I forgot the birthday of Laura, one of my very best friends, last week.
Coincidentally, I almost forgot my brother Stephen's birthday tonight.
Thank God I update my weblog by first clicking a button in CityDesk and then
typing out the current date as the name of the new file.
Laura I met my very first day at Berkeley. She lived next door to me in Unit
2 and, as it turned out, we had some common acquiantences in her hometown of
Manhattan Beach. (There's a big Manhattan Beach-Camp Stevens connection.) We carried on for
the next five years or so a brilliantly rambanctious friendship, filled with
late night talks, drinking, pot smoke, yelling, fights, faux-fights,
proclamations of devtion, and widely assorted debauchery of all sort.
She had Grateful Dead and I had my "juice," the term her and her freshman
year roomate coined for rap music, preferably blared through my roomate's
enormous, amplified electric bass speaker. She had her hippie co-op friends, I
had my straighlaced Daily Cal cronies. She cussed like a sailor and would holler
loudly at the slightest provocation; most of my girlfriends, like me, had much
more delicate sensibilities (Laura loved to make fun of one female friend of
mine who asked in a squeaky-girly voice for a male acquiantence to feed her
pizza because it was too hot to pick up.) I had a fairly uptight attitude toward
drugs and alcohol that took many years to ease; Laura at one point seemed intent
on experimenting with everything on the planet.
The one thing we had in common was an ferocious curiousity -- about life,
about the lives of others, about the world. And near-complete fearlessness about
verbal confrontation. As her friends would say, we were both "totally drama."
Not just with each other, but with everyone. We loved to manufacture it.
Laura and I are still friends, although there was a bit of a pause when she
went off to the Peace Corps for two years, and she now lives in LA. I'm sure
she's still drama though, which is why I sort of fear calling her to apologize.
But I will, and hopefully she'll forgive me, perhaps after a helping of drama,
and we'll be friends again. I remember once in college she forgave some major
transgression after she saw I had posted a picture
of her and I and our good friend Alan on my website. I had no idea she
would find this touching. It's hard to tell with Laura.
I have been thinking a lot about old friends lately, not just because of
Laura. I've been thinking about them in part because I am a very sentimental
person and have a very tough time with change. Like Laura and most of my other
closest friends and family, I am a Cancer, or at least on the cusp of being one.
I have also been thinking about them because my good friend Thomas Oh died on
June 22 in Brazil. Thomas had been there about three or four months, if you
count a prior trip from which he returned only for a week or two. He had
traveled there after leaving Sun Microsystems, where he was a sales engineer,
travelling all over the world helping set up Sun systems and helping answer
questions from sales prospects. He fell in love with Brazil and wanted to stay
there until he learned Portuguese. He used to say in all seriousness that this
was a language he wanted to learn "because it would be such a useful language to
know." He was making plans to extend his visit when, after journeying off from
his friends' campsite on the beach one night, he fell off of a cliff into the
Thomas was methodical, perfectionist, disciplined, patient and a superb
teacher. He was also an energetic conversationalist, so much so that people
sometimes became exasperated when, for example, he would not stop talking and
leave their home to let them sleep late at night after an evening of spirited
Thomas was the first person I ever wrote for at the Daily Cal. He also took
me under his wing and taught me the process for putting the paper online, which
was much easier than it had been thanks to the fact that he marshalled, through
sheer nagging and persistencer, everyone in the production department into using
an orderly digital workflow. An AppleScript program he wrote to help speed
online publishing, and some books he leant me, launched me on a rediscovery of
computer programming, which I had not tinkered with since I was in Elementary
School. (I proceeded from AppleScript to Frontier/UserTalk to Perl, at which I
have become increasingly proficient after many years of study and practice.) He
basically set me on track for the professional life I lead today, as well as one
of my chief hobbies (programming). Even my car, a 1996 Geo Prizm, was the
product of Thomas' obsessions. He explained several times how he had sought out
a Geo Prizm -- he eventually flew to Texas to pick up a used one he found online
-- because it has the guts of the uver-reliable Toyota Corolla without the name
recognition, artificially depressing its resale value. He even let me borrow his
during a trip to Italy, before I bought my own on his advice.
Because Thomas could be exasperating, it was easy to
take him for granted, to spend less time with him than perhaps one should. And
now, of course, there are moments when all I can think of are the times we
missed together, and the covnersations we didn't have, and that I never told him how
much he meant to me. The times we did have were critical to my life
Thomas' funeral was July 9 in Whittier. His family was
there, including his sister Barabara, who read memorials from his friends in
Brazil. Friends from Los Angeles attended, and a group of us flew down from
Berkeley, meeting others who now live in the area.
Just like anyone, I am left to wonder who in Thomas' absence will badger the
world into submission, into some small perfection, and thus into grace. As
George Bernard Shaw wrote,
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one
persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress
depends on the unreasonable man.
There is also the impending departure for New York City of two people who
have been dear friends to me over the last couple of years, who have laughed at
me and with me, well mostly at me, and loved me in my inexusable and tolerable
and exemplary moments alike, and in fact expanded the definition of "exemplary"
greatly at moments so that I can slip into the definition.
They are part of a lively, eccentric, diverse, weird, brilliant, inexplicably
entertaining and most of all fat group of friends who will now evolve into ... I
don't know what. I want to tell the sentimentalist inside me not to worry,
especially given the folks who are still around, including at least one close
and old friend. And by old I mean, OLD.
Lately it seems like I have failed to make too many
important phone calls to too many friends, and failed to return too many
e-mails. The fault is entirely my own, funeral notwithstanding, and it would do
me well not to be sol fatalistic and mopey, and appreciate the friends I do
have, and not wallow in regret or nostalgia. And into the bin with the lines, played
over in my car, idling in the BART parking lot this morning, filling
time before the train and the next round of friendly drama and rambunctiousness:
who are you now
and who were you then
that you thought somehow
could just pretend
that you could figure it all out
the mathematics of
so it takes two beers to remember now
and five to forget
i loved you so
yeah, i loved you, so what