When Brad first wrote to remind us that TNB was coming up on its 5th anniversary and suggest that some of us offer our thoughts on this milestone, my response was, verbatim (though not in its entirety), this:
My teeth already hurt and nothing has even been posted yet. TNB’s syrup cup shall runneth over for that week.
So, as is my way, I will resist the temptation to gush, apple-polish, be overly or even overtly complimentary, or to otherwise do what everyone else is doing or what I think everyone will do.
I will try not to contribute to that. Or maybe I will accidentally contribute to that.
Mostly I’m just going to adopt a general trajectory and publish whatever comes out.
I’m going to estimate that I’ve known Brad Listi for about six years. My memory is very bad. It is a curse that comes along with a personality that does not pay much attention to external detail. In my fuzzy recollection, there may be a handful of people who frequent this site who I’ve known longer or about as long.
Most of these people, including Brad, I know from Myspace.
One day I got a Myspace message from Brad, indicating that he thought I might “maybe” be the kind of writer he was looking for to take part in an experiment. I remember being slightly offended by his lack of conviction.
It’s a little-known fact that I was among the stable of writers at TNB 1.0 when it debuted in 2006. That I created and maintained the site’s Myspace page, that it was my hand that colored in the blue-shirted, blonde-haired, red balloon-toting colored version of TNB guy and wrote the site’s first ever “About Me” section (It was not good. I mean, it was cute, but it was not Brad’s awesome manifesto thing that everyone loves that I can’t find to link to).
These facts are little known because A) people don’t care, and b) if they they do care and if I start talking about it, the conversation eventually leads to where did I go for two years before wandering back?
The answer is, in short: My inveterate impulse to test people’s limits was already demonstrated, but Brad wasn’t (and really I wasn’t) aware, at that point, quite how far I was willing to go or how little control I really had at the time over my most disagreeable tendencies. Suffice it to say, if you find me difficult now, it is only because you didn’t know me then.
That is the only explanation I can really give.
And I give it alongside the caveat that I’m glad about it. Which is different than being proud of it but nothing like being ashamed about it. I’m glad about it, in part, because of what I’m about to say.
It’s common to try to romanticize a community. I have been a member of other communities.
I was a member of a community we called “Crew 244”.
It was mostly just a bunch of drunk kids throwing weekly house parties.
But we did not know, at that time, that was all it was.
The inner, core group of this sometimes expansive social network especially did not know at the time that was what it was. Or that’s not what it was to us.
I have hundreds of photos like this one of moments we saw fit to immortalize, but none of them are what we really remember. If we were asked to describe those 2 or 3 years, as I am about to do, we will say very little about specific moments like this one.
I know because we are all still very close. We talk about what we remember. We cast our eyes down sometimes. We shake our heads a lot. The incredible emotional violence and dysfunction of the stories lurking beneath the surface of these photographs could not be properly articulated in a million years. But we found (and to some degree still find) safety in it.
The devil you know, as they say.
But the pictures are what we show to people. They are the moments we talk about in mixed company. When we reminisce publicly now, or even when we talked about ourselves to others then, we advertised that Crew 244 was an open house, a non-stop party and/or refuge, a place one could feel free to be relaxed, be naked, be drunk, be high, be promiscuous, smoke cigarettes, and take baths fully clothed. It was possible and normal to stay up doing these things until 7 am, and anyone, we told everyone, should feel free to stop by for beer and scrambled eggs at noon. Free to be you and me. Come as you are. We will accept you. No matter what.
This kind of community and communality existed nowhere else, we were sure. Sometimes those of us who were “inner circle” but didn’t live at the house didn’t go home for days. And this free wheeling, carefree communal picture was, to some degree, how it actually was. Sort of. Mostly. That’s how it was if you didn’t hang around too much for too long or get too involved. If you wanted to do that, then Crew 244 would have its pound–or 6–of flesh.
If you allowed yourself to become emotionally involved in the life and happenings of 244, you would get the darkness on you. Those were your options: Stand back or get dirty. All else was wishful thinking.
And so, it dawned on me in retrospect, while most of us were friends before the Crew 244 experience, when we came out the other side, we were close in the solemn way shared mourning, not celebration, makes people close. We are close the way we are now because we saw these happy and sad and nasty and near-fatal moments all the way through to the inevitable conclusion in which many of us were not speaking to others or simply could no longer stand the emotional rigors of the “look ma no hands” young adult utopia we advertised to others. In some cases, some of us didn’t talk for years. In other cases, we kept up appearances through awkward interactions and obligatory wedding invitations. In the end, we came back together. Under amended circumstances. We simply could not bring ourselves ever to write each other off forever. It would have meant a failure of the 244 experiment. It would have made all that difficulty and broken-heartedness and all the sleepless early-morning conversations and screaming fights and broken objects and epic parties and public embarrassments and private cruelties not worth a thing.
I cannot say that TNB is quite exactly like this.
I cannot say that TNB is entirely unlike this.
It’s tough to approach the flesh-stripped, emotionally raw level of a group like 244 (and countless others like it) when people are older, very rarely in the same room together, and especially when everyone isn’t sleeping with everyone else. Also, people are often sober at TNB, which is a hindrance to the epic human dysfunction that is inherent in an incestuous party posse.
But “stand back or get dirty” seems to fit.
The point is that human interactions are untidy. And they cannot be forced to be tidy. This is especially true of large groups where people habitually put their soft bellies on display. There are too many incompatible moods and needs, too many moving parts, too many perceptions and agendas and ideas about what is happening and what should be happening. They strain against and shove and feed off of one another, with or without the knowledge or consent of participants. The group becomes an “it,” not an “us.” We want there to be a uniform cause, but there is not. There is no metanarrative.
This makes me want to say, to the casual observer, that people may post a great deal this week about fraternity and friendship and support and connections and so on. They will depict TNB, to some degree, as a party house. And they will not be lying. But they won’t be telling the whole truth, either.
No one can be beautiful and pure and ageless forever, no friendship or group of friendships or system or community can remain static forever, no matter what panicked pains are taken to keep up appearances. The proverbial portrait stands in the attic, its countenance twisting and changing all the time with every move we make. Everything is a trade-off. If there were no such exchange, we would not be human people. If all we did was get along and like each other and demonstrate caring concern and loving support and nothing about that ever changed, there would be something grotesque and, frankly, worthless about this place as a repository of and active experiment in the human experience. It would represent a complete failure of (what I understand to be) its unofficial mission.
TNB continues to resist all attempts to have its tone, tenor, and/or mood dictated. TNB, as always, is as wieldy as a handful of water.
And in the end, you either roll with it or you move along.
I learned the hard way. I take refresher courses from time to time.
So the back-rubbing, the cheer-leading, the smiles and hugs and encouragement–these things are all fine and necessary and humane. But the disagreements and the shoves and the back-biting–the egos, jealousies, desperate responses to disappointment and the subsequent, gruesome de-gloving of illusion and pretense that follows–these are human. And they are the things we fight the the most terribly to resist. To arrest. To stop stop STOP.
But to be appreciated for your shortcomings as opposed to in spite of them is to experience the truest form of love and acceptance. Or so I’ve heard. It seems about right.
So happy golden birthday, TNB, to your transcendent whole and to all your profane, nasty little parts.
I love you.
Which means I don’t have to like you.
P.S. I will never try to fuck you, TNB. If things get too uncomfortable or you ever feel you are in any imminent sexual danger from Brad, do not hesitate to come straight over to my place. But you sleep on the couch and do a little housework to earn your keep. And hands off my bomb pops.