A few years ago I posted an entry to one of my blogs describing how my iPod—courtesy of a stupendously depressing sequence of precisely themed, despairing songs that were too close to one another, and to me, to believably emerge from the random shuffle—was trying to kill me.

My friend Mark sent me an email in reply. He’d had an eerily similar experience himself, right down to having two of the same songs in the same sequence. “Apparently,” he wrote, “it’s going to rain when I die, and the grave digger is supposed to make my grave shallow so I can feel, so I can feel, the rain. However,” he went on, “the song just before that instructed me to wear my sunglasses at night, something I cannot do. I don’t have any prescription shades and I can’t see fuck-all without my glasses even during the day. Guess I’ll be sticking around and walking into walls for a while.”

My friend Mark introduced me, at various times, to the Weakerthans, to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” and other entries in the American series, to Elliott Smith, and to Ben Folds’ tribute to Elliott Smith after Smith died by suicide… a track that was part of my own iPod’s attempted homicide. All of which remain favorites.

My friend Mark never understood my obsession with David Foster Wallace, but he humored me beyond reason, including reading all 1000 pages of Infinite Jest closely enough to ask questions about it I still can’t answer.

My friend Mark used to play Dungeons & Dragons and I never let him forget it.

My friend Mark and I used to retreat to my little cabin and get so high that we remembered how to laugh without feeling self-conscious about it. We’d laugh so hard and so long that we actually feared we might die from lack of air, unable to take a breath. When we recovered we’d talk about how mystified the emergency personnel would be when they found us expired from laughter, surrounded by empty bags of chips, memorialized by our huge red bong affectionately nicknamed (and crookedly engraved) “The Rooster.” Which would make us laugh even harder…which would make us worry that we’d die of laughter, and so on until the night ran out.

My friend Mark looked like the captain of a fishing boat who was down on his luck or a heavy-equipment operator, but he could easily explain the stultifying effects of our unquestioning acceptance of Aristotle’s fundamental logic or the difference between Spivak’s and Derrida’s idea of différance.

My friend Mark was a big man, bigger than me, but he spoke softly, the words rounded in his mouth. He liked to say “Sheesh” and “Dang” and “Awfuckinhell.”

My friend Mark once pointed at me and said, mostly without irony, “now that’s the way to rock out with your cock out” while making devil horns at me with his other hand.

My friend Mark grabbed me by the shoulder at a rainy intersection in downtown Seattle, preventing me from absent-mindedly stepping in front of a speeding taxi.

My friend Mark said it was fine—if a bit aesthetically damaged—to love Courbet (anywhere) and Rothko (in the right light) and that he’d adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about my adoration for Ray Carver and Thomas Pynchon if I swore not to mention them in the same breath again.

My friend Mark laughed—out loud!—at my lame jokes about Heidegger and De Man when I presented my Senior Thesis and later gave me a blank card of congratulations because, he explained, it’s all text… inscribing it would be redundant, and I’d “just make more pomo shit up” about whatever he wrote anyway.

My friend Mark knew every word to every song on Boston’s Greatest Hits and once mangled “Peace of Mind” so horribly during a drunken karaoke night that every time I hear the song I instantly picture him, one arm up rock star style and my ears hurt.

In the early morning hours last Sunday—Palm Sunday—my friend Mark turned on every light in his apartment, put a record I can name only to myself on his prized turntable, and hanged himself without leaving a note.


[CC-BY photo by Chris Lott]