a tribute to conrad

Sometimes I look people up on the Internet, people whom I have lost touch with, yet periodically wonder about. After years of doing this, I have found that the people I tend to befriend are often not people with much Web presence. So, in general, this practice is frequently frustrating and, in most cases, fruitless. Sometimes I stop trying.

Today I again looked up my friend Conrad, a compatriot from long ago, and one whom I’ve never had much luck in tracking down before. And so I was shocked this time to find an obituary for him from almost two years ago. He was only 33.

I met Conrad in the dishroom of a large university’s student food court. We both worked there, and during my three years of periodic employment at that hellhole, he was my closest friend. We used to spend our days plotting to overthrow the management. We planned to mount towering Gothic thrones for ourselves in opposite corners of the dishroom, from which we would reign over our kingdom. We grew giddy from drinking too much Josta cola.

Conrad had a vivid imagination and a wicked sense of humor. He was generous and kind. From what I observed he was also quiet and rather withdrawn with most people. He loved comics, movies, and video games. I remember him being obsessed with Spawn. We shared a deep-seated love of the film Repo Man. He even made me a cassette of the soundtrack, which I still have. He liked Iggy Pop and Saturday Night Fever. Sometimes he would even dance like John Travolta in the privacy of the dishroom. He often wore black…maybe even always.  He was creative and liked to draw, but he was self-critical to a fault. He had talent, but didn’t seem to believe it and would viciously criticize his own work. It didn’t matter if you told him otherwise.

We goofed off a lot at work. It was a crap job and there was a lot of down time. We were young and belligerent. We’d go to the basement of the building and Conrad would do pull-ups on the pipes. He was in good shape and his arms looked strong. I remember going to his apartment once and he showed me some of his drawings. I pestered him to see them, and he finally relented. It felt to me like he was exposing some part of himself that he rarely did, and that meant a lot to me. He came to my place once, too, and played Scrabble with me and my girlfriend. I took a photo of him there, sitting on the couch, dressed all in black and scowling like Bela Lugosi at the camera.

I wish I could remember more about Conrad, the things he said, because he was so funny. But it was so long ago, what feels like a few former lives prior to this one. I have in my head a few bits and pieces of conversations we had and I still keep those close. In my online searches, I came across only a few pages referencing him: a guestbook from the funeral home where members of his family had left messages; a page on deviantART where his cousin (a noted comic artist), whom he had lived with back when I knew him, had posted news of Conrad’s death and written a bit about his interests and artistic skills; and a handful of illustration credits from role-playing adventure games. I was happy to see that he’d published some work. I hope that had boosted his self-confidence.

Conrad was one of those regretted lost companions, for we connected on a certain rare level. I used to send him my zine after he moved back home, but I never received anything in return. I even based a character on him in a crappy novella I wrote some years back. He left an impression on me, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to know him better than I did. He wasn’t easy to get to know, though; he was rather private and sort of a loner (like me, I guess), and I was also young and confused, aloof and distant from my own emotions.

I don’t know how Conrad died and I suppose it’s not that important. I don’t know what it is that makes us wonder about cause of death. I guess part of it is that he was so young. I don’t know if he was sick, or how much he suffered. Maybe some of this is morbid curiosity, from which I am not immune. But mostly it’s wanting to know how he was in his final days and wishing he was not in pain. All I know from reading the obituary is that he died at home, and I hope that means he was comfortable and with his family. But I don’t know that. I didn’t know any of his family, either, so I guess this mystery will remain.

He was a good person, a true friend, and I won’t forget him.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

Repo Man Soundtrack b/w Dead Kennedys Plastic Surgery Disasters (and a little bit of Fever)

hold this empty box

Tonight I watched Box of Moonlight. I cannot believe it took me so long to find this film [thanks to a respected Goodreads user for mentioning it in a comment thread]. It came out in 1996, while I was deep into my cultural blackout period. Lord knows what else I missed during that time. But I wouldn’t trade those halcyon days of shooting pellet guns at the abandoned van in the gravel parking lot of my hut down by the river. Or maybe I would. Depends on the price. Regardless, it’s all part of who I am now. When you watch a film from 1996 on DVD, the movie starts right up without any previews or pushing any buttons on the remote. It’s nice. I like John Turturro and Sam Rockwell and Catherine Keener. They are all good people in the movies. This is a film that the orbs would hate. Only strange people like films like this. People are smart in different ways. I wish this was universally understood. One person can’t know everything. People think in different ways. This leads to exceptional behavior in one avenue for one person, and a different avenue for another person. What this means is we each can learn from another, from anyone. People are so hard on themselves. It’s unnecessary. We can only do the best that we can.

So there’s this zine called Miranda and the editor, Kate Haas, writes a regular column in it called “Motel of Lost Companions,” where in each issue she spotlights some person from her past she’s no longer in touch with and talks about the significance of this person in her life at the time. This has always resonated with me, for my past is littered with lost companions. Where they all are now is anyone’s guess. I suppose I could get a Facebook account and try to find them, but what would be the point. Likely to be a depressing and futile exercise. I’m sure most are married with kids now…so boring and predictable. Although I suspect some of them aren’t even on Facebook at all. Some of them are probably living desperate lives in basements or roominghouses, struggling to get by and largely failing. Those are the ones I’d probably like to have a conversation with but could never find.

The current moon phase is 47% of full. I hate the internet for telling me that. It would be a tough night to gather moonlight in a box, especially in the city. When I went out, the air felt cool and clean at least. I thought about lost companions and the few that still remain. I thought about Joy Division’s song “In A Lonely Place” and how it haunts me. It’s tied to someone lost, then found, now in limbo. The needle on the vinyl in that room so long ago, caressing the marble and stone, the blinds drawn against our futures.

There are lost companions everywhere, some of them lost before they’re even found. And we’ll never meet because the world is so big. I guess that’s okay, although it sometimes still bothers me. We are all of us in lonely places, after all, but the ones inside us we cannot leave.

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