When Matthew Perry’s appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show started getting a lot of attention, my first instinct was to write about my own experience with Matthew. But then I felt some hesitation. I didn’t know how to approach it. Why should I be mean to a 14 year old kid from 35 years ago? And I would guess that I have FB friends who are still his real friends.
I kind of knew him. About as well as a seventeen year old can know a fourteen year old after crossing paths in the halls of our high school a few dozen times and riding the bus home together about as often. He was a high profile kid for his age. His mother was famous and his step-father was famous and his father was the Marlboro man in commercials, if I remember right. He lived in John Diefenbaker’s old house and he was a tennis champ. He was a good looking kid and a quick wit. Chandler Bing at 14 was pretty close to the young fella that I knew. But when he spoke about beating up Justin Trudeau with a childhood friend of his, someone I also knew, I couldn’t help but think of one particular afternoon bus ride we shared.
This isn’t about Matthew Perry. It’s about me. Now I don’t know if Matthew is a good guy or a bad guy or somewhere in between, like most of us. I’m not making judgments or casting aspersions upon a kid I remember from so, so long ago. That’s not fair. But I remember him bringing out a part of me I’d care to forget.
We were riding the city bus home and he said something about someone he didn’t know that set me off. And I lit into him. Even at the time, I knew I was tapping into my own insecurities. He was rich and I wasn’t. He was making fun of someone’s cheap clothing and it struck a very raw nerve. For a time, I thought I was being the best version of myself as I chastised him, dressing him down for making fun of those less fortunate than himself. But I was mean about it. I was clever and witty and mean. I took apart Chandler Bing. But he was fourteen and I was seventeen and I was being a bully. And it’s clear to me that had I been younger than him or smaller than him, I wouldn’t have said a word. I wasn’t being courageous. I may have been trying to make a righteous point but I was being hurtful and I did this with no risk to myself. I was being a bully.
I don’t feel like I’ve been that kind of person, then or now. In fact, quite the opposite. I try to stand up for the unspoken for. It’s been that way for a long time. But seeing this story unfold reminded me of a time I’m not proud of. And I mean I’m really not proud of it. And if Matthew Perry and I ever meet again, I hope we can shake hands and be pleased that we are better men than we were boys.