I'm not doing any more work.

Today, when I got to work I sat at my desk and played on the internet for a while. A couple hours later, some of my coworkers were congregated downstairs, having a conversation in their normal indoor voices, which are screams loud enough that I can make out their entire inane conversation every single time. I was already in a bad mood and wanted nothing more than to loudly swear at them and tell them how fucking obnoxious they are, so I left before I got myself in trouble. When I came back, I sat down and continued playing on the internet. A few minutes later, one of my bosses, the only one I really see on a regular basis, appeared at the door.

"Paul," he said, "can you come downstairs?"

I went downstairs, where he was sitting at his desk, looking serious.

"Have you started anything today?"

"Nope," I said.

"You need to start working when you get here."

"It doesn't matter when I start," I told him, "I'm still going to do the same amount of work."

"How long are we here? Eight hours," he told me, "We work for eight hours."

"No," I said, "I'm going to do the same amount of work no matter how long I'm here."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I already do a disproportionate amount of work. I'm not doing any more, and I'm not going to pretend I'm busy when I'm not. There are other people here who barely do anything. You can't hold people to different standards. It's stupid," I said.

"Yes, it is stupid," he said. "You should ask Chris for more money."

He started laughing. It's funny because I'm a permanent temp. More money is actually a pretty fucking hilarious joke.

"Well, more money is the only way I'd even consider doing any more work," I said.

He asked me to help him work on something, but I told him I was eating and would help when I was done. He said he thought I was done eating, presumably because I had just returned from not being there for a while. Why should I waste my lunch break eating, though? That's the sort of thing that can be done on the clock.

I really should just quit.


Can you put the seat up?

My desk chair at work is pretty nice. Pretty much everything about it is adjustable, and I adjust it to my liking every day upon arrival. I am an efficient sloucher, so I generally drop the seat all the way down. When I come in the next day, the seat is usually all the way back up, but it's no big deal, because it's easy to adjust, and I understand the concept of a shared workspace.

"Hey, I have a request for you," the midnight lady said when she got in the other night. She sits at the desk next to mine.

"Yeah?" I asked, "What's that?"

"The day girl wants you to put the seat back up when you leave at night."

"Sure," I said.

"She's really short," she told me.

"Yeah, I know," I said.

I sat there for a second, and then asked, "Hey, can you do me a favor?"

"Sure, what?"

"When the day girl gets in tomorrow morning, can you ask her to put the seat all the way down when she's done?"


Goodbye, cat.

Shortly after I moved into the house where I live now, one of my roommates brought home a kitten. At first, he told me her name was Cassie, so I called her that. I work late and keep an odd schedule, so I don't see my roommates very often. When I saw my roommate again, and referred to the cat as Cassie, he laughed and said people just called it whatever they wanted to. I started calling her Lathie, which was short for Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos. The name sort of stuck, as I heard people repeat it a few times. Mostly, though, we just called her cat.

Cat disappeared about a week ago. We'd been thinking, or maybe just hoping, that she was out getting laid, and would eventually return. Chomsky, one of the dogs at the house, chased a cat out of one of the barns, and we figured maybe they ran off somewhere else for some privacy.

I just got a text message from one of my roommates. It read as follows:
Rest in peace, cat.
10/06 - 4/23/07
Goodbye, cat.


Crack Hedger's dog.

I was in 10th grade when I met Crack Hedger. It was the first day of school, and he was one of the incoming 7th graders riding my bus for the first time. My friend John and I were trying to talk to the new kids, and giving a couple of them new names. Most of the kids were obnoxious smartasses, but Crack seemed like a cool guy. His name was Joe, but we decided it would be Crack. Our logic was that Joe was white, and crack was white, and crack was also hilarious, so it was a good name.

I turned 16 that year, and my grandpa gave me my first car, a beat-up 1988 Dodge Colt, nicknamed the Chudmobile. The car was white, chud was white, and chud was also hilarious, so it was a good name. Crack offered to fix up my car stereo, for free, so I started going over to his house and letting him work on it. He put a new tape deck in, and installed an amp and some big speakers. He even built me a big speaker box to sit in the back of the car so I could drive around, bassing people out with a deep, low-end sound that made all the loose bits in my car rattle. All the parts came from a junkyard down the road from where he lived, and he said the guy who owned all the junk cars there told him he could take whatever he wanted.

Crack lived a few minutes away from me, in a house along a gravel road, with no other houses nearby. His place had an old bomb shelter and a lot of animals. As we started hanging out more, I got used to his dogs chasing my car as I drove away. I was scared of hitting them at first, but Crack told me just to drive and they would get out of the way. With time, my fear of running over one of his dogs subsided.

One summer afternoon, my friends and I decided to take a trip to the mall. There wasn't really any reason for it, but it was something to do. Living out in the middle of nowhere, the mall was a 40 minute drive away. I picked up John, and then went to go pick up Crack, the plan being to pick up my friend Sean next.

As we pulled away from Crack's house, his dogs started chasing my car, as they usually did. Like always, I just drove as if they weren't there, knowing they would get out of the way.

And then one of Crack's dogs ran right in front of my car.

"Fuck! No!" I yelled as my car drove over the dog. There were two sickening thumps as each tire on the passenger side squished the dog.

We stopped the car and got out. The dog lay in a heap, twisted and whimpering.

"Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck, man," I said. As an animal-loving vegetarian kid, I was a bit freaked-the-fuck out.

"It's alright, man," Crack told me. He calmly scooped up the dog, a decently-sized Australian Shepard, and got back in the car. As we drove back to his house, the dog bit him and then puked on him.

We got back to his house and got out of the car. His dad and his grandpa came out of the house as Crack set the dog on the ground. I saw that it was dead, and started crying.

"It's alright, man," he told me. He didn't seem to care at all.

"I killed your fucking dog, man!" I said, wiping tears from my face.

"Shhh!" he whispered, not wanting the adults to hear me say "fuck."

His grandpa grabbed a shovel, and started walking out somewhere to dig a hole to bury the dog in. As he walked, a poodle started yapping at him and following close behind.

"Shut up, you son of a bitch!" the old man yelled, causing me to stop crying and start laughing.

Crack's sister came outside and saw my wet face.

"Are you alright?" she asked.


"I've never seen a punk cry," she said.

We left again, picked up Sean, and went to the mall. I didn't really feel like going anymore, but we went, anyway.

I felt like shit for a week or so. My dad told me to get Crack a new dog, so I offered to do so. Crack declined, saying, "Don't worry about it, man. That dog was stupid as hell, anyway. Nobody cares."

Crack Hedger died four years ago today in a car crash. He was 19 years old.


I was a teenage hax0r d00dz!!!!11

My family gained internet access via AOL in 1994, when I was in 8th grade. At first, my internet usage was monitored pretty strictly, and I got to fart around only occasionally and only for brief periods. Having seen a story on the news about the evils of the internet, I knew that there were instructions for various nefarious deeds readily available online, and when my parents weren't home, I would print out instructions on how to blow things up. My classmates and I found these tutorials endlessly fascinating, though we never actually made the effort or took the risk of blowing off our fingers. At some point, some careless student got a stack of printouts confiscated, my parents were contacted, and my internet access was cut off. My parents canceled AOL.

In 9th grade, I regained internet access, this time through a local phone company. The same company ran a dialup BBS that several of my friends had been accessing for some time, but I had never been able to enjoy due to it being outside of my local calling area. Now, I was able to connect to the BBS via telnet. I created a free account and began using it to email my friends, chat with locals (mostly making fun of them anonymously), and hack monsters to bits on the MUD (multi-user dungeon) they had.

I read an article in a book about how to send email from a fake address. It was a simple matter of connecting to a certain port of basically any server and then manually typing in the commands that an email program would normally do for you. You told the computer you were somebody else, and then you got to send an email as whoever you wanted to be. I sent my friends a bunch of emails from people I wasn't, and I was thrilled by the power it gave me. I wanted more internet power.

I started poking my nose in places it didn't belong. I'd use FTP to connect to anything I could and just look around at what files were there. I connected to my internet service provider's domain and was able to download their password file. I didn't know exactly what to do with it, but a simple internet search taught me that I could run it through some software to pick out passwords. I did, and though it was slow going and I didn't let the program run all the way through, I still found a handful of passwords. A group of people had chosen 12345 for their password, and another had chosen 54321. Clever. I compiled my own word list file to check against the password file, using only words relevant to our area, like school mascots. The program ran through much more quickly this time, and brought me more passwords.

I didn't do anything with the passwords I found, but I wanted more, anyway. I decided to give brute force attacks a shot. In other words, I was going to try guessing passwords. I logged in to the BBS and started looking through people's public profiles. One kid was a Mortal Kombat fanatic, so I correctly guessed that his password was mk. I logged in, changed his password, and started playing around. He had paid for his account, so he had more access to things on the BBS than I did. I ended up reverting his password when his brother logged in and started talking to me. They actually weren't mad about it, and the kid whose password I stole told me he'd be smarter about making up passwords in the future.

Still unsatisfied, I decided to get sneakier. I made another free account on the BBS and named it PW-DATA. Then, I picked random people on the BBS and sent them an email that purported to be from the sysop (the "system operator" of the BBS).

Dear BBS user,

We've been experiencing some problems with our password database, and because of this, your account may be in danger of becoming inaccessible. Please send a message to PW-DATA containing only your password.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Dwayne, the sysop

Within hours of beginning this, I had more passwords. I was surprised that less than half of the people who I sent messages to actually sent their passwords. Still, I was proud of myself.

One of people who sent me their password was a guy who I hated anyway, due to his being an obnoxious internet douche bag. When I got his password, I went through all of his emails. He had a lot of messages talking about the drugs he had and the drugs he was going to get. I also found a receipt from when he paid for his account. I took down his credit card information and used it to buy my own account. I sent him an email saying, "Don't fuck with me, I know things about you."

The account activation wasn't automated, and when I paid using his credit card, I didn't gain access to all of the things I was supposed to. I emailed the sysop, who activated my ill-gotten account. I finally had a paid account of my own.

A couple days later, I found that the account had been canceled, and the password for the guy's other paid account had been changed.

My password phishing account was still active, so I continued sending people email from the sysop asking for their passwords, and I continued getting passwords. For the most part, I didn't even log in to anybody's account, but I liked knowing that I could.

I sent my fake message to the kids from my school who used the BBS. They were, for some reason or another, all dirty, unpopular, and poor kids rumored to be inbred. I've never been able to understand why this was so. They came from different families, so it wasn't because they shared a computer. I knew very few people who were online at this point, but the poorest kids were among them. They were all too clever to fall for my ruse, though.

One of the kids, Aaron Smith, overheard me talking with a friend in gym class about my phishing endeavors. He told me that he was friends with the sysop, and that he knew it was me.

"It's fraud," he told me, "and it's a felony!"

I stopped phishing for passwords when Aaron told me the sysop was on to me. I never knew if the sysop actually knew, or if he only knew because Aaron overheard me and then told him it was me. I came home a few days after Aaron told me it was a felony, and my dad told me I wasn't allowed on the internet anymore. I guess Dwayne, the sysop, had called him. I was disappointed to have my internet access taken away, but relieved that I wasn't having charges pressed against me.

For the most part, I lost interest in such things after that. In 10th grade, I fooled around on MUSHes (sort of like MUDs without fighting), and figured out how to give myself complete God power over everything through a combination of social engineering and code manipulation. Other than that, the draw of secret knowledge and forbidden power was never strong enough to combat the fear of losing my internet access again.


A jar full of salamanders.

I was playing in my front yard in second grade. We lived in a city, so our yard wasn't so much a yard as it was a bit of dirt, grass, and rocks in some concrete next to the stoop. Nevertheless, I overturned some stones and was surprised to find some salamanders under them. My mom helped me poke some holes in a jar lid, and I put a bunch of salamanders in the jar, along with some small bugs to eat and some water so they didn't dry out. She told me I could bring them to school and show my class, and I imagined myself being sort of a hero for bringing such awesome creepy crawlies to school. The teacher would love it because animals are educational, and the kids would love it because they're slimy.

When I got on the bus in the morning and showed the kids what I had found, their reactions were not at all what I expected.

"Ooooooh! You're going to get in trouble!" they told me.

When I walked into school, I held my arm carrying the jar inside my coat so nobody would see it. I tried to stealthily slip it into my desk when I sat down, but my teacher saw me.

"What is that?" she asked.

"Salamanders," I sighed, pulling them out of the desk to show her. I was fucked.

"Those are really cool," she said. My heart lifted a little. "But you can't bring animals to school." My heart sank again.

She brought me to the vice principal's office. The vice principal thought the salamanders were cool, too, but she also told me that animals weren't allowed in school, unless the animals in question were her ugly little toy poodles, of course. She told me that she would hold on to the salamanders until the end of the day, and then I could come to her office and get them.

All day, I thought about how I couldn't wait to be reunited with my jar of amphibians. Those suckers were awesome.

At the end of the day, I went to the vice principal's office. She handed me a brown paper bag.

"There was a little problem," she told me in a soft voice. Her eyes looked like she was trying to act sad.

I reached into the bag and pulled out my jar of salamanders. When I had given her the jar, there was a little bit of water in the bottom. Now, the jar was full to the brim. Floating at the top were all the salamanders, dead.

"They were trying to climb out of the water," she told me, "so I thought they needed more water."

I started crying. I put the jar back in the bag, and put the bag in my backpack.

"I'm sorry," she said as I left.

When I got home, I went to my parents.

"How'd school go?" my dad asked.

I burst into tears, threw my backpack at the wall, and yelled something unintelligible. They told me to calm down and tell them what happened, so I did my best to be coherent, and sobbed my story to them. My mom hugged me and picked up my backpack, which was now drenched with dead salamander water.

My dad told me that I could use the opportunity as a learning experience, and dissect one of the salamanders. My parents had bought me a science kit that contained, among lots of other things, a preserved frog in a jar and the tools to cut it up with. I used the tools, and cut up a salamander, but I didn't learn anything. It was stiffer than the frog was, and much smaller. It was too hard to cut, and too small to see its insides.

I've wondered for years if the vice principal was just being malicious. It's hard for me to believe anybody could be that stupid. They were climbing out of the water, so they needed more water? I guess it's likely that she actually was that stupid, but all the adults at that school left me with horrible impressions, like the sort of people who would kill a child's jar of salamanders just to teach them not to bring animals to school.

Hustled at Super Mario Kart.

I was spending the weekend with my friend Wes in 8th grade. On Friday, we went to a fair at the local elementary school and won copious amounts of soda in the ring toss. When we first started playing, we'd win 3 giant bottles of carbonated sugar-water with each game played. Later in the evening, they revised the rules so that even though you got to throw 3 rings each time you played, you were only allowed to walk away with one more bottle. Still, we ended up with obscene amounts of cheap soda, and had to keep going outside to drop it off in his mom's car.

Armed with incredible amounts of sugar and caffeine, we spent basically the entire rest of the weekend playing Super Mario Kart in his basement with his brother, Alex, who was a couple of years younger than we were. That, and getting sticky spilling soda all over ourselves while trying to chug it at a maniacal rate.

We were betting on the races, and I kept acquiring more soda and an assortment of little knick knacks. Somewhere, I still have a small donkey carved from stone that Wes bought on a trip to some caves in Kentucky. I lost some soda and little knick knacks, too, but the game play was pretty even. Even though I didn't have a Super Nintendo at home, we all seemed to have roughly the same skill level.

I had a comic book that I had recently purchased on a trip to visit relatives in California. Comic books were a rare enough commodity in Indiana, where the comic book stores were all far away, but this comic was an even bigger treasure than most. In it were depictions of a smiling dinosaur being butchered to death and mutilated in various ways. On the cover, written in big, bloody letters were the words "KILL BARNEY." Alex had been trying to get me to bet it on races all day, but I had resisted. No, I may have been a decent Mario Kart driver, but I wasn't willing to risk something so precious.

Until I got cocky.

Wes was sitting on the sidelines, guzzling flat root beer (his beverage of choice), and Alex and I kept racing. I was on a winning streak. I won race after race, and was amassing a pile of junk that used to belong to Alex. He kept bringing me up to his room and finding unwanted trinkets to win from him. At some point, towards the end of my winning streak, he offered up some valuable object, but only if I was willing to put my comic book down as my bet. Having been winning repeatedly, I figured I could win without any trouble.

And then Alex promptly left my kart in the dust. It became obvious by the second lap that he had been losing intentionally, and was now about to own my comic book.

"Oh, you got hustled!" Wes yelled. Alex grinned.

I spent the rest of the weekend trying to win back my comic book, but Alex now treated it as I had, and wouldn't risk losing it.


Another racist tough guy.

In 4th grade, I took a 6th grade math class and a 6th grade science class. I spent most of the rest of the day in a room full of social retards who required extra supervision, lest we destroy something or cause a scene. As a class, supervised by our teacher, we also attended a 7th grade gym class, and also ate lunch with the seventh graders. We had to get our food and then sit with the rest of the class at a table with our teacher, who would shoo away the normal kids who tried to sit too close. It was during our lunch periods that I first noticed the racist tough guy.

I encountered lots of racist tough guys when I lived in Indiana. This guy was notable only in the fact that he was the first of his variety of people I ever encountered. I never had any direct interactions with him, but I learned through casual observation that he was, in fact, a racist tough guy.

When I'd sit at our guarded table in the cafeteria, I'd sometimes notice the racist tough guy. He had a mullet, and looked bigger and older than most of the other kids. He acted like a loud, obnoxious jerk, and the ladies seemed to love him. They giggled as he made fun of smaller students. I feared him, but I also got the feeling that he was cool as hell. He seemed awesome, and he commanded respect.

In 5th grade, our class got a different teacher, one who would let us go to lunch by ourselves. We still ate with the seventh graders. My friend Mike and I relished the freedom, though we never really interacted with any of the normal kids. I noticed that the racist tough guy was still in seventh grade, and I tried to stay away from him while I was in the cafeteria, because though I would have loved to be his friend due to his level of coolness, I was also pretty sure that, given the chance, he would fuck with me.

One day there was a loud rumor that a fight was taking place outside. We went outside, where most of the seventh graders had congregated, somehow without attracting the attention of any authority figures. There was an island of grass and two trees, surrounded by an easily-overstepped chain and pillar fence, in the middle of the sidewalk leading out to the parking lot. Kids circled the island and whispered about the two kids inside of the chain fence, who were moments away from extremely brutal 7th grade violence. One of the kids on the island was the racist tough guy.

Supposedly, at least one punch had been thrown before Mike and I arrived. Supposedly, it was a very loud punch. All we could see, though, were two kids standing around and not fighting. They weren't even doing the standard adolescent boy fighting dance, where two participants puff up their chests and try to intimidate each other by looking tough. Instead, one nerdy looking guy with glasses stood spitting on the ground, while the racist tough guy gestured wildly and swore loudly to his friends on the sidelines.

"Fucking motherfucker wants to fucking fuck some shit! Who does this motherfucker fucking think he is? I'm going to fucking kick his motherfucking ass!"

The swearing and the standing went on for a few minutes while we waited for violence, and then whispers of authority figures spread through the crowd and everybody dispersed.

There was a public pool in the same town where they bussed me to school. It was half an hour away, but it was the only public place to swim that we knew about, so my mom took my siblings and I there a few times. The racist tough guy was there one time.

I never saw the racist tough guy swim. He sat on the side of the pool, stretched out on a beach chair and surrounded by girls, and ranted loudly about the Mexicans who were at the pool that day.

"Fucking spicks! They need to put up fucking barricades to keep these fucking spicks out of here! I'm sick of the fucking spicks coming in here and fucking getting everything fucking dirty! Where are my motherfucking barricades?"

The girls surrounding him laughed at his racist tirade. At some point, they looked at my mom, who is Filipino, and the racist tough guy whispered something to the girls. They snickered, not really trying to hide the fact that they were obviously making some ignorant joke at her expense.

When we went home, my mom couldn't stop telling my dad about how horrible it was, and how she had never experienced anything like that in her life. It's not something that happens in California, where my mom had spent her entire life until moving to Indiana about a year before the incident. My dad just told her that people are ignorant assholes, and not to worry so much about those kind of people.

We saw the racist tough guy in public one more time, when I was in 6th or 7th grade. Our car had broken down at a gas station, and we were sitting in it and waiting for my dad. While we waited, the racist tough guy pulled up in his car. He was with a girl I recognized, and who I always thought seemed like a nice girl. The racist tough guy got out of the car and made a phone call on the payphone. He was loud enough that we could hear him in our car.

"I don't fucking give a fuck!" he yelled into the phone. "Motherfucking cocksuckers need to fucking learn what the fuck they're fucking doing!"

"Oh my god," my mom said, "What an absolute creep!"

"Don't you remember him?" I asked. "That's the racist guy from the pool."

My mom didn't remember his face, but it was definitely him. When he was done yelling obscenities at whoever he was talking to, he smashed the receiver on the phone a few times, and walked back to his car, where he continued to yell obscenities at the girl as he pulled away. She looked really passive, just blankly staring forward as he yelled. I felt bad for her.


"I misplaced your dipstick."

I've needed an oil change for the last 500 miles or so, and I finally got one today. I was fairly oblivious as the guy did his work, and then he said, "OK, go ahead and start up your engine now." I did, and a few seconds later, my car shook and the engine died.

"What the hell was that?" asked the guy changing the oil in the car next to mine. He came over and started looking under my hood. Within seconds, four oil-change guys were looking under my hood, sticking their hands deep inside the dirty black machinery that I don't understand.

"Go ahead and take your keys out of the ignition and throw them on the dashboard," the oldest one told me. I did, and they continued to poke around. After a couple minutes, the guy who was originally changing my oil came to my window.

"OK, sir, what happened is I misplaced your dipstick," he told me.

"Alright," I said.

"Yeah, we'll have it out in a second, it should be fine," he said, and went back to work.

After a couple more minutes, the oldest one asked me to step out of the car. I did, and he got in. He started the car for a split second, making an ugly grinding noise. The guys under the hood poked around, and then he started the car for a split second again. He did it one more time, and then got out of the car and told me I could get back in. After some more mucking about, there were exclamations of relief from the guys under my hood. The dipstick had been recovered.

"We got it," the first guy told me, "Everything looks good."

"OK," I said.

"Yeah, everything looks fine," another guy said. "If you have any problem with it at all, or if you just want to have somebody look at it, just bring it back here. Ask for me, I'm a store manager." I looked at his shirt and made a mental note to talk to Dave if anything should go wrong.

"Alright, cool," I said.

"Are you also a student," the first guy asked as he rang me up.

"Yeah," I lied, "but I don't have my student ID." I figured I deserved some kind of discount after they "misplaced" my dipstick, but I would have tried to get the student discount, anyway.

"No problem," he said, "We'll take care of that for you."

It seems kind of stupid that a guy who changes oil for a living could "misplace" my dipstick. I kind of wish they would have told me exactly what happened, but I probably wouldn't have understood it. I'm clueless about cars. At least this time they didn't try to sell me a bunch of shit I didn't need.


New gaping hole at the farmhouse.

Hello, kitten, what is it you are looking at?

Is it all this garbage on the floor?

All of this garbage?

Don't get wet, sad kitty!

You're sitting under a gaping hole in the ceiling.

It will spill insulation upon you.


Caleb: the upbeat Christian.

My grandma has always, as long as I can remember, been a very religious woman, and very active in her church. It has been her primary social network, and through this network she met a family who lived just down the street from her place. They had a kid named Caleb, and one weekend day while visiting my grandma, she wanted my brother and I to go play with him.

I was in 7th grade at the time. Caleb was a year or two younger than I was, and my brother several years younger than he was. My brother had met Caleb previously while visiting my grandma.

Being a grunge-obsessed junior high cretin, I kept asking Caleb if he liked any of my favorite bands. He didn't like any of them, and would always answer by telling me about his musical preference.

"Do you like The Smashing Pumpkins?" I'd ask.

"No, not really," he'd answer. "I'm pretty much just into upbeat Christian music."

"You don't even like Nirvana? Kurt Cobain is the coolest!"

"No, I pretty much only listen to upbeat Christian music."

He took my brother and I into his room and popped a tape into his cassette player, so we'd be able to experience upbeat Christian music. He told us it was the tape was of his favorite singer. Before anybody even started singing, I knew it sucked. It lacked the distortion and roughness that I required in my listening. It was offensively soft to my ears. When the singing started, it just got worse.

"It sure beats Hell. It sure beats Hell. Anyway you look at it, you're doing pretty well. It sure beats Hell. It sure beats Hell. Anyway you look at it, you're doing pretty well."

After the song finished, somebody on the tape started taking.

"See? He's a comedian, too!" Caleb told us. He kept chuckling as the guy spoke, but none of it was funny. It was all fire and brimstone. He'd bring up a bad scenario, and then say "It sure beats Hell!" and Caleb would laugh as if it were a joke.

"You might think you've had a rough day, you stubbed your toe and your dog died. But lemme tell you something: It sure beats Hell!"

Caleb had a Super Nintendo, and we kept asking if we could play with it. We didn't have video games at our house, so it was always an extra treat to play when we could. Caleb didn't want to, though. He was bent on playing soccer. He kept asking us if we wanted to play, and we'd say no, and ask again if we could play video games. Eventually, instead of playing video games, he put on some shin guards, even though we had never agreed to play soccer.

We never played soccer, though. We went back to my grandma's house shortly after he put the shin guards on.


Jeremiah was a fat kid.

I met Jeremiah in homeroom in eighth grade. He was a fat kid, and only friends with half of the circle of miscreants I sat with. I didn't realize this until I suggested hanging out with him after school, and my friend told me, "No, I don't like that fat kid." I sometimes called him "Buttcrack" behind his back, because his buttcrack was often visible when he sat down. On at least one occasion, I came up behind him and dropped a pencil into it. He didn't think it was funny, but I did.

Jeremiah invited me over to his house after school one time, so I rode his bus home with him. As we got closer to where he lived, I noticed that none of the houses were particularly nice, and I knew that a lot of the people who lived in that area had to be really poor. Jeremiah lived in a two-story house on the edge of a river. There was no siding on the house, and the insulation was clearly visible. I wondered if it was a temporary or permanent condition, but I didn't ask. When we got to his house, his sister, who was in the same grade as us and who had also ridden the bus home, disappeared into her room. Jeremiah's little brother was home, and wanted to hang out with us. For a while, we threw things into the river. We threw rocks at first, and then started throwing toys and half-empty aerosol cans and other assorted garbage into the water.

"Do you smoke?" Jeremiah asked.

"Sometimes," I said. I didn't, but I didn't want to sound like a square.

Jeremiah got a pack of cigarettes from inside and we walked into the woods with his brother. We each took a cigarette from the pack. I thought it was weird that Jeremiah's little brother was smoking. He was in 3rd or 4th grade.

"Don't you inhale?" Jeremiah asked.

"Yeah," I said, sucking on the cigarette and blowing the smoke out. I couldn't figure out what they were doing that I wasn't doing.

When we were finished, we went inside and Jeremiah offered me some Kool-Aid. He handed me a cup and went to the fridge to get the Kool-Aid.

"This cup is dirty," I said. The bottom was crusty and brown. Jeremiah got me another cup, but it had the same problem. I looked at more cups from the cabinet, and they were all crusty and brown in the bottom.

"It's not dirty," he said, "We drink a lot of tea."

I drank my Kool-Aid quickly, trying not to think of the bottom of the cup.

Jeremiah and I got in trouble for making fun of a kid on my bus named Jeff. I don't remember how it started, but we found ourselves in the office, being interrogated by the vice-principal. When we left the office, I suggested we drew comics about how Jeff and the vice-principal were gay lovers. We showed each other our comics at the end of the day. Mine had lots of tiny panels and was fairly graphic, despite being cartoony. Jeremiah's comic was a couple of stick-figures interacting in a couple of giant panels. I told him we should draw some more. The next time, his panels were tiny and I could tell he was doing his best to emulate my style. I thought it was cool.

In 9th grade, Jeremiah made friends with my sister, and would frequently write her notes. She told me that they were stupid, because he would make up ridiculous acronyms and expect her to know what they meant. She'd always have to ask.

"What is S.Y.A.L.A.M.T.?" she'd ask.

"You don't know? See you at lunch at my table!"

In 9th grade, I began my drift away from my obnoxious friends and began hanging out with nerdier kids. Jeremiah and I remained casual acquaintances, and he was still in my homeroom until I was reassigned in 11th grade due to my complete inability to tolerate our teacher. Jeremiah always wanted me to smell his fingers in the morning. Some guys do that to brag about getting laid. Jeremiah did it to brag about smoking cigarettes, and sometimes weed, before school.

In 10th grade, I was riding home with a group of friends, and they wanted to stop at Jeremiah's house. His mom had made up an excuse to get Jeremiah out of school early that day, because his older brother had shot a deer and they needed Jeremiah to put his name on it. His brother had already killed as many as he was legally allowed to. When we stopped at his house, we all got out of the car to look at a deer his brother had killed. It was laying in the back of his pickup truck. My friend Jason poked it in the eye with his finger until some goo came out, and then wiped his finger on me.

"He's a vegetarian," Jason told Jeremiah's brother.

"Really?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"I'm sorry to hear that," he said.

"That's what I said!" Jason said, and everybody laughed except me.

In 11th grade, Jeremiah and this other kid, Nick, were talking in homeroom about their plans to go hunting over the weekend while tripping on Jimson weed. Having done very minimal internet research on the subject, I knew this was a terrible idea.

"You can't have a good trip," I told them, "Only a bad one. You'll hallucinate and think everything you're seeing is real."

"Yeah," Jeremiah said, "It's going to be fucking awesome!"

I couldn't do anything to dissuade them, so I just worried all weekend that I would come back to school to find out that one of them had shot the other. I never heard anything more about the event, so I assumed they never went through with it. I didn't mention it, fearing that if they hadn't already done it, they might decide to give it a whirl.

Another time, Jeremiah and Nick asked if I wanted to go snipe hunting. They said all you had to do was shine a light into a bag at night, and a bird called a snipe would run into the bag. I had heard about this before, in a book of urban legends. I told them it wasn't true, but they insisted that it was.

"The best part," Jeremiah told me, "is once you get the snipe into a bag, you can bash the bag against something until it's dead."

In 12th grade, having been moved to a different homeroom, I barely talked to Jeremiah at all. He hung out with Nazi stoners who hated me. There was a rumor that a friend and I were gay lovers, which turned me into social poison. Jeremiah's little brother told my girlfriend that "your boyfriend is the gayest kid in the school." Still, Jeremiah, perhaps because he was never particularly popular, even in the shittiest of shitty social circles, was always cool with me.

One morning before class, as I sat on a bench in the hallway talking to a friend, Jeremiah stopped to say a few friendly words. He was walking with a Nazi stoner who I had never talked to, and whose last name sounded like "Sodomizer." Sodomizer's brother had called me a sand nigger, and had also professed his desire to fuck my sister. While I spoke to Jeremiah, Sodomizer glared at me.

"Fucking faggot!" he yelled, as soon as they had turned around and started walking away.

"No, he's cool," Jeremiah said.

"That's not what I heard."

Jeremiah came up to me one morning and told me he was growing weed in his basement. I was glad to hear this, because for some reason or another he owed me some. Having done minimal research on the internet, I knew a little bit on the subject. Mainly, I knew that you needed a specialized lamp if you wanted to grow indoors.

"What kind of light are you using?" I asked him.

"I'm not using one," he said.

"Um, plants need light, dude."

"Not weed !" he told me, and walked away. I asked him later how it was going and he said it never grew. I acted surprised.

I saw Jeremiah once, a few years after we had graduated. I was at our old high school, watching a football game, because my brother was involved in some school-related thing. He was a candidate for homecoming king or something. I saw Jeremiah arrive, followed closely behind by the girl who was his girlfriend as long as I can remember. He was fatter, had a shaved head, and a ridiculously long Z.Z. Top-style beard. I don't think he saw me, which was good, because I didn't want to talk to him.


The Smiths.

Beginning in fourth grade, I rode the short bus with retarded kids and crazy kids to another school district, where the high school had special programs to meet our needs. I was classified as "emotionally handicapped" because I was uncontrollable and my parents wouldn't let them drug me into submission, and I spent my days in a classroom with kids who lied compulsively, set fires, or just completely refused to do anything but make fun of darkies. They began integrating me into classes with normal kids, and by 7th grade, I wasn't in the crazy-kid class at all, but they still bussed me out there to go to school for some reason or another. On the bus in 7th grade is where I first met Jolene Smith.

I had heard of Jolene's brother, Aaron Smith, years before I met Jolene or even knew she existed. Aaron was in my sister's 5th grade class. Supposedly, he was older than I was (my sister was one grade below me), but incredibly tiny and spoke in a high-pitched squeak. He also wanted to fight almost everybody. My sister showed me a picture of him in her yearbook, and his head was huge, making his photo stand out among the rest of them. Maybe the photographer overcompensated for his small stature and zoomed in too much, which made him way too big instead of just right.

Jolene was weird. She was a couple years older than I was, and had a chin like a caricature of Jay Leno. She would tell stories of imaginary happenings, like weird Satanic rituals that happened late at night in the woods near her house. She told me I was too young to know about that stuff.

I don't know that her name really was Jolene, because sometimes she went by Renee. Maybe both names were hers, or maybe she just stole the name Jolene from the only other girl I've ever known with that name, who happened to ride our bus. Maybe it was kind of like the time that she stole my birthday.

Jolene found out that my birthday was coming up, and acted surprised and excited, and said that her birthday was on the same day. She told me she was making me a Ninja Turtles shirt, and I dreaded her giving it to me. I imagined wearing it on the bus, and changing it or covering it up immediately after arriving at school, so that nobody would see me wearing it. Fortunately, on my birthday, she just gave me a balloon. I didn't ask about the shirt.

Later, I found out that some other day was her birthday, too.

I started going to the school in my area in eighth grade. I never saw Jolene again, but there were rumors. Supposedly, she was seen in her front yard humping the guy who had been hired to paint their house. Another time, she was rumored to have done the same thing with a dog. Once, their house burnt down and everybody said that they had done it on purpose so that they could afford to send Jolene to a mental hospital.

Also, in eighth grade, on my first day of school, I finally met her brother, Aaron. He had the locker right next to mine. I recognized him from his giant-headed photo, and I knew it had to be him because he was tiny even compared to myself, and I had always been a really little guy.

This other guy who used to ride the crazy bus, Ron, started attending normal kid school that year, too. I ran into him, and he told me that Aaron wanted to fight me. Since my locker was right next to his, I asked him.

"Don't listen to him," Aaron squeaked at me. "Ron is full of shit!"

At some point in eighth grade, I heard somebody making fun of Aaron by saying, "Something smells like ketchup." I didn't get the joke, if there was one, but I started saying it every time I saw Aaron. For a couple weeks, he didn't react in any way to my taunts. One day by our lockers, I said it, and he punched me in the eye and ran away. It didn't hurt, and I was more shocked than anything. I started laughing, both because it was a surprise and because I didn't want anybody to think the kid had hurt me.

"You should have kicked his ass," a kid told me.

"Shit, man," I said, "I was so surprised, I had no time to react. That shit was funny. It didn't hurt."

The rumor about the Smiths was that they were all completely inbred and, as a result, they were all deformed and crazy. Their mom was said to be a huge fat lady, too big to even leave the house. A kid in my health class told me a story that he probably made up about visiting their house. He said there was dog shit all over the place, and while he was there, a dog shat on the floor again. They told him not to worry about it, and put a paper towel on top of it, and then sprinkled baking soda on top of the paper towel. He said they had a bunch of top of the line computers, too.

In 9th grade, Aaron was in my gym class, and had changed his name to Dan. My friend and I always called him Danly Smythe. He and I had a weird, adversarial quasi-friendship. Sometimes we would talk about the internet, because he was one of the few people at that point who was on it, and sometimes I would chase him around and try to stick him in the big net-bag they kept all the basketballs in.

Aaron spent a lot of gym periods on the bleachers instead of dressing for class. One day, after we did our daily calisthenics, I looked up and saw Aaron aggressively humping the bleachers. I pointed and laughed, and he yelled at me to shut up, and kept going as if nobody knew what he was doing.

Another day we had some sort of argument about something, and since gym was our last class of the day, Aaron ended up attacking me outside after school. I was standing with a few friends, casually talking, when Aaron appeared out of nowhere with some sort of crazy jump-kick-punch. I reflexively punched him in the face, and he ran off.

"Holy shit, that was fucking awesome!" said my friend, also named Aaron. He started telling people who missed it about how I had punched Aaron in the face, and how it was one of the best things he had seen. I wished he would shut up, and not tell anybody about it, but I didn't want to say anything and sound like a pussy. Even as a stupid 9th grader, I didn't see anything good about punching a tiny, possibly retarded kid in the face.

That was the last year that Aaron was in school. I never saw any of his family again, but I heard more stories. In driver's ed, my teacher told me that Aaron was in his class the year before. He said the kid drove like he had a death wish, and that he was the only kid who ever scared him with his driving. In 11th grade, my speech teacher said that her husband had once let their family take some fallen trees from their property for firewood, and that they kept coming back. She said they didn't really know how to say no to them, and would pretend they weren't home when they showed up. Jolene would peer into their windows, puffing hard on a cigarette.

My friend says he saw Aaron a couple years after high school. He wasn't sure if it was him, because instead of being really short, he was really tall, but he had the same face.


Mike's reflective shoes.

Right after I graduated high school, I started spending a lot of time with my friend Mike. Mostly, we'd play punk rock in his basement, with Mike on a drum set that came out of a dumpster, and myself banging out power chords on my guitar. When we got bored with that, we'd drive around, digging in dumpsters and getting harassed by rednecks. Mike was probably the punkest guy I ever knew. He wasn't some dumb rich kid who shopped at Hot Topic and secretly aspired to be a successful rich guy. No, Mike was a high school dropout who dug in the trash, made his own clothes, and aspired to be punk as fuck forever.

Mike was the only person who I ever actually saw smoking crack. We were sitting in his bedroom one night before going out for a night of dumpster diving, and had just finished smoking some weed. Mike dumped the ash out of the pipe, and then popped in a crack rock.

"What the fuck, man?" I asked, concerned that my good friend was about to smoke crack.

"Don't worry, man," he said, "I can't afford to smoke this shit. This is just something my brother stole from some guy."

I'd always wondered if crack instantly turned a person into a crazy person, or if it took a lot of smoking to get them to the point where they wandered the streets talking to themselves. Mike didn't seem any different after he smoked his rock. He just seemed like Mike.

As far as I knew, he never became a crackhead. He came from a family of potheads, and I never knew any of them to be too interested in anything else. When his brother was in a serious car accident and was prescribed a bunch of powerful pain killers, he sold them all for weed money.

Mike loved to make and modify his own clothes. While most of my clothes-modification experiments consisted of me safety-pinning things to other things, Mike learned to sew. A routine dumpster-diving expedition once landed us a fine bounty of brand new clothes intended for obese women with preferences for extremely loud clothing. For a while after that, our clothes were often lined with pieces of that bounty: leopard prints, plaids, and plastic imitation snake skin. In addition to lining things with other things, Mike would paint his clothes, add spikes or straps or zippers, and sometimes briefly set his clothes on fire because he liked how it looked afterwards.

Another time, he glued bike reflectors to the bottom of his combat boots.

Mike was a young guy, several years younger than myself, but he had already had a number of run ins with the police. It seemed to be common in his family. One day, Mike was walking around outside when he saw the police driving nearby. He wasn't carrying any contraband, and he hadn't done anything wrong, but the sight of the cops scared him. He started running, and when the police got too close, he jumped into a ditch so they wouldn't see him.

They didn't see him, but they did see the reflectors on his shoes shining in their headlights. They arrested him for resisting arrest, since he was evidently trying to hide from them.

I haven't seen Mike in a few years, but when I did, he still had his mohawk and leather jacket. Everybody else I knew had gotten rid of them long ago. Punk as fuck, I tell you.


My leaking radiator.

Jesse was woken up by a nagging, electronic sound coming from downstairs. In a half-sleeping daze, he followed the sound to it's source: a fire alarm in the music room. The whole room was filled with thick steam as hot water poured out of the radiator that had exploded the day before, soaking the carpet to a squishy consistency. He went into the basement and found the pipes leading to the radiator in the music room and shut off the water.

And then he called me, because the radiator in my room is attached to the same set of pipes.

"Yeah, the radiator in your room was leaking," he told me, "and by leaking, I mean gallons of water were pouring out."

When I went home after work, I checked out the music room first. The floor was covered in blankets which were doing painfully little to soak up the ridiculous amount of water in the carpet. I braced myself, expecting the floor in my room to feel like mud as well.

Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to find a minuscule mess in my room compared to the disaster area downstairs. Water had been coming out of my radiator, but not nearly as much as I had expected. Instead of having a soggy floor throughout my entire room, I just had a puddle directly underneath the radiator.

It's wonderful living in an oldass house.


My exploding radiator.

My house is awesome. It's a bigass old farmhouse that is very conducive to rad parties, and also has the most amazing dedicated music room that I've ever had the chance to enjoy. It's isolated enough that we can make as much noise as we want to and let the dogs and cat run freely outside when they want to, but close enough to civilization that anything we ever need is only minutes away. It has country charm without the small-mindedness associated with it. My roommates are some of the coolest people that I've met in recent history, and I seem to regularly meet more cool people simply as a result of living there.

There are downsides, though. The house is really old, and has poor insulation, which means that when it gets cold outside, it gets cold inside. My room is the coldest in the house, but I get by with the help of a space heater, long sleeve shirts, and a bunch of blankets. I can't complain much, because my room is absurdly huge for the small amount I'm paying. The house also has stinky well water, but I lived in the middle-of-nowhere, Indiana, for ten years, so it didn't take me very long at all to get used to that again. The driveway isn't paved, and I once got my car stuck in the mud after it had been raining.

And then there's the matter of the exploding radiators.

Yesterday, the house was much colder than usual and I could see my breath in my room and in the music room. I assumed it was because it was just generally colder outside than it had been before, but I later found out that it was because the heat wasn't working due to the propane running out. I wasn't home this afternoon, but my roommate, Jesse, called me and told me that the good news was that the heat was working again. The bad news, though, was that three of the radiators in the house had blown up, including the one that was in my room. I listened to the voicemail he left describing the flying metal and black ice spraying around my room, the whole time picturing a disaster area. He said that there was enough force that the far wall across from the radiator had been sprayed with the nasty black sediment that had built up over the years. When he began talking about my upright bass and the metal flying at it, the hesitation in his voice made me fear the worst, and I listened to the words in slow motion, expecting them to end with, "and it looks like maybe the damage might be repairable, but it is a pretty big gaping hole in the body." Instead, I was incredibly relieved when he told me that there was no damage, it just got wet, and was in his room drying off.

I went home on my lunch break to check out the damage. The downstairs hallway had thick black grime all over the floor and wall from that radiator explosion, so I expected a pretty bad mess in my room. I was pleased to find that the mess was pretty much confined to the walls, and the carpet directly under them. I'll have to scrub both at some point, but it didn't look nearly as bad as the hallway downstairs. It looked gross, but the grime wasn't as thick and black, perhaps because only the top corner of the radiator blew off, instead of the whole infernal machine splitting in the middle like the one downstairs. The corner of my bed was wet, but I aimed my space heater at it, and it felt much drier by the time I left. I found a few stray pieces of ice, but it didn't seem to get on any of my stuff. My giant pile of books, science fiction magazines, and comic books laying next to my bed was, as far as I could tell, completely unharmed by the incident.

I went downstairs and another roommate, Bob, had begun mopping up the mess in the hallway. He wasn't home when it had happened, but told me that Jesse first heard a loud explosion in my room, followed by two more downstairs. I asked which other radiator blew up, and he told me it was the one in the music room. We went in there and the whole floor was wet. Fortunately, we had had a party on Friday, so everything was rearranged to allow more people in the room to enjoy some live music. Instead of spraying all of the musical equipment with black ice, the radiator was only able to spray it all over the floor.

It's funny, I really had no idea that those radiators could explode like that until a couple weeks ago when it happened to a friend of mine. She had the misfortune of having it completely soak her bed and hit her cat in the head with a heavy chunk of metal. She ended up calling the animal emergency line, and being told that her cat might have a concussion and she had to keep it awake pretty late into the night to make sure it was alright. I consider myself fortunate for just being stuck with dirty walls and carpet until I get around to cleaning it up.

I still have to say, though, that my house is pretty awesome.


Password reminder.

My job requires me to access various database systems via the computer on my desk. One of these systems I had to access once a week for a few months, and then not at all for a few months. When I needed to use it again, I found I had forgotten my password. I tried a few different things I thought might be my password, but after a few tries my account was locked, and I was given a message with an 800 number to call to regain my access. Unfortunately, the phone on my desk can't call outside lines. It was no big deal, since I only needed access for one small thing, and I was able to pass it on to somebody who remembered their password.

It's been months since I've needed to use that system for anything, but today we had a meeting about a new task we were going to be doing, and it required access to the system in question. I told my boss what had happened with my password, and he had me reset it from his computer. When I went back to my computer, though, I was still locked out. He said he'd look into it, and hopefully have my password ready by next week.

A few minutes later, my boss came to my desk with my username and a temporary password written on a piece of paper, and said he thought he figured it out. I was able to log in this time, and was greeted with a message saying that I had to change my password. On the screen was all the user information I had entered previously, including my name, department, and my forgotten password reminder. When I had entered my password reminder, I must have been wrongly certain that I would never forget my password, because it wasn't really much of a reminder. I scrolled the screen, pretending I was looking for the box to enter my new password, but actually just trying to prevent my boss from seeing my password reminder.

In the middle of the screen was a box that read "PASSWORD REMINDER".

And underneath that, right where I had left it so long ago, it said "FUCK YOU".


"I don't read."

I've always been a fan of recreational reading. At a very young age, I was scouring the children's section of the library for any books featuring monsters. By fourth grade, I had become an avid science fiction fan. In sixth grade I read so much that my total grade in reading class was more than two hundred percent. It would have been even higher had I chosen to only read books that were on the teacher's list of books we could read for credit, but there simply wasn't a great enough selection to hold my interest, and my pleas for additions were met with, "Well, that's a little advanced for this class." To this day, I find myself reading for the sheer hell of it very regularly. The only gap in my literary history was eighth grade, when I became too cool to read.

The friends I had made in junior high were, for the most part, fantasy nerds . In fact, most of my friendships were formed simply by being noticed carrying around Dungeons and Dragons books. In my circle, there was no stigma against the hopelessly nerdy books that we were fond of, and certainly none against reading in general.

When I went to a different school in eighth grade, though, things were different. My new friends were more trouble makers than nerds, and we filled our time by playing with cigarette lighters and making fun of people, rather than engaging in any activity that required too much thought. Our heroes were Beavis and Butt-head, who were funny then but so much funnier now that I realize they were making fun of the young idiots that we all were. When I carried around my Dungeons and Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, my best friend asked, "You know that's, like, the nerd encyclopedia, right?" I promptly stopped carrying it around.

One day in English class, our teacher brought us to the library. My friend was flirting with the librarian, a girl a year older than us, and asked if we could see the "request only" books, which I didn't even know existed. She let us come behind the counter and look at a rolling shelf of books that weren't kept with the rest because of their controversial natures. It was sort of a stupid idea, because it just drew attention to the books and made us more interested in them than we otherwise would have been. Had this not been in a very conservative and oppressively religious area, I would have suspected that it was just a ploy to get kids interested in reading. (I guess that could have been a possibility, as I don't remember who the librarian was at the time, only the crazy, power-mad and angry woman who later replaced her.) I decided to check out a book from the shelf. Among the books about serial killers and Satanism, I found a copy of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. I hadn't really read much Stephen King, but I remembered hearing some of my nerdier friends raving about this book the year before, so I checked it out.

My neighbor was a kid named Rick. I used to go over to his house after school sometimes and we'd ride his 4-wheeler to the gas station, where he'd buy us a bunch of candy, and then we'd go set things on fire or play video games. On the bus, we'd listen to gangsta rap through one headphone each connected to his CD player. Rick was a popular guy, and he was my link to the coolest kids. I was no longer a nerd, but I was far from being the most popular kid in school, so it was good that I could call Rick a friend. People knew I was awesome when I walked into school with him. In fact, people initially thought I was his younger brother when I started attending that school. He was Mexican, and I'm Filipino and white, but dark is dark when you're in the middle-of-nowhere, Indiana. Rick was popular enough that he was even admired by racists who would call me a "spick" and a "beaner." One asshole, Kevin, who claimed to be in the KKK and had threatened to "get me after school" if I didn't get rid of the anti-Nazi patch on my backpack, told Rick, "You know, I don't really like spicks, but you're alright!" Rick considered this a compliment, and considered Kevin alright, too. Rick was just a cool guy, and everybody liked him.

Rick wasn't the only awesome kid on my bus, though. There was another, Josh, who was a year older than us, and was way cool. He was on the football team, popular as all hell, and was just simply cool as shit. His whole family was really popular and heavily involved in the various school athletic programs. Their dad owned a grocery store, and their family was considered hot shit in the school and in the area. Unfortunately, I wasn't cool enough to talk to him. Rick was, though.

One morning on the bus, I was showing Rick the forbidden book I had checked out from the library. He was impressed by the illustrations, particularly one of a dead guy hanging from a noose, and another of a child being attacked by monsters. When Josh got on the bus, Rick tried to show him the book.

"Hey," he said, "Check out this crazy book he has!"

"No," he said, to Rick but not to me, since he didn't talk to me. "I don't read!" he said, rolling his eyes and making me feel like the biggest dork in the world. I shrunk into my seat. How would people ever think I was cool if I enjoyed such lame activities as reading? I put the book in my backpack and sat silently for the rest of the ride while Rick talked to Josh, no doubt about things much cooler than a nerd like myself could possibly imagine.

My family used to make regular trips to a big library about 40 minutes away from where we lived. It was outside of our county, so my parents had to pay some kind of fee to be able to use that library, but it was worth it since we lived in a tiny town with a tiny one-room library. Until that point, I had really enjoyed going there and feeding my brain. After I realized how lame it was to read, though, I wanted nothing to do with the place. I'd protest going, but would be forced to go, anyway. When we'd go there, I'd go sit in front of one of the TVs in the media room and watch MTV, hoping to catch a glimpse of my heroes, Beavis and Butt-head.

At some point my mom asked me why I didn't go looking for something to read.

"I don't read!" I said, trying to sound as cool as Josh did when he said it.

"What?" my mom asked, aghast that I had said such a thing. "Where did you learn that?"

As my mom scolded me, I realized how stupid it was to be anti-reading. Still, for a while after that, I wouldn't let myself get caught carrying around recreational reading material at school.


Real men kill stuff.

Shortly after I moved out into the sticks in fourth grade, I came home and my dad had a surprise for me. I went into the backyard and peered into a big garbage can where my surprise waited. At the bottom of the can a small snake, probably barely longer than foot, lay passively coiled up. Having been a city kid my entire life up to that point, the sight of a wild animal thrilled me. I was excited to have a snake as a pet, but I was scared to touch it at first. I poked at it with a stick, and it flared its neck like a cobra and hissed.

I went inside and looked in a book about North American animals to figure out what kind of snake it was, and whether or not it was dangerous. I quickly learned that it was a hognose snake, which might strike if threatened, but would keep its mouth closed and not actually bite. Armed with this knowledge, I went back outside and picked it up without fear. I had a new friend.

A few weeks later I came home and my neighbor, a girl my age, told me that her dad had caught another snake. We went into my backyard with her sister, my sister, and my brother, and peered into the same garbage can. This snake was several times larger than the first, and far more aggressive, sliding up the plastic walls of the can in a desperate attempt to escape. We poked at it with a stick and it would attack, prompting us to jump back in fearful jubilance. After a few minutes of this, my dad came outside and my neighbor's mulleted dad walked over to our backyard. It was time for the spectacle to begin.

The children were told to step back, and my dad picked up the garbage can and dumped the snake out onto the ground. My neighbor's dad immediately struck at the snake with the sharp edge of a shovel. The first blow seemed to cripple the snake, bending it in the wrong direction. The second cut it cleanly in half. Both halves writhed around briefly before fully expiring.

For a year or so, I bought their rationale for killing the animal. They had said that they really had no choice, that it was under my neighbor's porch terrorizing their family and that it posed a serious threat. When it dawned on me how absurd their reasoning was, I was angry. The snake could have easily been let loose in any part of the large wooded area that surrounded our houses, and it would not have returned. What I was told was nothing more than some tough guy's excuse for killing something. I confronted my dad about it, and he maintained that it was something that had to be done. I've wondered if he really believed that, or if he was just trying to rationalize his role in it, as he had made other statements demonstrating his distaste for wantonly killing things.