Sunday, December 27, 2009

The River, a Moose, and my Grandpa

The following is a paper I wrote for a class last semester - it's an attempt at creative non-fiction using water as a symbol. I was supposed to keep it to 600 words, which is difficult but makes you force your writing to be better.


Filtering water shouldn't be this hard, I grumbled to myself.

My forearms throbbed, but I ignored the pain and continued to pump. Stopping mean there wouldn't be any clean water to drink that day, and there was no way I was drinking straight from the river. The bottom of the six inch side-pool that my pump drew from wasn't even visible.

I had wondered from time to time how the Green River got its name, and now it seemed obvious. Here, near the headwaters of the Green in Wyoming's Wind River Mountains, glacial silt gives the river its namesake color. No manufactured pigment can compare. Fish are rare, and the water is nearly opaque. The silt completely clogged my filter after one day, but the water I drank was clean.

The next day we searched for a clearer source. Through wide glacial valleys, the Green begins its journey toward the ocean. These valleys are nature’s half-pipe. The only lake within 10 miles was up and over the nearly impassable side, under the gaze of Square Top Mountain. This granite behemoth is visible for miles in all directions, a watchful protector of a precious resource. Upon arrival, we rested and caught so many fish that I grew tired of it. Nobody else crossed our path that day.

Downstream lies Flaming Gorge reservoir, which is a second home for me. It is a place where my cares dissipate and I enjoy both nature and my family. Memories here are as abundant as calories in a French fry. Even today, I remember where I built a stick fort as a child. I remember where my uncle saw the mountain lion. One year, beyond Skull Creek campground, my father and I stopped to rest and observe a herd of elk grazing on a distant mountain. Grass crunched as something approached us from behind. Casually turning to see what it was, a large, dark biomass with antlers the size of Maryland stared back. The moose ignored our existence as he walked briskly between us. We trembled and continued munching on our trail mix. Maybe he was scared, too.

My late grandpa comes to mind whenever I’m here. I remember card games and campfires. “Keep the fire in the fire!” he would scold whenever I torched various sticks which I had found exploring earlier that day. Once, we took a German exchange student boating through the scarlet cliffs of Red Canyon. His eyes were wider than chicken eggs. I guess stupendous cliffs are rare in Niedersachsen.

As it continues downstream, the Green descends a desert staircase. Winding through sandstone canyons, it continually hones the formations that make southern Utah famous.

Recently, as two of my fellow desert rats and I approached Moab, we turned go up the highway that runs parallel to the Green, toward Castle Valley. On the right side of the road, there is a pipe that comes straight out of the cliff. It’s tradition to fill Camelbaks here. The water was clean and delicious. This time, we were all disappointed to see that the pipe is dry. Perhaps pollution forced the government to turn it off. I heard there was a uranium mine nearby. Maybe no one actually got sick, and some bureaucrat just didn't want to risk liability. Whatever the cause, my trips won't be the same.

Like the glacial valleys and sandstone it cuts through, the Green River has helped shape me. It supports life everywhere it goes. It provides places of solitude, adventure, and refuge. The river is constantly changing the world around it, and man is constantly changing the river for himself.

That moose is gone. My grandpa is gone. The river remains.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Untitled

A late night trip to Denny's,
Hot chocolate and chicken noodle soup.
Discussing Rembrandt and Disney movies,
I fostered my foolish hopes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

SHMOOEY THE WONDER BOY

This year for Halloween, I'm dressing as Shmooey the Wonder Boy.
Who is this Shmooey the Wonder Boy? Where might I purchase his costume? Is it in anyway an ethnic slur? These are questions I'm sure you're asking, and I'd be delighted to answer.
Shmooey the Wonder Boy is the everyman's Superhero, invented by my childhood neighbors, the Tucker boys (name changed). The Tuckers were a motley troop. Each one was skinnier than an Ethiopian pigeon, and paler than a vampire with the flu. There were at least seven boys, though experts believe there might be as many as five more lurking in the basement.
The Tuckers loved Halloween, because they each required a daily 13,000 calories (purely derived from sugar) to function. They trick-or-treated like Green Berets. No prisoners were taken. Any house that did not strictly adhere to the Halloweenic Code of Ogden (composed by Mike Tucker on the back of his math homework in 1991) was in for trouble. Eggs and toilet paper were merely the fringe of their arsenal. It is rumored that one year, a gang of Tuckers convened on Miss Edna Cragun's lawn at three in the morning and, using Bic lighters and hairspray, burned into her lawn the words "JUST TRY AND GIVE US WALNUTS NEXT YEAR."
Despite their ghoulish zeal, the Tuckers were faced with two recurring problems every Halloween: 1) they were too poor to afford real costumes, and 2) Halloween was the one night of the year their mother could sit quietly by herself in a dark room and re-think her life. This meant that neither K-Mart nor Mrs. Tucker would be providing their attire for the evening. So, each little Tucker was on his own to scrounge and rummage through storage bins, garage cabinets, church dumpsters, the neighbor's yard, and their father's closet to put together a suitable trick-or-treating costume. The result was always Shmooey the Wonder Boy. It was a hodgepodgey stew of a Super Hero. It was Superman-meets-Western Family.
Every Halloween, seven (or possibly twelve) little Shmooeys would flit about the streets of Ogden, their sticky pillow sacks swinging with caloric glee. I remember Wade Tucker bouncing in sugary merriment down Mountain Road, sporting size 12 cowboy boots, a cape made from a doormat (it said, "WIPE YOUR PAWS HERE"), a mask fashioned from bike helmet-padding, and lavender corduroys. His older, more impish brother Tyler modeled what fashion moguls would call the "Army Fatigues and Underwear Over Your Pants" look, topped by a sombrero and gigantic football pads.
I tried once to mimic their attempts, but it came off like a Hollywood remake: more flair, less creativity. I would scour the house for moon boots, eye patches, old sports jackets, and ugly ties, compiling what I thought must be quintessentially haphazard, but alas, it always felt forced and insufficiently shoddy. In the moving words of Richard Tucker, "It looks like you went to a thrift store and bought stupid things."
I was so unsystematic that I had become systematic. My Shmooey was a pristine, store-bought birthday cake, devoid of flavor and draped in multi-hue icing, and the Tucker Shmooey was a gooey, misshapen, delectable dish of brownies. I shrugged my strained and slapdash garb in exchange for a hobo costume.
But not this year. No! This year, I will make the Tuckers proud. My Shmooey will reign supreme! I will not force spontaneity, but embrace it. I will not sell out. I will wear my unfashionable Shmooey costume with pride. I want to be the best Shmooey I can possibly be!
I also might be Indiana Jones.

BUMPER STICKERS AND UNFLINCHING ZAXES

I’m not sure who first started this trend of tattooing personal beliefs on the back of a car.
It used to be parents of honor students or owners of terriers or fans of the Raiders would reserve their bumpers as a display-case of pride, but lately, this honored spot has become a soapbox. Maybe it’s the free advertising. Maybe there’s a sticker surplus. Most likely, it’s because the Raiders no longer have fans.
No opinion of mine has ever been changed by a bumper sticker. I can’t remember ever following a sticker on the freeway and thinking, “Gee, NO-bama. That’s pretty clever. I’m changing my vote.” Conversely, I’ve also never re-contemplated circumcision after tailing my high school English teacher’s 1979 Datsun.
But bumper stickers have nothing to do with political conversion. They secretly serve the same purpose as gray and blue uniforms. We adorn our bumpers so everyone around us will know how we think, and thus they’ll see us standing at the pole we most want to represent. If we want to be viewed as a conservative, we “Support Our Troops.” If we’d rather be seen as liberal, we seek “Change and Honesty.” Problems ensue when a liberal wants to support the troops, but doesn’t support a war, or a conservative thinks change and honesty sound like good things, but her family says that means hating babies.
We are unknowingly fighting a war, and the enemy isn’t hiding in a country that ends in Stan. Polarization’s a deadly enemy. Take the recent D.C. incident. President Obama was addressing various Suits about plans for healthcare reform, and after stating that, contrary to popular Republican opinion, his new plan would not insure illegal immigrants, a brash Senator from South Carolina by the name of Joe Wilson yelled out, “You lie!”
Now, the issue here does not concern the accuracy of Rep. Wilson’s statement, but rather the appropriateness of its delivery. To some conservatives, he was Paul Revere, flying in the face of authority to stand for the right (no pun intended). To some liberals, he was more like Stonewall Jackson. Personally, I think Rep. Wilson thought he was in the Maury Povich audience (“Is He My Baby’s Daddy?”).
And what about Obama’s recent Nobel Prize? Do you blindly hate him for receiving an award Fox News tells you he doesn’t deserve? Do you blindly love him for standing as the medallion-draped figurehead of your Democratic party? Are you somewhere in the (gasp!) middle?
Let’s remember Dr. Seuss’s tale of the North-going Zax and the South-going Zax, who meet face to face in the Prairie of Prax. Neither Zax accepts the fact that he might have to move over to let the other one by, thus halting his own progress. They stand nose-to-nose forever, neither one getting to go where he wants, while freeways and skyscrapers go up around them.
We can continue stretching ourselves until we snap. We can take our ball and go home. We can dig deeper into our political trenches, or we can crawl out and (gasp again!) compromise.
Political polarization represents a self-defeating war being fought on American soil. Be a part of the peace talks. Remember that everyone carries a different set of formational experiences. Don’t assume a religious affiliation directly correlates with a political party. Bear in mind that sometimes, there are gray areas. Take a moment to understand why your left-or-right-leaning neighbor leans left or right, instead of deciding what you think of your neighbor when you discover his leaning.
Please, don’t be a Uni-directional Zax. The All-Terrain model is much more fun.

STAY IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA, YOU YELLOW DEMON-FRUIT!

We all thought the enemies of the world were skulking in caves in Afghanistan, or hovering over missile-launch buttons in Iran, or lurking in Internet chat rooms, waiting to steal away our children, but we were wrong. Our newest, most dastardly enemy comes from Papua New Guinea.
That's right, good people of Earth. I speak of the banana.
"But that can't be!" you cry. The banana has never done anything to harm me. On the list of insidious fruits, the banana always seemed to be at the bottom, between peaches and kumquats. Oh, sure, maybe some fruits have an evil slant, like that pretentious avocado or the androgynous tomato (we all know you're really a vegetable, you little red punk), but never the banana! Its soothing yellow hue and chalky mildness forms the base of millions of smoothies and ice cream sundaes, and the peel alone has inspired comedians worldwide. How could the banana be wicked?
Well, the answer is simple. Bananas are stealing our water. Though green in color, the banana tree is not a green solution to landscaping. According to David Ellis, who is the editor of The American Gardener, the magazine of the American Horticultural Society, the banana tree is 90 percent water (and 10 percent malevolence), and will soak up a great deal of the moisture directed towards needier, less comedic plants.
"Species such as banana, commonly used in landscaping, come from tropical regions that get a lot of rain," continues Ellis. "These plants tend to have fairly high water requirements." He goes on to encourage Americans in removing their banana trees, hibiscus, impatiens, whangdoodles, and other foreign plants that honestly could be completely fake, and we would never know.
Ellis also writes of a new trend called xeriscaping, which is generally defined as landscaping that looks like Arizona threw up. Technically, it's landscaping that reduces the need for supplemental water, but this is a hard thing for Americans to accept. Picture frolicking and frisbeeing with your children across a gorgeous, manicured lawn of yucca. Or agave. Or neatly-arranged boulders. Or lamb's ear. Or buffalo grass (we're not sure, but this sounds like the kind of grass that spears you through the soles of your shoes).
This may sound bleak to a lot of people who still value the American dream of a perfectly trimmed emerald green lawn, but xeriscaping holds a lot of merit. First of all, it would purge our country of the depraved banana tree. Also, it would help us learn to embrace our native flora (like the Moab woodyaster). And it would save water, which we reportedly all need so much of, although I'm partially convinced that it's just another fad, like antioxidants or not eating carbs or mercury-marinated fish.
Maybe there are some out there who feel that a decision to become more green will have little-to-no effect on the environment. Just a drop in a bucket, they say. We're fine as we are. Well, I'm sorry, but I think we're doing some things wrong, and a small change for all of us would equal a larger change in the end. There is nothing nerdy or obsequious about being environmentally conscious and replacing your leeching landscaping with something a bit more dry. So maybe your bottle green lawn looks a tad more rocky and brown after it's completely replaced with brown rocks. And maybe your banana tree will resent being uprooted by a lavender bush. It's ok. Bananas need to pedal their iniquity someplace else.
In other news, thousands of monkeys marched on Washington today in protest of new anti-banana legislation.

TECHNOPHOBIA: THE SCI-FI CHANNEL TELLS ME I'M JUSTIFIED.

I have a recurring nightmare. In this episode, I sit down at our family computer. After it boots up and I start my important work (Battle Chess 2006), the screen goes black and a sinister, red face with angry eyebrows pops up and starts laughing monotonically. As it rears its two-dimensional head in electronic throes of evil mirth, all the appliances in my house become self-aware. And we’ve all seen enough movies to know what happens when machines become self-aware. They start to kill humans.
Why is it that when technology becomes self-aware, the first instinct is to destroy humanity? Why not do something constructive, like form a book club?
By this point, I’m battling back an electric stapler, flinging old AOL discs like throwing stars and trying to stop the phone from dialing old girlfriends and insulting them. I duel with a motorized turkey carver, and as it knocks the spatula from my hand and backs me into a wall, I wake up in a cold sweat and realize something.
I am a technophobe.
This is hard to admit. When I think of technophobes, I picture old women sobbing over the blue screen of a 1998 Dell, wanting to write a simple thank-you note to cousin Melba, cursing the day they switched over from the typewriter. I picture my uncle shaking his fist at the parental occupants of a minivan whose offspring are watching Madagascar on their Mondo Vehicular T.V. Child-Distracter.
This is not me, but I walk a slippery slope. I don’t own an IPOD. I think USB is a college. Podcasts sound like a sci-fi movie idea (“Run, Glenn! The Podcasts are hatching!”). The only thing I know about Twitter is how excited it makes sports reporters. ESPN had a 3-day party when Terrell Owens started tweeting.
My apprehension for all things technological stems from ignorance. Ignorance primarily causes fear of most things. An example of this is our friend, the clown. These days, we only see clowns in horror movies, but if we ever really took the time to get to know one, I’m sure we’d find it to be a lovely person. Until it eats our brains.
People who understand technology don’t understand why people like me have such a hard time with it. In the words of William Gibson, “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” We technophobes want to keep up. We don’t want to be the algae churned up in the wake of progress.
The more I learn about technology, the less scared it makes me, although I’m still convinced there’s a few robots out there trying to take over the entertainment industry (i.e. Kevin Costner, Keanu Reeves). Robots are also most likely behind those awful comments on online news stories, because there’s no way something human could write things so mean or so filled with inappropriately “placed” quotation marks.
Technology is not all bad, though, and if we try hard enough, we can find multiple uses for it. For instance, earlier this week, I came down with the flu, and my body was overcome by the shivers. I was colder than an Eskimo’s ex-girlfriend, and no amount of blankets and layers of pajamas could warm me. I looked around frantically for something, anything, to stop me from shivering, and the best solution I found was our family’s archaic laptop. I laid it down on top of all the blankets, and its warmth helped me pull through. So, in a way, I have technology to thank for my health.
At least, until Kevin Costner comes after me with an electric turkey carver.

RAH, RAH, REE, KICK HIM IN THE KNEE! RAH, RAH, RASS, KICK HIM IN THE OTHER KNEE!

It’s Homecoming Week, everybody, which means…FOOTBALL!
The American football field hosts a weekly war, both terrible and artistic, a bloody poem in spandex and grease paint. Here, battles are won and lost, both at the ten-yard line and in line to buy bratwurst. Coaches govern teams in militaristic fashion, encouraging effort, focus, and an occasional ripped tendon. Athletes the size of Buicks sprint headlong into each other. The resultant skull-crashing and tooth-dislodging resembles a tin of mints being thrown into a high-powered fan.
Wait, you say you’re more of a soccer fan? The sight of blood and ruptured organs makes you cringe? Blasphemy! Football is as American as ABBA, Taco Bell, the Beatles, or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The rules of football are too complicated, you say? Perhaps to the casual observer, but fear not, because from now on, we as a columnist have officially decreed Football Appreciation 101 to be a required course for university freshmen. Here’s a little preview of the course material. First, we offer a brief history of the sport and synopsis of the rules.
According to experts, football was invented somewhere between the years 1870 and 1960. The sport was originally played with a normal, round ball, but the ball’s shape was reputedly changed to its current two-pointed, maniacal state by a Rutgers University fraternity who enjoyed watching heavyset linemen chase fumbles that could spontaneously bounce backwards and lodge in their nasal cavities.
Football was sustained in its conceptual years by various males with lots of free time on weekends, and continued in relative obscurity until around the year 1998, which is the year we as a columnist started watching football (Go, Colts!).
To help further your football understanding, this new course will go into a position-by-position analysis.
The Quarterback: Usually the best-looking player (if teen movies are still accurate), quarterbacks are the trigger. They date supermodels, endorse Rolexes, and control everything that happens on offense, unless something goes wrong, in which case it was completely the fault of…
The Offensive Line: Arguably the most affable athletes in sports, offensive lineman are the true heart of the team, sacrificing both knees and years of their life to gain large amounts of weight, all to keep the quarterback in Rolex ads.
The Wide Receivers: Receivers start training early in life to be noticed. This is why they are always on television giving interviews. They develop expensive hobbies, complain, and are always about to be traded.
The Running Back: The RB’s job is to run two yards up the middle on every play, making football more boring to watch for the casual observer. Also, they are keeping a large wing of the drug industry afloat.
The Kicker: This guy’s like your 8-yr. old sister. He can do or say whatever he wants to you, but as soon as you rough him up a little or call him a name, you’re the one who gets penalized.
And on defense…
Linebackers: The linebacker always has a funny name, like Dick Butkus, or Brian Urlacher, or Ray “Nancy” Lewis, but you would never make fun of one. They are the most curious footballers, in that they are always trying to rip off the Quarterback’s helmet and examine its contents.
Defensive Line/Ends/Backs/Safeties: Also big and scary.
Special Teams: Not what you think.
And there, in a nutshell, is the first week of our Introduction to Football course. Remember to support the team this week in the Homecoming game. For help with authentic cheers and taunts, see page 38 in the course textbook (Chapter 3: “Are You Blind, Ref?...And Other Helpful Yelling Hints).

WE'RE ALL AS CRAZY AS THE PRINCE OF POP

Recently, Michael Jackson died.
I don’t know if you heard about this, and I’m sorry if I’m the one to break the news. I mention his passing in passing, merely to demonstrate a point.
We all know that he wasn’t exactly a normal guy. We get that. We’ve heard all about it. And yet, while viewing the hours of memorial media coverage, I was fascinated to hear how many times people mentioned he was crazy.
Ok, fine, he slept in an oxygen chamber. His gender was, at times, indiscernible. His best friend was a python. Only a couple of his siblings had real names. He might have been an alien (further study is required). But what we really need to look at, folks, is how different from Michael Jackson we are not. The only difference between Michael Jackson and us is that he had absurd amounts of money. And he could moonwalk.
Don’t believe me? Fine. I will provide proof showing why the average person is completely bonkers.
We go to amusement parks and worry about whether or not the Macho Doom Coaster is safe, and fasten ourselves into the seat six different ways, and scream and throw up and cry, and when we’re done, we strap ourselves into two-thousand pound death machines and hurtle down the freeway at high speeds, weaving through construction barriers, all while driving inches away from other cars, while simultaneously phoning our friend about the Mets’ starting rotation, munching a bag of chocolate-covered cinnamon bears, and singing “Hey Jude” at the top of our lungs, all without even getting sweaty palms.
We spend hundreds of dollars and hours in preparation of our high school prom, and actually dance for maybe one song (usually “With Or Without You” by U2).
We continue to support the L.A. Clippers as a professional sports franchise.
We still think that local sports radio call-in shows are a good idea. (“Well, I’ll tell you, Tom, here’s why I think that Jerry Sloan should run for governor…”)
We think that no one will notice our toupee.
We spend millions of dollars on home exercise equipment, healthier cookbooks, organic ingredients, gym memberships, and Tae Bo videos, and then get in our car and drive for thirty seconds to church. Or take the elevator for two floors.
We elected (insert whichever person your favorite news channel tells you to hate here) to be (President/Vice President/Senator/American Idol). Man, that person is/was such a (Nincompoop/Tyrant/Philanderer/Marxist/George W. Bush/Child-Devouring Ogre).
We’re more scared of the swine flu than heart disease.
We support/have supported the careers of the following people: Carson Daly, Winona Ryder, Michael Bolton, Tara Reid, Kenny G, Orlando Bloom, Neil Diamond, Pauly Shore, Allen Iverson, Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Federline, Vince Carter, and Ben Affleck.
Also, Carrot Top.
Probably the biggest indicator of our societal nuttiness is how unnecessarily difficult we make the dating process. Men will pretend to like Enya. Women will lure men in by feigning complete disinterest in them.
So Michael Jackson only wore one sequined glove. Some of us wear windshield-sized sunglasses. Maybe Michael had an altered nose the size of a Hershey’s kiss. Some guys walk around their whole lives with their stomachs sucked in. Michael had a theme park in his backyard. Some people like professional wrestling.
And to anyone out there who thinks they are nothing like Michael Jackson, I say to you: “Just beat it (beat it), beat it (beat it).” (Beat It, 1982)

OF FREEDOM AND PARKING

Like so many of you, I was driving around campus one morning from 9:20 to 10:35, trying to find a parking space with my special W pass.
Owning a W pass is like scoring backstage passes to a concert, then arriving at the concert and realizing that Burger King handed out a free backstage pass to anyone who purchased a large soda. I was driven to that expletive precipice, cursing the driver of the white 1992 Honda Civic (you know who you are) who just snaked my parking space. I had been following a woman from the Browning Center to her car to get this space. I don’t understand why the Honda felt he deserved this spot, since my license plate numbers were nearly imprinted on the back of this woman’s legs several times.
I sat in the middle of the parking aisle, wishing flaming, hot death upon the Civic’s driver, and bemoaning my oppressed existence. College students have no freedom, I grumbled. Our schedules are slave to the number of parking spots on campus. Our professors heap homework upon us, severely limiting occasions for guys like me to be rejected by women. Our employers forget what it was like to be in college. We’re already poor, but we still get ticketed by cops in Rawlins, Wyoming, for driving 84 in a 75. Honestly? On a rural Wyoming freeway, where the nearest car to me could have stopped, gotten out, danced the entire Macarena on the freeway, and then driven off before they even saw my headlights?
I was rolling in my gutter of self-pity, when I remembered my assignment to write in reflection of the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I screwed up my face and deliberated. What did I have to feel emancipated about? I’m about as majority as it gets around here. The last time my ancestors really needed emancipating was when they were coming through Wyoming on handcarts and amputated feet (I have to say, Wyoming, you’re not so welcoming). More recently, my ancestors only needed emancipating when they forgot their CafĂ© Rio punchcard and had to pay for what they thought would be a free burrito.
I flipped on the radio, seeking guidance. It was tuned to a political pundit who is fierce and unrelenting, his opinions shooting forth like unmerciful hellfire. Cringing, I switched the station to public radio, which is about as fierce as taffy. There was a reporter talking about some horrible explosion in some country East or West of here. Meanwhile, two journalists were still missing after publishing their new tell-all about a corrupt Slavic government. And miraculously, the victory in another country’s election went unanimously to the bully already in power.
Just ahead of me, a tan Suburban left the two parking spots it had been occupying, and I gleefully tiptoed into one of them. Feeling more appreciative, I started the tardy scurry, my mind racing along with my feet. What freedoms do I enjoy, after all?
I have the freedom to get a college education, in whichever study I choose. I drive there in my car, which is one of my family’s four vehicles. I can write whatever I want (within reason) in this column without going missing, and if I can’t write it here, I can go online and join the Blowhard Blogger Society. I can drive through Wyoming and get ticketed without being dragged to prison or beaten to a pulp.
I stopped mid-campus and smiled. I also have the freedom to leave a passive-aggressive note on the windshield of a white Honda Civic.

NINJA SERVICE

A friend of mine was feeling down in the dumps last semester, both from his mind-numbing job and too many general classes. Everything he did was self-serving, and he was becoming a stagnant pool of himself. One day on the way home from school, he drove gloomily past a massive grocery store parking lot, and watched as a healthy woman on her cell phone unloaded her Diet Coke into the rear of her SUV, looked back and forth from behind her windshield-sized sunglasses, then coolly shoved the shopping cart away into oblivion.
He couldn't believe it. Twenty yards away from her car was the metal cart depository. Thirty yards away was the entrance to the store. He swerved maniacally into the lot and parked noisily as the woman puttered distractedly off. His door flew open, and he seized the cart, steering it into the correct place with vigor.
He looked around and noticed at least twenty shopping carts strewn helter-skelter amongst the vehicles. This was the product of a self-centered society, and embarrassment overcame him. He got back into his car, sat, thought for a moment, then hopped back out. Deftly moving around the parking lot, he steered each cart back to its home. After about fifteen minutes, he paused next to his car and admired the uncluttered parking lot, sweating contentedly.
Pretty soon, he started noticing other missing squares in the quilt of common decency, and he stopped to patch them up. Another funny thing happened: the holes in his own self were being filled every time he stopped to make something better. One day, he walked behind a wall of bushes bordering a building on campus, and picked up every piece of trash. It took him more than one go, but between his classes, he managed to get all of it done.
No one noticed, of course, but that was part of what made it feel so good. He would swoop down onto a needy scene, like a jolly ninja, and poof away with a HI-YAH! and a flash of smoke, leaving the area clean and beautiful. And not only were these acts therapeutic, they genuinely made the world better. In fact, these little acts of service became so common, he began to plan them. Every day, he would pick out a half hour and write down "Ninja Service" in his planner.
So, Grasshopper, it is time to learn the ways of the Service Ninja. The rules are simple. First, like the true ninja, you must stay invisible. Second, any small act is great, but the bigger the service, the bigger the impact. And finally, make sure you're not doing something unwanted ("Hey! You there! Stop pruning my prize azaleas!").
Here are a few other ideas:
1. Walk into a restaurant, point out a random family, and pay for their meal anonymously.
2. Read twenty different blogs you normally wouldn't care about and leave positive comments on all of them.
3. Find a street and de-litter the whole thing.
4. Smile at each person you walk past on campus for a day.
5. Hold an international summit standardizing terms for nuclear disarmament and AIDS prevention worldwide.
6. Sit outside a busy building on campus as class gets out and hold the door open until everyone is settled.
Now, these are just a few ideas, and they may not all be within your reach, unless you are Oprah. But the thing is, some of them are. So, what are you waiting for? Ninja...attack! HI-YAH!

PROOF OF EVOLUTION CAN BE SEEN IN SOME RELATIVES

As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I've seen situations where concepts and beliefs I hold dear were challenged, disputed, and occasionally mocked. Tragically, I've seen circumstances where the reverse was also true. A predominant mob-arousing idea in these parts, at least as far as I have noticed, is that pesky little devil, Evolution. There is a lot more room for us as participating members of our church to be open-minded about evolution.
Whoa! Whoa! Hey! Put down the pitchforks and eggs, people. Hear me out for a moment. Whether you like it or not, we live in a world of science and scientific theory. Historically, there have been many scientific ideas originally rejected by the major religious bodies that are now cherished and accepted by all (excluding my friend, who thinks the world is actually shaped like a microwave burrito).
Now, church leaders of our faith have never taken any sort of stance against science. In fact, we have a strong history of embracing it. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is a world-renowned heart surgeon. Elder Richard G. Scott was a nuclear engineer. Advances in varied sciences like oncology and aerodynamics and psychology have blessed the lives of millions, including members of our church. The hand of God has been evidenced in these fields. Why should fields like archaeology, anthropology, and paleontology be excluded?
Here are a few facts everyone can generally agree on. Things evolve. This is documented, and it affects many creatures. Finches on the Galapagos Islands developed different-shaped beaks depending on their favorite foods. Horses and donkeys were once the same creature, as substantiated by their odd little offspring, the mule. Two-time Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank started out in Karate Kid 3.
Are we descended from monkeys? I have a brother whose very existence could open my family up to investigation. Really, though, the similarities are startling. Humans and monkeys both have opposable thumbs. Both use tools. Both clap and laugh hysterically when someone hands them a toy, like a stuffed animal or a Wii. They both throw their own waste (again, my brother). And they both were in the 1996 film Dunston Checks In (starring Jason Alexander and Sam the Orangutan, but I can't remember which one played the monkey).
Strict evolutionists will proclaim from the windows of their hybrid cars that God is inexplicable and contradictory. Zealous creationists will scream Monday through Saturday that the fossil record has too many gaping holes.
Mark Twain, in his book Huckleberry Finn, sets Huck and his friend Jim on the banks of the Mississippi, looking up at the stars. They are innocently discussing the fabric of life, and who or what made this and that. Huckleberry, in his impish wisdom, says the following. "We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss whether they was made or only just happened." (Chapter 19, paragraph 5). Well, why can't the answer be both? Why can't things have been made to just happen?
Some members of our church will say that the theory of evolution attempts to explain God's ways for him, but it seems to me that harshly dismissing the theory does the same thing. Would it take a miracle for something like evolution to be true? Yes.
But aren't miracles something that we believe in?

Friday, August 7, 2009

A FAREWELL TO ROLLER SKATES

A FAREWELL TO ROLLER SKATES - Kory Wood

"I want to be alone." Greta Garbo

"Ugh...Is she still there?"
Will and I hunkered close to the wooden pylons at the top of the jungle gym, avoiding scratchy splinters and swatting away wasps. Will sat slightly elevated, his hand perched above his brow in a keen look-out.
"Oh man, there she is! Erin! Disgusting." Will signaled for me to duck down even farther. His wiry frame and light lock of brown hair snapped in the wind. "How far away do you think she is, General Mike?" he yelled down from our roost.
"Estimating one hundred feet away, General Will and General Kory. She's looking around and crying. What a dork." Mike cupped his hands around his eyes, focusing his imaginary binoculars. He stood crouched at the base of our fortress, deftly hidden behind a large tire. There wasn't much of Mike to hide, though his vibrantly pale skin stuck out next to the solid black of the tire like a white flag.
I pressed down close to the platform, squinting away sweat and praying that Erin Brown wouldn't find me again. Please, for all that was holy, let me enjoy one recess to myself. No more pandering to some needy, silly little girl.
Living through the fourth grade at Horace Mann Elementary School was already perilous without introducing females into the equation. I had moved back for this school year, and had enjoyed a higher popularity than I was used to, but with that "new kid" novelty came the unwanted attention of the grosser sex, particularly Erin. I could barely turn around these days without bumping into her. Heavens, but she needed attention.
Erin followed me everywhere, lavishing me with compliments, giving me small gifts, and generally just staring. When we played tag, she always seemed to slow down when I was it. Thank heavens I was at the dentist the day one of the fifth graders suggested we play kissing tag. I might never have recovered after direct lip contact from one of her species. Thankfully, the game was swiftly outlawed upon its discovery by our playground Gestapo, the militaristic and frighteningly androgynous Mrs. Franklin.
Oh, Erin was cute enough, I guess. If you liked that kind of thing. Girls, I mean. But she was starting to get a little creepy. That morning, she unsportingly approached me while I was caught up in a rousing game of pogs.
"Hi, Kory."
Blast! The dozing sentries Mike and Will looked at me guiltily. They would be dealt with later.
"Oh, uh, hey Erin. Did you want to play pogs? Because I was just leaving for...the other side of the playground. You can take my spot."
"Oh....no. I don't know how to play pogs. How does it work? You just hit the....What do you do?"
"Well, you use this big one to......um, you hit the....you know, I'm not entirely sure myself." I was a slave to trends.
"That's fine, I don't really want to learn, anyway. I just wanted to show you this." She pulled from the top of her Sesame Street T-Shirt a small, bronze locket. "Look what's inside." She opened it and handed the small necklace to my quivering fingers. Inside the locket was a picture of me.
After I am dead, I am going to take a visit to the great video archive in the sky, loan out a projector, and watch several moments from my life. This would be one of them. I'm sure that a study of the combination of emotions on my face will provide hours of after-life entertainment for me.
I stood, both beet-faced and drained of color, flabbergasted and focused in rage, panicky and serene. I didn't know in what way to react. Should I show thanks or throttle her? No idea. What scared me most, though, was that beneath this jambalaya of emotions, in a cool cave, there waited an unwearied feeling, a little man with a reaction I'd ne'er felt before, a kind of grinding, churning, biting feeling only brought on by Erin. Was I....flattered? Joyful, even?
No, never. What would the guys think? My fingers relaxed and the locket swung back towards her chest. "That's....wow, Erin....Where did you get a picture of me?"
"I brought my dad's camera to school yesterday. It was while you were swinging. You love swinging."
"That's....great...." I looked at Mike and Will, and not-so-subtly mouthed, Help!
Well, the best solution either of them came up with was for Mike to suddenly stand up and push Erin down. We bolted like bank robbers and reconvened inside the large, cement tube on the other side of the playground. We laughed at the sounds of Erin's friends cursing us and all our descendants, and our victorious joy was capped by Erin's tearful wail lilting alluringly across the lawn.
Lilting alluringly? No, I'm sorry.
The next few weeks traveled the same route. Erin somehow stayed enamored with me, and we did our best to dodge her pursuance. Every time we would sneak out of an Erin trap, we would meet up and slap each other on the backs and guffaw and laud the redeeming qualities of man and discuss Erin's many character flaws and funny nose and general girlish defects.
Somewhere down in the cool cave, a man hopped up and down, gallantly defending her through the fog of insults and cursing my friends and me for not reveling in her attentions. I snuffed him out and sat brooding, fearful of my hidden feelings and not knowing exactly what they were.

* * *

"God created man and, finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a companion to make him feel his solitude more keenly." Paul Valery


I remember it was during one of Mrs. Barlow's art lessons that my fears came to a boil. We were drawing pumpkins and then cutting them up into small strips, after which we would assemble and paste the strips into the correct order again on a separate sheet of paper. The after-effect was a pumpkin that didn't look as good as it did before we cut it, plus it was covered in paste. I don't know why we did this, but Mrs. Barlow insisted it made us more artistic.
As she walked around the room, admiring our disfigured gluey gourds, smiling and nodding, she stopped suddenly and smacked herself in the forehead. "Good heavens, I'd almost forgotten. The roller skating activity!"
For some unknown reason, my heart simultaneously stopped beating and still felt as if it would burst clean out of my chest.
"Class, we are going to the 9th Street Roller Rink a week from today. Make sure and take these permission slips home to..." I was already day-dreaming. Roller-skating. Fantastic. Another way to embarrass myself. My family was not gifted athletically, and when things like balance were thrown in, well...I was sure I would spend most of the time licking the floor and nursing wounded elbows and knees.
"...and at the end, we'll have time for partners' skating, so start looking for that Special Sweetie now, gentleman." Mrs. Barlow chuckled in a high titter, and went back to perusing our pumpkins.
A quiet roar swept across the classroom. Girls exchanged knowing glances and feminine gasps, while boys sunk lower into their seats or feigned vomiting. But from across the classroom, through the back-left of my skull, I could feel the burning glare of two eyes. I blushed like a fire hydrant, never turning around. An excited terror melted all the bones in my body, and I sank down in my desk till my eyes were level with my Jurassic Park pencil case.

* * *

"Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it's awfully hard to get it back in." H.R. Haldeman


Gliding along to the music of Billy Joel and Whitney Houston, my classmates chortled and whooped on the floor of the roller skating rink. I had been tying my laces for the last half hour, the psychedelic lights bouncing around the room. Previous to tying my laces, I had managed to waste an hour switching out pairs of roller skates that were too small, too long, too tight, etc. The last pair I had given back on the grounds that they were “too girly.” Their appearance differed in no way from the other pairs, but I did my best in insisting that their cut was markedly ladylike.
I was at my stalling edge, though. My friends stopped by on every rotation and stared at me incredulously, beckoning with widened eyes and waves of their heads. I really, really, REALLY did not want to skate. I had tried skating on the carpet just from the bench to the bathroom, and that had ended in a close study of the ceiling as I lay on my back, my wheels spinning madly. Genetically speaking, I had a high center of gravity. Roller skating for me was like placing a filing cabinet on a skateboard. Physics were my enemy.
Mostly, though, I was using any opportunity to avoid being in the rink at the same time as Erin. I did not want to skate next to her. I would rather have all my toenails ripped off. There were just too many risks involved. First of all, there was no telling what types of diseases could be contracted simply from close proximity to a girl. Second, if anyone saw us skating together, it would be my downfall. I was already a lousy athlete, and didn’t need further barbs directed at my manliness.
“Hi, Kory.” I spun to my right and beheld Erin, resting on the edge of the bench about three inches from my person, but sitting in the opposite direction. My jaw dropped at her sneakiness. I was repulsed by the sight of her nauseating, cute little button nose, and was hypnotically mesmerized as her revolting silhouette was framed by the flashing, colored lights behind her. My eyes met hers, and the little man in the cool cave shot off a Roman candle.
“Oh. Erin. Hi.”
“Why aren’t you skating yet?” She stared at me so intently, the urge to vomit seemed nearly unavoidable, though it seemed to be a good vomiting. That didn’t make sense to me at all. Snappiness and short answers seemed the way to go.
“Couldn’t find skates that fit. Is that ok with you?” I accompanied this last sentence with what I thought to be a cool eyebrow lift.
She seemed a bit hurt, but clutched her hand to her chest and came even closer to my face, sadness and stars glinting in her eyes. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to tease you. If you don’t like skating, that’s totally cool. I don’t really like it that much.” Her face moved a few inches away from mine again, which was great, because I didn’t want to toss my nervous cookies directly onto her nose. “I don’t like skating that much…by myself, I mean.”
The air hung still momentarily, the lights stopped flashing, and Billy Joel rested mid-verse. “Oh,” I loquaciously spouted. “Well, I, eh….Skating is dumb, anyway.” I hadn’t taken a breath since I had noticed her sitting next to me, and decided now would be an optimum time.
“Yeah, for sure. Skating is dumb…..by yourself…”
I stared longingly and blankly. “No, it’s just always dumb.”
“Kory, do you want to skate around the rink with me?”
Panic. “No. I can’t. I…don’t want….Skating…..It isn’t….” I leaped from my bench and rolled to the men’s bathroom (I use the term “rolled” not in the sense of traveling by roller skates, but more in the sense that, because I was wearing roller skates, I was rolled end-over-end, snowball-like, towards the men’s room). Once inside, my breaths caught up with me, and sweat poured off my brow like a flattened sponge. I swayed and bobbled over to the first stall, quickly entered, and sat on the toilet, staring at the tan wall of the stall door in front of me.

* * *

“I wanna hold your hand,
I wanna hold your hand.
I wanna hold your hand.”

-The Beatles

“But dude, you HAVE to, man!”
“But I really, really don’t want to.”
“Dude, she asked you to roll around the rink with her. You have to do it.” Will stared at me through the crack in the door to my Fortress of Solitude.
I sat on the pot, hugging my knees up to my chin, my discarded roller skates on the ground in front of me. “No, I don’t have to do it. I don’t have to do anything. What happens if I don’t? Nothing. Maybe if I don’t, she’ll even think I’m a jerk and start ignoring me. Which would be fabulous.” The little man in the cool cave took off his shoe and threw it at my stomach wall.
“Man, I’ve already done it. It’s not that bad.”
“You’ve what?! Erin asked you to roll around with her? That’s…that’s gross! Did she hold your hand? What was it like? Does she…does she even want to do it with me anymore?”
Will grunted in exasperation. “No, nerd, not Erin. Ashley Benson asked me. And yes, I did hold her hand.”
I gasped and choked back a gag reflex. “Could you feel the germs?”
“No,” said Will, glancing around secretively. “Can I tell you something? You can’t tell anyone.”
“Sure! I promise, cross my heart, I won’t say anything.”
I saw Will’s eyebrow and the corner of his mouth both lift into mischievous grins. “I think I liked it.”
As my world shattered and tumbled around me, the little man in the cool cave smirked up at me knowingly. “I’ve been trying to tell you,” he said.

* * *

"Hell, madam, is to love no more." -Georges Bernanos

The moment I exited the door of the restroom, I was hit by a wave of righteous female indignation.
“Ooo-ooo-ooh, Kory, you bozo, I can’t believe you told Erin no! What a jerk.”
Thanks, Shelley, good to see you, too.
“If you don’t go over RIGHT NOW and ask her to skate with you,” said a girl with massive, brown curly hair, “I will kick you in the knee every recess for the rest of the school year.”
Geez. “Alright, alright, good honk, where is she?” My eyes darted around nervously. “She’s not still crying, is she? It’s not like I punched her in nose or anything.”
“Oooooh, boys!” Shelley clenched her face and stamped her foot. “You just don’t get it at all.”
We approached the bench where Erin sat, though trying to see her through the throng of comforting females was tricky. They patted her back and cooed and shot flaming, hot looks of molten death at me.
“What?! Alright, alright, I’ll talk to her! Just…everyone clear out, ok?”
Will and Mike snapped to. “Yeah, yeah, everybody, move away! Step away, step away, move along….”
The mob grumbled back onto the skating rink, disappointed in missing their spectacle but quickly swept up in the flashing lights and pop music.
Erin’s head was still down, her small body hopping up and down every few seconds from the tears. I sat down next to her hesitantly. My hand hovered momentarily over her shoulders, then dropped back down to my side, lost and confused. She shuddered silently. Something in me wanted to hold her and stroke her hair, but a stronger part of me wanted to push her off the bench and run screaming from the building.
“So…” I said. “Are you….doing fine?”
She stopped shaking momentarily and turned her face up to stare at me through her fingers. Her blotchiness was evident even in the poor lighting.
“Really, Kory?”
My head dropped and I sighed in exasperation. “Look, Erin, I didn’t know that you wanted to….well, I mean, I…..I’m gonna be honest with you, I don’t know what I should do now. I can’t really….I mean, not that I don’t want to, I just….Skating is hard… for me….and you are….How is….eh….”
“OH, HONESTLY!” gasped Erin. “Just go skate with me, you stupid jerk.”
“Ok, thank you.”
She stood up, sniffed impressively and skated gracefully out to the edge of the rink. She turned around and stared at me, waiting.
Like a wounded buffalo, I trundled my way over and followed her onto the floor. She skated next to me as I hugged the wall, relying mostly on an unseen wind behind me to propel my rigid form forward.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her rolling along, smiling at me, her hands clasping and unclasping. From across the rink, I watched as Mike and Will poked their heads above the skate racks. They held their hands above their heads and laced the fingers, grinning maliciously.
“Maybe we should hold hands,” said Erin.
“No, I don’t think we should do that.”
“Ok.”
We continued our hampered stroll ‘round the rink. I felt the eyes of my class boring holes through my body.
“Should we hold hands now?”
“Please, Erin, I’m rolling in a circle with you. Can that not be enough?”
More wheeling, more silence. The D.J. came over the speakers.
HISSSS POP “Hey, guys! That’s all for today. Thanks for coming out to 9th Street Roller Rink. Drive safely!”
I summoned all my powers of balance and started working my way back towards the exit, but fell almost immediately. Grunting with irritation, I rapidly unlaced my roller skates and threw them across the rink, bolting through the exit. I was relieved and disappointed, free and frustrated. The little man pushed against my stomach lining, trying mightily to drag me back to Erin’s side.

* * *

“Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” – Song of Solomon 2:5

“General Will! General Kory! Avast! She approaches at 2 o’clock!” Mike gesticulated wildly to his front. “She’s closing in!”
Will and I conferred. “General Mike, General Will and I think it’s closer to 11:00. Where is she?”
Mike shook his head and grunted, then pointed.
Oh, no. There she was. Erin, again. I Superman-ed into the tunnel slide and hid. Ever since that day at the roller rink, she and I had managed to avoid each other. In fact, I hadn’t even caught her looking at me once in class, and when we played tag, she didn’t even hover back to let me catch her.
“Here she comes! Hide! Deeper in the slide!” Will waved me down. I cowered against the static friction of the slide wall and waited fearfully.
Mike’s salutation drifted up to our platform. “Hey, Erin, what do you want? Don’t come too close, we don’t know for sure what diseases girls have.” I burrowed in my trepidation, expecting her unwanted attention.
“Will, do you want to come down and play tag with me and my friends?”
My mind blanked.
“I...eh….” Will looked at me and shrugged perplexedly. “We…well, I guess I could come play.” I shot him as infuriated a look as I could muster, but he hopped out onto the fireman’s pole and dropped out of sight.
Extracting myself from the slide, I stood on the platform and dazedly watched as Will walked away with Erin. The little man in the cool cave sat down in his lawn chair and opened the book of crossword puzzles, resting for a few more months. Will kept a safe distance from Erin as she stared him down. She chattered at him sweetly.
“Would you like to see what’s in my locket, Will?”

Saturday, May 9, 2009

WAY OUT WHERE THE DAN-DEE-LINES GROW

WAY OUT WHERE THE DAN-DEE-LINES GROW



"I play right field.
It's important, y'know!
Ya gotta know how to catch.
Ya gotta know how to throw.
That's why I'm playin' right field,
Way out where the dan-dee-lines grow."
-Classic Pizza Hut commercial jingle. You remember it.


The orange-brick houses and drying lawns flashed by the truck window as my father drove me to the park. My new uniform hugged my skinny fifth-grade body like cellophane. My pants, stopping just below the knees, were pristine and white, glowing contrastingly below the cheap, black Florida Marlins Imitation T-shirt we had all been assigned. My socks came halfway up my thighs, turquoise and stretchy. My new baseball cleats squeaked like rocking chairs as I flexed them back and forth on the floor of the truck.
My left hand ached happily inside my new mitt. It felt like I had jammed my hand clean through a rock. I'd been wearing the thing for the past three hours in anticipation of the first day of practice on my first little league baseball team ever. I barely had a working knowledge of how the sport worked, but something about playing baseball felt like the natural thing for an American boy to do, like watching Saturday morning cartoons or shooting back pixie sticks. It was so...Rockwellian.
Admittedly, I was terrified. Genetically, I was already a bit doomed to failure. If the world were the Major Leagues, the Wood family would be the Washington Nationals. Our walls are adorned with "Best Sportsmanship" awards, the literal translation of which we all know is "Most Accepting of Non-Active Role on This Team." I remember once, when playing in a basketball game, where I successfully ran the entire 45 minutes without touching the ball. This was really quite the feat, since there were only five kids on our team.
My Dad had done a good job of teaching me to at least catch and throw the ball. I was no Willy Mays in my overall skill level, but, having no other players with which to compare myself but my brothers, I felt a fair comparison could be made between myself and, say, Jose Canseco. I felt fairly confident that I could at worst avoid grossly embarrassing myself.
We pulled up through the parking lot and I hopped out, my cleats clacking out a hollow cadence across the summer night of the asphalt. I walked up apprehensively behind my father, who was easily twice my size. As we crossed the lot, a big, white truck swung in around us and halted snugly inside of two parking spaces. Blaring red in the back window was a sticker of a fastball, aflame, highlighting the words "LIFE'S A PITCH."
The door swung open, and out stepped a Rottweiler of a man in a baggy white Baseball Camp T-Shirt. He wore a pair of light blue, tight-fitting jeans, and a green cap with its half-circle brim pulled down to the tops of his sunglasses. These sunglasses, I would soon learn, never left his face, and covered any trace of eyeballs. His lower jaw jutted out just a hair past his upper one, further marked by the continuous mass destruction of sunflower seeds. His name was Coach Jensen, and he was a man of few words. Most of the ones he did use were motivational references to parts of our anatomies.
His son hopped out after him, a year older than me and already at least eight feet tall. Jeff looked like he was born with his cleats on, casually laying a clutch of bats over his left shoulder while a bucket of balls dangled from his right hand.
Coach and my Dad talked a bit on the way to the mound, and I followed quietly, my stomach starting to boil a bit more fervently. What was I getting myself into? The Coach looked like the son of a Gorilla and Mickey Mantle, and his son was probably already shaving. Jeff asked me a few baseball-related questions, like, "Have you had a lot of infielder's experience?" and "What do you usually squat?" I told him that I didn't think this was something normal people typically measured, and he looked at me like I had a cucumber in my nose.
Halfway through the parking lot, Coach Jensen met up with his assistant, Coach Chavez, and his son, Anthony. They were duplicates, different only in size, both smiling at all times, with long hair down to their shoulders and thin moustaches.
We met up with the other players under the shade of the oak trees behind the dugout. There were five or six kids already there, throwing back and forth with what looked to me like rocket-propelled balls of white, synthetic leather. The burner underneath my stomach raised another fifty degrees. Oh, man, another opportunity to showcase my athletic prowess. I might as well just lean my back up against an oak and pull out a book for the rest of practice.
My Dad watched me retreat into the comfortable cave of myself, and exhorted me loudly and patiently to have fun and start throwing with someone, pointing emphatically back towards the kids. Reluctantly, I walked over and asked a pair of boys already throwing, in a murmured voice audible only to canines, "Hey, uh, I....baseball.... IsitokayifIthrowwithyouguyscoolthanks." My Dad walked off, one eyebrow raised, and told me he'd be back in a couple hours.
I looked back at the two boys welcoming me. One was Darren, our shortstop, who was perfect at everything he did. I knew him vaguely from school, and all I knew about him was that he was a completely likeable guy who we all, for some strange reason, hated. Success trailed in his wake like algae churned up by a sleek yacht. His short, curly hair blossomed out beneath his hat, and he smiled affably at everyone. He was the first one to run up to me and say hi, and willingly accepted me into his throwing duet, and lo, how I hated him. I would learn later on in life that pride-looking-up would be quite the common emotion for me, much worsened when girls entered the picture.
The second boy was named Jimmy, and the sight of him buoyed up my spirits like a warm, gooey chocolate cake. I glanced around quickly, counting the boys on my team. One, two, three.....ten. Ten total. I knew enough about baseball to know that nine boys played on the field at one time, and there was absolutely NO way in heck that Jimmy was going to beat me out for a spot in right field.
He was three-foot-nothing, 60 lbs. at most, and wearing light-up Beauty and the Beast sneakers. His curly blond hair cascaded down the back of his neck, though the hair was buzzed short at the sides of his head. His inch-thick glasses were at least as large as our coach's, and were connected in back by a long, fluorscent purple string that might not even have been short enough to save his glasses from shattering in the event that they did spill off of his nearly nonexistent nose.
As I tossed him the ball, I chuckled silently in evil hilarity as he simultaneously brought up his mitt (which was the size of his torso) and turned his head backwards, his eyes closed shut, while his throwing arm shielded his face and his left leg left the ground, scrunching his body into a standing, half-fetal position resembling a flamingo with a disease of the nervous system.
I felt a little bit wrong for exploiting his athletic ineptitudes, but not as bad as I would feel from sitting around behind a chain-link fence for an entire season. I was going to stand out in right field, the lowest-risk position in modern sports, and be the best inconsequential outfielder there ever was, gosh-dang-it.
Our coach worked us through the first day of practice, and we soon became aware of the abilities of those around us. Jeff and Anthony were pitcher and catcher, respectively, and none of us could even touch the cheese Jeff was slinging. Many a kid on many a team has complained about the coach's son gettting the most playing time, but the reality of the situation is that, usually, the coach's son is the best kid on the team. Indira Ghandi didn't grow up to be a ballerina. Anyhow, during our batting practice, these two boys traded off knocking inside-the-park-home runs past those of us unfortunate enough to be manning the outfield.
I learned then that, while I was functional at catching a ball, I could not for the life of me manage to accurately get that ball from me to anywhere else. I would rear back and throw towards second base with all of my might, and would watch as the ball soared majestically skyward, then plummet down, blisteringly, to land a full 15 paces from where I stood. Darren, the cut-off man looked at me with an understanding smile, and said, "Great try, Kory!" Then, he sprinted up, grabbed the ball, and rocketed it off to home to stop Anthony from scoring again. I seethed with rage at myself and at his dumb curly hair and perfect stupid bionic arm.
Hitting was even worse. While I was on deck, awaiting my chance to effectively humiliate myself, Jimmy was up to bat, and on the very first pitch, the ball dinged off the handle of the bat, ricocheting straight down onto Jimmy's toes, dropping Jimmy instantly into a rolling, swearing ball of pain.
Thus terrified, I approached the batter's box in wretched anticipation of my first batting opportunity. Standing on the mound and grinning, Coach Chavez bellowed heartily, "Ok, joo don't worry, man, I just going to throw one across the plate reeeeel slow and easy for joo." I nodded, trembling, the gargantuan bat getting heavier and heavier on my nearly-absent shoulder. Coach pulled back and threw one across the plate.
Suddenly, I was in war-torn Eastern Europe, and a surface-to-air missile was streaking directly towards my person, shrieking like a banshee, hell-bent on my annihilation. In perhaps the greatest athletic moment of my life up to that point, I leaped backwards a full ninety feet, sweat cascading from me like a popped water balloon. I landed just in time to see the ball drift lazily across the plate.
The catcher snickered under his breath. Darren smiled lovingly. Jimmy whimpered in pain from where he lay, stretched out on the bench. I gripped the handle, rotating my hands against the harsh friction of the rubber, vowing never to look the blatant sissy again.
Back up to the plate I came, still trembling, but with the glint of recklessness in my eye. Coach Jensen yelled through his sunflower seeds, "Alright, Wood, no matter what it looks like, I want you to just swing and tear the hide off the ball, you got me?" Coach Chavez, holding back some wicked chuckles, said, "Ok, joo don't need to worry, really, this one will be slower, ok, chief? Just keep jore eye on de ball. Pretend it's the face of jore little brother, or somethin'." He pulled back and lobbed it, free-throw like, down towards home plate.
I watched as the face of my little brother floated merrily towards me, mocking. Suddenly, the ball changed to Jimmy's face, his eyes bulging in terror behind the translucent glasses. Than, it was Darren, nodding encouragingly. Then, it was just a ball weaing coach's sunglasses, zig-zagging back and forth, chanting, "Back-up right field......back-up right field......back-up right field......"
Blinking back tears of anger, I swung as hard as my twiggy arms could turn.
PHOOMP, into the catcher's mitt.
"Eh heh heh heh heh...Try opening jore eyes when joo swing, bud!" said Coach Chavez. The catcher grunted in malicious glee, and Darren yelled something about a good hustle.
The rest of practice progressed in a similar manner. I rode home, and entered my room in a youthful depression. Dropped flies and whiffing bats filled my dreams.
The next morning, I took my brother, Casey, outside with me and made him sit there while I threw baseballs at him. This went on for a couple of hours, progressing to the point of actually throwing some within his reach, though he frequently would dive crazily to the side, screaming, in order to avoid those balls thrown with extra velocity. (In one instance, a ball hurtled past a dodging Casey and crashed through a basement window, causing a tumultuous session of hurled blame, which was followed by a vigorous seeking of refuge from our parents, and ended with a brain-storming session to think of ways to blame Nick, the next brother, for the broken window, but this is all irrelevant).
Feeling satisfactorily prepared, I arrived at my first game, trotting jauntily out to right field, taking my spot amidst the bald spots of dirt and the discarded tootsie roll wrappers and the dandelions.
PHEW-EET!, whistled Coach Jensen. "Hey, Wood! You're on the bench for the first inning, bud. Jimmy, get your tail out there."
I stared, open-mouthed, then looked to center field to see if maybe my neighboring outfielder shared a common surname. Alas, he was of Tongan descent. No luck there.
My shoulders slackened and I sulked back to the bench, the weight of my mitt dragging me down as it bounced again and again off my knee.
I was worse than Jimmy.
I felt my innards go stiff as Jimmy walked dazedly past me, out to his starting spot in right field, his mother yelling from the stands, "Don't git caught pickin' yer nose out there, baby!" Darren met me at the opening to the dugout, a hand warmly extended in the ultimate put-down, the high five. "Alright, man! See you out there in a couple of innings!"
I summoned all the strenght left in my 5th-grade frame, raising up my arm to limply press my palm against his, and as he yelled, "Alright! Go, Marlins!" and ran past, my arm dropped back down to its original position like a wet rope. I assumed my familiar position on the bench and watched, dejectedly, as Jeff smoked fastballs past the unbelieving Dodgers.
A few innings passed with similar results. Our team was up 13-0, and I had not been up to bat yet. My mood was improved by our success, though, and I stood, leaning against the fence, enjoying my time learning bilingual baseball chatter with Coach Chavez.
In the fifth inning, Coach Jensen called me over and said I would be going in for Jimmy, who, by this time, looked like the tragic victim of a vampire attack. I sprinted out to right field and stoically took my crucial back-up place in defense of our narrow 18-1 lead. Nothing would get past me today. Nothing!
I only dropped two fly balls, and only missed the cut-off man twice. Ok, so, they only hit the ball to right field twice, and that was after a mortified Jimmy subbed in at pitcher for Jeff, who was reclining on the bench with his 18-yr. old girlfriend. I messed up enough times, though, that if dandelions could talk, the right field dandelions would have a fairly wide vocabulary of fifth-grade profanities.
Hitting in the games went along the same lines. I was largely unsuccesful in my role as back-up back-up back-up back-up back-up clean-up hitter. I did, however, make it to first base quite often. I found suprisingly great success that season by being completely paralyzed at the plate. I would only be struck out half the time if I never swung and shrank my strike zone down to near-nothingness by scrunching up my body in anticipation.
The rest of the season progressed in a similar manner. Our team (Mighty Jeff and the Marlins) destroyed everyone by at least 10 runs, and we won the championship easily, mainly from my important combined contributions of not messing up the plays I wasn't involved in, and sitting on the bench and developing an intense rating scale for the different Airhead flavors sold at the concessions' stand.
In one of the most exciting nights of my life, I got to play third base once when the third baseman's uncle died, and even got to second base in a rare instance of my bat actually making contact with the ball. It was not even my fault if I benefited from the distraction caused by Jimmy being knocked out by the third baseman on that play.
The highlight of my statistical season was one at-bat where I decided I was going to swing at every single pitch, thus resulting in a hitting streak of eight (yes, eight, count 'em, eight) foul balls hit in a row. My team cheered wildly at my newfound courage, and was especially entertained when one of those foul balls careened helter-skelter into the opposing team's dug-out and stuck fast into the chain-link fence right above their pitcher's head. My team rejoiced racously at this attempted assassination, and I enjoyed a secret happiness every time I came back up to hit after that, watching the opposing team duck down and hold the tops of their heads in fright.
As I drove back home after our last game of the season, my "Best Sportsmanship" award cradled between my knees, I realized that, all-in-all, baseball was more fun than not. I wish I had played more, but then, I might have actually impacted the games, which could have been a terrible thing. I did learn quite a bit from the experience, anyway.
I learned that sometimes, it is completely acceptable to not only ride the success of those surrounding you to victory, but to enjoy that success.
I learned that, sometimes, Jimmy gets the start.
I learned that perfectly nice guys like Darren with straight teeth would plague me for the rest of my life.
I learned the exact length to which an Airhead can be stretched before snapping.
I learned that dandelions don't like cussing.
I learned how to effectively communicate the term "belly-itcher" in Spanish.
I learned that the sun can be blamed for nearly any error.
And I learned that, truly, life can be a pitch.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Geeks Re-made

"Eureka!" I cried.
All the years I had labored and tried
Had at last peaked in glorious fruition!
A flash, a bang, a sudden premonition:
No more glasses to wear,
No more wedgies to bear,
Soon Gunther and Sven would dominate the dating scene!


I had done what so many goofballs could not:
I, and I alone, isolated the dork gene.


Chess players the world 'round
Would rejoice, when they discovered I found
The source of their zits
The cure for sweaty pits
Deep voices in store,
Superfluous athletic ability and what's more
They would no longer think Leia was the bee's knees.


I took my new message of hope
To those who rarely use soap
And awaited their eager expectation
Of the gene's removal and their subsequent social mutation.


"Dungeons and Dragons no more!
"Magic: the Gathering's a bore!
"Your computer will soon gather dust!"
"Come throw the football a bit
"And with the cheerleaders sit
"The old world order's now bust!"


I am slightly ashamed,
That none of them came.


Then I took a closer look
At these creatures often mistook
For social misfits, desperate in their plight.
I was surprised by the sight
That so many were pleased with who they are,
Watching the jocks from afar.


And so I now hold my tongue.
Why disturb those content?
Why change those whom God sent
To balance out the rugged and mean?

No, I thought, much better instead,
To leave those with o'er-inflated heads
And let them be proud of their Star Trek action figure collection.
Others will score touchdowns, and they will proudly continue
To program, duel and execute organized grasshopper dissection.

Friday, February 27, 2009

JUST HELP ME OUT!

JUST HELP ME OUT - Kory Wood

In the gender race, men are behind.
So, our Senate should swiftly combine,
To write up a bill
That effectively will
Force all women to carry large signs.

These signs, flashing, neon, and bright,
Would assist male-kind's woebegone plight,
For each sign would display
What each girl WANTS to say,
And thus, bring each man to the light.

"I'd rather not date you, pin-head."
"That shirt makes you look over-fed."
"I want flowers at work."
"Your best friend's a huge jerk."
"Were you listening to what I just said?"

"Call again, and there'll be a law-suit."
"Your gym bag smells like a Malamute."
"I am NOT in the mood."
"No, Steve, belching is rude."
"I'm just laughing so you'll think I'm cute."

And thus, men would know how to please,
And stop sweating, with shakes in their knees.
Boys would woo, girls would grin.
Men would finally win,
And would skip through their love-lives with ease.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Large, Expensive Clock

Macaroni, old spaghetti, reheated apple pie,
You helped us live conveniently
And now I don't know why
You had to choose to leave us here
Dwelling on this rock.
Now, all you are to me
Is a large, expensive clock.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

IN PURSUIT OF VIRTUES

In Pursuit of Virtues - Kory Wood

Charity enamors me,
Yet she demands too high a fee.
Faith and Hope I'd work to get,
But failure seems a surer bet.
Patience - Taxing, tiring, tough.
Grace - Just left me on my duff.
Sad to say, but Chastity
Gives me not sufficient glee.
With Destiny, I missed my date.
Lost chances: my eternal fate.
Seems they all weren't meant for me;
I guess I'll just go call Nancy.

Untitled - Kory Wood

I've
Never
Understood
Why
Poems
Have
To
Look so nice and neat when there's
So
Many
Different
Ways
To
Scrawl
Them
'Pon
Your
Sheet.

Monday, February 2, 2009

First Mate

The winds were blowing, the waves were high,
The gale was raging and death was nigh.
The mast was broken, our stores were bare.
I dared not raise my head, for who could be there?
You, you, my faithful first mate,
Were there to steer me through the narrow gate.
We reached the harbor and finished our journey,
Turned to set forth again, and surely,
As you were once here,
Now you are gone.
And I must face the ocean,
Alone.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Full-color Cross Section


I must be a mother's nightmare. I think the reason that my sister waited so long to come down here is because my parents needed a break. Is there anything worse than seeing the light fade from a child's eyes, his belief in fantasy and his hope for the world shattered?


I was blessed and cursed with a very analytic brand of thought, one that strives for coorelation and causation. It was not important that the VCR played videos, or that my red remote control car zoomed all over my mother's now not-so-spotless tile. What I so desired to find out was HOW these things happened. How in the world could a hunk of molded petroleum derivative hooked up to a metallic cylinder filled with electrons bring my mother such agony? How did the big black plastic box produce cute monster-shaped fabric with hands inside them? Why did they so cheerily recite the ABC's? Why didn't they blink? My room was littered with the remnants of tv remotes and flashlights long since forgotten. No toy escaped my greedy clutches. I still pull small gears out of unmentionable places.


This frame of thought led me to exploration of every aspect of the world around me. I spent hours cooped up in my room reading instruction manuals. Legos, Tinkertoys, and K'nex (yeah, remember those?) were my best friends, for only then could I exercise absolute control of my environment and know exactly how everything worked.


I watched water go down the drain, then dug canals in the sandbox whenever it rained. The mail man soon tired of my constant inquiries. ("I don't know how it works, kid, I just drive the truck!") My poor teachers' only hope for a moment's peace was to place me in a corner with a "Math for Smarty Pants" book.


Soon my young mind happened across a seemingly insurmountable clash of logic. My friends and parents testified of a fat jolly elf who came down the chimney in winter, bearing gifts for the well-behaved. I trusted my parents, for they had never led me astray. My rudimentary knowledge of physics, however, led me to a host of unresolved cognitive dissonances.


"Mom, Santa isn't real, is he." My chin was thrust out in intellectual defiance. My hands, strategically placed upon my hips, demanded a prompt answer. Had there been any pin to drop that was not currently holding my stuffed animals (who were scrupulously organized, not by height or color, but by the type of animal, a precursor to my later zoology studies) together, it would have resonated like an out-of-tune tuba. "'Cause there's no way he could visit all of the children of the world in one night."


My mother is an honest woman. She told me the truth.


It logically followed that the elves, reindeer, and other such mythical winter characters were nothing in my eyes but a two sided ploy. One goal was to get children to behave, the other to get parents to spend money. Both seemed to work surprisingly well, I thought. I chose not to divulge my hallowed secret to the weaker minded among my peers. I deduced that the Easter bunny was also a farce, along with his partner-in-crime, the Tooth Fairy. I insisted that my parents continue the income-producing ritual, with the condition that they leave the teeth, because "Those are cool!". I stashed them in a plastic cylinder, which I still have to this day. Years later, I would regret that my oral surgeon would not be able to complete the collection with my wisdom teeth.


Despite the obvious repercussions of my discoveries, my parents fostered my curious intellect, even going so far as to purchase a set of childrens' encyclopedias. These encyclopedias were my Red Rider BB gun. My eyes swelled when I first saw them. "Finally!" I thought, "Someone has figured everything out! They even put it in book form . . . I must descend upon this fountain of knowledge and devour it immediately!"


"Mom . . . what's this?" My poor mother's eyes followed my forearm down to my finger and then widened in horror at recognition of the full color cross section. How could her sweet young child be asking such questions? Why did a so-called children's encyclopedia even have such images? These questions had little relevance at this point. Pandora's box had been opened, and my mother knew that no half-baked explanations would do. Were she to attempt some sort of feigned explanation, the bombardment of questions that soon followed would completely overwhelm her defenses.


And thus my innocence fell. I knew where Christmas presents came from. I knew where babies came from. Since then, I have longed to return to a world of fantasy. Books and movies do little to quench my thirst. Whenever I try to believe, a voice nags me until I give in to logical explanations. I am doomed to languish in a world of hard facts and cold figures. Instead of being utterly enlightening, as I had hoped, I find it to be rather dull.


I will not buy my son an encyclopedia.

Monday, January 26, 2009

MY IMAGINARY FRIEND THINKS I'M BORING

MY IMAGINARY FRIEND THINKS I'M BORING - By Kory Wood

Near the top of the list of Worst Phrases in the English Language, ahead of "Eat Less and Exercise" and "Batteries Not Included," and running nearly parallel with "He Thinks We're Dating Exclusively, But We're Not" is the beastly phrase "Over-Active Imagination."
This is the phrase that gets kids thrown outside for an entire Saturday, that drives the Christmas video game industry, that keeps Ritalin manufacturers in Porsches.
Scientists should be working harder to find a way to harness the raw energy lying dormant inside the brain of the 9-year old boy. Anyone who can prod for four hours straight under the same rock must know something the rest of us don't. And the knock-knock jokes! Oh, the knock-knock jokes. Nonsensical punchlines turn crystalline in pure hilarity.
Nothing is as cliched as a child's boundless imagination, but heck, nothing is as boundless as a child's imagination. Sadly, though, one day, I found my fairyland's iron gates. And they were wired with 20,000 volts.
I was, I guess, bright for a growing boy, though this is not saying much; various documented scientific studies show that boys ages 6-24 are ranked on an intellectual scale somewhere between "dryer lint" and "t.v. blender salesmen." Tests were done comparing a group of fifth-grade males to a random selection of border collies, but the tests had to be cancelled due to "...our dignity being severely wounded in the comparison," said the spokesman for the border collie group, Patches (lawsuits are pending).
My point is, for a male child, I was sailing fairly smoothly. I could make it through an entire day without getting an object lodged in any of my facial orifices, which is more than I could say for some of my friends. I remember pulling half a pencil out of my friend Richard's nose. I assumed, of course, that only half of the pencil was originally inserted into his nostril. Even now, he could still be walking around, smelling rubber eraser everywhere he goes.
Richard Ellis had maybe 15 brothers. No one has documented the exact number, since they are all born at the same height and all wore the same buzzed hair cut. Expeditions of biologists have been sent in to classify their species, and not one has come out, though one Dr. Stimpson was last seen streaking down their road, screaming in fear and covered in a thick layer of spitballs and spaghettios. Though fierce and untamed, this Ellis clan was a creative bunch. Invention's overflow spilled copiously from their ears. They could be entertained for years with the same 2-foot square of plywood, with a sack of pipe cleaners, with a roll of masking tape.
One thing they all had were imaginary friends. The number of fantasy buddies this family employed exceeded the known number of Gods in all combined Eastern religions. Richard's best "friend" was this hep cat named Leo. Leo was the Fonz's cooler older brother. Leo taught Jerry Seinfeld how to be funny, and gave Brad Pitt fashion tips. Leo was also completely bogus.
I, of course, knew this, and pointed it out frequently and eloquently to my friend. "You're faking it, stupid!"
"Nuh uh! No I'm not. Leo's standing right here, and he's totally making fun of you right now."
"No, he's not!" And I would jump liberally on the area that was Leo, punching wildly. "I.....DON'T.......FEEL.......ANYTHING! He's not here! There is no Leo!"
"He doesn't get hurt by people like us. He doesn't have a body. You just can't see him, because he only appears to people he likes who are cool."
Well, I didn't buy it, but I had to admire Richard's stoic dedication to this charade. He would hold lengthy conversations with him in my presence when I became tiresome, and would even elect to pass me over for an afternoon just with Leo. I would watch him, my face pushed up against the cold metal of the chain links separating our backyards, talking to his fake, not real, he's-a-big-dumb-liar friend which I didn't believe in at all. Obviously, Leo was made up as a way for Richard to have something that I didn't. There was no way he could be real. Things like imaginary friends just didn't exist. Right? Obviously?
But I began to become jealous. I didn't know why. How could I be jealous of an IMAGINARY friend? I could walk up to Richard and do the exact same thing, and it would make just as much sense. I could pretend to talk to my doppelganger and share cookies with him and dissect bugs with him just like Richard did with Leo.
That's when I decided I would play his little game. I could make up the best playmate ever. Way better than stupid diaper-head Richard's. So, slamming the fence with my palms, I sprinted away, the clanging chain links beating a cadence to my exit. I had decided to fake it.
Now, this lack of sincerity can be seen in most situations as an adult. The man who comes to church every week and professes faith, but never makes time to read his scriptures. The basketball player who tells reporters that he's working hard to just give his all, but hasn't shot a free throw in practice since he was 12.
I discovered quickly that sincerity is a hard thing to replicate, and that it was far more difficult than anticipated to fudge a friend.
"Hey, Richard. Guess who I brought with me?"
"Who? Is it yo momma? Ha ha chortle ha ha SNORT ha ha ha."
".........No, it...... It's my friend.....Leo.....Le.....Leon....Yeah, Leon! He's really cool. And he has a motorcycle, and, eh, he is a doctor already. And he can jump over buildings."
"Leon?"
".......yes.........Leon."
"Awesome! He seems cool. Do you wanna go dig in the compost heap?"
"I...sure...Ok."
"Cool. C'mon, Leo. You too, Leon. You can operate on any bugs we find. Let's go dig out some potato bugs, and we can sacrifice them on that anthill over by the basketball hoop."
As his stubbly head bounced off between the two transparent figures, I stood shocked. I don't believe it! He bought it! He thought I had an actual imaginary friend! Not only that, he was embracing the idea. What a sap. This was too easy.
It was a hard act to keep up, though. While Richard and Leo's conversation flowed effortlessly, I felt that Leon's silence made for an awful, one-sided prattling that I just couldn't fully invest in. It was like the three of them had been handed a script, and I never got one. I eventually gave up trying to plumb the depths of Leon's character and focused more on the maggots I had found in a blackened banana peel.
"Hey, do you mind if Leon comes over and stays the night with me and Leo?"
The question caught me off guard, and I had to say I was a little worried for the sanity of my friend. I mean, it was fun, but he knew that this was a game, right? I didn't believe for a second that Leon was sitting at my side, moping and ignored, drawing circles in the muck with a discarded spade. He was not a real person.
"I mean," said Richard, "I figured you probably get to talk to him all the time, so he could come play with us tonight. Is that ok?"
"I....yeah, sure! That'd be great! I'll tell you what, Leon makes a German chocolate cake that will make your head melt, it's so good. You...you kids have fun, I guess." And I hopped the fence and went home.
From my window, I continued to watch as my creation was poached. Their conversation appeared to be quite stimulating. Richard started laughing raucously at one point, rolling back and forth on the ground, unknowingly monitored and, again, envied.
The next day, I went back to reclaim my brainchild.
"OK, Leon needs to come home, now. He, eh, has to do a transplant today, or something."
"Leon doesn't want to come home. He thinks you're boring."
"............My.........imaginary friend..........that I made up yesterday...thinks.......I'm boring......."
"Hey, I'm not saying it, ok? He was just saying that last night, and I figured I'd say something for him."
"I.....why doesn't he tell me himself?" I stared blankly. "Huh? Leon? Go ahead, tell me you want to stay here."
Richard looked at me suspiciously. "Uh......He's not out here. Can't you tell that? He's inside playing chutes and ladders with Leo."
I stood there, flabbergasted. My imaginary friend, the seed of my gray matter, thought I was annoying. And my friend Richard had stolen him from me.
This was to begin a pattern of rejection in my life with which I would soon become accustomed.
I found myself that night in my room, staring blankly at the patterns on my ceiling.
I bored things that didn't exist. I bored things that not only didn't exist, but that I had control over.
I realized that day that I lacked sincerity. I lacked the key component in the normal fantasies of a child.
I did not believe them.
All those times I had dressed up in superhero outfits and set up chairs in the backyard and run around with my brothers, kicking the be-whats'-it out of those chairs, my brothers had truly been masked crusaders exacting justice on a crime-ridden backyard. I had been a boy with a two-holed piece of Styrofoam taped to my face and a cape made out of a ratty beach towel adorning my weak shoulders, and I was running around punting lawn chairs and yelling.
Every time I had thrown a G.I. Joe off the deck in my back yard, I was not actually executing an evil foreign spy. I was throwing a G.I. Joe off a deck in my back yard.
I'd like to say that I was re-born that day, but I wasn't. My childlike Belief had been dragged into the alley by Cynicism and Disappointment and Evidence and they had broken his kneecaps.
So, now I'm making up for lost time. I'm trying to be as illogically happy as I can everyday. I try to find the humor in everyday things. I laugh when someone says "poop." I tell stories about my bike. I believe most things that people tell me have been scientifically proven, because a) like it matters if they actually have, and b) I wouldn't know it if they hadn't.
To date, I have never had another imaginary friend, though sometimes I wish I did, because when you forget their birthdays you can just tell them they have a different one and they have to accept it.
Remember to go ahead and believe in stupid things. Introduce a little childlike sincerity into your life. Make a stupid joke. The best part about and imaginary friend is that they think everything you say is funny.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To: Everyone From: Justin


A few months ago, my friend and I were talking after class and he said, "You know, this is the first election I can remember where I've been embarassed or afraid to ask people who they support. It's like it's you're asking how much they weigh or something".


Barack Obama was sworn in today as the 44th president of the United States of America. There are plenty of strong opinions percolating among us. This is absolutely a good thing. I know a lot of you are, let's say, less than excited about what happened in this election. Others of you are apathetic, and some of you feel like he couldn't get into office fast enough.

There's a few things I hope all of us can remember today.


Firstly, take a look at how far this country has come. 200 years ago we were trapped in the mire of slavery and oppression. I say "we" because slavery is detrimental not only to those enslaved, but to the entire society. My parents were born when we were a segregated society. Now a man who would have been denied a seat on a bus is the leader of the free world.


Secondly, I believe that debate is healthy. That is the beauty of America. Checks and balances are an essential part of our government. They were instated in order to prevent suffering under the kind of tyranny that the colonies experienced under the rule of Britain. Everyone is welcome to disagree. I'm afraid; however, that our opinions, although often justified, blind us from the truth and the things that are most important.


I believe that we are all children of the same God. You're welcome to disagree with me on this, but whether you believe we're children of God, the latest version of the homo genus, or that we were planted here by extra-terrestrials, it is hard to make a case that we're not all the same. We all love, cry, want, sweat, work, play, live, and hope. That we may all have the unhindered opportunity to do so is the purest form of the American dream.


I hope that we all take the opportunity to hope for a better world. I know President Obama has used this word a lot. Couldn't we all use a little more hope? Hope that your children grow up violence free. Hope that the economy will get better. Hope that your neighbor will come home safely from Iraq. Hope that you do okay on your finals. Hope for the best your life can be.

Today is a day of hope. Come together. Take a step back from your routine. Make a new beginning. Work to make your life and those of your loved ones a little better. Smell a flower, play with the dog. Read Dr. King's "I Have Dream Speech". Tickle your little siblings, neices, or nephews. Get to know your neighbors. Volunteer. Reach out to those whose heads hang down. Read a book to a child. Do whatever you can to improve your community. Smile at total strangers.


Coming together and working for a better tomorrow is what this day is all about. Celebrate your freedom. Keep in mind those who don't have it. Celebrate the peaceful transfer of power. Be grateful. Pursue your happiness. If you don't do it now, who will?


Today is a new beginning. There's a rough road ahead. Won't it be better if we all go down it together?