In Which I Remember The 90s For A Change

I don’t know why, but my thoughts have been drifting back to around November and early December 1994. I had tickets to go see a taping of Late Night with Conan O’Brien for the first time, over the break between semesters. They were real tickets, but I didn’t take pictures of them because we had film cameras then, so we could only take 22 pictures a year and hope one turned out in focus. Sorry. One of my apartment-mates wanted me to know that they tape the talk show segments all out of airing order. But I was sure that, except when some schedule problem requires, the late night talk shows record live-on-tape. I pointed out trip reports people had made to support my contention. No matter; he was sure that I had to understand it was going to be all different from what got on air.

Over the winter break I did get to the show, though. And it was recorded live-on-tape, everything in airing order. Even the breaks between segments were about the same length as the actual commercial breaks.

I never got to tell the apartment-mate that, though. He didn’t come back for the spring semester and I never knew what happened. If he got a new place to live or didn’t come back to school or what. Whatever it was, it seemed like a lot of effort to go to not to be told he was wrong about the typical production routine of Late Night with Conan O’Brien. And, like, Conan O’Brien in 1994. This was a couple months after that stretch when NBC left the show on the air because they forgot to cancel it. Who could care if your roommate knew you misunderstood its taping routine?

So it’s me remembering that some people will always be unknowable.

That’s not the only unknowable roommate I have from back then. Although the others it’s less that I can’t know them because of deep mysteries and more that I’m not exactly sure of their names. I feel bad about forgetting the names of old roommates but in my defense, it’s been a quarter-century. Since then I have met, without exaggeration, dozens of people. I have forgotten all their names too.

I am sure that year someone one of our other roommates was one of a set of identical twins. I remember because I thought he was telling a joke when he first mentioned being a twin. Fortunately when I finally, so far as I know, met the other twin I had that year’s moment of good social grace. Even though I was a mathematics grad student I knew not to blurt out, “Wow, really? I thought your brother made you up! As a gag!” If my old roommate, or his twin, is reading this, uh, oops? But hey, how about that other roommate, the one who didn’t think Conan O’Brien taped his show in order? Remember that guy?

Still there’s a great chance they don’t remember me, either. I say this because I don’t ever expect to be remembered, in any context, ever. If the dental hygienist steps out of the room for two minutes I expect to have to remind them who I am. And I’m pretty sure they have my name written down. That’s so they know which teeth they’re cleaning and can remark on what a good job I did flossing for the week leading up to my exam.

But I do know that at least one time with that roommate, or his twin, I met another guy. And that guy I remember because I met him again, only online, the next year. And he remembered meeting me, only offline, afterwards. We’re still friends. I mean, not friends close enough to talk about what we’re doing or whether we exactly remember how it is we became friends or where he lives anymore, if he does. I mean friends in that I’ll see him online after a gap of like three months, and he’ll be quite happy there are otters in the world. I bet you’d like to know someone like that. Some of you, the people I’ve been friends with online for a quarter-century, maybe already have. The rest of you, well, I’d like to tell you how to meet someone like that. The secret is to, years ago, have a roommate who’s in the fencing club with him. Or possibly a roommate whose twin is in the fencing club. Maybe both twins were in the fencing club and my friend just hung around them for the sword action. That’s the part I don’t remember.

The Things You Can’t Tell Your LLC

I bought a car. This was back in 2009, so applause isn’t necessary. The purchase wasn’t recent, by which I mean there were episodes of Parks and Recreation that first aired before I bought it. But ever since, the maker, Scion, has been asking me to participate in surveys. Sometimes I remember to before they’ve expired. They promise everyone who finishes the survey has a chance to win a $500 gift card to somewhere. I don’t believe them, but that’s all right. They know nobody believes them anyway. It’s just fun to be part of the ritual.

One of these surveys claimed the Scion division of Toyota was interested in my values. It asked me to rate how important in guiding my life I placed, for example, “an exciting life”, “protecting the environment”, “curiosity”, and “a world at peace”. I don’t want to say anything against “a world at peace”, which they explained as “(free of war and conflict)”. But I’ve seen more than one Twilight Zone episode with wish-granting. Still, what does all this have to do with me buying a car in 2009?

A not-at-all to supremely-important ratings scale for items like 'An exciting life', 'National security', 'A spiritual life', 'Devout', 'Duty', 'Altriusm', and so on.
A survey from Scion asking how important I find duty, a spiritual life, and social justice, among other objectives phrased in ways that do not quite read as parallel questions.

I don’t know what Scion’s values are. I bought the car because it met my requirements of “having a moon roof” and “not costing more than $20,000” even though somehow it did cost more than that. Is the Scion corporation going through a crisis of conscience and looking for the advice of its friends? Then why does it think we’re friends? They made a car I bought, that’s all we ever did together.

It’s not just Scion begging for my approval. Every company except the bagel shop in the strip mall wants an evaluation of their performance, and they’re willing to promise they’ll pay someone for their opinions. It’s a superficially weird need for approval. And it comes just as finance capitalism manages to almost crush people out of the economy altogether.

I get what’s going on here. Some well-meaning soul hoping to hasten capitalism’s demise has convinced companies they need to have relationships with their customers. That sounds good if you’re stupid, which your basic corporation is. It misses the entire point of the modern economy, which is to not have to have relationships with people. If we wanted a relationship with the people who do stuff for us, we wouldn’t have invented money.

If you want me to help you move you could call on me as your friend. But befriending me takes time, since I’m not very good at talking with people. And it takes emotional energy, because I’m all full of prickly edges and barbed comments delivered in a low voice. Plus I cough disturbingly often even when I don’t have a cold. And you only have till the 30th to get out of the place. Give me enough money that I’ll go along with it, though. We’ll get you to the new place whenever you want and you never have to see me again. It’s a nice arrangement and neither of us has to care what the other thinks of “respecting parents and elders”.

The thing is a corporation is already the imaginary friend of an adult who had money. And the adults don’t even consider using their imaginary friends for something useful, like setting up a teleportation network between the full-length mirrors in different places that share names, like from one Somerset to another. They just want to get their imaginary friends to accumulate more money. The current game for these imaginary friends is to get more money by making real people think the corporations are friends. And since we’re all connected in one big global village this’ll be easy. Just act interested in us and that’s as good as being friends.

Where this goes wrong is if you’re even a tiny little bit weird, then a village is the place you flee from. You go to a city, where if someone asks you questions you don’t feel like answering, you’re free to respond with a ten-minute stream of obscenities, to the approval and ultimate rousing applause of an amused crowd that will then disperse. If you want. Me, It’s hard enough to have the relationships I want to tend. The ones that spring up by accident — the cashier at Burger King recognizes me? — are terrifying — I’ll never go there again. I don’t want to be the friend to any imaginary friends I didn’t have a hand in imagining. If a corporation wants to buddy up, it’s just going to be disappointed in the circles it moves in.

Did you like this blog-reading experience? Would you stick around for a quick survey to give your impressions? There’s a free copy of a Marvel New Universe comic book in it for someone who answers. Restrictions apply, and it might be the comic book about a superhero football team.

Tests of True Friendship

“How can you say you’re glad Carol doesn’t hang out with us anymore?” said an Ira as incredulous as any such Ira will get before setting down his coffee on yet another quirkily off-shaped coffee shop table.

“Well, I can’t think of one time I was glad to have seen her.”

Erica said, “Oh, now, you’re being pretty harsh on her. I know you and she had your little differences of opinion, but every friendship has a couple of scratchy points.”

“We were never friends. I put up with her because you all found something appealing that nobody ever let me in on.”

Jon said, “Oh, I know she liked you. What are you holding against her?”

“The first time we ever met, she told me my job was stupid and I should be ashamed of taking money for it.”

“Aw, don’t you feel like that about your job yourself?” said Jon. “I’ve said it about mine sometimes.”

“She didn’t even know what I was doing.”

Ira said, “It was probably a joke. You know what a sense of humor she has.”

“Like the time she spat in all our coffees before she went to the bathroom?”

Erica smiled, though with a little hollowness that wasn’t quite satisfying enough after that. “Well, that was … this conceptual thing. You had to be there to see what was funny about it.”

“I was. It wasn’t. What was the joke?”

“Well, what kind of person would spit in her friends’ coffee if it wasn’t a joke?”

“A horrible person. A person we’re lucky we don’t see anymore.”

Erica said, “Well, we spat in her coffee while she was away.”

“No, we didn’t. We agreed that would be fair but nobody was willing to do it.”

“Oh, yeah,” Erica admitted, “But we thought it was OK, so it all evens out. Wrongs on both sides, and all that.”

Ira added, “You can’t fault a person for doing something nasty when her friends are doing the same thing.”

“That’s — do you remember what she said, when your father was in that car crash?”

Ira scratched his cheek, and then nodding, said, “No, but I remember it being comforting.” And after a pause, “And that you made some drama over that.”

“She said that if you were lucky your father and mother would die and you’d be free of them.”

Ira waved a hand. “Oh, she was just trying to make me see how good his chances were. You’re overreacting.”

“She said she hoped he couldn’t take morphine so he’d be in agony every minute.”

Erica pointed a finger, one of her favorites, this one acquired by honest means. “But then you went and made this scene when you punched the dartboard.”

Carol punched it. And yelled at the guy who tried putting it back up. I was the one telling her she was being insane.”

“Oh, that’s right,” said Jon. “I couldn’t think why you would punch a dartboard.”

“I wouldn’t. Nobody would. Carol’s punched that dartboard off the wall at least four times. Last time she broke the drywall.”

Jon nodded. “Yeah, that is the sort of thing she does. It’s kind of great, isn’t it?”

“And they made me pay for it.”

“Be fair. Most of the fire damage was from your flailing around.”

“After she set my hair and shirt on fire!”

Ira accepted this but held up just two fingers, thus making his point more convincing than if he’d held up just the index or even his whole hand. “But if you hadn’t provoked her she wouldn’t have had to — hey, isn’t that the time she grabbed Erica’s phone and sent the Doom Text to her boss?”

Erica nodded. “Oh, boy, it took me forever to live that down.”

“How did I provoke her? Was it intemperate public declarations of my belief in my non-flammability?”

“Let’s just say,” Jon proposed, “that there’ve been wrongs and hard feelings on both sides, then.”

“I’ll bite. What’s one thing I’ve done to her that’s anything like what she does to us?”

Following the short yet infinite pause Jon said, “Well, look at the way you’re talking about her.”

“Yeah,” said Erica, “and when she’s not even here to defend herself.”

“That sort of thing will keep Carol from coming around again,” Ira added.

“I need to set something on fire.”

This was agreed to be an unacceptable response to the situation. Carol, after a text inviting her to the gathering, reported to Facebook that they had all died.