Tim Rogers: an Appreciation

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
— JD Salinger

I’ve been stalking tim rogers across the net for like 15 years now. [I call it “The Net” because we’re both old enough that that now-hokey term should mean something to us, with Sandra Bullock in over her head as the infrastructure that laid down the foundation for our future lifestyle was still gleaming with fresh potential and menace. Maybe we call it the Web, now, or Social Media. Anyway, where else could I have stalked him? It’s not like we’ve met in person.] I’ve read him on Insert Credit and Action Button and, I don’t know, I think it was Live Journal or something. Now I’ve followed him to Medium, which I wouldn’t have discovered, otherwise.

In any case, I’ve been reading his words long enough for us both to get old.

The first thing he did, he introduced me to Haruki Murakami. He’d written a review for a Metal Gear Solid game, which I’d played on the original XBox. The game was strange and perplexing. It broke the “fourth wall.” It played with narrative and perception in ways that left me walking slant-wise for days, poking at the world to see if the corners still lined up. I went looking to see if other people had the same experience. Tim’s review of the game was one of the most vibrant, long-winded, unnecessarily personal, suspenseful, fascinating, and genuinely illuminating reviews of anything I’d ever read. It brought up postmodernism and Haruki Murakami a lot and I read everything of his I could get my hands on. Murakami could really write in those days. Hard-Boiled Wonderland, indeed.

Murakami’s not for everyone. Tim’s not, either. Lots of folks hate him. Google his name and you bring up a few threads of bile. That’s okay. Most people aren’t reading a game review to share a literary experience. They want to know if they should buy the damn thing or not. There are plenty of other places for them to source their opinions.

I’m not sure I’d want him as a neighbor, either. I’ve seen a picture of his car. A battered fourth-hand Police Interceptor with mismatched body panels painted by hand and then covered in graffiti. It’s not the sort of thing you want parked in front of your building if you’re concerned with property values.

I discovered that Tim wrote a lot more than game reviews. His stories and essays are mostly autobiographical, just as his reviews are, and they’re just as meandering. Most of them traipse the long way around some central theme, like Memory or Loss or Love. You know, big questions, broadly defined. He sets off typing a million words an hour without much thought for linear narrative flow, shooting wherever his thoughts take him, grabbing vivid details here and there to prove where he’s been. I see him like the protagonist of Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does A Man Need?” racing out to encircle as much thematic territory as he can before he bleeds out through his fingers or the battery of his laptop dies. (Despite these frenetic meanderings, he keeps his work immaculately clean of typos. I suspect there’s more editing going on than you might think.)

Unlike Tolstoy’s protagonist, though, he always comes back around in the end. You can point to the territory he just claimed and say, “That’s Tim’s.” Give him the title and the deed. I’m happy to let him have it. It’s his now.

He leads a fascinating life. That’s part of the thrill, because I don’t. I spent the last two decades moldering in dull jobs, soaking up a false sense of security, wearing tracks across tiny patches of the globe in daily commutes. Meanwhile Tim went to Japan, Korea, Hawaii, San Francisco. He translated Manga, designed video games, played in a Japanese punk band, made videos, wrote and wrote.

To what end? He’s usually down on his luck, driving that shit car, suffering the ravages of dental agonies he can’t afford to correct. He’s never touched a drop of alcohol in his life but he moves with the boozy attitude of Hunter Thompson and William Burroughs. That energy and passion makes me jealous.

At some point in the last decade I joined Facebook. One day after that my stack of Murakami reminded me of Tim. I looked him up. He was on there. We became “friends”, although I don’t think I’ve sent him much beyond an initial message expressing my appreciation. Now I had him in my feed, though. So I was watching, a few years back, when he posted several photos of canned beverages and iced coffee. I don’t remember any context for them. They just popped up, held in one hand and photographed by the other, glossy aluminum painted with Japanese kanji and the unmistakable logos of global brands, sweating crystalline droplets in the humidity of a summer day. Disposable jewels gleaming against dun and concrete backgrounds.

Unlike Tim, I don’t drink soda. I drink alcohol. Such refined tastes, I have: such sophisticated and expensive passions. But you could give me a bottle of 20 year old single-malt and I don’t think I could express the same passion he showed for the can of 7-up he held up to a camera twelve time-zones away. I was jealous, again, of his pleasure. But it gave me a smile at least, to be a silent partner in this exchange of experience.

Suddenly: Here he is, years later, with the story of those cans. The same photos in a new context, pinned by HTML tags into their proper narrative. I read it. I see the photo. I think, I was there.

Of course he was having even more fun than I realized on that day with the cans: getting punched in the face, sleeping with a girl he’d just met, dodging bullets, and lecturing elderly Japanese isolationists about cigarette smoking. All this while I logged progress towards a second decade of marriage and banked a few more employer-matched dollars in a 401K. He wandered the city with a girl half his age and suffered through memories as they compared their symptoms of hyperthymesia.

I didn’t know this word until today, but it’s a condition I’d like to claim for myself, so I’ll point out that I do have a painfully acute memory. Stuff piles up, and I spend too much time going through the old things, hauling them to the dump and then coming home to discover they’re still there in my living room. Maybe the reason I’ve embraced alcohol and routine is to avoid the remembered weight of too many different days. When you make the years repeat themselves in dull repetition, there’s less to remember.

Really though I probably haven’t got hyperthymesia at all. I just want to be in a club. “That thing you’ve got? I’ve got it too.” It’s like I want to show off for a big brother who’s a few years younger than me.

I’m not sure I believe everything he’s written. Life and art, man. We make up our memories as we recall them. We build them out of a few scattered clues, then we point them out to our friends and convince them something happened. Maybe we write them down in a story. Then we believe them, ourselves.

This story Tim wrote, it’s 30,000 words, a third of a novel. Reading time, 2+ hours. That’s a lot to share, honest and uncompensated. You dip into a story like that, you come out older. If novels had had reading times printed on their covers when I was a kid, would I have taken up reading? Would I have stepped into a job that told me it would eat a decade and a half of my life?

Whether Tim did that stuff or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s true now. The important thing is he keeps typing.

I’d love to call him up and tell him all this, but there’s the matter of social awkwardness and anxiety. It’s really much easier to just keep stalking him on The Net.