That Time I Almost Won Michael Jackson’s Guitar.

What is my biggest regret in life, you might ask?

Well, I have a few.  That one pair of track pants to start with.  The in-depth AIM conversation about the “ass-to-ass” scene in Requiem for Dream, in which I described in detail to a fellow ninth-grader, would be up there as well, mostly because my mom got on my computer and read it in full, then broke this news to me before my first job interview.  Sweet timing, mom!

But I would say, by far, my biggest life regret involved Michael Jackson’s guitar.

When I was a kid, in the pre-internet days, or at least the pre-internet-for-anything-other-than-dancing-baby days, people used to rely on TV for two now defunct concepts: music video and call-in contests.  Not of the QVC variety, mind you, but of the “please dear God keep sitting through these La Bouche music videos for the next hour” variety.

One such call-in contest took place on VH1’s cable channel, and promised a Michael Jackson autographed guitar to the 100th caller, or something arbitrary like that.

Now, let me tell you a little bit about what Michael Jackson meant to my childhood.  The first thing I ever purchased with my own money, a collection of birthday and Christmas money piggybanked for a year or two, was Michael Jackson’s History compilation.  I don’t know what it was.  Jackson wasn’t even necessarily still cool when I was a kid; he’d bleached himself bonkers.  But I remember counting down the days until that album release date, and having my dad drive me to Best Buy to cash in my savings, and I remember the world video premiere for “Man in the Mirror”, and “Scream”, and generally feeding my boombox nothing but Michael Jackson and the Space Jam soundtrack.

So, I must have been around eight years old, and of course I’m calling in to every damn contest.  I never get through, not even to local radio stations to make requests.  It’s more for the thrill of the hunt.

And then, something happens that day, during that concert.

I get through.

The first thing the woman on the line asks me is for my name.

8-year-old me blanks for a while, but manages to stammer and spell it out for her.  Now, in retrospect, am I sure there is some rule that you have to be 18 to win these?  Yes.  But that interrupts the story flow here, so let’s ignore that for a second.

She then asks for my address, where they can ship Jackson’s guitar to me.

Lady, I’m 8 years old.  What is an address?

I start freaking out.  I’m on the phone just stammering for a while, and then I just keep saying some variation of I don’t know, how do I find out my address?  And eventually I realize nobody is around to help, so I just kind of start crying and hang up the phone.

I could have had Michael Jackson’s autographed guitar.  Did Michael Jackson even play guitar?  I don’t care!  It was Michael Jackson.  And all I had to do was provide my address.  Instead, I cried.  A lot.  Like, a lot more than I should have even.

To this day, I get nervous when I have to spell out my address on the phone, which thankfully only applies to pizza deliveries and mail-order brides.  Also, exercise equipment I use for 48 hours before remembering that napping feels a lot better than exercising.  And it’s because of that damn dark day from my childhood.

Sometimes, I think about how that might have changed my life.

“Hey Sarah, do you want to go to the mixer with me?”

“Sorry Collin, I’m already going with Nick.”

“Oh yeah, does Nick have an autographed Michael Jackson guitar?

“No.  I just like his face a lot better than yours.”

“Oh.  Right.  Well, I guess that’s fair.”

Well, okay, junior high is never the best judge of anything.  Let’s try something else, rewind a bit:

“Hey Kyle, do you want to spend the night at house this weekend?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ve got an autographed Michael Jackson guitar!

“So?”

“…and we can put on Channel 78 after my parents go to sleep.  If you wait 10 minutes, you can kinda see through the static!”

“Awesome, what night did you say again?”

So, see, it would have made a world of difference.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure it was my one shot to ever win a contest.  I have won no contests of consequence ever since.  No call-in contests.  No fantasy football or college basketball bracket money pools.  Of the three times I’ve been to Vegas, my best trip was a break-even.

(To be fair, I did win a contest in eighth grade where I could pick a friend, and our principal would take myself and said friend out to lunch one day.  My friend was Hindu and practiced a vegetarian diet, so naturally we went to Burger King and said principal drove like a freaking madman to get there.  But bonus points for being allowed to bring that large carbonated plastic diabetes goblet back to English class and have the teacher tell me to throw it away — naw, Mrs. N, the principal said I could … and he’s your boss, so if you got a problem with it, I guess you can take it up with my man Rog or just start packing your stuff now.  I didn’t say any of that, of course, I just threw the Coke away as I was asked.)

I’m the guy who fate selected to win a Michael Jackson guitar as my only stroke of contest luck across my entire lifetime, and I didn’t even get the damn guitar.

So what did I miss out on, pricewise?  I’m looking at eBay and there are autographed Michael Jackson guitars going for $5,000.  5,000 dollars?  That’s like 15 percent of what I still owe Sallie Mae!

Anyway, the lesson here, parents, is to teach your kids their address by the time they start watching VH1.  Actually, no kids watch VH1 anymore, so that lesson no longer applies.  I guess it’s just my handgrenade to fall on in the end.

Oh well.  At least I had Channel 78.

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My Five-Year Class Reunion: A Facebook Horror Story

Sometimes, you remember that life affords you stories that simply must be documented, lest they be lost to the same history that forgets American Idol winners.

This is such a story.

You might even argue, it’s the Kelly Clarkson of stories.

It’s a story of a culture shaped by social networks, of an increasing interactive irrelevance in the information age.  And this story has it all!  Cocaine.  Sex offenders.  Your mom jokes.  Meet-me-at-the-playground-after-school fight solicitation.  Life!  Death!  And a shame so thick, you’d be wise to procure an oxygen mask before proceeding.

This is the story of my five-year high school class reunion.

Did I adequately tease the forthcoming disaster?

The Facebook Group:

I wouldn’t say my high school grad class was particularly closeknit or anything.  It was a pretty normal grad class, from a pretty normal high school.  Honestly, I can’t even remember how many kids were in my class.  500, maybe?  More?

From my perspective, I had my group of friends, and I was cool with that.  College just served to reinforce that idea.  I didn’t really feel connected to anyone beyond who I chose to continue hanging out with.  I always figured that’s just how things were supposed to work.  Lose high school friends.  Gain college friends.  Get a job.  Something along those lines.

In any case, by the time I’d graduated college and gone on to become a balloon pilot (that’s another story entirely), the concept of my high school grad class was largely a non-thought.  It’s not that I didn’t care about it, or anything like that.  It just wasn’t anything I’d ever really think about.  I mean, I guess I was vaguely aware that somewhere down the line, you probably get a letter from some tryhard nostalgia addict who tries to rope you into spending one night sizing up your salary to half-familiar faces in a gym advertising runner-up banners you were never around to raise, but beyond that, high school was just something that ended in 2006.

And then I got the Facebook group invite.

(I should note, I no longer have a Facebook account.  So I can’t dig up a lot of the ensuing catastrophe here in screenshot form.  But I do have a string of e-mails documenting the entire timeline, from an auto-email comment feature I apparently forgot to disable.  Thankfully.  Because all of the evidence has since been deleted)

I’m not going to use real names here, in the unlikely event this would serve to personally embarrass anyone, so we’ll just say that a guy named Aaron A. Aaronson set up a Facebook group to reunite the class of 2006, attempting to establish a 5-year class reunion.

Relatedbackstory, and my thoughts on the concept of a five-year class reunion.

In theory, the idea here was to establish a common time and place where interested folks could catch up, a few years removed from college.  We’ll come back to this part of the story later.

But where things got interesting wasn’t in the spirit of the group, but rather, in the proverbial comments section.

A lot of people decided to use this group to post their status quo: what they were doing now, what their life was like, whether they were married, had kids, etc.  And that went about as expected.  A bunch of people I vaguely remembered, if I remembered them at all, wrote about what they were doing.  They few people that did remember them responded.  There wasn’t much spectacular about it, other than the fact it was accomplishing over a social network what the intended reunion was supposed to accomplish in person (summarily, why the concept of setting up a high school reunion over Facebook is an utterly dreadful idea).

One such classmate — and one I knew well, at that — didn’t really care for everyone’s banal updates.  Quote said classmate, who we’ll call Tim Pinkman:

“the only posts have been glory success stories? are we reading the same endless stream of emails? i see far more fail than anything else. two kids at 22? salon school? thank god for everything? i live in bumfuck indiana? i dont think so. at least [name redacted] is doing well, thats really the only person i wanted to know about. if he didnt make it i would have lost hope for all 900 of us. good to know sprinting through the halls all those years with his entire locker on his back actually paid off. good for you bro.”

(And another aside there…last I heard, the redacted individual there is actually doing very well, like, joke’s on you well.)

Responses were mixed at best:

“what did you do again?”

And from a certain individual we’ll call Joe Heisenberg:

“I just don’t think anyone should judge anyone, in their past, present, and future… If you don’t approve of their lifestyle then don’t respond or take a second glance. Some people would be happy to have two beautiful children, or beings hairstylist. If that is what someones dreams, hopes, aspires to be then more power to them and I’m happy. I feel we are all still very young ad being alive and a functioning part of society is a success for us all. Just saying undone think anyone should be judging or downing anyone or anything people have done. Truthfully I feel like all of our class has taken life by the balls and made the most of it. Whether that’s parents, enlisted men and women, teachers, etc. I think for being five years out of high school everyone that I’ve heard so far, has learned something very valuable since graduation. Things you couldn’t learn in a classroom, or from a teacher but life experiences. Which is the best experience of all.”

A moving counterpoint, indeed, eliciting a fair amount of support, but also prompting this response from a certain Jake Fring:

“I gotta side with Tim on this one. He was never judging anyone in what he said. A lot of these statements on this page so far haven’t been all glory and success. I feel like a lot of people are being fake and over exaggerating (imagine that). I can’t speak for Pinkman, but what I think he’s saying is that when people were in high school, their plan wasn’t to have a kid(s). Joe: it’s great that you have a kid, but did you intentionally have a kid or did you pull out a little late? No one who has a kid is going to be like, “I had a kid and it sucks and is hard.”. It’s great that people have children and I’m sure that for the most part, most of them are good parents, but I can guarantee you that when they were walking across the stage at graduation they weren’t thinking about how many kids they were going to have in 5 years. He’s not judging, he’s saying what half the people in this group are thinking, but don’t have the balls to say. I bet at least half of the statements on this page are either completely bullshit or embellished. Life isn’t perfect for me right now. I’m on house arrest until February 26, I moved back into my mom’s house a couple months ago, but I’m at IUPUI and should be done with school soon. I miss a lot of people from high school, but I think this group is kind of dumb because the only people I give a shit about that went to high school with us I’m still in contact with. Can’t wait to see all the hate mail reactions to my two cents, but I honestly don’t give a fuck because a lot of you didn’t like me in high school and probably still don’t. This wasn’t meant to piss people off, but I always was good at getting under people’s skin 😉 “

And before you could even say “well, that elevated quickly…”

“Now see that didn’t upset me jake but you don’t know one thing about me… Sorry that for you being selfish your whole life has gotten you to where you are. I on the other hand planned to have my child. Sorry that’s such a crazy thought. I have been with my fiancé going on four years now. We made a conscious decision together, not oops! Pulled out to late. I feel immature people such as yourself that are self detained, snobs should for once not look at something from how you wish your life would have been or how everyone should have lived there’s. I’m sure there are a lot of people who look at what you’ve done as a failure, and in your own heart and mind you know whether that’s true or not. Me I don’t give a fuck about you nor have I ever, nor does anyone on here that I’ve heard from. I didn’t attack Tim or you, I simply stated a fact, or my opinion of the facts that no one should judge anyone. Plain and simple, now you are on here judging what I did. Sorry jake Fring I don’t live at home, I have my own house, own cars, live on my own means … Yes a have a year old but I planned to and wouldn’t change my life for nothing, when you walked across that stage did you say man in five years I’m going to have nothing to show for and still be a pompous asswhole. No, you had hopes, dreams, ambitions, so why didn’t they happen jake? Everything that’s happened in my life so far, I’ve planned or if surprises arises I handled them accordingly with god. My life wasn’t all roses, but I’ve learned a ton about respect, patience, loyalty, love, god, what are parents meant back then and still say to us now … What being a parent is, what the real world is like. So instead of attempting to use me as an example I think you should have put your own story up there instead of dogging someone elses. My life is perfect, I have a beautiful amazing daughter that I planned, a house, cars, dogs, cats, a fiancé… Etc. Need I go on… What you doing with your life, in and out of jail and now back home with mommy… Sounds like you have a ton to be judging about. Maybe not… I mean those 40 year old dudes that still live with their parents aren’t cool. I mean seriously.”

Jake didn’t take too kindly to this response:

“Is this the same Joe Heisenberg from high school that I’m thinking of? It can’t be… That loser wouldn’t try to clown me. That’s the kid who once asked me in ASL if I wanted to go do cocaine in the bathroom with him and [redacted]. Bro, you got in trouble for doing coke when you failed a drug test and then fuckin snitched on your so called friends and denied it. Anyone who’s doing is cocaine by 16 is on the fast track for success. I don’t know which is worse, being a coke head before high school is over or becoming a registered sex offender. Does your future wife know that you’re a pedophile. That’s right folks, a few years ago this kid who’s living the “American dream” had sex with an underage girl from Noblesville. Didn’t you go to jail for a little bit because of that? That I’m unsure of, but I’m sure your kid will look up to you when he/she realizes you’re a pedophile. In and out of jail? The reason I’m on house arrest is because I got a DUI, and the only reason I am on house arrest is because it was either that or jail. The only time I’ve been in jail was when I spent the nite in the drunk tank for partying a little too hard. I doubt I’m the only one in our class who has ever been in the infamous drunk tank. And yes Joe, you’re right, I live with mommy, but how many kids live with their parents while they’re going to school? Think of how many kids we went to school with who live on a college campus in a house or apartment that their parents pay for? I’ll have my degree soon big guy. Did you go to college? Oh yeah, you went to Ball State for a semester when I was there. I remember you got kicked out of the dorms one of the first weeks of school for smoking pot in your dorm room. What a scholar. Then you rented out the bottom floor of a house that YOUR PARENTS PAID FOR. If I recall, you dropped out of school at semester though, so don’t clown me for living with my mom while I’m earning a degree. You may live in a house now and own cars (which I highly doubt), but if I dropped out after one semester of college, I would probably have enough money saved up to pay for a place. You may think you have it good now, but I’ll take the college degree any day of the week. It’s awesome if you intended to have a child, but I doubt that’s true. It’s also awesome that you’re engaged, but what happened to the girls you used to date. [Redacted] and [Redacted] were both pretty tight, and I’m sure the young innocent girl you had sex with to earn your sex offender status had potential to become attractive WHEN SHE GOT OLD ENOUGH AND BECAME LEGAL, but what happened with this one? She looks like she fell from the ugly tree and hit every single branch on the way down. Good work buddy. So you may have it better than me right now, but wait until I have a degree and a real job before you ever try and embarrass me. When your kid gets older, you can sit he or she on your lap and tell them how you were a coke head in high school, or how you snitched on your friends, but make sure you tell him or her that you’re a pedophile so they can warn their friends before they sleep over at your house.”

At this point, a certain Carl Weathers attempts to step in and play peacemaker, attempting to find the “off” switch before “on” reached full Donkey Kong level:

“Jake and Joe both….really guys…is it really necessary to sit here and bash each other..I was friends with each of you at some point and we all have our struggles…just do your thing and be happy doing it. Set goals for yourself and don’t stop till you reach them. If you have a family good for you! Love and cherish them because at the end of the day they are the only ones that really give a fuck..finishing school? Good for you jake..I am happy for every single one of you that is trying to be successful at something…if you are sitting on your ass doing nothing its not too late to change….my life has been great so far and I regret nothing….just be thankful that you have made it to the age of 22…if you all remember there are a few from our class who are not with us anymore…be thankful for what you have and fuck everybody else!”

Our pal Jake agreed, and it looked like show over at this point.  Nothing to see here, folks:

“You guys are right… Lol sometimes when provoked I take things a little too far. I got nothing but love for most of you guys. Carl: you’re right.. We should be grateful to still be alive considering that not all of our class is still with us. [redacted], [redacted], [redacted] and whoever else we’ve lost: not a day goes by that not only myself, but many others in our class think about you guys. We miss you. I’m not sure if I’m going to be at the reunion, but I hope that everyone is doing well and is as happy with their choices in life as I am.”

But Joe was having none of it.  You know that part in Donkey Kong where the little flames start coming out of the barrels and climbing up ladders to hunt you down?  Yeah.  This was the Facebook conflict escalation stage of that:

“Dude do you hear yourself what kind of person at the age of twenty two or twenty three says shit like this… For real this was in high school…. jake does that include That you were one of, if not the biggest addict I know! Even your so called friends were telling me about you and your drunk ass!!! Im sorry you couldn’t learn enough from experiences such as [redacted]. Alcohol kills bro when you get behind a wheel. If you can’t call anyone and can’t stay where your at either call a cab or stay in your car. It isn’t worth it to risk it. I may not like you but I’d never wish death or injury or worse hurting someone else on anyone. All I’m going to say is, I dont want another one of our classmates gone bc of a mistake that could have been avoided. It’s been 7 years today that [redacted] died and I don’t go through one day without thinking about that night and wishing we hadn’t done things differently. So please don’t drink and drive. With that said. Jake you are an immature prick. All that stuff you just mentioned was in high school. Last time I checked that was way more than 5 years ago. I never got in any trouble when I got caught, nor did I snitch on anyone…You are right in high school I tried and did things I’m not proud of. I was reckless irresponsible, partied way too much, tried to make sense of everything with the wrong things(drugs) and didn’t take education as seriously as I wish I would have. How many others did the same including yourself. I really don’t know what all the animosity toward me is? In my first post I didn’t mention anything about you. All I said was dont judge anyone live your life be happy. But my post must have made such an impression you had to mention my life and child. You don’t have one and when you do you’ll understand what I’m about to say… You mention my child or my fiancé again on here or ever again I will come find you and you will regret anything you ever said about me or my family. So again jake think about what you are doing. You are mentioning my daughter and my future wife. Someone i’ve known my whole life, that I love and loves me… Something you know nothing about… so go on get that degree I’m not a hater… I don’t hate I congratulate, but before someone who is on legal house arrest comes at me talking shit, when I’m in no way in any trouble with the law and haven’t been since I got off probation over two years ago for the instance you’re talking about at the BSU dorms. Go fuck yourself! And as I said previously no one on here mentioned you, gave two fucks about you or wanted to hear your opinion. Not that mine matters much but I gave a general opinion, and you brought my one year old daughter, and my fiancé some one you’ve never met. You are by far the most immature person I’ve ever met. So if you’re not conpletely full of shit… Go online and research that statement of me being a registered sex offender… Which every state has to post those… And see if I’m up there… Again jake go fuck yourself. Youll prove me right and again therefore prove that You are jealous about what i Have and you wish you had…You live at home with your mommy and daddy… Which actually surprising a lot of people are out on there own… And have kids. And there own cars, and such but yet I do and jake can’t take that bc his mommy and daddy have spoiled him and paid for everything for him, even all his mistakes. You are talking shit about my family jake… I’m going to pray for you, That you someday realize what kind of horrible person you are, and ask god for help to change you And your heart. I’ll pray everyday for him to change my heart not to have any antagonistic thoughts against you… And to forgive me.”

(Let’s take a moment to explore the dichotomy between these two statements in particular — “You mention my child or my fiancé again on here or ever again I will come find you and you will regret anything you ever said about me or my family” and “I’ll pray everyday for him to change my heart not to have any antagonistic thoughts against you”)

So where does threat level orange do from there?

Threat level red.  I mean, who wants to wait a whole week for the next Gossip Girl, anyway?

“Hahahahahaha… I’m an addict? I would love to know who told you that I was an alchy, because none of my friends associate with you. The only friend of mine who used to associate with you is [redacted] and that was when me and him used your gay ass to get smoked out in high school then clowned you behind your back and trashed your hole in the wall crib you left at BSU. Lol everyone I’ve talked to since my post has called me laughing agreeing with me, but it’s whatever. I’ve even got props on my facebook page. I don’t know why… All I did was simply state facts about some douche bag. I’m spoiled? Yes probably a little bit, as many kids in Fishers are. However, you drove around a Z3 then a Beamer and got to take that wake boarding boat out on Geist all the time. I had a badass whip too, but let’s not act like you are not spoiled. I paid for my lawyer and house arrest as well. Why would a broke college student get his own place before they graduate?? I’ll wait until I get my degree and have a badass job and then get a real house. Clown me for living with my mom all you want, does not bother me one bit. You may not be a registered sex offender, I don’t know, I’m not going to waste my time looking it up, but I do know that that shit happened… You fucked that underage girl from Nobletucky. I heard from multiple people pedophile. Am I supposed to be scared of your threat towards me? Lol come find me Joe and I’ll say everything I’ve posted on here right to your face and then beat your ass like [redacted] did. The only reason you got shitty and created this whole mess is because I called you out for your kid being an accident. It’s great you have a son and honestly, you’re probably a decent dad, but let’s be real, you busted your nut early, or the rubber snapped, or you just plain didn’t pull out in time. Lol that’s all I was saying, but come find me Joe. Until February 26 I’ll either be home or at IUPUI. I would love to end the facebook talk and look you in the eye and clown you to your face, and then beat the shit out of you in front of anyone who wants to see it go down. I invite this whole group. Why are you even in this group? You aren’t friends with anyone you were “friends” with in high school. [redacted], [redacted], [redacted]…. I’m still close with all those dudes you used to consider your boys. They don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, nor do they care. Lol just quit digging yourself a deeper hole and do us both a favor and shut the fuck up and go chill with your kid. The invitation still stands though… Come find me like you said you were going to. You know where I live. I won’t regret it either, trust me. I would love nothing more than to beat the living shit out of your puny punk ass. Day or night, please, I’m begging you, come make me regret what I said. I’m glad you’ve settled for what you have and you are happy. Most people wouldn’t be in your situation, but at least you’ve convinced yourself that your shitty little world is a good life. Later loser, don’t forget to come find me… I’ll be waiting to see if you keep your promise you one semester burnout pedophile.”

(One Semester Burnout Pedophile is a German metal band waiting to happen, by the way.)

At this point, NATO forces start to arrive:

“this crap is ridiculous – – jake and joe you both took things way too personally – -”

“boy did this shenanigan get out of hand”

“Shit just got real.”

“…this is AWESOME.”

“this facebook group is the most entertaining shit out. bravo everyone. maybe i WILL come to the 5 year reunion. keep up the awesome work”

Unfortunately for the peanut gallery, this argument was quickly deleted, and both members booted from the group.  Because you’re not allowed to come to a five-year class reunion if you come to murder, not mingle, although it could be argued being murdered at a class reunion would be preferable to being mingled at a class reunion.

But that didn’t mean the fun was over.  No.  It was just getting started!

Let’s refer back to good ol’ Tim’s note that kicked this all off:

“the only posts have been glory success stories? are we reading the same endless stream of emails? i see far more fail than anything else. two kids at 22? salon school? thank god for everything? i live in bumfuck indiana? i dont think so. at least [name redacted] is doing well, thats really the only person i wanted to know about. if he didnt make it i would have lost hope for all 900 of us. good to know sprinting through the halls all those years with his entire locker on his back actually paid off. good for you bro.”

To which an apparent hair-stylist replied:

“… I’m just stating this out there, but isn’t Tim’s mom a hair stylist?”

She may as well have walked the softball down center plate:

“I’m just gonna throw this out there, but weren’t you the ONLY ugly cheerleader?”

AND THERE IT IS, FOLKS!  High school, in 14 words.  The rare moment where one question, one Facebook post, summarizes four years of your life.  Because if we’d learned anything about ourselves in the five years since we’d last called each other classmates, it was probably that we weren’t much different now than we were then.

Jerks were jerks.  Jocks were jocks.  Nerds were nerds.  Dumb kids were still dumb.  Smart kids knew better than to comment in the first place.  And in the end, it was never more apparent that adulthood isn’t necessarily some status simply granted by the passage of time, and time has an amusing way of amplifying our high school selves, as much as we’d like to claim we’re so different now, so grown up.  It’s really just a new haircut and plus-or-minus 40 pounds that differentiates us.

A new haircut…or a rap career.

If I can step down off my soap box, though, and get back to the story, it was around this point — with the flame war on full display, and no one’s life choices safe — that the group administrator decided to start deleting posts and banning even more people from the group.

What started as an online attempt to catalyze a high school reunion ended up something like the digital equivalent of a DMX concert.

It was glorious.

Fremdschämen:

You might think that was it.  Story’s over.  On to the next social media trainwreck.

But you would be wrong.

Remember, the initial goal of this Facebook group was to set up a five-year class reunion.  Now, again, I’ve voiced my thoughts on the idea previously.  To each his own, but nobody’s really changed enough in five years to make class reunions interesting, and the very concept of Facebook makes high school reunions largely irrelevant these days anyway.

Seriously, high school reunions used to exist so people could catch up, see what their former friends were doing, how they measured to past peers.  It was basically a free self-esteem boost to know that the token class jerk was stuck in a dead-end job and twice-divorced, or something to that effect.

But in the Facebook age, we already know these things.  Again, I deleted my Facebook a while back, but had I not, I would know exactly what former classmates were up to…or I could know if I wanted to, in any case.  Catching up is a button click anymore.  Face-to-face reunions are doomed from the get-go.

They’re especially doomed when you set them up via Facebook, the very platform which compromises your plan altogether.

Now, a little background information about this whole initiative.  The guy setting it up, the one I referred to as Aaron A. Aaranson earlier?  I’d never heard of him before.  Ever.  Normally, I’m one of those guys who has a pretty good memory, can recall a lot of things about even elementary school.  But this guy?  No.  Face wasn’t familiar.  Name wasn’t familiar.  For all I knew, he was going reunion Serpico, and fitting in like an undercover Steve Buscemi.

So if I was already opposed to the idea of a five-year reunion, and I had no clue who the guy orchestrating it was, then the third element is what really nope‘d me the hell out of there.

Bowling.

Look, I don’t want to be critical of someone trying to do something for the greater good.  But bowling, guys.  Bowling!  The idea was to set the reunion up at a bowling alley, renting private lanes, having food catered, an open bar, etc.  Now, I won’t pretend to live somewhere that has the market cornered on cool, but a bowling alley?

What were the after-party plans: lazer tag & mini-golf?

As the only thing I hate more than small-talk is bowling, it was an easy ‘no’ for me.  But 200 or so brave souls did indeed RSVP to attend.  A date was set after a bit of discussion, and this improbably get-together looked like it was actually destined to happen.

Allow me some horrible narration here: once the flaming had died down in this group, and the reunion discussion had pretty much settled — this all occurred within maybe two weeks of each other — I just got bored and forgot about the whole thing.  No one was accusing anyone else of being a drug addict or sexual predator anymore, nor bashing each other’s moms, and I had no plans on attending the reunion, so there just wasn’t much to hold my attention.

I may have forgotten about this whole event completely were it not for the power of Reddit.  Sweet, sweet Reddit.

When particularly bored and around a computer, I enjoy browsing Reddit for stories.  It gives me ideas for my own works of fiction, and it allows me to vicariously experience the joy/pain/utter humiliation of others.  Because who doesn’t want to share in the universal de-pantsing of our fellow man?

One day, I came across this item on AskReddit:

For my high school’s 5 year anniversary, one enterprising student made a facebook group and went through the yearbook, adding everyone he could possibly find. About 630 of the roughly 700 students from our graduating class joined the group and started in on how everyone was doing, where everyone was living etc. For the actual IRL get-together invite, about 150 people said yes and 300 or so said maybe. The guy who organized it rented out a private room at a bowling alley, paid for a bartender and got a ridiculous amount of food and such, as well as having all 4 yearbooks and putting together a DVD of random videos from sporting events, plays, funny skits from the school news, everything. This guy went all out.

On the day of the reunion, 5. People. Came. The guy who organized it and his girlfriend (who wasn’t even in our class), myself and a friend, one random person who I recognized but never spoke to, and another guy who actually worked at the bowling alley. Quite possibly the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. The look of defeat on the guy’s face was crushing. I’ve never felt such vicarious humiliation in my life. We ended up just getting drunk and bowling a few games before the black cloud of shame left everyone silent and my friend and I left abruptly.

And to Aaron, if you read this, everyone in our class was an asshole anyway. Sorry bro.

Guys, that was my high school reunion!  Guys!  Guys, are you seeing this?  Guys!

All of the facts check out.  Names checked out.  Yup.  That was my high school reunion, which I had completely forgotten about until stumbling across that item on Reddit.

And what a fitting end to perhaps the worst-executed high school reunion in the history of high school reunions.

At the same time this is as poetically-perfect a conclusion as exists, I felt really bad for poor ol’ Aaron.  He was just trying to do a nice thing.  He wasn’t the bad guy in any of this.  I don’t know who he is, but if I ever crossed paths with him down the road, I would totally buy that guy a beer.

That said, this is why you never organize a reunion on Facebook.  And this is why the best reunions are, essentially, “hey, some of us are meeting at [place with sizeable bar] on [date] — feel free to come if you want, pay for your own drinks”.  You never make the upfront investment on your reunion without advance dollar commitment, as in, cash-in-hand certainty.  Also, your best bet is to do this somewhere where you don’t look like an ass if no one shows.

But Aaron chose a bowling alley, and hedged his bets on the better angels of a collection of folks who had largely used the invite as a platform for summoning demons.

I doubt anyone missed much.  I guess the Redditor was right: everyone was kind of an asshole anyway.

Donettes and Self-Consciousness, Then and Now

The funniest (translated: saddest) part of getting older (says the 24-year-old) is how our priorities change, or more to the point of where I’m going with this, how we convince ourselves that our self-conscious teenage predecessors were just avatars of yesteryear…when in actuality, our self-consciousness has just evolved beyond zits and designer jeans.

This occurred to me in the truest sense during a grocery run today, where I had intended to just buy some lunch meat for a quick sandwich before anchoring myself back down in the office.  On the way to the lunch meat section, I saw a bag of chocolate Donettes on sale.  Great deal, I thought.  I love Donettes.  In high school, this was lunch!

So I grabbed them and went to put them in my basket, but immediately, now I get that sense that I should be ashamed for going into a store to buy Donettes, especially as my t-shirts now leave far less to the imagination as had once been the case.  I then have to find less-damning items to “hide” the Donettes within the basket.  So before you know it, I’m buying cheese I don’t really need, or bread, or body wash or generally anything to hide the fact that my basket would have otherwise contained roast beef, turkey and plainly-visible Donettes.

Who am I kidding, though?  When I get home, the first thing I’m opening is the bag of Donettes.

If the apple tree of Eden were, say, a Donette tree, Adam wouldn't have even had second thoughts.

Along this mode of thinking, other ways in which I’ve noticed my mentality taking a turn…

On clothing.  Once was posed as which $40 polo should I wear out today that will make me look like the coolest kid in public?  Now posed as: can I really get away with wearing this mustard-and-chocolate icing-stained pair of sweatpants in public, or should I upgrade to my pair of sweaty basketball shorts?

On personal hygiene.  This is a tricky one, because you find that teenage boys generally fall into one of two categories: those that slather on cologne and Axe body spray like they’re trying to mask their scent from The Predator, and those that think sweat stains are an urban legend and all of life’s more malodorous problems can be solved with a swipe of bar soap every now and then.  Now, as a reasonable facsimile of an adult, I mostly just find myself giving everything discounted by my shopper’s card the smell test to discern which scent makes me smell like a douchebag the absolute least, while still not being flowery and effeminate?

Along this front, I find Axe to exist along a very conflicting spectrum.  Some of their body washes just scream “take my virginity to a Dave Matthews song!”  The more subtle ones are way better than the less expensive brands, so I always find myself at the Donettes crossroads of wanting to buy the more subtle scents of Axe but not wanting anyone to know I’m buying it.  It’s kind of like condom-shopping for the mid-twenties crowd, or “personal lubricant”-shopping for the anything crowd.

Whoa.

On facial hair.  If I would have tried as hard in high school to study for calculus tests as I did to grow facial hair, I would have received way more scholarships than I actually did.  Back then, a soul patch—kill me now—was a life achievement.  Dirt on your chin?  Yeah.  Been letting that lil’ science project for a month or two now!  I can almost picture myself actually willing my beard to life.  In my mind, it looks a lot like straining on the crapper, so perhaps you won’t want to envision the same.  BUT I WAS A MAN, DAMMIT!

Now, it’s like I wake up every other day with the habitual sex offender list look.  I yearn for the days where shaving was a swipe and a splash of aftershave, or let’s be honest, a splash of water at best.  Now, I have to take this Amber Alert beard with me everywhere I go, lest I make an effort to kill it every morning…and we know that’s not happening, because even when you work from home and largely on your own schedule, shaving is still somehow a time commitment you’re just not willing to make unless A) you know you’ll be making an effort to impress someone that evening or B) you’ve got to the point where you’re collecting crumbs and angry eyes from mothers hugging their children close in equal amounts.

On napping.  Okay, time changes nothing here.  Naps are sexy no matter how old you are.

On ringtones.  As a kid, you knew the universal truth to be this—you are judged on three things: your face, your social circle and your ringtone.  If you whiffed on your first two at-bats there, then you knew you’d damn well better have a cool ringtone, or one that distinguished your phone from all others in the room.  I went through quite a few myself, all rap-related, of course.  Still D.R.E.  The Set Up.  In Da Club.  These were pre-vocal ringtones, too, so just that shitty MIDI version or whatever, like some mid-90s NES game soundtrack substituting Simba for Curtis Jackson.

When parties got boring, or more accurately when everyone in the room proved to have the attention span of a 16-year-old, everyone whipped out their phones and started playing ringtones for each other as if anyone in the history of modern cell phone technology has ever been interested in a music appreciation course on someone else’s ringtone.  This was just how ringtones worked, though.  They defined you.  They identified you as a unique snowflake within a foggy landscape of polo shirts and crew cuts that all blend together after a while.

Of course, as an adult, you make your ringtone choice based mostly one two things: which one can I hear best that doesn’t completely shred my tympanic membrane, and which one will be the least embarrassing when it inevitably goes off during the climactic moments of whatever terrible book-to-movie adaptation your significant other has dragged to, or whatever toy-to-movie adaptation you’ve dragged your significant other to.  I prefer Windchimer, personally.  It’s loud enough to hear clearly whilst buried in a landslide of pocket change and Subway coupons, and just obnoxious enough to make me want to answer it to avoid prolonging the music without wanting to hurl it into a wall and shatter the phone to its very core (which, incidentally, is a battery that enjoys singing my upper thighs through my pocket mesh after long conversations…TMI?)

Fun fact: all NES games were required by law to feature ninjas in some capacity. Bonus points for ninjas fighting giant disembodied heads.

On transportation and cars.  As a kid, you’re most thinking GAWD, I have to drive this mom-mobile around?  Look how round it is!  It just screams GAY!  (As round things do?  As everything in high school did or does, and as that continues against all odds to be the negative descriptor d’jour?)  My friend drives a BMW!  Why do my parents hate me so much?  I almost hope I wreck this piece of shit so I can get a new car!

A couple student loan payments later, and throw in a few part replacements and tire rotations coming out of your own checking account, and the tune changes significantly: how much longer can I continue to drive this piece of shit car before I have to junk it?  Please don’t die on me!  Please give me just another day!  Please justify that last $500 repair for another week or so!   I don’t even care if a homeless man would turn his nose up at the prospect of living inside you (note to self: use that as witty retort about someone’s ugliness, preferably at a classy soiree while wearing a tuxedo and double-fisting martini glasses), I just need your services for one more paycheck!

On being seen with your parents in public, specifically a movie or restaurant.  As a kid: please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see…oh, hey, Mike, I was just…uh…well, you see, I’m…

As an adult: OMG FREE SHIT!

Actual photo from one of our family dinners out.

On underwear.  As a teenager: will everyone like me more if I wear my American Eagle boxers or my Abercrombie boxers?

As an adult: damn, fell asleep before I could do laundry last night.  *sniff test*  Yes, these will do for today.  Depending on how many hours I put in, and what’s on TV tonight, maybe for tomorrow too.
On social media.  As a scalawag: LOL, gang sign or middle finger with thumb up!
As an adult: LOL, potential employers!
On Degrassi.  As a rapscallion: I hope nobody knows that, sometimes, when I’m really bored and wired, I watch Degrassi marathons from midnight to 6am.
As an adult: I hope nobody knows that, sometimes, when I’m really bored and wired, I watched Degrassi marathons from midnight to 6am.

J.T. NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

On running into high school classmates in public.  As a scoundrel: whoa, I know, like, everyone here!  Sup dudebro?  How you doing, girl?  Man, I’m awesome.  I have a lot of friends.  It’s awesome to see everyone away from school so we can talk about the same things we say in the hallways but just say “fuck” a lot more.
As an adult:  please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see me, please don’t let anyone see…oh, hey, Mike…

Free Carwash.

It's like the post title, only neoner.

I wrote something pretending to be profound here, but deleted it in favor of nonfiction since dismissed, as you may or may not continue on to read.  Sentiment is for another forum.  This one is for criticizing hipster monocultures of cultural regurgitation and making Majora’s Mask references.  I’ll save the sour musings for the My Little Pony diary.

Dear diary: cutting is the only thing that makes the pain go away...

Hipster admonishments aside — yes, Tyler the Creator and Tegan & Sara have a common enemy, tomorrow’s dollar-short blogger latching on to everyone else’s coronations when blogs like Mostly Junkfood are holding court on artists they’ll come to worship falsely some two years down the line (read: Goblin was a shitty album, shame on bloggers who blindly label it revolutionary) — I’ll take this one back to a transparent carwash on 116th Street where I was near certain my 16-year-old self was soon to be entombed.

There stands an outdoor carwash on 116th Street that appears to be some kind of transformed greenhouse.  It’s completely transparent, a glass shell, so apparently everyone can marvel at your ’03 Saturn L200 when it’s getting the latest line of road salt washed off.  I don’t quite understand the concept, but then I didn’t go to school to be a carwash architect.  Although I wish I had.  I would have designed one with a self-serve burrito station halfway through.

This year’s Architect of the Year Award goes to…Collin!  His burrito self-serve station has forever revolutionized the way cars are baptized.  Honorable mention goes to Salazar Slytherin, whose Chamber of Secrets will surely one day make for a lukewarm Chris Columbus film adaptation.

Doug daydream concluded, I was in the car with one of my best buds (honoring my policy of not using names so as to embarrass people, except Trevor, who sold me out to the Pacers, the bastard!) leaving school for that day.  Don’t think I was quite old enough to drive then, freshly 16, so I was sitting shotgun, getting a ride home.  Along the way, it was decided that we would take the car in for a car wash, because driver-friend had the free car wash code.  Which if you know anything about living in insignificant-land, is equal in value to either six Frullati punch cards or one alcoholic genie who doesn’t give you three wishes but instead gives you a free corndog every Tuesday before heading to his A.A. meeting and spending the duration convincing himself that the last handle of Bright Dark Eyes was the last handle of Bright Dark Eyes.  Stupid emo groups.

(Which isn’t to poke fun at alcoholism — a serious disease — but rather Robin Williams and Shaq.)

Right, so, carwash.

Free carwash code is entered.  Carwash bay door opens.  Open sesame, I say.  But not really.  Because nobody says that.  Ever.

(“Open sesame,” said Kazaam to the vodka handle.”)

It’s likely also worth noting that it’s early March, and it’s Indiana, so it’s cold.  Like freezing cold.  Like frozen water is ice cold.  Like carwash is full of water that will freeze and create ice cold.

The carwash starts fairly normally.  I’d give it a six out of 10.  Theatrics are there at the onset, a symphony of scrubbers and twirling thingamabobs, but the big spinning thing (technically called the “large rotating item”) was a disappointment.  Just didn’t have any oomph to it.  Like a Subway sandwich artist who just lazily scatters banana peppers on your sub because six hours into her shift and having survived Saturday soccer outings, she’s clearly past the point of caring, and very well may quit on the next squirt of mayonnaise.

So the C+/B- carwash show ends, and the car pulls up to trip the dryer.

Except it doesn’t.

To recap: Harry Potter and Deathly Carwash Part 1 = water + scrubber doo-dads + 45 minutes of aimless teenage angst in the woods:

The world's first cheese-powered carwash.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Carwash Part 2 = the blow-dryer, the heavy action, the big blast to send the saga off safely, a subtle shot of Emma Watson’s cleavage:

Engorgio!

Except the dryer mechanism never tripped, and the dryer never activated.  So we just sat there, waiting with no idea of what to do next.  I’d imagine this is what it’s like getting tricked by a leprechaun.  Free carwash, he says, but nothing about cardry.  It’s like when your neighbor invites you over for free beer and buffalo chicken dip on gameday, but fails to mention the demon in the cellar with a severe case of the soul-munchies when he asks you to grab some cold ones from downstairs.

(Of course, if it’s IU gameday, having a demon gorge on your soul is probably preferably to watching the game anyway.)

So we’re stuck in subzero temperatures in a soaking wet car, trying to figure out how to get the dryer to work.  My friend eases the car into reverse and tries to trip the sensor again, figuring he’s probably missed it.

And then the car-crypt closes shut.

So now, not only will the dryer not work, but we’re locked in the carwash.  The exit door has closed.  And the scrubbers are warming up again.  We appear to be destined to loop endlessly in carwash purgatory.  Like some time travel conundrum.  Only not that at all, and in a transparent carwash where our plight is public spectacle.

We try honking to get the attention of someone nearby, namely the police car parked directly outside, but it’s no use.  Everyone would prefer gawk.  Why?  Because studies show that people suck.  Hardcore.

At some point, it’s apparent that someone will have to get out of the car and attempt to manually…I don’t know, do something.  At all points, as the mist begins to build from the infant wash cycle, it’s apparent that that person is not me.  Because I am a total, unabashed coward.

What can I say?  My favorite hobbies include reading, writing, playing soccer, playing Risk and not drowning in a sea of (free!) subzero carwash foam.  I’m not extraordinarily adventurous.  I don’t take a lot of risks.  I don’t even take a lot of risks in the game of Risk.  I usually just squat on South America or Australia, build my armies forever and don’t attack anyone.  Yeah, I’m the reason you’re falling asleep over the board at 2:00 a.m.

Thankfully, though, my friend is not paralyzed by inaction.  Like the hybridized offspring of a kraken and a mermaid, he braves the battering rains of The Works Plus to seek out an emergency release lever for the exit door and, shrugging, engages it.  Trust me, it would have made an awesome Marines commercial.

The door opens.  Glorious sun, the soothing rays of victory come pouring in.  Wait, no.  I got that description wrong.  Indiana winter comes pouring in.  The exterior of the car seems to start taking notice as we drive away.

So by the time we reach my house, naturally, all of the undried doors — which are, coincidentally, all of the doors — are frozen shut.  Great.  Substituting on icy, windowed tomb for another.  At least my grave has a nice music library, I figure.  But after enough work and a few inexplicable nosebleeds, we’re able to force the doors open.

The next night, Tony Todd shows up at soccer practice, which I think is odd because usually he only shows up at my gymnastics lessons.  Not that I ever took gymnastics, I mean.  At age 10.  At Danna Mannix.  With trainer John Green.  He goes on to explain how I’ve cheated death, and it will come to reclaim me.

A long succession of improbable events and unfortunate accidents ensue.  In 3D.

The end.

The Centipede Centipede

Yes, even scarier than ATM.

If you’ve ever seen a house centipede, you know why the only solution is to kill it with fire.  From space.

As an esteemed entomologist, I can confidently say that house centipedes have a firm place in the Top 10 Screw Everything About That species.  Cane spiders, redbacks, bark scorpions, leeches and those little things that swim up unsuspecting urethras occupy some of the other prestigious spots on this list.

Now, theoretically, house centipedes should be our friends.  They are terrified of humans and avoid human contact at all costs.  They slaughter insects and destroy the evidence.  Some species of centipede even help you with your taxes if you ask nicely.

That’s theoretically-speaking, though.  In reality, house centipedes are murderous mutated creepy-crawlies with hundreds of poisonous, neurotoxin-injecting legs that will run your sorry ass down should you ever attempt to run.

If I was in a room with a bear, a lion and a house centipede and a single open door, I would be fighting with the bear and lion to be the first out of that room.

Of course, I wasn’t so lucky to get the bear and the lion.  One night, it was just me and a centipede, alone in my dorm room.

This happened during my freshman year of college.  It was odd that I was alone in the room, in retrospect, because my roommate that year was in the room a lot.  I forget what the occasion for me being alone was, but it was just a typical weekday night and I was playing Gears of War as it had just been released.  When out of the corner of my eye…

A wild centipede appears!

The abomination darted in front of me, crossing the width of the room in under three seconds.  Three seconds of pure terror.  You don’t understand how fast those things move until you have the unfortunate opportunity to see one in action.

Now, why was a centipede in my dorm room?  Probably because I had a first floor room with a faulty window seal and a hole in the screen.  We got spiders all the time.  Centipedes prey on spiders.  It only makes sense.

Back to the centipede, though, I saw it dart in front of me as I was seated in front of the TV, 360 controller in hand, and disappear under my closet door.

Great.  A centipede in my closet.

I must have watched that closet door for 15 minutes straight before deciding it was time to man up and go to war.

Unfortunately, I never brought my Lancer to college with me.

I had been wearing basketball shorts and flip-flops, so I quickly exchanged them for track pants and tennis shoes.  Couldn’t take any risk.  Couldn’t leave any surface skin exposed to the centipede.  I was 18.  Too young to die.  Didn’t know the ending to L O S T yet!

(If I had, I might have just let the centipede kill me.)

Armed with the sandals I had been wearing, which I figured represented the finest in anti-centipede technology, I set out to whomp that sucker.  Like a boss, I tore through that closet, shucking shirts out of my way as I dug my way toward the devil himself.  I couldn’t take the risk of that thing starting a discotheque in my wardrobe.  I’d never sleep.  You know the crowd those bring.

Unfortunately, after 10 minutes of searching, I found nothing.  The reality set in: the centipede was gone.  Nesting in my clothes.  I was doomed.  I wouldn’t encounter that jerk again until I stepped through my jeans and felt something funny in my boxers.

Defeated, I closed the door and resumed my seated position.  I watched the closet door for another 10 minutes before deciding it was silly to continue waiting for the centipede to re-emerge, and then decided to unpause the game and continue playing.  I absorbed myself in the game again.  Until a half hour later…

CENTIPEDE CHARGE!

Right toward me.  From under the closet door.  I had seconds to react, maybe not even plural.  I would like to say I acted like a man and met that bastard in open field combat, defended my territory.  I’d like to say I did something sensible.

But really, I jumped on top of my chair and screamed like a little girl.

Now, to understand this next part, you have to understand the chairs we had in our dorms.  They were some weird hybrid of a rocking chair and a desk chair, a combination inconvenient for both purposes.

They looked a lot like this, except the rails were higher off the ground.

What my estrogen-laced instincts told me to do was jump on the chair to avoid the charging centipede.

What physics proved, though, was that jumping on a rocking chair with unequal weight distribution makes the chair rock.  Back.  A lot.  Enough to, say, send me tumbling over backward.

So instead of safely seeking sanctuary on the desk rocking-chair, I dropped to the floor, smacking my head.  The same floor as the centipede.  I was a goner.  I knew it.  Like a kid who had fallen into the lion pit at the zoo.  It was only a matter of time until I was centipede chow.

But then I saw it.  The centipede.  Crushed by the rail, by my mighty rocking.  Just like I planned, you know.  Just like I had planned…

So, thankfully, all I had was a dull headache.  The beast was slain, if completely by accident and curious furniture choice.  I threw the carcass out of the window and went back to playing 360 like nothing had happened.  I lived happily ever.

Until the leeches.

Man, there are some inexplicably horrible creatures out there.

So I Went To San Francisco…

It looked like this, except with the moon from Majora's Mask.

So I went to San Francisco this week.  What…you didn’t?

Freak.

I ventured out left for a job interview, which I would gladly talk about if I wasn’t paralyzed by this fear of talking about a job I’ve only interviewed for and for which I have received no formal offer.  Because then when I don’t get it, I look like a tool.  And when I look like a tool, you get sick satisfaction.  I only support healthy satisfaction.  I won’t spread germs with any retrospective failtalk.

I was flown out on Tuesday afternoon…my first time traveling alone.  I’d previously been on maybe a total of six airplane trips: to Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale and New York.  All with friends or family or stupidfaced high school newspaper staff I still call friends.  So, in what some called “cute”, I was nervous to make this trip.  I don’t have a lot of travel experience under my belt (that would be an odd place to store travel experience anyway, though) and it turns out that the land of the golden sun is kinda far away from Indiana.  Unless plate tectonics have anything to say about that in the near future.

My first flight featured a baby that screamed from the departure gate to the destination gate.  I think they should charge a screaming baby surcharge.  The parents also kept taking pictures of it — and yes, it was decidedly an it — crying in its seat like it was doing something really cute or something, which bothered me.  They have no idea how close Baby’s First Plane Ride came to being Baby’s First Skydiving Lesson, courtesy my window seat and all the brute strength summoned by a tantrum-emboldened migraine.

My second flight, from Denver to San Francisco, featured something that aggravated me even more: clueless movie conversation.  As you may know, I’m a bit of a film buff.  A walking IMDB app, if you will.  Film is one of my things.  So whenever people say really dumb things about really obvious films, it tends to bother me.  Scratch that, it unnecessarily enrages me.  Irrational as that is.  It does.  So the conversation of the strangers in front of me began like this, as the woman engaged a man attempting to watch some World War 2 documentary.

Woman: I haven’t seen a war movie in ages!  Not since that one…it was set in World War 2…

Man: Yeah?

Woman: Yeah…I can’t remember it…I can’t remember the name for the life of me.  But it was set in World War 2 and it had Tom Hanks in it.

Man: Yeah, I think I know what you’re talking about.

Woman: What’s the name of it?  It was about this guy and his three brothers died so they sent these soldiers to find him…oh, what was the name?  It had Tom Hanks in it!

Man: I know what you’re talking about, but I can’t remember the name either.

Woman: Oh, this is going to bother me now!  It had Tom Hanks and it was in World War 2 and he was looking for this guy because his brothers died and there was some rule that if three of your brothers died that they had to go out and rescue you…darn, what was that movie called?

Timeout.

I tried to telepath her the answer so she would shut up.  I wanted to scream it in her ear.  I wanted to etch it in her forehead so she might take it to her grave!  Okay, the last one was a bit extreme, but still.  It’s.  So.  Obvious.  So, so obvious.  I mean, there’s like only one World War 2 movie anyone ever talks about, and the Tom Hanks part should absolutely seal the deal.

(It’s The Da Vinci Code, by the way.)

But she just was not guessing this film, and worse, the man sitting next to her was equally clueless despite apparently being invested enough in World War 2 to be watching a documentary on it, or attempting to before this woman’s inane 30-minute rambling search for the world’s most obvious film title.

Social courtesy, though, kept me from leaning over the seat and entering a conversation I was not a part of to essentially end it and spare my sanity.  Thankfully, though, the lady in front of them — ballsier than I and apparently equally agitated — turned around and said four words with no friendliness in her voice:

It’s Saving Private Ryan.”

I could have kissed that woman.  In fact, I did.  It was love at first sight and we married before we even broke the Nevada border (which meant we were in Utah, where, little known fact, mid-air pretend marriages are completely legal and recognized by the federal government…really, any marriage works in Utah, unless it’s gay, and even then it just can’t be over-18 gay…SOURCE: THE LAW!)  But that’s another story and not really related much to San Francisco other than the fact I’m now wed to some business traveler who lives somewhere I don’t know but also lives in my heart for her heroic conversation-ending title reveal.

Unfortunately, the conversation continued after the itch on the woman’s tongue tip was sufficiently itched.  And I spit you not, this is how it continued.

Woman: That’s right!  Saving Private Ryan!  Yes!  That was the name!  Oh, thank you.  Yeah, that was the last war movie I saw.

Man: Oh, yeah.  That was a good one.

Woman: Yeah, about Tom Hanks saving the guy…I think he was Private Ryan, the guy he was saving.  And I forget who he was played by.  Some young guy, I remember.  Blond hair.  Oh, I just saw him in something!

Man: Yeah, I think I know who you’re talking about!

Woman: I can’t remember for the life of me!  Oh, who was that?

[MATT DAMON, my mind pulses.]

Man: I’m not sure, but yeah, I can see him in that.

Woman: He was in something else I saw recently too, but oh, what was it?

[MATT DAMON, my consciousness ebbs.  It was MATT DAMON.  MATT.  DAMON.]

Man: Was it Brad Pitt?

[NO, YOU MORON!  MATT DAMON!  IT WAS MATT FRICKIN’ DAMON!]

Woman: No…I don’t think so.  And I know it wasn’t George Clooney, ‘cuz he was younger.

[GEORGE CLOO…LADY!  WHAT IN PLUPERFECT HELL?  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!  GEORGE CLOONEY?  DID SOMEBODY NEED TO CHARM THE PANTS OFF THE NAZIS AFTER THE AMERICAN BROKE THE BEACHHEADS OR SOMETHING?  WAS THERE A FREAKING SAUERKRAUT HEIST GOING ON?  WHY WOULD YOU EVEN MENTION GEORGE CLOONEY AND SAVING PRIVATE RYAN IN THE SAME SENTENCE?!]

Man: Oh, wait, you uncultured wench!  It was Matt Damon.  You stupid doodyface.

[Okay, he didn’t say this.  But I wish he did.  I almost mindjacked him and made him.]

Woman: Wait, I remember what I saw.  He was in those Bourne movies.  You know, where he plays the spy and…

[I swear to God, if the man hadn’t interrupted her with his own eye-rollingly obvious epiphany, she would have gone on to explain the entire plot of a ROBERT LUDLUM novel for all the patience-exhausted passengers gritting their teeth in the back of the Boeing 777.]

Man: Oh, Matt Damon!  You mean Matt Damon.

Woman: Was that him?  Hmm…maybe it was.

[No maybe, lady.  It was Matt Damon.  Before he was Jason Bourne, he was Private Ryan.  Ball don’t lie.  Neither does a Southie’s film credits.]

Man: I’m pretty sure it was.

Woman: I think you’re right.  Matt Damon.  That was a good movie, though.  I just don’t watch a lot of war movies ‘cuz of all the killing.  There’s enough killing already, you know?

[Yeah, I don’t watch a lot of romantic comedies because there’s enough stilted, cheesy dialogue and end-of-date doorstep cliches already, you know?  I don’t watch a lot of Paul Greengrass films because there’s enough motion-trigged visual interruption already, you know?  I don’t rent a lot of Gus Van Sant because there’s enough latent sexual angst already, you know?  I don’t watch a lot of Nic Cage movies because there’s enough bad hairlines already, you know?  I don’t dabble much in avante garde because there’s enough abstract mis-en-scene in basement coffee shops before the black-and-white and deliberate self-referential scenery and tilted angles, you know?  I don’t watch a lot of documentaries because there’s enough reality already, you know?]

I did make it off that flight without committing any degree of homicide, though, and into the welcoming arms of San Francisco San Mateo County and a Jamaican cab driver that the robotic PA lady at SFO warned me against whilst waiting in baggage claim.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I got in a gypsy cab.

How does this happen?  Simple.  You’re tired, it’s been a long day of flying.  You follow the crowd to baggage claim, wait 20 minutes for your lone suitcase to round the bend and shuffle along to the area marked “taxis.”  You’re realizing at this point that you really have no plan to get to your hotel other than “taxi” and some tall, island nation-sounding man approaches you offering just that service.  Part of you wonders at first if it’s some sort of scam, but he has a Bluetooth headset in, so he must be legit.

After politely excusing yourself as needing to collect more luggage, you inquire at information about modes of transportation that will get you to the hotel.  There’s BART, but you don’t know the routes well enough for that to be realistic.  There’s an airport shuttle, but that might take up to an hour to get you back, costs twenty bucks for the inconvenience and you’re tired as hell and needing to collapse into a king-size bed sometime in the next thirty minutes.  And then there are cabs.

So, fine.  Cab it is.  You go back to the guy and he leads you the parking garage basement.  Despite the fact that you see cabs freely commuting outside at ground level.  Warning sign no. 1.

Warning sign no. 2 should be that your cab isn’t a cab at all.  It’s a slightly cleaner version of the car your parents gave to you on your sixteenth birthday less of a present and more as a “we love you enough to let you dent the living hell out of this” gift.  It smells like Cheerios.  WHY DOES IT SMELL LIKE CHEERIOS?!

I spent the ride mostly convinced that this driver had every intention of taking the Oakland Bay Bridge, taking my wallet at gunpoint and leaving me to fend for myself to fend in a neighborhood full of drug dealers, prostitutes and, worse, Raiders fans.  I’d seen this movie before, you know?  It was called Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon.

Matt.  Damon.

These fears weren’t exactly comforted by the fact that the drive from SFO into the actual city of San Francisco, as the airport is south of the city, proved to be a scenic tour of San Francisco’s entire homeless population.  I’ll give homeless San Franciscoans this: they’ve got the right idea.  It’s like passing out in a lawn chair in mid-May Indiana, but with way more needles in your arm, less to live for (arguably) and the pending threat of an earthquake that will probably destroy the vast majority of the city at some point in the near future (in Indiana, of course, the word “earthquake” is replaced with the word “governor.”)

As it turned out though, at least according to my present pulse, I was delivered to my hotel doors and felt foolish for ever having assumed I would be left on Grove Street to meet the Los Aztecas and all six Oakland As fans (seriously, bashing Oakland sports never gets old.)

The hotel was quite nice.  Built in the 1920s, I was told.  The decor matched.  I read it was haunted, but saw no ghosts, phantoms, specters or Scooby Doo villains during my stay.  This was probably because I slept with the lights on just in case.  I really wish I was joking.  But ghosts, man.  They will ruin your ability to interview well the next morning just because they have an eternity to kill.

<<<who is to say we can’t just turn off the light for you>>

I didn’t write that.

Since I’m not talking about the job or the interview or the happy hour or the dinner or cocktails that followed in fear of jinxing myself and/or remembering what a few too many Folsom Street Sours taste like, I’ll talk about the city some.

I didn’t see much of it.

It was night when I flew in.  I hustled back and forth between Union Square and Lower Nob Hill the next day, only stopping in the afternoon at Union Square Park to catch my breath and watch inebriated Art Institute students play “ninja” more seriously than any third-grader I’ve ever seen in summer camp.  I thought about joining in, but I feared my rippling biceps and rock-hard abs may have tipped them off to the fact I already had a B.A. in being a B.A. and would probably take the kickassery (or the slaphandery in this case) to the next level.  A level nobody comes back from.  With their face still on.

Oh, right.  The Hat Man.  How could I forget The Hat Man?  Like any city teeming with awesome, San Francisco has its share of crazies.  I suspect The Hat Man was a crazy.  I saw him on the corner of Post and Montgomery, I believe, gleefully announcing his insanity to passersby.  In my quick glance, I could tell that he looked like a 40-year-old African-American child wearing a cowboy hat whilst (am I allowed to use the word ‘whilst’ twice in one entry?) jumping for joy and pretending to swing a lasso high above his head.

“HATS!” he announced, like it was a completely normal thing he was announcing.  “HATS!”

(To my knowledge, The Hat Man was not selling any hats.  He was just jumping up and down in a cowboy hat, pretending to twirl a lasso.  Had he been selling hats, though, he would have had one hell of a sales pitch.)

Like any out-of-towner attempting to not resemble an out-of-towner, I straightened my tie and marched past.  Thankfully I blended into the business crowd bustling about, and thankfully this was Wednesday, because had it been the previous day, I would have been wearing an IU hat, my Indiana Captain Morgan shirt and the look of a visitor sure he had just escaped a gypsy cab.  The Hat Man assumed me to be a San Franciscoan.  I was happy.  So was he, but for completely different reasons (mostly that he thought he was a cowboy.)

In summation, this trip brought me great memories, jet lag and probably a few bedbugs.  San Francisco was a beautiful city.  Probably still is, though slightly less so without me there.  I loved the architecture and specifically the architecture as it corresponded with the geography.  I loved the weather.  I loved that the Louis Vuitton chicks drinking Starbucks at Union Square Park looked exactly like the pampered princesses I always imagined them to be, that the business types hurrying to and from work were all as airy, dismissive and self-important as I hope to be one day, that everybody rode bicycles and recycled their Zima bottles and that the majority of San Franciscoans are cute pocket-sized Asians who could fit in my backpack and survive on the scattering of stale M&Ms littering the lining if need be.

The trip back wasn’t nearly as eventful.  I ate some eggs at the airport, read a Dennis Lehane novel and caught some shut-eye in the thirty minutes between Chicago and Indy where complete daylight turned into complete darkness.  I’ve given up trying to figure how that works, but I think it has something to do with the NFL Players Union decertifying.

I don’t think I’m forgetting much.  I didn’t see a town between San Francisco and Chicago on the way back, flying over Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.  I guess there’s still a lot of nothing in this country.  A lot of nothing Native Americans used to live on, I think.  I never got upgrade to First Class, but really want to now that I see there’s actually so much leg room that they give you a remote control because you’re too wealthy to lean forward the five feet between your seat and the flat screen.  I also want to be subtly hated when I’m first on the flight and all the petty commoners have to pass my shrine of stretch space in order to cram themselves into economy class next to people who don’t watch war movies.

So I went to San Francisco.  Now I’m back.  Maybe I’ll talk more about it in the future.  Maybe I won’t.  But for now, I leave you with…

HATS!!!

Bohemian Rhapsoda

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