Monday, December 28, 2009

Patrick and Molly.........i love ewe

Start your week off wrong with Patrick and Molly and all the small things...



For more episodes, visit our channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/jordansroom

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Patrick and Molly and all the small things.........secrets

Patrick tells a secret.


Hobotus Hobitual

Master Chief and I went on an excursion to Chipotle's Mexican grill today. Now, as far as Latino establishments go, this one is livin' la vida loca. Generally, when arriving at this particular eatery in this particular part of town the line is up the butt backed to the door, usually by lots of little Asians and, if you know Asians, you know that they're tiny and you can fit lots of them into small areas. This was not the case today. Today we walked in and went right to the front where only four people stood, two of which were a pair of sexless hobos that seemed to have made quite a nice living for themselves as they were plumper than the Thanksgiving turkeys that they undoubtedly missed out on. I am forever interested in the homeless and can usually be found reading a book on their species. Finding two of them together INSIDE a civilized establishment was like stumbling upon a hummingbird in your backyard garden - you want to just hold a safe distance and appreciate it's beauty. Get too close and it darts.

This last part, unfortunately turned out to be too true. I'll call it "The Female" only so we can separate them one from another but understand that to say this was a woman was like trying to decide the sex of a charging rhino.

"The man" attempted to follow his "mate" but seemed confused and disoriented. He kept mumbling incoherently to himself, "Gotta do dat....scuzie me...movin' on out...gotta eat...less you wanna buy me sumpin'...some lunch....gotta eat..."

I have a little experience with this genus of animal and knew mostly what to do from my textbook research. I was excited about this opportunity to test my smarts out in a real life situation. I moved slowly and tried not to make the initial eye contact. As it shuffled past me I heard it say something about purchasing it lunch. I immediately leapt through the doorway that had opened for me and blurted out, perhaps with a little too much gusto, "Yes. Yes, I'll buy you lunch". It stopped and watched it's wife / life partner disappear out the door without saying another word to her / it. The strange things about the Hobotus Hobitual species is that they are monogamous creatures by nature but when food is involved it becomes a free for all. In this sense they are very similar to the hamster clan.
This particular hobo spoke some brand of broken English so we (myself and my wife / science partner) were able to communicate with it. It said, "I'm homeless....pretty hungry...." I asked, perhaps a little foolishly, "Where do you live?" and as soon as it was out of my mouth I felt sheepish, although, now that I'd laid it out, I was very excited for his response. I wondered if there were hobo hot spots and clubs I'd driven past a million times and had never noticed. Would he let me in on the secrets of his almost mythical subculture? "Have you ever seen that bridge down First?" I imagined him saying, "We have a small town under it. It's called Hobbiton. There are about two hundred of us. Our economy is booming". I wiggled my eyebrows in anticipation, began grinding my teeth in excitement. I looked at Jade and she seemed to be inching away from it, possibly afraid that it might suddenly lash out and maul her face or try to bite her. She's heard stories about them sweeping wallets from your hand and shouting frightening obscenities.

The hobo spoke and it said, "I ain't got no home...I'm homeless...and I ain't got no shoes". It looked down at it's feet and I followed it's gaze to two gray socks with surprisingly few holes in them and then, as if waiting for approval, he wiggled his toes. I locked eyes with it again and asked, "Where are your shoes?" and again I was hoping for a tale of desperation and addiction, "You see, I wanted to keep them but I had to give them to Maurice because I needed a hit". No. Nothing like this. He tells me, "They're in the bathroom," and then he points to the Chipotle's bathroom. I wonder WHICH bathroom they are in (male or female) before I say, "What are they doing in the bathroom?" and he says, "Will you go get them for me?" and without hesitating I say, "No. You should go get your own shoes." I'm hoping this will send it towards the bathroom and I can use this to discover it's hidden sex. It mumbles something and then says that it's got to get to Lancaster. It actually says, "I need...I need to get down Lancaster....somehow...."and then it's eyes meet mine again and I understand that it's asking for a ride. I don't comply on purpose. Instead I say, "oh yeah?" and then shrug but it persists. It says, "I need a ride...down to Lancaster...got family...you wanna give me a ride?" and I say, without hesitation, "No," and then, speaking up, piping up from behind the scenes, coming in to save the day, Jade says, "BUT WE'LL BUY YA LUNCH, FELLA!"

The bum mumbles something, asks for a couple dollars, at which I shake my head and then it turns and leaves, following in the track of it's life mate, without shoes or burrito.
Jade and I sat down, ate lunch until we had to loosen our belts and then exited back into the strip mall cluttered with people staying in town for the holidays. As we made our way back towards the parking structure, we saw "the female" heading into a Coldstone Creamery and I couldn't help but wonder if she'd ever cross paths with her partner again.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Interview Correspondance

I regularly seek editing jobs on a classified website called Mandy.com

I found a particularly enticing piece and decided to apply for it. My contact was a person named Csprinkle@email.com.

Here is my cover letter:



Hello Csprinkle,
Is your last name really Sprinkle? I am jealous of your last name. I wish MY last name was Sprinkle. It's not. My last name is Brookbank. People often say "Bookbag", "Brokeback", "Brookbrag" and the like. People also have a really difficult time spelling it.

Came across your job listing on Mandy and thought I'd send over a link to my online reel:

www.JohnBrookbank.com


Hope to hear back from you,
John Brookbank




Here is the letter I received back today:

John,

The rate is $***/week, but it comes with very nice benefits and could last indefinitely. If you're still interested, are you available to come in on Wednesday at 10:30am?

And yes, my last name is really Sprinkle. I have to admit I am mostly having you come in because you had the audacity to write such a bizarre cover letter. Needless to say, it was memorable.

Patrick and Molly and all the small things.........testosteroni

Patrick takes his vitamins.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Patrick and Molly and all the small things.........werewolves

Every Monday start your week off wrong with Patrick and Molly and all the smalls things.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

ME: Hey, Milly. You like my new sunglasses?"

MILLY: I actually hate the way you dress.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

Today Milly shouted at me from her apartment window. Since she doesn't own a computer I can only assume she was writing a letter or a book.

MILLY: How do you spell "shucks"?

ME: S-H-U-C-K-S

MILLY: How do you spell "awe"

ME: A-W-E if you're in awe or A-H-H-H-H-H with an exclamation point if you're screaming.

MILLY: How do you spell "Swayze"?

ME: Swayze? Like Patrick Swayze? S-W-A-Y-Z-E

MILLY: How do you spell "hidey-ho"?

ME: What are you doing?

Milly promptly shut her blinds.

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

There was a little lizard in my kitchen......a lizard or a baby alligator.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

I don't say bad things about ethnic people.

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

Can I borrow your fire pit? My garbage can is full and I need to burn some of my trash...

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

You look just like that lumbering retard from the back.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

I've never had a manicure. Why would I pay a hundred dollars to have some Asian lady cut my toenails when I can bite them off for free?

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

Is that bum sunbathing?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

I'm goin' psycho. Like psycho-psycho.

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

MILLY: What are those desks called?

ME: Desks.

MILLY: The ones you had in elementary school?

ME: Desks.

MILLY: The ones with the chairs?

ME: Desks.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

I don't eat at Taco Bell. I don't eat anything from third world countries.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

ME: "Hey, Milly, if you had Siamese twins would you separate them?"

MILLY: "I'd probably abort them."

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

"Drive faster. You just got passed by a Chinese grandpa."

THINGS MY NEIGHBOR MILLY SAYS

"I hate my house, it's just walls."

Friday, October 9, 2009

We're back, back, like a heart attack

LA, Tuba City, Denver, Ft. Collins, Severance, Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Billings, Butte, Death Valley, LA.

You know when old people take out the photo album and show you their trip? We're about to spend the next few blogs doing just that.

Stay tuned.


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T minus five seconds to take off!

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T minus four - WAIT! I fogetted my seatbelt!

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Gwavity bad!!!

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MY FACE FEEL FUNNY!

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AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pistol Pete and all his famous friends

There are three types of people that attend film school. They are, in no particular order, A.) Legitimate artists and filmmakers, skilled and serious about their craft. B.) Kids who want to make movies but lack any sort of creative intellect and finally, C.) The recently graduated who didn't want to join the military. Pistol Pete was of the latter.

I'd been living in the dorms / converted air force barracks for roughly a year and a half and was feeling morose about seeing my time there coming to such an abrupt end. The CCA populous was a motley crew, not by choice but just by nature. We were atoms reacting and responding to one another, the island of misfit toys, broken and stupid and usually drunk. Jones was of Korean descent and his mother spoke no English. Having been born and raised in The States he spoke no Korean. At home and at Christmas he would sign to his mother, "going to bed", "I'm hungry" and "goodbye". Pink was a heavy kid from somewhere in northern Colorado and had been raised in a coal mine. Every summer, when school would end, he'd sadly crawl into his mom's car and drive back to The Black Lung where he would spend his days in a dark cave, slamming a pick ax into the ground, a little flashlight helmut covering his head. Self proclaimed "Uncle Stevie" was dabbling in alcoholism and could be found at any given moment tumbling through the halls or picking cigarette butts from the outdoor ashtrays. He had a girlfriend of Greek descent named Roxy who's father was on the Olympic weightlifting team once upon a time. Lauren looked like the third Olsen twin and was bisexual. This meant she could have had any guy in the place of her choosing and with a 10 to 1 male / female ratio, the battle was on. She was raw meat thrown to the vultures. Some of us would have stood a chance had we not all been jobless, carless, drunks; something we quickly discovered women considered to be negative attributes.

For Thanksgiving, Jade and I invited Lauren to spend the holidays in the mountains with ourselves and the parental units. She complied and I would bet that any guy in the building would have given his left nut to have been in my position. I was excited to see who Lauren was outside of the big crowd, who she was face to face. So far I had just seen her as the pornography crazed, pierced clitori aficionado. When there was no one to impress would she be intelligent? Tasteful? Taciturn? Upon arrival on the mountain top the three of us partook in a jolly good snowball fight. Jade was snapping photos of us during our playful rendezvous while Lauren kept removing pieces of her outer garments, complaining about the heat. Although there was snow on the ground, it was a warm winter, but that was the least of my concerns. My girlfriend had a camera. This hot bisexual was removing her coat, hat, mittens.....no....leave the mittens on you......bad girl.......I was sure I'd seen adult films begin this way. Sadly, before I could begin segueing the conversation towards pinker territory, we were called in by Jade's mom for dinner.

We eat turkey and we eat cranberries and we eat stuffing and we eat pumpkin pie and afterwards we all retire to our bedrooms, wishing we were dead, our poor bellies bloated to Ripley's Believe it or Not proportions. As I lie in bed, reading a book, Lauren pokes her head into the room. I act casual. I act like I don't have a plan up my sleeve involving her touching my girlfriend's boobs. "Howdy". She smiles and says, "Is there a bathroom up here?" and I say, "er.....yeah.....right down the - down the hall," and she disappears for I don't know how long. I actually lose track of time she's been in there for such a lengthy period. I read a chapter, I read a second chapter, I'm well into my third chapter (20? 30 pages later?) when I hear the door open and remember that I'd forgotten that she had excused herself. I pretend not to notice the squeaky hinges and her gentle footsteps down the hall. She's only human and we ALL ate a pretty hefty meal. Sometimes you gotta drop the deuce and it's all very natural and that's just fine but I try not to picture it, her, doing it. While not trying to picture it, I picture it. She sits squarely on the toilet, her knees bent just slightly in towards one another, her tight jeans and red thong in a little bunch around her ankles. It's actually sort of a cute image in a very strange way until I imagine her gripping the sink, gripping the shower door, a towel pinched between her teeth, her face as red as her thong as she tries not to scream through her butt birth. I try to shake the image away but only manage to burn it further into my mind. Lauren peaks her head into my room just as I'm rubbing my eyes, scratching the vision from my retinas. "Hey," she says and I try to play it cool, extra cool, super cool, "hey", I say. Jade walks into the room and sits down on the bed. Lauren says, "we should get a plunger in that bathroom. There's no plunger. I just.....hahaha, I just clogged up the toilet BIG TIME and couldn't figure out how to flush it down so I just used my hands to sort it out," and I stare at her, the image in my mind changing, morphing to one of Lauren on her knees, her pants and thong still pushed down around her ankles. She's bent over the toilet and covered in sweat. She's elbow deep in her own muck and she wipes her perspiration from her brow with her forearm. I pray to God that he gives me the old image back, the clutching, straining one. Anything for this. My kingdom for a new memory! Jade laughs and asks her why she didn't just ask for a plunger and Lauren pauses, stares at us as if we're mad and says, "How embarrassing would THAT be". Brains and beauty. You rarely get both.

The next day we all go to a movie, something called Time Line or Time Zone. It's starring, who my girlfriends refers to as, "The Dreamy Paul Walker". The four of us (Jade, Jade's mom, Lauren and myself) get two bags of popcorn and share, two for two. Lauren sits down next to me and at first, nothing registers. The alarms are not yet going off, not yet screaming. I reach my hand into the buttery brown bag and pull out some fluffy, golden kernels and shove them in my mouth. On the screen Paul Walker says something dreamy. Lauren smiles and I turn to look at her, instinctively. It is then that I notice her shoulder, her arm, her hand. It's stretched across the seat, hovering inches above my man dong, stuffed in the bag of popcorn. She is gripping and grabbing at pieces of the stuff, hungry for it's salty goodness. She pulls her hand from the bag and shoves a fistful of the good stuff in her mouth, campaigning to fit every morsel and tidbit of Mr. Reddenbacher into her gab. When she goes back for more it is then that I realize, licking my fingers, covered in popcorn juices, a handful of the tainted stuff already in my mouth, that she is digging through my movie treats with the same hands that she was, just yesterday, digging through her own dukey like some troubled chimp. Surely she washed her hands. Surely she washed them twice right after the incident and a few times since then, but still, there is principal. I am, what some would consider, a germiphobe. In high school I washed my hands so frequently and so repeatedly that they actually began to chafe and peel, raw and red. I flush toilets with my sneaker and I never ever under ANY circumstance touch a door handle that is not in my own home. If food drops on the floor, it is out. No five second rule. No ten second rule. There is only the It's-On-The-Floor-And-Is-Now-Garbage Rule. My mouth filled with flying fecal matter, I grimace, try to hold back the gag, roll my tongue away from the mush and just try to force it down the hole in my throat without making a scene. Through the rest of the movie I continue to hold the bag of popcorn and I continue to pretend to eat the popcorn but I do not touch the popcorn. Instead I just reach into the bag, grabbing imaginary handfuls and shoving them falsely into my mouth. Lauren finishes the bag alone.

Outside, after the film, we're all crawling into the suburban, taking part in the time honored tradition of reviewing the movie. Mostly it was good, we all agree, but sometimes it was bad and we all agree on that and Lauren is about to say something when, instead of a word, a burp comes out and then she covers her mouth and then she heaves and vomit comes out and it is mostly all yellow popcorn that resembles creamed corn. It spills through her fingers and into her lap and I have to reach across her, open the door and let her out. She drops her hands and the mess spills everywhere, splattering over her pink sneakers. She heaves, once, twice, three times and buckets of mucous and bile and golden barf slip past her lips, lips that have kissed both sexes' organs and I will never think of Lauren the same way again. She gets back in the car and says, "I'm better now," and we drive off.

Lauren is strange and Jones is strange and Pink is strange and Eric, who tries growing mold on Starburst candies because he heard you can smoke it, is strange. But through all this, through all these people, none are as strange as the aforementioned Pistol Pete. The first day he shows up he enthusiastically introduces himself with the line we will all become familiar with, "Hey. I'm Pistol Pete. I rap. You wanna hear me spit a few rhymes......for you?" He would talk like this, sort of pausing out his words at strange intervals while his eyes seemed to look right through you. He had a head shaped like an egg and his peepers were big and round. Later on in life I would meet a girl who claimed that you should never trust a person upon whom you could see the tops of their irises. Most people, if you look them in the eyes, you'll just catch a hint of the bottom. The Crazies, The Whackos? The REAL ones? Not just the run-of-the-mill loonies but the Psychopaths (capital P) the ones who torture animals and burn themselves? It's on these guys that you'll see the tops of the irises. You'll stare them in the face, not quite sure what's wrong with their features but registering that something isn't quite right and then one day you'll come home and your dog will be skinned, still alive, wandering around your house with staples shot into it's face and you will find a note from your Oddly Irised Friend, written in their own blood and feces, scribbled roughly upon your ceiling.

Had I known The Iris Rule a few years earlier I may have been able to help him. I may have been able to help all of us. Pistol Pete's irises rested like fat dinner plates at the bottom of his sloping eye wells, the tops completely and utterly exposed, staring into you, wondering what your small intestine looked like. As far as crazy went, Pistol Pete took the taco grande.

He got his hands on some ecstasy a few weeks after he'd been on campus and, after taking a few tabs by himself, decided to sit on the front steps and accost the passing females. They would walk by him on their way to class or just meandering off to run errands and he'd say, "Yo yo yo! What's up! Hey, beautiful! C'mere - c'mere for a second.....". The girls would offer a single glance back before hustling it double time to their bicycles and automobiles. Another girl. "Yo yo yo! Hey, cutie! Hey there! Hey! C'mere! I just......wanna talk". The way he'd say, "wanna talk" made it sound like he meant "wanna rape" and I imagined him doing it more for the violent thrill and less for the physical release. When his gentle prodding towards conversation didn't work he moved onto what I'm sure he would call The Compliment. "Yo yo yo! Hey, you! Blondie! Yeah......you.....I like your hair. Hey! I said your hair is pretty!". And this is how I found him while heading to my camera tech class. He was slouched on the front steps, almost lying on them, one hand in his pocket, probably stroking his drugged out boner and his other hand propped behind his head. When he sees me he pops a cigarette in his mouth and says, "Yo yo yo! Justin! What's up!?" and I say, "did you just call me Justin?" and instead of answering the question he throws his attention to a girl who's walking by. "Yo yo yo! Hey! Hey you! Nice........" he seems to be struggling for something, ".........JEANS! Hey! I SAID YOU'VE GOT REALLY NICE JEANS!!!". When the girl doesn't respond he looks at me and says, "I don't know what is with these bitches. I sit out here complimenting them all damn day and they don't even SMILE at me. A SMILE! That's all I'm talkin'.........about." When I ask him what he's doing out here he tells me that's he's "rolling" and when I ask him what rolling means he looks at me, the podunk from South Dakota and says, "it means I ate some ecstasy. I'm rollin' on ecstasy. YO YO YO!!!" Another girl walks out and I move along to the school.

After class I find my girlfriend in the parking lot with Lauren, the too-cute, vomiting, toilet clogging, turd excavating bisexual. The three of us make our way slowly back towards the dorms, talking about uncircumcised men. I tell them that I knew a kid growing up who said he had to peel his foreskin back before he peed otherwise the urine was likely to spray around all willy-nilly like a sprinkler system. Just as I finish, what I'm sure the ladies consider to be a spellbinding anecdote, I notice Pistol Pete in the same position as he was two hours prior, still on the steps. A girl walks past him, entering back into the dorms, and he says, shouts, "Yo yo yo! What's your problem? I told you I liked your ass when you left and you just ignored me! Don't you know how to take a compliment?" When the girl walks inside, not acknowledging his presence, he mumbles under his breath, "bitch". When asked if he'd moved since I saw him last he just shakes his head. "Nah, I been out here scamming on hottites all day, but tell you what - these girls are some PRUDES". Another girl exits. "Hey. My name's Pistol Pete. I rap. You wanna hear - no, nothin'? Okay. Hey! Nice jeans! I LIKE YOUR JEANS! NICE FUCKING JEANS!". This was a man desperate for something. Perhaps sobriety. He watches the girl go and then notices the two females flanking me. He turns his attention to hire grounds, "Yo yo yo. What's up ladies?" Jade and Lauren both nod and mumble hellos. He says, "those are some nice jeans," and Lauren says "ooooh, thank you." She coos over his compliment and this is just a big mistake, egging him on like that, encouraging his behavior. He says, "you both have the most gorgeous.........blue eyes I have ever seen," and Lauren scrunches up her lips and says, "my eyes are green," and Jade says, "my eyes are hazel," and Pistol stares at them and says, "well shit, at least they ain't brown." I ruffle his hair and the three of us go inside.

The next time I see him is a few days later at the dinner table. He enters the cafeteria with noticeably more energy than when he was "rolling". Strolling across the large hall, glancing over his shoulder every few steps, he finally sits down next to me and stares into the back of my brain with those bizarre eyes and says, "I just took a couple to the noggin' and I am feelin' goooood". When I inquire about what he means he says he's just slammed three beers as fast as he could, in his room, alone. He cocks his head around, trying to see everyone at once. He leans into me and says, "This girl just crawled out of my tv.....just before dinner and I had sex with her. i did it all. When we were done she crawled back into the tv and I shut it off." I nod and take a drink of my milk. Pete straightens up and announces to those around him, "yo yo yo, I got some pills. Anyone wanna........buy some? They're......purple". I shake my head and take a bite out of my chicken sandwich, wondering just where it was that they bought this meat. It was delicious. Eric picks up his tray and says that he might want some. Pistol looks at him and says, "alright, Adam. I knew I could count on you".

A few days pass without incidence and then Pistol Pete is gone. He's nowhere to be found. Vanished. Two days, three days, a week passes. Some people notice and some people are thankful but mostly nobody cares. Around noon, between two of my classes I get a phone call. It's Pete. I ask him where he is and he hesitates to tell me. I ask him if he's in jail and he says, "not.......exactly". He says, "So my pops calls me the other day and asks me if he can come up, just wantsta, y'know, come by and chill. See where I'm at - all that. So I say okay and he comes by and he asks me if I want to get some ice cream and I say, 'hell YEAH I wanna get some ice cream' and when we leave he drives me to a crazy house and I TOTALLY didn't see that comin'". I ask him to repeat this last part. I say, "did you say you're in an asylum?" And he says, "yes. I didn't see it coming, either. BUT" he assures me, "don't worry. I'm in here with some really cool and famous people. Johnny Depp says hello," and then he hangs up, leaving me listening to a dial tone, wondering if I'm dreaming.

A month, a month and a half later, while Jade and I are watching an episode of Roseanne, my doorknob begins to shake violently, as though possessed by an angry spirit. After I pull the dead bolt and open the door I find Pistol standing on the other side. He stares into my soul with eyes like flying saucers visiting from other worlds and says, "man, why you lockin' your door?" I shrug and he enters and sees Jade. He punches his elbow into my side and says, "OH! I get it! Did I just, like, disturb you two? Were you just gettin' lucky?" Jade winces at his idiocy and I smile because she's uncomfortable. I say, "yeah, we were just foolin' around a little bit. Mostly just pinching each other's nipples but....you know how it is". Jade shakes her head and then laughs as Roseanne says something humorous in regards to dieting. Pete lifts up his hand and I see he's clutching a piece of white cloth in it. A security blanket? A Klan mask? The Shroud of Turin? It's hard to say with this kid. He tells me it's a gift. He tells me he's been working on it the whole time he's been away. He tells me I get it because I'm the only one that talked to him on the phone while he was gone. He undrapes the cloth and I see that it's a white t-shirt with words printed all over it. Upon closer examination I realize that they are all names. Famous names. Celebrity names. Pistol says, "It's signed by all the famous people I was in the nut house with. Here's Johnny Depp. Here's Robert DeNiro. Here's Tupac." I'm about to tell him that Tupac is dead when he says, "Here's God's signature. He signed it twice, just in case". I'm about to ask "just in case what?" when he twists the shirt around, revealing God's dual signature on front and back. He had not signed it as Yahweh or Jehova or Jesus. He merely printed the word GOD in a sloppy green scrawl, so unlike the tidy cursive I imagined him to have.

As I stared at the shirt, debating how much I could sell this for on Ebay, I began to wonder if A.) Pistol believed these people to be famous, B.) these people believed themselves to be famous or C.) Pete had actually just scribbled different names down on a shirt in different handwritings. I was sure that the only person who knew would certainly never tell. I look up from the shirt to find his bulging, multi-dimensional eyes staring at me, surely sucking the life essence out of me. He seems hungry for approval so I say, "this is VERY cool. This is.....this is actually pretty unbelievable that you.......got these........so were all these famous people just sitting in there with you or what?" and he looks at me, very serious, and says, "Listen, Justin. I know your secret. I know you're famous. I know that everyone in this place is a famous person and that you're all pretending to be normal people so you can escape the limelight. I know your girlfriend is Kate Winslet and that her fake name is Jade. I know that John Goodman lives right down the hall and I KNOW, I KNOW, that Eminem is in room 104. I've already spoken with him and he's going to help me get a record deal". I stare at him and nod and I am suddenly starting to see the true boundaries of his sickness. He turns away from me and walks over to Jade / Kate, sits down next to her. He says, "Yo yo yo. Look at me. Listen. I want to tell you something". Jade mutes the real John Goodman on the TV and turns to Pete, fluttering her eyelashes. She does this when she thinks that what you are about to say is going to be completely asinine and that she is only listening to make you feel important, wanting to take no interest in the actual conversation. Pete says, "I want to thank you," and then Jade gets a littler more serious and says, "well....you're welcome. For what?" and he says, "you gave me the best blowjobs I've ever had while I was locked up. You lived in my brain and we had the craziest sex every single night and you helped me get through it. Let me tell you something.......you're really good".

I'm punching in the final thumb tack, leaving the nut house celebrity t-shirt to display itself in my bathroom among posters of b-movie monsters and torn off beer labels when I hear Pistol professing his lust for my girlfriend. I step back into the room to make sure he's "just chatting" and not "face raping" her when there's a knock at the door. It is now, at these moments, when you truly, truly believe that things could not become stranger that they most often do. Once that snowball starts rolling downhill, there is no stopping it. It just continues to grow, gathering speed, destroying skiers and smashing villages in it's abominable journey.

I don't recognize the knock, however, I DO recognize that there is a strange sense of authority in it. Pistol's head spins on his shoulders and he says, "don't answer that," and I stand there for a moment before realizing that I'm taking orders from a man that has had tea with all four Golden Girls, probably while enjoying the snug fit of a straight jacket. I reach for the handle and hesitantly open the door, half expecting The Ghost of Christmas Past. As I swing it open though, it only reveals a small black haired man who resembles Casey Affleck. I immediately notice his lazy eye and then realize that I'm staring directly into it. I quickly look at his other eye but it appears to be off center as well. I become confused and can't seem to find myself. I can see the top of only one of his irises. What does this mean? Half crazy? Perhaps. Are his eyes two different colors? Who is this man? Is he talking to me? I don't know where to look. I decide to just stare at the bridge of his nose, splitting the difference between Lazy Eye Option A and Lazy Eye Option B.

He introduces himself as, ironically, "Casey". He says he is Peter's guardian and tells me that he is here to pick him up. I open the door further and Pistol says, "Yo yo yo! I TOLD you I'd be right down. Why you gotta be bustin' my balls all the time? Gimmie one......SECOND!" and Casey says, "C'mon" and holds out his hand. Pistol reluctantly stands up, leaving Jade on the couch alone and steps outside with the (cross-eyed?) man. Casey asks me if I'd like to walk with them to the car and I say "yes". I walk with them down the hall. Pistol turns to Casey and says, "Casey. This is Justin........Timberlake. Are you pretty excited that I'm friends with him?" and I laugh and say, "that's right. Justin Timberlake," and Casey stops walking and looks at me with disgust and says, "tell him the truth" and I say "what?" and he says, "tell him the truth. Tell him you are not Justin Timerlake. Tell him your real name" and Pistol stares at me. His forehead wrinkles into folded terrain and he cocks his head. Never before or after have I seen such strange eyes as Pistol Pete's and on that day I saw something in them that made me cringe. It was the look of a man who's reality is crumbling down around him, being broken, shattered and smashed. The things he knows or thought he knew and loved about everyone were all lies. He waits for it. He waits for me to talk. I say, feeling a little silly, "I'm......not.......I'm not really Justin.....Timberlake. My name is........John Brookbank" and Pistol pauses and the look is gone. He seems fine and I think that it was easier than I was anticipating. Pete winks at me and says, "oh......riiiiiiiight" and Casey tells me to say it again. People are starting to gather in the halls. Class is out and lunch is beginning and why are the walls closing in on me? Why are all these people looking at me? I glance over my shoulder nervously and shuffle my feet. I stick my hands in my pockets. The audience is sensing something in the wind. They smell it and they are hungry for gossip. I say, "I am not......Justin Timberlake. I am not Justin Timberlake. I am John Brookbank" and I'm imagining all these people thinking that I'm the crazy one. They're watching me trying to grasp my identity. "I'm JOHN. I'm JOHN Brookbank. My name is JOHN Brookbank. I am NOT Justin Timberlake. My name is JOHN Brookbank". Casey says, "Peter is sick. Peter is schizophrenic and has been selling his medication. We're taking him away," and I say, "when will he be back?" and Casey says, "I don't know" as he begins pulling him away, down the hall. I stand and watch as they disappear around the corner. Eric pokes his head out from his door to see what all the commotion is just as Pete shouts at him, "Adam Sandler! Adam Sandler! Please help me!"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller

The biggest problem growing up in a town who's greatest past time for the rascally youth is the roller skating arena is the pension for those children to go out and find their own brand of trouble. While most of my friends turned to cigarettes, marijuana and beer at an early age, I decided to just say no and instead focused my attentions to the slightly more creative arts of theft, vandalism and general adolescent naughtiness. In elementary school I began sneaking out of my house in the middle of the night to meet up with my equally juvenile friends. We'd prowl the neighborhood, lurking from shadow to shadow, hiding from passing cars and dodging motion sensors. Initially, the simple thrill of just being out and meandering the block at midnight was enough to tide us over but it quickly became apparent that it would not satiate our pubescent urges for long. As with all things, the newness of the situation rapidly faded and we needed to move on, expand our horizons, chase down unexplored territory. We began experimenting with toilet papering homes, garages, cars and trees, which turned into putting whipped cream messages on people's automobiles (sometimes our parents') "F U!" "EAT MY DICK" and the apocalyptic epitome "PENIS" were among some of my favorites to etch, usually in print as cursive was not yet my strong point. If you're going to send someone a message, they may as well be able to read (and appreciate) it. The whip cream was just a small step for mankind to eggs and the eggs easily segued to rocks. We would pick up stones from the alleyways that ran between the rows of Craftsman homes and we would chuck them as hard and accurately as possible towards the glass targets that served as garage windows. There is no sound in the world as thrilling and exhilarating to a young boy as the sound of shattering glass. We would disappear down the block, trying to suppress our laughter and glee at another fine mission complete. What were we aiming for? What was our purpose? Were we not concerned for the property and assets of those around us? These questions are out of reach of the common vandal, especially one that is barely a decade old. Cheap thrills. Adrenaline. The MOMENT. Like a junkie seeking his next hit, we were only concerned about the result. We didn't care who got hurt along the way; our family, our neighbors, ourselves. We would steal fluorescent bulbs from behind stores (whether they were functioning or not we cared little). We would retreat to our secret spots - the woods, the bike trail, the creek, the railroad tracks - and we would smash them one after another, watching in amazement, all of us glossy eyed and locked in like stoners experiencing their zen moment as the glass seemed to evaporate into dust before our very beings.

In the woods, under cover of leaves and disguised by trash, we had our collection of pornography; things we'd stolen from our parents and from the local book stores. We discussed the best times and days to steal our beloved nudie magazines; we had meetings, plans and blue prints. Two of us, maybe three of us would enter the bookstore at a time, the first heading to the front desk where, after a moment of silence the old woman would look up and address us, not with "hello" or "how can I help you?" but merely a cocked eyebrow. We were children and as such didn't deserve to be treated with respect and humanity. Truth be told, we were monsters, thieves and liars and got just what we had earned. We would ask for a book, something she'd never heard of, something that would get her to leave the desk and focus her attention on the shelves. "I'm looking for........something about werewolves.......". She would lead the decoy to a far corner where, nearby, the second of us would be glancing over books about Dungeons and Dragons even though none of us played. This just served as a distraction. A full store is a hard store to watch.

The third kid, usually played by a boy who was about three years my senior, would enter in a zipped up army jacket. His left hand would swing freely at his side while his right would appear to be tucked into his jacket pocket. Allegedly tucked into his jacket pocket. In actuality, in reality, it would be inside his coat, curled against his body. He would approach the stand that contained comics on the bottom shelf (kid height) and magazines about wrestling, cars and hunting on the top shelf (adult height). Behind all these worthless magazines resided The Good Stuff, our City of Gold; Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and Club Confidential. The ones with the censored covers were the best because if THAT'S what they put on the OUTSIDE, boy oh boy, could you just imagine what they put on the inside??? The army clad crook would slip down his camo zipper just enough to enable him to reach his hand out the top of the jacket, snag a handful of adult literature and gently float them back into his coat and then, just as quickly as he had come, he would go. I would follow out a few seconds later, leaving my guard post at the D&D rack and the decoy would never find the book on werewolves he was looking for.

Outside, the group of us would rush away, heading for the nearest safe spot; a public bathroom, a group of trees, a dumpster. We all crawl inside and the army jacket slips down and all eyes are wide and all stomachs are in knots and all toes are curling. Three magazines slip out and are distributed. I tear at the plastic covering with my fingernails, with my teeth, shredding it into so much useless garbage, more camouflaged junk in the dumpster bed. On the cover are two permed blondes, both of them naked, both of them resting their peachy bottoms upon a motorcycle sitting against a black backdrop. I caress the glossy title and stare directly into their sharp blue eyes. They appear to be twins and I wonder if there is something wrong in partaking in pornography that seems to be incestuous in nature. I decide that I will first stare at their delicate bodies and fulfill any carnal appetites I may be having before discussing my moral obligations with my conscience. I slide my finger slowly under the cover, being as delicate as can be, treating this Guide to Greater Lands with as much respect as a newly wed virgin. Two other guys peer over my shoulder and not a word is said as the first page falls open, revealing a nude redhead holding a pink guitar. What is each of us thinking? What is rolling through our heads? The answer is simple and across the board: "I gotta get me one of those".

There are two girls in a pool, one of them a brunette and one of them a blonde. Neither is wearing a swimsuit save for goggles and flippers and the things they are doing one to the other are generally considered to be traditionally untraditional but the act appeals to us nonetheless. And it is this, Ladies and Sperms, where we find our sex education. In school they tell us that having wet dreams is normal and something we should not be ashamed of. In school they say that a young boy will get 19 boners a day and that you shouldn't worry. In school they tell us that having sex with a girl on her period is frowned upon and when we ask why, genuinely inquisitive, they frown upon us. In school they do NOT tell us that an entire fist would be considered "too much" for vaginal ingestion or that a wrench doesn't offer quite the same flexibility and give that your standard phallus would. We think all girls can swallow entire bananas and so, this is what we are sent out into the world with. These are the things we are expecting. And when we present our girlfriends and wives with the "exciting proposition" to blindfold them and duct tape them to a chair and throw hot grease on them we are greeted with looks of disgust, puckered and pouty, next to divorce papers.

Back in the Love Dumpster someone says that they want to be a photographer when they grow up so they can look at boobs all day long. I correct them and explain that while the boob is wonderful, it's truly the nipple that they desire. Someone else turns away, disgusted. We look at him, this outsider, with queer wonderment. He says, "I don't get it - I'm not into chicks being with other chicks - it's not like they're gonna get with me - it's not like they're gonna be interested in me and have sex with me". I tell him that these girls are a decade older than him and live 3,000 miles away and, oh yeah, they're just on a glossy print paper, so I don't think he has anything to worry about. He shrugs and turns the page to a picture of a girl lying in a pile of hay, shoving a carrot up her butt. He says, "That's what I'm talking about!" before we crawl from the dumpster, go to the video store and steal some sodas. We rent a movie (A Nightmare of Elm Street Part 2) and after signing for it I grab the VHS and proceed over to the cooler where cases of Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew are held. I slide it open, grab a 24 pack and walk right out of the store, not hesitating for the grab, not stopping to think twice, not pausing to look back. A thief must be precise and accurate and emotionless. As I blow through the doors into the (dirt) parking lot I let out a cowboy-esque "yee-haw!" and we all jump on our Huffies and peddle down the street to watch a film my mother has forbade me from viewing.

That night I tell my mom I'm spending the night at Steve's house and Steve tells his dad he's spending the night at Aaron's house and Aaron tells his folks he's spending the night at my house and we take advantage of our parent's trust / carelessness to own the night. Mitchell is our playground and we are tiny, conniving psychopaths. We start a collection of hood ornaments; Mustang's, Ford's, Dodge's. It doesn't really matter what make or model they're from. We're not picky. We just destroy and steal, tearing off the automobile mast heads and sticking them in our deep pockets and back packs. We become familiar with the term "Car Shopping". To the standard adult, car shopping is the act of going from dealership to dealership, trying to find that diamond in the rough, seeking out the good deals and haggling them down even lower. It is a time honored tradition that most American males over the age of sixteen revel in. To a group of ten, eleven and twelve year olds living in a town where nobody locks their doors, Car Shopping is the act of rifling and pillaging in people's personals and taking what you want with the oldest coupon that exists: The Five Finger Discount. Many of us acquired our first walkman this way or a nice pair of sunglasses or a cassette tape of Michael Jackson's Thriller. From time to time you'd find some change, maybe some quarters for the arcade machine at the 711 or a couple bucks to purchase A Nightmare on Elm Street part 3 or Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Two boys are siblings and three boys are a society and four boys are a brotherhood and four we stood, all for one and one for all, robbing the rich to feed the poor and all those popular lines from famous literature that justify taking things that don't belong to us and standing up for the idiots we call our friends. A brotherhood. We ride our bicycles, our stallions, our steads, down the bike trail to a sewer pipe we've been debating on exploring. Today we come equipped with our back packs stuffed to the brim with flashlights, canteens filled with water, plastic bags plump with food as well as weapons of defense: squirt guns filled with holy water, vampire stakes and forks made from silver. The four of us duck low and enter the dark tunnel, the only noise the running water flowing in a light but steady stream between our sneakers and the sound of said sneakers tapping lightly at the rotund orifice. We walk in a straight line, the tunnel only wide enough for one of us at a time. Steve is first, our valiant hero, our brave explorer, his flashlight beam shining out eight, ten feet in front of him, exposing nothing but more darkness, more water, more tunnel and the general direction in which we are heading. The rest of us hold flashlights as well but they illuminate nothing more than the butt of the jeans of the kid in front of us. Ten minutes pass, fifteen minutes pass and we approach a room. it is perhaps twelve feet in circumference and fifteen feet high. We all stand up straight, stretching and arching our backs, sore from walking at a ninety degree angle. I reach into my pack and pull out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Everyone follows suit. We share and exchange food, a ritual amongst boys; what's yours is mine (as long as you have something I want). The room in which we stand offers us a choice of direction. We can continue to follow our path straight through, exploring further in the same (Eastern?) direction or we can take the smaller tunnel to the left. We opt to continue straight on because, even at four foot three, the smaller tunnel is just too tight a squeeze for any of us. Eventually we find ourselves running short on food and water and decide to head back but the tunnel has not yet seen the best of us. The next day we come back with more stock and the day after we show up earlier and the day after we move faster and the day after we stop in each of the four cavernous rooms for quicker breaks and soon we are eating as we walk, not stopping at all, hungry to know where this tunnel leads. We crawl in it for thirty minutes, forty five minutes, an hour and fifteen minutes, straight through, turning where necessary and marking our way with X's written in chalk above the correct tunnel. We're running short on food and water but have heard that you can survive for at least a few DAYS without access to either. We march on, determined to discover where the tunnel comes out. Will we be led to a small river outlet? Will we uncover a pirate ship ala Goonies? Will we run into a giant antechamber where every pipe and funnel of the Mitchell populous pours out? The truth will reveal itself, we are sure of it and we plunge forth into the darkness. Fear never grips us, only the sense of adventure.

A strange scraping noise suddenly rips through the dark oblivion and forces our attention to it. The sound is metal in nature, similar to a big rusty plate sliding against concrete. It grinds and scrapes and the noise echoes through the catacomb of pipes, reverberating off the curved walls. We all stop, stand stalk still, bent over at the knees. We all kill our flashlights as a unit and listen. The noise stops and then continues. A grunting noise. A man grunting...two men. We have discovered C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic. Humanoid. Underground. Dweller.) We have found our monster. It has finally crawled from the movie screen, from our TVs and is here to claim our lives. It was not discovered in the dark of night nor in our basements or bedroom closets but here in the sewer systems and it is here to kill us and we have walked right to it's dinner table. All four of us are about to die in some dank sewer and nobody will ever discover our bodies. We will be the kids who went out to play and then were nothing more than grainy black and white photos in the newspaper. We had come into this dark hole as explorers, midget versions of Louis and Clark and we would leave as brown floating sewer waste from the monster that lived beneath our city. His (her?) skin is a dark blue, the color of choked and murdered children, pockmarked and horned. It's black eyes see nothing. Living in the dark (for years? centuries?) this creature (demon?) has evolved it's sense of smell and oh yes, it smells us, four children, sweating, hungry, thirsty and scared. This, of course, is only how I picture him (her / it) in my head. A blob, sliding through the tunnels, gobbling up nutrients from the feces that we've been dumping down our drains and toilets since the invention of modern sewage. We are only ten year olds but we stand firm. We are a brotherhood and we are a team. None of us move our feet but we all slowly reach into our bags, our knapsacks, our book bags, our Monster Hunting Packs and we each pull out something to defend ourselves with; a wooden vampire stake, a silver fork, a rusty horseshoe (this last having no kind of lore behind it for fighting monsters but makes itself useful for angry whapping).
Grind-whisk-grind.
What was the source of that noise? Did the monster have a machine? A weapon? Did it crush bone? Was the creature tightening the bars on a cage that we were to be put in? Would we meet other missing children? The Midwest versions of Hansel and Gretel? We hadn't left any bread crumbs but we had left the white X's marking our way back......our way back......that was worthless for anyone coming IN to find us and how on earth would they ever realize that we'd crawled (willingly) into the tunnel to begin with? They would first search homes and riverbeds. They would charge into the local sex offender's dwellings and scour their closets and basements, our parents simultaneously hoping and not hoping that they might find us there. The riverbeds would turn up nothing save for a pair of our glasses if they happened to be bouyant enough to flow down the sewer drain like so much gray water before them, if they happened to take the correct tunnels, marked by white X's, if they happened to not get eaten by this drainage ditch behemoth. It's dark and the air is heavy but, strangely, it has a bit of a chill to it. I can't see what's coming. I can't see the kid in front of me. I can't see my own hand with the flashlight in it. I think about flicking it on and just taking a peek but then.........no.......I would certainly give us away. If it didn't know we were here, it certainly would after a stupid act like that. I didn't want to be the guy in the horror movie who wants to investigate the noise but the urge was almost unbearable. Never again would I judge him and scream at him and call him an idiot. Instead I would sympathize with him and stand up for him when others mocked his curiosity.......if the opportunity ever arose.......if I were to get out of here alive.........if I ever saw tomorrow.
Screeeeeeeek!!!
Light. Lots of it. My pupils shriek and recoil, contracting into little pinholes. Everything is white and I can't see a thing. Sensory overload. Too much. I squint and hold my hand up in front of my face. My other hand grips the flashlight and I remember watching Stephen King's It and I remember the monster, the alien, the (demon?) floating above the children, trapped in the sewer and what is pouring from out of it's eyes, it's guts, it's very being? Light. The Deadlights. You stare into them, hypnotized and they call to you and you enter them and they eat you. I shut my eyes. I pinch them tight. I will not look. I will not look. I will not look into The Deadlights. I don't tell my friends to shut their eyes. Instead I put my hands over my lids, not wanting a speck of the prism poison to leak into my brain. I hear shuffling feet and I think, "it's all over. I am going to die down here". Either IT is coming for us or my friends, my brothers, are being pulled into The Deadlights. The boy behind me, Aaron, pushes against me and I try to stop him but he shoves past me and I fall against the wall and I hear him shout, "UNCLE STAN!!!" and I think, "NO! He is a monster of glamor and he wears many masks, Aaron! He only APPEARS to be your Uncle Stan! He goes by many names - he is Pennywise, he is Bob Grey, he is The Eater of Worlds, stay away!" but I just say, "ug..." as my hand dips into some of the water under our feet. A man's voice, "what're you guys doin' down here?" and Steve says, "uh.....just exploring" and I think "NO! He's using his glamor and is wearing the mask of the plumber!" and the man says, "c'mere - let's getchya outta there" and I hear Steve step forward. I hear Aaron step forward. The kid behind me, Steve's younger brother Shawn, says, "go" and I open my eyes to find that they have adjusted and that we are standing about five feet from another room. I enter it and look up and see two city workers staring down at me through a naked manhole. The taller and skinnier of the pair says, "climb up" and I do. The two men tell us that they were working down the road - about a mile back - when they heard our voices through the grates in the street and decided to follow us.. They ask us how we got in and we tell them of the uncovered sewer pipe by the bike trail. They laugh and the shorter, fatter one says, "that's about two and a half miles away," and we say, "REALLY???" oh so proud of our accomplishment. They tell us not to go back. They tell us that they flush out those pipes with water and that we could get caught in the flood. They tell us there is poisonous gas down there and that there are giant killer rats. They tell us we could get lost and we listen to them speak. In our heads we are not afraid. In our heads we are thinking, "Giant rats? I gotta get me one of those."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Corn Palace

I was born to Mike and Kathy Brookbank on September 17th, 1982 in Mitchell, South Dakota. The town rests towards the south eastern corner of the state and is surrounded by cows, corn and prairies. However, much like the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, you'll find that without having seen the Golden Grain Oblivion for yourself, it's nearly impossible to fathom. The yellow fields stretch on and on on, disappearing, vanishing, meeting at the horizon. The amber waves of grain stand erect and alert, an army of wheat, watching you pass them on the interstate, on the highway. They have been drafted from Wheatville by the thousands and they guard the secrets of the cucumber patch. Passing through the state, you are a little helpless boat lost in a great sea of seed. If your car dies out here, chances are, so do you. Children of the Corn, hillbilly helter skelters and rednecks in wranglers. In South Dakota, no one can hear you scream.

The population rests at around 15K which means it's just big enough to make it impossible for the standard Mitchellite to know everyone personally but is just small enough to know who's worth gossiping about. It has a lake on the outskirts of town that is filled to the brim with dead fish, broken bottles and man piss. As children, my sister and I would spend our summers swimming in it, a decision I can't imagine willfully making today without at least the consideration of a Borax shower afterwards. I would often dare myself to open my eyes beneath the water where I would see nothing but a slimy, radioactive green blur. In junior high my friend had sex in the lake and to this day I'm certain that, because of it, her vagina grew teeth, maybe even a mouth and nose. Had she come to me and asked if I would inspect a nasty itch or rash down yonder for her, I would of had to respectfully decline for fear of getting bit by the toothy Pink Taco, or worse, having it start a conversation with me regarding the writings of Kafka.

Around my junior year in high school we (Mitchell) acquired a Cabela's and that was a really, really, REALLY big deal because it meant that the local economy was about to go ka-boom. Job opportunities, tourists.......dare we hope......maybe a Wal-Mart??? When I went to college and people asked me about my hometown I would simply tell them that it was really no big deal until the Cabella's moved in. I would stand there, nodding my head and smiling while they generally just stared back at me blankly, waiting for more information. I was truly and legitimately surprised to find that 95% of the populous had no idea what I was talking about. Little did I know that that phrase would soon become the story of my life. Eventually the silence was broken when they said, "What is a Kublella's?" and I would say that "it's a place where people go to make themselves more precise killers. It's the Wal-Mart of hunting stores. If you are the Charles Manson of the animal kingdom, this is your wet dream. If you want to find arrows with GPS locators on them, infrared goggles and spray that takes away your scent, this is the place for YOU!" I would take a deep breath before continuing on, "Mitchell is also the boastful home of The World's Only Corn Palace. It is the jewel of our city." My new friends would stare at me with what I initially read as intrigue and amusement but would later find was just the look you gave when watching a mentally handicapped person trying to solve a Rubix Cube. After a brief pause and a few attempts at suppressed laughter they would say loudly, hoping to attract attention, more people to watch the dancing monkey, "What, exactly, IS it? This.....Corn Palace?" This, again, is shocking to me. This notion that they didn't know what The World Famous Corn Palace was. Just look at the name! A.) It's a Corn Palace. B.) It's World Famous - how have you not heard of this!!!??? So I tell them that it looks like a legitimate palace.......made from corn. The design and architecture is strictly Russian; the building is topped with strange acorn type spires and the outside is dressed in murals made from corn husks and corn cobs; murals of Martin Luther King, murals of Apollo 13, murals of Elvis Presley. Every year they change and every year they are more and more elaborate and intricate. Last time I visited I actually discovered that The Corn Palace had a mural of the Corn Palace on it. The Beatles, Abraham Lincoln, The Corn Palace. As you can see, it holds itself in QUITE high esteem and RIGHTLY SO (World Famous). I drive past it and I try to put myself in the position of the weary traveler, pulled from the interstate by billboards promising an "A-MAIZE-ING experience" or the oath of "To see is human, to EAR divine", obviously a reference to an ear of corn and, for those of you not familiar with the slew of different vocab for corn, 'MAIZE' is only one of many. Much like the eskimos with the word for snow, South Dakotans and Nebraskans have over seven HUNDRED names for the stuff, Yellow Gold among them. The tourists stand on the sidewalk opposite the "palace" and take pictures of it's many fine virtues. I wonder if any of them come back year after year, monitoring, observing, chronicling the changing exterior.

If I didn't know what was inside this King Cob, what would I imagine? I would think that it would be filled with art made from corn, just like the outside. Louis and Clark, made from cobs, pointing out to a vast unexplored ocean of popcorn seed, their fingers made from stiff throws of baby corn. Their pupils Old Maids (the popcorn seeds that don't pop), their ascots (Louis and Clark wear ascots in my imagination) are made from flowing yellow corn husks. Perhaps someone is selling corn cob pipes (perhaps Louis and Clark are even using them) or perhaps they have..........I DON'T KNOW! I can't think of any stupid art to make out of corn. If I was going to make a piece of art I wouldn't choose corn for my medium! You walk into the The World Famous Corn Palace (self-proclaimed) and you find that it is nothing more than a self-satisfying monument to itself. Pictures hang on the wall, pictures of The World Famous Corn Palace, year after year. In one of the photos there is an image of a swastika made out of corn, planted (get it) firmly above the front doors of the building. People say it's an Indian good luck sign and that Hitler inversed it and made it his own. People say The World Famous Corn Palace is haunted by the ghost of a deceased circus performer. People call it the world's biggest bird feeder. Pigeons from all over the region are attracted to this bird buffet. They gather and they peck and they eat George Washington's face, gouging his eyes out. They crap all over the picture of the capital building and they nest in the 2-D teepees that Crazy Horse might have dwelt in. The birds (but mainly the bird poop and the utter lack of respect the birds seem to hold for the pride of their nation) become so bad, so out of control, that the city heads gather to conspire against the pigeons, the doves and the robins. There will be an uprising and the winged rats will never see it coming. The blue jays, the sparrows, the hummingbirds, they won't know what hit 'em.

The mayor, his eyes glowing red in a dark room, a cigar hanging from his mouth, he says, "We will befriend them and we will attack from the inside out". The head of Parks and Rec smiles maliciously and nods. "Yes....yes, the plan is brilliant, your majesty". The villains, the masterminds, the mob, they purchase pallets and crates and boxes filled with corn and they purchase as many vials and jars of poison as they can. They use my taxes. They use my money. And they laugh. They poison the corn and they hire a man the bird's recognize as friend to set the food / bait out on the roof. The bird's flock down to the complimentary dinner and they feast, unaware that this is their last meal. One after another they drop from the heavens, starry eyed and incapable of flight, crashing and exploding on the sidewalk below, usually dying on impact but sometimes just breaking their wings and legs, spinning in tight circles and screaming until, finally, they just bleed to death.

Now when the tourists come they no longer see streaks of white bird turds vandalizing the face of Emelia Earnhart. Now they have to merely step around the corpses of the avian race that litter the sidewalk, the dead feathered friends that lay like fallen soldiers on the concrete battlefield. The tourists still take photos of The World Famous Corn Palace but now they crop the sidewalk out. Some people say you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. Maybe they're right. Maybe there is a greater good to be had here. The World Famous Corn Palace Must. Live. On.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dedication

This website is dedicated in loving memory to Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, September 21, 2009

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The Living Dead

Many people today consider them a plague of society. They tax our time and monitor our morals. They don't hear what we say but they watch our mouths as we speak. They are not "big brother" or any form of government and we are each and every one of us eventually destined to join their ranks barring some sort of tragedy. They are old people; those humans that are 65+. They eat from the senior menus. They drive Cadillacs. They have flesh colored ear pieces and at the tender age of twenty-seven, I am becoming one of them. Everyday my friends and family are witnessing my premature transformation into one of the.......not UNdead, some zombie, but the ALMOST dead, the elderly. And I don't mean that in the traditional, philosophical essence of "we are all growing older, watch him grow, isn't he maturing nicely?". I'm speaking in the sense of My-Knees-Hurt-My-Back-Hurts-Those-Rascally-Children-Are-In-My-Yard-Again-I'm -Calling-The-Police kind of old man. I'm talking about being twenty-seven going on seventy-seven. I'm talking about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

I don't know what happened or how it happened. Initially I thought it had crept up on me like some disease, crawling up and strangling my youth like a deadly, liver spotted vine. Monday I'm out with my friends, playing tag in my front yard. Wednesday I'm in junior high. Friday I'm in high school and by Sunday I'm in college and now what? Will I be dead by thirty? Can I stop The Change?......perhaps if I took a slew of pills...perhaps if I filled my medicine cabinets with pills and pills and pills and took them with me, took them after meals and at certain times of the day. I could get a weekly pill planner container and......no......this isn't helping.....my instincts are all wrong. It wasn't that simple. What if.......what if there was no Change? What if I really am just an old man trapped in a child's body? Have the signs always been there and I'm just starting to recognize them for what they were......

I'm in third grade and the bell rings. My classmates, my peers, my friends, put their schoolbooks away. They shove them carelessly into their desks and they run out the door. They break into the sunlight and head for the monkey bars. I stare out the window and watch them hang upside down and do penny drops. I watch them jump off the swing sets and play kickball. The teacher asks me if I'm going to join them. I pull open my desk (it's a mess but I know where everything is) and pull out a small novel. It's advanced for my reading level, but then again, so is my Inner Age. I ask the teacher if it would be okay if I just curled up in the classroom with a good book and read for a bit. I am eight years old. I am eighty years old. I am geriatric. The teacher puts a cough drop in her mouth and I jealously eyeball it, imagining the menthol burst behind my teeth, the cold heat caking my tongue. I make a note to save up my allowance to purchase some. My friends will be eating suckers and Big League Bubble Gum and I will be satiating my throat, coating it in a bitter but soothing lozenge.

I am in Junior High, making my way from the school to the street with the rest of my class. We are in gym and the teacher is a little (a lot) heavy. I don't understand why a fat man is teaching gym class. What could he possibly tell us? Would you ask a blind man to teach driver's ed? Would you ask a deaf man to teach Spanish? Would you ask a mute fellow to teach speech? The children jog along in front of me, excited to run the mile. They say they are going to beat their time from last year. They say they are going to do it in under ten minutes. I can barely hear them because I'm so far back, strolling along behind them at a snail's pace, trying to conserve my energy.

The teacher, his huge body covered in thick mats of tangled hair, fires off a gun and everyone takes off running. They are sprinting, legs pumping, sneakers slapping against the concrete. They are gasping for breath, screaming and shouting. I watch them disappear into the distance, around the corner, out of sight. I am power walking, pumping my arms at my sides while trying to regulate my breathing. "Slow and steady" I keep repeating to myself, "slow and steady wins the race. The turtle and the hare, my friend". I have to be gentle with myself, my body, step by step. Don't want to hurt the knees.

When I shuffle across the finish line, hands held high, a slight stitch in my side, I find that I am the last victor. "Last Victor" I believe, would generally denote a third place winner, not necessarily the Best Loser but I am okay with this. I'm just pleased with myself that I actually finished. I can now take "Running a Mile with No Preparation and For No Reason" off my Bucket List.

The fat girl, the kid with the limp and knee brace and the boy with the learning disability have all completed the mile at least two minutes in front of me. I look over at a boy named Brad who ran his hardest the whole way. He's breathing very heavy and his face is red and he's caked in sweat. Someone asks him if he needs to sit down. He drops to his knees and throws up in the grass. I do a lap (under cranking my power walk by a notch or two) around the group just as a bit of a cool down exercise.

Even though I finished a solid eight minutes behind Brad I am exhausted. The stitch in my side has exploded into a full blown tear while my upper back, neck and gums ache. My mouth tastes like blood and I'm caked in perspiration. More than anything I just want to take a nap. Back in the locker rooms I change without showering and lay down on a bench to catch a few ZZZs. In my life I will have two different locker room experiences. The first is this one. Some of the older boys take showers and meander around in towels. When they change they are quick and work hard at covering their tiny pink genitals. There is a bit of shyness, a bit of shamefulness, a bit of nervousness in our bodies. We want to be comfortable but are not. We cannot be. The second experience is at the YMCA where the old men are. These are my people. They shower in groups, in the nude, their gray pubic hair clinging to their lower abdomen, their thighs, falling to the wet tile floor. They put their feet up on benches and swing their giant yellow squash before you with pride, daring you to look, to peek. They dry themselves off and then peruse the place in the buff, searching for a drinking fountain, searching for a tennis partner, looking for a lost sneaker. They chat with each other, dressed in less than fig leaves, some deranged form of The Garden of Eden. I am terrified that this is what I will become in just a few short years if my transformation continues. Will I be thirty and shoving my penis into a young child's face? Asking him about snow mobiles? Asking him about Algebra? Asking him about his back swing? Aren't there laws about this sort of thing?

I'm in high school and all of my friends are having sex. They're waiting for their parents to leave the house so they can do "it". Someone does "it" in their parents bed, on their parents couches, in bowling alley parking lots. They're doing "it" in the backs of cars. Someone does "it" in a ditch next to a dirt road. A couple does "it" in the boys bathroom at the high school before getting busted and on one occasion a girl I know does it in a portapotty at a concert. They are disappearing into other rooms at parties and switching partners and partaking in three way maneuvers. A few of them are experimenting with same sex relations. They drive to the lake and do the crap out of each other in several tantric positions. "Doing the crap out of each other" is what I imagine is happening. Earth shattering, mind blowing sex. My friend earns himself the nickname Two Pump Chump from his girlfriend and my illusion becomes slightly skewed.

Old men don't have mind blowing sex. Old men don't have sex in the backseats of cars while using tantric positions and old men CERTAINLY don't have sex in dumpsters or portapotties or whatever. I drive my girlfriend down to the lake. I find a dark spot next to the water. I turn the engine off and the radio down, tuning it to some light rock. I crack the window a bit to let the warm summer breeze blow in. I turn in my seat to face my date and I ask her how her day was. I chat. She looks at me and untucks her shirt. She takes off her shoes and lets her hair down. I reach into the breast pocket of my button up and pull out some Werther Originals and offer one to her. She declines and slouches back, telling me that her day was just "okay".

I'm in college and I'm at a party in the dorms. It's taking place just down the hall from my room. People are wearing baggy clothes, backwards hats and listening to rap music. It's too loud and I can't hear what anyone is saying. I don't understand why the man on the stereo is so angry. Someone asks me if I want to play their Xbox and I say yes but just end up mashing all the buttons together, unable to understand or control the man on the screen with the multitude of knobs and levers (different sizes and colors) on the vast controller.
People carry beer bottles, beer cans and red plastic cups filled with orange juice and vodka. They drink ice tea and rum. One kid is drinking Scope because he couldn't steal anymore alcohol money from his parents. He is hopped up on codeine and groggy looking. A guy we call The Dude is sitting in the corner, alone, with a white robe on, staring at a photo of a tennis player in a magazine. He recently ate who knows how many mushrooms. He caresses the photo, looking as though he's going to start crying. Two kids are in the corner smoking pot from a glass pipe and two other kids are smoking something called Salvia Devinurum from a water bong with a butane lighter. They tell me that it's the prime way to smoke it. Something about the butane activating the plant and the water cleansing the smoke. I'm nodding my head and holding a bright green plastic cup my mom bought me filled with milk. I'm sipping it and I have a milk mustache.

Days, weeks, years later I need to go to work and have lost my keys (again). I'm looking for them when I realize that both my glasses and my wallet are on the loose as well. Jade asks me if I'm having a "senior moment". I finally borrow her keys and when I get to work a guy makes a crack about my "child bride". I've always thought this was an inside joke he made in regards to the infantile age we were when we got married but the more I mature / change / transform into this old man I'm thinking it's probably geared more towards an attack on the general idea of me being ninety-two and she being a mere twenty-five.

On Saturday afternoon Jade and I go to a matinee and tickets are twelve dollars and I say, "What!!! When I was a kid tickets were four-fifty!". The girl behind the glass (who doesn't even look old enough to have a job) just shrugs. I'm wearing loafers and cordoroys and a sweater with an ancient design on it that Jade calls my "Bill Cosby Sweater". It's ninety-five degrees outside but I am an inherently chilly person. I take sweaters with me almost everywhere I go.

Kids are texting during the film and I don't text. I mumble something darkly under my breath and Jade shooshes me and gives me a dirty look. Stupid technology. I don't understand it and it makes me angry but mostly just scares me. What about the "old ways"? I throw some popcorn at them and then slouch down in my seat and when they turn around to find out just who the F threw that I turn around as well to help them search the back (backER) rows for the scoundrel. Jade tells me I'm turning into the mean old man at the movies and I say fine and slouch down further and cross my arms and bite off a chunk of my Twizzler.
I take naps in the afternoon. Exhaustion just washes over me and I can't go on. I'll sleep for an hour, maybe two, before getting up for a few to have dinner and read a good book, maybe the Bible, before slipping off to bed. I will awake at five or six thirty with the sun where I will contemplate my life for a short while. I try to imagine how I got here. Why am I not going to the gym and drinking beer and doing push-ups and working on my truck in the garage? The transition has perhaps......perhaps not been a transition at all. Perhaps I wasn't born as a young man who was bitten by the Almost Dead and altered into one of them. Perhaps I really was born as Benjamin Button was, as an old man in a child's body. Perhaps I am aging in reverse and I will meet my youth in the middle. Perhaps my mid-life crisis will put things back on track. I will find interest in carpentry and working out and advanced video games and Ferraris and auto mechanics and perhaps by the time this happens they will have invented a time machine, perhaps in the form of a Dolorian and I have to take it to eighty to activate it's flux capacitor and when I do flames burst forth from my tires and I appear in 1989 and I am in fifth grade and I go outside and I kick the crap out of that stupid red kickball.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

David vs. Goliath (alternate ending)

I'm walking down the hallways of Mitchell Senior High School. I'm fifteen and a sophomore. In two more years I graduate and discover that who you are in High School is not who you are in the real world. No one tells me this. People tell me school is my career. People ask me what I'm going to do when I graduate. I tell them I am fifteen years old and not responsible enough to make a decision that will affect the rest of my life. People ask me if I'm going to college and I tell them I want to own my own gas station. They scoff at me. I tell them there's lots of money in gas. I take a careers class and a policeman comes in to talk to us. Before he arrives, the teacher, a man who looks a little like Martin Short with braces, tells us not to ask him if he's ever shot or killed anyone. I draw a picture of a black hole in my notebook and wonder what my girlfriend is doing in another class. I write down a list of my favorite bands. I try to teach myself drums by staring at a picture of a drum kit. I imagine the noises that come off each piece and try to put a few beats together. When I find one I like I write the combination down in my notebook. The girl next to me asks if I know how to write music. I tell her I do but it's not your standard stuff.

The bell rings and I'm back in the hallway and I'm walking along and I’m wondering if graduating feels like one long weekend. I’m wonder if having a nine to five is better than having an academic eight to three. I arrive in my basic grammar class, led by a woman who will later date a student a year my junior. I take my seat towards the back of the room and begin writing a letter to a friend of mine. Instead of composing it as myself, however, I decide to speak from the perspective of a female desperate for his affection but too shy to introduce herself. I sign no name, ending it only with, "Yours Truly". In the letter I tell him that I watch him wherever he goes. I tell him I follow him. I tell him I've loved him for a very long time. Later on I will slip it in his locker and he will become worried and nervous. I will continue to write a letter, three to four times a week, for approximately six months before I finally get bored with my assumed identity and tell him I was just playing a practical joke. He will find it less amusing than I do. His girlfriend will look at me with downcast eyes and I will think she is angry with me. Later on, perhaps a year post, the two of us will date after I help to mess things up between them.

The kid sitting behind me is named Matt. He is a football player and doesn't really understand grammar, whether it be writing it down or speaking it. He leans forward and tells me that he heard I was in a band. I tell him yes. He asks me what we're called and I don't want to say because it doesn't matter; he will find a way to humiliate and embarrass me. He thinks of several clever names, asking each time if this is our name or if that is our name. I tell him no. I tell him to leave it alone. I tell him I’m trying to do my work (write my bi-daily letter) when he asks if we’re called The Fags. I turn in my seat and I call him a dick. I don't whisper it. I say it loud and proud like a newly discovered proclamation for all to hear. The teacher, the milf, the hand that rocks the cradle, she asks me what it was I just said and I say, "I was just letting Matt here know that he's a dick. He is, after all, a dick". She asks me if I want to go to the principle's office and in the cheeriest voice I can muster, I sing,,"Do I?" before grabbing my bag and exiting the classroom.

In the office I tell the receptionist that I've been sent here to be punished. She tells me to sit down and I wonder how you really begin to discipline a child who doesn't care about grades? The answer, as it turns out, is that you put him in Saturday School, The Breakfast Club, Weekend Detention. You arrive at 8:15 on Saturday and you stare at a wall until 3:00. In prison this is called solitary confinement. No one learns any lessons; every Saturday I am there with the same kids. I suggest using shock therapy instead but they don't listen.

It is a Monday and I'm sitting in Study Hall. I've missed lunch because I had to run some errands but managed to purchase a cream cheese danish while I was out. I pull it out of my bag, open it up and begin eating it towards the back of the class. The Study Hall teacher (academic requirements to get that job?) asks me what I'm doing. I look up from my History book and tell her, with my full mouth, that I'm doing my History homework. She asks what's in my hand and I tell her a cream cheese danish. She asks me to come up to the front and throw it away. I tell her I missed lunch and am hungry. She points to the garbage can and I stand up, shove the treat in my mouth, approach her desk and drop the wrapper in the wastebasket. "There ya go," I say, “happy?” Walking back to my desk I pass this kid, Eddie, who chuckles and says to me, "cream cheese danish......". Eddie will later get into a catastrophic car accident and nearly die. The driver of the car, another boy in my study hall, a boy named Adam, does die.

I enter into my Science class and the room is mostly empty save for a few seats. The teacher isn't in yet and I plop down next to a girl named Cassie towards, as was my M.O., the back of class. A tall girl named Serena is sitting at the table next to me. She turns and says something about my pants. She insults my khakis. I ask her to be quiet. I punctuate my request by calling her a whore. This, I will soon learn, was a terminal mistake. She stares at me with her big blue eyes and it’s then that I notice her pierced nose. While I think it looks nice on her I don’t say so. Cassie turns and stares at me, her lips slightly parted, her tongue clicking against the roof of her mouth. The kid next to Serena, maybe his name is Jeremy, closes his eyes and shakes his head, resting it in his hands. Serena looks around, clears her throat and asks me what it was, exactly, I’d just said. She doesn’t seem to be asking me to clarify but almost daring me to speak it again. Looking back, perhaps she was giving me a second chance. Perhaps she was giving me a moment of mercy. Had I known better I would have said, "oh, nothing. I didn't say anything. I apologize for what you think I might have said. You have a very beautiful name and I like your pierced nose". But instead I went for brevity and stated matter-of-factly, "I called you a whore. Get it through your head".

She nods slowly, allowing the word to sink in before smiling and letting me know that I would soon be meeting certain doom. I thought maybe she was going to slap me or knock my books out of my hand or throw chocolate pudding at me in the cafeteria but as it turn outs, what she really meant was, "I'm going to tell my older brother what you said. He's a senior. He plays football. He lets people punch him in the face for money. When he finds you he's going to twist your head off and punt it across the parking lot".

The teacher, a man who looks like Droopy Dog, steps out of the storage closet. People say he goes in there to drink from his flask. People say he smells like alcohol. What do I care? At least he's not the driving instructor.

Class is over and I go to Basic Math. This is the class for the kids who don’t quite click with numbers. There aren’t many students here; maybe half that of your standard gathering. It's filled with kids you wished you weren't in class with because you know that being here makes you some sort of "special". I’m sitting up front with a perfect view of the hallway (it's hard to sit in the back of the class in a classroom FILLED with Back-Of-The-Class-Kids). Whenever somebody walks by and peers inside, I feel like a chimp at the zoo. “Look at the dumb kids, mommy! That one has a funny haircut!” They see us practicing how to fill out our fake plastic checkbooks and I want to jump up and say, "HEY! I know how to fill out a stupid checkbook! I didn't sign up for this dumb class! I UNDERSTAND basic math!" I would pause then, for dramatic effect before getting a little teary eyed and saying, "I just......don't get.....all the algorithms and angles and how to incorporate letters into my mathematical equations. I GET A's IN CREATIVE WRITING! I GET B's IN GRAMMAR! I'M SMART! I'M SMART!”

I’m just finishing up my I’m Smart Speech for the third time in fifteen minutes when a boxy blonde kid walks past. He's about seven feet tall, takes up half the hallway and has no distinguishable neck. The tops of his thighs rub against one another and his arms stick out at odd angles due to his massive biceps that don't allow for them to lie straight against his colossal pectorals. We suddenly make visual contact and something behind his blue eyes clicks. He stops and stares at me. I turn around and look at the kid behind me, wondering if I'm in the middle of some sort of telepathic conversation. No. Everyone in the classroom is special, but not telepathic special. We might be fire starters but we're not Firestarters.

I turn back to The Albino Skinned Hulk and point at myself. "Me?" I whisper and he smiles but it's not kind. It's the sort of smile a Doberman Pincher gives right before being released on a community of unsuspecting guinea pigs. His lips peel back and he says, "You're dead. I’m going to kill you". And then I'm looking at him and recognizing those blue eyes and that blond hair and the height. I'm recognizing facial structures and skin tone. I'm seeing Serena's older brother and now the joke is on me. I AM dead. The boy's name is Dustin. He opens his mouth again and says, "when you leave this classroom, when I see you in the hallway, I'm gonna kick your ass," and to me, this is bad news. This is David and Goliath except I don't get a slingshot. I just get my weak wristed slaps that won't make it much higher than his rippled chest. I'm already hearing myself screaming for mercy in my head. I'm hoping that when his fist meets my face that my teeth fall out (which would leave them in one piece and completely replaceable) versus just shattering into a hundred million shards, lodging chunks of ivory in the back of my throat. When he snaps my arm over his knee I just hope that I don't cry. I know there will be a crowd. I know there will be witnesses and God, PLEASE, don't let me cry.

I sit in my desk and watch the clock and will it to slow down. I want to stay here forever. I want to practice my checkbook writing skills for eternity. Here's a check for my teacher. It's for a thousand dollars and the memo says, "for sneaking me out of school under guise of a blanket". Here's another one. It's for Dustin. It's written for one million dollars. The memo reads, "for not making me piss my pants in front of my friends". One final check before the clock hits 3:15. This one is to Doc Brown (from Back to the Future). It's for $750,000. The memo reads, "to build me a time machine so I can go back and tell Serena that she has a perfect smile and that I am just an ill disciplined child with no brain to mouth filter".

I try to cash the checks but the teacher tells me I can't write a check for a million dollars because I don't have it in the bank. I tell him it's okay. I tell him it can bounce. I tell him I just need the money right now. I'll find a way to pay it back later. He tells me to go home. I pack my bag as slow as I can. The classroom is empty and the halls are vacated. I move silently past the lockers. I skip mine altogether, not bothering to drop anything off. If I can just sneak out of the school, if I can just get through the parking lot, if I can just get across the street, I should be okay. For some reason I felt as though, if I got away today, this would all be done and over with tomorrow. Dustin would have had time to think it over. Serena would have forgiven me. All would be well. Things could go back to how they were two hours ago when I was a loser in a Marilyn Manson t-shirt and nobody really cared.

I'm outside and I'm halfway across the parking lot. My foot lands on the first of two speed bumps and I'm pretty sure I'm free. My friends are only a few short yards away and the street is just past them. I'm so close. And now I look up and now I see Dustin and now he is suddenly only three or four feet in front of me and towering twenty feet above me and he sees me and he doesn't stop to talk. He slams his body, full force, into mine and I stumble backwards and drop my bag and my books and I squat down to pick them up and he tells me not to and I stand up straight. Like some rabid bull moose he takes three hard steps and again rams his cinder block body into mine and I remember my mom saying that if you hit a cow with your car it can be like hitting a brick wall. He asks me why I thought I'd call his little sister a whore and I try to explain. I try to tell him what she said about my khakis and it sounds stupid and pathetic and he doesn't let me finish. In fact, he barely let's me begin. He slams into me again and now my throat is tightening up and my mouth is going dry and I'm sure I'm going to cry. He asks me if I want him to "kick my ass" and I quickly shake my head “no”. I don’t look him in the eyes because I remember hearing on TV that animals see that as a sign of aggression. What are you supposed to do if you're attacked by a bear? Just lay on the ground, limp? I think about buckling my knees and dropping to the concrete. He tells me that "this is what we're gonna do". He tells me that tomorrow when I go to class I'm gonna go up to Serena's desk and get down on my knees and I'm going to apologize to her. "Yeah". I nod my head. "Yeah, yeah, I'll do that". He tells me that if he ever hears any BS like this again, he's going to break me. I nod and he swings his automobile sized fist into one of my shoulders and I think for a moment that he has displaced my rotator cuff. I bend down and pick up my papers and start walking home. Once I'm out of reach of the watchful crowd I begin to cry.

The next day I'm rushing to the Science classroom, hoping that Serena is the first one there and that I am the second. I'm hoping that it is just the two of us and that no one else sees or hears what I have to do. I'm debating if Dustin was being literal or figurative with the "get on your knees" part. I try to weigh the pros and cons of following the directions to a tee. I enter and it is just Serena..........and Jeremy and Cassie and two other people, all of them talking. I don't ask for their attention. I don't think about what I'm doing. I don't wait to second guess myself. I walk up to Serena, I drop to both my knees and she smiles and I am embarrassed. I tell her that I am sorry for calling her what I did. I tell her I won't do it again. She says, "that's fine" and I stand up and go to my desk, glad that I'm just the loser everyone can ignore again. A few people laugh.

The following Saturday I find myself attending The Breakfast Club (again) for my collected tardies. I'm staring at my wall and I'm wondering why I end up here every weekend. I'm wondering why I can't seem to get to class on time. I'm wondering why I never learn my lesson. I'm wondering what would happen if the school sent their head quarterback after me and told me to stop being late for school or he'd "break me". I wonder if I'd listen.

I think I probably would.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Retreat!

I'm standing in front of a crowd of people and I'm being forced to dance and I'm wishing I were dead. How did this happen? The crowd is staring at me with blank eyes and bored expressions. This wasn't supposed to happen. I never planned to go.

My church had been ranting on and on for weeks and perhaps months on end about a volunteer retreat they were holding. Everyone that volunteered their time was allowed to go for a small fee. No more and no less. I chose not to go. The idea of heading up into regions unknown with a large group of strangers seemed to me to be a horrible idea. I don't do well alone in large groups. I often find a corner to huddle in, put my hands behind my back or fiddle aimlessly with my chin hair. Being alone in large groups is my kryptonite. I decide not to go to the retreat. I decide that serving on the Creative Arts team is just fine enough and I'll meet all the people I'll need to meet once a week at our meeting and that's that.

It's Sunday and I walk into church and someone tells me it's the last day to sign up for the retreat and I say, "Oh" and I'm standing in the lobby waiting for service to start and suddenly I think I should sign up. Suddenly I'm sure I need to. Suddenly I'm walking outside and writing my name down, handing over the money and smiling. Suddenly I'm sitting inside feeling as though I just made a great decision. Sometimes these things happen. Sometimes we fly by the seat of our pants.

On the Thursday that I leave, Jade is out of town shooting a maternity session. Josh and Amy - a couple I've recently met through my Creative Arts team - are supposed to be picking me up at three. I spend the morning in a packing frenzy. At first I'm standing in my garage deciding which suitcase to take. There is a navy blue one that I could easily crawl into and ship myself via FedEx in or a lilac colored one that is much more modest and weekend-friendly. I stare at the two of them, trying to decide which is the greater of two evils. I try to imagine Josh opening his trunk and me trying to fit the gargantuan blue suitcase inside, not being able to. I imagine Josh wondering why I thought I needed to pack so heavy. I picture us giving up. I picture us seat belting my luggage into the back seat with me so that if Josh slams on the breaks it doesn't fly into the front seat and crush his wife. I try to picture myself walking into the group of strangers that await me, carrying The Biggest Suitcase Ever Made, the whole of them whispering to each other in their cliques, "look at the guy with the big bag - whaddaya think he brought with him for TWO DAYS???" I imagine them thinking me a prima donna. I imagine them giving me nicknames and only using them when I'm not around. "Big Blue" "Big Suitcase Guy" "Guy With Too Much Luggage" or "The Creepy Guy in the Corner".

I stare down the pretty lilac colored suitcase. It could easily fit a few changes of clothes, my Bible and some odds and ends. It's the perfect size. It would fit snugly in the trunk of the car. I could wheel it around and navigate through crowds easily.........crowds of people, all staring at the "is-he-gay" kid with the frilly lilac suitcase. I imagine more nicknames. I imagine eyes goggling at me. I quickly scan the garage for some paint and wonder if it would be possible........

I opt for the lilac mini suitcase and immediately regret my decision. I set it down and reach for the big blue one and feel sick to my stomach. I grab the lilac one and run out of the garage, slamming the door behind me, near hysteria. Why are these my only options?

I reluctantly pack my clothes into the suitcase while feeling nauseous, nervous and stupid. I think about just shoving my clothes into my man purse. Then I think the lilac suitcase fits me just fine. A MAN PURSE??? I zip it up and stare out the window with the cocker spaniel, watching passing cars and waiting for my ride.

They arrive and the first thing I say is, "please excuse my lilac colored suitcase. It's not mine. It's.......the other one is just really big......it's not mine." Josh and Amy stare at me and are probably wondering if I'm on drugs. I think about saying that I'm not on drugs and then think better of it. I've only just met these people and there will be plenty of time for them to realize how strange I am in the coming weeks.........in fact, if I only continue to see them once a week at the Creative Arts meetings, it may be MONTHS before they catch on.

On the way there I talk about this serial killer I've been writing a story about. I feel a strangeness between us. Josh tells me a story about his friend. He says when they were kids his friend lived in a house. A strange house. He says that one day they find a loose board and one day they take the loose board off and one day they find thin ropes hanging behind the wall and on that day they lift the ropes up, one by one and on the ends of each rope they discover pieces, remains, of humans; arms, feet, ears, fingers, all decayed and black and rotting. He tells me the house used to belong to a serial killer. I like Josh.

When we arrive the sun has already set and I am happy. This allows me to sneak my lilac colored suitcase into my room under the shroud of darkness. I run to the front desk, get my key, run back to the car, get my bag and run to my room, where I shove it under my bed, hoping that it will be possible to access only when others are not in the room.

I head down to the dining room with Josh and Amy and am pleased to be flanking them (anyone) when we arrive. The room is packed and there are just next to no empty seats. A jolt of fear runs through me as I imagine us not being able to find three seats at the same table. What if there were only two? Surely the married couple would sit together, leaving me to fend for myself. I see a table - the final table - at the very back of the room with FOUR chairs. I quickly jump past Amy and tap Josh on the shoulder. "There! There!" I shout over the chatter, "There's a table with some empty chairs! Let's sit there!!!" He leads the way and the three of us have a seat. Sweat has broken out on my brow and I resist the urge to begin playing with my chin hair. The guy across the table says something to me, introduces himself and I shake his hand, mumble something about a lack of pollution, smile, stare at my hands, play with my chin hair and drink some water. I must keep my hands busy. His wife says something but I'm not sure if it's in English. The room is too loud. Josh says something and I laugh. Did I understand him? I don't know. The food arrives. I scoop some onto my plate. Not a lot, but just a little. I always try to take the most modest amount possible. I have a fear of taking too much food and there being none left for the guy next to me. Everyone at the table, English speaking and otherwise, gazing at me and wondering why I had to eat two portions worth. I don't know what an acceptable amount is so I take as much as the tiny girl sitting next to me. Once I pass the trays on I wonder if I've taken too little. Do I look like I have an eating disorder?

I try to eat my food as politely as possible, taking tiny bites and sipping from my cup. We're drinking some kind of dark red juice and I am aware that I am in danger of awarding myself with a type of kool-aid mustache. I finish eating. I'm not full and there's food left but I don't want to look needy so I don't take any. Instead I just try to fill up on juice before asking Josh if he's ready to go to the auditorium for the opening session.

The auditorium isn't as big as I'd pictured. The three of us grab some seats in the back. I sit silently, staring straight forward, trying not to look out of place. I'm wondering if it was a mistake to come. I'm wondering what Jade is doing at home. I'm wondering if it will be a long weekend. Someone is on stage and they're announcing an "icebreaker" game. I hate these games. I hate icebreaker games. I hate church games. I hate church icebreaker games. They pass around a bucket and we each pull out a scrap of paper. On the scrap of paper is part of a worship song as well as a number. I'm number one. My mission is to find the other Number Ones and then we must assemble our song. This, I suppose they thought, would initiate conversation and help us to get to know one another. They tell us that once we've assembled our song that the winning three teams get to come on stage in front of everyone and perform their song with no access to the lyrics and no music - a cappella. I look around the room. People everywhere look excited. I wonder what is wrong with them. Did they not hear the directions? I begin to devise a plan of sabotage in my mind. How can I destroy my own team? How can I secure my destiny by not ending up on that stage?

They say "3, 2, 1, GO!" and I hear people begin shouting "ONES! ONES! ONES OVER HERE!!!" I wander in the opposite direction. I ask somebody shouting for sevens what their number is. I see Josh and Amy in a group together (stupid 11s) and wonder how the heck THAT happened. I ask another seven if they were a one and they say that no, they're a seven. The whole room has broken into twelve separate groups. There's no denying it. I must join my ranks. I step up to the Ones and, just to waste a few more valuable seconds, I ask "is this......is this......the ones......?" A short blonde girl screams "YES!" and grabs my paper from my hands, destroying my chance at a few more wasted seconds of just standing there awkwardly with it.

I stand outside a tight huddle of my teammates, watching them rearrange the tears of paper. I look to my right and see a guy standing with his arms crossed. There is a certain familiar fear in his eyes; a man after my own heart. I lean over to him and say, "seems like we should be sabotaging this somehow" and he smiles and nods. COMRADE! CONFIDANT! BELOVED FRIEND! I want to hug him. I want to hi-five him. I want to conspire with him, plot some kind of plan that involves a bathroom fire.

Someone is shouting at me. I look down into the group and an olive skinned kid is staring at me, his lips moving. He says, "JOHN! JOHN, DO YOU KNOW THIS SONG!!???" (he doesn't know me. He only says my name because I'm wearing a name tag) and I say, "No", unaware of what song he's talking about. He points at the papers, at the lyrics, and I shrug. Again I say, "No." and then, for good measure add, "what is it?" He starts singing in a voice like melted butter and velveteen bunnies and I don't pay attention to what he's actually saying, just to his tone. "Do you got it?" he asks. "One more time", I say. He sings it again and I try to remember it. He asks me if I've got it now and I think I do, except for the first half and most of the second half. I tell him I'll try to just squat down and stand behind some people. I tell him if we cheat we can win. I'm not sure if he hears me but he starts jumping up and down with all the enthusiasm of a child with ADD, waving his hands in the air and whaling, "WE HAVE IT! WE HAVE IT!!!". It is at this moment that I realize that three other teams are already shouting. We've just missed it. My team is sad and I pretend to be as well. "Good try" "Excellent go" and "Ain't that the breaks" are just a few of the phrases I whisper to myself, trying to appear in a state of genuine dismay.

I have a hard time enjoying the competition because I fear that if one team is disqualified for some reason then we would have the chance to go. I have forgotten everything about the song. Lyrics? Melody? Was there a dance? I can't remember. I cheer on the other teams, mostly in my own brain, mostly just trying to send them good vibes. I want them to win. I don't care which one, I don't care who. I just want them all to try their best. I want them all to win. A THREE WAY TIE!

Someone wins and I don't register who it is. I'm happy that my plan was a success. They tell us that they're breaking us into teams. They say our room keys are attached to a colored lanyard. They say that color will be our team. Mine is white. They say "go" and I find my white people, which, strangely enough, includes a black girl, a latino and some sort of mixed person. We are all gathered in the back of the room and I wonder if all these people know each other, all of them friends except me. Someone calls for silence and says that they're calling out team captains. They say, "White team - Ashley Dodson and John Brookbank" and my stomach quivers, shrinks, expands, ripples and then hugs up against my pancreas for support. My team cheers me and I feel out of place. I tell them, "I don't know how this happened. I didn't sign up. I'm not.......is this right?" I feel as though I should be addressing this problem with someone. I feel as though I should hold a mutiny against our new team leader. I could overthrow John Brookbank and get someone competent for the job. Someone with the know-how. I look at my team and they all stare back at me and I realize there will be no mutiny. The image of the horde of green aliens staring up at The Claw in Toy Story briefly flashes into my mind before Ashley suggests naming our team "The Tighty-Whities". I think it's a good idea so I second the motion. No one else speaks. They smile and stare at The Claw.

We break up and get some free time. I head outside and watch a group of people play volleyball. I want to play but lack the proper skill set. The game is over and a new one begins. A new team. Someone asks me if I want to play and I just smile knowingly and nod, "No....no thank you". I watch another game and Josh and Amy come over. Someone asks Josh if he wants to play and he supposes that he would. As it turns out, Josh is some kind of volleyball machine, spiking, serving and diving at every opportunity. He is not ON the winning team. He IS the winning team. Someone asks Amy if she wants to play. She says, "Ah....no.....". I ask her if she wants to play, if she really DOES want to play and she says that she does except she's no good. Amy and I watch Josh, husband and weekend father figure, systematically destroy the opposing teams.

I go to my room at midnight and lie in my bed for quite a while, trying to fart silently. I don't want the other guys to hear me. A song comes to mind. The lyrics go, "We are spread out butt cheeks so just the air leaks".

The next morning at breakfast I'm sitting at a table with a guy named Jay. Someone sits down next to me and says, "Hey, you're the white team leader, right?" and they hold up their white lanyard. "Yeah", I say, "Yeah I am". They ask me if Ashley and I were up all night figuring out dance moves for the big talent competition and I pretend that if I don't hear what he just said the reality of it might just go away. The mixed race girl sits down on the other side of me and says, "Hey, aren't you the white team captain?" and she holds up her white lanyard. "Yeah", I say. She leans in and in a very serious tone says, "Well listen. If I'm going to be on this team and I think I have to, then we can NOT be called The Tighty Whities. I think we need to think of something more spiritual. Something like White Light." She tells me that she finds it quite interesting that if you mix all paint colors together you get black and if you mix all colors of light together you get white. I tell her that if you mix all paint colors together you actually get a dirty, disgusting brown. She stares at me and I wonder if she thinks I am somehow insinuating that the color brown, in and of itself, is dirty. I wonder if this has just turned into a race war. I wish she knew that my favorite color actually WAS brown. She smiles at The Claw and sticks some eggs in her mouth, eggs that look as though they were put on the plate by way of an ice cream scooper.

Breakfast is over and outside I tell Jay, who's on the brown or tan or mocha team (he's not really sure) I tell him that last night in bed I thought of a great new name for my team. I tell him, "White Power" and he squints at me, not sure if I'm joking or not. I tell him that it evokes a feeling of goodness. He says he doesn't really agree. I tell him that I was also thinking something along the lines of being the best.......something about being SUPREME.......something about supremacy. Jay, who I've only just met, is looking around for people he knows. I tell him that our logo, since this IS a Christian themed weekend, could be a cross. I tell him there's a strong sense of power that comes with a burning cross but I tell him that since we're in the forest it might not be safe. I tell him that my team might dress up in white bedsheets for all the competitions. He says something about horses in bedsheets and I tell him that it's a ridiculous idea. I tell him he's really pushing it.

I watch another game of volleyball and again, someone asks me if I want to play, "No", I say, "The last time I played volleyball was a real big nightmare" and I leave it at that.

Inside, the teams have gathered according to color and I wonder if I should pitch the name, "The White Lanyards" to them. The black girl on my team offers up a slogan for our team. She says it should be, "We're white / We're white / and white is always right". I think it's maybe a touch racy but I second the motion. Our team counts to three and we shout it out. Everyone stares at us. Across the room, Jay is shaking his head. Someone comes up behind me and asks if I'm the white team captain. I say yeah. They say they just got here. The power is starting to rush to my head. Being a leader. I'm becoming drunk with power. I'm beginning to like how it sounds. I wonder how "Mr. Brookbank" sounds coming out of their mouths.

It's a few hours later. It's easily 100 degrees outside. I ask Josh if he wants to go to the pool. He says he didn't bring any trunks. He asks if I wanna play volleyball and I do but I cringe away anyhow. I ask Jay if he wants to go swimming and he says something about something that has to do with not swimming. I decide to go by myself even though it's a little weird. When I arrive there is only a guy and a girl in the pool. I dive in because I'm afraid what they will think of me if I stick my toe in, shiver, hug my nipples and then slowly wade down the steps saying, "Ohhh, oooooh, it's.....it's COLD". Sometimes it is very hard to make people believe that you are a "man". I float around in the deep end for a few moments before slowly doggy-paddling over to the couple. As an icebreaker I ask them what team they're on. I feel as though it's more effective than asking them if they want to play some stupid sing-a-long with me. The girl says blue (inferior team) and the boy says white. I suddenly stand up straight and pretend to casually stretch. "Oh yeah?", I say, "I'm actually the white team captain". Before it's out of my mouth I regret saying it. I don't know what I was thinking. He says, "Oh, yeah" and acts unimpressed.....only..........I can't help but wonder if it wasn't an act and was just genuine emotion. I talk to him about music and film and then he gets out of the pool. I am alone in the pool, floating around like a sexual offender. Some other people jump in and I try to break into the conversation but it's not working. I continue to float around, alone. I am a creep. I am a weirdo. I get out of the pool and an older gentleman tells me that he likes my beard. I tell him thanks. I tell him that it looks like a drowned rat when it's wet. He smiles, does not laugh and says, "Yeah it does".

I grab my towel, head back to my room, shower, change and watch another game of volleyball. Someone asks me if I want to play and I knowingly just shake my head.

It is quiet time. We are supposed to take our Bibles and find a spot where we are alone and just read and pray and reflect on some of the messages we've heard. People head into the woods. People sit around trees. People sit in the shade. I go back to my room and sit on the balcony. I watch a girl below me put on her iPod and I wonder if it's difficult to have quiet time with Tina Turner inside your head. Someone in the room next to me is talking on the phone. I listen to their conversation. It is nothing important but I like the thrill. I read Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus' sermon at the mount; possibly his greatest sermon ever. I reflect on it and fall asleep in my chair. When I wake up it's lunch time.

I rush to find someone I know or at least sort of know and fail. I walk into the dining room and try to find someone I know who's already sitting down at a table with an open chair. I find none. I settle for sitting at a table with someone on the white team who I know not their name. I sit down and they look at me. The Claw. They say something about a talent competition. I say I'm not partaking in a talent competition. They say everyone does. They say you have to. I say, "Not me". I say, "I'll be getting sick around then". They tell me that I can't. They tell me that I'm a team leader. I remember my sense of authority and place of power and realize everyone would notice if the weird kid was gone. I am trapped and a sense of claustrophobia and impending doom washes over me.

Lunch ends, I watch another game of volleyball and then we're sitting in the outdoor amphitheater and they are explaining the rules of the talent show to us. They tell us that our team gets a random song and that we get thirty minutes to come up with "a routine". We get something from High School Musical and things could not be worse. We break off into teams to plot and scheme and our CD won't play on the laptop and time is ticking. Somebody has a bad idea and somebody else thinks it's good. I shake my head. I wonder if I have the authority to veto. The team begins to run with the bad idea, which involves reenacting a church service and bringing a stranger in off the street. I want to die. I want to shoot myself. I want to run away and hide. Everyone is talking at once and, outside of that main root point, nothing else is decided. Somebody says we should have a precursor to the song; something that happens BEFORE the music starts. I wonder why they would want to be up there longer than absolutely and positively necessary. I put on my team captain hat and I tell them that we don't have enough material to fill an entire song LET ALONE a precursor to a song. Someone says that they do stage work for a living. They tell us that it will be okay. They tell us that it goes faster than you think and I say, "Yeah, but we've only got two dance moves and that's really........I mean.........that's not gonna last one minute". She tells me not to worry and I worry and time is up and we're back at the amphitheater. They call the green team and they call the yellow team and they call the brown team. They call the blue team and they call the red team and they call the black team and I'm wishing they would call us so the humiliation would be over with. I have butterflies and again I'm wondering if I should be here. I wonder, again, what Jade is doing two hours away. I wonder if she has any idea the nightmare I'm in right now. They call the white team and we approach the stage. We do the precursor, which pretty much consists of this guy reading from the Bible. I wanted to nip that idea right in the bud but the team loved it. I didn't understand. As he reads, the crowd boos us and I'm wondering how much longer this will last. The precursor is finished and the music starts and we do the first dance move, which lasts roughly four and a half seconds and then we do the second dance move and, because there was nothing else planned, because it would "go faster than you think, don't worry" the second dance move lasts about 55 1/2 seconds. The move includes us lifting our left hand, lifting our right hand, lifting our left hand, lifting our right hand and wiggling back and forth, foot to foot. I stare out into the crowd, at the blank faces, at the cocked eyebrows. I want to throw myself off a cliff. The song goes on and on and my face is red. I eventually just stop, tired of the charade and stand there for a few seconds. The feeling of trying to be normal in a crowd of people doing a stupid dance move, stuck on repeat, is even worse that partaking in the dance so I start up again, praying for lightening to strike me. The song ends and I run back to my seat, pull my hat down and slouch as low in my seat as I can while listening to the sound of scattered and weak applause that's really more for polite show than anything else. They announce the winners and it's not us and I'm happy. The three winning teams have to perform a second time and I feel sorry for each and every one of them. Is it better to look like an idiot without a plan and go once or look like an idiot that knows what they're doing and go twice?

The show is over and we head to dinner. A weight is lifted off my shoulders. We eat asparagus and mashed potatoes and onion rings and prime rib and even though I'm trying to cut meat from my diet I eat in anyway because it looks too good. He died for our dinner. Eat my flesh and do this in remembrance of me. Munch munch munch. Cow blood lies in a pool on my plate. Drink my blood and do this in remembrance of me. I rub some meat in the blood and eat it. Slurp slurp. They announce another game after dinner. They say it's water volleyball and I really am feeling a panic attack coming on.

We're outside and they ask who wants to play first and Ashley (the other white team captain) shouts that "we do, we do, the white team does!" My team tells her to be quiet but she jumps and screams and we're in the sand. I figure at least this time we can have the humiliation over with quickly. Each team is given a sheet. Each sheet has holes cut in it. The team stands around the sheet, gripping the edges. A water balloon is placed on the sheet and we are instructed to "serve it" over the net and so on and so forth. Water balloon volleyball. Whoever pops the balloon loses. We play and we beat the first team and we play and we beat the second team and we play and we beat the third, fourth and fifth teams. They tell us to switch sides. They tell us to switch blankets. We beat the sixth, sevenths and eighth teams and the crowd boos us each time we score. The crowd counts out loud, trying to mess up our team counting for the combined effort of a serve. The referee asks us to stop playing and give another team a shot. We gather at the sidelines and watch teams nine and ten play. Team ten wins. This is it. It is team ten vs. team white and we play them and smash their smiling, smug faces into the sand and the white team is victorious, completely making a comeback from our previous failure. We are booed off the court with our arms held high, spinning our white lanyards in the air, chanting, "We're white / We're white / And white is always right".

Inside, during the message, somebody on the stage says that the white team has turned into a bunch of egomaniacs. We break into our colored teams for a conversation piece. They give us some questions to talk about and instead we talk about how much we killed it. Egomaniacs? You got it. And I led them into battle, returning with the scalps and pride of our enemies. Back in the auditorium there is a prayer time and I fall asleep. It is cold and the music is hypnotic. I hope no one notices but later Amy tells me she saw me across the room and was wondering if I was asleep or "just really into it".

After the message I am rested up and still high on competitive domination. Outside, volleyball has begun again and I decide that I AM going to play and that I AM going to win and that I will no longer be afraid of a sport that is predominantly (in my mind) for girls. I decide that I will not be joining the ranks of the seasoned players. I decide that I will not be odd man out. I walk the grounds and find the rejects of sports. I find the tired and weak. I say to them, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me". I gather the kids who only play Uno because they are afraid of sports. I gather the kids with no muscles. I gather Amy, who wants to play but doesn't because she is horrible. We are the Bad News Bears and we will warm benches no longer. We approach the sidelines and watch the game play out. It ends and it is our time to shine. Another team stands up and walks past us and we all just pretend that we weren't actually going to play. I tell my team that we've got next game. We watch the game and snap when someone scores. It is after ten pm and so we have to be quiet. There are houses nearby and we can't be a ruckus. We play silent volleyball by the light of lamps. You don't shout the score. You hold up fingers. You don't say "I GOT IT!". You just whisper it. You don't clap and cheer. You only snap. There is something surreal about watching a silent volleyball game in the dark with only the soft "thup....thup" of the ball slapping wrists.

The game is over and we mount the sand. The opposing team mounts the sand and then ANOTHER team mounts the sand, careless to us. They stare at us and say, "what are you doing?" and I say, "what you YOU doing?" and they say that their team can't have this many players and I tell them that we are our own team and they say that they called next game and I say, "No, we did" and then Josh / dad walks up and says, "Hey guys, c'mon....this team has never even played before. Let's give them a chance" and I feel like an idiot. The team stares at us and doesn't move and we don't move and finally they give. They say that they've got next game. Josh joins our team and I realize that he is the secret weapon.

It begins. Our team serves and the ball flies over the net and comes back and it comes right to me and I try to pop it back into the air and I don't know if it's because I didn't have my glasses on or because it was dark or because I'm just a bad volleyball player, but I drop to my knees, swing hard and totally miss the ball. It lands with a THWUP right in the sand in front of me and I hear laughter from the sidelines and I am regretting my decision to chase this dream. Our team has no idea what we're doing. We're all dressed inappropriately for volleyball. Where most teams are wearing shorts and t-shirts, we're wearing sweaters, tennis shoes and Gap scarves. I'm praying for the lights to go out. I'm praying for a power shortage. Maybe if the game is called off before I have to do my patented weak-wristed serve I can save SOME face.

No. It's my turn to serve. I hit it and it goes over. I get a point. I serve. I get a point. I serve. I get a point. Something happens and I don't know what it is but we suddenly begin playing very well together and we beat the first team and we play the second team and we beat them and we begin playing the third team and the lights go out. We finish the game and we lose but I like to think it had something to do with not being able to see the ball. We walk off the field, happy with our experience, happy with beating our nemesis, happy with no longer being the kids who never play volleyball. We are now the kids that "played volleyball once and won".

The next morning we pack up. I carry my lilac covered suitcase to Josh's car through all the most unused hallways. I take the longest way I can to avoid being spotted. The three three of us, Josh, Amy and myself, get in the car and begin heading down the mountain. I'm wondering what Jade is doing. I'm wondering if her weekend was as victorious as mine. I'm wondering if I should start playing some sort of beach volleyball but mostly I'm just excited about next year. I'm excited to bring my A-game to seek and destroy the competition at that stupid talent show.

Only 364 days to plan.