Summer Evenings

30 05 2012

This post was supposed to be an uploaded video I took when I went for a walk around my neighborhood the other night. As you can see, the video did not upload correctly (at all). I’ve noticed that WordPress hasn’t been accepting direct video uploads from my new phone. I’m not sure what the point of having the WordPress app is if it won’t let you do one-touch things like that, but no matter. I’ll just keep going as if I don’t care. Which I do. But, dissimulation, activate:


Warm summer evenings are a double-edged sword. I’m most familiar with them from my junior and senior college years, when I lived off campus in houses that never used air conditioning because they were inhabited by intelligent college students who knew the one rule about using air conditioners: You never, EVER use the air conditioner because it costs a billion dollars.

Well, at least I’m fairly sure that’s a rule. I know that you can’t really standardize that sort of thing, but we certainly all seemed to be in agreement about the fact that we could never, EVER use the air conditioner because we were very cost-conscious. Keep in mind that these were the same college guys who would buy fast food five times a week.


I love walking around a nice neighborhood on a warm summer evening. You can feel the gentle rush of air across your body as your pace quickens, but it never penetrates to actually chill you at all. It’s as if you’re continually being sprayed by a water bottle and a fan, only they’re invisible, and you don’t get wet.


One thing I’ve inherited from my youth is a desire to save money in all sorts of situations. For instance, I won’t buy my favorite cereal unless it’s on sale. It can be on sale for just twenty cents less than it normally costs, and I generally decide that this “qualifies” as saving money. You know what I realized? I make money! I can buy my favorite cereal and spend that extra dollar fifty every two weeks because I’m saving money on a grander scale (which I am) and not being extravagant on a smaller scale (no fast food more than once a week). But I still won’t run the air conditioner.


In the video that didn’t upload, I was walking in the general direction of my alma mater — the surrounding neighborhood is really nice — and I was whistling the theme song to “The Great Escape” with Steven McQueen. I remember watching the movie with my dad and being very disappointed when Steven’s character was apprehended amid barbed wire towards the end of the movie.

Back then, I didn’t really get what was being conveyed with his throwing the baseball in solitary confinement at the end of the film. I only knew that I wanted him to escape, and he did not. I wonder if I was better able to enjoy movies before I learned the nuances of film. The Sound of Music still moves me primarily because of the memories it stirs of watching the two VHS tapes we’d get from the library because the movie was so long that it had to be on two tapes.

I later found out that my Dad doesn’t care for that movie (or was it my aunt? I think they’ve changed their opinion back and forth over the years, but I know it resonates with them in a very different way than with me.)


In the middle of hot, uncomfortable nights when even a sheet seems too suffocating, I am still grateful for warm summer evenings.

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.

End of Days

28 01 2011

A few weeks late, but I just can’t let Arnold’s time in office come to a close without allotting just a moment or two to remembrance of it.  I mean…come on.  Our governor.

Free, courtesy of the suckers at Wikipedia

I’m not lying when I say that Arnold’s tenure in office strongly shaped how I view politics today.  I’m confident that he and Bush are the two happiest ex-executives in America today.

Freshening up

16 01 2011

Toughening up the ol' arteries is the key to long life

WordPress informs me that this blog was viewed somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,800 times last year.  While a decent chunk of that probably has to do with my Komodo Dragon obsession, I’d like to think that at least some of the nine 747s worth of you that checked out the old Robsteak Blogbake last year will stick around for another.

To start off 2011, I’ve finally wrapped up that short story I’d been working on for a while.  While I’m not certain about whether I’m forfeiting any copyright to the work by posting it here, I’m going to share it with you anyhow.  (Sorry, Professor Hirsen, for not remembering the specifics of blog content ownership.)

Warning:  It’s long and still rough.  My writing group graciously went over this with me for the last I-don’t-know-how-many-months, and gave me quite a few wonderful suggestions, many of which I’ve still to implement.  All told, I’m not wholly disgusted with the result.  Diverting or not, I do hope you have the patience for it.

The Dragon of Westerly Windings

I’ve been nipping around this earth for a fair amount of years now, and if there’s one thing I’ve always been willing to stake my reputation on, one thing I’m absolutely rock-solid about, it’s this:  Don’t depend upon Charlie Broxton’s trousers.  I understand that you may be hesitant to take me at my word first thing and all, but let me explain a bit about Charlie.  He’s not the sort of man you just feel fraternally bound to upon first hello, if you know what I mean.  Put another way, he’s not the sort of man you just saunter up to on a weeknight and ask if he wants to help you steal a lawn fixture.  Oh sure, he might join in if you and the boys are all set to go from the outset, but he’ll find his way to getting entrusted with guard duty, and at the first sign of a rifle sticking out the window he’ll leg it faster than Jimmy Cullen from a church vestibule on Sunday at 12:01, hanging you out to dry on the off-chance that he’ll accrue a stain on that perfect record of his with Cassleton’s finest.  And while you’re at the police station being remonstrated by Sergeant Folk while trying to exchange pleasantries with the desk clerks, Charlie’s at home sipping his caffeine-free soda and folding socks in his room with a clean conscience. (Although I’ve no idea how one could really dirty it, as I’ve no evidence that it exists.)  Put simply, Charlie is one who finds contentment in stagnation and repugnance in the exhilarating.  Not the sort of man whose name you find on too many a last will & testament, if you get my meaning.

However, you know what they say about old school ties, and as he is still under the impression that our friendship is a thrice-woven cord, I had no real reason to sever the knot until last Wednesday.  For that, as you’ll presently understand, was when he destroyed my best and brightest hope for happiness in this sorry world.

* * *

“Westerly, you blighter,” I hollered, “put down the watch before Mr. Bungleton finds out what you’re up to and chews your leg off.  The poor dog’s been through enough for one day.”  Phillip Westerly simply tossed a patronizing grin at me and continued to hold the shiny trinket aloft, provoking poor Bungles into another fit of frantic scratching at the cabinet hosting the offending light from its reflection.

“It’s good for him,” he said. “How do you expect him to take a bite out of the morning postman if he’s not kept in shape?”  I tried to explain to Phippy that that one simply doesn’t torture one’s dog into shape these days, but he became tone-deaf as soon as I started with one of my famous “Phippy, old man” parts.  Lately I’ve noticed many of my friends encountering similar hearing difficulties in such instances, and quite frankly it’s getting to be less than tolerable.  I bypassed the usual roundabout and got to the point.

“It’s no good, Phippy.  I’ve just received a note from Laurie, and her words are dark.”  This brought the lanky fellow ‘round.  We’d been looking ahead to this evening ever since the Cassleton Bridge Club called the police on Phippy’s birthday party last month.  To think that there are still people in this world who cannot hold with a good-natured gathering of humanity. Well, it deals the ever-optimistic Tiffin heart a blow, I can tell you.  One minute you’re in the throes of jubilation, breaking Jimmy Cullen’s record for Apex Reached by a Thrown Lawn Fixture, and the next you’re bolting haphazardly out of Ms. Garrouche’s garden, hotly pursued by a pack of middle-aged cardsharpers.  To be true, it’s almost more than the heart can bear.  But ever since Laurie Swellings had given word of her annual St. George festival, our spirits had began climbing steadily.  If you’ve ever been to a Swellings St. George party, little more need be said.  If you haven’t however, just be careful not to mention this failure in the higher circles, or you’ll find yourself being regaled with the tales of blindfolded rectors and loose tigers for hours on end.  Three years ago, I believe it was, Bobby Cronstile made a bit of a splash when he proceeded to scale the greater portion of the library wall before falling into a gardenia bush below.  I’d say he had a bit of the stuff, but the fact is he woke up the next morning, walked home in his shirtsleeves and still refuses to say a word about the event, so speculation is all the history books have as to the precise state of his mental lubrication.

With that in mind, to hear what I had only just been told was nothing short of devastating, and I could hardly fathom the effect it would have on poor Phippy.

“What?  Speak up man, what’s she say?  It’s not canceled?”  I looked at him somberly.

“Phippy, her family has invited the bishop to lunch that Sunday, and he’s to stay for the feast.”

Phippy just stared through me, barely able to speak.  He finally managed to gasp, in a mournful sort of way:

“But good Heavens, Roger, this is Laurie’s St. George Festival.  It’s no place for a man of the church.”

“I know.”

“He’ll keel over in fervent and apologetic prayer before dessert’s been served.”

“Quite likely.”

“Not to mention that Caroline Gregson is going to be there.”

“Too right.”

“How am I to make eyes at her with His Eminence there peering over any shoulder he can find?”

“I’m afraid it’s set in stone, Phippy.  Apparently Laurie’s Aunt Gladys met him back in Tankerville last week, and simply drowned him with simpering pleas until he consented to come.”

Phippy snorted.

“I should have done the same thing in his situation.  The woman’s got the persuasive powers of Attila when she has you cornered.”

I thought about asking Phillip if he was recalling the summer when he found himself driving Laurie’s Aunt around the countryside every Saturday as she recorded the number of wheat fields in the southern county for her Grand History of the Land, but thought better of it.  As I recall, his assenting to be her chauffeur came shortly on the heels of the incident with the old woman’s dog and the barbershop quartet, so there was really very little investigation left to do in the matter.

“I’m afraid there’s more, Phippy,” I noted, steeling myself against the words I had only just absorbed myself.  “There’s to be no cocktails at all.”

“No cocktails?!  But how are we to honor our good man George without cocktails?  You’re quite sure, Roger?”

“Laurie made that point most evident.  No cocktails at all.  Apparently the bishop finds them a repugnant representation of the decline in today’s society or some such twaddle.”

“Well that’s jolly good.  A festival without cocktails and his Holiness freezing each grin miles before its crescendo.”  Phippy disgustedly aimed the biscuit he’d been saving at Mr. Bungles, who was only too happy to collect his reward after absorbing the hit.  “If you see something swaying from the library rafters, Roger, don’t be alarmed.  It will only be my corpse saluting this earth after having my life extracted by want of cocktails.”

I felt little need to alert him to the drool marking his pant legs as he got up to leave.

* * *

I was strolling through town on Tuesday morning having just gotten a fresh haircut and was beginning to feel a bit less downhearted about the upcoming frivolities when I heard a “What ho, Reggie!” and turned to see Charles Broxton bearing down upon me.  It’s situations like these that often aid one’s memory of imminent appointments and obligations, but my dejection had all but quashed my improvisational talents for the day.

“What what, Charlie,” I replied none too vigorously.

“Good morning, Roger,” Charlie piped.  The fellow clearly hadn’t quite found his bit of conversational impromptu yet either, so I stayed in the vein.

“Hello, Bronto.”  I felt this summed things up nicely, and prepared to continue on my way, when his eyes slowly lit up and he grabbed my shoulder.”

“I say, Reggie, you aren’t going to Laurie’s tomorrow?”

It was as I had feared.  The Tiffin atmosphere is widely known for its exuberant effects upon all surroundings, and the usually well-oiled attendees of the St. George fest were sure to experience the vivid pangs of excitement that came with being shown the real nature of a Proper Wednesday Night.  Charlie, however, saw himself leading the charge alongside Yours Truly to stake his place among the good names in the town.  Today, however, I had hardly the strength to keep my head from collapsing upon the barber’s razor as it brushed my jugular, so meeting with the full force of Charlie’s personality before lunch was a bit more than I could handle at the time.  I saw only one route: the polite dismissal.

“As a matter of fact, Charles, I don’t know that I can find my way to it.  I’ve simply so much to do — you know how things go towards the end of the spring — and I’m afraid it’s going to be rather a dull affair on all sides.  I hate to say it, but I fancy you’ll be finding yourself among livelier circles tomorrow night.  My condolences, old man.”

And such would usually have done the trick, but I found Charlie barely acknowledging that I had spoken.  He had come pre-loaded with questions for the first unfortunate soul he chanced to meet, and my name had come up on the register.

“Oh, that’s too bad Reggie.  But I’m sure it’ll be quite the affair even without you.  I’ve heard the Bishop is going to make an appearance, and you know how well I’ve memorized my minor prophets.  I’m sure to make a killing with the Gregson Bird when the subject of prophet memorization comes up.”

I started.  Now here was a pitfall if I’d ever recognized one.  Broxton had apparently found himself enamored with the same girl that Phippy had all but slain himself for already.  But when one’s friends are involved, a modicum of respect for reality has to come into play.  Here was Bronto, a stout but oblivious young scholar with glasses thicker than the beard he had been working on for months, unknowingly going up against Phippy, the captain of the squash team who had gained something of a reputation for striking other players’ ankles at their most vulnerable times.  Surely there was only one thing to say to Bronto.

“That’s a man, Bronto, Found yourself a girl, have you?  Quite right.  Well, you know the standard op. procedure, then.  Play it slow and steady and keep your distance until she’s driven mad with affection and throws herself into your arms in a few months’ time.”

“Oh Reggie, I can see you’ve never met the girl.  If you’d only looked into her eyes one time, surely you’d be tossing your cares aside tomorrow night and throwing yourself at her feet alongside me.”

It occurred to me that Bronto might well find himself splayed out tomorrow, but not of his own will.  I employed another tack.

“Look here, Charlie, are you sure she’s really the girl for you?  After all, I’d think you’d want a girl with more muscle, someone who could really match your vitality in all aspects of life.  From what I’ve heard of this Gregson, she’s absolutely ethereal with every breath she takes.”  Hopefully Phippy wouldn’t mind my stealing the third line of the sonnet he had been working on in his journal.  After all, he’d certainly have locked it better if he’d meant to keep it from the public eye.

“Oh, ethereal is just the word.  She simply floats about, stealing your soul before your very eyes.  I tell you Reggie, I’d climb the library wall even with a hundred gardenias awaiting my descent if it would incline her head towards me for only an instant.”

My efforts seemed to have only thrown fuel on Cupid’s inferno.  Like that one famous general said, there’s always a time to fall back upon the something and try again upon the morrow.  I bid Charlie a resigned good morning as he muttered something about epics, and headed off toward Chesapeake Hall.  As I turned down the lane, a distant gunshot and a following epithet told me Uncle Jerry was still as healthy as 78 years ever made a man.


I knocked out of courtesy for the household, but I treated Sallins with the same familiarity as ever, patting him on the shoulder and brushing by after acknowledging his “good afternoon, sir” with an impatient nod.   Uncle Gerald’s idea of casual sport was more fascinating than most people’s vision of the apocalypse, and I wasn’t going to miss more than I had to for Sallins or anyone.

Upon reaching the den, I stopped and admired the soft afternoon sunlight streaming through the new skylight my uncle’s Remington had just installed in the roof.  “Hello, my boy,” he said with a wan smile.  “What brings you up to Chesapeake this dreadfully boring day?”

As reassuring as it is to know that my uncle still finds boring what my departed mother would have found criminal, even I had to satisfy my curiosity at risk of offending his sense of normalcy.

“It’s good to see you, uncle.  Sporting for your spring fowl indoors this season, eh?”

Uncle rebuffed me right off.  “Now Roger, don’t give me any of that.  I know perfectly well you’ve come to ask a favor, and until your mouth went off I just might have granted it.  As it is, however, your hopes are likely to meet with the same fate of my recently remodeled roof.  Curse that starling’s nimble wings!  I’ll get him yet.”

Had he not tossed the rifle my way with the same geniality he initially expressed, I would have found myself downhearted.  As it was, I took aim about ten feet right of the original porthole, and began to let loose at the faint sound of chirping as he gleefully pointed out the targets to me to the best of his aged hearing’s ability.

“It’s like this, Uncle,” I began amid the falling splinters of the roof, and I proceeded to lay out the details of the pickle before we’d completely turned the house into a convertible.

“Here’s what I don’t—RIGHT THERE! BLAST HIM REGGIE!…understand,” shouted Uncle Jerry above the crashing of the chandelier.  “You’ve always despised this fellow Broxton, and yet you shy away from watching him meet with Lord Comeuppance himself in the guise of Phillip Westerly.  What’s preventing you from seeing this as a glorious bit of fortune to liven up the droll affair?”

“It’s not the excitement I’m dreading, Uncle,” I hastened, “It’s the risk of the thing.  If Caroline sees Phippy lay out the eternally helpless Bronto, her feminine sympathies are sure to align themselves with the mortally wounded rather than Phippy.  And goodness knows I’ve never seen another woman who could cow Phillip Westerly.”

“Well, so long as you’re not putting yourself on the line purely for the Broxton, I –OH BLOW HIM TO KINGDOME COME, MY BOY, JUST TO THE RIGHT! AGAIN, AGAIN!…suppose I could offer you some wisdom,” Uncle conceded.  “It’s just that he’s been railing against the liquor vendors in Forte Alley at City Council meetings lately, and I couldn’t abide my favorite living nephew’s sticking his neck out for the blighter.”

Having frequented the named alley myself on more than the odd occasion, the news of Bronto’s crusade only further soured me towards the subject.  While I’d spare his body for the sake of Phippy’s heart, I’d do no more than that if I could at all help it.  I consented, and Uncle proceeded to lay out his view of the thing.

“The way I see it, Roger, you have three potent resources at your disposal.  The Bishop, this Gregson girl, and your engaging way of speech.  All you have to do is find a way of using the first to get the attention of the second, and not-so-subtly point her in the way she needs to go.  As I’ve heard, she’s rather devout when it comes to religious authorities, and a bit of amiability from His Eminence would give you some credibility with the bird, what?  From there, you’ve only to say a few words about Phippy’s bright future and nothing about his past, and the bird’s in his arms by sunset and you’re home in time for port in the library with your favorite uncle.”

The plan had merit, I couldn’t doubt that.  However, I saw a rather tenuous facet of the plot that Uncle seemed to be taking in stride.

“And Phippy’s Aunt Gladys?  Am I just to tear the bishop from her  groveling with a wink and a glass of sherry?  The woman is sure to be violently possessive of the most notable man in the county the night through, and getting on Laurie’s Aunt’s bad side means getting on Laurie’s bad side, which means participation in the Grand Challenge of St. George at the hostess’s behest.  From there, you can hardly imagine the fate that awaits my person, but I’ve not doubt it involves gardenia bushes and a hospital bed.”

“Roger W. Tiffin, if I didn’t have so much sunlight illuminating your features, I’d swear it was your niece in here, bemoaning the lack of cranberry sauce at her third birthday par—YOU MISSED AGAIN, YOU FOOL!  GIVE ME THAT!  You don’t really think Laurie Swellings is going to risk putting you under the figurative, and perhaps literal, knife for her own amusement?  As the woman’s practically proposed to you on three separate occasions, I hardly think there’s much risk of her putting you in any bodily danger whatsoever, no matter what her aunt declares.”

Now, I can take some well-meant humor as well as any man, and we Tiffins are especially notable for our thick skin.  And if Uncle Jerry wanted to propose a plan for preserving my friend’s well-being, that was one thing – but defaming my noble and platonic relationship with Miss Swellings was another entirely, no matter how many people felt compelled to whisper about our “never-ending courtship” and whatnot.  We had a mutual respect for each other on completely respectable terms, and allowing that to be dragged through the mud was too much to allow even my favorite living uncle.

“I thank you for your advice, Uncle,” I said, stiffly. “I’m sorry that you place yourself alongside the vulgar populace of this town who see nothing more entertaining to be had than disgusting banter about two upstanding individuals and their friendship.”

“Oh ho!  I hardly think you’ll be able to stand up for much of the night – goodness knows you wilt under her gaze like a tulip in July.  Now, you’ve had the better part of my marksmanship training to glean some wisdom from your elders, but I can hardly be blamed if you choose to maintain your headstrong ways, Roger.  I’ve laid it out for you clear as my newly-illuminated living room, but I’m sure you’ll erupt in some foolhardy scheme of your own just to impress your future Mrs. Reggie before the cocktails are even served.”

“There will not be any cocktails, my dear uncle.  Good day.”

* * *

As I walked home, I began contemplating my impending fate.  At times like these, one is naturally bound to think back to those who went before him, and I found myself pondering the noble Tiffin men who had navigated their portion of trial throughout the years.  I can remember Uncle Jerry telling me about old Grandpa Ira, who managed to dissuade a mob of irate citizens from burning down his shop with him still occupying it.  The issue had centered on some cologne he had sold with an unfortunate side effect of causing severe nausea an hour or two after application, which was hardly ideal for men who applied the stuff before a night on the town. Even the most lighthearted man finds little amusement in impressing the flora and fauna of Cassleton by publicly retching himself near death on a Saturday night.  Fortunately, my good old ancestor had clarified his position on the product with a word on the liquid’s fantastic possibilities as an insecticide, and the crowd dispersed peacefully.  It’s worth noting that Cassleton has been remarkably avoided by the creeping things ever since.  These days, a picnicker is more likely to lose his sandwich to Jimmy Cullen’s quick grab than a pack of ants.

However, the mess I was covered in demanded more ingenuity than usual.  If I was to hitch up Caroline Gregson to Phippy and spare Charlie’s ample frame from complete decimation in the process, there was only one thing to do.  Yes, in times like these, there’s nothing for it but to reach deep into the recesses of one’s mind and pull out the best scheme available.  In this case, with excruciating effort and the aid of three Gin and T’s from the Speckled Swan, I managed to exhume just the ghost of an idea:  I would somehow have to get Caroline’s attention long enough to briefly demonstrate goodwill between The Honorable Bish and old Phippy.  Anything less was sure to fail, and any extended interaction between the two men was sure to cause something of an unplanned adventure, and even we Tiffins find adventure something to be sought rather than be sought by. Of course, there was the matter of Aunt Gladys, but I’m sure a few words to my noble friend Laurie could alleviate that problem without a hitch.  The convenient thing about friendship is the reliability of help when called for, and Laurie was as steady a friend as one could ask for.

* * *

Arriving slightly tardily to the party, I was greeted by the more well-known part of Laurie’s personality.

“Reggie, you’re a brute.  A vicious, heartless brute who deserves more lambasting than I’m capable of at the moment.  I’ve been cleaning the house, confirming attendance, buying food and drinks (not cocktails), and shopping all day!  Then, when I finally stop by your home to ask for your help as you’d so sincerely promised, I learn that you’re drowning whatever sorrows pitiful aristocrats such as yourself are capable of having these days down at that dreadful drinking establishment!  And now, you have the nerve to show up here empty-handed as usual!”

Laurie’s tone seemed markedly less than conversational upon my arrival that evening, and with my bloodline’s especially acute powers of perception, I determined the cause of the trouble right away, and set about laying the subtle lines of suggestion amid placid and sympathetic overtones.

“Why, old thing, that’s terrible.  Has your dreadful aunt gone and mucked up the preparations?  I suppose it’s time we put her up in the Rondson Home for Advanced Citizens as I’ve suggested.  Well, I’ll go pull the car around and we’ll load her up, waning sentience and all.”

Laurie looked at me, quivering, as her mouth opened and closed without mustering speech. (A rarity indeed.)  I offered a sympathetic arm, but found myself rebuffed as her vocal chords marked themselves present once again.

“Roger Tiffin, if you set foot on my doorstep again, I’ll have dogs, police, and even Auntie Gladys after you for the rest of your days.  Why, to suggest…well, it’s simply astounding!”

“Now, now Laurels, I was only pointing out the shortfalls I’ve had the pain to witness in my own family.  Why, you of all people know how beset old Uncle Jerry is by drifting focus and loss of reason.  It’s a curse of advanced years, and I was simply offering my best effort to spare you the same ordeal.  Of course I have all the respect in the world for your aunt, and always will.”

She said nothing at first, then her features softened as I finished my sentence, and a rather demure smile took the place of fresh rage and indignation.  If you don’t know much about women, then allow me to tell you that this is a cause for concern.

“Well, that’s simply refreshing, Reggie darling.  To hear that you’re willing to step in and be the savior of my precipitous evening is just marvelous!  I can’t wait to tell Auntie of your participation.  Oh, she’ll be simply thrilled to hear that one of Cassleton’s own will be braving the Grand Challenge for everyone to enjoy.”

“Now, er, Laurie dear, you know how much I relish these challenge deals and so forth, but you know, I nearly tore my arms off last week assisting Phippy in something of a rescue mission, and I’m hardly fit to impress the good members of your guest list with anything near their due dessert.”

Unfortunately, even the rephrasing of my impressive exit from City Hall last Tuesday evening failed to dissuade Laurie, which was fortunate in a way, as I preferred not to elaborate upon my extraction of Phippy’s numerous parking tickets from the traffic commissioner’s office any more than necessary.

“Oh, Roger, you are a sporting fellow, and everyone knows it.  Now you’d best grab a drink before the challenge starts, and put a brave face on for our good people!  I know that’s never difficult for you, so long as I avoid resting my head upon your shoulder in public.  How you are particular with your preferences, but what is a girl to do about her faithful man’s idiosyncrasies.  I’ll see you at the head table in sixty minutes sharp.”

I was about to object in every manner I knew of to everything she had said, when the mindless woman must have seen something upon my face, and brushed my hair away lightly before applying what must have been a medicinal peck to my clean-shaven cheek, and walked swiftly off.

Well, after all, what harm could a simple challenge be to the most robust Tiffin in Cassleton?

* * *

After managing to excuse myself from running lemonade out to the tables for the greater part of the future,  I made my quick exit from the house (pockets well-stocked with the finest Swellings Cigars you can find) and nearly bowled over the girl holding the salad.

“Oh, do forgive me, Caroline.  I say, always one for the humble servitudes, what?  Much obliged, I’m sure.”

Receiving nothing but a blank look that was rapidly approaching stern reproach, I hastened on.

“Well, I’d best be off to help Phippy and co. keep the crowds amused.  Alas, it’s a blasted full-time job keeping people entertained until the bishop arrives, wouldn’t you say?”

The girl finally showed some signs of life at the mention of His Preeminence.  “Ah, yes, I expect he’ll be here before long.  I’m sure the guests will appreciate a man of good taste and fine morals among them for once,” she said with a meaningful nod towards the window, where Phippy was busily demonstrating his aptitude for balancing empty lemonade glasses on top of each other.  “It can be so tiresome at times here, with nothing but brutish men and lightheaded girls running after one another.”

“Well, that’s surely the scourge of the county, Caroline.  Absolutely.  Of course, I’m sure you’re excluding the excellent Mr. Westerly from your estimations with that comment, aren’t you?”

The girl nearly doubled over into the salad as she tried to contain her laughter.

“You mean that child, Phillip?  Ha!  It’s all he can do to keep Mr. Broxton from outwitting him at every turn!  Why, just this morning Charlie was explaining to me the origins of the Septuagint.  Did you know about the Septuagint, Roger?”

I confessed only passing knowledge with the subject, doing my best to communicate my distaste for Bronto’s more extensive familiarity on the topic though accentuated syllables and grunts.  In this, sadly, I was unsuccessful.

“Well, you simply don’t know what you’re missing, Roger.  Just like Phillip, actually, who proceeded to make an ass of himself when he tried to send Mr. Broxton away from us just so he could brag about his football injuries.  I mean, honestly, Roger, I’m not so empty-headed as that.  Vital historical knowledge simply stands quite more than heads and tails above football injuries seven a week, wouldn’t you say?”

I admitted my lack of authority on both subjects, but tried a final appeal for Phippy’s heart’s sake (and Bronto’s health).

“Well surely Phippy was merely stumbling over his words.  After all, I hardly think one of the bishop’s closest friends would be anything but completely mad about the Septuagint, Caroline.”

She eyed me unevenly.  “Surely you can’t mean Phillip Westerly?  The man’s never read a Bible in his life.”

“Now, Caroline, you mustn’t rush to judgment on Phippy.  The man’s got nothing but untamed admiration for the old Bish, and you’ll be of the same mind once he arrives.”

“Roger, I do think I would suspect you of having had too many somethings right now if we weren’t completely pure of the evil spirits for today.  Honestly, I just can’t picture it.”

“Well, you just wait and see, Caroline.  Phippy’s a true-blue churchman when it comes down to it, and I’m sure you’ll find the same to be true come two hours from now.”

The salad and its mule stubbornly continued on their way without responding, but you can’t say I wasn’t putting myself out there for old Phippy.  All he had to do now was act half-decent for a few minutes within shouting distance of the bishop, and Caroline would be loving, honoring and obeying him before you could spell Septuagint.

* * *

As the the crowds began to assemble themselves in the festivities, my memory did likewise with past challenges.  The thing about the challenges is that I’ve always been fortunate to appreciate their grandeur from more of an observer’s perspective rather than a participatory one.  Which isn’t to say that the spectacle (as it was sure to be) wouldn’t be grand either way, but simply that I wasn’t necessarily prepared to appreciate it from a first-person sort of view.  After all, that’s the thing about anything of a Grand Nature, really – you’re much more likely to find grand things to be so when given the opportunity to see their effect upon others prior to personal application.

Particularly when Laurie was involved.  Which is certainly meant more as a complement to her creative capabilities than a criticism regarding the hospital visits that frequently follow.  And Jimmy Cullen’s legs had certainly never been known for their resilience, although you can hardly expect even the sturdiest of limbs to withstand the impact of an nearly-ripe grapefruit propelled by a cricket bat, particularly if said bat is being wielded by a rather above-average player, if I do say so myself.  And of course, Jimmyl being rather the stand-up chap, he hadn’t held a thing against me for the whole matter, owing only in part (I’m sure) to his rather minimal knowledge of my arguably minor role in the incident.  Looking back, I’m having trouble seeing just what logistical purpose Jimmy’s blindfold had been employed for, but when Laurie sets forth a challenge, one simply rises to meet it. And in Jimmy’s case, one apparently may also collapse in debilitating pain to meet it.  Laurie’s challenges are quite mobile, I’ve noticed.

However, now was not the time to quiver under memories of impending injury to life and limb.  (Later, perhaps – indeed, most likely later – but not now.) I had a duty, and while my cocktail-less mind was having trouble remembering the details, I managed to extract something from the old bank regarding sparing Bronto from imminent destruction or something of the sort.  As I took in the scene before me, I quickly gathered what was needed to avoid rather general destruction, as Phippy’s sleeves were being rolled up by a steely-eyed devil of a man who found little amusement in Bronto’s continued banter with Caroline Gregson.  The lack of cocktails was as decidedly detrimental to Phippy’s temper as it was my memory.   While I had originally intended to pick an opportunely delicate moment for extracting the Bishop from Aunt Gladys, I realized opportunities of any sort were quickly diminishing as far as Charlie Broxton’s general health was concerned, not to mention the various bystanders and whatnot.  I dashed over to Aunt Gladys & Co. and began the operation with a flourishing bit of Tiffin riposte:

“My good woman…why it’s Gladys isn’t it?  You’re looking simply wonderful as always.  And your magnificence, I am certainly honored to be enjoying your presence so immensely.  I do hope –”

“Reggie, please do us the courtesy of curtailing your mindless prattle for one evening a year.  Did you have something to say or are your vocal chords simply vibrating of their own volition?”

“Well, I’m glad you brought up vocal chords, dearest Gladys.  Because it just so happens that Charlie Broxton here has been simply dying to perform his smashing musical recitation of the names and livelihoods of the twelve apostles.  Charlie, please regale us if you’d be so kind.  It seems fitting, given the occasion.”

It’s hard to put into words the various contortions the human face is capable of achieving, but Bronto’s complexion rendered confusion, anger and fear simultaneously.  There was some unbridled cowardice just below the surface as well, but a bit of pride seemed to be taming that for the moment.

In uncharacteristic fashion, Aunt Gladys nearly rescued him from the situation, but the Bishop Himself actually spoke up just as she was about to censure my suggestion with rather less eloquence and more forcefulness than I had used.  I noticed what was almost a gleam in his eye as the Bishop agreed:

“Actually, my boy, that sounds like a splendid idea.  Why, I’ve not heard that rhyme since my earliest school days!  To hear it done justice by a grown man would be nostalgia itself.”

Now, to be clear, I hadn’t actually intended anyone to approve of the suggestion – it had merely been a distraction to draw Bronto from the Gregson girl for a moment.  Now, however, I had no idea where we were.  As everyone waited for Charlie to step forward, I sincerely hoped he remembered the song better than I did.  I vaguely recalled something about a fisherman and his brother and a doubtful chap who slept a lot in gardens, but as for the tune or any names, I’m sure I couldn’t get much beyond Peter and Judas in D Minor, and somehow the latter just seemed like a down note for a St. George Festival.

However, to Charlie’s credit, he steadied himself (as best one can without aqueous assistance), and started right up to the front of the yard.  One the one hand, his apparent confidence could have been due to his rather off-putting diligence at memorization when he was a schoolboy—perhaps he had managed to add the rhyme to his repertoire without our realizing it!

Unfortunately for Bronto, the first few seconds and following quickly laid bare the fact that his memory of the particulars was lacking even more than my own.  I was already on my way to the back in search of a drink at least sparkling if not quite stiff when Laurie’s voice stopped me cold, quite a feat given Bronto’s rather less than dulcet tonality (I believe he was currently on apostle four, a newly-christened Matthew the Methodist).

“I’m so glad to see you here, really Reggie.  The challenge is really a most enjoyable bit of work, and I know you’ll be simply splendid.  The costume is in the kitchen; make sure you’re out here soon – I can’t see Charlie manufacturing too many more apostles than five or six more minutes’ worth.

I said nothing, but doom itself seemed to be enveloping me even more forcefully than the newly-composed ballad of Jonas the Jubilant (No. 7).  As I gazed upon the crowd that would make up my last memory of life on this earth, I was startled to see the Bishop pleasantly staring off into the distance.  Despite my suspicious regarding Charlie’s somewhat apocryphal ditty, the bish seemed to be enjoying himself quite a bit.  It’s wonderful what respite from Aunt Gladys can do for one’s spirits.  My own spirits (themselves quite weakened due to lack of their homonymous brethren) were headed quite the other direction as I entered the kitchen.  It’s not uncommon for a dragon to weaken a hero’s resolve – it’s decidedly less common for the donning of a dragon costume to have a similar effect.

The thing about Laurie’s festival, however, was that its name had come from somewhere.  And the thing about Somewheres is that they’re quite often less-than-ideally located.  In this instance, the downsides involved Aunt Gladys’s priory school performing the heralded slaying of the dragon by the festival’s namesake.  In previous years, the part of the dragon had been played by an unfortunate but inanimate construction of wood and paper.  However, it was clear from the evidence before me that this year’s Grand Challenge was to be the performance of the soon-to-be-slain dragon against an army of St. Georges wielding even deadlier swords that George himself could possibly had.  While wooden swords are generally thought of as non-lethal alternatives to their steel counterparts, I’d seen firsthand the mortal blows dealt to the dragons of years past, and knew that my time on this earth was hastily becoming a historical tale in its own right, albeit a much less victorious one than George had engendered.  After all, dragons have rarely come out of battles intact, as evidenced by their notably scarce presence in modern times (excluding the crowd at the Cackling Crow on Saturday evenings, that is).

It appeared I was to join their ranks in rarity upon the earth –which may have actually made me the envy of Charlie’s audience at the time, as it sounded like No. 11 St. Andrew the Crusader was being rather ill-treated by his brother’s wife on the Sabbath from what I could gather) – and, once I had donned the loose-fitting and ill-armored costume, I was to await Laurie’s signal to emerge from the back of the Kitchen, instantly to be set upon and hacked to bits by the bloodthirsty boys that priory schools have continued to produce in droves for the past 100 years.  From what I could see, any punishment Phippy rendered upon Charlie for his misappropriations would surely pale in comparison to my assuredly gruesome demise upon our fair soil.

But no sooner had I peeled down to the bare minimums in order to don the sweltering lizard than the sliding door burst open with a rather mentally-trussed-up Charlie Broxton’s hand propelling it.

“Reggie, I think she’s on to me,” blithered Bronto.  I attempted to communicate my indifference to the quickly fading troubles of the mortal world, but Charlie mistook the sigh for an encouragement and elaborated.

“I started stalling after reciting the verse about Silent Silas the Subsequent, and she was giving me such a look…it was only in mercy’s miraculous name that your blasted aunt commanded that everyone take their seats for the festival.  And with all that, the blighter Westerly is ready to make permanent alterations to my facial structure simply because the Gregson girl complimented me on my Scripture recitation in front of the Bishop!”

Now there are many terms for the situation I suddenly found myself in, but I believe Serendipity is the one I’m looking for.  I was ready to tread carefully, and I set forth without a moment’s hesitation.

“Bronto, I’d love to assist here but I’ve got to get into this outfit and play with the children before they get anxious.  I s’pose you’ll just have to find yourself an adequate hideout for the time being.”

The Coliseum itself couldn’t have wished for solider groundwork than what I’d just laid, and Bronto didn’t break character, though the lights didn’t quite come on as quickly as I’d hoped.  I was almost all the way into the dragon before Charlie blurted out.

“Oh Reggie, you really wouldn’t be so kind as to let me take your place just this once?  In the dragon, I mean.”

“Why, Charlie, I’m shocked.  You know how much I love entertaining the people and instructing the little ones with the story of St. George.  I really couldn’t part with it.”

Through the kitchen window the approaching figure of Phippy seemed to hearten Bronto’s resolve.

“Reggie, do understand!  I’d be safer inside the blighted lizard than anywhere else on the earth at this moment.  Please, wouldn’t you do me the kindness of prolonging my life just a few more moments?  I’d certainly be obliged to you!”

Now, with men there is something of a code that is adhered to in these cases.  And as much as my desire to see Bronto wallow in mortal fear pushed me to hold my tongue a bit longer, my acute memories of the sixteen plus wooden swords awaiting me sealed the thing.

“Oh, Bronto, what’s a chum to do?  Hop in my friend, and may the good St. George not repeatedly slay you in vain.”

Charlie quickly prepared himself to enter the confines of the reptile, and did so not a moment too soon.  Phippy’s fist hammered on the back door just as Bronto headed out the front to welcoming cheers and screams, the most piercing of which sounded a bit like Bronto, actually, as it kept recurring every few seconds over the next ten minutes or so.

Of course, there are those who might say I was shirking my duty to Laurie, but here’s the way I see it, as I explained to Phippy when I admitted him into the temporary sanctuary of the kitchen:

“You see, Phippy, he is dually motivated within his current endeavor,” I said with a raised voice.  (The screams were certainly louder than last year.  Newly-carved swords, I expect.)  “Charlie is right now acting for his life, as he fears the imminent pummeling you’re seeking to administer upon him; and acting for Caroline, as he’s certain that she’ll later admire his retelling of his role in the children’s spiritual growth during the play, and he wants her to remember it sans incident.  I, however, would have been simply acting to end my life, which would be a great loss to many people, myself perhaps as much as anyone.”

“From the sound of it, I’d say Bronto’s getting my administration in measured and repeated doses,” said Phippy, darkly.  Suddenly, he perked up.

“I say, Reggie, those are never cigars?”

The fine Swellings Cigars had indeed fallen out of my pockets while  I’d reassembled the personal wardrobe after handing the dragon reins to Bronto.  The time seemed quite fitting to be passed with a friendly smoke, until we realized that we’d failed to retain any matches.  After patting myself down, sheepishly without finding the incendiary articles, I noticed Charlie Broxton’s trousers sitting on a chair in front of us with his tell-tale matchbox in the back pocket.  Phillip bravely extricated said matches from the odd-smelling trousers, and we began a long-overdue wind-down for the day.

With Bronto poised to make a fool of himself in front of everyone without his identity being revealed at the time (and contested after the fact, if truth be told.  I had no wish to give Laurie more motivation than necessary for doubting my involvement in the task she’d assigned to me), and Phillip and I passing the time of the day in the one place Aunt Gladys couldn’t suppress a great bit of cigar smoke, life was looking like something worth acknowledging.

“Yet another gift from the beneficent Bronto,” I said, raising my newly-lit cigar in response to Phippy’s.  Without thinking much of it, I blew out the match and tossed it upon Charlie’s trousers, hoping to land the match just around the knee for premium hole placement.  I succeeded, of course.

However, Charlie Broxton’s trousers are the most utterly undependable item on our island.  All I wanted was a safe landing spot for a smoldering match, but that was far too much to ask of anything of Bronto’s.  It could have been so many things, but today it happened to be this:  Charlie usually kept a nip of brandy about him for emergencies, and it looked like he’d used his nip today just in time for his earlier recitation.  Unfortunately, his nerves must have gotten the better of his balance at the time he was administering his medicinal dollop of courage, for his trousers still contained more than adequate traces of alcohol for the universe’s purpose.

The instant the match hit them, the trousers were done for.  The tablecloth they’d been tossed onto followed instantly, then the morning papers, leftover invitations, notes and flowers still scattered over the table continued to serve as perfect fuel in fostering the blaze.  While this all started taking place within ten seconds, you have to understand that Phippy and I had started taking our drags when the match hit, and I haven’t found anything yet that prevents a man from finishing that initial sampling of a cigar once he’s begun.  By the time we’d gotten up, we were fighting a losing battle.  We did manage to eventually extinguish the blaze, with me beating the flames with the other tablecloths we liberated from the bottom drawers while Phippy got what water he could from the kitchen and flung it about as best he could.   While it didn’t consume the entire kitchen in the whole sense of the word, the table, chairs and the walls were all scorched or blackened well beyond usable status.

After catching our breath, Phillip and I sat down on the floor, panting, each holding a singed tablecloth.

“I think the screams are dying down, Reggie.  Do you think they’re moving on out there?”

“Unfortunatley, Phippy, I rather suspect the smoke pouring out of the windows has curtailed the production.”  A quick glance out the window confirmed my surmise, as people had already started standing up and turning round to look at the kitchen, which should have been empty, leaking plumes of smoke like a railway engine.

“Reggie…I don’t suppose you’ve heard that old saying about heart’s absence and whatnot?”

“I was just thinking the same thing, Phip.”

“Would Stambilt do for a weekend, you think?”

“I’ll see your weekend, Phillip, and raise you another.  A good trip to the coast is just the thing for this time of year, I say.  Why limit it to just the few days?”

By this time, we were at the back door, ready to make a decent run for my car, when it opened before us, and we encountered who else but the honorable bishop.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he greeted us.

It must have been his sang froid in the face of our decidedly pitiful appearance, but neither of us could muster a response for a moment, and he went on.

“Terrible things, these stoves.  Always going off without cause, you know.”

Still, Phippy and I stared mutely back at him.

“Well, it’s just fortunate you’ve managed to put out the fire before it spread too far.  Quite heroic, really. Now if you want a piece of advice, I’d recommend you walk over to your car slowly enough to be noticed, and I’ll explain the details of what must have happened regarding this poorly outdated stove.  I’m sure the ladies will understand your heroism without any undue mentioning on your part, wouldn’t you think?”

“Uh, quite, sir.  Yes.  Yes, sir.”  Our replies lacked their usual coherence, but I doubt we could’ve said much more even if the minds had been up to it.  Phippy glanced over at me, and I returned it.

And then we performed the most gracious exit from the premises you’ve ever seen.  I didn’t linger my glance back as our car pulled away, so it’s hard to tell, but I’m hopeful that the contorted expression on Laurie’s face was one of amusement.  As for Caroline, Phippy wasn’t favored a glance, of course, as she seemed to be busily lecturing the slain dragon on the historical inaccuracies of his many deaths.

Still, I smiled.  What’s a little smoke compared with a gardenia bush?

The end.

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.


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.


28 11 2009

Dreams can surprise at the strangest of times

But rarely do they stay remembered

For instance, last night

My dream gave me a fright

But those images are now dismembered.

– – – – –

I dreamed (saying dreamt seems so pre….verse….) last night about someone I met a long time ago.  They had gotten married, but only recently, and they suddenly had a child.  I somehow found this out while eating at the taco shack with former college roommates.  I guess the taco shack is a hub of information these days.  Only, it was also my house, in the dream.  We had a big front porch outside of the taco shack house, but I remember suddenly coming face to face with this guy that I had never really spoken with, but I was kind of intimidated by him.  AT FIRST.  Then, I brushed him off like so much lint from a blazer, and started repairing my bunk bed.

So.  I am reminiscing about some dumb dream I had that makes no sense and was probably brought on by too much food (or not enough food…?  Perhaps.) the day before.  Why does this seem important to me?  Because I remember it.  I usually don’t remember dreams (except for a few recurring ones throughout my life), but this one has managed to elude cerebral effacement  (Good band name).   I like this.  Effectually, it’s like I have been told a secret by someone who then died.  I am the only person who knows what happened at the taco shack (because I ingeniously hid the names from your eyes!), and I don’t plan on revealing what I think it means any time soon.  Oh, I know what it means.  Connecting the dots in this subconscious novella is a paint-by-flipping-numbers exercise to me.  But I’m on vacation, and you’re in consternation, and the taco shack will retain its information!

Hello, candy time!

Roomate Reminiscings #2

31 07 2009

Sophomore year:  Brooks

Ever cross-eyed and spouting meaningless Greek, Brook s joined Micah and me in a triple room for sophomore year.  Horton Hall was being demolished, so they had to cram students in everywhere.  We volunteered to take one for the team (team fun) and shove three guys into a room roughly the size of most wealthy people’s closets.  Really.

Anyway, the year started off rather inauspiciously when Micah brought his drum set in.  Yeah, we knew we’d be having all of our beds lofted, but still.  Drums?  Really?  While I was fine with it (except for one very specific occasion where I had a huge paper worth most of my grade due at 5pm), there were times where it didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Looking back on it, it’s actually a great thing that Brooks was only dating a girl for a few months of those two semesters.  I can’t imagine how insane we would all have been had all three of us been dating people while living in a prison cell with drums and dirty clothes.  Brook s was pretty well-known around the dorm for being sociable, affable, and nice to most everyone.  He was always one of the first guys to invite new people along on Cafe trips, card games, or birthday Molca Salsa runs.  What I didn’t realize, however, was how poorly this suited him for rooming with Micah and me.  Especially me.  I’m not a socialite by any means, and Micah doesn’t exactly emanate friendliness and joy.  It began to grow a little tough to distinguish how Brooks related to us from how he related to the random guy he met in the Cafe while in line for chicken parm.  There were those special moments, however, like when he and Norm and Aaron decided to perform a Mario Bros. music set for Punk ‘N Pie.  This only meant, however, that the three of them (with three guitars and an amp) would frequently decide to practice in our room.  Many times loudly, with the door open, so as to gain the interest and feedback of our peers.  Strangely, most of these times coincided with open hours.  Not that I blame them at all — I mean, I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to flaunt my quasi-nerdy musical proclivities.

One of my favorite moments with Brooks was early on in the semester, when we both got warning slips from Campus Safety (the PIGS!) for skateboarding on campus.  I was convinced by brooks to ‘board with him to Eagle’s Nest at 11:50pm so that we could make it there before it closed, so we took off.  I’m sure that my suicidal attempts at riding a skateboard slowed me down immensely, but that made it even more fun.  We finally got back to the dorm, caloried up and cholesteroled for a week, when Officer Joel busted us.  It was one of the funnier things that happened all semester.  (Also destroying half the campus with my golf cart.  Ask Cory about that one.)  I remember feeling a little empty during the semester for a lot of reasons; girls were part of it, but it was the generally enhanced social atmosphere that comes from seeing your friends grow more comfortable with broadening their horizons.  I’m not a horizon-broadener at all.  This left me a little depleted of sympathy and Christian love, which only hurt the experience that much more.

It seems that I’m dwelling on a lot of negatives.  Brooks is still a good guy.  We’ve had a few talks since then, and we could probably hang out today at the drop of a hat, although he’s more to credit for that than I am.  Timing is what it came down to.  After spending my first year acclimating to the college atmosphere, I wanted to recline in my La-Z-Boy of friends and make some memories. (again, sounds a little butch…) Instead, I wound up in a group of people mostly looking to make their mark on campus.  Of these people, Brooks is one of the ones I’m glad I know and knew.  I’m ok with that.

Roomate Reminiscings

28 07 2009

#1 — Freshman year: Micah

Micah and I knew (and know) each other longer than any other person we went to college with.  Upon discovering that we would both be attending the same school, rooming together was a natural choice.  We had acclimated to each others’ personality over years at the same summer camp, and we both had misgivings about being stuck with a random roommate.

Our first year together (we would go on to spend 18 more moths together in the future) was marked with candy binges, late nights, and distempered hostility towards our moon-faced classmates.  We began to collect a good group of “friends” that we could tolerate enough for meals, and I still maintain that that group would have looked a lot more dismal without us.  Not just because of how awesome we were, but because we both (perhaps Micah even more than I) attracted personality types that would normally be put off by the more social and group-dependent people.  What I’m basically saying is that we were the coolest people that no one will think of when someone asks them “who were the coolest people on your hall?”

We went through some some ups and downs with girls, classes and friends.  We got on each others’ nerves on multiple occasions, and we laughed together more than with anyone else (that I know of).  One of my lasting memories (unnecessary redundancy) will always be the Monday or Wednesday morning when Micah had a morning class, and he responded to his alarm by hopping out of the top bunk right onto the open spikes of his three ring binder.

He was limping for a week.

He kept his fridge stocked with Coke and Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers (until Costco stopped carrying them) and he borrowed my suit to go to Spring Banquet.  I still have the ticket stub he left in one of the pockets.

He was more cynical than I, less selfish, and more spontaneous.  Neither of us had a car, but we would walk down to the grocery store together on Sunday afternoons and talk about college, camp, food, stupid people, or nothing.  We started both of the projects for MCOM 202 the night before they were due, and they are still funny.  Not as funny to our professor, who worked on such films as Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius. I guess he mistook our slapdash creativity for laziness.  Probably because Micah fell asleep in class once or twice.

After living with him for a while ,I can certainly enumerate all the things about him that drive me bonkers.  He eats loudly, embarrasses me in public and private, and is as verbally truculent as anyone I know.  However, just because this isn’t quite gay enough yet, that stuff was just part of an experience that I’ll always look fondly upon.  We respect each other, and know exactly where we stood at any given moment.  We didn’t feel the need to have dozens of heart-to-hearts because our thought processes were similar enough to render those superfluous on most occasions.  And when we did talk about important things, the conversation was always interesting.

An end-of-the-year video recap session still exists somewhere, and I can hear it vividly right now.  I’m trying to carry some semblance of form and wit along in a description of the past two semesters, and Micah is throwing overtly sarcastic comments in at will.  I try to respond in kind, and he just goes down one more level (eg “Uh, yeah, that’s because I grew up locked in the basement…”), rendering me hapless, and happy.  Had girls and classes not interfered, the year’s bliss would have rendered our upcoming addition of a third roommate completely unconscionable.  Instead, we figured this chemistry was immutable, and sought to create “The Party Zone.”

More like the part-ing zone.  BAM!


14 06 2009

I wanted to see her on Friday

To take a trip to Because

To eat crunchy food in the crunchy sunlight

While enjoying the savory breeze,

And we did.

Fridays are best served crunchy

Though butter makes them more acute

But they are still great

And the waitress may have outdone the sunshine today.

Talking to her means severance

But not from anything static and motionless

Because motion, whether centrifugal or reactionary,

Is the only way bodies gravitate.

I came back the next morning

But the waitress was gone,

So she did not serve me tea.

Although I have discovered

That waitresses make great mothers

But terrible wives

Contrary to

My prejudices.