(removed at the request of the author's family)
(removed at the request of the author's family)
The Daily Hell Vol. III
Bumsville Issue 11 - Fancy Seeing You Here
December 5, 2008
My alma mater, Bard College, is a fairly small, close-knit school. When I was there, you could know pretty much everyone, at least by face and reputation, if not by name.
“There goes Max, the guy that sat on the stone wall naked until Security asked him to put some pants on.” Or “ I think that guy with the camo pants is the Mystery Shitter. He was so upset when this girl made him a non-kosher dinner not realizing he was Jewish, that he took a shit on her doorstep. I don’t know what the mystery is”
After graduation, it seems like most people moved either to Brooklyn or San Francisco, so it’s not uncommon to run into former Bardians on the street here in New York. I usually enjoy these run-ins, not necessarily for the fond reminiscences, but more because they usually reassure me of the fact that I am not the only person struggling to pay rent after a 4-year, 100K plus education at one of the country’s leading liberal arts schools.
My favorite encounters are usually with people I didn’t even know while I was there. Bardians in general are a bit skittish and standoffish with strangers- like squirrels or small dogs. Certainly you can tell those who desire to be approached by their acknowledgment of recognition, eye contact, a nod, that sort of thing. Passing on the sidewalk, there’s nothing more satisfying than locking eyes, nodding and saying, “What’s up man?” and receiving a nod and a smile in return without having to stop and talk and awkwardly part ways two minutes later.
Although, I must say, sometimes it’s nice to have a get-to-know-you conversation after the fact. I went to a party in Boston where I met a girl who had been a freshman when I was a senior. It was great to talk and get to know someone after the fact we had shared a campus for a year. Of course, she was terribly attractive and I was shamelessly flirting with her, but the fact that we both went to Bard made that possible! It’s a great ice-breaker.
I also jog from my house to Prospect Park and around the loop there. I’ve found it a great way to run into people, without actually having to stop and talk. I’m usually out of breath and can’t really hold a conversation anyway plus listening to music and kind of getting into a good pace. I’ll just smile and wave and keep going if I see someone I knew.
I almost stopped once, because I was fairly good friends with the girl I was passing back at Bard (My very first experience smoking marijuana was in her dorm room in 2001) but she was on the phone and I had headphones on and so we both sort of hesitated, but then just smiled and gave each other apologetic looks that seemed to say, Sorry, I’ll get you next time. It was simple, nice, a kind acknowledgement that really meant more to me than five minutes of idle small talk followed by an awkward goodbye would have.
There aren’t many people from Bard I actively disliked while there. But there was this one rather hulking oafish fellow was in several of my film classes and now appears to live in my neighborhood. He used to fart loudly during screenings and was someone who would disregard assignment instructions for simple short films to create these lavish productions with SAG actors, hired cinematographers, shot on 35 mm, while the rest of us were struggling with whatever shitty Bolex with lens you had to stick a piece of card under to get a focused shot (like a sugar packet under the leg of a shaky table) we could get out of the equipment room.
He obviously came from money and did his best let everyone know he thought he was above them. He was extremely pretentious and a vocal critic of everyone’s work but his own, though frankly no-one thought his stuff was very good (including the professors). We rarely spoke at Bard, but his disposition always seemed to be that he was too good for the place- just paying it lip service until they gave him a diploma and he could get on with it.
I see him on the streets or in stores now and then and do my best to ignore him, but it’s rather difficult. Before I realize it’s him, he just naturally draws the eye. He’s 6 foot 2 or 3 and wears brightly colored shoes and a white windbreaker, shaggy Dutch-boy hair and a hawkish nose. Because of his height he always seems to be at an odd angle- on the verge of teetering over, but somehow maintains his balance. I see this giant ogre approaching and think, Holy shit what’s this guy think he’s do—aw fuck it’s Leonard.
Ordinarily if I see someone I recognize but desire not to have the conversation or awkward exchange with, I just pretend not to notice their presence, so I don’t make eye contact. But with Leonard, I somehow always end up making eye contact with him and then ignoring him anyway. I think I do it because he does the same thing. It would be more courteous to just pretend someone’s not there if you’re not going to make an effort to talk to them. But to acknowledge them with eye contact and then simply look away is to say to them, “Yes I see you and I know who you are, but you’re not worth talking to, so I’m going to walk away.”
His uncaring face and bored half-mast eyes remind me of some awful regal prince, passing through the slums and villages of his pauper subjects, taking in the filth and poverty from the comfort of a velvety cushion in his horse-drawn coach. He looks at them as if through a glass window, simply observing creatures at a zoo. I guess I like to meet his eyes to let him know he’s not the only one who thinks someone else isn’t worth talking to. What a lonely life.
Oddly enough, I don’t really like running into people I was friends with while at Bard. Don’t get me wrong, I love catching up with people, but eventually I’m grasping at straws for something to say. I never know how or when to end the conversation. It might be a person I used to go out to dinner or the movies or play foosball with. It’s strange to run into them again and not sort of have that context in mind, difficult to imagine them in your present life, when they are already so much a part of your past. The awkward goodbye usually happens after a long silence in which we just stare and smile at each other for that moment and one of us will say, “Well it was great seeing you! I should… probably be on… my way.” At which point we both turn in our bar stools and continue talking with the people we came in with.
I never know if we should exchange contact info, pretend we’ll stay in touch now, despite the prior 3 or 4 years of silence. Thankfully, social networking sites like Facebook have helped with this. Not for actually staying in touch, but in case someone suggests, “Hey keep me posted! Let’s keep in touch!” you can say, “Oh yeah, definitely! I’m on Facebook, you can just find me on there.” Nice.
Last night I went to an art opening at a gallery with my friend Sandy, who is actually also a person from Bard I hadn’t seen in years, but we get along and not awkwardly, so that’s not what this story is about. I have been working on a documentary about acclaimed New York playwright Richard Foreman and his wife’s art was being presented, so we were there to get some footage and free wine.
I am generally pretty single-minded at gallery openings. I am there to meet artistic women and to drink free wine. This is because I am very poor and when faced with the option of going to a bar and paying 6 dollars a beer or going to an art opening and paying 0 dollars (maybe 1 for a tip), I will generally opt for the 0 dollar option.
Ryan and Steve (my fellow documentarians) had nearly finished by the time I arrived, so Sandy and I purged our way through the throngs to seek out the most concentrated crowd who were oohing and ahhing not over the strange religious/vaginal-themed prints, but the lovely selection of reds and whites.
From the back of line I was excited to see that the person serving the wine was someone who graduated from Bard the same year as Sandy and I. A short pretty girl named Jenn. I had only had a few exchanges while in school, but we had several mutual friends. I wanted to be polite and say hello. There would be no avoiding talking to her because I wanted some wine, but I’m also just friendly in general, and of late, with pretty girls in particular.
We reached the table and I said, “Hey! You’re Jenn, right?”
“Yeah,” she said without betraying a glimmer of recognition or even curiosity as to how I would know her name. I quickly glanced down to make sure she wasn’t wearing a nametag, thinking that might explain this luke-warm reception. Nope.
“I went to Bard…” I continued, but she still just stared at me and I began to feel like perhaps I wasn’t giving her enough relevant information. “…with you,” I finished.
I guess I don’t know what I expected. Certainly not some grand reunion, but some kind of recognition or a “hello” at least. It’s not like I’m some starstruck fan approaching a celebrity. I was just being friendly.
“Oh. Yeah,” she casually remarked as if I were just stating irrelevant facts and she was wondering why I was telling her something she already knew.
Another second passed and I decided to just call it quits. She gazed across the bottles at me expectantly, awaiting my order. “Well, I guess I’ll have white, “ I said, dropping a dollar into the tip jar.
The air was thick with tension, and in mind it was only redoubling itself because no would acknowledge it. I have a habit of making things worse while trying to make them better. I wanted to set us all at ease, so I said, “Well. This is awkward.” It seemed appropriate.
“You’re Connor right?” she asked as if my inappropriately direct comment had jogged her memory back four years to when last we probably had an uncomfortable interaction.
“Yeah. That’s me,” I said. But it was too little, too late. The moment was gone. I didn’t feel like “catching up” with her anymore. I was tempted to take my dollar back. I think she sensed that I felt a little put off by her less-than-exuberant response to my friendliness.
She handed me my glass, which to her credit was pretty full. Sandy got also got a hefty glass of red handed to her. I suspected she just didn’t want to see us come back for seconds, but she said we got, “Bard-sized portions.” We stood a bit awkwardly, about to say goodbye. “Enjoy the wine,” she said.
I was still a little hurt by her cool demeanor, and in my mind it sounded a bit sarcastic, though thinking back, she was probably being sincere. “Enjoy serving the wine,” I shot back, not really knowing what else to say. I felt bad after I said it, though I still secretly think it was hilarious. It’s possible her perceived snootiness was really just her being embarrassed at being the hired help at an event where a former classmate was an attending guest.
“Viva Bard,” she said softly as we walked away from the table.
“Viva Bard,” Sandy and I said back to her. I raised my glass, thankful for something to drink to.
(Names have been changed to protect people’s anonymity. Except Sandy. Just the people I am being libelous towards.)