Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Lost And Found And Lost Again

Searching For Old Friends

I've had various computers—about five, I think—one at a time, spread out over about 16 years. I was somewhat proficient with word processors and with some data base programs in a non-network environment when I finally got a chance in 2000 to get on the Internet at my local library. I decided that, given this powerful and fun new tool, it would be great fun to search for people I'd lost track of over the years. I admit it was mostly an exercise. It wasn't important for me to find most of them, but the effort slowly familiarized me with the workings of cyberspace. I was determined to do as much searching as possible via Internet and email. I had the time to spend and was successful several times, managing to locate a few old friends from 20 and even 30 years ago. Of course, finding them isn't always the long-lasting joy you hope for.

In the process, I discovered the usefulness of the sites like RootsWeb.com and other genealogy sites that help you research your Family Tree. Those connected me to various government sites, such as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and various state records of births, marriages, and deaths. I hardly even remember now how I utilized them, but I do recall it was useful.


One old friend, Ralph, had such a common first and last name that I needed to narrow the possibilities. Thus I went to the Texas marriage records and found him indirectly by searching for his first wife's name, first in marriage and then in the divorce records. I was able to match that to my friend's name. And thus I discovered his middle name—something I'd never known twenty years ago—and then I could search for Ralph by his correct full name! That was useful indeed.

I also remember learning later that the disappearance of some of those "public record" sites I had accessed through RootsWeb were in direct response to the 911 attacks. What was formerly seen as just innocently exploring your family tree was now suspicious behavior—you might be a terrorist searching for an American identity to hijack. By then I'd finished all my searches, so I wasn't inconvenienced, but I was sorry to see that others were now cut off from those information sources. That caution may have been sorted out by this time; I hope so, anyway.

Ralph Unstrung

I found that particular friend, Ralph, through a convoluted path; he was an old friend from Austin 20 years ago whom I'd last seen in Galveston. He turned out to have ended up almost back where he began, on the outskirts of Austin. We talked on the phone once and were quite friendly, but that was about all there was to it. His computer was broken, he said, and so he had no email and he was a family man now and had a world of new friends. I wrote Ralph a couple of snail-mails and got no answer—he never was much of a letter-writer. I guess he never fixed his computer—or if he did, he didn't care to say so. He's not so far away that I couldn't go there, yet I never go there. That's one found, but one gone, too.


I'm pretty sure I had identified another old friend, Von, in his Texas hometown, but that "find" was just left hanging in the air. I found his father (same exact name) listed in the Social Security Death Index and recognized that the address given at time of death was the same parental address Von had once given me years ago—I still had it written down in an old notebook. I wrote to that address, figuring that I had him nailed, but I got no answer. If it isn't him living at that address, it's someone using his family name, so I figure someone in his family is there. I'm not going to be a pest about it, so I guess Von will remain a mystery unless I just want to go kick his door in. There's another one down.

Wilfried From Germany

In high school 30 years before, I'd had a good friend, a foreign-exchange student from Germany. We had written for a year or two after high school, then we both got busy. By the time I started searching for him on the Internet, I had no info about him except his name. Thus, my search for him was straightforward, but long. There were hundreds of guys named Wilfried ________ listed on the Internet, some of them with email addresses. I wrote every single one who had an address. I read or skimmed many of the other sites, eliminating most of them by using such factors as age, appearance, or other details. Then, after hundreds of sites and dozens of emails sent, and even 15 or 20 "Sorry, not me" answers from various friendly Wilfrieds, I got an email response from The Right One! He was astonished and asked how I'd tracked him down! I was thrilled and asked him what the hell he'd been doing for thirty years! It had taken me twelve weeks to find him—about 72 actual hours, I estimate.

Wilfried and I both wrote a few long happy letters, exchanging info, even discovering that we were both birdwatchers! Then, without warning and despite how well suited to each other we seemed, he completely stopped writing. For a while I thought that maybe he'd been hit by a truck—how would I ever know? But then I Googled some more and contacted the people who hosted him when he was in America as a student and they informed me he was all right. At any rate, he was still alive. These mutual friends informed me he was sometimes subject to depression. I must have caught him during a very short period of non-depression! I haven't heard from Wilfried since 2001. That's a long spell of depression, if that's what it is. Wilfried was the old friend that I'd most wanted to track down, and it's really quite heartbreaking that he's disappeared into the quicksand of life. He's been lost and found, and now is lost again.


Another old friend, Rick, was not so close as some old friends, but I thought I'd always been fond of him. So I had, if I say so, but then I was knocked facedown in the dirt when he turned up and didn't know me! Rick had disappeared two decades ago in the direction of New York City and I found his name mentioned on an Internet site. I got someone to contact him where he now worked, elsewhere in New York. I was happy to get an email from Rick not long after; however, it turned out that he remembered people who were our mutual acquaintances, but not me. I remembered him so well, I thought, but I myself was not memorable! Sometimes one's ego has to take a mighty beating! I eventually served the fine purpose of getting Rick back in touch with one or two of the others, and he eventually claimed that he remembered me after all, but he never said a word that would tend toward confirmation of that claim, not by my standards. I concluded that he was being polite. I don't blame Rick or find him purposefully disagreeable, but locating him was not one of my best experiences in looking up old friends via the Internet. It is a good caveat to others who are considering being sentimental about the past, I guess.

Harvey, Another Fine Fellow

Harvey probably would have also been easy to find through other means than the Internet. Here was another I hadn't seen or heard from in twenty years. He was another of my old "hippie days" friends who turned out to be very political and seemingly very reality-based. He was both in business and had an Internet news site with a fair degree of regard among some state politicians and political reporters. I admired what he was doing, and he was very friendly, but I never got a chance to visit him and it seemed as if, via email, we didn't quite speak the same language any more. Certainly, I was not knowledgeable enough about state politics to fully comprehend his articles. So we made the effort, but we soon drifted out of one another's earshot. I think it was a case where I had the capacity to sustain an email-only relationship, but he, like most people, can't have an email relationship if they don't also physically see and hear you from time to time. He was another Fine Fellow fallen off the edge of the world. It was just the way the world worked.

Robert, Being Despised, Etc.

Oh, there are others I sought, but I'll cut the details. At least one other, Robert, busily answered me in a friendly manner at first, albeit vaguely. Then he seemed to actually remember me. I sensed that he was uncomfortable and wrote to tell him if that was the case, if he was remembering the bad parts, I'd understand if he didn't write any more. He didn't write any more. I didn't blame him, I had written him rather tentatively and had been surprised when he responded. Some people still have cause to despise you, it turns out, even when it's been thirty years since they despised you!

There were other people I searched for at very great length that year, but I never found a clue as to their whereabouts. I now know that working too hard and long on such matters is an investment in all the wrong things. Sayonara, John Bowen, still unfound. Happy trails, Sandy, Carmen, Candy, and the rest, lost in the turgid flesh of time.

Goodbye to you, boys and girls, Lost Ones all.

Addendum: P and M

I forgot one, I'm surprised to say. In fact, two, as it was a couple. P and M were close friends who borrowed a hundred dollars from me in Austin. I practically forced them to do it, as they kept saying how friends fell out sometimes about money and they wouldn't want that to happen to us! So they took the loan and a few months after disappeared completely from Austin. I was perplexed, but not about the money as much as about losing track of my friends. Year after year, I regretted that loss. Fifteen years passed and then I found them via the Internet. They were friendly and excited for a short while, but then the inevitable boredom set in and they didn't email much after that. I sighed and read the writing on the wall. I wasn't angry, but I did mention the borrowed money to them, just telling them that if it was ever convenient for them, I was poor enough that I could benefit by the repayment. At first, M answered and said she didn't remember the loan, but that they'd send it by first post. Then weeks passed; it never came. I don't know if P and M discussed it further and decided that I was a worthless shitass for asking for the money they didn't even remember borrowing. But at long last, I had arrived at the point where I could hold them responsible for stealing my little bit of money. For 15 years I'd held them blameless because I didn't know what had happened. I still don't know what happened, but now that they've stolen the money a second time, I feel I definitely have the right to resent it. It would have been far better if I hadn't found them, wouldn't it?

Words of Wisdom from A Butterless Man:

Professor: Next time, hold your penis steady and don't walk around while you pee.

Fergus: Okay, daddy.

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