I went to junior high and high school with Jeffrey P. McManus. Archival photos show that we were in choir together, but I honestly don’t remember that (being in choir together; choir itself rings a bell). What I remember is typing class.
The typing class—senior year, Glendale High School—was taught by Mr. Livermore, a man who looked exactly like a man named Mr. Livermore should look, which is to say he looked perfectly fine, and also he had awesome muttonchops.
In typing class, there was a sentence in our exercise book. There were actually many sentences in our exercise book, but there was one sentence that Jeffrey P. latched onto. It went something like this:
“It is a sad joke that something-something-was-said-maybe-about-a Spanish-test.”
Jeffrey P. thought the sentence (which I am only half-remembering, clearly) was funny because it was, and I knew the sentence was funny because Jeffrey P. knew funny.
Due to my faulty memory, I cannot recall a specific funny thing that Jeffrey P. said back in our school days, but I know I’m correct in asserting he was funny, and specifically smart-funny, because that’s the impression he made. He was exactly as his Twitter handle put it, a “clever boy.”
Outside of one (or possibly two) class reunions—again with the memory—I didn’t see Jeffrey in person again, unless, that is, I saw him at the lavish Eagle Rock Boulevard premiere of my feature-film debut. I think he was there, in town and graciously supporting a former classmate’s endeavor, but I’m not 100 percent certain. The evening is now but a blur, by which I mean the movie wasn’t very good.
In any case, it feels right to think that I would be so mortified by the thought of falling short of Jeffrey P.’s smart-funny standards that I would blot out the memory. This feels right because I know for sure that in one of my weaker Facebook moments I turned off Jeffrey P.’s newsfeed. I did this because he was always posting—always!—about all the things he was doing, while I was sitting there—just sitting there!—reading all of Jeffrey P.’s posts, and not going about my own important work. Like writing about celebrity underpants .
I eventually reinstated Jeffrey P.’s newsfeed because it was no use; I could not escape his (imaginary) judgment. See, I knew Jeffrey P. was a person of importance and influence Up There—i.e., San Francisco , the Silicon Valley, and all Northern California places where Internets and apps go to be invented. So, whenever I updated my little Website on Tripod—Tripod!—I cringed, and wondered if I could make it look a teeny less worse so that should Jeffrey P. ever stumble upon it he wouldn’t think less of me than he surely already did.
if the question now is why did I fret about what Jeffrey P. might have been thinking about me even though nobody could possibly spend as much time thinking about me than me, then the answer is two-fold. One, I am insane. Two, I graduated from high school in the pre-online age, back when you marched home from graduation through 20 miles of snow, back when you drifted from and lost touch with your fellow alums, back when you could only imagine the brain surgeries being performed by your brilliant ex-classmates. In other words, I graduated from high school in a time when ex-classmates loomed large in the mind, like Paul Bunyon and other folk legends. Once the Internets and apps were invented by the people Up There, then you could actually see the brain surgeries being performed by your brilliant ex-classmates, and the mystery was lost. After a timeout for self-flagellation, you could properly and dutifully return to your own work. Or your writing about celebrity underpants. Whichever.
Jeffrey P. was an early and rare online connection. Because I remembered him as smart-funny, and because I could read that he grew up to be smarter and funnier, his legend was never quite cut down to size. He stuck with me.
And now he’s gone. And now the reliable Facebook newsfeed has come to a halt save for the tributes from friends. So much life, and now so much silence.
Jeffrey P.’s memorial service is tonight. I regret I will be unable to attend. I will instead offer a toast in his memory. And I will try very hard to remember the rest of the sentence that begins, “It is a sad joke.”