Monday, April 12, 2010

Ghost in the Machine

Statistically, this was bound to happen sooner or later. A Facebook friend of mine passed away last week.

I did not know him all that well, really. We met backstage in high school and then lost touch when he graduated. When a mutual friend sent me one of those "Why don't you friend this guy?" messages shortly after I got onto Facebook, I thought, "Why not?" And so I did. We may have traded a couple of "Hi, how are you?" messages after that, but that was pretty much the extent of it.

He was a good soul.

Mostly what I remember about him is that he treated me well when there was no particular benefit to him for doing so, which I think says a lot about his character. He was, as a friend of mine said recently, "a true mensch," which is not a word one runs into very often here in the nation's tender midsection, but a description that I won't argue with.

His Facebook page is still there.

It is odd, this new form of immortality that we have created for ourselves in this digital age. Nothing ever really goes away on the internet. Somewhere, everything is archived. And unless someone goes to the trouble of removing all those things we sign up for in life, they remain there online for the world to see. It's like the old quandary of finding departed friends in your address book, but more public.

People have posted memorials there, which I suppose is fitting. He was a fairly young man, all things considered, and he left a family behind who might find some comfort in them.

The one really clear memory I have of him is from one of those moments you have in theater, the ones the audience never knows about (or doesn't really understand, even if they see them) but which make up the heart of what theater people remember and cherish from the shows they work on.

We were working on the ground crew of a show that involved a number of fairly quick scene changes, many of them involving two triangular columns roughly four feet wide on a side and about fourteen feet tall - three flats lashed together to form a prism standing on end, in other words. Those columns would be rotated so that the appropriate scenery faced the audience at any given time, which was not all that hard - they were fairly light. There were other things going on at the same time as well in front of those columns - things to be moved, things to be brought onstage, things to be taken off.

One night, one of those scene changes ended about ten seconds earlier than he thought it was going to end. Rather than being caught out in the open when the lights came up - a minor sin among techies, who will bust your chops forever about it if it happens to you, as I know from experience - he dove behind one of the columns and quickly stood up, making himself invisible to the audience.

But not to us.

We sat there, offstage left, sympathetic but still wildly amused, while he stood behind that column waiting for the scene to end and shrugged his shoulders at us. Oh well, he said. What could I do?

It's a bit long of a story to post on his Facebook page, so I write it here.

Fare thee well, kind soul.

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