a hard time with it because apparently no one has a problem pointing out MY shortcomings (this teacher being a shining example), and because I believe that if you’re sensitive to someone pointing out that you can’t do something, then you are probably in need of some level of self-examination. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. Let’s call it like it is. Such is life.
As far as an overblown sense of self worth… I am a writer struggling to make headway in an industry which actively resists talent (yes, I said that right). So while I may think my writing is something YOU ALL should pay attention to, apparently not everyone believes the same thing. I AM VERY AWARE OF THAT. I am not a very valuable writer. Not yet anyway.
I am, however, a valuable father. Just ask my kids. And I am a very valuable friend. Try me.
Finally - and I’ve said this before elsewhere - it takes a LOT of arrogance on your part to think that you’re worthy of labeling anyone else arrogant. Who died and made you judge of things like that?
So. Do I think that teacher of mine was arrogant?
Not my place to say.
4. The Talent Show
There are times, though, when other people openly acknowledge that you can do something well, and this was one of them.
We had a bona fide, full-blown talent show once at my high school. To participate you had to sign up ahead of time, you had to have a legitimate talent to display, and you had to follow the rules on stage (length, format, etc.). It wasn’t a bunch of kids goofing around in the theater when they should have been in class. I forget who sponsored it, but it was sponsored and advertised and supported and all that legit shit.
I entered. And I won.
My talent was that I sang a song - a Christian folk song that my youth minister at the time found for me. I sang over a tape that had the whole song on one side and just the musical accompaniment (pretty much just an acoustic guitar) on the other. I sang over just the accompaniment, and I smoked it.
Later that day, in the midst of a flurry of pats on the back and congratulations, one girl walks right up to me and says, “You didn’t deserve to win.” I just gaped at her, stunned into silence.
Well, let me tell you something, little high school girl who’s probably grown up to be a bitter, overweight, and overbearing shithole: I DID deserve to win. I was up against a series of rap acts and some dancers and I THINK one group of kids who sang a four-part harmony a la Boys To Men. And while there were some pretty decent moments of unquestionable talent exhibited that day, and while no doubt there might have been some acts that WERE better than mine, I fucking blew some minds when I hit a couple of those hard-to-reach notes, and I definitely exhibited some unquestionable talent of my own.
But the question is: did I DESERVE to win?
Well, I chose something that wasn’t immediately easy for me - I “reached for the stars” as it were. And I practiced. I practiced so hard and so much that I was so sick of that song, I never want to hear it again. I wore my voice out at one point and wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to sing. And I was nervous - not because I didn’t think I could sing, but because I knew I was singing a slow, acoustic folk song about God in front of a bunch of people who liked rap and Boys To Men (I like rap, too, by the way - as long as the rappers have talent, which many popular ones do not).
So, did I DESERVE to win, young girl who walked up to me and said I didn’t? I’d say hell yeah I did. Just like you probably deserved everything that’s happened to you in the subsequent years. Most people get what they deserve.
That’s why I think that, while I may not be an indispensable part of the writing world now, if I keep at it I CAN be, because that will be what I deserve. And if you think I’m arrogant to believe that I deserve such a thing, then once again, I direct you to the definition of arrogance.
Being a writer of some import will not make me better than you. The foundation for THAT little life lesson got laid in high school.
Which - although in sharing these little memories I never actually mentioned - I did NOT.
I’m not the biggest science fiction fan you know – but I like quite a few of the trappings, and I’ve read a shitload of the canonical books and seen a bunch of the canonical movies.
One of the themes that runs through a lot of those books and movies is that advances in technology – in particular communications technology – will misshape and distort the way we human beings interact with each other and the world “outside” whatever room we keep our computers in.
I call bullshit.
At least as far as I’m concerned, the advances I’ve seen in the last 25 years or so of my own life have certainly CHANGED the way I interact with friends and family – but not in a bad way. Only good. All good.
When I was a kid, my parents only had one telephone – a rotary phone with a cord, which sat on my dad’s desk in a dark, hot corner of the house. We had a party line, and long distance cost a whole lotta money (Mom and Dad fought about the phone bill a lot). I rarely talked to anyone on the phone because it was so prohibitively hot and sweaty and inconvenient. Also, they had no answering machine – so if we weren’t there to get the call, we didn’t get the call.
To correspond with friends and family who lived far away – and by far away I mean even 20 miles – I had to write letters. I wasn’t allowed to make long distance phone calls (neither was Mom, really, but she did it anyway). Letters seemed like a good idea back then, even with their time delay of several days, but now that I have e-mail….
If I wanted to talk to friends who lived some distance away, I had to actually go to them – which got easier once I was able to drive. But until then, living in the boondocks as we did, my friends seemed very, very far away.
Flash forward a few years to when I’m in college. NOW, Mom and Dad get a cordless, and I have one in my room at college as well. We all have answering machines. Communication gets a little easier, but it’s still pretty primitive. We still write letters. We still don’t do the long distance thing. We still actually have to connect to a land line to call anyone.
Then, move forward just a few more years, to the mid 90s. Now, I have access to computers and I have an e-mail address. Not everyone I’d like to talk to has e-mail of their own, but they will soon. I have a cell phone – looks like a walkie-talkie and it costs more than it should, but now I’m connected most hours of the day (I skipped the whole pager thing myself, BTW, but I’d like to remind you how prevalent they were for a few years there).
No more letter writing. No more long distance charges (although roaming charges will fuck you up the butt). No more need to have to sit DOWN anywhere to call someone. No need to find the right change to use a pay phone. If you have an urge to speak with someone in the U.S., you pretty much can do it RIGHT THEN. And if you can wait just a few hours, you can converse with someone via e-mail no matter where in the world he or she is.
Now look at us today. Cell phone technology and competition have put us at a point where practically everyone in developed countries has one. In a single day, I can talk to my friends in New York, Las Vegas, North Carolina, Beirut, Chicago, and Israel – at little or no cost. Chat rooms and instant messenger programs put me in constant touch with countless others. I get 100+ e-mails a day and usually send up to 20. (Not counting spam. Yeah – spam is a drawback, but whatever). With Facebook and LinkedIn I have gotten in touch with people that I’d lost track of years ago. With Twitter, I can let my followers know when I’m posting a new post on this blog, or when I’m taking a piss.
My parents and their parents and THEIR parents could NEVER have had the sweeping range of relationships and correspondence and communication and intimacy that I have with so many people. I’m certainly pleased with the level that I have. Think about – without technology being where it is right now, it’s unlikely that I could share these thoughts with you about it so immediately, so thoroughly, and so inexpensively – inexpensively in terms of time as well as money.
The point got driven home to me a couple of weeks ago when I was at Dragon*Con. While at Dragon*Con, I realized that a significant portion of the friends I had there, I’d become good friends with via the telephone and the Internet. Sure, most of them I’d met face to face (although some I had not!), but we became friends – good friends – by correspondence.
I know there are accounts of people corresponding via letter ages ago, and establishing deep, lasting relationships with the person on the receiving end. I don’t doubt that’s possible – but technology amps that possibility up a significant amount.
Simply put, there’s something to be said about being able to call a person up at most hours of the day and pretty much expecting that he’ll answer the phone so you can talk. There’s something to be said about being able to negotiate business or set up meetings (whether professional, amorous, or just friendly) quickly and conveniently. There’s something to be said about the dynamic nature of long distance friendships today.
And while I value the relationships I have with people whom I do see physically everyday, just as my parents and their parents before them did, I’ve discovered similar, more immediate and often just as intimate value in the relationships I have with people whom I DON’T see everyday.
People, that is, like you.
I wrote this several days ago, and I’m just now finding the room and time to post it. I still feel these sentiments, even weeks later.
I’m writing this at midnight on the Fourth of July, and I gotta say – this was one of the weirdest Fourths I’ve ever experienced. It wasn’t David Lynch weird, but… it was pretty fucked up.
For years, as I’ve lived where I live in this suburb of Atlanta, I’ve had a number of local, neighborhood friends. Now, as they do when you live in a place a while and things and people are in flux as they are, some of my friends have gone away: I’ve lost touch with some because our children stopped going to the same school. Some have died. This is to say that I’ve lost friends due to circumstances bigger than us. Truth be told, though, I can’t honestly say that I care for those people less; though my memories of the times we’ve shared are fading, I miss them, and if they were here right now, I’m absolutely certain that we could and would share all the laughter and sadness, joy and dismay that friends share. It is simply circumstances beyond us that separate us – things beyond our control.
Recently, though, I seem to have lost two friends to circumstances which are, for want of a better word, infuriating. And it all boils down to politics. Now, I’m not gonna talk national politics - not in this post at least - but let me say this: I have vigorously disagreed with friends whose national outlook differed from mine, I’ve avoided people who weren’t my friend because I knew they disagreed with me, and I’ve been frustrated to the point of almost screaming because some idiot friend of mine could not see reason regarding how insanely wrong he was with his political ideology.
But I’ve never actually stopped being someone’s friend because we disagreed on politics.
Likewise, on a smaller scale, I’ve never stopped being someone’s friend because we disagreed on local politics.
I had a friend, though, a genuinely great guy, who used to hang out with me and my gaming buddies and play our geeky board games with us. His children are roughly the same age as mine, and he and I would take “kid excursions” together – my daughter and his kid to the Renaissance Festival. Trips to Six Flags. Days at the park.
And then one day he pretty much said, “I don’t want to hang out anymore,” and acted awkwardly when his innocent child and my innocent child started talking together, oblivious as children can be to the sinister machinations of their adult counterparts.
I was bewildered. I wondered what I’d done.
Turns out, what I’d done was dare to be friends with a local political figure who didn’t fit with my other friend’s ideology. His wife is an outspoken opponent of my political friend, and so… no hanging out.
I had another friend who has worked in a professional service and repair industry for many, many years. Once upon a time in fact, I called him up to ask him to come help me with issues I was dealing with regarding his area of expertise. He came, he helped, I payed him a paltry sum – much less than I would have paid someone else to do the same thing.
Now, he and I have remained on speaking terms for a long time, despite the growing schism between whom he and his wife support in local politics and whom I support.
Recently, his wife has made inquiries into my professional relationship with my friend who is in local politics. As circumstances would have it, I did some work in a public relations capacity for my city a while back (we needed it), and my political friend saw an opportunity to ask a friend (me) to help him in my area of expertise. I came, I helped, and the city paid me a paltry sum – much less than they would have paid someone else to do the same thing. I did this because I love my friend and I want my city to be better.
Ironically, because I did work for the city at the request of her political enemy, there are inferences of nepotism.
So… how am I supposed to interact with my friend, her husband, next time I see him? Awkwardly, I would guess.
Okay – on to the weirdness of tonight.
In the midst of all this political chicanery, over which I have inadvertantly lost two friends, we had our Fourth of July throwdown in our city. There was a big street fair, a festival, and a block party, all leading up to the kickass fireworks climax.
During all the festivities, I managed to see both wives of my estranged friends, one of the friends himself (from a distance – I didn’t know how to approach him), and the other friend’s child, who probably would’ve liked to have come and played with my daughter. Seeing them made me feel a strange mix of anger, indignation, helplessness, and frustration.
Meanwhile, the son of my political friend was playing with my daughter, dashing around the crowds and having a grand old time.
And while they were playing, just before the fireworks began, the boy did something, and broke his arm. He came over to our little camp, where we were staked out to see the fireworks display, and complained that he’d hurt himself. His mom and dad were busy on the other side of the festival – I’d entrusted my daughter to them for several hours as the festival raged on, and in return, they entrusted their son to me and my family for the duration of the fireworks.
So… no one’s to blame for what the boy did to his arm, but when he came over complaining about it, I took one look at it and knew something was wrong – it was bowed in a way it should not have been bowed. So I took the boy and led him through the crowds to his parents, turned him over to them, and explained what happened. They immediately took him to the hospital. And they all missed the fireworks.
Now here I am, thinking about all the relationships between all these people. It’s in my nature and always has been to analyze situations after the fact, and I can’t help but be glad that I was there to make sure that boy got to the hospital. I’m glad to have been able to be that kind of friend. I value his parents’ friendships and wouldn’t give them up lightly.
But then again, I valued the friendships of my other two friends as well. Had it been their child who hurt himself or herself, I’d like to think that I would have responded the same, despite our differences - it was easy, it was my responsibility, and I care about them. Even now.
But would they do the same for me? They’ve tossed aside our friendship so easily, would it be as easy to simply toss aside the welfare of my children because it inconvenienced them or because they were mad at my politics?
And so I’m left with questions: Is basic humanity so easily disregarded in the face of difference? Apparently, friendship can be tossed aside, so who’s to say humanity can’t follow?