Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada – Stephen Thompson, wherever you are – I am truly, truly sorry.
No, you don’t know Stephen Thompson. Neither do I. But this apology is WAY overdue.
Back in my college days – and “days” should be taken quite literally in this case – I wrote a column for the campus newspaper, Chaffey College’s “Mountain Breeze.”
I wrote hard-hitting commentary about the events of the day. Like when the news broke that the Reagans would routinely consult an astrologer, I wrote a column about calling up Nancy and convincing her to use MY psychic services. I have my own specialty, I told her. Rather than tea leaves or chicken bones or tarot cards, I read nose hairs.
“Nose hairs?” Nancy asked.
“Nose hairs,” I replied.
OK, so it wasn’t so much a critique on current events as an excuse to write “nose hairs” as many times as possible. Kinda like now. In fact, the only difference between my column then and my column now is that back then I didn’t write about my childhood. I was still having it.
But man, I thought I was somethin’ else. Seeing my name and picture in print twice a month was like throwing gasoline on my forest fire of an ego, a fire routinely extinguished by deluges of insecurity and self-doubt. Again, kinda like now, except that my metaphors were probably better back then.
Other community colleges would mail us their papers, which we kept in a stack in the corner of the newsroom. One day I grabbed one and opened to the opinion page and saw a column called “En Garde,” by Stephen Thompson. It was an earnest piece encouraging fellow students to quit complaining about how boring their town is and get out there and make things happen. A nice, positive message. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Which is why what I did next was so particularly loathsome. I cut out Stephen’s column and glued it to a sheet of paper and wrote “How To Spot ‘Really Bad’ Writing” at the top, then circled and arrowed bits of his column, adding what I thought was hilarious commentary from someone who was clearly a “Really Good” writer. I even made fun of his expression in his mug shot. I tore this guy to shreds for no reason at all. Then I stuck the finished product up on the wall for a while for others to enjoy. And then I did something horrible.
I mailed it back to him.
Well. A copy of it. I kept the original, of course. Still have it. And every time I come across it in my jumbo scrapbook it just makes me want to cry. What an awful thing to do to someone for no reason at all. And I don’t even have an explanation or an excuse – I was just a total dick. And with each passing year I’ve regretted it more. A few years ago I even tried finding him online so I could apologize, but it’s just too common a name. I don’t even know for a fact that he ever received my little critique. Still … ouch.
Some day a stranger will walk up to me and say, “Hello, I’m Stephen Thompson, and this is for you,” and he’ll proceed to black my eye. And I’ll deserve it. (NOTE to people who are NOT Stephen Thompson – no fair pretending to be him just so you can hit me. Thank you.)
And why bring this up now, over 20 years later? Because I’m at the Ottawa Fringe Theatre Festival, where I’ve just debuted my new comedy show. The first review came out in yesterday’s paper, and it was bad, bad, bad. Scathing, mean and nasty. Dismissive and cutting and possibly even hateful. The headline was even worse. This person did not like me, anything about me, what I did or the way I did it, and was not shy about expressing it in print, though he was kind enough to point out that “some audience members found him hilarious.” He was clearly not one of them.
My criticism chickens have come home to roost, and they brought nunchucks. I’ve gotten a little taste of what I doled out all those years ago, and, well … ouch.
And no, the reviewer’s name was not Stephen Thompson. Though I guess he could be using a pseudonym …
(Next time: More tales from the emotional rollercoaster of being on tour.)
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Sean Beckwith is taking advantage of his column space this week to inform the public of the Best in Jest.