This story goes all the way back to sixth grade. Actually, it may go back even further, although I can fill that in with one sentence.
When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a drummer, but my family could not afford to buy drums, so my only option was to play my dad’s trumpet.
I was still playing trumpet in sixth grade, but I wanted something more. Something better suited for me. Drums! That’s what I really wanted, more than anything.
My school had constructed a special building specifically for band. I spent most of 5th grade playing on the cement foundation of the building. But by sixth grade, the building was up and operational.
While other kids in my class played during recess, I spent my time standing at one of the walls of the band building. There was this window, and I would watch as the band rehearsed.
A riser near the window was where the drum set was located. I so wished to hear the drums better, but I would try to be happy listening through the window.
One day, the drummer opened the window. He was a 7th grader named Brook. His feet were at my eye level, so I’d watch his feet move, and occasionally look upward to watch his hands. He appeared so happy playing the drums.
That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a drummer. Hell, I wanted to be Brook, because to me he was a really cool person.
The next year was 7th grade for me. What made 7th grade special was that Brook got held back. This gave us the opportunity to become friends. So I would start talking with him about drumming.
Next thing you know, he would invite me to his house for lunch, which was directly across the street from school. He would put a bunch of french fries in the french fry maker, which was fancy to me.
During the lunch hour, we would listen to records featuring The Cavalier Cadets, The Phantom Regiment, and other bad-ass drum corps. We might tool around with skateboards a little bit.
We would also play that magical drum set that he had. It was so cool. He’d show me things on the drums, and be very encouraging.
Then we’d go back to school and have band class. I had told the teacher at the beginning of the year that I wanted to transition to drums. In junior high and high school, the school provided the gear, so all I had to do was show up and do it.
A FRIEND’S HELP
One day, we ran over to Brook’s house. He had something exciting that he wanted to show me. As soon as we set foot into the front door, I saw it in the living room.
A brand new Ludwig Vistalite drum set. It was blue, and see-through!!! He had all new cymbals. He sat down and played a few things as I stood in the front of the kit to hear it really good.
It sounded amazing.
Then he asked if I wanted to play it. I did, and I sat down to play it. The whole thing felt amazing. It’s like that first bite of chocolate cake, which is so good that you can never replicate it.
I asked him if I could buy his old drum set and maybe get a deal. He said that he would ask his mom.
The next day, he told me that his mom had “already sold” the drum set. I was heart-broken. At least Christmas was coming up, and I had told my mom that I really wanted a drum set, so I had that going for me.
When Christmas came, I woke up to a big surprise. There it was: Brook’s old drum set!!! Mom had bought it, and took it to a music store to get new heads and a little splash cymbal installed in the bass drum.
There were no crash cymbals, no hi-hat, and not even a bass drum pedal. I would kick it with my foot. But I didn’t care. I would save up and add to it as I could.
Brook would help me out in other ways.
When he got tired of his skateboard, I got it. When he got tired of his bike and got a new one, I got his old bike.
I even got his old leather hat, when he got tired of it. I wore that hat throughout junior high school, into high school, and even in college. I wore that hat until someone stole it in 1985.
FRIENDS DRIFT APART
When we got to 9th grade, Brook quit band. I had all but forgotten that he was a year older than me, so I never thought that he’d quit band because he got his drivers license.
Of course, Brook had a VERY privileged life, where he got whatever he wanted. So his parents got him a really cool car. No, I did not inherit his car once he got tired of it, but that would be a logical guess.
Once he got his license and car, and had quit band, we really didn’t find ways to keep connected.
As I look back, it seems that Brook was eternally doing things, getting tired of them, and moving on. So I could only guess that he had left me, along with all of the things I had in my life, which he had previously abandoned as well.
So we really lost touch by the end of 9th grade, in the summer of 1979.
SOME BRIEF CONTACT
In the early 90s, I was thinking of him, so I called his old house. His parents were still there and they gave me his phone number.
I called him. He was working for an auto manufacturer and wasn’t all that happy with life. In fact, he sounded as if life had beaten him down. I guess life turned out differently because he was no longer living at home and being given everything he ever wanted.
It was the only time that I would talk to him before Facebook.
MEETING ON FACEBOOK, 40 YEARS LATER
When I returned to Facebook in April 2019, I decided to look for people I had known. I had these huge dreams where people would be excited to see me, and we’d talk about the old days for a while, before getting caught up with the latest.
So I found Brook on Facebook. I looked through a few of his pictures, and it seemed that he was doing well.
Finding Brook inspired me at a time when I was dealing with my own depression and other personal difficulties. At the time, I was working on practicing gratitude, so I had an idea.
It wasn’t a great idea, as it turns out.
The idea was that I would write something on Facebook about gratitude, and thank someone who made a difference in my life. And I decided to start with Brook.
I wrote a piece that thanked him for his inspiration and support. It was short, and wasn’t anything embarrassing.
Eventually, he commented on it.
“You achieved all that you achieved by yourself.”
What? No, I did not achieve it all by myself. Many people along the way showed me things, taught me, helped me, or guided me on the path during the early years to help me.
I replied to him with something like that. He responded, “You did it all yourself.”
We had this back-and-forth a few more times. I told him that I was attempting gratitude and being grateful to those who inspired and helped me. Again, he said that I did it all by myself.
FINDING THE HARD TRUTH, AND RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM
I decided to investigate and figure out why he was being so cold and mean about this. So I went to his profile.
He had become a Trump supporter. Before that, he was a hard-core Republican who bought into Rugged Individualism.
Rugged Individualism is a mythology that has been sold in America for the past 100 years by Republicans. The idea is that if you work hard enough, then Meritocracy will ensure that you earn what you are worth.
Even worse, the idea is that no matter how poor one might be, you can still lift yourself up by your bootstraps and rise above.
This idea is flawed because it ignores the place of privilege where we start, or don’t start. In our case, Brook had a FANTASTIC wealth of opportunities as a young person. Every time he wanted to try something, he got that opportunity.
By comparison, had I given up on drums, I would have been the one responsible for investing in anything else that I did. That’s how it went when I wanted to play guitar, and I would save up lunch money and work odd jobs to earn enough to get what I needed to pursue my goal.
Brook was spoiled rotten, which is why he had so much opportunity. It’s why I got all of his hand-me-downs.
That’s the thing: I relied HEAVILY on the hand-me-downs of the privileged, and I had access to that, but only if I had the money. Outside of the leather hat, everything I got from Brook cost me a few bucks. Still, it was more than I could afford.
My entire experience with him was enhanced by the privilege that he had. We never hung out at MY house, and there was a good reason for that. He probably felt that I had nothing to offer him.
MY COUNTER-ARGUMENT TO RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM
As I write this, I’m thinking about a speech that President Obama gave years ago, which was his “You did not build that” speech. This angered many Republicans, because it drew the curtain back to show the hard truth about Rugged Individualism.
Rugged Individualism is not only about the person doing things, but also about the government staying out of it. The latter is an added financial complexity that is basically Socialism for the government and corporations, and Rugged Individualism for us little people. But for now, we’re going to focus on the former, which is the person doing things.
The point was that NO INDIVIDUAL paved all the roads, built the power grid, the infrastructure, or the pool of educated job candidates. It took EVERYONE. That means that no one person can claim that they built it.
Here’s my argument to strength this point.
Suppose that I decide one day that I want to be a professional couch potato. Just sit on my ass, watching television, surfing the internet, drinking beers, and stuffing my face with whatever I am eating.
Am I doing that alone? A Republican would say yes, that I am doing this alone.
This “couch potato” — a person who does not reflect my values — relies on THOUSANDS of people to do what he is doing.
All of the people who keep power going, the internet going, the roads paved and open, gas for the car, food in the grocery store, beer in cans. The list can go on.
This couch potato relies on thousands, if not TENS OF THOUSANDS of people to do that simple act of what seems to be nothing.
Sure, the individual can make a decision.
But let’s suppose this person goes to work, earns six figures, and is a productive member of society.
Is he doing it all by himself? Again, a Republican would say yes, that they did this alone, by themselves.
But this is not true! Again, he relies on the various infrastructure services, the same gas and food and roads. He also relies on the business, everyone who works at the business, and the customers who pay for the services of the business. And those customers also rely heavily on all of these things, and more.
Both the couch potato and the successful worker rely on the same. Without the infrastructure and the tens of thousands of other people, neither the couch potato nor the successful worker could do what they do.
No man is an island.
Scrolling through his public Facebook feed, I could tell that he was consume by the fear and hatred that the Republicans sell to anyone who is buying. He hated everyone and believed himself to be an island who doesn’t need anyone else. What a convenient way to divide people!
He also hated Liberals, Leftists, non-whites, non-Christians, and basically anyone who wasn’t exactly like him.
Did he have anything on his profile representing anything he enjoyed doing?
No. Nothing brings him happiness. Nothing.
He hates everyone, does not want to “meet in the middle” with the “others,” whom he had demonized and dehumanized.
No wonder he didn’t like me! He didn’t like himself or anybody else.
I had no choice but to block him and mourn the loss of my fond memories.
A BIG FACEBOOK PROBLEM
This draws attention to a big problem that I have with Facebook. This problem is specific to people like me, Autistic adults who still have a toe dipped into a time when they were young and happy.
Too many people on Facebook got broken by the system. They got crushed and ripped apart by responsibility and challenging times. In the process of it all, they lost what makes them happy.
It didn’t happen to everyone. I can name the people who made it through and still enjoy the things they do in life, because I have their phone numbers and email addresses. Still, the medium is the message, and that medium is not conducive to positive conversations or connections.
The Onion said it best, of course.
When they lose those things that made them happy, they latch on to old people bullshit in desperation, to build a new identity. The Holy Trinity of old people bullshit is, in no particular order: Politics, Religion, and News.
They get sucked in and become miserable, hateful people.
But enough about them? What about ME?
I’ve never been religious, so we’ll dismiss that right away. Politically speaking, I do vote, but then I move on. I will also watch the news, but it doesn’t drive how I live at home, and I DO NOT allow it to inform me on how I must feel about myself or other people.
Religion and polics are all about the practice of “othering” and demonizing, based on nothing more than loose generalizations, false beliefs, and the hatred and fear required to keep people engaged.
I work hard, I pay my bills, I vote, I pay taxes. I have a son who is now a most honorable adult. And I did it without joining any clubs, believing any nonsense, or filling myself with anger and hatred.
Honestly, I was too busy hating myself, but that practice has been halted.
Through all of my “adulting,” as the young adults call it these days, I never lost sight of what makes me happy. Music, drumming, and the people who either practice music or enjoy it.
I UNDERSTAND. IT’S HARD
This is what American culture does to people. Get them bogged down, riled up, angry and afraid.
I have no doubt that my Autism is what allows me to keep one foot in my teenaged hopes and the other foot in the mundane and hopeless.
The world has gotten its grips on me at times. I viewed my Autism as a major impediment, because it got in the way of everything I wanted to achieve in my adult life. As a result, thanks to my Autism, I’ve had bigger struggles than the average person when it comes to doing the things that we all do.
It also messed with me because I began to view the world in terms of whether or not something could be monetized. My Autistic “gift,” it seems, cannot really be monetized. At least, I cannot think of or find a way for this to be the case.
That’s the problem: Not everything needs to be monetized in order to have value. That’s toxic American culture at work.
A BRIEF ASIDE
This reminds me of a brief aside, during a time when I was looking for work. I was also taking guitar lessons at the time. My mother, who meant well, got angry with me. “Why are you taking guitar lessons, when you should be working?”
There are a few problems with this, with one of them being the idea that you haven’t “earned” the right to do anything that brings you happiness unless you are working.
Another problem came with her not understanding that I needed to do a great deal of work to overcome my self-esteem issues. My Major Depressive Disorder is both caused by and exacerbated by my Autism.
I was looking for work, for several hours per day. She refused to acknowledge that, and instead focused on the 30 minutes per week I spent in my lesson, and the 20-30 minutes per day that I spent practicing my lessons.
“How is that going to help you find a job?”
I gave her the answer, and I’m not sure she appreciated it. The idea was that doing something to keep my mind active and build up my self-esteem would give me greater chances of landing a job.
Facebook is where the old, broken people go to be negative, hateful, fearful, and mean.
They’ve forgotten what it is like to be happy. Even worse, they have NO desire to talk about the good old days, when they WERE happy. Maybe it’s too painful for them, and I can try to understand that. This doesn’t mean that I have to participate in any of it.
Even worse, they don’t want to catch up in general. Many don’t want to talk at all.
Should I find a social networking platform that is good for me, chances are good it will be the kind of social network that brings strangers together. The only problem I see in this that most people my age have lost the point, because life is hard and it ground them down.
I can remain hopeful that there are other people out there, like me, who didn’t lose the point and who are up for the new experiences that come with possibilities.
LIFE’S PARADIGM SHIFT
This is the problem with life. When we are young, it’s all about possibilities. But when we get old, it shifts and becomes all about actualities.
Being young and focused on future possibilities can often times lead to disappointment. Being older and focused on the future actualities most definitely leads to disappointment and depression.
So they double-down on religion and politics, and become an empty shell of what they once were.
Next thing you know, it’s 2016, Trump became president the way they wanted, and they were STILL ANGRY, AFRAID, AND EMPTY INSIDE.
Literally, the day AFTER he took office, a guy I know who voted for him was still angry about “those god damned Liberals.” This is because the third entity in The Holy Trinity, NEWS, made sure to inform them how to feel. It tells them to be afraid and angry.
Do NOT look at the wealthy and powerful people who have the power to change things. No! Instead, look to that immigrant crossing the border. THEY are the true power.
Bullshit. But people get so riled up that they will believe stupid shit.
To bring this full circle, Brook believed that I achieved everything myself, and that he had no hand in helping me at all. He had no room in his heart for being grateful, or for remembering the good times we once had.
IN THE END: IF YOU ARE READING THIS, BROOK…
I highly doubt that Brook will get around to reading this, and NO, I am NOT asking anyone to forward this to him. But if he does, I’m sure it will make him angry. Understand that I DID NOT include his full name in this entry, so I am not outing him to the general public.
Yes, those who went to school with us will probably figure out who you are. Just know that they don’t care, for they’re too busy being full of hate and fear to care about reading something that I wrote. They have a world full of people to fear and hate.
But if you are reading this, Brook, I would like to thank you for that day when you first opened the window to the band room so that I could hear and see better what you were doing on the drums.
Thank you for inviting me to your house for lunch and listening to drum corps records. Thank you for selling me your old drum set, your old bike, and all of the other hand-me-downs that you either gave or sold to me. To you, it was just getting rid of stuff, but to me it meant the world.
I miss those times when we would hang out. A part of me likes to imagine a scenario where we both stayed in our small town, and as adults we get together every few weeks to listen to records, play drums, or just hang out.
Maybe to you I was just an annoying kid. But to me, you were my role model. My dad wasn’t really around, and my brother didn’t relate to me. The only person I had to look up to during those times was you. You were a fun person, and a very talented drummer, but I also viewed you as being highly intelligent. Getting held back in 7th grade confirmed that, because our school and teachers were not the best or brightest. I was almost flunked out of kindergarten, so I can relate.
Understand that you helped me get onto a path that I had wanted to be on since I was 18 months old. It was a path that was borderline impossible for me, since I grew up at the bottom of the middle class.
In spite of Rugged Individualism, it is important to acknowledge that you started at the higher end of the track, while I was way near the bottom. Life wasn’t as easy in some ways as it was for you. When you wanted something, you got it. When I wanted something, I’d have to work really hard to get it, and dream of a day when I might get it. And there were times when I did NOT get it. You didn’t experience this, but I did.
My hope was that I could thank you for everything you did for me when I was young, but you did not appreciate it and refused to hear it. You actively REJECTED my appreciation and thanks, and threw it away. That’s how much fear and hate is in your heart now, and I find that to be very, very sad.
If you do see this, and you get angry with me, then don’t bother writing. I’ll recognize the hatred and fear quickly, and send the message to the trash. But if you see this and genuinely want to patch things up, acknowledge the good times of the past, and catch up with what has been happening lately, then I’m all ears [or eyes, for an email].
I don’t miss the old person I was, because I’m still that person in many ways, even though I work, pay bills, and do all of the same things that you do. But I do miss who you once were, because you were a shining beacon of hope for me; a representation of the possibilities that I could have in the future.
I went for the music career, and it didn’t pan out. I learned a lot about the music business, and don’t blame myself for failure. If anything, I recognize my own success in that I gave it my all, and I have no regrets. “What if” is not in my vocabulary.
I moved to Los Angeles. I played drums. I wrote and recorded albums. I played shows. I taught a few lessons. I met my music/drumming heroes, and some of them even became dear friends of mine.
And you know what? I enjoyed the utter fuck out of it. Every last moment. And I’m STILL drumming, playing guitar and bass, and making music. Music is everything to me, because it builds up my self-esteem, it makes me happy, and it’s my primary social vehicle.
I might not have that without your inspiration and hand-me-downs.
While I totally dislike what you have become, you are still a person to me, and I hope that one day you can find something to be happy about. I hope that you can one day accept my gratitude and feel good that you made a difference in someone’s life. It saddens me that you do not have the capacity to accept this.
But if that day never comes, then please consider this a goodbye, Brook. Thank you for everything, and I wish you all the best.