Borer Beetles and Paintball

9 07 2011

Back in the late 90’s, my friends and I were avid paintball players.  We had all purchased our own equipment, and paintball paraphernalia became a common birthday present among all of us.  To this day, I still have some blue JT paintball gloves that (sort of) fit, and on the (roughly yearly) occasions when I manage to get back out on the field, it’s still a very nostalgic experience to sort through my old equipment, remembering where this barrel came from, when John gave me that harness and when I bought my blue and black bag at the store with the full intention of using it for paintball.

However, one aspect of paintballing in Los Osos was the fact that we (at the time) had no designated field for paintball in the immediate vicinity.  What there was was a big clearing (a couple acres, maybe) surrounded by old oak trees at the bottom of a steep cul de sac behind the local Nazarene church; and a dozen people or so had been using the area for impromptu paintball games for a couple of years before any of my friends had even heard of paintball.  Most of my friends and I had our first paintball experience in that clearing, and as more of started getting involved, the group started growing and the games became more regular.

But there’s always a catch, and in Los Osos, the catch was usually the environment.  From the Banded Dune Snail to the Snowy Plover, the Central Coast had long been a place for contention about protecting endangered species at the cost of development or public park acreage.  I was never thrilled about these species and their supposed habitat as a kid because, hey, snails.

These two things finally intersected during a Saturday morning paintball game.  We had halted the game to allow for some nature walkers to pass through the clearing (as we always did), and they made various comments about our militant garb and our destruction of the beautiful environment.  When one guy, Royce, asked politely (as I recall) how precisely we were harming the environment (which consisted of standard-issue oak trees spotted with dirt and bushes) with biodegradable paintballs, they drew our attention to some nearby trees that had some faded (from last week, we maintained) paint splotches.

“See these?  This is a common coloring of the borer beetle, and you are shooting up its habitat.”

A couple of us laughed involuntarily at these poor people, who had not only mistaken paint for a beetle’s residue (?), but also seemed to think that we were traumatizing the poor insects with our safe and enjoyable fun.  As I recall, one of the older guys diffused the conversation and the group went on its way after a few parting shots.  From then on we starting receiving frequent visits from sheriff’s deputies who maintained that we were technically “allowed” to be there (as we heard it, the owner of the property was apathetic to our presence), but that complaints by local neighbors mandated at least their asking us to leave.  Depending on the deputy and her/his attitude, we would generally comply, though not without (fairly justified) grumbling.

And then, this morning, I saw this article:,9171,2079574,00.html

I’m not sure I can ever forgive those nature walkers now.

This is I

2 09 2010

I don't remember this picture. I may be asleep.

Camp was interesting.  I went there every year and met new people and did new things.  One interesting thing about the camp I went to every year was that none of the people at that camp (Except for my family and a couple of miscellaneous adults) knew anything about me other than what they learned about me while I was at camp.  This was interesting.  It was kind of like the first few weeks of dating someone, when you’re pretty sure they’re amazing, but you’re wary of spending more time with them the longer it goes because you suspect they can’t be that awesome (hint: they’re not.  At least, I’m not).

So, I kept going back to this camp for something like seven years.  I eventually roomed with one of the people I met there.  I visited a couple of other people from camp in 2005 on what was then my longest drive I’d ever taken.  I may have left some of my clothes at their house, and never got them back.  I believe my Bear Naked shirt was one of those items, and I got that shirt at camp along with Ian, another guy from camp.  Meaning that I bought the shirt and he bought one as well.  Not that I bought Ian at camp.  Although I did beat him at fake poker a couple times.

I went back to that camp last year as a counselor.  It was fantastic.  I had to check myself a couple of times when I started weirding out these 7th graders as I started telling them how much fun they were going to have at camp.  Some of them sort of believed me, but most of them just didn’t understand what I was trying to communicate.  I think they suspected me of something in the way kids suspect lifeguards of sinister motives when they tell them not to run by the pool.  Incidentally, I never liked the lifeguards at camp.  They were hired goons.  Water goons.

It’s hard to realize that I won’t have a place like camp again.  Not exactly like it, at least.  I’ll have other places, though.  And I’ll have camp, even if it turns into something different.  As I see my camp friends grow up and get married (sometimes to each other) or begin to wander from their faith or grow stronger in it, I wonder how present that eventual mentality was in all of us back then.  Was I already the psuedo-cynical writer destined to not be able to support himself through writing about being cynical and wearing…suede…shoes?  I don’t think so.  I think college (or the equivalent time period in most people’s lives of ideas becoming solidified and ideals beginning to supplant fantasies) probably did a lot of that.  I think that means camp can only do so much for you.  I thankfully stopped fairly early on trying to squeeze more dream realization out of camp — I made some good friends, and I made some embarrassing mistakes (You done goofed!), but at least I was never “that guy who…” at camp.  My reputation is something I value pretty highly, even if I’m sometimes too lazy to maintain it as well as I should.  I’m grateful I can still look people from camp in the eye (except for that stupid pointy unicorn), and I’m especially grateful for any opportunity to hand down such a great series of experiences and dreams (realized and ongoing alike) to some kids.  Whenever I start to get annoyed about having to think up new games for the kids on Thursday night…that’s what I’ll have to tell myself.

And seriously, I don’t remember EVER letting Joe take a picture with me.


5 07 2010

How could it not have been a great weekend?  I got off work at 1, and after putting all thoughts of the accumulated tasks I’d get to face on Tuesday out of my mind, Juel dropped me off at LAX and I was free to go.  Flying is something I do enjoy, even in coach – “economy” to United.  It started well, as the flight attendant asked me almost as soon as I had sat down if I would mind switching seats with a passenger in the forward “economy plus” section of the cabin who had a fear of flying.  I got to move up and gain a few inches of legroom simply because this man preferred the rear “safer” portion of the plane.  Hey, the way I see it, we’re crashing into the ground from the sky regardless in a worst-case scenario, so I’ll take the extra legroom on the way down regardless.

The lady next to me on that flight had experienced a couple of delays and missed flights getting out of Palm Springs (where a certain couple is enjoying their honeymoon), so we struck up a good conversation about the perils of traveling for work and the lame in-flight movie (How to Train your Dragon) before getting our food and drinks (not free, of course) and catching some sleep.  I got into Dulles around 12:30 local time, and while it should have been 9:30 to me (having lost three hours on the flight), flights always wipe me out, sleep or no.  John picked me up (after sneaking up on me in the baggage-claim area just to prove that he could have been a ninja if he had really wanted to) and we made the trek back to his place and collapsed in the apartment, awaiting the unbounded enjoyment of a holiday weekend.

Here are a few bullet points I want to expand upon when I’m not exhausted:

I caught four fish (in an admittedly stocked pond)

Experiencing the National Mall on July 4th

Trying to leave the National Mall on the evening of July 4th

-Waiting in line for the Metro

-Traveling on the Metro

-Realizing that we might have been better off walking the thirty miles from Dumfries, VA to D.C.

Timelessness of real friendships

Good and Ugly parts of American attitudes (see “waiting in line for the Metro”)

I’m already nodding off, probably because I got two segments of fitful three-hour sleep today, and a bit of jet lag is messing with my mind.

The fireworks were incredible, though.


24 05 2010

Boys will be foul-mouthed boys

The Mighty Ducks embodies everything I desired as a kid:  Glory through accomplishing something incredibly difficult, the admiration of my peers, and a sweet early 90s soundtrack.  Also hockey.  This sport, for some reason, really holds a lot of fascination for me.  Sports in general always have, but hockey seems to contain the smooth, rapid flashes of proficiency in an unparalleled manner.

I came to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never gain any great, lasting glory through any accomplishment in sports a long time ago, but I always think, when watching Mike Modano (or Michael Modano, as he’s credited in Mighty Ducks) glide up the ice, that if it were me out there being watching by millions of people, I’d somehow enjoy it more than anyone else.  I’ve loved competition my whole life (even as far back as playing chess with Dad on that old civil war set he has somewhere), but I finally had to realize a few months ago that competition is just the tiniest taste of greatness through accomplishment…but I’ll always savor those few moments I did have.  Not because they’re somehow more honorable than real battles fought against real enemies (and really, how can fighting another human truly be something to rejoice over wholeheartedly?), but because they’re more innocent.  Such fun can only be had in community, and community is just a taste of the greatest relationship we’ll ever know.


18 05 2010

You know you’re close with someone when you can just come over to their place and be there for a while without an objective.  One thing I’ve hated about adult life is how much we have to have a “reason” to get together with friends.  Events and reasons for getting together are usually fun, and I’ve always looked forward to events with my peers, but I also spent a lot of my free time with friends just hanging around and talking, playing cards, board games, video games, building things, riding bikes, driving down to the beach, downtown San Luis, visiting people at work, and many other things that just happened.

Now, I’m blessed to have roommates who are as enjoyable to spend time with as anyone I know, and frequently more so.  I’m not complaining by any stretch of the imagination.  However, I miss the familiar otherness of having that friend whose house/backyard/dorm room/apartment I could just go to and spend time at.  And vice versa.  I think it’s selfish of me, but I miss it.  Maybe it’s a sort of aimless amiability that childhood can grasp far better than adulthood — and maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  I suppose I’m supposed to be becoming more independent, and while that doesn’t mean close friendships need be abolished as one ages, I suppose it does mean that the sort of close friendship I’m missing is going to be much harder to find than it was in Los Osos.  And I guess I’ll just have to learn to be ok with that, as much as I really want to have some nebulous person to walk through the door right now and start cracking a joke about the Dodger game that’s playing in the background of my thoughts.

* * *

Since the series finale of LOST is coming up this weekend (I think), I’ll be looking for any especially good Gilligan’s Island analogies I can use to really irk the show’s biggest fans.  Submit them as they occur to you.

Right now, I’m thinking of just “accidentally” using the term castaway around Randall all week, then walking around humming the best TV show theme song right before he goes to sleep each night.


1 05 2010

It’s a synthetic compound

And a catalyst

It enhances Ruku with


But the T stands for Taking

My dreams all Away

And even 38-X-11 can’t

Live to fight another day.


27 02 2010

For our writer’s group this morning, I put together the following brief “get to know me” bit.  It’s not meant to be totally historical, but hey, I took some liberties with the facts.

* * *

My childhood memories are a great source of strength to me.  Our family’s weekly routine often revolved around dictated means of labor and education, which only made it sort of like Soviet Russia.  I’m still grateful to my father for teaching me the value of sleep the way the USSR taught its citizens the value of currency – slow, methodical deprivation and devaluation.  My parents would force me to go to sleep while it was still light outside, thereby teaching me to resent sleep at its outset; then they would invariably wake we up mercilessly and abruptly each morning with implements ranging from nothing but their strident voices and latent disappointment in my sloth to ice cubes in my bed and drumming pots & pans (not bedpans).  Gorbachev himself couldn’t have decimated my ability to relax more effectively.

Actually, I’ve often thought most people had cause to be jealous of me.  I’ve got full British heritage on both sides of my family, I was born in Texas, and I was raised in the only part of California you don’t need to feel guilty or embarrassed about living in:  the Central Coast.  This means that I am fated to be a sardonic cowboy who takes a disproportionate amount of pride in his upbringing.  I’d compare myself to John Wayne, but he was tall, and good friends with one of our local magnates who would never let me get away with that.  Yeah, I know people.

I’ve had a general fascination with nicknames and shoes that hasn’t faded over the years.  While my dad chose to go the endearing route with nicknames like “Berto,” I had a soccer coach when I was 10 or so who nicknamed me the Tiny Terror.  I wasn’t particularly small at that age, but I was apparently terrifying to an above-average degree.  Whether the terror was implied to have stemmed from my stature or some other diminutive aspect of my person, I still can’t say.  I’d ask the coach, but he got arrested a couple of years later for inappropriate conduct with some young karate students he was training at his dojo.  I don’t use that nickname anymore.

I’ve been writing since I was around 15, but with mixed results.  While my metaphorical pen was enough to get me a degree in journalism (my actual pen broke during the application process), it wasn’t enough to resuscitate the news industry, which is apparently not as lucrative as I was led to believe by the articles I read in the paper right before I came to college.  Thankfully, I supplemented my ill-fated choice of a major with social and romantic exploits that wouldn’t fit on this page, only partially because they don’t exist.  I have mostly read, worked and played sports for the past five years – In other words, I’m a combination of Mary Bennett, Martin Eden, and A-Rod – without the steroids, luscious neck, or zombie-hunting skills.  I also enjoy studying our country’s presidents, for completely separate reasons that I am not required by law to enumerate.

For the past few months, I’ve worked at Makita USA, which provides people with power tools that we hope will need repairs or supplemental parts that we can sell, since we don’t really make any money by selling the tools themselves.  While my initial instincts suggested that hoping for the customer to be unsatisfied with what you sell them was an unsustainable business practice, first-hand experience with purchasing minutiae and a 40-hour work week have crushed any free will or desire to think more effectively than all the ice cubs and karate teachers in the world.  These days, I have learned to live by one motto: “The fanatic is one who can’t change his mind but won’t change the subject.”

So, let’s keep talking about me.