Today would have been one of my best friend's 50th birthday had he not passed away nine years ago. I try to think of what crazy thing I might have done to celebrate the occasion had he lived to see it, but I am drawing a complete blank. Probably because I don't care about a birthday party... I just want him back. People say that you miss a person less and less as time goes on, but that certainly hasn't been the case here. There are just too many reminders.
He loved Dr. Who, so any time an episode airs, he's there. He never got to see any of the "new" series that began in 2005, and so I can't help but wonder what he would think. Enjoying Dr. Who is mostly impossible for me, as it's the most frequent painful reminder that he's gone. But it's not just Dr. Who. As a fellow sci-fi geek, he was often the first person I'd turn to when some new sci-fi television show or movie debuted. The crappy Star Wars prequels were made even worse because my friend wasn't there to laugh with me over the heinousness of it all. It works both ways, I suppose. He was around to experience the sheer brilliance of The Matrix for which I am eternally thankful... but he was spared from the awful sequels which destroyed the franchise for me. Small consolation, to be sure, but when your best friend is gone, I guess you have to cling to whatever small blessings you can find.
And then there's Star Trek.
The wonderful re-imagining by J.J. Abrams last year was truly bittersweet. Yes I loved the movie. But enjoying it was impossible. Both my friend and I were massive fans. We went to at least a dozen Star Trek conventions together over the years. We met all the primary (and many not-so-primary) castmembers of "The Original Series" and "The Next Generation" series and collected their autographs. We talked about the shows for hours. Star Trek was such an hugely important diversion for the both of us that it's unthinkable that I could ever see anything even remotely Trek-related without my best friend haunting me. The sheer number of great memories I have from our wacky adventures at Trek conventions alone could fill a book. I've been so sorely tempted to share some stories from those days on my blog, but I can never bring myself to do it. It would be like giving away a part of him, and I'm entirely too selfish to do that. Memories are all I have now, and they've become like some closely-guarded secret that I never want to share. A part of me hopes I change my mind one day, because there are tales entirely too good not to share. I guess we'll see if I get less selfish in my old age. Somehow I doubt it.
Our shared sci-fi infatuation also treaded into literary diversions. We attended numerous book signings and author readings together for writers such as William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Douglas Adams, and many others. This is something for which I owe him a tremendous debt, because I'm certain I would have never attended these on my own. I look back on my life and remember such incredible moments as hearing Douglas Adams read from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Clive Barker discussing the thinking behind his own personal favorite novel, Imajica, and wonder what memories I have that could possible replace them. There aren't any. Those moments... those shared moments... are priceless. And I owe them entirely to my friend.
If there was one area we had =zero= overlap, it would be music. His favorite musical artist was Tori Amos. I've never understood it. Even after he dragged me to one of her concerts I was left unimpressed. No doubt she is a truly gifted songwriter and performer, but her stuff just isn't for me. He, of course, had no interest in my 80's New Wave music addiction. New releases by bands like Depeche Mode and The Thompson Twins that would put me over the moon for weeks were just something for him to laugh at. I remember when Depeche Mode's Ultra was released we were in Seattle, so I picked it up. When we got back to his place, I was so excited to listen to the album that I couldn't hop in my car and drive home to listen to it... I had to listen to it now and popped it into his CD player. The minute Barrel of a Gun started thumping through the speakers, his reaction was to pick up his cat, cover her ears, and say "It's okay... it will all be over soon." Insulting my favorite band like that would have been unforgivable if it weren't so damn funny. Whenever I hear a song from Ultra I just picture his cat looking completely puzzled as my friends hands covered the side of her head. I love the memory almost more than the music.
Television, books, movies, sci-fi, comics, and all the geeky crap that went with them were an integral part of what kept us friends for so long. But they were all incidental to the one thing that brought us together... computers.
My friend ran a local computer bulletin board system (BBS) where other computer geeks could dial in with their telephone modems to send messages to each other and share information. It was a crude (very crude) precursor to equivalent services that would later become commonplace on the internet, but that was all we had. Every once in a while users from the various local BBSs would assemble in Real Life for a "Pizza Bash" where many friendships ended up forming. Including ours. Despite different platforms (I was Atari, he was Amiga) the wild computer frontier was an adventure we shared until the day he died (though it was a lot less "wild" in later years).
I don't have a single computer-related memory worth remembering that doesn't have my friend in it. Even when I didn't know who he was, and a "personal computer" was just something freaky and new at the high school library to goof around with, he was there. And, as he was six years ahead of me in school, that's quite a feat. Turns out he helped the local computer shop install/maintain/repair the school computers from time to time. And so he was there from the beginning for me (he was also there when we got to meet Kiki Stockhammer and Wil Wheaton during a NewTek Video Toaster workshop, but that's another story).
The great equalizer between us in the computer platform wars was the Macintosh. I bought a Mac so I could use Photoshop with the pricy scanner I had just purchased. I was instantly smitten, and my loyalty to Atari computers vanished overnight (an Apple Whore was born!). My friend remained a steadfast Amiga user, despite my constant pressure for him to switch.
Myst was a revolutionary (for the time) graphical adventure game released in late 1993. More than a game, it was an all-absorbing work of art. There was nothing else really like it, and it ran only on Macintosh computers with a CD-ROM. I bought the game because somebody had recommended it to me, but never actually played it until weeks later. The minute I finally started the game, I called my friend at work and told him "YOU HAVE TO COME SEE THIS!!" So he ditched work and came over... then spent the next ten hours hunched over the computer with me playing it until the wee hours. He bought a Mac for himself the next day. That's a bond which can't be broken.
After he had become a Mac convert, my friend dragged out this awesome Macintosh "Picasso Logo" promo-light he had gotten from a local computer shop that was tossing it out. The light was absolutely beautiful and very rare. Mac Whore that I am, I of course wanted it. I coveted that thing every single time I saw it and joked with him once about stealing it. He just laughed that laugh of his and said "Well, you can have it when I'm dead!" For years after, I would joke about plotting his demise so the light would be mine at last. "It's worth risking a manslaughter prison term, you know," I'd say...
Photo taken from RedLightRunner
For the past nine years it's been agony every time some cool new technology is released and my friend isn't here to share it with me. Mac OS X was released the day before he died. The iPod came seven months later. When the iPhone was released I was depressed for days because it was Star Trek come to life and the first call I wanted to make on it was to my friend. How can I miss him less and less over the years when technology is all about being more and more? There's always something new coming out. He's always the person I want to talk about it with (Myst is available on the iPhone now, for heavens sake!). And that never fades. It never goes away.
March 24th, 2001 I was in Seattle celebrating my birthday with my sister and friends in Seattle. The next day as I was recovering from the drunken debauchery of the previous night, I got a phone call from my mother telling me I needed to call my friend's wife. But I didn't need to call. It's one of those moments you "just know" something terrible has happened and you're about to make a call that changes everything. But I did call his wife. And it did change everything. My best friend of the past sixteen years was gone.
After the funeral, my friend's wife and mother generously invited me over to see if there was anything I wanted to have as a reminder of him. And while there was a lot of stuff of his I'd have loved to own, there wasn't a single bit of it that I wanted. No "thing" could ever take his place. No piece of "stuff" would make me miss my friend any less.
So I politely refused.
After I took the Macintosh Picasso Logo Light, of course.
The bastard would have been furious with me if I hadn't.
Happy 50th birthday, Howard. I love and miss you every day.