I knew a guy named Alex McDougall. But everyone just called him Kazz. Even when we met him in person.
If you knew Kazz too -- and, if you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you did -- then you know what this post is going to be about.
Kazz struggled with substance abuse and mental illness. And last weekend he took his own life.
I'm heartbroken. If you knew Kazz, I'm sure you are too.
So the first thing I'm going to do is talk about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you have suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-273-8255 and get help. I don't know who you are out there reading this right now. I just know that Kazz was somebody special, that the world was a better place with him in it, and whoever you are, there are people who feel the same way about you. Hell, there are total strangers, people who have never even met you, who feel that way about you, and they're on the other end of that phone call.
Pass that along to anybody who you think needs to hear it.
And now I'm going to talk about Kazz.
I'd known Kazz since 2002, a time when people still used messageboards, and "Internet celebrity" meant guys like Scott Sharkey. Sharkey had a community built around him, in the #finalfight IRC channel; one of the admins there, who went by Terra in those days and goes by Maou in these ones, started a messageboard at boards.pyoko.org.
Kazz signed up in the early days. He posted a GIF called Man Gun. It was a bipedal horse, holding a gun that fired men instead of bullets. I believe the gun said "MAN GUN" on the side.
He started a thread called "Pretend It's a Restaurant" (subtitle: "Pretending is fun!").
We didn't know what to make of this guy at first. He wasn't always funny. But he was always weird. Off-kilter.
In time, he and I became friends. Though anyone who remembers those days will tell you that sometimes, we had a funny way of showing it.
Kazz and I fought, a lot, over trivial nonsense that I mostly don't even remember. We were a couple of opinionated, egotistical guys in our early twenties, and we pushed each other's buttons -- sometimes by accident, and sometimes on purpose. We weren't always friendly -- but we were always friends. When push came to shove, we had each other's backs. We gave each other plenty of shit, but if anyone else gave one of us shit, the other one would come to his defense.
We'd joke about it, too; about how we were always at loggerheads. Remember when The Colbert Report first started, and there was a recurring segment with the On-Notice Board? There was a fan site at the time that allowed you to make your own On-Notice Board. Here are a couple of iterations of mine:
Anyway, we outgrew all that nonsense by our mid-twenties.
In fact, I'm pretty sure I remember our last fight. Not the fight itself; I have no idea what it was about. But how it ended.
It was 2007. I don't remember the particular details; we were mad at each other about some damn thing or another again. Arc, who was the guy in charge of the Pyoko boards at the time, said he'd had enough, and laid down the law: we were no longer allowed to speak to each other, or even mention each other, or he would ban us.
To this day I don't know if that was administrative overreach or a deft bit of psychology. But it wasn't long before Kazz was IMing me with, essentially, "Can you believe this shit? Who does Arc think he is?"
Arc united us -- against him. We never fought again.
Anyway, that rule went by the wayside when Sharkey quit the Pyoko boards and started a new messageboard (then called the Worst Forums Ever, now called Brontoforumus). He kicked it off with this banner:
That's Sharkey on the left, me in the middle, and Kazz on the right.
I'd like to say that Sharkey chose the two of us because we were such valued leaders in the community, but the truth is, as best I recall, he chose us because we'd posted recent photos that made good reference for the whole Communist propaganda poster motif he was going for: Kazz with his head raised, looking at something off in the distance, and me with facial hair of the sort every Communist propaganda poster needs. (Kazz and I did end up being pretty much the two guys running WFE for awhile after that, though.)
We all met once, the three of us, Sharkey and Kazz and me. It was in the summer of 2004; a bunch of the Pyoko gang gathered in San Diego.
The most memorable moment of that trip -- to me, anyway -- is that Kazz kicked a beer can into the back of my head.
I told the story on the Pyoko boards at the time, and maybe someday I'll be able to find that post on archive.org. In the meantime, here's how I remember it fourteen years later:
We'd been looking for a karaoke bar -- Terra's idea -- and had utterly failed to find one. We were walking through the parking lot of a non-karaoke bar, and I heard my friend Jon (not a member of the Pyoko boards, but a San Diego native we'd invited along) call out "Thad, look out!"
I didn't have time to turn my head before a half-empty can of Keystone collided with it.
I turned around and tried to read the riot act to whoever had done that -- my exact words were "What the fuck is wrong with you people?" -- but you can only have so much success chewing somebody out when you're trying not to laugh. It was funny, God damn it, and I knew it.
Kazz later explained that he'd seen the half-empty beer can on the ground and had the bright idea that he would kick it up into the air and it would get beer on everyone. He had not, of course, meant to kick it into the back of my head; there's no way he could have done that on purpose.
I referenced that event in the fifteenth (and, it's probably fair to say fourteen years later, final) installment of The Mighty Trinity, which ends with Kazz showing up to kick a beer can into a monster's head.
Kazz himself did not contribute anything to that particular story, except the stick figure body that I affixed his head to. It was part of a cartoon he drew called "Meat Man", after he ate chili that was too spicy for him.
I'm pretty sure I've got the full Meat Man drawing saved somewhere, but I haven't been able to find it yet. I think I'm going to need to do some excavation in some old hard drives. I want to save whatever I can of my friend's work.
I think that's a topic for next time. I think I've rambled enough for one post -- but I've still got more to say about Kazz.
I had always hoped that he would come out of all this okay, and someday we would see each other again and I would buy him a Coke and we would laugh about the old days -- the good times, the bad times, the what-the-hell-were-we-thinking times.
Sometimes, life deals you a soul-crushing disappointment. Knowing that Kazz will never get the chance to sit down and laugh about the old days, not with me and not with anyone else -- it's a hard, hard thing to take.
There's a line from Watership Down that's been bouncing through my head: "My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today."
I don't know if Kazz was a Watership Down fan. I do, however, know that he was a Flight of the Conchords fan, and so if he were with us today, he'd probably respond with, "Women love that sensitive nautical shit."
Goodbye, old friend.