Back in college at the University of Oregon I knew a barrel-chested, hamburger-scarfing, gas-guzzling, giant macho-jock of an American man named Dave. He was a member of a fraternity and every Friday night would subject the dormitory halls to his obnoxious, booming laugh and kegs of beer drinking, sex-driven, rock music-blaring, Animal House-inspired (this was the University of Oregon in 1978 after all, the year after the movie of the same name was filmed on our campus) toga-clad-and-butt-naked-mass-dashes-across-the-courtyard parties. He was an outspoken member of the Republican party and had voted for Reagan. He would throw food at the table of Birkenstock-wearing earth people I hung out with in the cafeteria (those were the days of Animal house-style food fights, which, to my Japan-filtered eyes, represented the realization of all the horrors I had fretted over before I left Japan to attend univesity… a zoo of a country), shouting with a great, Viking grin, â€œHey, Granolas, why don’t you go back to California where you belong? (this was also the period when Oregonians broadcast beer commercials turning back Californians from the border).
I knew of course that I despised this asshole, everything he did and stood for.
During this time of my life I spent quite a lot of time with a new game I had become entranced with: Dungeons and Dragons. It involved sitting about with a group of friends, rolling dice, and imagining ourselves lost in a world of heros, dragons, elves, and orcs, role-playing long scenarios dreamt up by a â€œdungeon masterâ€, who would run the players through a fantasy world of magic and intrigue. With my love of fantasy literature and writing I used the opportunity to write a number of book-length dungeon master games (which sadly I threw away upon graduation, losing the chance to make a lot of money!) that soon became very popular in the dormitories and later throughout the west coast universities. People came from as far away as Washington state and California to play in my games. I saw a possibility in creating more than a novel here… attempting to create a world of the imagination that could be experienced by players, replete with both traditional heroic fantasy themes and further, a concentration on real human themes like love, death, friendship, hate, deception, sex, even religion and philosophy. I was so involved with the game that I would play for three days straight sometimes, forgetting to eat and to go take bath. Some games were so emotionally involved that players would rear back in horror or jump for joy. One scene in particular, within a darkened room in which cadavers lay under a frosted glass floor, left all of us so spooked that we decided to stop the game and go to bed, our hairs still standing on end.
Dave the Bear would, of course, come barging in on these lounge room games and hassle us for our kiddie pursuits and out-of-touch-with-reality hobby. He’d sit on the arm of one of the lounge chairs and peer over our shoulders, guffawing at the crude pictures and odd-shaped dice. â€œWhat I see here,â€ he once jeered, â€œis a bunch of long-haired fags wanking out together ’cause they can’t fucking figure out the buttons of those dames out there.â€ (seemingly oblivious to the fact that three women were sitting right there playing the game) â€œJeez, get a life!â€
I couldn’t imagine someone I would less want to spend any time with.
But one evening one of the players invited him to play a game with us. Dave joined us, somewhat bashful at first, but soon getting right into the excitement once he figured out how the game was played. Within two weeks he had bought his own set of dice, had built up his own proud character, and sat with us at the cafeteria tables discussing strategy and plans for upcoming campaigns. He talked with me about the philosophy I was trying to infuse into the games, focusing less on fighting and war, and more on building up relationships between characters and people within the stories. Somehow these discussions turned from the game itself and began addressing both of points of view out in the real world. The boorish man who terrorized the dormitory halls transformed, in my mind, into this compassionate thinker who, in spite of all the noise he made, honestly cared about the people around him and even vehemently opposed the vast military spending that Reagan upheld. One evening Dave and I sat in the student center (yes, that place where the food fights took place in Animal House), doing our English literature homework together, when he sat back, rubbing his, eyes and began, out of the blue, discussing the dilemma of Macbeth. i couldn’t believe my ears. I had assumed so much, not knowing the first thing about the depths of such a man.
We became close friends. He even invited me to his home in Washington for Thanksgiving one rainy autumn day, something I was deeply thankful for, since I had no place to go home to (Japan was always too far away and expensive to get to) and would spend most Thanksgiving holidays during my college years alone in the deserted dorms, tossing playing cards at the walls. Dave grew into a caring, responsible ally to whom I could open my heart and, even though we often disagreed about politics and religion, splay my feelings about what was happening in the world. Dave helped me grow as a person and to see America from under its wings, in a way that no amount of perusing news articles abroad could ever hope to in revealing the inner workings of the country.
We lost touch with one another after we graduated and I have no idea where he is now. I often think about him and all those other people I grew to love during my college years, people who changed my life and how I see the world. Everything seems so much bigger and more complex now and rich beyond my capability to comprehend. But, within it all, the context of simple, friendly words, of gestures of understanding, and of a willingness to listen on both ends has made all the difference.
Dave, where are you? It would be a great time to have one of our talks right about now.