Monday, October 31, 2005

Remembering Egregious Moments

The past is camping out in my apartment, and it doesn’t want to budge.

I spent the bulk of the weekend with my family, which would have felt less sharply like time travel if my humble home’s floor wasn’t currently covered with detritus from my high school and college years. My mother recently moved back to Long Island from Dallas, 17 years (!) after my family relocated to Texas. She brought several boxes of my stuff with her – mostly lots of books and CDs, but also two or three shoeboxes of letters from friends over the years. (I’m showing my age; when I was in college, people sent letters to each other. In the mail!) Also, one or two larger boxes of college writings, letters to and from my high school girlfriend (whattup, SD?), and appraisals of my performances from judges at various debate tournaments (whattup, debate nerds?) (My rampant love of parentheses may soon render the blog almost unreadable, and I apologize in advance. I’ve kept myself in check to this point, but the floodgates are straining…) Also, lots (and I mean lots) of bad (and I mean bad) poetry. Much of which will be trashed, for the sake of the children. Not my children, necessarily, but really all future children of the world.

The point is this, if you don’t know it for yourself already, which you probably do: Run from the past. Screaming. I’ve always been more sentimental and nostalgic than is probably good for me, and that will inevitably continue, but this latest round of looking back has given me pause.

The most mystifying comment on a debate ballot was this: “Good, confident oration style. More style and charisma would be highly beneficial in close LD rounds.” (LD stands for Lincoln-Douglas, the kind of debate I…debated.) What exactly is this judge – John Murray from Garland High School – saying? Is the second sentence directed at me, even though he had just called my style “good” and “confident”? In context, it seems like this is the case, which means John Murray was sending me some seriously mixed signals. Or is it more of a general suggestion that the LD universe could use more charisma like mine? I like to imagine this is the case, in the spirit of walking up to a woman at a bar and saying, “You’re stunning. The world would be better off with more stunning women.” (Of course, that’s the lamest thing ever committed to paper or screen and is only for purposes of dramatization – never say that or anything remotely like it to anyone, in a bar or anywhere else.)

The debate stuff still reads respectably, if incredibly dweeby – lots of mentions of Locke and the social contract and individual rights, and feverishly scribbled notes of procedural wonkiness (“I DON’T SEE YOU COVERING YOUR CASE IN 1AR!”) The personal letters are a different story, some of them evidently penned by a mildly disabled robot that briefly inhabited my body and the bodies of several friends.

I don’t mean to impugn my entire history of correspondents. There’s some good stuff in these archives. My friend Laurie, in particular, wrote letters in college that still hold up for their general intelligence and confidence of composition. Luckily, there isn’t too much written by me to others, because what there is horrifies. (Perhaps, subconsciously, that’s why I’m posting this on Halloween.)

The strangest realization was that one particular girl who I got to know very briefly at college wrote me fairly lengthy, personal letters after transferring to a school in California. I remember this person, and can picture her. She was funny in a dry way, charmingly alienated, with remarkably long, straight hair, and I distinctly remember her expressing a desire for us to date. (I say this not to brag, since it was the only time that happened in four years on campus. Also, she had to come around to the idea, since I think she initially despised me. We often shared a dinner table with a group of common friends, and my blathering offended her at first, I think, before she eventually realized we shared a love of Woody Allen movies and an uninformed hatred of almost everything else.) But I didn’t remember this brief letter-writing phase we had, or how much of her interior life she was sharing with me. Reading her notes (it seems there were only three or four from her, and I imagine a similar number from me to her) changed the initial sensation inspired by combing through all this damning evidence – which was just the age-old, too-common alarm of having changed over the years – to a broader feeling of not trusting the completeness of my memory, something in which I’ve always taken a pointless pride.

One thing I do remember – and that everyone who knew me must, too, since I wouldn’t shut up about it – was my dorky level of love for R.E.M. My freshman roommates taped a sheet to a wall in our room, where anyone could write possible explanations of the band’s acronym. (We all knew what it stood for, but this was college, and time wasn’t going to waste itself.) I’ve come across that list, too. In fact, I think I’ve had it with me in New York all along. It runs to about 100 entries, and my favorites cover quite a bit of ground, from the hypochondriacal (Rapidly Evolving Malaria and Rheumatism! Emphysema! Meningitis!) to the cinematic (Rodan Engages Mothra) to the un-P.C.-but-oddly-prescient (Repent Evil Muslims) to the imperative (Read Emerson, Mister and Resist Egypt, Moses) to the collegiately existential (Realizing Everything’s Messed-up) to the truly bizarre and inspired (Reoccurring Elvis Mourning) to the Judaic (Rabbi Eli Mendoza). And, of course, that old chestnut, the Ray-inspired (Ray Eating Macaroni).

There are dozens more, many of which I spare you because they are so juvenile and vulgar, often suggesting the mistreatment of animals or clergymen. (It was a freshman dorm, what do you want?) Thus closes this window onto my astoundingly productive higher education.

Oh, crack that window for just another second – I should thank Jason, Eric, JB, and my roommate John for their contributions to the list back in ’92-’93. Well done, gentlemen. Two of you are married now, and your wives should be very proud.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go prepare for a fantasy basketball draft I have this week. (Oh, did I say something about being newly ashamed of my past?)



Blogger JMW said...

What deserves a post of its own is the way you used to sit down with the following items on a tray -- a bowl of raisin bran, a slice of pizza, a fruit bowl, and a milkshake -- then shrug off our horrified looks and say "It's all going to the same place."

You know full well that the point of the piece is not to imply any fading of affection for REM. And it's not like you don't still dig KISS. Chump.

5:33 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I believe it was the immortal Stipe, and Tim will back me up on this, who penned the following brilliance: "Butterfly, butterfly, pancake. Hurrah. We're all free now. What noisy cats are we?" The defense rests. (No, really, Stipe can be an awful lyricist, especially in recent years. But he used to have a certain oblique charm, and in any case, the overall excellence of the band always covered him in a tight spot. Until 1998, or whenever Up came out...)

As for the fruit bowl comment: touché.

11:43 AM  

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