A Long Time Ago, We Used to be Friends

Supposedly the universe is expanding at an incredible clip, faster and further than ever before. Well, the scientists are saying so, anyway…and since similar research has recently, and successfully, predicted other improbable things such as the Tampa Bay Rays making it to the World Series, or Barack Obama becoming President of the United States, why not trust the onward March of Science? There is untrammeled growth at every turn, unchecked expansion in every way. From my cushy corner of existence, however, the reality is quite the opposite. You see, my own mental and physical boundaries are most definitely shrinking, and have been for some time now. It isn’t as if I hadn’t seen it coming, either—hell, I aided and abetted the steady retrograde orbit even when I had the chance to do otherwise.

Because hey, it’s the American Dream, right? Give me my stuff and then leave me the hell alone, man! Pure, unfiltered Cookie-Monster-Id-selfishness, which supposedly happens to anyone that acquires a marriage and/or a mortgage—and when it was my turn I scored both those things within a year of each other, so I was marked for doom early on. It wasn’t just me, though—I’ve had to watch the best minds of my generation not only get destroyed by madness, but become crippled by whiplash from oscillations between melodramatic emoting and callous sarcasm. Driven indoors by the hydra-headed fears of ultraviolet radiation, acid rain, noxious smog, and disease-ridden sex—not to mention the multitude of minor annoyances like slacker pizza delivery, bitchy homeowners’ associations, and corporate airwaves choked with Auto-Tune.

Naturally, we all wished for release, for something to take us away from the pain of existence’s dull roar. Some chose God and rock & roll, some chose Satan and politics, and some waffled like Bill Clinton at the Pound O’Flesh drive-through. An increasing majority, however, combined all that and more—thanks to the omnipotence of Marketing, the Internet, and the burgeoning scourge of Social Media. We sought friendship, and we got Facebook. We searched for meaning, and we got Digg. We longed for economy, and we got Twitter. We burned through stinking hulks of ugliness like MySpace as if it were cheap porn and…oh wait, it was! Sweet Jesus, that was fast! If it weren’t for the credit receipt that gets PDF’d to me every month, I wouldn’t remember a goddamn thing. Those precious little slices of Adobe are pure Rosetta Stones, and for a good long while, they made me Happy.

Yeah…but at some point we all learn to be careful what we wish for, just like Old Henry the Two, and for me that moment was at five a.m. last Thursday, when I awoke with rage and panic for the eighth straight day in a row. The tweets, man..the awful tweets had been jerking me into consciousness at ungodly hours every morning—and if that wasn’t enough, they’d usually be accompanied by the morbid croaks of hideous crows. Sure, you’d think that would be a little odd and annoying, but the crows were the last straw. I mean, if you knew my mother-in-law’s name, or what I used to call my beloved blue beast of a Volvo, you’d begin to understand why I shook with horror and screamed to the heavens, “Will no one rid me of these meddlesome tweets?!?”

I’m told by professional medical experts that this is not an uncommon reaction, extreme though it may be. Even so, I’m also told that according to recent polls 90% of Americans “hated high school,” and yet have flocked in droves, decade after decade, to umpteen thousand million Reunions. The recent effects of Classmates and Facebook cannot be underestimated here. Erstwhile teenage nobodies who finally have Something To Say, or who long to finally tell That One Guy to fuck off, or who yearn to Ask That One Girl Out, have obviously discovered a boon in such relationship revivals. As for me, I’m okay with virtual contact. Many aren’t, but this is how I usually behave anyway—though I’m not allergic to small talk per se. I can pick up an old relationship right where it left off, and remain happily ignorant of most traumatic chasms that may or may not have occurred. Well…sort of, anyway. Currently I have 133 Facebook friends, and I’ve actually met most of them. I’ve been drunk with many of them, I’ve shared a stage with a few of them, and I even slept with one or two. You all know who you are, and you all Rock.

I don’t need to really see you much these days, though, because I know what you all will do with your lives. We’re all Borg now. Through mutual predictability, we have attained minor levels of omniscience. It’s weird—I thought all I’d been doing for the last decade and a half was becoming older, fatter, and balder, but I cant seem to avoid the inescapable revelation that I’m just another one of my generation’s horde of mediocre minds, inevitably descending into further depths of casual sociopathy. We’ve all accepted this idea—taken it to heart, even—that superficial, non-committal relationships are normal, and that real relationships suffer under the boots of melodramatic obsessions and latent anxieties. It’s how we survive the passively leprous new social Darwinism, where dogs don’t eat other dogs so much as take over when their predecessor is fatally full to bursting. It’s survival of the fittest with a shrug and a grunt, where failures are still mocked, sure—derided and scorned with a disturbingly callous level of sarcasm and projection, but only if we decide to care.

Aw hell, who am I kidding? I’m only in this to spy on people—people I’ve never met, people I used to know, people in my far-flung family whom I should probably call or visit more, and people I should see every day because we live in the same fucking town but are nevertheless constrained by those ever-shrinking radii of advancing middle age and planned obsolescence. I want to see you all, okay? I just don’t want to go to the effort of actually getting off my ass and actually contacting you. I mean, my ideal long-lost meet-up would probably go something like this:

Thanks for the add, dude. You look good. Your wife is pretty hot, too. I’m sure you will have beautifully monstrous, well-endowed progeny. Don’t ever think twice about the madness you gave up somewhere back there—it wasn’t worth it, trust me. Good people went straight to hell, but you never lost it, not like some of us. I’m absolutely not jealous, and I’ll never sacrifice you for a Whopper.

Or this:

Hey, I definitely appreciate the add, babe. How you doin’? Nah, just kidding. I’m not insane anymore. I’m actually glad—relieved, even—to see my past emotional instability didn’t permanently scar your psyche. Or at least it looks that way from your happy pictures alongside that handsome man (or woman!) of yours. Guess you got off the crazy train that was me at just the right time. I’m absolutely, positively not jealous, and I can say that in 25 Things or less.

Or even this:

My god man, what the hell happened to your hair? And where are your pants? And who put that earring there? No no, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but like, I wish you would have told me before. It would have explained so much, you know? Anyways, keep it real and don’t let ’em give you any shit about your ponytail. I’m glad you’re not jealous. I mean, I hope so—these things can eat you from the inside if you’re not…ah, never mind.

“But really,” I say to myself, “my once-lost but-now-found friends would love to see these acerbic sneezes of wisdom from me; they’d welcome every last digital drop of nascent reunion because secretly, they’d always been craving it. Aching for it. Surely.” I’d really love to believe this, of course, but deep in my soul I know it’s not true. I know that every time one of my age-old virtual friends says “let’s keep in touch!” or “call me!” or even “kthxbye!” it doesn’t amount to that much. No, in the majority of known human languages, gibberish like that merely translates to:

A long time ago we used to be friends, but I haven’t thought of you lately at all.

It’s all downhill from here, Tom. Oh well. I wonder if there’s anything on YouTube…