I have known Damans, Alecs and TedsPosted by Aragorn
Sophia’s Ninth Letter features a few strong, minor characters. These three archetypal characters dominate the Letter and, as archetypes, I have known (or been) each of them. Here are a few of our stories.
Daman – The perfect student-teacher turned ideological director
“He apparently decided that the only meaningful human activity was the total destruction of the capitalist class in all its manifestations, in the colonies as well as the ghettos. That attitude coincided perfectly with our tendency’s political program.”
Perhaps this is a sign of my generation but I have known at least a dozen people who approximate the Daman of this story. I’d like to believe the characteristics were less prevalent in another time but the combination of this period of political ineffectiveness (especially from a radical perspective), the existential confusion people have between sub-culture and reality, and the popularity of certain sets of ideas (Postmodernism, the Situationists, Identity Politics) has made this type all-too-common. Take a boy whose first steps into the world are buttressed with liberal doses of books and now the Internet, who comes from enough privilege to not have to doubt their secondary education, and who is brave enough to be in the club when the fights break out but has no reason to fight themselves and fuck, maybe I’m being too conservative by saying I’ve met a dozen Damans. I’ve met hundreds.
But I have stopped becoming close to them. Not because they always disappoint. I am no longer such a purist that I require a lack of disappointment to be friends with someone. I am just less interested in mentoring them. I am happy to meet Daman once he has established himself, but I will not be part of creating another one. They just exhaust me now and odds are about equal that they go one way or another.
The Daman I was closest to just faded out of my life. I guess he got caught on the other side of a burning bridge of mine. I heard later he went from being awkward and pudgy to being quite a looker and a bit of a Lothario. Went to grad school. Swam around in precarious gigs for a couple years and then fell off people’s radar. I guess he never found a Luisa to make him complete.
Alec – Dope dealer who died in battle
“During his last weeks here he’d spend hours pacing. He was like a caged animal. He said all he wanted was to help make a revolution, with his gun in his hand, and not to talk about it or read about it or support it at rallies or demonstrations. He apparently met people with similar views, and he started going off to political meetings. One day he simply failed to return. I made no attempt to find him; we were free individuals.”
I am including a eulogy I wrote for the Alec in my life:
We never had a habit of writing letters. I know I was just as much to blame for that since I am just as capable of putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, as you are. Or were. I write you this last letter to remind the both of us where we were when you left, and to understand why you went without me.
When I first entered your social circle I was only 15. You already had a group of ‘rebels’ who you hung out with, but you all were my first. In hindsight it was amazing what a happy group of people it was given the times in our life, and the shit from which we were emerging, but so it was. Most every trope from the coming-of-age movie we all spectacularly see our lives as being was represented in that group. There was the brooding future Nazi who drove us all around. The more generous than you could imagine fat guy was there. There was the troublemaker (that was you, of course), the good kids who didn’t belong with us, the quiet nerdy guy who exposed us to the culture we were entering and the boys who were cuter than wise (that was most of us). I guess I wasn’t as definable at that time in my life, as I was just figuring out where I stood. But, as you know, I had lots of secrets and was pretty good at keeping them to myself.
Other people’s secrets… That was another story.
The experiences that we had are some of the most memorable of that time in my life for me, but your social group became only a part of my social life. You all lived, seemingly, a bit too far away from me, and once the scene had settled into a fixed location I was focused on being there, so that I wouldn’t miss anything. It’s so much easier and more difficult for kids in our town today. Every time I go back I crack up at how much better dressed the ‘rebellious’ kids are. Maybe it’s just because there is more money, more Internet, more retail, but it also seems like a veneer covering an essential vapidity in what being a misfit is all about today.
We would have had a blast making fun of them, if we were only the right age for it today.
There is a prime thing I take from our relationship that I have never found again. We were both good natured and totally spiteful. It kind of makes me think of sarcasm as being a lost art or something, and it is, but fuck if I don’t have to pad about everything I say nowadays with caveats and apologies just so all the well-adjusted people around me don’t get their fucking pants in a bind. Whatever. We each had our own styles of the put down too. That was always a blast. You tended to go for the direct insult tempered with an escape hatch if the victim wanted to take it. You were more directly confrontational than I was. My insults always seemed innocuous, but spoke more deeply to the inadequacies of the target. Usually people missed what I was trying to say until a bit later, but I gave less room for escape. As I am sure you remember, I am much better at that now. That is the one partnership that we had that I will never replace, we were the best tag-team humiliators I have ever met.
But your trajectory through our teens ended up being a bit lower of an arc than mine. I guess that says something about potential, since you have always been seen as having more, but you were always more fully committed to frittering it away. Our one major split came when you started to get more and more involved in drugs and, like with everything else you engage in, you started to gain a reputation for being the biggest bad-ass of drug taking. Great achievement in hindsight, eh? Anyway we were at a party at the Domicile and you had done some ungodly amount of coke and were being very dramatic about it all. I’ll speak to your main drama later, but you were in full effect that night. You pulled out some box-cutter blade and slashed the hell out of your arm. I think it was motivated by removing the tattoo on your arm…
I’ll always remember that first tattoo. In the end you had it covered and ended up with a bit more of a stylish ‘back alley crew’ montage of tattoos but your first one, which you got on your 16th birthday and came over to my place right after, was totally fucking ridiculous. Obviously you were entranced by the flash on the biker shop’s wall so you must have picked a #47 or some such, since it was a skull and kind of tough or whatever, but what you ended up getting was what looked like a skull eating spaghetti. It was fucking hysterical, you were the first one of us to make the jump to permanent ink and it was the silliest thing we had ever seen. I even recall, for the first couple of months, you ripping the sleeves off of all your t-shirts to make sure that everyone saw the damn thing on your arm only stopping when you couldn’t stand us all making so much fun of you.
… so you cut your arm in a highly public attempt to cut the stupid tattoo off of your arm. Of course you cut too deep. Of course you could only manage one cut out of the four or five that you would need. But you cut pretty fucking deep into your arm, enough so that the bleeding would not stop, which didn’t stop you from staggering around the place like a drunken sailor spraying blood and your issues all over the place, not accepting help from anyone, not settling down (as you were obviously high as a kite and in quite a bit of pain), forcing the confrontation to either stop your shit or we were calling an ambulance.
I didn’t really hang out with you for years after that phase. I moved away, you spent some time in jail, and we both chose our paths.
When we saw each other again it was as if no time had passed. Our partnership was intact with the added bonus that we both had thick enough skins to include each other in our sights. We had much to account for it seems as we each went on and on about the other’s promiscuity and lack of seriousness but we each needed to hear it. We both had not been criticized half as much as we should have been by loving people. It was too easy to get defensive when the only barbs thrown your way are by the incompetent, the hateful and the people passing through.
But there still was distance. I lived over here, you stayed there, and we were all-to-human. You filled your life with martial arts and your uncritical admirers, I with our (priorly) shared counter-culture and then radical politics. This meant that every time we would spend time together we would shake things up, knock the dust off of each other’s wit and sharpen our tongues, but without presence we stopped growing together. I think we both grudgingly accepted this.
What I cannot accept, and only see now that it is too late, is how much you needed the only thing I was unquestioningly better at than you. You needed a critical friend who wasn’t afraid of you, worshiped you, or wasn’t sleeping with you. At some point something changed, and I would have seen it, but I was there only en absentia, and too much time passed. One time I visited and your life was stumbling along, partial and in the shadow of your potential but not entirely awry. The next time I came you were gone. By your own hand and in your uniquely dramatic style.
What we all expected when you were a teenager you only accomplished 15 years later, surprising us with your patience but not your rashness. You always had to tell your stories of whoa, you had to make sure of your legacy. I remember one time when you had gotten into a fight – was it with metal heads? – you had been beaten pretty badly. They had broken your nose at the very least, which was no amazing feat as you had a formidable proboscis, but the blood was everywhere. You were wearing a white t-shirt covered in it, and it was only after hours of prodding and a considerable amount of female attention that you cleaned yourself up and allowed the center of attention to move off of you.
This I cede to you lovingly. You were at your best when you were at the center. You weren’t the clown, like I am, you weren’t arrogant about it, but your brilliant potential was enough to make everyone smile. You weren’t an affectionate friend, but I never doubted your loyalty to us. You didn’t become all that I would have wished for you, and I imagine you knew this, but you were still twice the person of almost anyone else I have ever met. Our friendship, and my understanding, goes with you to where you have gone.
This circle is closed.
Ted – The Western ideal: Scientist, human, friend
“This is Ted, the printer.”
I am not going to use this as opportunity to talk about my utter revulsion at the Western man. He is a doomed creature that I can’t summon up enough energy to despise today. I have already given him too much time. I am trying to move on.
In that spirit I have gained a respect for the competence of Ted. In our time of social, organizational, structural ineptitude Ted can do something. Call it printing, programming, fixing bikes or cars, we have so far to go that just having skills, a skill, is something. If only Ted didn’t get chased out of every group, meeting, or social circle for not being Daman or Alec we might turn something into something real.
This circle is closed and we are on the outside of it.