Thursday, January 3, 2008

Michael Howell, Part II

After we stopped playing chess I still met Michael most every night. He never stopped begging for a rematch but we managed to stay cordial and he even began to introduce me to his other friends as a "brilliant mathematician with a DOCTORATE, even" who FINALLY managed to beat him in chess ONCE. This became a theme of our friendship, such as it was. My academic past was proof that he had smart friends.

In 1987 I quit cab driving, so our encounters at Ralph's came to an end. There were a couple of years that I didn't see him. I got on welfare & was living in the U District when I became homeless again. Then I lived north of the city limits for a year.

Finally I returned to the U District, renting a room at 16th NE & NE 50th, two blocks from the U. One Sunday I stopped at the NE 50th Burger King for a snack and I found Michael there with other friends of his. I found out that they were waiting there for the time to head over to Blessed Sacrament for its Sunday free meal.

Michael, it turns out, never paid for food. In fact, if he could help it, he never paid for anything. Over time I came to really admire this aspect of Michael Howell. For example, he got a cheap voicemail account. This was back when voicemail services were just becoming available. His cost less than ten dollars a month. A phone would have cost him 8 more, but instead he checked his voicemail every day on Nordstrom's complimentary customer phone.

For a few months I met with Michael and his friends every Sunday. It was a social hour for me that was a relief from the dismal apartment house I lived in.

But gradually Michael's attitudes wore me down. It was the repeated diatribes against Asians that were too much.

To Michael, all Asians were "gooks". Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, it didn't matter. You'd think, to hear him talk about it, that he'd been horribly traumatized by the Vietnam War and he had generalized from the Viet Cong to all Asians. That would be wrong. He'd in fact been in Vietnam, but it was just briefly and he admitted he was a shop clerk at a secure post the whole time and the war didn't affect him. When I asked him why he hated the Vietnamese he always turned it around to events which happened to his brother.

It simply made no sense. OK, so his brother was shot at by some Vietnamese. How do you get from, "A Vietnamese man who was waging war with our country shot my brother" to "[Insert random Asian ethnicity here] are evil and should all be dead?"

I don't know how anyone could even get across a room with logic like that, much less from the Viet Cong to the Korean Peninsula.

It gets worse. It gets comically worse. Michael was a confirmed atheist. He didn't call himself that, he called himself "completely nonreligious." He pushed Ayn Rand's Objectivism on me, saying "it's all the philosophy you need." He scoffed at people who were religious.

But then he heard that Rev. Moon's Unification Church was offering a deal whereby new converts could sign up for special training in Korea. They would get a free suit, Michael said, and meals and expenses. He said it sounded great to him. He would pretend that he was a convert, go to Korea, take their money and their free suit and then laugh at them and return to America with extra money and a suit.

[Left: "Nice suit," thinks Michael. "I'd like a suit like that."]

When he first proposed this idea, I was sure he was joking. But sadly, he wasn't. He really believed it was a clever way to take advantage of stupid "religionists". He could profit from their stupidity. Not only that, he would be taking advantage of Asians.

I told him that his Ayn Rand-inspired "irreligionism" was itself a religion. He had a fit almost as bad as the one he had when I beat him at chess.

That was around the end of 1989. I avoided him for the next two years.

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