Every family has a certain set of rules that are sacred and never meant to be broken. I was sure that in ordinary families they were things like 'Don't be late for dinner' or 'Always say I love you before you hang up the phone' or something else relatively trite and heartfelt. In my family, the first rule was simple:
Thou shalt not watch The Damon Odell Show, neither the live broadcast nor any reruns.
For most of my childhood, I thought The Damon Odell Show was something like a big monster with blood red eyes and yellow fangs dripping with deadly venom. My parents liked it even less than the paparazzi that followed us around, so I knew it had to be something horrible.
It was, of course, not nearly as bad as I was led to believe. The Damon Odell Show was merely the late night program on a competing network. Unfortunately, it had exactly the same air time as my father's show: The Jeremy Attaway Show.
Just an aside, but I've regularly wondered why both of them had to name their contributions to late night TV in such an unoriginal manner. The First Name Last Name Show! Great idea! Somebody got fired for that one.
Anyway, Damon Odell and my father had been fierce rivals since their boarding school days. All the gossip mags talked about it, and whenever either of them came up in the actual news there invariably was a mention of the old boyhood rivalry that grew into today's late night entertainment war.
The year before I started at that very same boarding school, the aforementioned mags ran a tasty little article about how the rivalry might live on to another generation. Alexander Odell and I were going to be attending school together. It was an article of contrasts, and one I was relatively pleased with- my mother was not.
Her pearl earrings shook as she stabbed the glitzy cover of the mag with her manicured finger. The flushed color in her cheeks coming more from anger than her imported rouge. "This is unacceptable," she had said, "I hate to say it, but why can't you act more like that Odell boy?"
The picture of that Odell boy was flattering; he was suave and respectable at a well known cafe wearing a designer outfit with personal touches that the mag declared "totally hot!" I was declared "totally not!" with a black hoodie, oversized sunglasses, and a prominent middle finger for all the world to see.
I tried to explain to mom that if I had known they were going to use those photos for an article like that I would have hammed it up for the paparazzi instead of making obscene gestures as I tried to buy some milk. She didn't buy it, so I was stuck inside the house for the next two weeks.
If not for the house arrest, I would have written the mag a nice letter thanking them for promoting my bad boy image. "Totally not!" was the perfect description for someone who was trying to work toward a future career as a drummer in a grungy rock music band. Anything less would have only hurt me in the long run.
The point of that whole incident though, was that the article did not accurately predict how the first three years of our schooling occurred. We didn't have classes together. We didn't room in the same part of the building. We did not make contact.
As far as I could tell, we traveled in completely different social spheres. I liked the scholarship kids with their fascinating anonymity and middle class upbringing, while he traveled through packs of high society girls and boys with trust funds and tacky diamond jewelry.
This was fine with me. I didn't need the drama that was the Attaway-Odell Family Feud. I was trying to put my band into reasonably good shape so I could score a record deal right after graduation.
So, the shock I felt when I burst into my room at the beginning of senior year was justified. Alexander Odell was sitting on one of the beds, his attention focused on the worn paperback book in his hands.
He looked up at me, and the only thing I could think was that all the grainy pictures of him that I'd seen in the mags didn't do his eyes justice. They were a luminous pale turquoise, and surrounded by the honeyed tan of his skin, my second thought was that maybe I should have gone outside over the summer.
"Hi, I'm Alex." He said as he stood up and held out his hand for me to shake.
I stared at his hand way longer than the socially acceptable amount of time, thinking that in all my imaginings of Alexander Odell he was never just Alex. It was like the world shifted a few degrees out of balance and everything blurred around the edges.
Eventually, I shook his hand and managed a muttered reply, "Crispin."
The truth behind the lack of loquaciousness? I was shy. Behind all my strong and silent type posturing, I'm just too scared to say a word.
So, I didn't.
I stuck a few of my posters on the wall, unpacked a couple of my bags, and ignored his questioning looks. It was just my luck, for Alexander Odell to be the type of person that sought out conversation. Past roommates had quickly realized I didn't talk, and either chalked it up to a lack of social skills or vocal chords.
The one last year, we did end up talking second semester. He was familiar enough then, and he left his CD collection out one day. Dude had good taste in music.
Once I'd done what I felt like, I flopped onto my bed and closed my eyes. I ignored the feeling of him watching me, hoping he'd just get the hint.
I almost answered, his voice sounded so pathetic.