10 September 2007

This Was

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 4:09 pm

Yesterday an archived Ktismatics post got a comment written by the daughter of my old friend Greg. In that post I reminisced about how, in high school calculus class, Greg had extolled the virtues of Jefferson Airplane’s After Bathing at Baxter’s album. Scott, who had seen Jethro Tull in concert, encouraged me to check out their recently-released first album, This Was. I bought both albums but I wasn’t wild about either of them. I remember when Scott signed my yearbook during our senior year he wrote something like this:

Continued success in your search for pussy. And remember: if they’re old enough to crawl, they’re old enough to ball.

T.H.E. Doop

I don’t know what success Scott thought I was having, or what his pen name meant.

I didn’t see Scott again until three years later. After I quit college I worked in a book warehouse to make some money. Vietnam was still going on, and passing my pre-draft physical provided motivation enough to begin my travels. Shaking hands and wishing me luck, my dad dropped me and my backpack off at the expressway entrance ramp and drove home. It took me three days to hitchhike from Des Plaines, Illinois to New York City. It was late at night when I made the walk from the Harlem subway stop to Scott’s apartment at Columbia. “No wonder we don’t get many visitors,” his roommate said when I told them how I’d gotten there. I don’t remember much about my visit, which was brief. The next day a mute dwarf grabbed my ass as I walked up Fifth Avenue. “No thanks,” I said politely, removing his hand — I think he was deaf too. That evening I caught my flight to Lisbon.

The next time I saw Scott was at our twentieth high school reunion. He was loud and almost flamboyantly obnoxious, which wasn’t like him, and he had some babe on his arm — definitely not one of our classmates — with whom he spent most of the night leaning up against the wall making out. I figured he was probably high. I didn’t talk to Scott that night.

Once while we were living in Antibes I spent the late-night hours googling on a few old friends. I tracked down three references to Scott. Some Chicago advertising guy wrote on his website that if the ad slogan he’d written for one of his clients lasted for another couple of years it would catch Scott’s as the longest-running ad campaign in town. I emailed him: what can you tell me about Scott? Scott left for Los Angeles about ten years ago, he replied; please let me know if you hear from him. Google also found the announcement of fellowships awarded to the winners of a novice screenwriters’ competition. Scott had won for a piece that sounded at least semi-autobiographical, about his childhood. I also discovered that Scott had received co-writer credit on a movie I’d never seen but that had been roundly panned by the critics. I learned nothing more about Scott that night. I tried to find his email address but failed.

This past June I got an email from Don, another old high school buddy. He said he had just come back from the first-ever Distinguished Alumni Award ceremony at our high school. The recipient was Steve, another guy from our graduating class. I’ve known Steve since the first grade: after graduating from Harvard he went on to build a solid career as a research agronomist, developing new strains of grains that increase harvest yields in the third world. The main thing I remember about Steve’s valedictory address was that he’d delivered it in a fake English accent (his father was English). Scott was salutatorian, but I don’t remember him giving a speech. A dozen years ago, when we were moving from Minnesota to Colorado — it must have been about the same time Scott left Chicago for the West Coast — we stopped off in Lincoln to have brunch with Steve, his wife and their two children. Steve seemed to be the only person at the table who didn’t realize that something was going terribly wrong with his family. A couple years later Steve’s wife and kids also moved to Colorado. Now the daughter has an infant child; it’s not clear who will take care of it when she’s deployed to Iraq. The son is serving a seven-year term in the Colorado penitentiary for statutory rape of a minor and drug-related offenses. Steve, now remarried, told Don that his son didn’t find prison life overly oppressive. Steve also told Don that, according to the alumni director, Scott had passed away in California recently. No one had further details to relate.

This time Google led me to a series of three blog posts by Max entitled “My Father’s Daughter,” dedicated In Memoriam to Scott. In these posts Max said that her parents had divorced when she was a child, that she had been raised by her mother, that she rarely spoke with her father, that every six months or so he would mail her, without comment, an obituary he’d clipped from the newspaper. I browsed around the blog: it seemed that Max was a fledgling writer herself. So I wrote Max an email telling her that I’d gone to school with her dad. I said that I hadn’t known Scott had been married, or divorced, or had children. I told Max that to my knowledge her dad was the only person in our graduating class who went off and did something strange like advertising. Like writing. It was hard in those days for kids in our town to imagine such a life, I told her, and the fact that she could imagine it was, I said, a tribute to her father.

That night I received a reply from Max: “Hello John. It is kind of you to write. I think you misunderstand the post though. Scott was not my father, Scott was a professional peer.” I didn’t get it. After another exchange I figured it out: Max is a writer living in L.A.; she too had been awarded the same fellowship Scott had won. The story she’d written in Scott’s honor was a short story, a work of fiction. I asked her if she could tell me anything more about Scott’s life since I’d lost touch with him. Or anything more about his death. She wrote this:

I cannot fill much in for you. We were professional colleagues who met up once a year during the annual alumni dinner, and sometimes in between at alumni lunches, but we did not associate outside those events our friendship was very casual.

He jumped off the Golden Gate bridge.


  1. Ugh, how sad. It’s always quite shocking to hear something like that. It’s almost unreal, especially when you haven’t seen that person for such a long time.


    Comment by Erica — 11 September 2007 @ 10:43 am

  2. Maybe it is unreal? I haven’t had independent confirmation of the suicide. All I have to go on is Max’s word, and Max is a fiction writer whose writing previously convinced me she was Scott’s daughter. But I do think it’s true and almost unreal.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 September 2007 @ 11:43 am

  3. It is true. He did jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. I believe my dad will post later about the details he knows.


    Comment by Alia Caravelli — 11 September 2007 @ 5:15 pm

  4. Thanks very much, Alia. Such a sad ending. No one knows Scott at this blog, and I don’t have that many readers anyhow, so for Greg to put details up as a comment doesn’t entail much privacy risk. However, if he feels like it’s more appropriate he can email me at portalic@gmail.com. I have access to the email address of anyone who comments, so I can always get back in touch afterwards. Either way it’s nice to renew a connection after so many years have passed.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 September 2007 @ 5:16 pm

  5. […] mean streets of Manhattan.” I too visited Scott at Columbia once, which brought back to mind a 2007 blog post I wrote about that incident and about Scott. Jim filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge of […]


    Pingback by Solstice Greetings – Ficticities — 21 December 2018 @ 3:16 pm

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