Memory is Private Literature

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

-William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)

With all due respect to Shakespeare, this line from Julius Caesar has always bothered me. It has always bothered me because I don’t think that it is true. In fact, I believe the exact opposite is true.

What I am about to write isn’t meant to be deep or meaningful. There isn’t anything profound in this writing. In the end I will just be satisfied if it makes sense. It is just a reflection of something that I have been thinking about over the last couple of days and I just want to get it out there. Wherever “there” ends up being is irrelevant.

This past weekend I started the long awaited project of putting things on my walls. Part of this project has been setting up a corner of my basement as a “permanent” makeshift studio. In order to get the muslin put up in a relatively safe manner, I needed to borrow a drill from Jason.  While I was leaving the Stensland house my phone rang. It was Nader.

He called me to tell me that a guy we used to work with had died on the previous weekend.  He had blocked arteries and passed away while he was at work.

The name of the guy was a name I haven’t thought about forever. To be honest, I didn’t really like the guy all that much.  I didn’t dislike him, but he wasn’t my cup of tea.

Nader told me that the City of Ames had to make arrangements for the body because nobody claimed it. He didn’t know what had become of it.

I spent a decent portion of time on Monday searching the internet for an obituary or a news story on This Man, but in all my searchings I only found 1 thing. An online Guest Book for his funeral by the Memorial Chapel that apparently took care of his funeral arrangements. He passed away on June 13th. Nobody has signed his Guest Book.

Rather than his picture on the page, there is a default picture of flowers.

When I knew This Man I would not have described him as “popular”.  I struggle with the right word to end the previous sentence because I’m not sure the term popular is really a word that has any meaning once a person leaves high school. What I’m trying to say is that people didn’t flock to him. He didn’t have a large pool of friends. However, he wasn’t devoid of friends either.

I only have two real memories of This Man.

When I first transferred from the Evil Clown Outpost in Boone to the Evil Clown Outpost in Campustown I got stuck closing on a Saturday night.

I spent that night with This Man and his friends.  This group of friends always closed together on Saturday nights because they spent Friday nights together playing Dungeons and Dragons. I didn’t know this at the time.

Saturday nights were particularly slow at Campus. Therefore there was lots of downtime for small conversation. I was up front with the female representative of this group of friends.

We started talking about this girl that she really hated. Eventually I inquired about the reasons for her hatred of this girl.

“She slept with my fiance.”

I have to admit that in my smallmindedness, I was more shocked that this woman had a fiance than I was that he had slept with somebody else. Looks aren’t everything… but come on…

“What does she look like?”

“She is 7 foot tall.”

I had my doubts, but perhaps this was an exaggeration.

“She has blue skin.”

Probably not. Perhaps this was a dig at how pasty skinned this tramp was, but nobody in this group of friends had any reason to be mocking anybody for being pasty. By looking at them, the sun was probably little more than a rumor to them.

“She is an elf.”

It was at this exact moment and not a moment before, that I realized that for the last 45 minutes we had been discussing her Dungeons and Dragons character and not her real life.

This Man was the Dungeon Master. I learned this fairly soon after my interaction with the female because the rest of the night was spent dissecting the previous night’s role playing “adventure”.

The rest of the group ganged up on This Man because they wanted him to draw a map of the land where they were adventuring. He refused. He flat out refused.

His reason was that he had a map in his head and the map on paper would never match the map in his head. It would never be good enough.

The other memory I have of This Man is from 9/11. He had spent a good portion of our time spent together telling me how much this country sucked. He hated it and how he wanted to move to Australia.

I’m not saying that 9/11 could not have fertilized a long dormant seed of patriotism, but I have my doubts that my experience with him on that day was the rebirth of a patriot.

As soon as we realized that what was happening in New York City was a terrorist attack he started complaining that we should close the store.

I happened to agree with him, but it was not my decision. It is my belief that no businesses should have been open on that day. Everybody should have spent that day/night with their families.

It wasn’t my decision. It was the decision of the Senile Old Man that employed me. He wanted to keep his stores open.

After incessant complaining, I sent him home.  I did so with some regret. I always felt that he was using this as an excuse to get out of work and not that he was having some profound emotional experience to the world changing forever.

This Man wasn’t employed by Campus when the Senile Old Man dropped the burnt pretzel axe on the store. I can’t remember if he quit. I can’t remember if he was fired. I can’t remember anything about his departure from my life. Only that I haven’t seen him since he did depart my life and I haven’t thought about him until I heard about his departing this world.

any death is a tragedy, but I am saddened by this for another reason than it is just sad when anybody dies. I am sad that when This Man did pass on, the only mention of it I can find anywhere is an unsigned Guest Book on a funeral home’s website.

This seems like such an incredible waste to me.

On Saturday of this weekend I experienced the exact opposite. I did not know the people that owned my house before I bought it. However, since I have lived there I have met some of their family and some of their friends.

On Friday I got a phone call from a member of my church and a fellow Methodist Man. He told me that he had just learned what house I had bought. He told me that he was friends with the previous occupant. He and his wife always came over to pick cherries and he wondered if they could come pick cherries this year.

I told him that I had plenty of cherries and that they could come pick some.

Saturday morning my doorbell rang. I got up and it was my fellow Methodist Man. He had come to check on the status of the cherries. After I had taken him to the backyard and we had looked at the cherries he told me the story of how he met my house’s previous occupant. As he finished telling the story his eyes began to well up.

He said a quick goodbye and left.

The previous occupant didn’t just leave behind a beautiful (if not excessively cute) backyard. He left behind some great memories and friends.

I guess it is my sincerest hope that the Man that I knew only briefly left behind some of those as well.

5 thoughts on “Memory is Private Literature”

  1. That is a very sad story, Chris. Today I had a dear friend pass away and I have been reflecting on how people impact our lives as well. We all have a choice on what our personal impact will be. Your post makes that even more evident.

  2. This makes me so sad, that he likely had just as hollow and lonely of a life while alive. It is truly a shame that anyone might have this sort of existence, but you’re so right that it makes it very clear how important it is how we live our lives right now.

  3. There are good reasons that quote doesn’t ring true. It’s spoken by Mark Anthony at Ceaser’s funeral and probably has a lot of meaning within that context. Suzie observed that it could serve as a warning to Brutus for what he’s done and it also strikes me as straight-up psychology manipulation of the funeral’s guests. Anthony is saying, “too bad we’ll only remember the bad things (think of the good and potential good that was lost because of Brutus)” as a way to anger people, not because the sentiment is true.

    As for The Man, people should meditate on the fact that every person has a potential richness of connections with other people. I find that people often care more about principles (like the idea of caring) than understanding, which is ironically selfish.

  4. I love your analysis of that scene from Julius Caesar and I wish that I could agree with it. However, I think if the scene was played like you suggest, it would be even better.

    It would make a great threat to Brutus, except he has already left and doesn’t hear the line. If they played it where Brutus was still there and Antony is staring at him when he says the line and then Brutus exits, then it would be a threat. Also a more powerful scene.

    The “we’ll only remember the bad things” to rile up the crowd point I can get behind, but Antony goes on to list a bunch of good things that Caesar did.

    I could see the line as being conciliatory. It is kind of an answer to what Brutus just did, which was rip Caesar apart by calling him “ambitious”.

    Your point about understanding is very well written.

  5. Suzie gave that warning interpretation and I imaged it just as you described with Brutus still being there. I suppose you could argue that Anthony was warning the absent Brutus in a grander prophetic sense, but I haven’t read the play so I’m wary of trying to get all literary, especially given your familiarity with it. Suzie said this might be your favorite play (or Shakespearean play at least).

    After I get up to speed on math and knock out a few months of history I’d like to get up to speed on literature.

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