Sunday, September 27, 2009


This website is dedicated in loving memory to Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, September 21, 2009



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 isn't 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


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'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 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......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 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, " 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, "". 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 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.