This is not a eulogy.
It's not a remembrance, either.
What it is, I think, is a catalog. Maybe it's simply an internet post, exactly the kind of thing my old college buddy would have hated. Or maybe a road flare. Or simply the negative image of a light that's gone out.
I don't remember how we first met. He simply arrived into my orbit in that clingy, thronging way that first year students at college have, walking to and from the dining hall en masse. He was terrifically blond with a tan slightly too deep to have come from anywhere on the east coast. Just as I thought, he was also from California, and in fact he was from my same suburban county as me, and though I had driven all the way across the country to college and never once looked once over my shoulder I was glad to know he was there, someone who drove the same freeways as me but took different onramps. We were close for a time after we first met and his pointy, boyish face pops up often in the long-abandoned photo albums I uploaded to Facebook over a decade ago (his first appearance: comparing long underwear with another friend of ours who he would eventually date, they are both removing their outer pants layers and my friend is sheepishly screwing his face up in an embarrassed laugh - why I felt the need to photograph this I have no clue, but in this moment I am glad that I did).
Over winter break that first year we knew each other we both visited home, staying with our families about 30 minutes apart. One day I drove out to him in Yorba Linda and - I suppose because we were both really interested in drilling down into exactly what was at the dark, surreal heart of our respective suburbs - we spent the day at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, right down the street from his house. It wasn't all that remarkable, but I remember my friend wondering whether or not he could somehow break into the helicopter on display out front.
The following week I picked my friend up on my way to a house party with friends from my high school - somebody had keys to their parents' empty beach house in Carlsbad and we were all eager to show off the various binge drinking techniques we had picked up after a semester at our assorted campuses. At the time, I wasn't sure why we were doing it, but now I think I understand: the entire car trip down we crafted a really elaborate lie about how we knew each other, really a fantastic tale involving his brother appearing on a popular game show and our mothers being pregnant at the same time and the incredible coincidence of winding up at the same college in Connecticut. What we said then was that it would make us interesting to people and would make it more fun for us to talk to these (boring, lame) people. But what I see now is that he was someone who always felt like he was more clever than everyone in the room and, just beyond that, he was someone who always kept a few layers of ironic shellac coating his heart. This made him hard to be around sometimes, he could write things off and he was quick to mock. But he usually *was* more clever than everyone in the room and we lied boldly to everyone we talked to that night. They ate it up, and we felt a little drip of power over these kids and their solo cups. I slept on a deck chair on the back patio facing the water, feeling both the ocean and the deck roll under my 9 beers. We snuck out early the next morning, trying not to wake anyone up as the sun rose.
Somehow my friend had figured out that one of his favorite movies had been shot entirely at a high school that was just off the freeway, a short detour on our drive home. So early Sunday morning we walked around with my digital camera and found the various recognizable scenes (an uploaded pic of him smiling genuinely in front of a row of lockers, a quote from the movie as the caption). On the walk back to the car from the football field we saw that church services were happening in the school assembly hall and people were filing in out of their minivans. And the two of us - hungover, shit-eating-grin-having snotty white kids with all the free-to-trespass privilege in the world exchanged one look that said with real disdain in our hearts,
"thank god we don't live in the fucking suburbs anymore."
At some point that December he and I drove to LA and were photographed together on a trampoline, laughing in mid-air. The context is long lost. And then, though I had forgotten this entirely, my friend was there the day I first drove to the Salton Sea and saw Salvation Mountain, two absolutely profound experiences that I have returned to again and again. The Salton Sea is a biblical body of water defying the desert around it, a slowly evaporating ecological disaster ringed in a shore of bird and fishbones mid-transformation into sand. Salvation Mountain is just as artificial, just as manmade, but it's made by exactly one man who lived deep in a Bible-verse fever dream and over decades piled up four stories of adobe slathered in house paint, crudely praising God. I think of these places often and go there whenever I can - they're like dreams you can walk right into.
Remembering again for the first time in a decade that in fact my friend was there with me on that first visit was the thing that made the news story real. A boat accident, his body missing and then partially found, me getting a text about it and then reading it on the computer. I felt it three steps removed, I felt a space, but when I saw the photo of him on top of Salvation Mountain I knew the space was now empty.
There are other instances. He is prominently featured in a music video I made in 2012. I heard a story once about how he and another friend once recklessly switched places - from shotgun to driver's seat - while speeding up the Taconic Parkway. After school he opened a theater venue that was coincidentally three blocks from my aunt's house in Philadelphia.
The last time I saw my friend was something like three years ago. Our closeness had faded but I don't think our fondness did, at least not on my end, and every time I got an update on his life I was pleased that it sounded wild and unpredictable. He was making weird shit and doing weird stuff and keeping himself aggressively offline (you really can't find any info about him almost anywhere, I've looked). And we convened at our mutual friends' experimental sci-fi drag show, where I played the music and my friend did the lights. It was good to see each other again, it had been years, and our friend's performance was funny and weird and unlike anything else. But the venue - one of the shittier DIY places in Brooklyn - double booked the night, so we left earlier than expected. We all hobbled over to a bar in a big clinging throng, the music loud, a reckless, buoyant mood and the whirling colored lights tracing a little suggestion of a shit-eating grin.
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Good morning -
Thank you for giving me a space to vent this mournful energy, which I have been carrying around like a boiling kettle.
That’s it for today.
But what about you? What are you experiencing at a remove these days? Are you blessed with heat and running water? Are you more clever than everyone in the room, even when you’re alone?