Hit Coffee is the story of Will Truman (trumwill),
transplant in the mountain west with an IT background who bides his time
substitute teaching while his wife brings home the bacon.
This site is a collection of reflections
on the goings-on in his life and in the world around him. You will probably
be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the
third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.
Greetings from Callie, Arapaho, a red town in a red state known for growing
red meat. And from Redstone, Arapaho(Aw-RAH-pah-hoe), a blue city with blue collar roots that's been feeling blue
for quite some time.
Nothing written on this site should be taken as strictly true, though
if the author were making it all up rest assured the main character
and his life would be a lot less unremarkable.
This website is maintained by Guy Webster (web),
who also contributes from time to time.
Web hails from the midwest and currently lives
in Truman's home city of Colosse, Delosa. He works as a utility IT person at
Southern Tech University, their alma mater.
Also contributing is Sheila Tone (stone) a West Coaster, breeder, and lawyer
who has probably hooked up with some loser just like you and sees through
your whole pathetic little act.
When I was in the fourth grade, I developed a crush (to the extent that fourth graders have legitimate crushes) on a Becky Blaszkiewicz (her real name is enough along those lines that I couldn’t look her up on Facebook if I wanted to - too many z’s in inopportune places). Becky was kind of hard-boiled, for a fourth grader. Tough-minded and unpopular. Dreadfully unpopular. Relentlessly ragged upon by even people who didn’t typically do such things. I almost told her I liked her before a superficial analysis of the social structure of West Oak Elementary told me not to.
Three years later, I was in the seventh grade and there was this girl in the sixth grade named Leslie Kaufer. The divide between sixth grade and seventh being what it is (sixth graders were kind of isolated from 7-8 grade, though we went to the same school) I never knew her social standing except to say that it wasn’t good. I think she had conservative parents because day in and day out she wore homemade dresses. I barely talked to her at first, though by the second semester fate had intervened and we had some mutual friends. We sat at the same table in breakfast and at lunch.
The biggest coulda-been break came when she read one of the comic books I was drawing at the time and absolutely loved it. We still almost never spoke, but when we did, it would usually be along the lines of her softly asking “Hello. Will. When is the next Blankman coming out.” By virtue of my latent feelings and the fact that she was a girl and one of the few I talked to, she actually became the second person to read each issue as it came out. She was extremely territorial. She’d read it repeatedly and if anyone tried to talk to her, she would say something along the lines of “Shush. I’m reading.”
Ultimately, I never asked any of these girls out even when doing so became age-appropriate (Leslie would go on to date one of my friends). Given how desperate I seemed at the time, and how these were girls I actually liked other than on the level of “girls are pretty and they smell good” (especially Leslie, whom I had access to which was a rarity in itself) I would later ponder why I hadn’t ever made any effort to do so.
Becky and Leslie were not remarkably alike. They did have at least three things in common. First, they had dark hair. Second, they wore glasses. Third, in their own ways they were both similar to the woman I would eventually go on to marry. Especially when Clancy describes her grade and middle school experiences. She describes them in such a way that I want to go back and kick some middle school arse.
But ultimately, what can I say? As with Marianne I never extended real friendship (beyond the silent exchange of comic books) at the cost of social disapproval. The fact that I myself was not remarkably well regarded in middle school was not a reason to reach out, but an additional reason not to. I like to think that had I gone to school with Clancy, I would have at least been her friend and helped her through difficult times (difficult beyond the usual, even), but my own history seems to suggest otherwise. I don’t think I would have been among her tormentors, but I wouldn’t have been a help.
My inactions, as they were, did not occur in a vacuum. I mean, with the guys I shunned, I can point to specific ways that they were not just unpopular but were unpopular for a reason. But that wasn’t all of it, was it? Marianne, Becky, and Leslie were unpopular for all of the wrong reasons, but that ultimately didn’t matter as much as it should have.
When I was in middle school, one of the things we had to do for physical education was “dance.” Like, partnered dancing. To do this, obviously, you needed partners.
The way that the coaches had it set up was that they lined up all of the guys on one side of the gymnasium, and all of the girls at the other, and you picked your partner. Guys or girls would walk across the gym and ask someone to be their dance partner. By rule, if asked, you cannot decline.
I’m not entirely sure what the purpose behind this ritual was. Maybe there was a confidence-building aspect to it. “Hey, I asked a girl, and she said ‘yes’! (never mind that she had to)” Maybe it was just a way that partners could partner off by their own volition and that allowing people to decline would be fraught with hazard (because junior high kids don’t know rejection)? Maybe it was a way in which nobody could be blamed for saying yes.
I remember that when I learned of this, my thought was that I hated it. I didn’t care if they had to say yes because, if they didn’t want you to be their partner, you’d find out about it. As conspicuously as possible. I had visions of the girl I was dancing with trashing me relentlessly just to make sure everybody knew she was only doing it because she had to. That was the way things worked. You made dang sure that even if you were partnered with someone, if you didn’t want to be associated with them, you made sure that everyone knew it. It worked this way with school assignments. With dancing? That times ten.
So I sure as heck wasn’t going to ask anyone. And it was doubtful that anyone would ask me. So I’d end up in the randomly assigned group. This, too, lent itself to conspicuous disassociation, but at least then you could both claim that it’s not what you wanted. That was how it worked with school assignments. If they rolled their eyes loudly, I would do my part to make sure that everyone knew this was an assigned partnership. I didn’t want to be associated with someone that didn’t want to be associated with me. Which meant asking nobody.
I didn’t expect many people to cross the gym. I figured most people would do what I was going to do. We shuffled our collective feet for what seemed like half an hour but was maybe a couple minutes. Then, finally, #14 (a jock) crossed the threshold and asked a hyperpopular girl. She looked relieved. I recall her having a boyfriend of higher stature than #14, but I guess she thought that he would do and was much better than the alternatives (like, me).
Come to think of it, it was the ultimate opportunity for the worst reject to put a cog in the works of the way that things were supposed to work. The nerdier, the more power you had. It was a transient power, because you wouldn’t get anything more than a dance partner, but it was something. Only if you were willing to do what I was not.
After he broke the ice, more people started moving. Almost entirely from the boy’s side. This was my worst nightmare. The more people who boycotted the ritual, the more safety there was. At the rate things were going, I was going to be among a small group without the gumption to pick a parner. The only upside is that I would get coupled with a fellow reject who would have little room to loudly roll her eyes. Oh, but who was I kidding? She’d roll them anyway.
Then, out of nowhere, came Ashley. If the class photo is still expandable, I’m pretty sure the Ashley is the girl next to #30. Ashley and I had conversed very lightly before, of the “Can I borrow your pencil?” variety, but that was about it. She was leagues and leagues above me. She was… actually kind of attractive. It was, in retrospect, quite amazing that she hadn’t been picked yet. Then there she was, picking me. She didn’t “ask” like she was supposed to, instead opting for “let’s go”, but who the flip cared.
It was all kind of chaotic, so I don’t know who I might have been partnered with otherwise. But having avoided the lottery, I was on cloud nine. That she was attractive was nice, but not as important as that she wanted to be there. Well, that may have been an overstatement: she wanted to be there more than all of the other available options. Well, that may have been an overstatement: she felt a warm enough pity for me that she picked me rather than let me twist in the wind.
She was also a great partner. By which I mean, she was patient with me. She never rolled her eyes. We did okay together. It was a good thing, too, because my class critics/bullies didn’t relent. A few people, perhaps assuming that we were an assigned pair, made fun of the asymmetry of our partnership. “Oooh, look, Will is dancing with a real live girl!” and more than once she would say “Because I asked him.” (Standing up for me! In a fashion.) One of the more persistent critics was actually #27, who was dancing with #30, both of whom would later become friends (and #27 my guardian protector). Boy I hated him then, though.
I really don’t know why she did it. Very few guys would have rolled their eyes at being picked by her. If any. She wasn’t a 10 by our school’s standards, but she was a solid 8. Maybe minus one for her general dress.
I always felt an immense appreciation for what she did that day. I consider it a grand favor on her part, though looking back at it almost 20 years later she surely had her reasons. I just can’t imagine what reason it might have been. She went into it with a positive attitude and made what could have been a very long six-week term one of the highlight of my days.
A good part of my formative years was spent in relative social isolation. Or, at least it felt that way, even though I can now point back to a number of people that I would have called friends. Things started getting better by high school, but they didn’t really start to change until I started logging on to a local, multiline BBS with a chatroom and its own sense of community to which I felt like I actually belonged.
In a sense, though, it was too much for me. Going from a transient social network of a couple people here and a couple people there to having dozens of people that I talked to on a regular basis. Some of them… girls! It was, as I have stated before, a godsend. It was through the BBS that I actually started to learn how to socialize with people. There were, however, some bumps on the road. I’d been rejected by girls I had asked out before (I was roughly 0-7 when I logged on for the first time), but I’d never felt the betrayal of being rejected by people that I had gotten to know really well and who seemed to genuinely like me (if not in that way, of course). Needless to say, I didn’t always respond to this with the levity and sense of proportion that I wish I had, looking back.
There were periods of rather tremendous darkness. I was no longer used to being so hopeless, and so when something would go wrong, it didn’t just make me upset at a girl, or girls, but often life in general. And I would respond to this poorly. And things would get worse. Then, eventually, things would get better again. Typically when a bunch of new people would log onto the BBS and I’d have new friends and new fish in the sea.
There was a major turning point that occurred after a while, and it occurred under some of the worst possible periods. I was going through one of my darker times and was acting really, really obnoxious. Nobody called me on it directly, but I stumbled on a conversation about me in which people - people I had considered my friends - were discussing me in the most unflattering of terms. I can’t even remember what they said, but it was along the lines of “If he’s going to be that miserable, he should just crawl in a hole and die.” Now, I wanted to tell them all to go to hell, but for a couple things. First, I was listening in to a conversation I shouldn’t have been.
After thinking about it, I couldn’t at all blame them for feeling that way. Looking it from their point of view, I was shitty company. More to the point, I’d never built up the good will with them to expect them to tolerate it or actually confront me about it. We’d been friendly, yes, but not in the “helping see you through the hard times” sense. And beyond that, a couple of them had tried to help and I… did not reward them for it. It was no surprise then, that (as I’d thought about it further) they’d all been avoiding me lately.
This was rather groundbreaking because, up to that point, I thought that if I wasn’t actively mean to someone, then I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. It was the first time I realized that it wasn’t just enough to be not-mean, but you had to be pleasant. It’s such an obvious concept. Looking at my own behavior, of course I had discriminated against the unpleasant in favor of the pleasant. Who the hell wants to hang out with an anvil?
This revelation did not, in itself, turn everything around. I had to learn, among other things, how to be pleasant. How to bite my tongue not just to spare someone their feelings (that part I knew, at least) but to spare them the discomfort of being around a dark cloud. And that when someone asks you how you are doing, the answer is fine, good, or great, and not an actual answer to the question they are asking if (a) the answer is going to put them off or (b) you have not built up the good will that they are genuinely interested.
Some day, I am going to write A Nerd’s Guide To How To Interact With People. This story will make it in there somewhere.
This is an entirely apolitical post, but I thought I would share it anyway. I am reminded of it every Easter. A family that is close to ours used to have a Crawfish Boil every Good Friday. One year, there was a crawfish in the huge bucket that was talking around injured. His daughter said “That crawfish is in pain. You should kill it, Daddy! It’s hurting…”
To which the father, “Sweetie, how do you think it feels when we put the crawfish into the boiling water?”
The girl paused, looked confused, looked at the bucket of crawfish crawling around on top of one another, and burst into tears. The father burst into panic.
I think both the father and daughter learned something that day.
It’s probably because I don’t have a daughter that I find this story hilarious.
When I was growing up, our pastor was Father Brames. Brames was a very good and earnest man. There were really only two problems with him. The lesser issue was that he smelled so bad that even I could smell him (this was only a problem when I was acolyting). The greater issue was that he was extremely boring. He never had a memorable sermon. As the church grew, and it became apparent that we would need to build a new church, some folks got together and decided that they would donate a significant sum of money under one condition: Brames retired.
Brames was replaced by Father Carren. Father Carren was a convert to Episcopalianism from Catholicism. Carren was the opposite of Brames in many ways. He gave a great sermon. Great sermons. His best was his Easter sermon, which he gave for three or four years before people started tiring of it. But the people who were new and hadn’t heard it over and over again would always comment on what a great sermon it was. What I remember about the sermon is actually not all that flattering. I can’t remember a point to it, exactly. I remember it mostly being emotionally manipulative. But rarely was their a dry eye in the house save for those who had heard it at least a couple of times before.
Carren’s problem was not on the pulpit, but rather in the office (at least at first). Carren’s wife did not make a whole lot of friends with the broadly conservative congregation when she refused to play the role of pastor’s wife. She had a job and she wanted to do that job. That meant that social duties, traditionally split between husband and wife, were lackluster. Carren capitalized on what time he had, though. There were long rumors (that were proven to be correct) that he kept a spreadsheet of donations and only those who donated a certain amount of money would get hospital bedside visits and the like. The other issue was the empire-building. He fired people who had been with the church forever so that he could install his own people. He fired our youth director, who was amazing. He fired the choir director. He fired the front secretary. This didn’t make him a whole lto of friends. Beyond that, he was also big into building things. The new church was a done deal, but he used a much-beloved perisher’s death to push through a columbarium.
After about eight years or so, he moved on. Our church went from being a really attractive one due to its growth and its comparatively well-to-do congregation, to being one that nobody wanted to touch. There was $10m of debt. There was a tremendous divide where half of the people loved the outgoing pastor and half hated him. He left behind a lot of his own people that most never wanted at the church to begin with. Carren initially left the ministry overall in order to go into the construction business (which we found fitting). The best replacement we could find would come with problems of his own* and would prove to be nearly as polarizing as Carren.
Carren would leave the construction business in order to become chaplain here, and there. He got another pastor gig a few hours down the road, where he never wore out his welcome because he left quickly. This became a pattern and the archdiocese grew tired of him. But he gave a heck of a sermon. And there’s a shortage of pastors. The final straw came when it came to light that he was having an affair with a perishoner. Even Episcopalians have their limits. He was called to Charlton and dismissed.
He would later reconvert back to Catholicism, where I guess his extramarital affair was considered better than a lot of what was going on with its priests at the time. He is now a roaming pastor, serving congregations too small to support their own pastor.
* - He was twice-divorced, which was considered problematic. The big thing, though, was that he refused to marry people during lent or allow the church to be used for ceremonies. Carren had a similar rule, but regularly waived it when it came to those who filled the offeratory plates. Father Shelby made no exceptions. A prominent family had three children married in the course of three years and all wanted - but couldn’t - be married during lent. They eventually left the church altogether.
For some reason, I got it in my head to watch an episode or two of Voltron. I have fond memories of Voltron. I remember the playground at West Oak Elementary where we used to argue over who would get to be which lion. I never got any of the figures myself, but I got access to them when I played with friends.
One of the things I remember was the inconvenient of the Blue Lion being female. No females at West Oak Elementary wanted to play Voltron, and no boy wanted to be the female Blue Lion. The way out of this was to say “Well the original Blue Lion was a boy!” Truthfully, I thought we were making that up. It turns out that we weren’t. There was another Blue Lion before the Princess became the Blue Lion.
One of the thoughts I had while watching it was a fan dub idea wherein the bad guy was actually a freedom fighter of sorts, who was pointing out how ridiculous it was that the townspeople lived in squalor while the royal family had all of these super-neat toys and a comparatively opulent castle. It’s funny how I notice these things as I get older.
I’ve commented before that in high school, I typically often lunch alone. It was a combination of back luck (always seeming to have a different lunch period from all of my friends) and an inability to “put myself out there” and find people to eat with. There were some respites from this isolation, however.
I can’t remember how Clint and I ended up eating with Sonja and Grace. I think it was the semester that we had previously been eating with Myron - a lunch companion we felt a strong need to get away from. Yet even that doesn’t make sense. I have multiple memories of the same thing. But somehow, we ended up just eating by ourselves within proximity to Sonja and Grace, who were also eating by themselves. And eventually our pairs merged and the four of us ate and chatted together for a time.
This was a-okay by us because both Clint and I had independently noticed - and discussed - Grace. She was rather cute, if you noticed her, but she had the sort of face that almost seemed designed to be inconspicuous. She wasn’t overweight, but didn’t have much of a chest. A little tall, pale-skinned, but not a thing objectionable about her. She dressed in a peculiar manner partially designed to get attention, but we never got the impression that she really succeeded. You had to be looking for girls like her to notice her. Clint and I did look for such girls. In lieu of girls like Sonja, who I will get to in a second, Grace was the sort of girl we felt we had a shot with and would have been really happy to couple up with. She was shy, however, and so were we, and so it was one of those things that each of us would notice, ask the other if they had noticed her, and then talk about how she was the sort of girl we would notice, be glad to couple up with, and might even have a shot with.
So it seemed fortuitous when we ended up lunching with her. The only problem was, we were also lunching with Sonja. I’d had a couple of classes with Sonja, but hadn’t thought all that much of her. Except that her matter-of-fact, earth-shattering beauty was not coupled with any sort of self-elevation, snobbery, or, for that matter, popularity. She was, after all, eating alone with the invisible Grace. But she was Hollywood star beautiful. If you’d asked me to name the 20 most beautiful girls at our huge high school, she would have probably made the list before we started lunching with her. To put a fine point on it: she wore nail polish. I didn’t care.
And this created a problem. Because as awesome as Grace was - with her unassuming looks combined with outstanding style of dress - she was standing next to a girl that was virtually a model. A gregarious, personally pleasant, intelligent, single model. We both agreed that Grace was much more up our alley (and that, in addition to being quite cute, was also pleasant once you got her talking). Whenever Clint and I had a group of two-and-two, we had the tendency to want to partner up. Not that we had delusions of romantic stuff, but just a pairing. This itself created problems because we’d always hone in on the same person. The Grace, typically. But the Grace was usually next to a girl that was fat, or unpleasant, or pretty but with a bad personality. Here, she was sitting next to Grace.
And so the Invisible Girl that Clint and I had noticed was, in a near-perfect situation, invisible to us again. She made it easy, because she so rarely talked. But it’s one of the things I look back on with a certain perplexity. It’s also one of the things I look back on as evidence that no, I am not too terribly different from most guys. I fall under the spell of the conventionally beautiful - under at least some circumstances - just like the rest.
It’s also one of those things that outlines the positional nature of the relationship market. Partially because Grace’s presence was amplified or muted by who she was sitting next to. Partially, though, because even though Clint and I never denied that Grace was as cool as she was by our own typical standards, we both wanted to be associated with the more desirable person. Even if we had no chance of romance with her, we’d forgo what might have been a legitimate chance with Grace just for the chance to be more publicly associated* with the likes of Sonja.
Just as I don’t remember how the situation came to be, I don’t remember how it broke up, either. It was, for its time, a wonderful pocket of existence. I’d lament that I never got more opportunities like that, except for the fact that we sort of blew it.
During my last trip down to Colosse, I found The Cigar Box. TCB was a box of a brand of cigars that my somewhat famous Great Grandfather endorsed. Inside TCB was a bunch of old knick-knacks. I may talk more about the box in the future, but I wanted to share one of the findings, which I referred to once before:
Somewhere in the boxes of my parents house is something I call The Bizarro Letter. She wrote me a letter in marker that was at best vaguely comprehensible. I found it amusing and showed it my friends, none of whom had any idea what message she might have been trying to convey. It had profound passages like “In 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 years I will beeeeeeeeeee (buzz) 21 21 21 21 21″ (21 was written 21 times) and between talking about her cat and her mother burst out with “I SAW THE STRANGEST SHADE OF PURPLE TODAY!”
That was how I remembered it, but it wasn’t quite right. The above might have been from a mock-up that I wrote up once, while the letter was missing. Anyhow, he was the letter that Fever sent me:
Front of the Envelope - Nothing special here, and most of it is blacked out for privacy reasons. I mostly included it because I included…
In the grander scheme of my life - indeed, even my love life - Cecilia played a bit role. In the small pantheon of former love interests, she would rank about fourth of fifth in terms of how likely it would have been that I would end up with her. Those of you that have been reading HC for a while may remember her. If you want the full story, read below the fold. It’s not integral to the post.
The short story: Cecilia and I met at an anime convention and were taken with one another relatively quickly. Due to circumstances, we were never able to fully pursue a relationship. But she was, really until I married my wife, sort of on the periphery. Someone with whom I seemed to have solid potential, if only things would work out a certain way. It never happened, and so her primary role in my life was that she was instrumental in mentally/emotionally dislodging me from my then-relationship
Though I haven’t talked to her since I married, I’ve been vaguely keeping tabs on her the way that I do a lot of old acquaintances. In her case, mostly to see that she’s turned out alright. A while back, I discovered that she joined the other team. That was possibly related to her seemingly quick exit from the military. The whole thing feels… weird. Were Dickwad and I just dalliances before she figured out what she was all along? Was she flipped along the way? Of the various women I’ve known and been either involved with or near-involved with, she would not have been high on the list of possibly homosexual. It’s not that I find such things unthinkable - I think one girl I actually dated was and didn’t know it or was fighting it - but her? A part of me was in denial. This was just to get out of the military. This is her response to a series of screwed up relationships with guys (mainly a particular boyfriend and her step-dad, but I can’t say that I was a positive figure in her life in the final analysis).
Whatever its origins, though, it has stuck. I checked up on her Facebook and she is apparently still with the same girl that she was a couple of years ago. They moved to another city together.
I’m a 30-something year old man that’s married in the mountain west. She’s a late-twenties girl in the south with someone that she can’t (yet) marry. We do have one thing in common, though: very similar taste in women. (more…)
The subject of indoctrination came up in my recent Captain Planet post and we started making a list of things that kids are indoctrinated about: the environment, drugs, and smoking.
One of the things I remember quite clearly is drinking and driving. Or rather, a bunch of kids being brought into an auditorium and being shown some grisly pictures of drinking/driving ads. They told us about how terrible it was to drink and drive.
What they were apparently less clear about was that “drinking” was specifically a reference to alcohol. I mean, I’m sure they mentioned alcohol, but they weren’t as clear as they needed to be that it was only alcohol that was a bad idea. A lot of kids went home and freaked out when their parents were drinking a soft drink or coffee in the car.
A few days later, the principal clarified over the intercom that it was okay if our parents drank coffee or soft drinks while driving, and that it’s only a problem if it’s alcohol.
What’s kind of funny about all of this is that I wouldn’t be surprised if years from now, drinking a soft drink on the road will be fully incorporated into the War on Distracted Driving.
I overheard this song playing at the coffeehouse. I’d never heard of it (or the band) before.
(I had specifically planned to find another video to put up, but the WiFi at this coffeehouse is worse than I have had in a very, very long time. Just about anything with scripts refuses to load. I find myself alternating between the computer and the 3G on my phone. Even where I am only getting 1 bar, it’s faster on the phone. But harder to coordinate a post. I really need to work on getting tethering.)
I didn’t say *my* 4th grade class. Even so, this was another class in my school, so I knew a lot of the kids because I was in the same class as them in earlier grades or the 5th grade. This picture will not be up for very long and will be replaced with an obscured one.
1 - Lived down the street from me. Disappeared from our school system at some point not long after this picture was taken (in fact, I could have sworn she had been gone by the 4th grade). She later died of a drug overdose.
2 - One of my best friends through parts of middle school. Then we went on different trajectories. He got a girlfriend pregnant almost immediately after high school and never went to college.
3 - I knew him quite well growing up, then at some point he just turned. He dropped out of high school and did a stint in prison.
4 - My family was close to her family and I’ve written about her on this blog before. She moved to Deseret and became part of some strange religion that required that she change her name. She was pregnant by 19 and had another kid by 21. While pregnant with her second, she cut off all ties to her family. She had one brother who ended up in Cascadia. He, too, severed all ties with his parents. It’s really weird, because their parents (who used to sit us often) seemed like great folks.
5. I was a horrible, horrible friend to this kid. I don’t even want to recount what exactly I did, but it ruined him socially. He must have known. Yet, years later, sent a Facebook friend request and we’ve chatted. If his Facebook info is to be believed, he has done unbelievably well for himself.
6. Remember that girl I posted about who married the guy several leagues below her? For those of you who don’t remember, she’s an MD now.
7. Is female. Even today, looks a little bit like a guy in drag.
8. Went to the prom with a guy who turned out to be gay. It should have been the first clue. She was gorgeous and he was utterly uninterested in her all night long. She was pissed, but they’re Facebook friends now, so I guess she got over it.
9. Graduated college at age 20, got two masters degrees and a PhD. Is a statistical analyst for a major insurance company. Four kids. Writes zombie fiction.
10. I was often confused with her brother, who was decidedly unpopular.
11. He left after the 4th grade, I think. He and I were friends, but the guy has the personality of a Monty Card dealer. I hope he ended up in Vegas.
With the exception of the tall brown kid, the boy below #4, and the girl between #7 and #8, I actually don’t remember any of the other kids in this picture. Which is rather astonishing to me, because it used to be that I remembered everybody.
Sometimes when I write about past romantic experiences, I likely come across as more adept at romantic interaction than I think I am. So here’s a story about not getting it.
I was, for a while, on a dating site with religious overtones. Though I still wasn’t exactly devout, I was at the height of my religiosity. And hey, try something new, right? Well, I was on a meet-date with a nurse. Things were not going remarkably well when she tried to fill the silence with a hypothetical. What would I do if I won $220,000,000 in the lottery (that was the prize, getting a lot of headlines).
My first answer was that I don’t really do the lottery. Play along, she urged. Which I did. So I said that it would be hard to say without a spreadsheet handy and an idea of what the interest rates would be for regular payments on a long-term, low-risk investment would be. But it would probably involve setting aside a million dollars from the first annuity check (and I would definitely go that route rather than the all-at-once route) and then put the rest in some sort of low-risk investment account. At the end of the first year I would put howevermuch was required to get the account back up to a million dollars and then put the rest of the second annuity check in a similar investment. That way I could live off a maximum of a million dollars a year, but I would have growing principal that would lead to growing interest payments. At some point, I would probably switch it from one million to two. Or if I had an ambitious something-or-other I would have to consult a spreadsheet and determine a timeline so that I could have maximal investment while at the same time be able to do whatever it was I wanted to do.
She said that she would get a boat. And buy her mother a house.
The correct answer, if I’d actually understood the question, would have been the ambitious something-or-other I had in mind but was too embarrassed to come out and say.
“I would take some directing classes and make a movie.”
I don’t know if that answer would have come off better, but it would have at least answered the question that she was really asking. It would have given her some insight to my hopes and dreams and stuff. Of course, my answer gave her insight into two core aspects of my personality: I am practical, and I can be socially stupid.
When I was in high school, my favorite (in the sense that I kind of liked him and was indifferent to or detested the others) was Mr Holt. Holt was a retired chemical engineer who struck it big with his employer’s IPO and decided that he wanted to teach.
His opening lecture had us take a simple sort of test. We were supposed to follow the instructions on a worksheet. The first of which was “Read all of the instructions first.” The last of which was “Disregard all instructions but the first.”
Nobody did that, of course. And so when instruction number two said “raise your hand,” most of the class did. Same for stand up for three seconds then sit down. One by one, we began to notice fewer people doing these odd little things. We went back to the first instruction, followed it, then saw the last instructions. Towards the middle of the document the commands became verbal “Say ‘This room is hot.’” By the end, you were to be saying things like “I cannot follow instructions precisely.” Only a couple got that far. Most had, by simple way of noticing what their peers were not doing, figured it out.
As someone that never got “in” to science, it was one of the most instructive lessons ever. Partially the social aspect of it. You noticed what others weren’t doing and then tried to figure out why. But mostly, it was a good lesson on understanding the importance of following instructions. Kind of important for a chemistry class. Kind of important for life.
On the other hand, going through the training manual for my (hopefully) coming job, it’s apparently a lesson I forgot. It said, quite clearly, “Do not do anything that is not specified in the instructions, no matter how obvious it may seem.”
The story of how three roommates (though not concurrently) worked at two and a half companies (though not concurrently).
Back when I was in college, my then-girlfriend Julianne’s mother helped me get a job at Orion Technologies. I was hired for the sole purpose of the company being able to tell other insurance folks that they had Y2K under control. All I did was some light clerical work, responding to requests on Y2K compliance and sending out requests to some of our vendors. It was a pretty sweet gig, but it was obviously pretty temporary. However, while I was there, my supervisor Alan started working overnight. When I asked him why, he said it was because the night operator had been fired. He gave me a rundown of the job, asking how the hell anyone could screw up something so easy. It took me a couple of days to work up the gumption to ask my official boss if I could have that job. I could do the “Y2K” stuff in my off-time. Or something. By that time, there really was no Y2K stuff anymore. Everyone was just waiting for the hammer to fall and crossing their fingers hoping that everything worked*.
If one has to work a full-time job while attending class full-time, you couldn’t ask for a better job. Orion was a computer reseller, acting as a middle man between (say) Dell Computers and (say) a local school district. This was not a particularly good field to be in as suddenly it was becoming easier for entities to simply order computers online. The company was struggling and, before long, they sold their computers division and sales division to a company called Providence that was looking to get a foothold in Colosse. It was something of a relief initially, except that without a computers division and a sales division, I didn’t know what the company did anymore.
Orion and Providence worked out a deal where Orion would call dibs a certain percentage of its employees but beyond that Providence was free to try to hire away anyone they wanted. I was not on Orion’s protected list, but Providence tried to hire me. They were offering me a 20% raise. Alan talked me out of it, though, saying that Providence may offer me more money, but they only needed someone for a very short transition period while my position was a part of Orion’s org chart and so I wouldn’t have to lose my job. Staying seemed like the more prudent thing to do, though looking back (even without hindsight), that may have been a mistake. At least I knew what Providence’s business was and if I had proven myself there was a decent chance they would find another position for me.
But, I stayed. Meanwhile, Providence needed their own Night Operator. And as it turned out, my roommate Hubert needed a job very badly (his mother was divorcing his step-father and all of their assets were in limbo). So I recommended Hugh, he got the job, and we were, for a brief time. I trained him on what to do and we argued about who got Ethnack’s Chair. But then Providence’s operations moved over to their own building and I was working solo again. Orion was struggling more and more and there was round after round of layoffs until, lo and behold, I was laid off. Meanwhile, the “six months” after which I had been told by Alan that I would be laid off by Providence had come and gone but Hugh still had a job. It was just as well, though, since he needed the money a heck of a lot more than I did.
Hugh went on to get a job at Bregna. I told him not to do it. I told him that Bregna was one a notoriously bad employer. I didn’t know it at the time because I had never worked there, but as of a couple years ago they stood as the third worst employer in the entire nation according to an employee satisfaction survey. He ignored my advice and went to work for them anyway. For reasons that I cannot recall**, Hugh offered up Karl for the job instead of me.
I was working at Wildcat by that point, but my new roommate Karl needed a job. And so, he recommended Karl and so Karl became Providence’s new Night Operator, a full year and a half after I had been told that the job would expire.
Hugh did not last at Bregna long. Even though Hugh had the kind of personality that would ordinarily cotton to being employed by a very… structured… company, Bregna being the type of place that believes structure includes (no joke) monitoring frequency and duration of bathroom breaks, he was looking for a new job in pretty short order***. This created a bit of conflict when he applied for a job that he knew I was angling for****. But then, out of nowhere, he got a call from someone at Orion that had remembered him and offered him a programming position. Even though I was still unemployed, this did not bother me as the four-asterisk job did since (a) he didn’t find out about it through me, (b) they never posted the job, and (c) it was a job he was obviously more qualified for than I was. So suddenly he was working for my ex-employer.
The axe finally fell at Providence and Karl was unemployed again. He ended up getting a job at… Bregna. Then I lost my job and got a new one at… Bregna. The job at Bregna was every bit as awful as advertised and despite the three-asterisk optimism Karl decided that if this was the kind of job that college dropouts got he needed to go back to college. I hadn’t intended to be there long, but even then I left early because I thought it was unhealthy to work for an employer where the highlight of my evening (it was an overnight job) was urinating on the side of the building while the cameras weren’t looking*****.
Hugh, meanwhile, has made his career at Orion. He’s a VP now. The company has changed its name twice and relocated once since I left (which makes its inclusion on my Work Histories a pain in the rear). I still don’t know what the company does even after visiting the website. Last time I was in town, I asked him and got a string of buzzwords I didn’t care enough to quite make sense of. It’s something cutting edge. And, of course, I am unemployed in Arapaho. Karl went back to school and is now a PhD candidate in physics at a somewhat prestigious midwestern university.
One of my earliest crushes was a pretty little girl named Clementine Giovanni. The earliest rejection I got was - as politely and kindly as imaginable - at her hands. She grew from a pretty little girl to an attractive woman. When she added me on Facebook, I was only surprised that she was engaged insofar as that meant that she had not yet married. I was a bit surprised when I saw the guy she was engaged to. As I always do when posting “real” pictures, this one will be obscured or removed in a week or two.
I don’t know the chap. But I have no doubt that he is a pretty awesome guy. He has to be.
HitCoffee, when you were younger, and didn’t shower daily, can I ask why you were like that? Were you fighting back against the values of others? Did you not think it was necessary?
There were a few reasons. First and foremost, I didn’t realize how necessary it was. As often mentioned, I have always had a poor sense of smell. Further, even things that smell bad to most people didn’t bother me because I found strong smells - even terrible ones - to be more interesting than troublesome. I knew a stink-bomb was supposed to smell bad, but it was to some extent a novelty merely due to the strength of the smell. So I usually couldn’t smell myself. And when I could, it didn’t really register as a problem.
Lack of appropriate feedback was another thing. It’s not that nobody told me that I smelled bad so much as it was the wrong people were telling me that. People who would not have liked me no matter how I smelled. People that made fun of what I was wearing even in those rare instances that I actually had clothes that were “in” at the time by accusing me of wearing fakes. So I thought it was just one more arrow in their quiver of ridicule. My perspective really changed when someone that was actually concerned about my welfare pointed it out to me. That was when I knew it was something to take seriously.
The third factor was simple logistics. We had two showers in our house. The one in the front was not very good. The one in the back was awesome. So I wanted to shower in the back. The problem was that this shower was unavailable after my parents started gearing up for bed. I was raised to take showers at night, which was of course when my parents showered. Showering in the morning never really occurred to me. I knew it was something that some people did, but the idea that I could do it, too, just didn’t really click. Also, the back shower was never available in the morning. When high school rolled around, though, I had to get up and out wherebouts five in the morning. Morning showers started occurring simply as a matter of waking up. I also became a little more grooming-conscious and discovered that if I take a shower in the morning, it was a whole lot easier to put my hair in place. These advantages outweighed the fact that the shower sucked. So, even prior to the above advice, I had started showering more often (when I needed one to wake me up and when I had time). Showering defined as being under running water. I was iffy on soap. Using it if I was there and wasn’t in a hurry (if I was in a hurry, I would just get a cursory swipe), but deciding to wait until the soap-fairy replaced it if there wasn’t any around to be had.
So mostly, it was a matter of ignorance. I wasn’t so much ignorant of what needed to be done as I was why it needed to be done. Showering was presented as a matter of health and something that was just a good thing to do because it was a good thing to do (the societal equivalent of “Because I say so!”). Germs never bothered me all that much. If it had been presented to me earlier as something that I should do for other people and that doing so for them would benefit me, I probably would have taken action sooner.
I don’t know how much we can universalize from my story. I was actually talking to Bob Vis about this a couple months ago. He is of the mind that nerds refuse to shower to, in Mike’s words, “fight back against the values of others.” Perhaps due to my experience, I tend to attribute it to a question of necessity or a combination of the two motivations. Sometimes they dig their heels in when this societal value is not explained, but not realizing that this sort of thing matters not only to those that made fun of them when they were younger but also people who otherwise like them and people whose approval they, for one reason or another, need.
Perhaps putting too much weight in my own experience, I think that this is one of the areas where our school system creates a degree of adverse socialization. We learn about societal interaction as much as anything in school. This is problematic because the values in K-12 are the values of children and they change over time. So we learn, for example, that there is a certain randomness and frivolity to who is liked and who is not. We (being nerds) learn that no matter what we do, people won’t like us (popular people learn other false lessons). While some degree of randomness and frivolity as well as popularity-helplessness does persist past K-12, it becomes considerably less of a factor for most people. And I really believe at that point, a lot of the disparities are actually caused by the confidence and social education we get or do not get when we are younger.
The story of a mother, a son, a decade-and-a-half, and four portable CD players.
I don’t remember what year it was, but some time in the 90’s, my family and I were on our way to a couple states over for our then-annual trip to Shell Beach. Our van got a flat tire and we were stuck in Acadiana, at a Walmart waiting for it to be repaired. I fired up a portable CD player that I had just bought for the trip and… it didn’t work. This was a bigger thing for me than a bum piece of electronics. I had bought the thing with what little money I had for this trip! Because one of the things I loved most about our annual trip was listening to music while I walked along the beach.
I was devestated. I was, at times, a moody kid, but this really tore me up. Spending what little money I had on a player and a couple new CDs in preparation for the experience of walking along the beach at night with music in my ears and the light sound of waves crashing and the wind blowing through my hair as I pondered life, the universe and everything… suddenly wasn’t going to happen.
My parents were materially generous in all the ways that mattered (a future college education paid for, food on my plate, a roof over my head, and when I turned 16 access to a car that I would sometimes be able to drive. But one thing they didn’t do (and rightfully not) was try to buy their way about my being upset about something. Particularly when I went through electronics like candy. I wasn’t hamming up my displeasure in any sort of attempt to get anything because it never would have even occurred to me to ask my parents to replace something that I had just bought.
But that’s exactly what Mom did. Knowing, I guess, that this wasn’t a matter of my being legendarily careless with my stuff. I’d just bought it after all. And seeing that I was really, really upset about this. She bought it for me under one condition: I write the makers of my broken player for a refund. Beyond that, it was an early birthday present.
I still remember the whole thing all this time later because it was one of those generous gestures that was entirely unexpected and, on my part, unearned. Though since then the player she bought me had a latch break and it’s held closed with electrical tape, and though I later bought another player, I still have that player. Electrical tape or no, I’m going to hold on to that player - and the memories attached to it - for as long as I can.
While I was back visiting the family, the portable CD player that Mom uses to listen to audiobooks broke. I was stopping by Fry’s to replace a micro-USB cable that had broken. She asked me to get her a new player and she would pay me back. It’s rare that life presents this sort of symmetry, where I am able to repay a gift all these years later. In other circumstances, when the thing I am looking for isn’t where it is supposed to be at the store and isn’t in the other place it seems like it should be, I might just shrug it off and get it online (or, in this case, encourage her to do that). But I needed to find that player for her. h
I stopped one person who said - if they still had them - they would be in the audio section (I was looking in the portable electronics section). The second guy was pretty sure they’d stopped carrying them. The third guy thought the same, but asked a fourth guy who said “Aisle 59… if we have it.”
There were only three models left: a high-end Sony that was four times the price range I was given, a low-end Sony which was twice the range, and A cheap, no-name model right in her price range. Though I planned to pass on the player as a gift, I still wanted to find the right price in case she insisted on paying. But I didn’t want a no-name brand because that was what burned me in Louisiana and burned Mom more recently. So I got the low-end Sony, figuring that if she insisted on paying me back I would just tell her something within the range that we had discussed.
Mom loves it. This player, unlike her old, remembers where you are on the track (important for audiobooks). The earphones that come with this one have an ear-hook, so they aren’t as clunky as full earphones and don’t pop-out like earbuds. And a Sony is likely to last longer than a discount brand so she shouldn’t be left high and dry again. And with that, I was able to pay back a gift of generosity that I remember a decade and a half later.
This actually isn’t hypothetical, because it happened to a classmate in my college phys-ed class. About a third of our grade was based on overall physical fitness (our ability to run the mile-and-a-half, life weights, and so on), a third based on participation (were you at least trying?) and a third based on classroom work. That second part was also based on physical fitness, to some extent, because you started getting docked whenever you stopped jogging or when you had to call it quits for lack of physical fitness. The classwork was dreadfully easy. Obviously, for someone not in good physical shape, the fitness tests were hard.
My friend-for-a-class Ned was in overall pretty good shape (well, much better shape than me - and I was not a smoker at the time). The thing is that he was a smoker. He could start and stop at will and so for the fitness tests (most specifically the running test which was the hardest) he would actually stop smoking for a few days before the run. So on the jogging test, he kicked my posterior and actually came in 7th (out of 30). He beat me by some margin on every physical test.
When we got our grades, though, I got a B- and he got a C. When he talked to the instructor about this (I was with him to verify that we showed the same effort in class), she said that she docked him because he was a smoker. She’d seen him smoking first thing after class or before class. He smelled of the stuff. In her mind, his smoking was indicative of a lack of commitment to physical health. Ned’s counterpoint was that it was none of her business. He ran the laps, lifted the weights, and did everything he was expected to do. On what basis could she dock him points? She said that his “participation” grade was low because he really wasn’t giving it his all (usually working at the same pace that I did). If it weren’t for the cigarettes, she said, he could have done more. And since smoking was his choice, he lost participation points. And yet I (Will) didn’t, Ned argued, despite showing the exact same effort.
The difference, she argued, was that what was a greater effort for me was less of an effort for him. It’s graded on a curve.
He argued that he was then being punished for being in shape (in terms of effort) more than I was being punished for being out of shape (in terms of fitness challenge performance).
She shrugged it off, saying that physical fitness was about appreciating your body and that there was no sign that somebody didn’t appreciate their body like smoking, and so ultimately he deserved a worse grade than he got. Did he want that? The conversation ended there.
So, the question is, should phys-ed be able to punish someone for being a smoker if it doesn’t show up in their ability to practice and perform? Even though I later became a smoker, I can actually somewhat appreciate her perspective on the matter. Smoking, as compared to excess weight (my problem at the time) is a more binary decision. And as difficult as it is to quit smoking, the quit-success is much higher for smoking than dieting is for overweight people.
On the other hand, it seemed pretty apparent to me that this declaration was pretty arbitrary. She was punishing him for a habit that he found disgusting. Nowhere was it written down that smokers are penalized (beyond the physical toll it takes). Presumably, if it had been written down, he would have at least taken more care not to show up smelling like smoke. Maybe he should have done that anyway to be considerate, but being considerate is not a factor in his grade.
Of course, all of this comes back to the difficulty when it comes to grading people in PE. In no other college course is “effort” graded directly, nor should it be. Or maybe it is, since that’s what attendance grades and a lot of homework assignments are. Ultimately, though, most of your grade is supposed to come from the degree to which you demonstrate mastery over the subject matter. That’s hard to do for PE because you can understand the subject matter of running very, very well and yet still not be able to do it. It’s difficult to make up for lack of ability (over the course of a single semester) with determination and discipline. Most classes, determination and discipline are going to be, if not sufficient to overcome all, at least sufficient to overcome some of it.
And, ultimately, being able to run the 1.5-mile over a period of time isn’t really what people go to college for. Even classes like Comparative Folk Dancing offer something in terms of learning how to communicate ideas (regardless of the frivolity of the subject-matter). I suppose the ability to take care of oneself physically does matter to future employers, but that has to be viewed as a lifetime project and not something you’re going to pick up in class. It’s easy to translate term papers into something useful in the business world, but more difficult to translate squats.
All of this is of course contingent on viewing college as vocational training. I suppose if you disagree with that on a fundamental level, you can view phys-ed as a more abstract good. Of course, those that view college as a sort of a self-improvement thing apart from vocational training are also the types who hate jocks for all of the wedgies they got when they were younger.
On my Loose Change post, I commented “Or maybe they were trying to bribe me to move closer to my job so that I wouldn’t have such a bad commute (something Pam would pester me about).” (Pam being the wife of my boss, the CEO of Wildcat).
This was actually an area where my failure to cash my paychecks would actually come up. Pam was always frustrated with my commute. More frustrated with it than I ever was. I think it was a motherly thing as much as anything else because I can’t think of any instance where my commute actually affected my work. But my daily drive from Midlerth (30 minutes to work, 45 back unless I worked late) wasn’t remotely bad by my standards. Because I avoided the freeways, it was actually predictable, which was worth a little extra time. Before, when I’d lived in La Courneuve, my commute was anywhere from 20 minutes to 60. Usually shorter, but the inconsistency was maddening.
So Pam would pester me about it and I would quite simply say that I needed to have a roommate for financial reasons and that made moving closer to work difficult because he worked in a different part of town (for my former employer, kinda*, Providence Technologies) and we were situated about halfway in between. She would comment that maybe I could afford to get my own place IF I WOULD CASH MY BLEEPING PAYCHECKS (she said bleeping… a lot, she was a very Christian woman). She had a point. It was less than 48 hours after I got my raise before she asked if me this meant that I would finally move closer to work. I hedged, but I was sort of getting the feeling that this might have factored in to my raise.
In actuality, I was already thinking about living on my own. Then it became easier when Karl lost his job at Providence and shortly thereafter took a job at Bregna (leaving a former kinda employer for a future employer), which happened to be right down the street from Wildcat. Also, rent had - in the course of a year and a half - gone up over 50% in Midlerth. So we were looking for a place to live when he started having doubts on account of the fact that Bregna was one of the worst employers on the face of the earth (literally in the top five in the country, according to a survey) and he decided to go back to college. So I started looking for a place on my own. Kind of slowly, though, as I started feeling uncertain in my employment situation. Sure enough, before I found one, I was fired.
One of the first thoughts that went through my mind as I was driving home with my office belongings** and $6000 worth of uncashed checks was how fortunate I was that I had been fired precisely when I was and not a month later when I would have had a new lease to contend with.
* - I worked for a company called Orion Systems, which sold the core of its business to Providence. He was doing for Providence what I had done for Everglade in a collaborative job-arranging effort.
** - This included a motherboard/CPU combo. I am still amazed that he simply believed me when I said that I brought it from home. I can’t remember why I did, but it was genuinely work-related and a pressing enough issue that I just took one of my computers apart in order to test something or another.