Friday, March 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Men

I have been thinking about two men who have been important to me... one is John, an actor, director, and cabaret singer from my old theater company who had a way of finding hidden meaning in plays (sometimes to the chagrin of the playwright) that astounded me.

John had lived most of his life hand-to-mouth and suffered an horrific gay-beating which demolished his smile (as well as his career potential, in spite of a spellbinding voice and riveting stage presence), but he lived fully and somewhat foolishly at times, in spite of his finances.

And then there was Bill -- hyper-rational, intellectual (IQ somewhere in the 170s, he said) -- an odd duck, but I adored him. We met through a mutual friend when Bill was looking to sell his modem (remember those?) back in the mid-90s. He wanted $20 for a 1200 baud... He had just purchased a 14K and bragged, "What I have now is TWELVE times faster than this one..." -- the one he was selling me at that moment -- and for which he still demanded $20 though he gleefully bragged he'd only paid $30 for it new.

Looking back, this first interaction set a pattern for our relationship. In that moment, he mocked, even degraded me for my accepting his sale (and ultimately his friendship), and yet for reasons which only became apparent years later I chose to ignore this.....

That evening -- before this remark -- we'd had a sparkly conversation about Star Trek and other science fiction stuff and I was enraptured with him, even flattered that he held my intelligence commensurate with his own (or so it seemed).

We connected on many levels -- at least on the levels that I thought were important to me at the time (i.e. mostly intellectual) -- and became each other's go-to friend for many activities.

Within a few years, we moved in together and often talked late into the night about any number of life's fascinations. Some of my friends thought he was strange, possibly because he had a touch of Asperger's (I think), but I would defend him: "Love me, love my Bill!"

In other words, it was like we were married, except there was no sex. So it was like we were married.

Yet even as I delighted in his company, there was, in retrospect, always a subtle undercurrent of mockery. He, it turned out, was one of these people who always needed to hold himself superior to all others, regardless of whether his high self-esteem proved justified.

In particular, he liked to mock my mystical side and my curiosity for Tarot, Astrology, and Psi phenomena in general. He also liked to mock the unusual beliefs and practices of some of my friends.

John was a favorite target.

Springing eternally with hope, amidst misfortunes Bill and I could only wonder at, John was an avid Lotto player. He conjured a series of numbers based on his prior addresses and played religiously each week.

He built a shrine to The Ticket and would ask visitors to bless that week's gamble.

"He's basically buying a fantasy!" Bill would rail. He liked to chide his mother about this too. "Why don't you play '1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6'," he liked to tell her in mixed company. "Oh, that would NEVER come up!" was her inevitable response, much to Bill's superior delight.

But the hyper-rational side of my own mind had to agree: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6" had as good a chance of "coming up" as any other number series -- extremely unlikely, but possible.

At some point in the friendship, Bill became convinced that I believed I had psychic powers. I do not believe this about myself, by the way, although I must admit to some strange experiences which have convinced me there is more in heaven and earth...

To wit, one booze-soaked night, Bill devised a plan to "test" my "powers." "Oh, come on," he chided, "you said yourself you're not psychic so what do you have to lose?"

Grudgingly, I agreed to the "test."

He disappeared into his room for several minutes and emerged with a deck of cards. "I'm going to pull from the top, and you say whether it's red or black. Red cards go on the right, black cards go on the left."

I rolled my eyes and said, "Red... black... red ... black.." He put each of the cards face down in two columns. "No, come on," he urged, "really try to guess!"

I took a breath. "OK. Black ... black... black ..." He laid out the cards. "That's weird," I said, "I'm getting black, black, black, black... that can't be..."

"Just go with your gut," he said with effusive sincerity.

I threw in a red or two, but went back to "black, black, black, black..." We went back and forth like this for a while... with me occasionally switching to "red, black, red, black" figuring the law of averages demanded a red card show up, but I kept feeling pulled into a steady stream of black cards.

Then Bill turned over both sets -- all black on the left, all red on the right.

"See!" he chirped, "You're psychic!"

"Holy shit!" my jaw dropped. "That is not possible."

He exploded in laughter. "It is completely possible. I split the deck!!!"

I took the cards... on top were all black cards, reds were on the bottom. With sleight-of-hand, he had pulled from the top or bottom depending on which color I chose.

And he laughed and laughed. And when he stopped laughing, I said, "Wait a minute... but wasn't I saying, 'Black, black, black ...' I mean... doesn't that count for something?"

And he said -- I kid you not -- "Well I think at that point they were all red."

Of course, even in my stupor I knew this was a bunch of bullshit -- there was not nor could there have been any change in the way the cards were stacked in the deck -- yet I lacked the backbone to defend myself and did not argue further. I had let him define the situation; and in his definition, he was Top Dog, and I was a mealy-minded gullible fool.

Over the following year, our relationship deteriorated as I began to realize that he held little true affection for me and appreciated my presence merely as a means to feel better about himself.

Finally, I threw him out of the apartment.

And John's Lotto numbers won $45 million dollars.