A True Story From My Youth

11 Feb

Centurion: Defender Of Rome

Warning: This post deals heavily with items related to Flash Pulp #128 – The Absent Idol: a Collective Detective Chronicle, and if you intend on listening to/reading the episode, but haven’t yet, please do so before continuing into this bit of personal history.

As I remember it, the summer of my sixteenth year was a stand out. It was the last I would have without the restrictions imposed by a job, or a girlfriend, but it was also probably the first in which my parents allowed me the freedom to indulge in the sort of all-night tom foolery that became the signature of my late teens/college years.

The net was young, and IRC was the place to be.

The winter previous, while wandering the shady alleys of online chat, I met a fellow by the name of Carl – Faithful2 was the handle he operated under – and we struck up a quick friendship largely revolving around old PC games. There was a title in particular, Centurion: Defender Of Rome, over which we wasted many hours in conversation.Centurion Screen ShotNow, you must understand that those were frontier days – the idea of abandonware had just begun, and, like many boys at that age, we were both predisposed to minor hooliganism.

When the freedom of summer finally hit, we carried out our plan to create a channel entitled #ClassicWarez, to exchange games which had fallen out of production.

I’m certainly not encouraging piracy, it was simply what was done at the time – and from June to August of that year, we were kings.

The channel exploded in popularity, partially due to the selection we maintained, and partially due to the ridiculous conversations Carl and I would publicly get into.

There was a lot of debate regarding the merits of the death metal band Cannibal Corpse.Cannibal Corpse's The BleedingDespite the fact that I never met Carl face-to-face, we spent a good eight hours a day, seven days a week, in as close a proximity as the internet would allow. We built a cadre of friends; we exchanged personal details in private messages; we made common enemies.

One humid July evening, Carl admitted to me that he suffered from depression. Often.

I did my best to encourage him to talk to someone about it, but he made it clear that any sort of assistance would have to move through his mother, who, as I heard it, was not a terribly fantastic lady. He started talking of suicide.

As a sixteen-year-old, I did my best – and I think I helped him, for a while. By the end of August, he’d stopped mentioning it.

Then Carl moved, as he was about to attend his first year of college, and we fell out of touch for a few weeks. I got busy with high school.

We appointed successors to our channel, then both bowed out.

I’d still pop on and leave Carl a message here and there, but we’d always maintained the immediacy of IRC as our primary method of communication, and our interactions generally became something like:

wyrd: hey
faithful2: hey
wyrd: how’s things?
faithful2: They suck, but I can’t really explain right now, I’m late for biology.

Well, that’s probably a translation to ease my conscience. In truth, I know it was just as often my own departure – to attend to my first real girlfriend – which brought the conversation up short.

By the end of September, we’d both drifted off. I made a few attempts to track him down in October, but he was never about – I assumed it was school-related. Sometime in the middle of November, however, I became worried.

That’s when my detective work began. I spent days wandering our old haunts, /whois-ing any familiar nicknames I could think of that we’d had some acquaintance with.

Finally, just after midnight on a Sunday, on a network entirely unrelated to the one we’d frequented, in a channel of ill repute, I found a lady who’d been a common friend. She delivered the news via a link to Carl’s college’s website.
A November Sunset.  Fred K. Lawrence, Chicago.He’d stolen some cyanide from one of the school’s labs, and, on the tenth of October, he’d swallowed a lethal amount.

Trying to describe my grief to my parents was tough – they’d already turned in for the night, and were in little mood to hear what ridiculous new drama their son had gotten involved in on the internet. I was told to go to bed, as I had class in the morning.

Digging deep into my log files, I pulled out the number Carl had given me the previous summer, in case some emergency cropped up in our tiny empire. I hadn’t tried it in my recent search, as I’d thought he was half-way across the country from his parent’s house, getting an education.

Knowing she was on the west-coast, and thus that it was about 9pm her time, I tried calling his mom.

Unable to understand why someone from the internet might care so much, she finally placated me with a promise to send me a picture of Carl in the mail, took down my address, then hung up.

I never received the photo.
No Face - a grab from a stranger's flickr streamIn a comment to FP128, Barry, a fantastic gent, mentioned: “I just wonder if this isn’t a case of a bunch of people sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong.”

Exploring the nature of privacy online is one of the reasons I created the Collective Detective, but there’s another question the CD is meant to ask: “Why and how is ‘real life’ supposedly separate from the internet?”

What is asked, and what is owed, in an existence entirely built around communication?

I don’t have an answer yet – but it’s something I’ve been wondering about for over a decade and a half.

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7 Responses to “A True Story From My Youth”

  1. bmj2k February 11, 2011 at 15:30 #

    For anyone who didn’t yet read the story, my comment about “sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong” refers to that particular story, not the Detective Collective concept.

    Skinner, your story touched on something in my life which I’ll address in an email later.

    • JRD Skinner February 11, 2011 at 15:49 #

      Understood, and I’m sorry if I made it seem like you were making a more general comment.

      Something I didn’t really have the juice to carry across by the end of this post was that I consider the equivalent set of ethics for the CD to be, basically, what you’d expect of a “decent” journalist – but then, that gets into the whole issue of “what is a journalist in a world full of bloggers?”, another topic I hope to address at some point.

      • bmj2k February 11, 2011 at 20:35 #

        Synchronicity is a nice thing. My blog for Monday, already written, is a review of Mr. Sunshine. It begins with an explanation that I am reviewing it sight unseen and make some asides about journalistic integrity and as you put it, “what is a journalist in a world full of bloggers?” Whereas you explore these tings in an intelligent, often metaphorical way, I prefer snarky asides. (I do, at times, think there is a depth below the silly surface of some of my stuff.) Anyway, this isn’t a plug for my blog. My point is that you’ve hit on something with the Collective, and I think you have a ton of room in the concept. I really enjoyed the last Mulligan Smith for example, and thought there was a strong depth of emotion, and while no one can ever accuse anything Flash Pulp of not being intelligent, I think the Collective has the potential to be intellectually deep as well. but enough from me. the last couple of days people might get the impression I’m getting paid. for all this.

      • JRD Skinner February 12, 2011 at 12:11 #

        Honestly, your commentary – over the last few days, certainly, but also just in general – is something I’d pay you for, if I could. You’re always throwing in some angle or aspect that I hadn’t considered – even to my own bloody stories.

        I agree that the Collective Detective has the most room for intellectual exploration, and I’m pretty excited to keep at it. At the moment, more than any of the other threads that make up Flash Pulp, the CD is the one that most has me tempted to sit down and start a longer-form story.

  2. Mom February 11, 2011 at 20:24 #

    Funny….. I absolutely do not remember any of this
    Your mother

  3. Mom February 11, 2011 at 20:25 #

    Sorry.
    I probably should.
    your Mother

    • JRD Skinner February 12, 2011 at 12:06 #

      Meh – I understand why you wouldn’t, I was in my mid-teens and full of ridiculous on a day-to-day basis, so it was probably hard to identify anything especially exciting about that particular time I was all wound up. It was very early into the internet days, so what I was trying to say probably wasn’t seeming to make much sense.

      Anyhow, we can talk about it when I give you a call tonight, but don’t worry yourself over it or anything.

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