Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Code of Craig

[Craig in repose - his favorite posture, reclining on the floor in front of a TV. Based on his weight, hairstyle and what appears to be a Commodore 64 in front of him, this photo was taken between 1984-87]

If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out - Code of Hammurapi, #196

Craig Laubert was an archly anti-authoritarian character. As such he was the bane of supervisors, officials, and other authority figures, and the delight of co-workers, co-conspirators, and by-standers. He rarely hesitated in mocking real or perceived inanities of the workplace, the legal system, or human nature itself. He was also pretty cynical. But these qualities did not mean that Craig was in any way a nihilist. An anarchist, perhaps, but not a man without values. He lived by the Code of Craig.

Nowhere was this more evident than when it came to the issue of his drinking. Craig was way too smart to deny that he had a problem with alcohol. He knew that he was a danger on the road under the influence, He also knew that he could be an obnoxious drunk in a crowd, something that in time alienated most of my friends and most all his women friends. But for more than 20 years he was also utterly unwilling to give up something that daily soothed and medicated his inner-torments.

So, like many problem drinkers, he developed a set of self-imposed rules to keep these dysfunctions at bay. I have to say, his rules were the most elaborate and rigidly enforced of anyone I have ever seen. He made it a rule to avoid large gatherings, especially when alcohol was being served. He also minimized the amount of driving he had to do, and set many parameters around the times when he did. Driving was for to and from work, or for big projects hauling things. He would gladly help others, such as my mother-in-law, for whom he developed a deep attachment, but his attention or willingness to make public appearances was whimsical and unpredictable at best. In time this meant that Craig fell into what amounted to a semi-hermetic existence. He had an evolving small circle of friends, but kept his relationships pretty simple and bare-bones. Except for going to movies (a major passion), it was hard to get Craig out of his condo. Hanging with Craig mostly meant kicking back at home and watching TV, or browsing his comic collection.
But he went even further, often refusing to communicate with the outside world for long periods, except on his own initiative. One could be the focus of his intense interest for weeks, only to have withdraw suddenly and go incommunicado for months, or even longer. In going through his property after his death, I found that he studiously held on to letters, cards, and invitations I had sent him over the years, but I can't recall more than one occasion (when he came to my ordination in Cincinnati) that he responded to any of them.

This self-imposed isolation seemed to create its own strange dynamic. He could spent a great deal of time ruminating on the past and on the relationships he did have. And he would analyze - I would say over-analyze - discrete interactions and episodes. Often he would conclude that a significant trespass had been committed in what others would consider casual interactions. Yet when he decided to act on the issue, he brought this peculiar coyness/caginess to resolving it. He would get cryptic, talk around the issue, assuming the the person was as conscious or as haunted as he was about what had transpired. Of course, as often as not, the episode was minor and insignificant in the mind of the other person, if even remembered at all. He would just look at you, wide-eyed and Cheshire-cat-like, waiting for you to acknowledge what was on his mind, even if you had no idea what he was talking about - "Oh, you know." It often seemed to be a kind of test. If you didn't know what the issue was, well then it wasn't his responsibility to clarify. Just know that he had one up on you in this mysterious engagement. Strangely, I was only rarely the object of this kind of exercise, but I observed it or discussed it with him concerning others many times.

Craig's greatest personal code - and it seems weirdly sentimental given everything I've said - was to protect children. He never wanted to do anything, he would tell me, that might endanger children. He talked about this not only in matters of his lifestyle, but also in his devotion to work. Thus, he took his last and longest-held job as a vaccine manufacturing technician with utmost seriousness, because what he did might help or hurt children. His biggest pre-occupation was with himself and his potential to cause mayhem on the road. He most often framed this in suicidal terms, "If I thought I could ever hurt a kid, well, I'd just end it."

By his own account, this ethic flowed from a traumatic event in his early adulthood, when he was witness to a child-murder. Though he only discussed this tragedy directly with me on perhaps three occasions over the nearly three decades we knew each other, I sensed it as a constant theme underpinning many conversations and I came to feel that this was the defining emotional experience of his life, the moment the Code of Craig was born.

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