Today was the first of two rest days in Washington DC.
I'm hanging out at Jason and Amy's apartment in Alexandria, VA. Jason has lived and worked in the area for the last 3 years, spending his days toiling to improve corporate information security while Amy works for the Grants Department at the Department of Health and Human Services. They just got engaged earlier this year, and I couldn't be happier for the both of them as they are both tremendous people and a great couple.
Jason and I have been friends since Junior year of high school and until then lived more or less parallel lives unbeknownst to one another.
For posterity's sake I will start from the beginning:
I met Jason at the start of 9th grade when we were both attending Ridgefield High School. I had somehow ended up in the wrong study hall one day and stumbled upon a boy with thick glasses, oversized jean shorts and a flannel shirt (if i remember correctly; I am sure Jason will correct me) who was nose deep in a notebook furiously scribbling barely legible lines of code. At first I thought it was another classmate of mine and approached him saying:
He eyed me in confusion. Overcoming my monumental incompetence with just the faintest bit of recognition, I asked him:
"Oh, sorry, I thought you were someone else, whatchya workin' on there? Some H-T-M-L?"
This last bit was the equivalent of an illiterate asking an author if he's working on one of them book-things.
I knew just enough to know that I knew nothing. Still, the incomprehensible bracketed words had a satisfying order and layout, and I was certain the individual I was dealing with must be either an autistic savant or some kind of technical wizard.
"Yeah, it's a Final Fantasy Fan Page"
The words came out at an ultrasonic frequency that would make a dog whimper.
Time for the next bluff; I had only ever played Final Fantasy at friends' houses. The first of the series came out on the NES, but they were never part of our home library. We opted instead for classics such as "Sesame Street 123" and "Track and Field". Later, when the newer Final Fantasies had arrived for the SNES, I was again stymied since, as part of the famous 1990's console wars, I had sided with Sega. Final Fantasy III (actually VI) was a worldwide phenomenon and defined the role-playing genre for many- not for me because I was too busy with Sonic.
When Final Fantasy finally made its way to Sony and their new Playstation, I finally had the technology to play, but with only several games purchased per year (birthday, Christmas) I opted instead for the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Twisted Metal. I borrowed Final Fantasy VII long enough to beat the first half and then gave the game back wondering what happened to Aeris, Cloud, and the rest of the characters I had mindlessly spent level-grinding rather than progressing through the plot.
"Oh yeah, I know Final Fantasy, those games are awesome! The Buster Sword and all of that!"
Jason perked up and we spent a brief time chatting about details I had no knowledge of, while I feigned familiarity and approval for a game I'd barely played.
This was the extent of our time spent together in Freshman year.
Though separate, our lives were traveling a strange mirrored path. Jason and I were never terribly good students; while we both tested fine, our inability to sit still, focus or follow lesson plans landed us in the parent-terrifying diagnostic realm of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. While our classmates diligently did homework assignments and took notes in class, Jason and I scribbled mindless doodles and stared out of windows dreaming of things more interesting than arithmetic and the Boston Tea Party.
Our parents did everything they could think of to motivate us-- reward, punish, praise, shame--they literally sat with us to supervise completion of homework assignments. To save the space of writing things twice, I will share a story that happened to both of us independently of the other:
After finishing a long homework assignment that our mothers monitored dutifully to confirm the accomplishment of, those same mothers then put the respective essays in our bags and instructed us to take them to class and hand them in. Arriving at school, (having been driven as we both often missed the bus--which we later discovered was the same bus--which we must have ridden together countless times without crossing paths) we proceeded to put the assignment in our lockers and go to class without submitting same assignments. When speaking with the teachers afterwards, our mothers could not comprehend how an assignment they had watched us complete could go missing.
We both did this, separate from each other and with no collusion. We both just ended up with the same shit wiring I guess.
In any case, we still weren't friends. Which was odd. Because if you put together a Venn Diagram of our respective social circles, it would show almost total overlap with the exception of ourselves. When one of us hung out with Chris Henderson, the other was with Ryan Biracree. When I was with Corey Loke, Jason was with Jim Rysinski, and so it went. We managed to spend little to no time with each other, acting instead as strange unintentional doppelgängers.
It wasn't until Mr. Euvrard's History class in Sophomore year that our lives really intersected again. Jason had developed a unique knack for making a whistle sound with his lips that bordered on the threshold of human hearing and perfectly mimicked the sound of dying fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling, prompting class-wide appeals to turn off the headache inducing lights. Meanwhile, I was helping Brett Halladay invert people's backpacks while they weren't looking. It was adolescent elysium, and we were in the thick of it doing our best to dismantle classroom attention on a daily basis. The irony is that Mr. Euvrard was jointly one of our favorite teachers and we actually enjoyed his class.
It was in this same class that we were assigned to a group project together where we were to manufacture a Victorian Age newspaper with articles and editorials pertaining to the time. Jason had gained class-wide notoriety for his self-published notebook paper comic "Stickcat" which featured scrawled lines that could barely be qualified as artwork, yet they were a hit! Having loved comics from an early age, I was incensed that his strips were absent of humor, all ended in "Fin" and featured abysmal illustration. Bottom-line is I was jealous that he was doing something successfully that I had always dreamed of and didn't have the nerve to just start doing. For Jason, it didn't matter because he didn't care about Stickcat, he didn't have any aspirations of being an artist and so judgments of his work had no impact on his ego.
I, unfortunately, couldn't bear the thought of doing artwork I considered substandard and being identified by it and so I would just throw my drawings away. Still not quite connected we drifted back apart as the year came to a close.
I was to spend the next year at Ridgefield's "Alternative High School". Ridgefield Alternative High School was a sort of Island of Misfit Toys if you will. A place where substance abusers, emotionally disturbed, socially confrontational and behaviorally nonconforming teens, whom hope had collectively been abandoned for, by educators, counselors and administrators alike, could have a second lease on public education.
Assignment to a different school campus is the equivalent of a social death sentence for a kid without a driver's license and so my encounters with Jason ended. I don't think I saw Jason again until the fall of our Junior year, 6 months since being in Mr. Euvrard's history section. I should say I didn't really see Jason. Similar to my inability to recognize him when we first met I saw someone I didn't recognize in the library. His face resembled Jason's but he was a foot taller and his voice was a timbre and pitch resembling human.
Jason described the rich cocktail of confusion and suspicious recognition as I mulled his face over in my brain.
I literally didn't recognize him. Still we didn't spend much time together at this point, and it wasn't until I found out that he and our mutual friend Jim played Super Smash Brothers Melee that we finally began to hang out regularly. Even more time was spent together when Dance Dance Revolution was discovered and a quick competition to outpace each other stomping our feet in the local Roller-Rink Funstation USA began.
Spending our time alternating between fighting games and dancing machines, we formed a quick bond that was snuffed out before it really got started when his mother moved from Connecticut to New Mexico. Senior year he lived in Albuquerque--which might as well as have been another planet. I contented myself with other friends, a new girlfriend, and graduating high school by the skin of my teeth.
Jason came to visit Ridgefield during the summer, and we hung out as a group, but in the fall he went back to college for UNM while I prepared to enroll at Norwalk Community College--the only institution in the area that would accept a student with a cumulative 1.65 GPA. I should really say they would accept a student with a check for tuition and a library card or other form of identification. Signing up for classes was easy, but I'll be damned if they didn't want you to pass some of them. By the end of the year, I was on academic suspension for failing half of my classes, while Jason was busy buying a new carpet every week at UNM thanks to his roommate decorating the floor in celebratory regurgitation. By that fall, I'd gotten my act together and Jason had transferred to University of Connecticut Stamford - School of Business.
This meant that he was living once again in Ridgefield, and it was then we really hit our stride as friends. With no one else in the area, we spent most of our available social time playing Half Life 2 and Smash Brothers and watching bad movies. We also spent much idle time dreaming up brilliant plans and schemes that would often struggle to get past the naming stage, and, if we were lucky enough to pass that, the logo stage. Still, we were multi-billionaires waiting for lift-off, at least in our own minds.
Eventually, we lived and worked together in college, Jason studying the profitable Management of Information Sciences while I twiddled my thumbs with boiler-plate Psychology. The room was often filled with the sounds of Arnold Schwarzenneger screaming in anger or pain from the cycle of films we played on repeat. If this wasn't the case, we would be overdubbing the movie that was on, with Arnoldisms of our own: "Kahm with me, eef you want to leev" , "GET TO DA CHOPPAH!" , "My CPU ees a Neural Net processor, a learning computah" while others moaned in dismay.
Meal time was spent offending neighboring tables and friends forgetful enough to make the same mistake twice. A perpetual game of one-upmanship reigned, and we compared our dining hall platters to bodily secretions, expulsions and other viscera. Jason would pretend to throw up all over his tray, and I would imitate likewise and then up the ante by pantomiming shamefully eating my puddle of pretend vomit. It was a special brand of camaraderie that has thankfully immatured with time.
When we graduated, we both ended up moving to different places, but physical proximity has never proven to be particularly challenging. Our friendship always seems to pick up right where it left off and we still make obnoxious retching sounds in restaurants and off-color jokes around angry parents. One person pretends to fling shit and the other jumps up and down making excited chimpanzee noises.
When I have an idea that I lack the technical proficiency to implement, I pester Jason on Gtalk and when he in turn needs a picture of a strung out from a 6 day heroin bender Gumby (with R.I.P. Pokey tattoo) for a corporate meeting, I oblige him. Without him, there wouldn't be any blog- Hell, I probably wouldn't have written anything down because I can barely manage to keep to a routine of anything for more than a week. So I have him to thank for keeping me more or less on track with life and regularly boosting my ego when it comes to artwork. Our system of symbiotic praise mixed with cruel and critical honesty has challenged both of us to do things better than we would otherwise.
It's good to have people in life that won't let you get away with less, unless they are also feeling lazy and would prefer to sit on the couch and play videogames instead of working on a blog or a media-sharing website, or a million other things. It's also good to have best friends. They are people that you can go back to like old books; the pages get worn and dog-eared, the bindings crack and the covers fade, but the words are always the same and the feelings familiar.
Just don't leave them in cardboard boxes, in your basement, especially if it is prone to flooding- and definitely don't leave them there again if they already got flooded and soaked once; then you're just a perfect idiot.
So in a blitz of unplanned unedited free association with probably many factual errors, that is the history of my friendship with Jason Meller.
Also, today I bought bike grease and cleaned my bike. Afterwards, we watched Godzilla at a movie theater that had ninjas serve me beer. All in all it was a good day.