Small World, Part VI: Mark

Yes, it’s true…at one time, I was young enough to be a freshman. In 1992, I was a future tadpole set to swim around the big pond of Bruce Hall. I remember waiting outside the building on opening day, mentally ticking away the long minutes until 2:00pm arrived and with it the unchaining of the front doors.

Across the walkway from me was this dude blaring out in the thickest country accent recordable by scientific instruments of the day. His eccentric image was further cemented by the white Gilligan sailor hat he wore. I chuckled lightly and thought, “Wow! What a goofball!”

Little did I know that Captain Cletus here would be my freshman roommate Greg! The two of us got along well. I was an artist, Greg was a musician, but soon enough he wanted to live with a fellow musician. Greg was close to a dude named Mark, a jazz guitarist from Minneapolis who lived two doors down. As Mark’s roommate James and I had known one another for a few years already, we agreed to a roommate swap.

I didn’t see much of Greg after that — he quit school mid-semester to join some country band on tour. I also didn’t Mark that often, either — as he was sleeping with his girlfriend on a regular basis, and their constant presence in bed had a dampening effect on the promotion of any social relationship I had with him.

Many years later (2002) I find in Alabama on one of my regular sojourns to the Yellowhammer State. I was hanging out with Jim, and on our agenda was a visit to the University of Alabama campus where he works. Jim was particularly interested in showing off his office and introducing me to the gentleman with whom he co-taught an English literature class.

In Jim’s stinky office and I see a stranger with curly hair sitting in a chair. Jim says to me, “Matt, I want you to meet my co-teacher, Mark.”

Curly-headed Mark turns and looks me in the eye. Shakes my hand. Says casually, “Matt.”

Then that always-well-timed, invisible lightning bolt of recollection strikes.

Mark’s eyes bulge out of his head. “Matt!” he hisses in surprise!

Yep. The very same Mark from Bruce Hall — the Minnesota jazz guitarist was now an English graduate student in Alabama. Like I’ve said a million times before, what a small world…

I guess it’s time for me to pick up the guitar and blow someone else’s mind in equal measure.

Small World, Part V: Laura

Back in early college, I was a bit of a Japanphile, absorbing all sorts of manga, anime, and history books about the Land of the Rising Sun. One of my more serious pursuits was learning Japanese during a four-semester course load. As is necessary with any foreign language study, I had native speakers with whom I would practice — also an excuse to hang around cute Japanese chicks! Towards the beginning of the 1994 spring semester, I bumped into my friend Suko and asked about her winter vacation (she had returned to Japan to stay with her family). And I am treated to one of the more-remarkable stories I’ve heard.

Suko’s father was a tour guide and met all sorts of foreigners while working — including a woman from America right around the time Suko was returning home. This woman/s name was Laura, and he came to find out that she was from Southlake, my hometown, a city near the University of North Texas where both Suko and I went. Suko’s father invited Laura to dinner, knowing that his daughter would love to meet someone from the same area of Texas.

So the three of them have dinner, and afterwards Suko shows Laura pictures of her campus and friends. Laura is very interested in seeing these, as her older brother went to North Texas. While flipping through these photos, one produces a strong reaction from Laura — she jumps up and exclaims, “Holy shit! That’s Matthew!” It was a photograph of Suko and I having lunch at Bruce Hall. Suko, with perfect Japanese deadpan, replies, “Ahh…you know him?” Boy, does she!

Laura and I went to high school together; I was one grade ahead of her, and the last time I had seen her was years beforehand during my senior year.

Much like Laura was blown away by seeing my photo halfway across the world in a chance encounter with a stranger, I was blown away to be reminded of her after so long. I always thought highly of Laura and would have liked to have gotten to know her better or even date her — we soon began a correspondence and later met after her return to America. To have been a part of such a complicated chain of both circumstance and time is what made me first start believing in things like fate.

Small World, Part IV: Rosie

This may be the least significant of my small world stories, only because I do not know this person very well. It’s an exceptional story because I was able to thank someone personally who had done something very nice for me at one time. Awhile ago. Months ago.

I’m a feverent fan of the Texas Observer, but there was this one time I reupped my subscription only to see the issues cease coming period! “I did resubscribe rather close to the last date,” I told myself — so I waited. And waited. I even checked my online checking balance and found out the check had cleared.

I contacted the magazine office and spoke to their circulation manager Rosie. I explained the problem and she promised to look into it. Soon, I received my subscription once again. Immediately after that, I also received a package containing all of the issues I missed along with a handwritten apology note. I was very grateful and wrote Rosie a thank-you note for her trouble.

Flash-forward many months later. I was down in Austin in October of this past year having dinner with friends and acquaintances of the future Mrs. Glass, and we chose good ol’ Kerby Lane to provide us with full bellies. I was chatting with and getting to know all of these new people, and across from me was a nice girl that I introduced myself to:

“Nice to meet you, Rosie. What do you do for a living?”

“Oh, I work at the Texas Observer.”

You can probably fill out the gaps from there.

And I did her in person. The meeting probably meant more to me as a coincidental thrill than it did to her, but hey…small worlds work like that, you know.

Small World, Part III: Margaret

Last year, I went to the World Cup (as is my habit) with my best friend and our first game was United States vs. Portugal. This was the year the tournament was held in two countries, South Korea and Japan. It was an amazing game that the Amercian squad won 3-2, a result that will go down as one of the greatest soccer upsets ever. I had attended the game wearing a North Texas soccer t-shirt, and as I left the stadium a man stopped to speak to me about my shirt. His name was Steven Forbes, and I came to find out he was an instructor at North Texas! We talked briefly about campus, about our travel plans, and about the victory. He mentioned that his wife Margaret also went to North Texas, was currently involved with defending a disseratation, and would join him in Korea when she was free.

At the United States/Poland game, we bumped into Steven again. He tells us his wife made it to Korea. She appears from the concourse and joins her husband, who then promptly introduces us to her. We all look at one another, pause, then burst out laughing. Steven was a bit confused by this.

In college, I participated on every soccer team I could find. Around 1996, we struck gold with our co-ed intramural team: a team of three girls and four guys that just clicked and fought its way to the championship We scored left and right, especially the girls! (every shot they scored was worth two goals) The first girl Julie was tenacious and tough. Leila was a running machine. And the third…was Margaret.

So literally halfway around the world and six years later on, the core of our winning soccer team was reunited. As if this world could get any smaller!

Small World, Part II: Fiona

I used to be an assistant hall director of a dormitory, and during my time in the position we had a large amount of temporary turnover on the staff due to illness and pregnancy. My desk clerk Betty had become very ill near the beginning of the year and we were forced to scramble for temporary help. Actually, when I say “we”, I mean the Housing Department and my hall director who both worked to select her fleeting replacement.

So one day, I show up in the morning and am surprised to see a stranger working behind the counter, a woman with dark hair pulled back, black-rimmed glasses, very professional clothing and a breathy British accent. Her name was Fiona. And in just a few short days she had a big fan club of Brucelings addicted to her voice…any word she said made the boys swoon! (I can understand why, for I am a sucker for a posh accent myself)

One day, I ask Fiona how a sharp Brighton girl like her ended up in The Lone Star State. For awhile, she worked on a Carnival ship as a cruise director) or somesuch) and she met a travelling musician who was playing jazz on the ship. Somewhere on the high seas, they had hooked up and soon enough they were married. And because her new husband had gone to UNT once before and had wanted to get his masters, here they were in Denton. I ask her what his name was and was told, “Ian.”

The gears in my mind began spinning outside of my control. “Ian…Ian…Ian…” (bang go the snappin’ fingers!) “Ian!”

I put his first name together with Fiona’s last and realized that her husband was the same Ian who had dated my ex-girlfriend Margo before I dated her. And at one time he had told Fiona all about me, for once I told Fiona that I knew him she snickered and laughed. Fiona was sometimes a bit curious about Margo, but for the most part was polite about the connection that her husband and I shared.

So now I have something in common with a woman from the other side of this small world.