I came across this old letter recently that I’d written to a friend, sort of. While it does cohere, the document as a whole is a complete non sequitur. It had nothing to do with my life or my friend’s life, and its tone is completely unrelated to our friendship.
I’m not sure what inspired this. My only theory now is that I had a stray impulse to let my friend know how cool I thought it was that he was a full-time professional bike racer and a part-time college student—but of course it would be lame to actually praise him. So instead, I roundly criticized him. I think I was reading stuff at the time about how you cannot state something without also implying its opposite. For example, when you see a stop sign, you think “stop,” but you also think about “go.” Perhaps I figured that by groundlessly bagging on my friend I would cause him to reflect favorably on his actual life.
Or maybe I just wrote the incongruous letter for no reason at all. I share it here because I think it’s kind of funny (which of course implies that it may actually be dull and unfunny; you can decide for yourself).
By the way, my friend’s name is not “John.” I changed the name for this version just to make sure nobody attaches any biographical meaning to anybody. Oh, and one more thing: I never got a response to this letter, in any form.
A very odd letter – September 30, 1991
Word has gotten around that you’re neglecting your college education and have wasted the last three weeks of class time. You are supposed to be working on your projects. But you do nothing. Can I help?
I guess it’s not accurate to say you do nothing. I mean, nobody is completely inert. Probably you write on the desk, or scratch your initials in with a razor blade, or maybe you stick the blade of a pocketknife between the Formica and the wood and pry it up, to split off big pieces of the desk, like picking at a scab. I can picture you idly peeling off the ironed-on letters on the sleeve of your t‑shirt, or staring at the clock to will it to speed up. Or maybe you envision yourself running your hands up the legs of the teacher, up beneath her dress. (This fantasy may require you to scrunch down under your desk.) But what is the value of all this? You’re only cheating yourself through this lackadaisical behavior.
This is your life! This is your big moment, the springtime of your life, the time to blossom into the fine young man we all know you can be. If you would just apply yourself, it would make all the difference in the world. Spread your wings and fly! You can do it! I mean, come on, you’re John Doe! You just have to tell yourself, “John, I can make a difference in this life!” It’s time to take off and soar into your future!
Oh, John. I just don’t know what the world is going to do with you. You can’t just sit back and wait for your life to come along and create itself for you. You’ve got to make those miracles happen. All that’s missing is you. You must want to succeed, deep down inside, like we all want you to. Surely you have some kind of ambition, if you would just search for it.
Remember, you are not alone in this! You’ve got your friends, we’re all pulling for you. Sure, we aren’t the greatest friends you’ve ever had, what with Tommy in prison now (for a crime he didn’t commit—remember that!), and sure, Jake hasn’t spoken to you since he laid you out cold at that party, but I think even he has high hopes for you. Maybe you think I shouldn’t be the one to give you advice since I dropped out of college myself, but you know school just isn’t right for me, at least not right now. I think I belong here in the Price Pfister factory. Working the electronic scale really isn’t as simple as a lot of people tend to think. I’ve still got my pride.
Just keep in mind that you were always our role model. At least, until you decided to just throw away all your talent. I can’t express what a letdown it’s been to me and the rest of us when your grades started slipping. High Valley Community College may not be your only chance for success, but you’ve got to take it seriously since it’s the best shot you have! The rest of us would give almost anything to have the opportunity that you do.
This one friend of mine got into Adams State College, and after he graduated he got a really good sales position selling office products to small businesses. He took me for a ride in his new car and told me to open the glove compartment, and when I did this pen rolled out and when I picked it up I saw that it had his name on it in gold. I was pretty impressed, and then he opened this little door above the gear shift and I thought it was an ashtray but it turned out to be this neat drink holder you can either put a Coke can or a coffee cup in and it doesn’t spill or anything. His car is a Nissan Sentra, and he’ll have it paid off before President Bush’s second term ends, before things could get bad with the economy.
So I guess you can see where I was going with that. You can be great! Please tell me how to help!
All my best,