When I was in high school, there were these three guys that were a sort of gang. Two of them were pretty big and tough—one of them was Indian—but the “leader” was this short, lithe little guy. He had a bit of a tragic James Dean vibe. He scowled a lot but had a strange kind of charisma, and it was clear that his crew would die for him. He always gave me the feeling of being some kind of bookish, prematurely wizened veteran of the wars. If you watch old videos of Hitler, he gives off the same vibe—former soldier, self-taught scholar, foppish eccentric who takes himself very seriously.
My set, we were stumbling around in the dark towards being leftist. We were half-ironic anarchist Satanists. We hated God and homophobes and racism and the military and wanted everything to burn and to skateboard through the ashes. We stole all the Noam Chomsky books one by one, and half-read them. This other group, they were very, very intelligent. They discoursed at length whenever the teachers asked them a question, and they would sit at the back and smirk and make fun of how stupid the teachers were, and how stupid we were.
Somehow, they had developed a half-ironic reactionary view of history—war was good, the CIA killing people was good, Machiavelli was right, dictators weren’t as bad as everyone made it out to be, etc, and they had read enough to back it up, and teachers didn’t know enough to rebuke them. They would challenge every left-leaning or even tolerant view, and somehow win. They knew a lot about history. Any kind of angry plea for morality or tolerance went nowhere with them. Moral outrage was impotent because it was just moral outrage to them, it didn’t follow the logic of history. I felt intensely that they hated us and thought we were stupid—we couldn’t counter them or match them in knowledge. When they saw us, they called us faggots. I got the feeling that they thought we were doing something that was all aesthetic, that we were being needlessly showy, while in their mind blending in, being smart and understated and reserved was the way a person should be. I couldn’t understand what they were up to or what their energy was directed to, it just seemed to be this blind, nihilistic use of an intelligence that had no use or nowhere to go. It was always unclear whether they “meant” their reactionary views or whether it was just to provoke.
A decade or so later, I was still wondering what became of them politically. So much had happened in the early and mid-2000s. One afternoon, I remember driving in the Crossroads strip mall to REI or Dicks Sporting Goods and this car pulled up beside of mine. I looked over and it was the three guys—still rolling together in the old Honda Civic after all this time. Amazingly, they recognized me too, and in awe pointed, and the Indian guy said, “Hey look! There’s that faggot!”
The world has gone past them and me—but I still wonder if they feel themselves to be some kind of harbinger and whenever I see ironic provocation, I still think about them directly—a good intelligence, put to no good use, impotent and flailing in search of a home.