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January 26, 2009

The 2009 Create Your Own Oscar Pool Page

The 2009 Create Your Own Oscar Pool Page is live.

If you notice anything amiss-bugs, broken links, wrong nominees, typos--mention it in the comments, or drop me a line at matthew@defectiveyeti.com.

January 20, 2009

How I Feel Today



January 07, 2009

In Memoriam

In the early hours of January 1st, 2000, my friend Jamie Babcock took his own life.

I'd known Jamie for at least 15 years, though I'm not sure exactly when we met. I do recall that, at some point, he was the "new kid" at my elementary school, where he was soon celebrated for his ability to draw a near perfect Garfield--quite the marketable skill in an early-eighties fifth-grade classroom. His other claim to fame was that he had come in second at a big Pac-Man competition in whatever town he had moved from. According to his telling of the story at the time, he lost by only 10 points. As I got older I eventually recognized the whole thing as a tall tale told by a transplanted kid trying to impress his new classmates, but let's be honest: in those days we all lied about our video game prowess.

And I'm not sure when we actually became friends either, but here is a clue: I gave Jamie the first "Weird Al" Yankovic album as a birthday present. This was shortly after the record's release in 1984; thus, we were familiar enough to exchange gifts by '85 at the latest. In fact, this interaction is my first vivid memory of him. He ripped the wrapping paper off the a cassette tape I had given him and his face immediately fell. "Oh," he said. "I thought it would be something cool like Van Halen, but thanks."

We were buddies by the end of our Freshman year of high school though, and had become close friends by graduation. In some way this was inevitable: Hazen High school teachers preferred to seat kids alphabetically, so he and I were adjacent in every class we shared. But even beyond proximity we had a lot in common. In fact, although he (unlike myself) was muscular and good-looking, Jamie was, in many respects, even more geeky than I. He was a huge Star Trek fan, for instance. And he was fanatically devoted to those comic books he followed, Sandman foremost amongst them. Every Wednesday we we would bike to Warlord's (our local comic book store) to pick up our favorite titles from the newest shipment.

But (again unlike me), Jamie also had many non-nerdly pursuits. He was on our school's wrestling team for instance, where he competed in a weight class that was seemingly five pounds under what his body thought was ideal. Consequentially, he was forever depriving himself of food, trying to keep his poundage just under the limit. I think his perpetual diet made him genuinely unhappy at times, but he also joked around about it. Once, during a class, he made a production of tearing a piece of notebook paper into tiny scraps; he then drew a piece of food on each (a slice of pizza, a cheeseburger), and spent the remainder of the hour eating them, one by one, to the restrained laughter of myself and the others around him.

That was Jamie in a nutshell. Whatever happened he just kind of took it in stride. Once, when we were driving around in his VW Rabbit, I set a half-unwrapped Peach-flavored Jolly Rancher Stix on his dashboard while I put on my seatbelt; when Jamie tapped the brakes a moment later, it slid into a ventilation slot, never to be seen again. He shrugged and never gave me shit for it, even though his car smelled of peaches from that day forward.

After high school Jamie and I went our separate ways, he to Washington State University in Spokane, I to Evergreen in Olympia. We still got together during holidays and breaks, but less and less frequently. Even so, I would still refer to him as "one of my best friends", and mean it.

Jamie joined the police academy after college. Physically and athletically he was perfect for the job--his experience as a wrestler would surely come in handy when "taking down a perp" or whatever--but I'd never heard him express any interest in law enforcement, so the news came as a surprise to me. Of course I hardly ever saw Jamie by this point, so what did I know? Shortly thereafter I joined the Peace Corps and lost all contact with him for a couple of years.

He was an officer by the time I returned to the States in 1997, so one evening I joined him on a "ride-along". Jamie patrolled North Seattle, and we spent much of the night cruising around the U-District, with occasional jaunts down 50th or 65th to get to the scene of some fracas or another. He pointed out all the drug dealers and petty criminals we passed (which, at 1:30 AM on University Way, was nearly everyone), reciting their dates of birth from memory as he did so. He stopped a robbery at a convenience store, subduing the thief with the threat of pepper spray. He pulled over someone for speeding, but let them off with a warning because they had a "Pedro the Lion" sticker in their back window.

At one point we were called to the apartment of two college girls, who claimed that someone had broken into their house and rifled through their stuff. They were drunk or high or both, and their story was profoundly confused. They couldn't point to any one thing that proved that their stuff has been messed with, but they were certain that it had; and they knew that someone had broken into their house because, well, their stuff had been messed with, and how else would someone have gotten to it?

I assumed we'd turn around and leave, but Jamie patiently listened to their rambling and often contradictory tale, jotting notes as he did so. He asked a few probing questions but never showed the slightest sign of disrespect. By the end of their account they were clearly embarrassed that they had summoned the police, but Jamie waved away their apologies. "You were right to call," he assured them, and they looked relieved, and everything was cool.

It's probably unwise of me to speculate on what kind of police officer Jamie was based on this one night, but I'm going to anyway. I think he was exactly the kind of cop you'd want to show up when you were in a jam, someone with a good sense of humor who nonetheless took you seriously, someone who made it clear that he was on your side.

There was one incident in Jamie's childhood that hinted at an impulse-control problem, a time when he had put his fist through a window in anger and nearly bled to death before they could get him to a hospital. I think this happened before he moved to our neighborhood and, for all I know, it may have happened just after he lost that "Pac-Man competition", if you know what I mean. He definitely had scars on his hand, though. Truth be told, those scars were the only evidence of impetuousness I ever saw in him.

By all accounts Jamie's decision to take his own life was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. He didn't think about doing it, he just did it. Also bear in mind that this took place in the early hours of New Year's Day, so I assume that alcohol was involved. He could drink, that guy.

I was told the news about 10:00 that morning, called by a mutual friend of ours from high school. There was some bitter irony in the timing of the news, as we had all spent the evening prior worrying about the Y2K bug. No sooner had learned that civilization was not going to collapse than this punch-in-the-gut arrived. And we were, like, what's the point of the world continuing if folks like Jamie aren't going to be in?

I hardly saw Jamie at in the years between the ride-along and the funeral and, in retrospect, I obviously wish otherwise. But when I think of him on New Year's Day--and I always think of him on New Year's Day--it reminds me to appreciate my current friends to the fullest.

That's a gift you left behind for me, Jamie. I would have preferred something cool like Van Halen, but thanks.