Tender is the touch of someone that you love too much

(photo taken November 2001)

During my sophomore year in college on a walk from one general education class to another I rounded a stairwell and noticed a flyer for an underground student newspaper hanging on a wall. The paper was called The Student Review, and they were holding an open call for writers. I was so eager to be a part of something underground at that point that I would have committed actual sins involving caffeine to be accepted as a writer. That flyer changed the course of my life.

I met a group of people at The Student Review who were considered The Coolest Kids on Campus, and I have to be very careful when I write about these people because I know for a fact that some of them read this site and they may take issue with my description of their Kingdom of Coolness. They were a group made up mostly of men who were all nerds and geeks and dorks in high school who went on to become brilliant and funny and irresistible in college. Some of them played in bands, some were writers, some of them were infamous for how many women they could make out with in a 24-hr period. And they were all roommates.

On the fringe of this group was a man named Jon Armstrong. He was older than most of the other kids, and he didn’t actually live in their House of Fun. He was married and lived with his wife elsewhere. Have I not ever mentioned that part?

I knew about Jon Armstrong because I dated one of the Disciples of Cool in the Kingdom of Coolness, if you could call what he and I did dating; it was more of a constant non-committal make-out session (NCMO, pronounced “nic-mo”) with our clothes on. Let’s call this particular disciple “Matt” because that’s his real name and I have no interest in protecting the innocent. Hi, Matt!

Disciple Matt talked a lot about Jon Armstrong and how awesome and cool and talented and funny he was, but I had never met Jon Armstrong. So in my head I had this picture of an awesome and cool and talented and funny man whose name was Jon Armstrong. I really liked the fact that he spelled his name without the H. John Armstrong just wouldn’t have been as cool.

The first time I ever saw Jon Armstrong was at a CD release party for the band Swimpigs, an acid jazz group for which he played keyboard. Disciple Matt and I were still heavily involved in Project NCMO With Our Clothes On, and he invited me to the party. Once I got to the party, however, Disciple Matt promptly ignored me in what would become a characteristic Kingdom of Coolness form of exclusion: I just wasn’t cool enough. That was a bad night, and one of the only things I remember from it was finally getting a glimpse at the legendary Jon Armstrong. He was very tall and was wearing fruity pants. I will always remember those fruity pants.

I didn’t see Jon Armstrong after that night for another two years.

By the time I was a senior in college I had made amends with some of the other Disciples of Cool in the Kingdom of Coolness. One of them whose real name is Sam (hi, Sam!) had started a music magazine in Salt Lake City for which Jon Armstrong was the Art Director. As part of an assignment for one of my senior English classes, I begged Sam to let me be a contributing writer. Sam redeemed the whole Kingdom of Coolness when he set me up with CD reviews and interviews with bands. In the summer of 1997 he scheduled me an interview with Blur, my favorite band of all time in the whole universe, amen.

I had been a fan of Blur for years, and when I found out that I was going to get to interview them I went home and kissed all of their pictures that I had hanging over my bed. And then I danced around in my pajamas and fainted on my pillow. This was a big deal, a bigger deal than it should have been for someone who was going to be conducting a serious interview and then writing up a serious article, but I couldn’t help daydreaming about one of them autographing my non-existent cleavage.

The interview was going to be held at an outdoor festival featuring Blur as the headliner, and when I showed up to the festival I found Sam in a building set up for DJs, a chill-out room for festival-goers to cool off from the oppressive summer heat. He was standing behind a make-shift table next to a tall, lanky, angular alien life form, a man-being wearing geek glasses who instantly personified every physical trait I found attractive in the opposite sex: skinny, check! dark-haired, check! tall, CHECK CHECK CHECK! I remember thinking, This is Jon Armstrong, and he is everything I thought he would be.

Sam tried to introduce us but I couldn’t even let him say, “This is Jon Armstrong” before stammering, “I KNOW WHO THIS IS.” I was swooning, literally shaking in my shoes, because I was instantly attracted to him and I KNEW that he was married. How gross could I be? How wrong and sinful and terrible and worthy of being cast out of Heaven! I knew he was off limits, but that didn’t stop my heart from trembling and my mouth from garbling every single word I tried to speak. It was like having a crush on Brad Pitt where you know he is married and that his wife is an awesome woman, but that doesn’t stop you from thinking about how cute your babies would look with Brad Pitt’s butt. Thank God my name was Heather Hamilton and I couldn’t mix up the first two letters when introducing myself. The part where I tried to say, “I love you and I want to have your babies,” came out, “I like your stuff with the design and it’s pretty cool.” And then I think I snorted. I wanted TO DIE so that he wouldn’t have to stand near my unworthy, snorty soul.

While I was busy trying to put together two coherent words Sam was busy making it so that I would never be able to interview Blur. He was just too preoccupied with other things at the festival, and Blur’s publicist didn’t want to bother the band with an interview from such a small publication. Publicists are horrible people that way. Jon Armstrong, however, was not horrible, and when he realized that Sam was about to destroy my life-long dream to wash Damon Albarn’s feet with my salty tears, he made it his mission to get me that interview.

Jon Armstrong and I spent most of that afternoon together chasing after Blur’s publicist, standing outside Blur’s tour bus, sniffing Damon’s sweaty bare chest as he walked by the food table behind the stage. And I got the interview, twenty whole minutes with Blur’s guitarist and drummer and a tupperware bowl full of peanut M&M’s. In the basement somewhere I have a cassette tape with a recording of Graham Coxon saying, “This one goes to eleven.”

Jon Armstrong made my day, my year, and that afternoon we forged a friendship that would eventually make my life. He made me feel accepted that day, accepted and cool enough. Everything everyone had ever said about him being awesome and cool and talented and funny came to life in a six-foot-three blaze of geek glory.

Jon Armstrong and I wouldn’t spend that much time together again for another four years when we met under very different circumstances. And three years after that fateful meeting we have a child. And that is pretty cool.

Happy Second Anniversary, Jon Armstrong wihtout the H.

(To read his version of the story, wander on over.)