Eight years ago, a friend of mine made a pitch for me to join Facebook. (I wrote about that HERE.) Instead of creating a hub to connect with all things in my past — most of which I spent the past thirty-plus years trying to avoid — I compromised and created a "fan page" on the ubiquitous social media platform. I used it as an additional outlet for my illustrations and my celebrity death obsession. I make daily celebrity death anniversary posts and regular links to my drawings on various subjects... but mostly deaths.... and the deaths of celebrities. (See a trend here?)
Last week, my Facebook Fan page got a bit wonky, to use a technical term. Suddenly, I was unable to access it at all. I began to make my daily postings on Twitter until I could figure out was the issue was. I felt like I was feeling around in the dark, as Facebook is set up to be less than intuitive. After a couple of days of poking around, I found that I needed to activate a personal Facebook page in order to continue maintaining my Facebook Fan page. So, I did.... reluctantly. Very reluctantly. Once I activated my personal page, I was able to get to my Fan page again. With a few annoying adjustments, it is almost the same as it was prior to Facebook's unnecessary meddling. In an effort to head off any future, unannounced changes at Facebook, I began to accumulate "friends" on Facebook in case I have to make the full switch to "personal" Facebook. I began with those who currently "like" my Fan page. Then, I branched out to people who are "friends" with Mrs. Pincus. By this time, Facebook's algorithms kicked in. I was getting suggestions by the dozens, most of whom I did not know or those with whom I shared a single friend. I asked my wife: "Who's this?" She'd answer: "Oh, that's someone I knew from camp" or "That's that woman from synagogue." "I rode the bus with him in third grade." or "He's a friend of a guy who's a listener of the radio station our son works for." The more I questioned, the longer the explanations got.
As I "connected" with more people, I began looking at the various posts to see what I was missing. Turns out, I wasn't missing anything. Facebook is a mess! A whiny, complain-y, self-absorbed, entitled mess, filled with narrow-minded, selfish opinions and an unyielding lack of compassion. Oh, and recipes.
Against my better judgement, I continued down this abyss until I hit an area that I really wanted to avoid — my past.
In the fall of 1980, I enrolled in a four-year art school in Philadelphia. This was over a year after I had graduated from high school and that "what should I do with my life?" portion of my youth seemed to be going unanswered. Eighteen months in the retail business made me realize the retail business was what I didn't want to do. I decided to expand on my childhood talent and pursue a career in the wonderful, magical and rewarding world of art. (After 35 years in the field, I have come to learn it is none of those things.)
The school that I chose offered no academic courses. That was the appeal for me, as I struggled with those subjects in high school. The curriculum was purely art and all aspects thereof. Due to its size (small), they only accepted 80 freshmen per year, most of whom would drop out before the fourth year. My class of 80 was whittled down to 43 graduates. I still cannot figure out how I lasted to the end, but I did. I was often frustrated and intimidated by the talent of my peers. I didn't think I would amount to anything, let alone make a living at being an artist. (Spoiler alert: I did.)
There were two classmates I remember. One was Zack. Zack was an asshole. He was a sullen, angry hulk who smoked like a chimney and belittled every single thing he saw — every person, every piece of artwork, everything. He was dismissive about every teacher, most of his classmates and the entire school as a whole. He wore the same torn flannel shirt everyday — frayed with the sleeves cut off. His hair was out-of-date long and his beard was unruly and in desperate need of a trim... and shampooing. Zack had few friends and didn't really want those.
Then there was Ray. Ray was a talented guy with a pleasant, easy manner. He had illustration skills way beyond his years. He also had an ego to match... maybe even surpassing his talents. I remember Ray standing up during a class and loudly announcing that he — and I quote — "had no competition." He didn't care that he was offending his classmates. He acted as though he was doing everyone a favor by identifying his superior talents and letting everyone know they were free to seek a career in another field. But Ray wasn't an asshole. He was personable and friendly — except when it came to his artwork. Sure, he had a very, very high opinion of himself, but he didn't appear to be mean.
After I graduated from art school — just like high school — I remained in regular touch with none of my classmates. None. (Actually, a few high school and art school classmates were at my wedding, just a few months after art school graduation, but within a year or two, I had completely lost touch with all of them.) Then, in 2009 — a full twenty-five years after I had finished art school — an informal and decidedly unofficial reunion was thrown together at a bar in Philadelphia, one that had been frequented by many a student on a regular basis. I actually found out about it by accident, although I don't remember the specifics. Anyway, I went... with a bit of trepidation. (I wrote about that HERE.) I was surprised, but I had a great time. I reconnected with a bunch of people that I had not seen in a quarter of a century. That was an entire lifetime ago.
In the close-packed crowd, I spotted and unfamiliar figure. A somewhat lean fellow with a shaved head. He extended a hand to shake. I sheepishly admitted that I could not place him. He smiled and revealed himself to be Zack. He was friendly and happy and — more important — he apologized for what an asshole he was in art school. He said he had done a lot of self-assessment and deeply regretted the way he behaved as a younger man. I laughed and we reminisced briefly. Soon, I ran into Ray. Ray was the same personable guy I remembered, although his enormous ego seemed to had deflated over the years. The bragging and chest-thumping I had anticipated didn't manifest. I don't even recall what Ray said he did for a living.
Flash forward to just a few days ago. I was sitting on the sofa, scrolling through my new personal Facebook page. I perused the lists of "suggested friends," dismissing the ones that didn't look familiar. I stumbled across a comment left on a post originally made by a close art school friend. The post was political in nature and I saw that Ray had commented. Ray's comment expressed an angry, venomous, accusatory, racist right-wing opinion that caught me off-guard. I read it and re-read it until its full, uneducated, uninformed, narrow-minded, blind-follower sentiment was fully comprehended. I stopped myself before I hit the "Friend Request" button that I almost clicked just upon seeing his name. This is this the exact reason that I steered clear of Facebook for all these years. I wasn't interested in hearing, seeing or finding out things that I was perfectly fine never ever knowing. And, it turns out, Facebook is the place to find that stuff out.
However, I found Zack. We're friends now.