Coming Down in the Bear Chair

I remember the precise moment I truly grasped the nature of my mortality. I was in my mid-twenties, in the midst of a seven-year bout with my undergraduate degree and in the middle of a shower. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was naked when I came to the conclusion that there was no beatific bearded man in the sky who would be able to stop the light going from my eyes when my heart stopped and the blood, oxygen and electricity stopped moving around in my brain. Everything I’d learned in catechism and halfheartedly carried with me through my teens was untrue. Someday everything, at least for me, would end. My legs wobbled when the realization struck. I steadied myself with one hand against the tile. Eventually the water ran cold and I did what every human does every day of our fleeting lives. I got on with it.

Back then that meant faking my way through an English degree, working full-time as an assistant manager at Suncoast Motion Picture Company and eating ecstasy with my friends whenever I had a spare evening. It was the mid-’90s and Orlando was enjoying a small, localized and super-ephemeral cultural moment – a faded echo of the rave scene born in England in the late ’80s. But it was ours. And it was fun. All parties end, though. Even the ones that last ’til dawn. We’d shuffle out of the club, our jaws grinding from the speed, and walk the cobblestone streets of downtown Orlando like the raving dead, leering madly at the stand-up citizens making their way to Sunday services.

When you were coming down…slipping into this chair felt like returning to the womb

The first person through the door of the apartment got the best seat in the house. The Bear Chair was a broad, low-slung easy chair built in a permanent recline. The foam was carved in a suicidal concave and was upholstered in dark brown fabric somewhere between fur and velour. When you were coming down – especially when doing so with the aid of Rohypnol - slipping into this chair felt like returning to the womb. I was living with two roommates. Sam was a prematurely bald Brazilian poet from Jacksonville and the owner of the aforementioned chair. David was my oldest and best friend.

I met Dave when I was twelve and growing up in South Florida. We were in the same Boy Scout troop. When things weren’t going so well at home, I often found myself on Dave’s couch playing Nintendo. David’s parents looked out for me during the long, rough patch that struck my family when my parents split up, my mom succumbed to depression and our house got foreclosed on. I grew up alongside David, his older sister and his younger brother Steven. I was the Boner to their Seavers – always over, always around. I have very fond memories of working my way through The Legend of Zelda on the Bermans’ couch, half amazed that Dave didn’t feel compelled to snatch the controller out of my hand as I systematically collected the pieces of the Triforce. There’s no salve for the weary human soul quite like videogames. And there’s no comfort more sure-fire than the company of a true friend.

In Orlando, I could often be found in the caress of the Bear Chair playing Super Nintendo. I remember renting the crappy video game adaptation of The Tick from Blockbuster and playing until the stupid thing glitched out and broke. I fussed with the SNES port of Killer Instinct until my thumb ached. In retrospect, I realize I was being the roommate that everybody hates – the one who hogs the television and grunts when other humans enter their periphery. Videogames are excellent at focusing our attention into a laser pinpoint.  The old saying about having blinders on is a criticism. You’re not able to see the whole picture. But horses are outfitted with blinders to save their lives. All that shit jumping and lurching at the edges of their vision can spook them and make them break a leg. Blinders help the horse to move forward and keep on living.

At some point I decided the party had to stop. It wasn’t like I had bottomed out or was losing control. I’d just had enough. And I was seeing other people around me slip away. David’s younger brother Steven was partying particularly hard. I remember dropping acid at Steven’s place in Gainesville, surrounded by his friends and and their Spencer’s Gifts black lights, and being overwhelmed with the feeling that I just had to get the fuck out. David, the loyal friend, drove us home in the middle of the night with Aphex Twin on the radio. The LSD made his pickup truck feel like a hermetically-sealed bubble, rolling soundlessly down a pitch black I-75.

The worst thing I’ve ever done was tell David that he should cut his brother off. “Stop doing drugs with Steven,” I told him, “or it’ll be your fault when something goes wrong.”  Saying that was the worst thing I’ve ever done because I was right about where Steven was headed. And it was wrong of me to hang that heavy a burden on a brother’s shoulders.

I had my blinders on when we got the phone call. I was in the bear chair, the SNES controller in my hand, when the news came that Steven was in the morgue. He’d snorted heroin and died in his sleep. The EMTs had cut Steven’s Betty Ford Clinic T-shirt away from his cold body and tried to revive him, but it was no use. Steven’s heart stopped. The blood and oxygen stopped flowing to his brain. All the light went out of that sad kid’s eyes. And there was no bearded man in the sky to catch it before it faded away.

———

Pretension +1 is a weekly column about videogames and the myriad ways they touch, intersect and alter our lives. Follow him on Twitter: @Triphibian. The header illustration is a reconstruction from the original BBC production of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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