I almost never visit Facebook anymore, but only because my dislike of Facebook exceeds the many warm and wonderful feelings I have for all my excellent friends there. And so for this past month I had no idea that my good friend Scott Eric Kaufman (but I really only ever knew him as Scott) had been suffering. I only found out about this elsewhere online this evening, at the same time that I found out that he had passed away. I feel absolutely terrible about the fact that he was going through all of this while I was busy going about my own life, as people do, unaware of the pain he was going through and therefore unable to offer my sympathy or support.
Looking through the memories and tributes that so many of his loved ones have been sharing here and elsewhere online tonight, I consider myself lucky to have known him for such a long time, to have known him in person much more so than online, and to have spent so much time with him. It astonishes me now to realize that Scott and I first met each other in the previous millennium, in 1999; and that 1999 is now seventeen years from where we are today. Everyone says this sort of thing, but it actually does feel like just yesterday. He and I started graduate school together. We were in most of the same graduate seminars and began our careers as teachers at the same time. We played softball together. He was one of the few grad school colleagues I had met who was interested in all the same academic and oddball things I was into: Pynchon, Borges, X-Men, Cerebus, everything science-fictional, and baseball. We looked around at the undergraduate pedigrees of many of our peers and agreed that the two of us had probably come to our doctoral program from the two least prestigious institutions of the bunch. The fact that he was also a Mets fan rather than a Yankees fan certainly raised him considerably in my esteem.
Because we were making our individual ways through grad school at the same time, and because we also lived in adjacent buildings, my most vivid memory of our time together was in those first few grad-school years, when he and I would often make the leisurely fifteen-minute walk home together from our graduate seminars an occasion for shoptalk, venting, and commiseration. In those years we would talk about deconstruction, critical theory, Faulkner, Firefly, or a hundred other things that interested us or infuriated us at that point in our lives. Scott was a scholar’s scholar and a nerd’s nerd, by which I mean that he never seemed to tire of the process of actively engaging with other people’s thoughts and opinions on literature, art, politics, baseball, premium television, or any of the other things that matter most in life.
The last time I spoke with him was roughly a year ago. By that point he and I had long since moved on from graduate school and into our respective careers as writers. He had dropped me a line to talk about interviewing me about my recent book, and he was going to publish the interview in Salon alongside of the book excerpt they ran. This seemed to have less to do with the book’s merits than with the fact that he considered me a friend, and wanted to do something nice for a friend. But both of us got so busy with other things, as people do, and neither one of us really had the time to get around to it, although we both promised to keep in touch and reconnect in one manner or another, even though we were now thousands of miles apart. And now that I have found out that he’s gone, I find myself thinking less about the content of any of those many conversations on those long walks home, or that last conversation we had sixteen years later, than I do about his enthusiastic desire to keep those conversations going. I remember more than anything else his very distinctive, joyful laughter, and his enormous smile. More than his intelligence or his opinions or his diligence, it is the pure pleasure and joyfulness in his engagement with others that I’ll miss about him the most, and that I hope I won’t ever forget.