S Town from the Rear View Mirror

Note: This post does not contain any spoilers for the S Town podcast.

Earlier today I finished the seventh and final instalment of S Town, season three of the This American Life's Serial project. Having been disappointed with the second season, I wasn't sure if this was a show that I'd find interesting. The first season of Serial revolved around the story of Hae Min Lee's murder and how the man convicted of the crime, Adnan Syed, may not have been the one to end the young woman's life. The story was incredibly well told, with me impatiently waiting a week for the next episode. I'd sometimes listen to the shows twice in an attempt to glean extra information that may have slipped past. I'd make notes and consider options and alternatives. Did Adnan really kill the girl in a fit of rage? Did Jay do it and pin the blame on his friend? Was it someone else who took advantage of the situation? The story was masterfully told, and the show received justified rave reviews from a lot of people. The second season was nothing like this. I was confused and bored during the first episode. I skipped through the last 15 minutes of the second episode. I unsubscribed halfway through the third. The story was no doubt interesting for a lot of people, but not me. This third season with it's family-friendly rendition of a place called Shit Town by the primary protagonist could have gone either way.

TL;DR: It's an incredibly well-told story. Go and listen if you're into serial radio programs.

John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.

— Brian Reed on S Town

Listening to this program, I was often reminded of my childhood and the people around me at various times. There were a number of similar members of the community. Similar habits. Similar traits. The familiarity of it all sometimes shocking me as one wouldn't expect the rural corners of Southern Ontario to resemble Alabama. In many ways they are very different. In some ways they are the same. The last few episodes really drove home just how similar the two places are, and how perspective can play a very important role in how we perceive ourselves and others.

I knew a man similar to John who had the same name. He taught me a lot about what it means to slow down and think decisions through, and how to examine a situation from multiple angles before making a judgement call. He also encouraged me to do the things I loved which, at the time, consisted of sketching, architecture, and programming. He provided temporary access to the tools for me to explore these creative pursuits and, in exchange, I'd help him on his farm on weekends. This man, like John, also encouraged people to become better with each passing day. Not just better skilled, but better people. He strongly encouraged me to leave the rural corners of the country and head to Toronto, Montreal, or San Francisco where I could put my unbridled passion and creativity to use. He also had one heck of a temper and a growing disgust with the state of the world.

This is what I saw in John, the centre figure in the podcast. Despite his strong language. Despite his distaste with society. Despite his acerbic opinions. He was a man who wanted to help others however he could. Calling either John "smart" would be selling these people short. The John in S Town was a horologist with a unique insight into anything mechanical. The John I grew up knowing was a master in a woodshop, able to make just about anything without ever once reaching for a ruler or a pencil. He could build an entire kitchen set with six fashionable, matching chairs by sight alone. I watched him do it one weekend.

The world is full of incredibly gifted, uniquely special people. Just like the rest of us they carry their secrets and inner demons. Friendships with these people can be incredibly intimate. Not in a sexual way, but in a manner where — regardless of what secrets or bad deeds you share — they will never judge you. They will never turn away from you. They'll be answer the phone the next time you call and ask you how you're doing. How the family is doing. How the dogs are doing. And all they ask in return is the same … and a little patience when they go off on a rant about the state of the world.

I haven't thought about John very often in the last two decades. He's got to be in his 80s by now. I should give him a call … so long as there's still time.