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.

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.

Alone

I know I promised something chronicling my latest journey to San Francisco.  I know I usually write stuff that could at least be considered mildly humorous.

I’m not going to do that tonight, though.

I’m going to talk about an old man alone.

I was on my way back to Indy, doing my best to kill a two-hour layover in Chicago O’Hare.  Only got to spend 20 minutes on the internet thanks to their ridiculous WiFi policy, so I eventually switched to reading a paperback.  It was about a half hour to boarding time, so I was sitting at the gate, invested in some George R.R. Martin, when I glanced an airport employee wheeling an elderly man to an area right in front of me.

The man had to be in his eighties, no younger.  I could tell that the employee was trying to explain to him that this was the gate where he would board his flight, that he would need to stay here until the plane arrived and the gate crew began boarding.  From what I gathered in his responses, he didn’t quite grasp the concept, and also had a noticeable knot in his voice, most likely a stroke victim.

At some point, he asked the woman helping him if she would stay with him until the plane arrived.  He seemed anxious, scared, unsure.  She politely decline, stating she needed to be somewhere else.  And then she left him.

I didn’t really think much of it at the time, honestly.  Went back to my book.  As boarding time neared, I was more concerned with the fact that the plane parked at the gate prior to the shuttle arriving from Indy hadn’t moved in an hour and appeared to be undergoing some sort of maintenance.  Eventually — and pretty much right at boarding time — they announced that the flight would now be boarding three gates down.  I quickly grabbed my backpack and hurried toward the gate, sure it would be boarding by the time I arrived.  It was not.

Maybe 10 minutes later, I see the old man again, being wheeled by some lady who clearly was not an airport employee.  Just a good samaritan.  Let me tell you…I can’t count many times where I have felt worse about myself as a human being than the moment where I saw her struggling to wheel both the man and his carry-on to the new gate.  Here I’d seen this old man previously parked and scared and confused, and I’d just rushed to the new gate in some modern day Pavlovian experiment, eager to board and get the hell home after about seven hours of travel.  No one was looking out for him, and it took the kindness of a complete stranger to usher him where he belonged.  I felt pretty terrible knowing that, that it should have been me, that he could have been left there, helpless, alone.

Eventually, this plane arrives and we start boarding.  The gate agents call for those in need of assistance to board first, and I glance at this man.  He’s invested in a book — didn’t catch which one — and clearly not aware of the situation at all.  Parked in a corner.  Not even really facing the gate.  Just buried in a book, oblivious to the boarding process.

Now, for some reason, our logical centers shut down when it comes to social niceties.  We don’t want to intrude whilst traveling, we just want to mind our own business, get where we need to go, etc.  Assume everyone can look out for themselves.  So standing in line and staring at this man, I battled with myself for a while as to what I should do.  Should I just assume a gate agent should notice him?  Should I offer to help him on the plane?  It’s amazing the lengths we will go to in order to avoid interaction with strangers, especially in transit.

But I knew I had to do something.  The guy wasn’t all there.  And he was moved, so I knew this had to be his flight.

I awkwardly approached him and politely asked if he was flying to Indianapolis.  He responded with a clouded yes, weathered hands shaking as he clutched tight to his book.  I told him I would make sure to let a gate agent know so they could get him boarded up and situated for the flight.  And I did just that.

I essentially arm-barred the rest of the passenger rush to allow for an employee to assist him and his carry-on down the ramp and into the plane, following the man down the ramp.  As he was being wheeled down backward, he was facing me the entire time.  And I couldn’t look in his face.  I just couldn’t.  Here was this old man, alone, half-aware at best, probably afraid.  Ancient, in my eyes.  There was no one there for him, and I suppose cheesy sentimentalists would say that a few good samaritans were, but that’s just trying to tie a ribbon over a hand grenade.  The reality is: this man was driftwood on the open sea.

I asked a flight attendant to make sure he was assisted in de-boarding and locating his luggage, and then struggled through a storm-shook shuttle flight and left him to their care in Indy.  I figured — hoped — someone had to be in Indy for him.  A daughter, a son, a caregiver.  Just someone.  Someone welcoming him home, someone chartering him to a retirement community.  Someone.

But down in baggage claim, I saw him again.  With another airport employee.  Alone.  No one had greeted him in the main concourse.  No one had come to help him grab his luggage.  His only company was an airline employee who would surely leave his side the moment he identified his bag.

It’s a mystery, I guess, where he ended up.  Surely he couldn’t drive, but unless someone was picking him up immediately outside the airport (and it’s curious they would have neglected to park in the short-term garage and help him gather his items in baggage claim) there was no one to pick him up.  I have no idea where this man ended up, what his life is.  But I wonder.

Is that just what it’s like when you’re old?  Or if you outlive everyone you love?

All the stories I can tell about this trip, including the ones that end up with me waking up with a roiled stomach on the floor of a hotel room in an Oreo crumb-covered bath robe, and this is the only one I want to tell, for some reason.  It’s the only one I really care about, the only one that seems to have any significance.  And I’m still asking myself if this man had anyone in his life, anyone at all.  Just someone to hold his hand and help him, you know?  Guide him through a dark living room or something.  Was there anyone left for him?  Or was he just floating aimlessly while the masses passed idly by, only aware of his presence in a physical sense, just as an object in space, something occupying a fractional percentage of a room, something to navigate around, something to not look at, something tucked away in the corner to be dismissed as boarding passes are produced.

Ultimately, after all we’ve done, when we’ve reached our final chapters…in spite of all the literature before, all the tales we’ve written, all the things we’ve ever seen and known and done, is that how we end up?  Drifting?  Half-alive?  Forgotten?

Maybe a bit macabre or fatalist on my end, but questions I can’t help but ask after seeing that old man.  And while I guess I could imagine a happy ending or self-righteously pat myself on the back for my one good deed, I’m more apt to believe the employee pardoned himself like those before him and left the man sitting curbside, waiting on a car that would never come and yet oblivious to the fact there were any cars there at all.

And I fear, as much as we fight it, that’s how we all end up one day.  Alive, but only in theory.

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.

The Fascinating Story of My Semi-Visible Scar

It is but a flesh wound!

Sometimes I like to pretend like my life is full of exciting stories.

But in the world of bleep-bloop, the life of the eternally-wired, where colloquialisms are replaced with words like “module” that make me sound a lot smarter than I actually am, my stories mostly range from keystrokes to page refreshes.

Bleep.  Bloop.

In a previous incarnation, I was a balloon pilot.  You may already know this.  The picture above features the wimpiest scar anybody ever got from anything.  Which also makes it the most bad-ass scar anyone has ever got from ballooning.

TO THE EXTREME!

Let me explain.

(EXTREME EXPLAINING?)

No.

(Okay…)

On an ideal day, the breeze is light and the weather is fair.  The clouds are scattered amongst the great dance floor in the sky, afraid to approach each other in the event the gaseous puffs across the horizon have cloud cooties.  There is a soft scent of freshly-mowed grass hanging about, lingering with the discarded clippings.  Strangers pass through guffawing in merriment.

I SAID guffawing in merriment!

On a perfect day, the soundtrack is birdsong and the featured presentation is 20 miles of fogless visibility, unmarred by a summer haze yet to set upon a soon-to-be-scorched land.  The world around is more than a still life but less than caffeinated by a crosswind.  There’s thunder to the north and rain to the south, gusts to the east and an electric sky to the west, but nothing inclimate in the immediate area.

That is a perfect day.

And that happens maybe once or twice in Indiana.

Because in Indiana, when it’s not storming, it’s windy.  When it’s not windy on the ground, it’s windy aloft.  When it’s not windy aloft, it’s going to be windy on the ground eventually.  And all throughout, it’s unbearably humid.

This is a story about wind.  And blood.  And a scar that has yet to impress a single chick.

(Thankfully, there are no chicks on the internet.)

We’d been flying all day and into the afternoon when the winds, out of nowhere and not forecast, picked up.  A lot.  Enough to initiate (*pumps shotgun*) emergency mooring time.

Let me explain, briefly and ineffectively, how mooring a balloon works.

Mostly with a picture.  Because if fourth grade sex-ed taught me anything, it’s that everything can easily be explained in pictures, no questions asked ever in an informative car ride to soccer practice.

By day, a mooring table. By night, a defense turret.

Mooring a balloon is a lot by mooring a ship to a dock.

(Minus the water and boat and dock part.  And really everything except the sailor knots.)

You begin by neutralizing the sway of the balloon by tensioning the outer mooring lines perpendicular to the sway.  Once stabilized, you can tension all the outer mooring lines and begin turning your attention to the inner mooring winches.  Yes, there are two levels of mooring.  I N C E P T I O N.

A lot of boring but important things happen in this process, including spooling the inner mooring winches and preparing the inside of the gondola for the balloon’s descent by attaching cradle straps perpendicular to each other, inserting the load bar in the shackles of the tether’s terminal and practicing barbarian war cries.

Mostly the last part, to the fascination of the gathering crowd.

On a normal day, it’s a relatively complicated process that requires a lot of communication between the crew.  On an abnormally windy day when the balloon is in flying position, it requires four or five people screaming like mad and running around from one place to another with seemingly no regard for human or animal life around them.

RIP Mr. Earthworm =(

In this particular instance, I drew the esteemed position of gondola grunt.  That’s not a real term we use at all, but it sounds cool.

Here is a handy diagram, much like the one that taught me where babies came from:

Not pictured: burrito self-serve station

My job, in this case, was to guide the load ring onto the cradle straps as the balloon was lowered and ensure nothing became snagged on the wire ropes inside in the process, as it could weaken the ropes that…you know…are designed to hold the gondola to the load ring (which subsequently holds the gondola to the balloon itself.)

What did this entail?  Basically bench-pressing the load ring and fighting those wire ropes.  The load ring is made out of tubular (RADICAL!) aluminum and weighs probably more than YOUR FACE.  Which is to say that both your hideous nose and the load ring are heavy.

You know that football drill where guys punch at tackling sleds?  It was a lot like that, except punching with both arms, holding with one arm and using the free one to untangle wire ropes from cradle straps.

Basically, I felt like something I’d never felt like before: a man.

So, anyway, I wrestled with things for quite some time before my co-workers started yelling at me to come out and help stabilize the balloon on the winches.  As I was climbing out of cable cone interior of the gondola, which is accessible via an unnetted window my size 36 posterior can just oh so barely squeeze through, I saw something in front of me.  It looked like my arm.

IF A GREAT WHITE SHARK HAD BEEN SNACKING ON IT.

I was bleeding.  All over the place.  A quick glance over my shoulder allowed me a vision of blood specks on the wires and straps within.  I’d been bleeding for a while, completely oblivious.  It looked more like I was fingerpainting than wrasslin’ with a ring.

It looked bad.  But I had a choice: Bear Grylls or that wimpy soldier from that World War 2 movie…you know the one with Tom Hanks…oh what’s it called…it’s on the tip of my tongue…ah yes, The Da Vinci Code.

I went with Bear Grylls.

I sprang from the gondola like a wild cougar happening upon a town of antelopes where the mayor was inexplicably a walrus named Morris Bean.  Do cougars even eat antelope?  I mean, I’m sure they would.  But usually they just feast on trust fund kids.

ZING.

Mooring must be an awesome process to behold, because everyone gathers around to watch it.  I’d never before wondered what it would feel like to be an animal in a cage, a spectacle for fat kids to watch at the zoo in between consuming a melted ice cream cone and not being amused by anything except a monkey picking insects from its lifemate’s ass.  Now, thankfully, I will never have to wonder how that feels.

I was the ass-picking monkey!

Not only am I attempting to frantically pull in line, take tension, lock off rope and fasten sailor knots on the cleat (three coils, PULL, figure eight, PULL, inverted loops, PULL, two safety loops, LOCK, sir yes SIR!) but I am having every epiphany-raining spectator on the planet shout to me:

“YOU’RE BLEEDING!”

The blood must have just added to the dramatic spectacle.  But persist, I had to!  Blog like Yoda, I will!  I kept reeling and tying and locking and popping and dropping and eventually managed to assist in stabilizing the balloon.  From there, it was an easy process of bringing it all the way down via interior winches and re-tensioning outside lines.

Upon re-tensioning those lines, I realized that I had bled all over them.  Covered.  Coated.  Completely soaked and saturated.

I guess you could say I…

put my sweat and blood into that thing…

Afterward, an EMT was called.  Just for me!  I felt so special.  Like the time freshman year when I couldn’t find a ride to the hospital for a pinched nerve so I apologetically called an ambulance, was jettisoned to the emergency room, given an admixture of cocaine and unicorn blood and prescription for 20 pills of hydrocodone.  Because painkillers are like breath mints in college towns.

As my arm was bandaged, I’d like to say that a statue was erected in my honor, that I became the source of local legend.  Collin cut his arm off and still managed to save the world…singlehandedly.

I was told the wound was superficial and I would just have to wear a ridiculously large bandage and deal with it…GAWD!  So I picked the post ridiculously large Power Rangers bandage in stock and affixed it to my torn flesh, secretly hoping that I would vicariously gain the powers of the red Power Ranger.

(I didn’t, as an attempted roundhouse kick to a complete stranger later informed me.)

The crux of the story, though, is that something like six months later, I started to blog about this scar I had and remembered that the story behind it was completely uninteresting, so if I piled on as many pop culture references as possible, maybe, I thought, just maybe, it could be passable enough to justify an obnoxious run-on sentence in closing, like this once, for instance, but then I decided to close with something a little more appropriate.

But probably not.

And Give Some Back

Self-defense: pass it on! A message from The Foundation For a Better Life.

So this bullying thing has really taken off in recent weeks, hasn’t it?

(If you don’t internet, here’s a link to the clip in reference.)

I saw that clip last week and heard about the victim-turned-aggressor’s ensuing suspension this past weekend.  And I couldn’t help but think OF COURSE because I’ve been there before, and school systems are absolutely incapable of handling any type of confrontation with rational decision-making.  Now it’s just been affirmed to me that this is true regardless of nation or culture.

Back in the day when the Pacers were still good and it was Pokemon Red and Blue, I was a fifth-grader at Sunnyside Elementary.  Due to constant re-districting and moving, I had a tendency to change schools a lot.  I was at a different school for fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades.  And then ninth, but that was just the transition to high school.  The crowds really seemed to change in each school.  Fourth grade primarily featured upper middle class white kids, fifth was a racial mix definitely angled more toward the lower class, sixth was a weird division between rich and poor and all races and seventh introduced me to the sterilized, non-gentrified suburbs of Hamilton County.

So fifth, like I said, had a healthy amount of kids from poorer areas and rough homes, given the district it drew from.  Obviously, as I was re-districted seemingly every other year, I lived in a strange area: directly between the haves and have-nots, to simplify the description.  I liked Sunnyside though.  It sucked, at the time, leaving behind my fourth-grade friends, and yeah, I remember almost all of them because fourth grade stands out in my memory as one of those years I enjoyed more than most for whatever reason.  But Sunnyside was alright, I made some new friends there and all, I liked my class.  I still have…well, I’m actually going to take a break from stream-of-consciousness here and go search for it, so I can perhaps have a picture to show.

[Well, I went searching through my archives, which is essentially the two boxes my mom keeps in the loft closet of all my pictures and awards and stuff from elementary school.  I didn’t find what I was looking for — the letter sent home from my suspension I’ll tell you about — but I did find a class photo from that year which I will not share because it’s really creepy and has peoples’ names on it.  Also because, as in most school pictures and pictures in general, I look like a complete spazz.]

[I will instead post this (slightly) less spazz-y picture of me GETTING ATTACKED BY A SHARK:]

I still have that monkey, too.

How this relates to bullying, anyway, is that there was a bit of a rough crowd at this school, and one day, this kid named Tremaine decided to jump on my back at recess and try to shove me to the ground.  In that first half-second, my mind flashed back to the time I got my ass kicked as a first-grader on my first freaking day of my school at the bus stop.  Because I was a first-grader, and it turns out it’s easy for 10-year-olds to dish out black eyes to 7-year-olds who look at the sky too much.

My parents sat me down after I came home with a black eye that day and gave me the whole self-defense talk, about how I should never start a fight but always finish one.  The talk I think every dad should be required to have with his son.  They told me that if anyone ever started shit for me and there was no realistic way out of it, I had free reign to hit back even harder.  Carte blanche.  Go nuts.

That moment explodes in and out of my memory in a half-second and in the seconds following, I’m absolutely wailing on the kid.  The sight is completely atypical because I was one of those brown-nose kids who never got in trouble and aced every spelling test and made the teacher’s job easier.  But I mean, he jumped on my back.  He started shit.  I was finishing it, dammit!  This fight goes on for what I remember to be the entirety of recess, and of course not one adult notices despite three or four monitoring the playground.  It’s vicious, too.  Bodies are slammed into slides.  Heads are slammed into poles.  Shit is talked, and talked loudly.  This isn’t some elementary slapfest, this is a cage match.  No holds barred.

An hour into the afternoon’s class, I’m called to the assistant principal’s office with Tremaine, and we’re both told we’re being suspended out of school because some little snitch ratted on our fight.  In other words, no adults saw it happen.  Neither Tremaine nor I said anything about it.  But some wimpy kid went and told a teacher that we fought and this was somehow sent up the chain of command to the assistant principal in less than an hour’s time.

So, I mean, figure that I’d never so much as been told to stop doing something in class to that point, and now I’m being kicked out of school temporarily.  Something about a zero tolerance policy.  All I remember about the rest of that day was biting my lip so hard I drew blood in order to avoid crying because I was suspended!  The assistant principal called my dad at work!  It was serious business to a 10-year-old.

Turns out, though, my parents didn’t care at all.  They were proud of me for fighting back and asserting myself.  I thought they were going to kick my ass when I got home that day, but they weren’t mad at me, instead they were livid at the assistant principal and every adult too busy gossiping about all the kids they hated that missed the main event.

Point is, as it relates back to that story, kids need to stand up for themselves if they’re being bullied, and they need to be taught and encouraged to do so.  After my dad told me I could fight back, I never had an issue with bullying again.  I did get my head slammed into a brick wall by some psycho named Douglas for my insistence that the Animorphs weren’t, in fact, real, and was followed home by him from his bus stop (I lived one neighborhood over) until a neighbor’s mom intercepted him with a pocket knife…but that was just Douglas being Douglas.  Oh, Douglas.  The Animorphs aren’t real!

We shouldn’t be suspending or expelling kids who fight back and decide they’re not taking shit anymore, we should be high-fiving them.  What is wrong with us when we hold a victim on the same grounds of culpability as the attacker?  That’s crap.  That actually pisses me off.  It completely counters one of the most important lessons we can teach kids: be self-assertive.  Because what’s the alternative?  Curl up in a ball and take a beating?  Sink into your shell?  Always assume your lunch is going to be taken and there’s nothing you can do about it?  Learn, at a young age, to never question an injustice?  Never do anything about anything wrong in this world?  Schools would, of course, have you tell an adult, but I’m here to tell you firsthand: they’re too busy not giving a crap on the blacktop to notice.

I fought back.  I made my point.  I never got bullied again.  In fact, even Tremaine and I were cool after that.  We wrote a rap once for the paper we had to run in our class’s job simulation day at Exchange City (does that still exist?)  It was a banger.

Now, all that said, I’ll leave you with a Deadwood clip in response to the school’s completely ridiculous decision to suspend the kid defending himself, noting, of course, that as with any clip longer than two seconds from the HBO series, the language is NSFW.  Not even close.  But remember this, world, the next time someone tries to take your lunch money: