Stories from my past, along with whatever random musings I feel compelled to write. Updates Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Playing With Fire (This One's Not My Fault)

    Most of my stories from my childhood make it sound like I was, if not the spawn of the devil, then the offspring of some lesser spirit dedicated to making people’s lives a bit more difficult. Indeed, I was far from being an easy child, as the distant, haunted vibe my parents throw off whenever they think back to those days proves.

    However, I was far from being the only problem child in my family. Even before we formally adopted her, my sister brought a whole truckload of issues with her, but that’s not entirely under her control (and I’ll save those memories for later). My younger brother, on the other hand, caused almost as much damage to our house and the sanity of my parents as I did.

    One of the earliest examples of this that I can think of is the time he set fire to our kitchen. At the time Craig was around three, which puts me at around seven years old. The school year had yet to start for me, so I was naturally upstairs sprawled out on the couch in front of the television.

    Craig was doing the same downstairs in my parents’ room, taking advantage of their waterbed in order to optimize the enjoyability of his television viewing experience. My dad was occupied in the living room, working to clean the aquarium. My mother was at work, and we were all expecting a fairly low-key day of lounging about.

At some point, my brother got up and went into the kitchen. He may have been planning on getting a snack, or he could have been planning on visiting with our dogs. I may never learn his initial motivation, as he was too young at the time to remember it now. What I do know is what he ended up doing.

As my father siphoned out and replaced the water in the aquarium (or something; I admit I’m still a bit foggy on the mechanics of aquarium maintenance), he heard Craig open the microwave. This wasn’t at all surprising; since a young age, my brother has shown an almost prodigious knack for stuffing his face and then not gaining weight.

My dad heard Craig open and close the microwave, enter a time, and then start it up. From his obscured vantage point, he saw my brother retreat back to his cartoons. A few minutes later, the microwave was still running, and my brother walked back in to check on it. The second time he did this, he walked back with a look that my father described as “more worried than a three-year-old should ever be”. It was a few moments after my dad made this observation that he saw the smoke.

When I say “smoke”, don’t think the light gray haze that accompanies your average culinary blunder. This was an acrid black cloud that dramatically reduced visibility and smelled of utter despair. My dad dropped what he was doing and ran into the kitchen.

The microwave was on fire. Not sparking, not kind of melted, but completely ablaze. A massive black scorch mark was slowly spreading across the wall marring the wallpaper my mom had picked out years prior.

At this point, the combination of the smell and the wailing of the smoke alarm had become overpowering enough to draw me out of my television-induced stupor. I hurried downstairs, wondering what was going on. My dad immediately ordered the both of us out of the kitchen, somehow managing to put out the fire.

When we conducted an autopsy on the remains of the microwave, it was discovered that there was a lump of melted plastic and metal in it. Well, a lump of melted plastic and metal separate from the lump of melted plastic and metal that was the microwave at this point.

It would later be revealed that my brother had found a recording microphone somewhere and, noticing that it shared a prefix with the microwave, decided he wanted to see what happened if they were to be combined.

Unfortunately, my brother failed to travel back in time or gain eternal life or whatever he’d been trying to do. Instead, he got to be the reason we re-wallpapered our entire kitchen and bought a new microwave with a password-protected child lock.

As seems to be the case with so many of my memories, Craig seriously damaging our house was not a one-time occurrence. As the years went on, he’d knock holes in the walls (once or twice with his head), nearly rip out the railing on the stairs, and almost set the carpet on fire. Of course, if you want more details on those stories, you’ll just have to keep slogging through my interminable ramblings until I decide to share those stories.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Cracks in the Façade, part I

I apologize in advance for the less-than-hilarious-or-touching nature of this post; being home for break is making my notoriously absent attention span even more of a problem than usual. Here's part one of me looking at some of my insecurities.

I think something broke in me somewhere on the way through my teen years. When I was a kid, I was pretty typical, if a bit louder and more obnoxious than most. While there were certainly some events that stand out as weird, they’re not any more absurd than typical childhood hijinks (well, most of them anyway- more on this in later posts). Once I hit high school, all of that went out the window.

When I was younger, I never had to apply myself in school. I entered kindergarten reading at what was at least a sixth-grade level, and I had little trouble with any of the subject matter I encountered through elementary and middle school. Suddenly, as I began to take more honors and AP classes, the material caught up with me. I could still do the work, but the fact that I now had to work to do so started some corner of my mind thinking that I’d magically become stupid overnight.

Even now, the voice in my head sometimes brings that up, although he tends to prefer the tack I discovered as I entered college. The issue isn’t really my intellect; it’s the fact that, when faced with a task that might need me to exert myself, my brain decides that ANYTHING but what I need to do is suddenly the most interesting thing in the world.

I’ve gotten to the point where I realize that laziness, and not ignorance, is my main issue. Not that this makes anything any easier for me; if anything, it’s worse. When I’d tell myself I was dumb, it made it possible for me to escape blame. I couldn’t help it if I was stupid, but I should be able to fight off sloth long enough to get things done when they need doing.

Another area in which I can continually find fault in myself is my physical appearance. I’ve been pretty overweight for most of my life. I’m never going to be petite or lanky, but I really feel like I shouldn’t be nearly as big as I am presently. It probably doesn’t help that whenever I’d walk into an audition (I used to have an agent and get parts as an extra in things), I’d leave knowing I hadn’t got the part because of my weight.

I usually got called in to these auditions because they were looking for an african-american boy around my age to fill the part. If it wasn’t my weight that botched the audition, it was the fact that, apparently, I wasn’t “black” enough.

This was another sore spot, because being of mixed African-American and Caucasian heritage meant that I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. This was made worse by the fact that the city I grew up in was overwhelmingly caucasian, while the members of my extended family I saw with any regularity were not.

Trying to take experiences and knowledge gained from either setting and apply them to the other led pretty consistently to me feeling like some kind of oddity, as though instead of being black and French I was part octopus and part giraffe.

When I got to high school, a lot of my pre-existing insecurites became too prominent for me to ignore. While in middle school, I’d been able to hide my utter lack of social skills by never talking to anyone, I found myself being forced to interact with people all the time. This was the largest school I’d attended, and I was still one of a very small (I think the high point was five or six) group of students whose skin was my color.

This meant that, in every AP history class I took, whenever the topics of slavery and racism were brought up, at least half of the class would turn to look at me, as though by simply being descended from slaves I had some deep personal knowledge of everything to do with the enslavement of Africans. 
Every time something race-related would come up, from Martin Luther King Jr Day to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign,  I’d either end up dealing with people who assumed that because of my skin color I had some deep insight, or someone who thought that because of my skin color, my opinion on the topic was so obvious that my opinions didn’t matter.

I was a starter for the school’s quiz bowl team all four years, and I constantly had to deal with people who wrote me off as being no help to the team. It helped that I would then proceed to contribute significantly to our team crushing theirs, but even after four years, I still felt like I was being forced to prove myself, to demonstrate that I belonged there instead of it being assumed that I did. I may have thought this was the name of the game in my life at the time, but it was soon made clear to me that my own idea of how others viewed me was far from accurate.

One week, I grew tired of my complete inability to do anything with my hair (more about the whole “gay” thing is up ahead) and decided I wanted to try something a bit more drastic than trying to relax it. I convinced my mother to drive me to a stylist two towns over who could cornrow my hair.

The next day, I headed off to school, hurrying to meet the carpool and just generally being blissfully unprepared for the ordeal ahead. The other people in the carpool managed to both note the new hair and not say anything offensive, but around thirty seconds after I got to school, it started. I walked up to some of my friends, and they kind of gawked at me. One guy’s jaw even dropped slightly.

Another friend wasn’t that subtle. “Woah, Drew. You actually look black for once!” This would turn out to be the phrase I heard most often that day. For a while, I thought I’d come to terms with my racial identity issues, but that day proved that I still had a lot of personal growing to do.

The first thing I did after getting home was hop in the shower and revert my hair to its default state. I’d been convincing myself that I was conveying myself to others as someone who was of black heritage, and was also everything else that comprises who I am. That experience showed me that, however confident in myself I may have acted, I wasn’t broadening any horizons. Instead, I was put back into that giraffetopus box, as an oddity completely detached from race.

As I began my senior year, I found myself having to deal with people’s assumptions about my race at the same time as I was coping with people’s ignoring my racial identity. Whenever the topic of college applications came up, I was told that I’d be sure to get in somewhere good, not because of my test scores (a 35 on the ACT, along with perfect history subject tests and a math subject test score in the 94th percentile), but because I was able to check the “African-American/Black” box under “Race/Ethnicity” on my applications.

Curiously, I figured out how to deal with this through a kind of last insult about my appearance. At my high school graduation, we were allowed to write our own brief messages to be read as we walked to get our diplomas. In mine, I mentioned that I would be attending Cornell University in the fall.

In the giant ball of chaos, hugs, and crying that followed, I started looking for my family. As I searched through the swarm of people, an elderly couple approached me. At first, I simply walked past them, but the woman grabbed my arm. She recognized me from where she’d been sitting in the bleachers (another hint as to how easy I was to pick out of the crowd) and wanted to congratulate me on getting in to Cornell.

“It’s such a good school, especially for someone who’s the first in their family to go to college!”

I politely excused myself to find my family after this, because yelling at the elderly is too dickish even for me. Nowhere in my little blurb had it said anything about me being the first in my family to go to college. My grandmother was a teacher, and my parents are both very highly educated (my dad went to U Chicago and went on to get a law degree, and my mother went to Brown at 15, going on to get a master’s degree in marine biology).

Still, as I fumed, I sort of came to terms with this particular facet of my issues. I couldn’t really do much to shape other people’s prejudices. On the other hand, I didn’t have to let the opinions of other people dictate how I viewed myself. For the time being, I’m more or less at peace with this particular aspect of my broken self-image, although I’m sure I’ll end up reverting to my giraffetopus form sooner or later.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


 So, this is kind of disjointed and rambly. I blame the three hours of sleep I've had over the past three days. Sorry this one kinda sucks, but it goes to show that I still have a lot of room to improve, and kind of really need to. Please comment; I need to know how to improve.

So, all the stuff I’ve written about myself makes it pretty clear that I’m rather hesitant to engage people. People who know me might find this to be a bit surprising, given my annoying personality. Still, I’ve found that I tend not to be very adventurous. I’m content with my relatively small comfort zone for now, and I try to work with that.

When I was two years old, I had no such issues. One of my father’s favorite stories from this time period is about my first day of preschool. As could be expected from a parent dropping off his then-only child at school for the first time, he was a bit concerned.

Keep in mind, before I hit my teen years I was a typhoon of bombastic, potentially-hilarious overconfidence and zeal. Thus, as my father hesitantly pulled up in front of the building, I was already concocting a plan.

He moved to unlock his door, but I was already in motion. In a flash, my seatbelt was unbuckled and I was opening the door so I could leap out of the truck. By the time my dad, in his tortoise-like lack of quickness, had opened his door, I had already come around the truck to meet him.

In my mind, his role had been fulfilled. He had taken me to this land which I, in my youthful hubris, had determined I was destined to rule. Now, his job was done, and I no longer needed his services.

“All right. You can go now.” Having dismissed my father, I turned away from him, striding toward the building’s front door. I was already picturing the magnificent kingdom which awaited me.

Imagine then, my frustration when I realized my dad was holding me back. Looking back, I realize how weird it would have been for this little kid to storm into the preschool without an adult to explain why, but at the time, this just made me angry.

This also set the tone for much of my preschool experience. It was kind of too early for me to really say I was an advanced student, but I certainly stood out in terms of stubbornness and refusal to work with others.

For example, one part of my preschool program was regular meetings with the parents to discuss how everything was going. Given that I spent my formative years apparently practicing to be a supervillain, my parents both made a point of attending these. While the adults were meeting, I was supposed to be out on the playground, out of earshot.

In an attempt to get me to respect the privacy of those in the meeting, the adult staff were out on the playground with the kids, keeping them distracted. Unfortunately for them, the kids outnumbered the adults. When everyone was getting settled in, I whinily demanded that we play hide and seek.

You can tell what happened next. They closed their eyes, and I promptly hauled ass back to the building, ending up (I thought) hidden outside of the door. I would later realize that people had been onto every step of my cunning scheme, but they’d decided it was easier to just roll with it than to try to dissuade me.

My unwillingness to accept outside authority extended into factual knowledge as well. At the San Diego Wild Animal Park (a sister facility to the Zoo), there was an annual tradition of setting up animatronic dinosaur exhibits for around a month in the fall.

As previously discussed, I was pretty dumb when I was little, although I made up for it with bluster. Still, in class, when they mentioned that dinosaurs were all extinct, my hand was the first to be raised.

“You’re wrong.” Social skills have never been my forté. “I went to the Wild Animal Park last week.” It is at this point that I uttered a phrase which, while kind of lame, was the start of my lifelong proclivity for bad puns. “They have dinosaurs that got UN-stinct.”

I’ve just realized- I really never developed my sense of humor past preschool, I just refined what I had. That makes me sad. I’m going to sleep now.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How I Ruined My Dad's Birthday

As always, comments would be greatly appreciated.

    When I was in first grade, my dad’s birthday happened to fall on Super Bowl Sunday. To celebrate, he had a few of his friends and their families over to watch the game. He and his friends were all really into the game, but the kids wanted nothing to do with it.

    Eventually, the plan was hatched. My mom, along with a few other adults who didn’t really want to watch the game, would take the little bundles of hyperactivity that were myself and the four or five other kids to the local playground. 

    Ordinarily, this would have made my whole life. When I was six, I lived for the playground. It was one of my favorite places to go before I got too old and lazy to enjoy it as much. I could spend hours running around in the sand and on the play structures, with or without accompaniment.

    But that day was different. That day, I was feeling ambitious.

    The neighborhood I lived in had several community “recreation centers”, playgrounds and pools dispersed throughout and used by nearby residents. In school, I had heard from a friend that the other ones were all vastly superior to the one near my house. I hadn’t done much with this information yet; my family only had access to the one near my house, so I knew simply convincing them would be a futile effort.
    However, one of the friends my dad had invited lived in another area of the neighborhood. Seizing this opportunity, I took my chance to strike.

    “Mom! Manfred (not my friend’s actual name) lives over by the pool with the diving board! Can we go to that playground instead?”

    “Why? That one’s a longer walk than ours, Drew.”

    While I hadn’t thought that we’d be walking (although the fact that there were more than a dozen of us should have been a clue), I didn’t let this phase me. 
“No, we should go to Manfred’s playground! It’s way better than ours.”

    I feel that it should be pointed out that I had never actually seen this playground before in my life. While we did have to drive past it to get to Manfred’s house, it was kind of tucked away behind the pool and attached multipurpose building. I was basing all of this on hearsay.

    Anyway, we argued back and forth for a minute or two, her bringing up the logical points that it was further, our playground was fine, and that it was just generally more inconvenient. I fired back that 1) I’d heard a rumor that this Manfred’s playground was a gajillion times better, and 2) see point one.

    Eventually, I won. This wasn’t because of my superior arguing skills. Instead, it was a victory earned through my superior ability to ignore how uncomfortable our arguing was making the guests. Not wanting to continue making a scene, and not wanting to have to deal with a crying and/or vengeful six-year-old, she acquiesced.

    Soon after, we were underway. As I’ve discussed previously, I had and continue to have an attention span that’s so short that this sentence took five minutes and as many random youtube videos to complete. That’s with 20 years of learning to control myself, too. 

So, as the rest of the group walked on the sidewalk, talking amongst themselves, I was running all over the place, checking out everything there was to be checked out and, I’m sure, trespassing on countless people’s property without my mother noticing.
A short while later, I hit upon a hilarious prank idea. Around a block from the playground we were going to, there was a big hill covered in ivy. At the top of this hill, bushes concealed everything from view. I ran ahead, cutting through a stranger’s yard to reach the top of the hill without the group seeing me.

I lay in wait like a tiger, ready to feast on their terror and fear. When they got closer, I leapt into action, sprinting down the hill toward them. They all reacted exactly as expected, shouting and jumping. Everything was going according to plan.

Suddenly, my world inverted itself sickeningly. It seemed that, somewhere in my incredibly thorough calculations (a phrase which here means “poorly thought out idea that even a six-year-old version of myself realized was pretty dumb), I had somehow missed a large root. My leg, however, did not. 

I hit the ground hard, getting the wind knocked out of me. My leg was hurting, but it didn’t seem like anything too serious, so once I could breathe again, I tried to stand up. It was at this point that the pain in my leg moved from “okay, that’s definitely not pleasant” to “AOUHGDFIUFGISKKJDHKGHKHJFHJHGHOLYFUCKBALLSTHATHURTS” and I moved from semi-standing to sprawled out on the ground.

    The trip to the playground, that magical odyssey for which I had argued so passionately, was brought to an unceremonious end with the goal in sight. After getting carried home and taken to the hospital, it was revealed that I had completely torn through one of the muscles in my calf, thus ending my dream of becoming an Olympic figure skater before it even had a chance to exist.

Me being both six and (I can’t stress this enough) kind of dumb, I briefly thought I would never walk again, or at the very least be confined to a wheelchair for a long time. Instead of being in any way saddened by this, I was excited. In my head, I was already pondering how my parents would get to park in one of the parking spaces right next to the playground, so I could get from the car to the jungle gym as quickly as possible. 

At no point during this did it cross my mind that not being able to walk translated into not really being able to do much on a jungle gym. Again, I was kind of dumb.

When the doctors came in, I was nervous to hear what they’d have to say. I’d finally gotten to the point in my cognitive processing where I realized that not being able to walk would be kind of awful. I was awkwardly sitting in a chair next to my parents, waiting to hear what lay in store for me.

The doctor more or less handed me a pair of crutches, told me to use them for the next few weeks, and showed me the door. I had wasted hours of people’s time, ruined my dad’s birthday, and set a precedent for my brother or myself getting badly injured whenever a family birthday rolled around. And the kicker?

I went to the playground a few weeks later. It was nowhere near as nice as the one closer to my house.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Letter to the Past

So, today finds me working my way through entirely too many essays. I didn't have time to write something new, but here's something I wrote and put on my facebook a few weeks back. I'm sorry it's not something freshly written, and I apologize for this week just being a pair of lame introspective posts. Next week I'll try to throw in an additional hilarious story of what a horrible child I was for your trouble. Again, comments and criticism are greatly appreciated.
When I was 11, I had to write a letter to my future self for my honors english 7 class. I received this letter in the mail a long time ago, but for some reason I’ve been thinking about that letter a lot recently, and trying to reconcile the disparity between my vision of the future back then and my reality now. I decided it might be helpful to write a reply. Plus this way when I discover time travel I can totally freak my past self out.

DISCLAIMER: Ordinarily, when I write something, I go through and edit to make sure I don’t come across as a mental case. I didn’t do that with this.

Dear 7th grade Drew:

    I got your letter a while ago, but it was only recently that I decided I actually wanted to respond to it. I feel like I owe you an explanation for how things ended up so different from how you pictured them being at this point in our life. I know things are nowhere near where you wanted them to be, but I’m hoping that by giving you the reasons why, I can both explain this to you and reflect some for myself.

    I’ll start with the first thing you asked: I know you expected me to be going to Stanford to become a Zoologist/Veterinarian/Marine Biologist. Instead, here I am at Cornell, clear on the other side of the country, studying history and planning to be a boring old teacher. Once you get to high school, you’ll start actually doing some research into colleges, and you’ll realize that you don’t really want to go to Stanford. There’s a bunch of reasons for this, but I’ll let you realize those yourself.

Anyway, the bigger question is the difference in majors. Well, while you’ll keep the interest in animals and things like that, you will SUCK at science and math. After your first semester of college, you’re going to want to never have to take any of either of those classes ever again, and those distribution requirements will become a bit of a problem.

You’ve always liked history, even though I know you’re not a fan of Mr. Allen for turning everything into a drawing contest. But from 8th grade on through graduation, you’ll have nothing but amazing, funny, and interesting history teachers, and you’ll start to realize that maybe this is something you want to do. Plus, you’ll realize how sweet it is to get summer break as a grown-up.

    Next, I guess I’ll give you a summary of the questions you asked about my personal life. First of all, your sister is in boarding school, so you don’t have to deal with her that much. I mean, you’ll still have some issues with trust and dealing with manipulative people, but that’s only partially her fault.

No, you don’t have a car of your own; even if you had enough money to both afford a car and pay for gas, you split your time pretty evenly between opposite sides of the country, so it’s just not practical. In terms of jobs, you’ve worked a couple of different jobs at Legoland, swearing never to do so again each time. You also worked at the fair one summer with Delani, who’s going to go from being that girl you were kind of a jerk to in elementary school to one of your best friends in the entire world. At college, you work as an usher for the music department, and you’re a supervisor in one of the dining halls on campus.

That question about whether or not I have a girlfriend is going to become both hilarious and a bit depressing over the next few years. The hilarity is simply because, once start your teen years, you’re going to realize that girls aren’t exactly your target demographic. Then it gets sad, because you’re going to realize a couple of things as you move into college.

First of all, you’ll realize that you’re both really awkward and kind of a dork. Second, you’ll realize that you tend to become EVEN MORE OF BOTH OF THESE THINGS when you’re around people you like, which tends to make people even less interested in you than they were to start.

Thus, you’ll enter your third decade of life (your pre-10 years count too) without ever really having been on a “date” as such. At present, it’s basically looking like time to start accepting the inevitability of being Forever Alone (you’ll get the reference once mom and dad finally upgrade their internet service and you start spending more time online), although things might look up if you grow out of being such a spaz.

Now that you and Craig are more or less technically grown up, both of our parents are working again. Spats passed away when you were in high school; you still miss her, but now we’ve got two new dogs, Chloe (who loves everybody) and Lizzie (who is terrified of you for no reason), and while they’ll never replace Spats, they’re awesome.

You still keep in touch with a lot of the people you do now; when James E moves away at the end of the year, you’ll never hear from him again unfortunately, but you make tons of new friends in high school, which just all around goes WAY better than middle school does. You and Craig can both drive now, which is kind of terrifying.

When you get to college, it’s rough at first, but you slowly but surely build up a group of awesome people to hang out and watch movies with. Also, I’m just realizing that, given the nature of this letter, I’m throwing around pronouns all willy-nilly like some sort of madman. I apologize, but hopefully you’ll know what I (we? you?) meant.

OH. THAT REMINDS ME. You kind of act like a crazy person a lot. Aside from the aforementioned dorky awkwardness, which will come up all the damn time, you’ve got wildly fluctuating self-esteem. A lot of the time, especially around people, you’re kind of arrogant (you develop all kinds of lovely personality traits to balance out your increase in douchiness, I like to think), very prone to sarcasm, and just kind of generally sassy.

On the other hand, when you’re by yourself, you pretty much have to be listening to music in order to keep yourself at least a bit distracted. Otherwise, you enter a vicious downward spiral. You’ll use pretty much anything to criticize yourself: your weight (still too high), your work ethic (still too low), your looks, your inability to deal with money like an adult, and you’ll kind of focus on how everyone else you know seems to be better about all of these things than you.

You’ll still have that uncomfortable nagging feeling that when you’re not around, your friends all meet up and talk about how they all hate you and they only hang out with you because it lets them gather further material to use when they all hang out and talk about how they all hate you. One of your best friends will introduce you to this French cartoon, and when you get to the end of the first season you (a grown man of some 19 years of age) will cry openly at what transpires. You will never let yourself live this down.

Sometimes, like now, you write things, but you can never decide whether you want to share them with people in an attempt to get critiqued/garner pity/try to make yourself understood.

Don’t get depressed or anything; you’ll go down that road enough as it is, and I don’t want to encourage that. There’s a lot of pretty legit stuff happening in your life too! Your family’s pretty cool. Now that you don’t live with your parents all the time, you don’t argue with them nearly as often.

You’ve got a metric f***tonne of friends at home to hang out with, and you’ve almost got more people you can be comfortable around at Cornell than you do fingers. You actually like the jobs you have right now, and they pay decently well.

Some of your classes are teaching you stuff you learned waaaaay back in third grade at Park Dale Lane, but other ones are really interesting and you feel like you learn a lot in them. And you do fun things, like have movie nights with your college friends and find going camping with your friends when you’re at home.

You are actually a halfway decent writer, even though you normally won’t admit it to yourself. If you were to take a photo of all your friends, it would look like something off of a college recruitment site: ridiculously diverse and all HIGHLY photogenic. Seriously. You basically find the most adorable, amazing people you can (,; and Zeke) and make them hang out with you.

While because of the aforementioned crazy you can’t be sure, most of them seem to really like you, and as long as they stay around, that Forever Alone thing I mentioned above isn’t going to be nearly as awful as it could be. Basically, your life is a bit of a roller coaster. One more lame thing: you have such low blood pressure that you totally black out on roller coasters. It kinda sucks, but you won’t really care because roller coasters will still be awesome.

--Future Drew

Monday, December 5, 2011

With A Bang, or With A Whimper?

(Please feed me comments! I'm trying to become a better writer, so if you point out what sucks about a given piece, I can try to make that not suck as much in the future.)

    I stepped out of my room earlier today, and I noticed something unusual. My room is directly across from one of the main entrances into my dorm, which is the largest one on my campus with around 13,000 undergrads. Ordinarily, this hall is filled with the sounds of tipsy underclassmen stumbling toward their own rooms, people playing pool down the hall, and dozens of other such noises. Today, it was different. Today, I couldn’t hear anything. It felt like I was the last person alive in the entire building, just like it does every year as finals draw closer.

    Still, it got me thinking; I started considering all the various ways the world has come to an end in fiction. If this were really it, and all my hallmates had either perished or fled, how would I want it all to come to a close?

    I think I could rule out any kind of war, be it nuclear, vs robots or aliens, or otherwise. The constant conflict would drag out our extinction entirely too long, and dying in a bomb blast or some similar event would take me too much by surprise to get closure. I’m the kind of person who absolutely refuses to challenge the status quo when it comes to my relationships with people, and I feel like I’d be too busy holding out hope for my own survival to spend any time doing something more personally productive- telling people how I really feel about them, settling any outstanding issues in my life, et cetera.

    The same goes for a zombie apocalypse. Everyone thinks they’ve seen enough zombie movies to survive, but I doubt people’d really be equipped to handle something that bizarre. I know I wouldn’t be anywhere near the most likely to survive, but even then it seems pretty clear that I’m going to have to deal with fighting off the reanimated corpses of friends and loved ones before eventually joining them. Even if I somehow ended up surviving for a long time, after some point, continuing to survive would seem pointless if the undead have overrun the rest of the world.

    Anyway, my point is that if the world’s going to end in, say, two weeks, and I couldn’t stop it, only choose how it happened, I’d pick an asteroid impact. 

    First of all, going out like the dinosaurs would be kind of awesome.

    Beyond that, I feel like the problem I have with most of these doomsday scenarios is that they give people way too long to hold out hope before they inevitably perish. In this scenario, I at least would be sure I wasn’t going to make it out alive. Even if humanity did manage to save some part of ourselves somehow, I know there’s no way I’d make it onto the Space Ark or whatever.

    There’s a lot of reasons for this. First of all, I really don’t stand out that much from most of humanity. I’m decently smart, not hideously deformed (if a bit too pudgy), and I have several useful skills. But if the human race is trying to send their best and brightest into space to continue the species, I’m not on that list.

I’d like to think I’m in the top 50% of our species in terms of intelligence. On a good day, I might like to think I fit into the top 25%. but with seven billion people on Earth, even trying to take just the most survival-ready 1% is still a logistically-impossible seven hundred million. Add to this my physical traits, along with the fact that I’m not exactly inclined toward continuing the species, and I’m on the ground staring at the rocket as it blasts away from Earth.

Still, being left behind as our time counts down to extinction, I’d hopefully be able to gain some measure of inner peace. As I mentioned above, I tend to vigorously uphold the status quo in my personal relationships. I’ve got some kind of mental block that keeps me from telling people how I really feel if there’s even the slightest chance of it making them uncomfortable. I’d rather just stay friends than tell someone I feel something more and risk losing what I’ve already got. 

    Hopefully, with the extra motivation of my impending demise, I’d take that last opportunity to really be open with people. I’d like to think I would be able to own up to my past failings, apologize to people I’ve hurt, and let those I love know just how much I do. As the end drew closer, I’d hope that would lead to my facing death with a clearer conscience.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In Which I Learn the Importance of Planning Ahead

    It was a dark and stormy morning. The year was 1993. Because it rains so infrequently in San Diego, a lot of things aren’t really made to handle much water. 

    My family’s backyard was one of these things. Sure, there were drains installed in the lawn to keep it from flooding, but to this day I suspect that they didn’t lead anywhere before we replaced them.

This meant that whenever it did rain, our backyard turned into a miniature sea. This particular morning, the storm had already submerged our lawn. While making me breakfast, my dad had grumbled something about having to go out and unclog the drains. I sat at the table watching him cook, and then Iooked outside. The morning would go downhill from this point on for my parents.

Now, before I continue, I feel like some additional information is needed. At the time we had two dogs, both of whom were strictly “outside dogs”. One of them, Opus (named after the penguin from Bloom County for reasons nobody but my father will ever understand or find funny), was... high strung, to put it nicely. To put it less nicely, he was both an incredibly neurotic specimen and kind of stupid. My mom once affectionately described him as “part Puli, part English Sheepdog, and part fencepost.”

I loved him to pieces, but when he got scared, which happened all the time, it was like his brain panicked and decided that living in a world with whatever had scared him wasn’t worth the effort. I think he was kind of a canine idiot savant; he could never figure out that we didn’t disappear when he lost sight of us through the glass doors leading from the kitchen to the backdoor, but god damn could he escape from things.

Every year on the Fourth of July, the sound of fireworks exploding so far away you couldn’t even see them would set him off, and he’d find some new way out of the safe haven that was our yard, running out into the drunk driver-filled streets in an attempt to escape the noise. Every year we’d track him down, take him home, figure out how he’d gotten out and fix the problem, and every year he found a new way out. Really, it’s a miracle he never got hit by a car or lemminged his way off a cliff.

Our other dog was Spats. She’d been given that name (again, by my dad) because the had these little white patches on the tops of her paws that looked like the things people in the days of The Great Gatsby would wear over their shoes. We’d gotten her as a puppy when I was still basically a baby myself, and she was my best friend in the entire world. She was a big dog, half black lab and half dalmatian, and she was the sweetest dog I’ve ever met. She used to kind of act as the brain for both herself and Opus; I can only imagine how much more trouble he would have gotten himself into without her being there.

Anyway, on this particular morning, both dogs were standing out on the patio, having shunned the relative shelter of their doghouses to look in through the doors and garner pity. Opus was particularly effective at this; when he got wet, he went from looking fluffy to... I feel like bedraggled is the most appropriate word, but it doesn’t really seem to show the magnitude of his appearance.

Opus was right up against the glass, his soaked fur hanging off of his body, and whining. His whine was unlike any other noise I have ever heard. It sounded a bit like a regular dog whine, if the dog were on helium, and dragging one paw claws-out down a blackboard while scraping the other across a window. It was both painful and pity-generating, and it could not be tuned out. How was three-year-old me supposed to just ignore that?

Add to that Spats, who was just sitting innocently outside the window. Well, sitting and staring at me with a look that seemed to say I trusted you, I keep this dumbass safe for you, I even let you put that ridiculous bandana on me a few weeks ago, and this is how you repay me? I felt as though she were Julius Caesar and I was Brutus, mid-stab. I had to make this right somehow. I owed her that much.

“Dad?” I said, putting on my most convincing little kid “gimme” whine.

“Yeah?” He said, the sighing undertone he always seems to have when he deals with me present in full force.

“We should let the dogs in.” My grasp of diplomacy was not the best, and I was still in the phase where I was convinced that my parents would do whatever I told them to. “They’re wet and sad. They want to be inside.”

My father looked at the two soaked canines, one of whom (Opus, of course) had just decided to take a break from whining to run out into the massive puddle that was our yard and jump around for a minute. He then looked at where the kitchen’s linoleum met the carpet, which he’d had professionally cleaned less than a week prior. “No, Drew. They’ll track mud all over the house.”

I kept trying, but I made no further progress with him. After he made me breakfast, he headed out; he had a meeting at church, and would be gone for several hours. My mom walked in from her office, sitting down at the table with me. I looked back at the window. Spats was still gazing forlornly in my direction. I couldn’t let her down. I wouldn’t let her down. My best friend was counting on me, and I had to prove myself worthy of her trust.

“Mom?” The “gimme” voice was getting a workout today.


I looked out at the window, checking to be sure Opus wasn’t going to weaken my efforts. Seeing that he had returned to his vigil next to Spats, I turned back to my mom. “We should let the dogs in so they can dry off.”

My mother protested, pointing out that they lived outside and they might track mud in. I was undaunted. I would not fail again. Eventually, she caved.

“Fine. They can come in, but I’m blocking them in the kitchen with chairs so they can’t track mud all over the place.” This was fine by me. While I didn’t realize this at the time, history teaches that appeasement is seldom a good strategy when someone makes a grab for power, a lesson my mom would soon learn.

Soon enough, a barrier was erected, and the door opened. With a cacophonous scrabbling of paws on linoleum and jingling dog tags, the two ran into the kitchen, grateful for the shelter. The phone rang, and my mother got up, returning to her office to take the call.

All my life, I’ve had a really short attention span, and it began to take its toll at this point. Now that I’d finished my breakfast, the kitchen held no appeal for me. I wanted to go watch TV in my parents room, but I couldn’t very well leave my four-legged comrades behind, could I?

No, I decided. We’d been through too much together for me to abandon them now. Instead, I simply moved one of the chairs out of the way, planning to sneak past mom’s office door and down to my parents’ bed to see what cartoons I could find. Then, of course, I could-

Before my plan had even had time to take shape, the dogs had taken action, becoming black-and-white blurs as they sprinted down the hallway, leaping easily onto my parents’ bed and proceeding to wrestle and make a great deal more noise. I ran down the hall after them, hoping I could quiet them down before my mom found out, but I was too late.

As I ran past her office, I could hear her telling whoever she was talking to that she’d need to call them back. She then sprinted into her bedroom, breaking up the brawl and grabbing both dogs roughly by the collars as she took them back into the kitchen. Once she’d set the barrier back into place, she turned her attention to me. I’m sure she only actually yelled at me for a few seconds, but apparently even that was enough to cross a line with my toddler-aged self.

In the moment, I simply nodded, crying and apologizing very convincingly. Beneath my penitent, sorrowful exterior, however, I was already trying to figure out how best to end her in what had just become a vendetta. A short while later, I got my chance.

As I’ve mentioned, our backyard tended to overflow when it rained. In an attempt to fix this problem, my mom went out into the backyard to remove any leaves that might have been blocking the drains. She left the door open, just in case the dogs needed to come back outside. Expecting to only be out there for a minute or two, she had neglected to bring an umbrella or her house keys. Everything was falling into place.

I walked back into the kitchen nonchalantly, pretending to be interested in something near our hideous harvest-gold-colored stove. As I got closer to the door, I put my plan into motion. She didn’t seem to hear as I slid the door shut, but the loud click of the lock certainly got her attention.

She walked over to the door, yelling for me to open it, but by that point I was already in motion, enacting Phase 2 of my plan. I ran to the front door, knowing that I was probably racing her there. The dogs took off through the gap I left in the chair-wall, heading right back to my parents’ waterbed.

No sooner had I slid the deadbolt into place than I heard my mother try the knob before sighing and knocking. Now I had her right where I wanted her, and it was time to twist the knife. After she finished hammering on the door,  I moved right up next to it and, in the most polite, even, and innocent tone I could manage, cheerily asked “who is it?”

“You know DAMN WELL who it is! Open this door NOW.” It was at this point that my emotions shifted from the triumph of victory to the realization that not only was she eventually going to get back into the house, she was going to be pissed off when she did so. I immediately abandoned my mutinous revolution, running back down to her room and hurriedly shepherding the dogs back into the kitchen. Then, I was faced with a quandary. On the one hand, the longer I left her out there, the angrier my mother would get. On the other, she’d still be plenty angry if I let her in now.

The realization that my dad’s meeting would probably be over soon was what forced me to make a decision. My heart heavy in anticipation of my imminent punishment, I slid the deadbolt back out of the way, opening the door to let her back in.