About eight years ago a fellow I knew from high school (we’ll call him Ron) decided to try his hand at Google character assassination. I’m still not sure what prompted him to make me a target, but once a year when I Google myself I see that his claim that I’m a Nazi still shows near the top of the list. This evening was no exception. There it was.
Anyone who knows me or has read my work knows I’m about as gentle and anti-authoritarian as you can be. But anyone who doesn’t and searches for my name finds Ron’s rant. Strangers came to my defense on the bulletin board pointing out that Ron’s only contribution to the forum was this anonymous smear. But still – people read this kind of stuff and wonder if there’s any truth to it.
Ron and I shared a lunch table in high school. He once invited me to spend the day at his parents’ beach house at the Jersey shore. No one had ever invited me to spend any time with them before and so I counted Ron as a friend.
After graduation I went to college. After graduating 5th out of a high school class of 800 Ron escaped to Air Force Intelligence. Ron’s mother had an alcohol problem and he had a tortured childhood. The Air Force seemed to be the quickest path out of that misery.
He spent two years learning to take Russian dictation. It turned out they had trained too many translators and had him spend the next four years repairing teletypes in the Philippines. Military life, alcohol, wasted talent – whatever it was sucked the remaining balance in his life right out of him. He never completely returned.
After the service Ron got a degree but never worked. He spent his time in and out of psychiatric wards, living on the street, doing occasional handyman jobs, and persuading himself that nearly every landlord he had was plotting to kill him. He seemed to confuse landlords with his parents. Cutting and dropping electrical wires into the wall was one of his departing specialties.
I saw Ron years later at a high school reunion. He said he was between jobs. I hired him to do some work on my house. He lived with us as a guest for a month – sharing meals, playing chess, enjoying the comforts of an affluent Long Island neighborhood.
A few months after he and I renovated a bathroom he called to ask if I would bring him cigars. He was confined to the psych ward of a VA hospital in Manhattan. I brought a few dozen cigars through security and found him strapped down, feeding tube up his nose. He had gone on a hunger strike and was being force fed.
Over the next several years I traveled to the city bringing food, money, tools, whatever seemed useful to Ron as he moved between apartments and living on the street. I asked him what he wanted, where he was headed. I suggested taking a job, any job, with a big company and finding a place to live.
Ron looked around to make sure no one else could hear and whispered I’m going to find a UFO and recover the star-drive. He needed UFOs, something that would level the playing field and erase all the years he had wasted.
I counted Ron a friend but simply didn’t know how to help. On our last adventure together, a trip to Atlantic City complete with a pocket full of quarters I provided, I suggested he drop his plan to trash his latest apartment. I guess he concluded I’d joined his landlord’s conspiracy against him.
Another classmate, a professional social worker, talked with Ron and said his delusions were getting dangerous. I stopped trying to help. A few years later the Nazi posting showed up.
I wonder sometimes what might have been for Ron. We have plenty of land. He might have found peace cutting wood, planting, building a shelter, caring for critters of his own.
Sometimes real life just doesn’t measure up to our fantasies. Sad.