Wednesday, June 2, 2010

80 days to Bar Mitzvah: reconnecting

God bless the internet. Over the past 24 hours, it has surprised me in new ways, made me feel equal parts angry and creeped-out and made me laugh out loud in the middle of a quiet newsroom; all of this without ever properly setting my privacy modes.

It began last night, hours before I came on here to pour my wrenched heart out in support of my socially outcast Jawa. During intermission at Middle School Performance Night, I was approached by the father of one of his classmates, a fellow “writer,” though for him it is not in quotes.

While his heyday was the first Internet wave, this guy is still kind of old school in that his latest book (“Selling poorly,” according to him) is a trad-style hardcover; no pre-blogging, no podcast, no self-publishing on the number of sites devoted to self-publishing. Find an agent, find a publisher, look at your galleys, send the thing out. Or at least that’s how I would imagine it works, never having completed, much less published, anything of my own.

I asked him about all of these new options for publishing; were they worth pursuing? Every time I open up the newspaper, there’s some story about a writer whose stuff is getting hundreds of thousands of hits on the web. “It’s worth noting that there are photos, and in each, the writer in question looks pretty poor,” I added. I should get to know this guy better. He has a two-book contract.

Then we went home and I banged away on the keyboard for about an hour. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting emails, angry comments from my old blog, Ten Thousand Buddhas. Seems I posted something slagging the Grateful Dead. Four years ago. Now Deadheads in nine states are mad at me. “How on earth are they seeing this?” I wondered. Finally – after posting a snappy comeback, of course – I decided to Google the post. Somehow it had found its way to a bunch of Grateful Dead and Phish message boards, where people were debating whether or not I was funny. Mind-boggling, ego-pumping… and really weird. I went to bed feeling like my skin didn’t fit.

Just now I Googled my old college and Seattle roommate. I can’t remember why. I was just sitting here writing about Hillsborough when my lack of discipline kicked in, causing me to stop what I was doing, snatch the name “Scott Mauk” from the whirlpool of facts in my brain and do a search.

All kinds of things came up. Dude’s won a bunch of awards for teaching but just got canned from his job as an Assistant Principal, due to budget cuts. He also owns a working farm and was a candidate for “Mr. South Whidbey,” which didn’t look like a beauty contest; more of a “Hey, we live in this quirky, Pacific Northwest place and we dig oddball celebrations. Lets pick a ‘Mr. South Whidbey,’ load up on REI gear and make it a big event.”

This is far from the first time I’ve learned things about people long since gone from my life via the World Wide Web. Facebook has all but eliminated “Where are they now?” from modern living. I now know what happened to all but two of my former girlfriends and post one-liners on the profiles of people I barely knew in high school. For all I know, people I’ve never met (including fans of the Grateful Dead) could be reading this right now. They know all about the Jawa’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah and how I’m stressed out over his social life, but they could walk right by me on the street, totally unrecognized.

I’m not complaining. If it weren’t for the internet, I’d still wonder if Dave K. turned out okay. I wouldn’t know that Conrad (formerly Brett) Lau, who lived down the street and hid skateboards in his dresser, was until two days ago being detained by the authorities in a room lined with AK-47s, somewhere near the Ethiopian/Sudan border. Or that he was Rob Mazzetti’s roommate at The Cate School in Santa Barbara, Class of 1983. Nor, for that matter, would I know that Rob Mazzetti, fellow member of the Sigma Pi Zeta Eta Chapter at Santa Clara University, was now an enthusiastic runner of road races.

Actually, that last part I could have guessed. Rob was always pretty intense.

So lets say that the internet and social media have created unprecedented opportunities to re-connect with people. What happens after that? Do you return to the relationship you had 25 years ago, only in post-modern mode? Do they become more of your present than they were of your past, in a weird way where you hear about what they’re doing several times a week while still imagining them 17 years old, their age the last time you saw them?

I think people are creating new relationships with people they sort of knew 25 years ago. Whether they’re doing it through some kind of shared invented memories or because they either a) wanted to know this person better but didn’t get the chance in the past, or b) thought about it later and decided they regretted not knowing this person better, is anyone’s guess. I can’t figure it out.

What I love, though, is that I’m scanning various pages where Scott Mauk’s name comes up and I stumble across this Seattle P-I blog touting the “Mr. South Whidbey” contest. Each of the finalists is profiled, with a little accompanying photo – and curse you, Scott Mauk for looking exactly how you did when you were 25 – and some nonsensical answers that are among the countless publically-delivered nonsensical answers that owe much to the Beatles’ first U.S. press conference. At one point, Scott is asked, “(What is) quintessential Whidbey (Island) ?”

His answer: “Running into someone and talking to them next to the cheese at PayLess.”

That’s when I laughed out loud at work. Not because it’s a funny answer but because when we lived together in 1990, there was a grocery store across the street, and every time we went in there we always seemed to wind up having some important conversation while standing next to the cheese display. It must have happened a dozen times, strange because neither of us could afford cheese at the time.

So when I see that Scott Mauk has carried that with him for 20 years, enough so that he busted it out for a nonsensical interview, well, it warms my heart much more than knowing Deadheads and Phish fans are still debating whether or not something I wrote in 2006 is funny. It made me remember that at one time, Scotty Mauk and I were thick as thieves. And even though I’ve seen the guy once in the past 12 years, he still remembers.

That’s why I dig the internet.

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