Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Color is Your Parachute?

Unlike many late thirty-somethings that might be ashamed to admit it, I'll proudly admit that I played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. I liked it. It was fun. Sometimes I get tempted to ask my friend who still plays if they are short a player. The only reason I don't is because I have a lot on my plate. Otherwise I would. I mean it. I would like to say that I was a nerd when I started playing, but the sad truth is that I was too self-conscious to qualify for that category. However, my brother made the grade. He was older by sixteen months, and had a group of like-minded friends who he played with often. When I got old enough (around 10 or 11) they let me join in. I was a temperamental little-shit, and I'm surprised in retrospect that I was tolerated by them.

Well, those type of parties ended when I revealed my true alignment. One day we were playing at my brother's friend-DY's house. I was having a good time from what I remember, and I really enjoyed looking at DY's exotic fish tanks (I guess technically they were probably his father's tanks). They really had an incredible collection. Sure, they had quite a few fresh water aquariums. That's easy enough. Not much work required with them. But there were some bad-assed salt water tanks too, and those require dutiful maintenance. And I think that anyone who puts that kind of effort into their passion appreciate when someone else expresses a likewise interest. DY knew I was impressed.

I don't know exactly how it came up through the course of the day, but I think DY wanted to leave an additional impression on me. So he suggested that we take a break and go out and play in the backyard. He had this idea that he'd like us to kick a flaming tennis ball through the grass. He went out to the garage and showed us how we could douse the thing with gasoline and then he lit it on up. For awhile it was just a bit of mischievous (but harmless) fun. But I guess I needed more edge, because the final time it was directed at me I intentionally booted the thing into the 11-foot-hedge that bordered the back of the yard. You'd be surprised how fast that flame grew. As we watched, the tip of the flames started to lick the telephone wires.

Naturally DY was in a state of panic. He was actually fairly "with it" for a 13 or 14-year-old kid. As much as he hated to do it, he knew what had to be done. Perhaps there was a hose somewhere that could have been hooked up to an outside faucet, but there was also a corresponding sense of imminence as those bushes burned. DY showed what can only be described as an awful logic, and he ran into the house and came out with an aquarium. I never found out whether it was fresh water or not. He dumped it, fish and all, at the base of the flame. Unfortunately he knew that wouldn't be sufficient and he ended up making several return trips. I knew it must have been painful because he was crying in motion.

What did I do during this time? I only found out later from DY, during one of the very last times he ever spoke to me. Apparently I stood and stared in mesmerized stillness, watching the fire lick up the flora (and the fauna as well, after a bit). This in itself could have probably been easily explained. However, what I did next (I guess) was over the top. I started laughing... rather maniacally. What was funny about that scene? In retrospect I have no idea. Later, when DY let me know what he thought of me, I guess I must have been pretty sad. I was effectively excommunicated from hanging out with my brother's friends from then on. At that point I guess they realize that art and life are inseparable. Just like the characters I played, I was (and perhaps still am) 'chaotic neutral'.

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