I have three running series within this blog, though it is hard to tell, since only one of them has so far spawned a sequel. Although there is something great about this one having more entries than the “Regrets” series, it is unfortunate that the “Good Times” series has also languished in singularity. I’m sure that will change, and looking at some of the future artists of the countdown, I have confidence that I’ll have a couple more entries for each. But for now, we’ll just move on to the third entry of this series. I devote this long ass story to the first person to introduce me to Daft Punk, my friend and neighbor growing up: Fred.
Fred lived a block and a half away from me, but he was not part of the usual gang of kids I hung out with during the summers of my youth. I like to talk about my neuroses and social anxiety, but Fred always beat me hands down at both. While I was out trying to be cool and participate in block-spanning games of hide-and-seek, Fred was squirreled away, reading. I first met Fred when I was in middle school, though I can’t remember the grade. We met in our school’s Talented and Gifted class (known as “tag”), and even did a project together where I as Robin Hood and he as Achilles ended up playing chess against each other. We had costumes and even made a small movie of it. The script was passable, both of us working on it, but neither of us having a gift for pithy dialogue due to our own levels of social awkwardness. It got shown to our class, was mocked, and never heard from again. I got to know Fred through this project, mostly because he enjoyed playing chess, a game I was just starting to play. I joined the chess club the following year, and Fred and I were the best two in the group. We were frequently paired against each other, partially to make us better but mostly to spare the kids who were still trying to learn the game. I was only able to beat Fred on rare occasions. My aggressive style was usually bested by his war of attrition. It was while playing chess that Fred and I really became friends. We would talk a lot about comics and Star Wars while we were playing.
There was one episode I look back on with embarrassment where his mother pretty much kicked me out of the house because I refused to stop playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Fred’s Nintendo and go home. I took the opportunity when Fred got called to dinner to, instead of leaving, keep playing while Fred and his family were doing family things. At least I didn’t invite myself over to dinner, I just wouldn’t stop playing Nintendo and leave like a decent, respectful kid would. Fred’s mom was angry that I hadn’t left. If the Nintendo had been in Fred’s room, it may have been different. But it was hooked up to the family TV, and I was monopolizing it. I was sternly told to leave, then the console was intentionally powered off and I finally got the hint. Since I was getting home later than planned, and since I was pretty ashamed of the incident already, I lied to my parents when I got home and told them I ate at Fred’s house, making up what they had for dinner since I didn’t even know.
Fred and I were never particularly close, though we did hang out a lot in the ensuing years of middle school and high school. Fred got me into tabletop roleplaying games. We played a lot of Shadowrun (2nd Edition) together, with me getting so into it that I started buying sourcebooks for it whenever I could afford to. Later, we played both regular Dungeons and Dragons (2nd Edition) and Spelljammer together, along with fellow nerds Mark, Mike and Ron. Ron was always our GM or DM (Depending on the game, the moniker is different. No sense in having a “Dungeon Master” in a game without dungeons). I got Fred into the Marvel Overpower collectable card game (Marvel’s version of Magic: the Gathering). We were frequent companions on long bike trips to Twilight Book and Game and George’s Comics. We would constantly debate “who would win in a fight” arguments about various comic book characters and nerd culture icons. We discussed Star Wars and Star Trek, Marvel, DC and Image comics, and various roleplaying games. We would also talk about video games, but he went the Nintendo route (Final Fantasy), but my heart was in Sega (Phantasy Star).
One thing that kept us from getting to close in those years was my consistent flirting with popularity. As mentioned in previous posts, I was always trying to be a part of a group or at least have some taste of popularity. Fred never showed any such desires, if he had them or not. I spent the latter half of my high school years in relationships, but Fred did not. This ate away at our “common ground.” I felt like he resented me. That he felt I had turned my back on the monastic order of nerds. Girls are to be idolized as a mystery never to be understood, let alone touched or kissed. Thinking that Psylocke was hot or being intimidated by Princess Leia was the extent of our female exposure. But I had crossed that line. That’s probably all bullshit, though. In the end, I think it was a little bit of jealousy and a little inability that caused that awkwardness. Fred, I think, wanted to be like me in some ways, but his anxiety was always dialed just slightly higher than my own, and mine was barely within socially acceptable levels. I tried to set him up once. When I was dating Kate in the summer after my senior year, I tried to set up Fred with her best friend (whose name escapes me). Kate was in on the plan, because I had talked up that Fred was both smart and good looking (both true, for the record), and had downplayed some of his awkwardness and other flaws. This plan culminated a couple of weekends before I went to school. My parents left me alone in the house for a long weekend as they went off on vacation. I invited Kate, Kate’s friend and Fred over for the night to watch the Star Wars trilogy. Kate and I cuddled while we watched A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, but Fred and Kate’s friend sat on separate ends of the couch. They made some successful attempts at small talk, though, and seemed to be getting along fine. Kate’s friend, having more confidence than Fred, realized at some point she was going to have to take the wheel on this one. After Empire, we were all tired and decided to go to bed (only one of the very few times in my life since owning both that I have watched Empire without immediately watching Return of the Jedi right after it. I let Fred and Kate’s friend have my room, while Kate and I took the sofa-bed. I was hopeful. I thought this might actually work. I awoke the next morning to Fred, already halfway through Jedi, sitting in an easy chair in the same room that Kate and I were sleeping in. Kate’s friend, meanwhile, was still upstairs. Kate went up to see what had happened and I watched Jedi wordlessly with Fred. After a few minutes, Kate and her friend came downstairs, bags packed, ready to leave. I pulled Kate aside to ask what happened. She told me her friend was pissed off and wanted to go. She had made several advances at Fred, it seems, and he anxiously rebuffed them or quickly changed the subject. He even went so far as to sleep in a separate bed (I had bunk beds then, story for later). She liked him, but didn’t feel like working that hard for it. Since she didn’t even like Star Wars, she just wanted to go. So Kate and her friend left, and Fred and I finished watching Jedi and then played Overpower for a bit. We never discussed Kate’s friend.
Fred was a year behind me in school, so when I went off to college, he had to suffer through one last year of high school. This is how he described it, since all of his friends had now graduated and gone off to school and he had never bothered to make new ones. We did talk frequently over email, and we hung out a couple of times over Christmas break. After my failed college experiment, I came back home. I was pretty embarrassed that I had failed so miserably to succeed at higher education that I didn’t really reach out to anybody for a while. Towards the end of summer, I ended up seeing Fred at the comic book shop. We started hanging out again and falling into old habits. George’s Comics, since it was also a video rental store (and an adult video rental store) was open 24 hours. Fred, now equipped with a driver’s license (something I still hadn’t bothered with), and I would frequently go there at 11pm or 1am so that we wouldn’t be bothered by other people. After getting comics, we would drive around talking about comics, then about life, then about anything that came to mind. George’s Comics, having been started on a whim anyway, eventually decided to shut down and just focus on the video rental side of the business. They had a huge sale on all of their back issues, and Fred and I spent five hours in there one night going through all of the long boxes. We each walked away with about 300-400 comics for roughly $50.
Fred was headed off to college in the fall, and so again we would separate. I didn’t yet have a computer, so contact was limited to letter writing. Fred was always a fan of letter writing anyway. He hated shorter forms of communication. Post cards annoyed him. His Emails were long, never abbreviated. I can only imagine what he thinks of texting and Twitter. Whenever he came back in to town, though, we would hang out, go buy comics together, and engage in what would become our favorite activity, wandering around the neighborhood and talking about whatever. These conversations took many forms. One night we discussed quantum physics, and we both discussed the application of various quantum particles for travel and communications (theorized the entangled pair years before anyone else, gimme my damned Nobel already). We would talk about the centuries-long dominance of the British navy, and then compare it to ships and combat utilized in Star Trek. We would talk about the viability of various forms of government, mostly resting on the idea that we preferred anarchistic flux states, merit-based technocracies and socialism that wasn’t communism (our top three favorites to conceptualize, in no order because we could never agree on which one was the best) more than we like democracy. We would talk about mental illness (ironically never our own, except possibly through proxy or transmission). We would talk about weather patterns. We would come up with ideas for new sources of energy (the stratosphere-height tower that collects static electricity while the earth rotates spawned a story idea in later years). The conversations were always mental exercises. We were two minds, bored with our surroundings in a time before there was an easily accessible internet in our homes or our hands. We would also talk about music. Fred liked a lot of the Seventies rock greats like Lou Reed, Queen and David Bowie. He also liked some newer music, like Beck and, as previously alluded to, Daft Punk. The first time I heard the Homework album was while playing Overpower with Fred. I didn’t appreciate Daft Punk until some time around Human After All, but that’s not Fred’s fault, it’s mine. Fred was a fellow junky of Media Play. One New Year’s Eve, when my plans fell through, I took the money I was going to spend on gas and illegally obtained liquor (I was not 21) and went to Media Play to blow it all on CDs. I ran in to Fred there, also without plans and also blowing money on CDs. We ended up going to the movies instead of just doing nothing.
I moved back to Ohio while Fred was still going through college. There were very few opportunities to visit, but we would get together when I would come home for Christmas and go out to Denny’s or just drive around, talking. We kept in touch mostly through email, and that was pretty sparse. After college, Fred was unsure of what a history degree was actually good for, beyond helping others get a history degree and thus perpetration the cycle. Listless, he ended up working in a sandwich shop somewhere on Cape Cod for the summer and living with his dad, now divorced from his mom after a scandal that ended up in the papers (he worked as a city official). With few expenses, Fred saved up a bunch of money and bought a North American Rail Pass. He then spent the rest of the year riding around the country on trains. One of his stops took him close enough to Columbus, and he visited Heather and I. We had a pretty good time, but it was only a couple of days so we really couldn’t get back into the swing of our friendship. We were both very different people. That was the last time I would ever see Fred. I continued to correspond with him for a while, though. He worked for another summer in the sandwich shop, then bought a Euro-Rail pass and traveled Europe by train for a year. Not long after that, he got a job in Japan teaching English as a Second Language to Japanese students. He saved all of the money they paid him for that, then traveled most of Asia by train. Not long after that was when I lost contact with him. My life was pulling me one way, his was pulling him another. Our emails became less and less frequent. I don’t remember who sent the last one, but eventually we both stopped responding. Last I knew, he was in England, but that was second-hand information from his mother to my mother when they ran into each other at a store more than a decade ago.
I consider myself to be one of the smartest people I have ever met. I know that sounds arrogant, but I’m okay with that. Everyone should have something they are vain about, as long as you can make a good showing when backing it up. But I never see myself as smarter than Fred. Fred was always the smartest person I ever knew. The wonderful thing is, I think he made me smarter because of it. There were times I just wanted to keep up, because I was interested in the conversation but I was out of my depth with the facts. Fred always had the facts. Wherever he is, I hope he found someone who appreciates the genius they get to talk to. I hope he still has big conversations and big theories. Otherwise, that’s a loss to the whole world.