Thursday, April 29, 2010

Creative Writing stories, #3: "Night Falls on Baxter"

Night Falls on Baxter

Best friends Trevor and Louis stood outside Baxter Academic Center and took in the familiar view. It looked the same—ugly. Pale brown bricks of varying hues surrounded monolithic, vertically slender rectangular windows. The doorframes were graphite-grey, metallic affairs surrounding glass panels. The roof was horizontal, which made the building look from afar like a child’s fort made of enormous cardboard boxes. The building was a child of the 60s, architecturally out of place on the grounds of a boarding school—Westminster, by name—founded in the 19th century. But today, both boys wanted nothing more than to hear the strange air currents coursing through the building and to stroll through its long, boring halls again. Having played golf together that morning, they had decided on a nostalgic whim to drive up Williams Hill and take a last look through the building.

The Connecticut late-August sun shone on Trevor and Louis as they gazed up at Baxter. They had graduated that May and would be leaving for college—Trevor to Haverford, Louis to Amherst—in a couple days. Trevor hadn’t gotten into Amherst.

They stood on the driveway in front of Baxter, leaning on opposite sides of the metallic turd of a dumpster into which the construction crew had tossed furniture from the building that was not worth salvaging—battered bookcases from classrooms, rickety metal desk-chairs, and other general academic paraphernalia. In another corner of campus stood Baxter’s replacement, a $41 million behemoth called Armour Academic Center that would vault the school into the 21st century. It towered over every other building on the campus. Students snickered that it was visible from outer space. Baxter—the building that held particular significance for they and their fellow day students at this boarding school—was to become a parking lot. The building was scheduled for demolition in a week and both would be off to school long before then. This was their chance to give the Baxter its Last Rites.

“Shall we?” Trevor turned to Louis after a few minutes’ solemn regard of the edifice.

“Might as well,” Louis sighed.

Trevor closed his eyes as he gripped the handle on the door and pulled. Thousands of hands have touched this handle, he thought to himself. How many owners of those hands took that cool smoothness of the metal for granted? He knew he had on almost every occasion until this one. He stepped into the vestibule, holding the door for Louis. That strange whirring sound—screwy air currents—filled their ears as it had so many times before. The ghosts of Baxter groaned.

“Jesus Lou, they’ve taken everything,” Trevor murmured, agape at the denuded upper foyer. The earthy-red-brown brick walls were void of the rudimentary wooden benches that used to line them. Juniors and seniors had always hung out between classes in the square upper foyer, while freshmen and sophomores filled the lower foyer. The school veterans would peer over the railings down at the “children” and heckle them until a spoilsport teacher barked at them to knock it off. The open center of the lower foyer was a stage for the class clowns of the lower grades, who would sometimes tell jokes or act out funny scenes from popular movies in order to curry favor with their elders. Every sophomore dreamed of the day after graduation that year, when he or she would enjoy an exam week’s worth of acclimation to the upper foyer before enjoying it fully the next fall. This tradition would die with Baxter. It isn’t right, Trevor thought. It was like closing Radio City Music hall—inconceivable.

The near left corner of the upper foyer was the site of one of Trevor’s great personal achievements. When school lunch on Wednesday or Saturday—when school was in session until 11 AM—was unappetizing, he, Louis, and some of their fellow day students would order mountains of spicy chicken wings from a local pizza place. They would bicker about who would have to trudge down a steep hill to the edge of campus to meet the deliveryman, usually resorting to drawing lots. The “winner” would slink out and return shortly with a greasy cardboard box of pungent orange hunks of meat, bone, and cartilage. Trevor had eaten 35 wings in 25 minutes one Saturday in the January of his junior year. He had felt like Neil Armstrong. Now, his stomach growled.

The boys turned right and strode through more metal double-doors into the main upper floor hallway. Directly across from them was room number 35. The room was nearly empty, desolate. Posters of fractals, Fibonacci sequences, and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album were conspicuously absent. In their places were rectangles of vaguely brighter, cleaner regions of wall-plaster.

Louis leaned against the back wall and removed his purple Amherst Golf cap. “Christ, it’s Mr. Ulrich’s room,” he said. Peter Ulrich had been their soft-spoken but intense math teacher they had had junior year for Honors Pre-Calculus. Ulrich was notorious for issuing weekly problem sets that even the Asian math wiz kids struggled with. Lou had been an Ulrich acolyte, having been one of the only students they knew who appreciated the man’s teaching style—he almost always responded to a question with a question of his own. Lou was eager to study mathematics and economics at Amherst, in hopes of becoming an actuary or an investment banker. Trevor, on the other hand, had never enjoyed or excelled at math. He looked forward to taking a slew of creative writing and literature courses at Haverford.

Turning right and moving down the hall a distance, they arrived at room 33, which Trevor held in particular regard. He alone entered while Lou sought out the bathroom to take a piss.

It had been known as “The Thinkery”—the domain of one Todd Eckerson, an institution at Westminster. Eckerson was the philosophy department, mostly renowned for Moral Philosophy, a fairly basic survey of general ethics. Not bad for most high schoolers. However, Trevor had been one of seven students in a class of Eckerson’s called Philosophy and Literature (Louis took AP Statistics that year instead). Eckerson called it a “great books” class, as it covered such intellectually weighty tomes as The Iliad, the Bible, Pascal’s Thoughts, and St. Augustine’s Confessions, not to mention Dante’s Divine Comedy, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and even a smattering of Nietzsche. Eckerson would challenge students with pointed questions about Job, Pascal’s Wager, and which Circle of Hell Paris Hilton belonged in.

The main inhabitant of the walls of the Thinkery was a large framed print of Raphael’s “The School of Athens.” In the central figures of Plato and Aristotle Trevor saw himself and Louis. He was Plato, pointing upward, trying to grasp the ungraspable, the abstract. Louis was Aristotle, pointing at the world around—Lou was concerned with what existed concretely: answers. Eckerson had long since taken the print to his new classroom in Armour. Now the Thinkery was indistinguishable from the other empty chambers of Baxter.

They made their way through other rooms. Room 38 was the main computer lab, where Trevor, Louis, and some of their fellow day students would gather during mutual free time and play computer games like Unreal Tournament, a multiplayer battle game where up to ten of their fellow day student boys would try blow each other away with futuristic guns. All games had been outlawed by Mr. Reeves, whose temper flared more abruptly than a bolt of lightning. One’s chances of getting “be-Reeved,” however, were far, far greater.

Mr. Marco’s office was across from the computer lab. He was the Director of Studies for the school but more importantly Trevor and Louis’ golf coach and mentor. When both of them had a free period, they would sometimes sit on the couch in Marco’s office and distract him from his work, bantering and psyching themselves up for upcoming golf matches and tournaments. Their freshman year, Marco called both Trevor and Louis into his office to inform them that he had selected Lou as the last player for their squad at the regional tournament that year. Trevor had sat silently on the couch for ten minutes after receiving the news. Now there was no couch or bookshelves or framed photos of golf courses. It was another empty chamber in condemned Baxter. But there was a touching bit of color on these walls. Other visitors to the dying building had taken to writing their names or drawing pictures in permanent marker in some rooms, which would be rubble before long anyway. Trevor and Louis grabbed markers from a nearby classroom and signed the white concrete above where Mr. Marco’s mahogany desk once stood. Trevor’s left hand shook as he made his mark.

The auditorium was barren. All the chairs had been pulled up and carted off to who-knew-where. The entire student body gathered there for a half hour each Monday and Thursday morning, where weekly faculty and student announcements would be made. The auditorium could never quite accommodate the entire student body. As a result, students who missed out on getting a proper seat packed into the aisles so snugly that the room looked like an MC Escher print. Trevor recalled the smoothness of the seat cushions and the shampoo of the girls who would sit in front of him. Lavender, coconut, lemongrass, vanilla. The empty odor of dust now filled Trevor’s nose. All that remained of this great hall was the sloping floor with its dingy grey carpet, rent and shredded in places where chairs had been wrenched up from the floor.

The school bookstore, just outside the auditorium, had empty shelves. Where bags of chips, candy bars and bottles of water, juice and soda once waited, only air remained. No crumbs; only dust. Every Westminster student was assigned some sort of task that served the general upkeep of the building; some students wiped down chalkboards after school, others picked up paper and other trash from the floors of the foyers. Trevor had worked in the bookstore, learning how to use the computerized cashier system. Ms. Brownfield, a mountain of a woman, would bark admonishments at him whenever he hit the wrong key or took too long to ring someone up. But at the end of every shift, she let him take a candy bar or a bottle of soda for his trouble. Now the space held the counter and a few wire stands that would in a few days be buried and twisted from the wrecking crew’s work.

The sun was a bit lower now. The blue part of the sky darkened and the yellow part had turned a faint orange. Trevor and Louis were running out of time. They returned upstairs to their final stop, the library.

Darling Library was now anything but darling. Dull beige carpet dominated the scene. It used to be largely covered or at least interrupted by study tables, computer kiosks, and bookshelves, but now there was nothing to distract their gaze from the utter drabness of the floor. The computers had been hauled away weeks earlier. Only the one that had almost never worked properly in Trevor and Louis’ time remained, its circular speaker ports punctured, wires protruding. Standing on either side of the defunct machine, Trevor and Louis studied the room. They turned to each other.

“Remember that time you really pissed me off at this computer?” Trevor asked.

“I don’t think so. Wait—vaguely,” Louis replied. He squinted slightly, trying hard to remember, to relive.

Trevor grimaced. “February, junior year. I had to email Ulrich asking a question about the problem set and you were too damned busy playing some game right here at this very machine. All the other computers were taken, and you had a hell of a score going and ‘couldn’t leave it.’ I had to run clear across the building and fire it off. I was late to class, got detention. I don’t think I spoke to you for three days after that.”

“Heh, yeah, I remember,” Louis chuckled. “You were livid. You got over it though.”

Sure, Trevor thought, but that was my one detention. In four years. Shit. It was easy for Louis to brush that little tiff aside in his memory, for Louis had never had a detention. One detention was not going to ruin his life or anything, but Trevor prided himself on never screwing up at school. Louis had never apologized for causing the detention either.

There was an upstairs part of the library called the Perry Room, where students sometimes studied above the rest of the space. But Trevor and Louis had only ever played card games like Hearts or Spades with other day students after school there. The big tables where they had played were gone, as was the whiteboard they used for keeping score in their games. But surprisingly, a window that opened to the roof was open.

“Lou, not once was that window open in all our years here.”

“I don’t think so, Trev. Heck, let’s see the roof for the first time.”

The window would only open so much, and there was a sizable step down onto the roof. Furthermore, Trevor, while no fatass by any means, was not svelte either. He groaned as Louis stuffed him through the opening and he tumbled to his side with a thud onto the hot, black rubbery plastic roof covering. Louis laughed as Trevor, grumbling, brushed himself off.

After Trevor helped Louis ease himself down onto the roof, the two friends looked around. “How about that Lou? Four years at this school, and here we are taking in this view for the first time. Damn; we can see the balcony of Memorial Hall from up here. If only we’d known about this on those spring afternoons when girls would tan up there.”

Louis grinned. “Shit, sure. Bikinis.”

Trevor and Louis walked over to the edge to get a clearer panorama. The deep green lawns stretched out before them, interrupted by yellow and brown stately Tudor-style buildings. Trevor sat down, his feet dangling over the edge. Louis sat to his left, silently taking in the view. Trevor spoke after a couple minutes.

“Never again will we be such good friends as we are right now, Lou.”

Lou sighed, acknowledging the heavy truth of his best friend’s statement. Fighting back a tear, he replied, “We’ll always have Baxter.”

Evening was coming fast. The boys had to be going home, where each had a good deal of packing to do. Louis rose first from the edge of the roof and extended his right hand to Trevor, who took it and pulled himself to his feet. Walking over to the window back to the Perry Room, Trevor spied a chipped, red-orange brick that had fallen out of the outer wall of the building. He tried to pick it up gently but much of it fell away, leaving only a solid lump the size of a baseball. It would be his souvenir of the building.

They squeezed back into the Perry Room through the window, descended the stairs, crossed the library, and reemerged into the upper foyer. Like pallbearers, they processed around the corner and out the double-doors. Louis walked ahead towards the car, not wanting to look back for fear of more tears. But Trevor stopped in his tracks a moment. Facing Baxter one last time, he planted a kiss on the metal doorframe before striding down the stairs after his friend.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Creative Writing stories, #2: A Blizzard

A Blizzard

Thursday morning’s exam—Religion 101—“The Old Testament”—had been a piece of cake. Expounding on Genesis, the Book of Job, and the Song of Songs was easy for Jacob Feinberg, a good Jewish boy. After a few notebook pages on suffering and divine love, he found himself strolling out of Wilde Hall back to his dorm, where an empty suitcase awaited him. Once he opened the front door of Wilde he stopped dead in his tracks. He gazed out and noticed snow falling in cottonball-sized clumps on the lawn before him. There was a silence so deep it seemed as if G-d had pressed some grand “MUTE” button. Nothing moved except the snow. Oy vey, he thought to himself. Being from Coral Gables, Florida, he had never seen anything heavier than a snow flurry in person. Inhaling deeply, he donned his new red wool cap—the first one he had ever owned—and strode out into the snow.

He didn’t make it thirty feet before he was on his back, clenching his teeth and cursing the cold. The old, uneven brick walkway was quaint in dry months but under the half-inch film of snow that sat on it, it may as well have been sheer black ice. He clutched his right hip as he clambered to his feet. A pretty girl—a 6.5 if his ex-girlfriend Ginny was an 8—coming toward him had seen. Her body jerked forward as she struggled mightily not to double over from the sight of his folly. They passed each other silently but when she coughed behind him, he was sure it was to contain laughter.

Back at his room, the local TV news confirmed his fears: “Tallmadge County, Virginia is bracing for a potential record snow event as citizens are raiding local supermarkets for bread, milk, water, and firewood today,” chirped the news reader. Flights were being delayed and cancelled left and right from all area airports: Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville. His flight was scheduled for departure at 5:55 PM out of Charlottesville. He packed his suitcase deliberately and solemnly, as if he were headed for a few years in prison rather than a couple weeks back home. His cell phone rang—Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” served as his ringtone—and he snatched it off the table. The outer screen read “HOME.” It was his mother.

“Jacob, they’ve cancelled your flight to Atlanta. Your father and I are looking into getting one for you Saturday night out of Charlottesville. Pack anyway, though. If you can get to the airport this evening, go ahead and get a room in a hotel nearby.” Her New-Yawk accent was comforting.

“You know that it’s already snowing here, don’t you Ma?” he replied. His two-wheel drive Honda wasn’t going to be any match for the highway.

“Well then get a ride with someone,” she said curtly. She was a caring but abrasive woman.

“Alright Ma; I’ll call you later. Love you.”

He was stuffing his toiletries case into the suitcase’s side compartment when two faint knocks came at his door. He whirled around and opened it. Before him, as he lived and breathed, stood Virginia “Ginny” O’Halloran. Her black wool cap and black winter coat contrasted with her milk-white skin and red hair. He started sweating.

“I heard your flight was cancelled,” she said. “Nikki Esposito was supposed to be heading back to Florida too and her airline cancelled.”

“That’s right,” Jacob replied. “What are you up to?”

“Well, that’s why I’m here. My mother and father are driving down from Charlottesville to get me and they wanted to know if you needed a ride since you’re supposed to fly out of Charlottesville. You can stay at our house tonight if you need to.”

It was an incredible stroke of luck that the O’Hallorans were willing to put Jacob up for a night—he wasn’t sure if it was good or bad. They were a solid Irish Catholic family and had liked Jacob well enough when he and Ginny were together, despite his being Jewish. He had sat with them at the Parents Weekend football game that October, chuckling at Mr. O’Halloran’s odd jokes. But when Jacob broke up with Ginny over Halloween weekend because he “didn’t see the relationship going anywhere”—code for “I want to be able to hook up with other girls if I want to”—they would have sided with their precious daughter. This invitation was either an olive branch or a chance for an inquisition.

Ginny continued, “They’ll be here in about an hour. Finish packing.” Four inches of snow were already on the ground.
The O’Hallorans arrived on time in their Chevy Suburban. Mrs. O’Halloran greeted Ginny with a hug and Jacob with an emotion-neutral hi-how-are-you-how-are-your-parents schtick. Mr. O’Halloran shook Jacob’s hand firmly—much more firmly than at their previous meeting, Jacob recalled. They set off for Charlottesville with the snow coming down in white sheets.

The landscape was a white apocalypse—every mile or two there were cars at all sorts of angles on the sides of the road with their flashers on. Others had glided clear off the highway and down onto the median snow-smothered grass. Mr. O’Halloran was singularly fixated on the road, silently guiding the vehicle forward at a quarter of the speed limit. Mrs. O’Halloran, who was by no means a quiet woman, said nothing from the other front seat. Perhaps she was remaining quiet so her husband could concentrate on the road. This, Jacob decided, was a pretty hopeful notion. Ginny was seated to Jacob’s right, behind Mrs. O’Halloran. She was engrossed in a Nicholas Sparks novel, which she read by the light of her cell phone. Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” came on the radio. Jacob saw Mr. O’Halloran’s eyes widen sharply in the mirror as he fumbled for the knob and switched the station to NPR as Billy Joel yowled, “Come out Virginia, don’t let me wait...”

After nearly three hours on the road, they arrived at the O’Halloran residence. Breaking her silence, Mrs. O’Halloran said a weary “Welcome,” as they opened the door and snow tumbled off their coats and onto the rug. Sitting in a chair in the living room, reading the family Bible, was Mary Jane O’Halloran, whom Jacob feared above the rest of the family combined. Though they were quite similar in stature, Mary Jane had not been blessed with her younger sister’s pretty face. She was plain, and it was clear that her plainness was a chip on her shoulder, for she held any boy Ginny dated in great disdain, especially a shyster like Jacob. And because sisters always tell each other everything, Jacob knew Mary Jane’s deepest ire was reserved for him, the Florida Yid who’d taken Ginny’s virginity. “Hello Jacob,” she said with a face that rivaled a gargoyle’s for stolidity.

“Hi Mary Jane,” he replied. “Home for the holidays from Cambridge?” She was a senior at Harvard and damned proud of it.

“Yeah, working on my thesis on a couple of Shakespeare’s problem plays, All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure. I heard you’re staying with us tonight.” If looks could kill, Jacob thought. All he could do was nod.

Not ten minutes after they shook the snow from their shoes and set about warming up, the power went out. The wind had picked up from nothing to a breeze and then a gale—G-d’s own breath—likely sending some weary pine tree across a telephone pole to the ground. Everyone groaned in dismay at the darkness. Mr. O’Halloran dispatched his wife and daughters to find candles.

Jacob was now alone in the darkness with Mr. O’Halloran. The silence was a burden too great to bear for long. Jacob had the neurotic feeling that Mr. O’Halloran was staring straight at him, praying to Jesus for the destruction of the kike who had sullied his daughter’s good soul.

“Thank you kindly for letting me stay with you all tonight,” Jacob said.

“You’re a good kid, Jacob. We’re happy to help out a friend of Ginny’s at a time like this.”

“Thank you, Mr. O’Halloran.”

“I trust you will be nothing but a perfectly respectful guest in this house tonight.” His voice was just above a whisper, but Jacob caught every word.

“What do you—yes sir,” Jacob replied. Though the house was beginning to take on the chill from the snowstorm outside, Jacob was sweating, his skin clammy.

“Good, good. Girls, any luck with those candles?” Mr. O’Halloran called into the darkness in the direction of the kitchen.

Mrs. O’Halloran emerged holding a large, short cylinder candle that had just been lit. Her daughters followed behind her, each holding in one hand a red glass candlestick and steadying the white candle inside it with the other. They flanked her like maids assisting an ancient queen during a sacred ritual. Slowly they walked to different tables and placed the candles there, illuminating the room in the familiar, haunting amber color of firelight.

From the drawer inside the table in front of the couch where he sat, Mr. O’Halloran produced a deck of cards with a miniature picture of the Last Supper on the back. “Let’s play a while, since there’s little else to do,” he said.

“I’m going to go read in bed with a flashlight,” said Mary Jane, and she slunk off, though not before giving Jacob the stink-eye. Hateful shiksa.

“Always studying, that one,” whispered Mrs. O’Halloran after the beam from Mary Jane’s flashlight had disappeared around the corner. “I hope she finds some time to have fun up at Harvard.”

“I’m sure she does, Mom,” Ginny said airily. It was the first time she had spoken in a great while.

The four of them played Hearts. Ginny was partners with Jacob and Mr. and Mrs. O’Halloran comprised the opposing team. Mr. O’Halloran was a competitive man who wasn’t above the occasional passive-aggressive jibe. “Played that jack of spades a bit early there, eh Jacob?” he chuckled after a particularly decisive hand. But when Ginny and the Jew successfully shot the moon a half dozen hands later, Jacob beamed but did not dare look Mr. O’Halloran in the eye. Ginny squealed with delight and mussed Jacob’s hair across the table. It was the first acknowledgment she had given him all evening. Back when they were together, she would often tousle his hair when she was pleased with him. Now, he blushed a little bit. Luckily it was too dim for anyone to see.

Mr. and Mrs. O’Halloran decided to call it an evening at around 8:30 PM. Mrs. O’Halloran searched out another candle and showed Jacob to the guest room—clear on the other side of the house—where the bed was made and ready for him. Thanking Mrs. O’Halloran, Jacob followed her back to the kitchen for a glass of water. Ginny was nursing a small glass of grape juice and nibbling at a ginger snap at the table. Jacob sat down across from her. The candle burned to his right and shone upon her hair. It reminded him of the third date they had had, at a fancy restaurant in town at school. After seeing a movie, they returned to campus and made love, both for the first time, in his bed. He smiled at the memory as he sipped his water and he glanced at her. She seemed to be recalling the same experience, given the smile she too wore.

Tracing the rim of his half-empty glass with his index finger, Jacob wondered why on earth he had broken up with Ginny. She had never been disloyal or bitchy, shared his sense of humor, and was great in bed. He had become accustomed to her and had grown stupidly jealous at the relative sexual freedom of many of his buddies, who would share stories of getting drunk at parties and hooking up with this girl or that. He had made the dating-rookie mistake of taking his woman for granted and going off in search of new blood. He hadn’t even so much as kissed another girl since breaking up with Ginny. What a schmuck, he thought. In the orange glow of the candle between them, he decided to set about getting her back as soon as possible.

Mrs. O’Halloran cleared her throat and announced that she was going to bed. Ginny dutifully followed both upstairs and both bade Jacob good-night. Having placed his glass in the sink, Jacob took the candle from the table and made his way back to the guest room. He blew out the candle and settled into bed in the darkness as the wind tossed the snow-laden trees’ limbs back and forth outside.

A couple hours later, Jacob was awakened by a kiss on the cheek. She whispered into his left ear, “Jacob, I need you. I have to have you.”

His reply: “Here? Now? In your parents’ house? Are you crazy?”

“Do you want me or not?” she cooed. She nibbled at his ear. This was a stroke of remarkable, almost unreasonably good luck. It seemed she wanted him back as much as he wanted her. He would not waste this opportunity. Crazy shiksa, he thought to himself.

“Come here,” he replied, full of desire.

Her hands moved over him and she slid into the bed, already naked, in the pitch-blackness. Ginny certainly was crazy, but in a very, very good way; that side had been unleashed after they had had sex a few times. He felt the familiar smooth skin of her back under his fingers and could not resist her. When they were finished, she put her nightgown back on and slunk out the door. Exhilarated, Jacob returned to sleep. She was his again.

The electricity returned and the snow tapered off by morning, leaving twenty-two inches over Charlottesville. The O’Hallorans and Jacob shoveled quietly, extricating the Suburban from the drifts. The roads were still slow going, but a call to the airport confirmed that Jacob’s new flight, the 12:55 PM, would be departing on time. When 11 o’clock rolled around, it was time to leave for the airport. Mr. O’Halloran offered to drive Jacob himself. Mrs. O’Halloran, Ginny and Mary Jane saw him off. He hugged Mrs. O’Halloran and waved awkwardly to Mary Jane—that plain, hateful girl. As he embraced Ginny in turn, he whispered in her ear, “Last night was incredible. Thank you.” She furrowed her brow. He shrugged it off.

As he climbed into the front seat of the Suburban, he looked in the side view mirror and saw Mary Jane beaming and biting her lip, her eyes burning. She waved excitedly, her smile broadening. “Only the Good Die Young” was on the radio again. Billy Joel sang, “Ah but they never told you the price that you pay/For things that you might have done...”
Jacob went as white as the snow outside.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Creative Writing stories, #1: "The Ask-Out"

Hey, I'm back! After a couple busy months, I actually have time to post something AND something to post as well. I took a Creative Writing course this Winter Term at school, which required us all to write three stories and ultimately revise and turn in two of them. In order to determine which two I liked best, I decided to write final versions of all of them. The first story I'm sharing with you all is the one that I decided not to hand in. That doesn't necessarily make it crap, though. Maybe it is, but read it and let me know. Without further ado...

The Ask-Out

He was starting to sweat. It was not the sweat of physical exertion but of pure anguish. It was an unexpected sweat. A sweat of indeterminate temperature such that he shivered without any apparent cause for shivering. Sneaky sweat.

Neither of them had class at this time of day. He knew that she would be studying at her usual table in the library. He peered at her through the rectangular slit window in the main door to the library, her long, dark amber hair in a simple ponytail. She wore a cream-colored sweater, navy skirt, and navy leggings—she was always immaculately, modestly dressed. He stood in deep thought about how he might best approach her. Should he go directly to her and ask her out point-blank? Should he put his books down at another table first? If so, should he walk by her and draw her attention on the way to said other table? The sheer number of methods of approach was maddening. He felt like a military general who had no idea how best to position his troops.

He was no General Patton, so he decided to just wing it. He had never winged anything before but then again, he had never asked a girl out, so god only knew what would work. He trusted his subconscious to lead him to the Promised Land—in this case, maybe dinner and a movie. Hell, he was surprised to have made as much progress as he had in the courtship game the last few months. He had wondered about this moment for nearly half a year. It was late January, and his dreams of going out with her had stewed in his head since September.

His feet were moving but he had no idea to where. He felt controlled by a consciousness that stemmed from outside his head. In a fog, he veered to the left of the path that would have taken him straight to her, darting between two chest high wooden bookshelves that housed the school’s Encyclopedia Brittanica. A few more seconds of automatic movement and he noticed his load was lighter—he had shuffled off his backpack over by the computers. He then found himself striding confidently toward her, smiling as warmly as he could. He reached her side at last and she glanced up from her work. Those beautiful deep brown eyes, he thought. They met his own and he snapped out of his quasi-autopilot. She cleared her throat and he glanced quickly out the window at the snow-covered school quad. The ice from last week’s freezing rain still clung to the naked tree limbs. The cavernous room was silent; only the faint rustle of paper in the librarian’s office could be heard.

~ ~ ~

Katelyn Price had beguiled Tim ever since freshman year, when they were in the same Ancient History class. He had sat directly behind her, enamored with the cascade of her not-quite-blond, not-quite-brown hair. They were “friends” on Facebook but nothing more. He had enjoyed perusing her pictures ever since they became “friends.” She was gorgeous; about five feet six inches, with eyes that seemed to change color from one day to the next, modulating between brown and hazel-green. Her frame was lean but she thankfully did not look like the girls who subsisted on breath mints and the occasional salad. And unlike the girls who did not feel pretty unless their skirts were too short to leave much to the imagination, Katelyn dressed smartly, and her modesty made her sexy.

It was junior year, and Tim was elated to find that he and Katelyn once again had a class together: English. Maybe this would provide a pretext for them to converse. Having spent all of freshman year too chicken to talk to her, he resolved to get to know her somehow this year.

For the first few months of class he could manage no more than a shaky “good morning” to her, but one day in early December saw a perfect opportunity for Tim to lay the groundwork for proper acquaintance. The English department always found a way to incorporate Shakespeare into the curriculum—standard practice for a prep school with a bit of a Briton complex. That day, the Bard’s Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?”). The teacher frequently called on students to read poems aloud prior to discussing them, and so Tim hoped that if he read the sonnet aloud and with gusto, Katelyn would appreciate his sensitivity and eloquence. What if he glanced at her at key points in the poem while he read it? Would she be moved by such a gesture? Would she be creeped out? He decided to keep the glance count to one, at the very end: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,/So long lives this and this gives life to thee.” This would be a Grand Romantic Hook for sure.

Sure enough, the teacher called for a reader for Sonnet 18. Sure enough, no one raised a hand at first. And sure enough, Tim was called on when his own shot up—not too eagerly, he hoped. He proceeded confidently through much of the poem but his heart began beating harder and faster as he neared the critical final lines. He stumbled over the fourth-to-last line: “Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade.” He stuttered at “wander’st” and his voice cracked. He took a deep breath and hurried on through the rest of the poem, forgetting to look at Katelyn at all. It was just as well; his attempt at a Grand Romantic Hook had fallen flat.

Tim decided that since he was no Cicero, he would employ the pen (or keyboard) instead of the tongue. He contrived to engage her on Facebook IM and with winged words win her affection!—or at least get to know her and let her get to know him, whether she liked it or not. While lying in bed studying at home one Friday evening in early January, he noticed the name Katelyn Price illuminated along with his other Facebook “friends” who were online at the time. His heart started pounding and he began sweating a sneaky sweat. Gutless, he stalled for time, checking his email four times in the space of ten minutes and getting up for a glass of water to wet his rapidly drying tongue. He was stalling, but his curiosity trumped his anxiety in the end. He swallowed hard, fingers trembling as he typed in the message box and pressed ‘SEND.’

TIM [8:37 pm] Hey there Katelyn

Hey there Katelyn? Was he trying to seem like a pervert? He might as well have said What’s shakin’ baby doll? She responded quickly:

KATELYN [8:37 pm] heyy Tim

She had not ignored him; he had cleared the first hurdle. Was there any meaning in the second Y? A typo? A casual, friendly informality? He was encouraged.

TIM [8:38 pm] how are you doing this evening?
KATELYN [8:38 pm] pretty good, how about you?

Thank goodness she didn’t totally adhere to the needlessly terse Internet parlance with abbreviations like “u” for “you.” He let her misuse of a comma slide.

TIM [8:38 pm] I’m well; can’t complain…how are you?
You already asked her how she’s doing, shithead. He felt his ship of courtship taking on water before it had even left port. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, waiting for the familiar pop that signaled a response. It came, and he braced for the worst.
KATELYN [8:40 pm] haha good good, what’s up?
He had not scared her off after all! Not yet, anyway. He forged on, hoping his game would improve in a hurry.
TIM [8:40 pm] not too much, I guess; I was wondering, however, if you might know what pages we need to read in Catcher in the Rye for English class on Monday

Being a diligent student, Tim knew the answer to this query, but he could think of no other immediate means of conversation extension.

KATELYN [8:41 pm] sure thing, one sec, let me check
TIM [8:41 pm] thanks, I’m much obliged

Much obliged? Who are you, some Southern politician? Three or four minutes passed and no reply came. He shifted back and forth under his covers, no longer comfortable in this position or that. But pop went his computer soon enough:

KATELYN [8:47 pm] hey sorry about that, I think its chapters 5 through 9
TIM [8:47 pm] excellent, thanks very much Katelyn
KATELYN [8:47 pm] youre welcome Tim

He was relieved that even though she neglected its apostrophe, she at least put the E on the end of “youre.” His anxiety began to wane as he reveled in having carried on an online conversation with her for nine full minutes. He was Harry Potter fighting against the Lord Voldemort of his timidness! He was Captain Picard making First Contact! He had made it further than he would have expected himself to.

Perhaps he was turning a corner, preparing to put himself out for romantic acceptance or rejection by that most fickle beast, Teenage Woman, for the first time in his life. Even though his manner around his fellow “guys” was energetic and sometimes downright obstreperous, he had always been shy about girls, never having been kissed and only a few times hugged, other than by his mother. Even when his male friends discussed what girls were “hot,” he kept mum. He had always fancied himself a sure-thing kind of guy, and while he did not pretend to know much about life’s principal intricacies, he knew enough to know that women were never a sure thing.

This reflection on the achievement of communicating briefly with Katelyn caused him to zone out. A full seven minutes had passed since she had sent her last message dangling, neglected. Did she think he had just abruptly ended the conversation without a proper good-bye? He was eager to keep chatting with her but his self-congratulation had caused him to lose focus on continuing to talk to her. He was mortified again, his wild heart jumping up and down in its chest cavity cage, enraged and fearful. His eyes went wide as he scrambled to think of anything to say but came up empty. He perked up when he heard the pop sound again.

KATELYN [8:54 pm] hey are you going to the hockey game tomorrow night?

It was an unexpected, pleasant surprise. She had messaged him twice in a row! And after a long pause, no less! Like the feet of Fred Astaire his fingers fluttered over the keys.

TIM [8:54 pm] definitely; I’ll see you there, I imagine
KATELYN [8:54 pm] you bet! we’re gonna kick some Taft ass!

He was caught off-guard by her cursing. He did not tend to use such invective, but he secretly enjoyed when girls did.

TIM [8:55 pm] heck yes we are! 2 o’clock tomorrow afternoon, right?
KATELYN [8:55 pm] thats right! See you there!
KATELYN [8:56 pm] hey Tim I’ve gotta run, I’ll see you tomorrow at the game
TIM [8:56 pm] alrighty; bye Katelyn!
KATELYN [8:56 pm] byee xoxo

Did she really just…xoxo? His heart soared at the possibility of what those four characters meant. Two hugs and two kisses! Perhaps she was into him. Perhaps he had just paved the road towards his first kiss and more! The perhapses flew through his mind like a hundred shooting stars. He was beaming now, awed by the possibilities established by this conversation. As he grew more tired, so his thoughts moderated. Let’s get her phone number first. Maybe go out to dinner and/or a movie.

He woke up early the next morning and showered. He showered almost exclusively at night, but today he wanted to look his freshest for her. He applied a modest amount of his favorite eau de toilette, which smelled deliciously of orange. He then decked himself out in black pants, a black turtleneck and his golden yellow Superfan t-shirt. Most everyone who attended big school sporting events wore black and gold—the school colors. He did not don such regalia often, but this was not an ordinary occasion. He looked himself over in the mirror—a rarity—before heading downstairs. He was ready to continue his dogged pursuit of Katelyn Price.

He arrived at the game just as students were beginning to pour in and both teams were taking their warm-up laps around the rink. He took his place just shy of center ice, in the front row, knowing that Katelyn often stood with her friends in the second row. They would be in the middle of the cheering throng of home-team faithful. There would be plenty of time to chat in between plays and periods, during which time he would engage her in conversation eventually leading to an exchange of cell phone numbers.

His fellow students and Superfans streamed in like iron filings to a magnet and soon the black and gold mass was enormous, murmuring, cheering for some of the team’s luminaries. The visiting team brought a busload of fans as well, dressed in crimson and navy blue. It was going to be a raucous game. Only bad blood could come out of the competing cheering sections.

Katelyn still hadn’t arrived by the time the opening puck dropped. Tim was sweating that sneaky sweat again. He cheered only with half his normal voice. His heart thumped in his chest with brutal monotony.

Each team collected a goal in the first period and everyone sat down when the horn sounded for the intermission. As Tim turned around to find his seat, there she was, beaming at the Zamboni. She was radiant, her hair hanging freely this time. She was looking mighty, mighty nice in her Superfan t-shirt, which clung to her curves perfectly. Had she dressed that way for him? Their eyes met. His heart beat differently.

She smiled down at him from her seat in the row behind him. Her eyes were an exotic green-hazel today. “Hey Tim! You made it!”

His own smile was ten miles wide. “I sure did; wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he replied. What a fucking cliché. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. God, she’s beautiful.

He was doing it again. He had nothing else to say. Tim, who would win the “Most Talkative” superlative in the school yearbook when he graduated, had nothing to say. Mortified, he turned around and waited for the game to pick back up. A few minutes later, a whistle from the referee stopped play momentarily and he decided to give it another shot. He stammered, “So Katelyn, did you enjoy the reading in Catcher in the Rye last night?”

“Oh I just SparkNoted it. I had to write a U.S. History paper last night. ”

He sputtered, “I see, I see. Well…” Katelyn smiled warmly but raised a skeptical eyebrow, knowing that Tim had trailed off. It was no use. He was failing miserably at male-female smalltalk, a basic skill of Courtship 101. The referee blew the whistle again and Katelyn fixed her eyes back on the game. Tim turned around, sweating again.

The home team was victorious by a score of 4-2. Everyone left the rink on an adrenaline high except the opposing fans and Tim, who still could not believe his silence in the presence of someone so lovely, so unreasonably sweet. If only he could conquer his irrational fear of talking to her past a few seconds’ awkward pleasantries, she could easily be his, at least for dinner and a movie.

As he walked back across campus to his car, he decided that he would ask her out within the next week, bashfulness-be-damned. He would hold his head up and pop the question—well not the question; a much more preliminary question: “Would you like to go out sometime?” That bluntness would circumnavigate the smalltalk problem and give her the power to accept his request. But would she even consider doing so in light of the fact that they had never spoken at length to each other? To hell with it; just ask her and see what happens. He directed his attention to the roads, which were slickening with the freezing rain that was beginning to fall. Grayness enveloped the region.

~ ~ ~

Their eyes locked once again. His heart raged. He blinked a long, deliberate blink. He was at least smiling. She was smiling too, although she looked like the distraction had kicked away the strands of a good train of thought. She blinked a normal blink. Damn, those eyes!

“Hey there Tim. What’s going on?” Her smile flattened a little.

“Not too much. Just going to do some homework before I head home.” His chest was tightening. His breathing was becoming shallower and more of an effort.

“Cool. Same here.” A pause. Harold Pinter would have loved it.

“Good.” Nothing more.

Seemingly instantly, he was back across the room, standing over his backpack. The main zipper was partly opened. It was an abyss inside. He was sweating. The librarian rustled a few more papers.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Political Insanity

Most people know that I lean center-right when it comes to politics. I believe in limited federal government by default, rather than tax/spend/grow government. On social issues, I'm fairly moderate--I don't favor overturning Roe v Wade anytime soon, and I can live with same-sex marriage. Take me or leave me as such a person.

Anyway, for who-knows-whatever reason, I follow ultra-cnservative talk show host Laura Ingraham on Twitter (my Twitter name is timgolf2002, incidentally; follow me!). A few days ago, she linked to a post on a conservative blog that shows a picture of President Obama apparently bowing while shaking the hand of the mayor of Tampa, Florida. I don't know how appropriate such a gesture is for the POTUS, but I assure you that some people feel very, very strongly about it. The post was amended, no doubt due to some comments that called our Presiident a "retard," among other inappropriate words. Sure, I don't agree with a whole lot he has done in the last year and ten days or so, but I am not okay with the right-wing vitriol that seems to be cropping up in places. It isn't helpful.

End of frustrated-conservative rant.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Restaurant Ruminations

I am midway between Pawleys Island and Lexington tonight, as I am dropping my mother off ar Raleigh-Durham Airport tomorrow morning before continuing towards the beginning of Winter Term ad dear old Washington & Lee. After checking into the first Holiday Inn I've ever seen with LG flat-screen TVs in the rooms, we set out for the nearby Streets at SouthPoint and Main Street mall. The place is a bustling monstrosity with two full levels of stores, including Nordstrom, Macy's, and JC Penney. After encountering an hour-long line at the Cheesecake Factory and a two-hour (!!!) wait at the Maggiano's, we came upon Champps Americana, a pretty standard American-ish place with many, many TVs for easy football viewing.

Gripe #1: The Name--Intentional misspelling of words in place names is common and stupid, especially this example. This one would make the likes of Webster and Auden writher around in their graves--a true bastardization of a perfectly good language.

Anyway, we were pleased when the hostess at Champps said that the wait for two people was a mere 20 minutes. We were seated 45 minutes later.

Gripe #2: The Wait--Few things irritate me more than being the victim of gross underestimation of restaurant wait times. I can understand a few extra minutes, but when the actual wait is more than twice the estimation, people are going to be cross.

The food was decent and ample, and I ended up not finishing everything. I asked the waitress if I could have the rest of my food wrapped up. She brought me a styrofoam to-go box and walked away.

Gripe #3: The box--This may fly at cheap places, but I was astounded that the servers at a restaurant that charges upwards of $15 for an entrée wouldn't do what seems to be a no-brainer. Ah well.

That's enough of a diatribe for one evening. Back to Jolly Lexington in the morning.

Cheers for now.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Two examples of "EPIC FAIL" in the same supermarket

The morning after my mother and I arrived in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, I went to the local Food Lion to get some provisions. My affable checkout representative was a girl named Chasity. In her the two EPIC FAIL examples consist.

1. "Chasity" is not a legitimate name. It is a painfully common misspelling of an only slightly more legitimate name, "Chastity."
2. The Chas(t)ity in question is evidently anything but chaste. She exhibited a very obvious "baby bump" and wore nothing on any finger that would suggest that she is married. Dear me.

In other news, the hyped-up DJ Girl Talk is coming to Washington & Lee. Girl Talk isn't on the original list of "Stuff White People Like," but it sure as hell ought to be.

That's all for now, dear readers.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A day in the city

There are few places where I would rather spend the penultimate day of the year--of the decade--than in New York. Hell, any day is a good one to spend in New York, as far as I'm concerned.

Every time I visit the city, be it for a day or three, I leave feeling as if I have done absolutely nothing, made no dent whatsoever in the unending list of things to do and see. Today was especially frustrating. Being that it was the 30th of December, Manhattan was as packed with people as ever. My parents, sister and I parked in a garage near Times Square in the hopes of finding a not-terribly-insane line at the cut-rate TKTS booth in order to score some tickets to a show. It was not to be, as we were greeted with an easily hour-long wait in the chilly late New York morning. We just decided to walk around for a while, find a noodle place for lunch, walk around some more, have dinner, and make our escape. I am somewhat ashamed to say we hit all the touristy stores along 5th Avenue--Saks, Tiffany, etc. The opulent displays of clothing and jewelry few people will ever be able to afford are a feast for the eyes, but remain the unsatisfying manifestation of one's more ambitious dreams of personal wealth. So, I try not to dwell on the having-not, rather looking forward to the having.

Which brings me to today's highlight: lunch. The Connecticut Family Gavrich dined at Menchanko-Tei, a Japanese noodle spot northeast of Rockefeller Center. If it's a small sea of vegetables, meat, and soba noodles you're after (and you should be after those things if you aren't already), you will be pleased by the ramen varieties at Menchanko-Tei. I enjoyed their Chanpon, a popular dish in Nagasaki with a tawny pork-based broth. Very savory, and a perfect antidote to the cold day. The surprise highlight of the meal, however, were the "tsukemono," or Japanese pickles. A crunch and a taste totally unlike and more complex than their American counterparts.

As you can see, I could go on and on about food, but I won't, at least not right now.

'Til next time.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Up in the Air"--Some nice moments

Tonight, I went to see this recent film with my parents. I love being one of the cool kids. In all seriousness, it was a nice time (difficult for it not to be when I'm not the one paying). But enough about my wild and crazy weekend engagements (spoilers follow; you have been warned)...

"Up in the Air" leaves the audience a little bit down in the dumps, certainly moreso than one would predict after seeing the trailer. Clooney plays his familiar sort of role--a rather charmingly misanthropic middle-aged wiseacre. But this is what America loves him for. He turns in the solid performance that we are accustomed to, so that is all well and good. Vera Farmiga ably plays Clooney's fellow perpetual traveler-cum-siren-cum-betrayer, and Anna Kendrick plays the spunky know-it-all who threatens Clooney's way of doing business and precipitates his awakening to his true loneliness. The acting is pretty good in the film. Without going all Roger Ebert on you, Let me just impart some assorted thoughts (musings, even, since that's what we here at TVM do) before sending you on your way.

My favorite aspect of the movie was the periodic inter-generational dialogue that seems to be going on. Kendrick's character arrives in the company fresh-faced and full of new-age ideas but without experience. In one scene, she bemoans her bad fortune for not having found "the one," as her boyfriend has just broken up with her...via text message. Despite her obvious high intelligence, she receives advice from her older associates, whose values still seem relevant. Definitely a nice moment.

I have more to say about generational interaction, but I'll save it for another time (I have to keep you coming back somehow, don't I?


Thursday, December 24, 2009

I'm Baaaaaaack

Merry Christmas, dear readers (if there are any of you out there).

I'm making a comeback, after nearly five months off god-knows-where in cyberspace. I'll ease my reentry into the blogosphere with just a little thought-nugget (though I reserve the right to blather on at length at any time, so come early and often henceforth!). Here it is:

I really, really don't want to consider the things Ke$ha did for P. Diddy to convince him to make her famous. Yikes.

Peace for now, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pandora Picks: Tom Waits

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while. I'm making it up to you now by sharing some songs by Tom Waits, who has become one of my very favorite musicians because of Pandora.

Many of you probably know that I have non-conventional musical tastes. Substantive and interesting lyrics are important to me. The lack thereof in recent music (that I have heard) is what causes the vast majority of music I enjoy to be older than I am. Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan are two examples of great songwriters whose lyric mastery overcomes, and is in fact enhanced by, the fact that they don't have conventionally "good" singing voices. They are unique in that characteristic. Tom Waits is yet another example of a truly sublime songwriter whose unusual voice (in this case, very deep and harsh--growling, at times) fits the persona of his songs so well that it makes them all the more real and all the more intriguing. He sings from the perspective of characters who hail from and/or are headed to some pretty low places. The songs they sing through Waits give color to a very shady part of society. They are sinister, good-natured, or simply drunk, but they are nearly always, in my opinion, worth listening to. Here are three Tom Waits Songs I think you might enjoy.

"Georgia Lee"

"Pasties and a G-String"

"Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)"

These are but three songs I enjoy. "Georgia Lee" and "Tom Traubert's Blues" are quite emotional songs, while "Pasties and a G-String," as the song title suggests, is pretty light-hearted and silly but nonetheless entertaining.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Most Interesting Blog Post in the World

...probably not. I just wanted to say that I have not seen a television commercial campaign that has amused me more than that of Dos Equis, for "The Most Interesting Man in the World." In short, I want to be that man. I know I don't drink beer, but the commercials in this campaign are so compelling that it doesn't even matter to me. See what I mean:

Stay interested, my friends.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Note

Dear Democratic Party--

We'll see your John Edwards and raise you John Ensign and Mark Sanford. Action to you.

Love (and Lust),

--The Republicans

Pretty shameful for everyone. No wonder people in other countries think Americans are a joke. Look who's representing us.

Pandora Picks: Madeleine Peyroux

Many of you may be familiar with Pandora, also referred to as the "Music Genome Project." It is an internet radio website where listeners can customize their own radio stations by artist or song. The Pandora system then chooses music that is similar to that specified. It plays some songs of the specific artist around whom the station is based, but mostly goes into other artists. It's great for people who have grown somewhat weary of their own music collections. For the better part of the last four months, I have listened to one of my stations on Pandora. It's "Leonard Cohen Radio" to which I have added "Artist Seeds" for Bob Dylan, John Prine and Tom Waits.

Every so often I will post about an artist that has come up on one of my Pandora stations whose work might interest you as well. First up is Madeleine Peyroux, whose voice (to me, at least) is a dead ringer for that of Billie Holiday. She reminds me of a less pop-like version of well-liked singer Norah Jones. Two of my favorite songs of hers are:

"Don't Wait Too Long" (This one isn't bad but I prefer the original, not able to be embedded, but found here)

"Blue Alert"



Friday, June 19, 2009

Matters of Respect

I don't normally comment on news items in this blog, but I feel compelled to write briefly on the following news story.

During a hearing in Washington DC on Tuesday, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was questioning Brigadier General Michael Walsh on the state of the levees that surround New Orleans. General Walsh, being a man well-versed in Army protocol of respect, addressed Sen. Boxer as "ma'am." Even though "ma'am" for women, along with "sir" for men or "Senator" in general is acceptable, Sen. Boxer was not satisfied. Interrupting the General's response, she asked him to address her as "Senator," citing the fact that she'd "worked SO hard to get that title." Naturally, she neglected to do her part in the formality and address the man she was chiding as "General." Meanwhile, none of the other 99 U.S. Senators has ever been known to make such a request. It is a bit disappointing to see someone who represents so many people behave indignantly towards a member of the military, especially one of such high rank.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Supermarket Silliness

A BLT salad with bacon??? Redundant AND delicious.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'm Back!

...albeit briefly tonight.

As you all probably know, I am a mildly interested conservative. I realized tonight that there's no better way to clear out a corner of a crowded Apple store in a mall than by finding the demo computer with the biggest screen and promptly engaging Safari b navigating to the Drudge Report or Rush Limbaugh websites. Perhaps someday i will surreptitiously reset the homepage of all the computers in the store to Ann Coulter's blog, just for a laugh.

That's all for tonight. I've realized that I have a better shot at posting with more regularity if I do so briefly.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Fraternal Return and Internal Return

Nietzsche argued for the idea of "eternal return," a notion that seeks to reconcile the infinity of time with the finiteness of the universe. The mustachioed German philosopher held that time is not linear, but cyclical. Think of the movie "Groundhog Day," where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again.

It is Alumni Weekend here at W&L, which means it is time to witness the yearly phenomenon I feel should rightfully be called "fraternal return," which consists in what I feel is appropriately called "internal return."

My fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, kicked off the weekend with a cocktail party in honor of returning alumni yesterday from 5-7 PM. While current brothers mingled a little bit with those who graduated in the last five years or so, those who graduated in the 80s and 70s (and a few from the 60s, even) hung around together.

While I would like to have seen more cross-generation reaching-out, it became apparent that that is not the primary goal of coming back to the fraternity house after five, 10, 20, 35, 45 years in the big scary outside world. Rather, those who come back and hang out around the house for much of the weekend do so in order to recover memories of their times here.

With them laughing loudly and drinking and eating heartily, one might have mistakenly regarded the reverie of some as strange and perhaps a bit immature, but I disagree. As men of 40 years or more told some of us stories about how someone fell out of the third floor bathroom window or about how there used to be a beer machine disguised as a soda machine on the second floor, they did so with wild eyes that nearly had us thinking these events took place last week, rather than before some of us were born. It is strange--nearly magical--how this house brings the age of the spirits of all who live here now and have lived here in the past together.

Thus, coming back to the fraternity house after years away is not just coming back to a place but to a bygone time. The internal part of this return comes in the form of the brief brightening of the spirits to college-age vitality. Noticing the generations this house has touched and helped to mold makes me appreciate it all the more. I hope to make the most of my time here, knowing that as soon as I exit its safety for the next stage in life, part of me will be wishing I was back, anxious to return.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Television Poisoning, Part II

The second critical element of television poisoning, of course, is the abject putrescence of nearly all commercials, which often make me feel like a banana in the desert. Take for example:

- A recent Toyota commercial that boldly and inexplicably commits one of the deadly sins of grammar (at least in my eyes): pluralization with an apostrophe. Mind-bogglingly, NO ONE involved in the making of this commercial was able to prevent it from selling "Corolla's," "Venza's," and "Tundra's." I will never buy a Toyota.

- The incessant "Five Dollar Footlong" campaign that Subway has made a part of every single ad it has run, with increasing ridiculousness. I never thought I'd wish to see the Jared Fogel before/after comparison pictures again.

- Bob's Discount Furniture commercials are legendary for their mind-meltingly low-brow commercials. See for yourself...Bob-o-Pedic commercial.

These examples comprise but a drop in the vast toxic slurry that is television advertisement. It is just another step in the full-scale social acceptance of the lowest common denominator.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Television Poisoning, Part I (A First-Hand Account of the Disease)

I'm lying in bed, soon to go to sleep. When I wake up tomorrow morning, I will begin my second Spring Term at W&L with Physics for the Non-Scientist at 12:20. With that and an English course on literature about the Islamic world from 1100-1600 comprising my academic load for the term, I should be busy, but not overly so. I'm also looking forward to playing a good bit of golf and otherwise enjoying the gorgeous time of year that has, at last, arrived in Virginia.

I'm looking forward, but I'm also looking back on my Spring Break. I had a nice, relaxing week at home. Aside from playing golf a few times and writing a couple articles for my father about golf courses, I was spectacularly unproductive.

I managed to watch the 18 released episodes of the latest season of the show "24." At about 43 minutes per episode, I have invested very nearly 13 hours in the show in the past 8 days instead of reading the Bill Bryson book on Australia that I recently acquired. In terms of television, it (along with "The Soup," occasionally) is one of my only guilty pleasures. Therefore, I write this somewhat bashfully, but there you go.

In the past week-plus, I have been so heavily inundated by espionage, double- and triple-crosses, and implausibly deep-running conspiracy plot lines in the show that I fear that the line between real life and Jack Bauer's America--an America full of villains with hilariously cliché flaws and good-guys who are just organized enough to mostly stave off catastrophe but too incompetent to quell threats altogether--begins to get fuzzy after prolonged exposure to "24."

Now, this doesn't mean I'm going to be taking things into my own hands and plodding off to try and save the world with my tactical brilliance and totally rad self-defense moves. However, I feel more vigilant--you never know when some normally-amiable soul has gone and gotten himself or herself infected by the disease of silly mischief. Furthermore, I find myself half-wishing I could have the earnest, foreboding music of "24" follow me around, subtly changing as the situation dictates, danger alternatively confronting and shrinking away from me. And if ever something happens, for those orange digital numbers to pop up and hold the world in suspense for between 180 and 300 seconds until my wanderings resume would be quite amusing. If someone could arrange this at a reasonable price, do contact me.


P.S. In Part II I aim to complain about how some commercials are ruining our youth. Stay tuned, dear readers, stay tuned.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Wood Man Entertaineth

Most people who know me well know that I am an avid lover of Woody Allen films. He is responsible for "Annie Hall"--my favorite movie of all time--as well as some other cinematic gems such as "Radio Days," "Mighty Aphrodite," and "Manhattan."

Tonight I watched another intriguing film in the Allen canon, "Crimes and Misdemeanors." Despite a tangible preoccupation with such serious issues as death, general morality, and justice, the film is a comedy with a great many witty one-liners and absurd-yet-oddly-realistic events. And with such a capable cast--including Martin Landau, Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston, Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, and Allen himself--two parallel stories mesh very nicely instead of annoying and confusing the viewer, until everything kind of resolves in the end in the gracefully matter-of-fact, life-carries-on sort of denouement that endears Allen's movies to audiences. The film, while funny and silly at times, raises some intriguing questions about death and justice and faith without being preachy or pushy. I would recommend it to anyone willing to see a cerebral, amusing film that lacks the pretense and noise from which so many current efforts suffer.


(I know this is kind of a random post; I'll try to return to my more introspective kinds of commentaries forthwith.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I'm Baaaaack!

The last month has been pretty hectic for me. I'm sorry I haven't blogged lately; three writing-heavy classes (Northern European Medieval Art, History of the English Language, and Native American Literature) have sapped much of my creative strength of late, so TVM has been sadly neglected for some weeks. Well no more, I say! I will find the time to blog regularly again this coming week (my Spring Break) and over the coming months, should you find it in your hearts and net-surfing schedules to make room for my random thoughts once again.



Thursday, February 19, 2009

"What A Stupid I Am"

The title of this here little post comprises the phrase uttered by professional golfer Roberto DiVicenzo upon realizing the fact that he signed his scorecard for an incorrect score, costing him the 1968 Masters Tournament. It describes my feelings earlier today perfectly.

Excited that today's high temperature would be a balmy (by February-in-Connecticut standards) 45 degrees today, I planned to drive down to the quaint (save for the huge Pfizer plant compound) town of Groton, CT to play golf at Shennecossett Municipal Golf Course, a lovely old golf course that stays open year-round, weather permitting. I had played a few days ago without a problem, so I assumed that today would be similarly suitable for golf. Knowing that Shennecossett posts alerts about the golf course online but absolutely sure that the golf course would be open, last night's rain be damned, I paid the website a formality of a visit, and seeing the note "The golf course will be open, weather permitting," took my cue to get in the car and drive the 80 minutes to Groton, salivating at the idea of another chilly but enjoyable day of golf.

(yours truly, on the 17th green)

(view beyond the 16th green out towards Long Island Sound)

I should have known as soon as I made a left onto Plant St. towards the golf course, as I saw no one playing. I rationalized this suspicion immediately, thinking that people weren't as likely to take Thursday afternoon off as they were to take Monday afternoon off. Undeterred by a deterrent that would have surely deterred the sane, I unloaded my golf bag, put on my shoes, and strode about 500 feet from the parking lot to the pro shop. Almost cheerily, the guy working therein informed me, "Too much rain last night...course's back tomorrow morning to see if we're open."

Spirits broken, I walked back to the car. Whereas I had been singing joyously along with Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan (bless you, creators of!) on the way down, the songs that played the rest of the afternoon in the car washed over me with the iciness of the body of water abreast of which I had sought to play.

After a similar lack of success at Fenwick Golf Course (a cute little nine hole course located in a village where Katherine Hepburn used to summer), my disappointment turned to fury. Cursing myself, the golf course officials, and Mother Nature, I turned for home. Determined not to completely waste the day, I stopped by GolfQuest, a semi-high-tech outdoor driving range in Southington, CT, and hit balls for an hour or so. Its effect was only marginally better than that of a Band-Aid on a stab wound, but it was better than nothing.

If there is any silver lining to the day, I discovered two great songs through Pandora. The first, "Desolation Row," is my new favorite Bob Dylan song, and the second, "Brompton Oratory," is an interesting little ditty by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

"Desolation Row"
"Brompton Oratory"


Monday, February 16, 2009

Being Out Of Touch: My Anti-Drug

I am sitting with my parents, watching television. After the extreme disappointment of the UConn basketball game, we moved on to TNT and "The Closer." It was an amusing episode, but not the point of this post.

The new show to follow "The Closer" on Monday nights is a crappy modern-day "Mad Men"-type show called "Trust Me." It stars Eric McCormack, formerly Will on "Will and Grace," and Tom Cavanagh, who I know as the annoying brother of J.D. on "Scrubs." In this evening's episode, McCormack's character solicited advice from his daughter, whom he sees as a normal teenager, about how best to appeal to young folks in an ad campaign. Unfortunately, he fails to understand that she is decidedly abnormal in her enjoyment of downloadable books and Leonard Cohen (a girl after my own heart). He ultimately makes a fool of himself in a meeting because of this oversight, and realizes how out-of-touch he is, much to his dismay.

Even though the show is pretty bad, I was amused by the attempted confrontation of coolness. Now, I certainly do not need to be told that I am out-of-touch. I know it, and I embrace it. But I was made to think about the way in which I am out-of-touch. I have always been pretty comfortable in my own skin, but I wondered if part of my strangeness is manufactured from within. Could I be more "normal" if I wanted to? Do I accentuate my weirdness because that is what makes me stand out most? Could I learn to appreciate rap music?

I am inclined to think that the notion that I actually could be less out-there if I tried would be giving myself too much credit, refusing to acknowledge how out-of-touch I truly am, which is, suffice it to say, quite out-of-touch. And I think I'm okay with that.

(Apologies for a bit of blogging-for-the-sake-of-blogging, but I have to feel productive somehow.)


Friday, February 06, 2009

For Lack Of A More Original Post Idea...

...25 random facts about me. I'm not tagging people, though (partially because I'm not cool enough to have been tagged in such a message. But I'm not bitter). The first chunk of facts will be pretty standard, but I'll try to get a little more random as the list wears on.

1. Since the age of six, I have been infected with the incurable condition of addiction to the game of golf. I love all facets of it--from the history of the game to golf course architecture to playing competitively--and believe I always will. I would love to be in the golf business somehow, someday.

2. If my desire from #1 goes unrealized, I'd be happy to go into the food business--specifically, I'd love to be a noted food critic someday. Anyone who knows me knows that I am as interested in food as a preacher is in the Bible.

3. Speaking of religion, I have at no point in my life been a religious person. My mother's family are Greek Orthodox while my father's side is Jewish. I suppose I lean somewhat towards the Jewish side, if anything, but I'm more guided by the notion of human truth, rather than universal truth, so religion is not a big part of my identity.

4. My favorite Jew is also my favorite filmmaker, Woody Allen. "Annie Hall" is the best movie I know of. Allen's honorable-mentions include "Radio Days," "Manhattan," "Sleeper," "Love & Death," and "Everyone Says I Love You."

5. Woody Allen also penned one of my favorite short stories, "The Kugelmass Episode," but I'd have to say my favorite short stories are "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" and "The Catbird Seat," both written by James Thurber. I'm a fan of humorism.

6. Speaking of comedies, I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, especially of his--duh!--comedies. I love "The Comedy Of Errors" and "Much Ado About Nothing" most.

7. As for music, my tastes are more in older material than new. Specifically, I am a fan of folk, rock, jazz, and classical. I've been listening to two albums by the Irish group The Pogues lately. They're great.

8. My favorite word is "donnybrook."

9. One of my greatest personal accomplishments: eating 35 buffalo wings in 25 minutes one afternoon in high school.

10. I have déjà vu ll the time, and it freaks me out. I have brief episodes when I recall strange music and images and smells that I am sure are from past dreams. I get nauseous and disoriented whenever this happens, and it's really a strange feeling.

11. I don't drink alcohol, really. I have before, but I don't do it with any kind of regularity. I feel confident in saying that a fairly hefty number of people would be very amused to see me drunk, but they may not get their chance. I will say that my aversion to drinking has nothing to do with 21 being the legal age (that is to say, I could well start drinking occasionally, recreationally, before then; I just don't know). I will do it when the spirit moves me.

12. Speaking of my 21st birthday, it will fall on October 10, 2010. That means that that date will read 10/10/10. Pretty excellent, no?

13. I am a huge trivia nerd. My father taught me the state capitals when I was absurdly young (3 or 4), and I've known them ever since. I watch Jeopardy whenever I can, and I've taken the online test a few times. I would love to be on the College Championship.

14. Regrettably, I'm a really gullible person, and it must be obvious to people when they meet me. People I've never met in my life will mess with me all the time. Are the words "I'm gullible!" written on my forehead and I just can't see them?

15. I wasn't always a goody-two-shoes. I was sent to the principal's office in 1st grade for participating in a pretend swordfight--the weapons were plastic forks.

16. I have a fine motor-skills deficiency. I use a computer for tests and in-class writing assignments because whereas most people have no problem cranking out a bunch of written pages by hand, my hand and wrist seize up after a couple sentences. It's super-annoying.

17. I've played alto (and a little bit of tenor) saxophone since the summer after 4th grade. I plateaued in terms of my ability right after 8th grade, but I still enjoy playing.

18. My favorite work of all literature is J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. I try to read it at least once per year. I've never encountered a character that resonates with me more strongly than does Holden Caulfield.

19. I have not done the following things in at least three years: put on sunscreen, eaten a bowl of cereal, ridden a bicycle.

20. I don't really know what I want to do for a living. I know I'm going to major in English at W&L, but what happens beyond that is less clear. Part of me would love to go back and teach English at Westminster for a couple years, but I don't really know. It's kind of disconcerting when I think about it. Probably ought to get on that whole figuring-out-what-to-do thing pretty soon.

21. I have never been in a physical fight in my life. Never hauled off and slugged someone (though there have been many times when I would have loved to). Even though I'm about the weakest dude you'll ever meet, I'm afraid that if I ever do get in such an altercation, some accident will happen and I'll hurt someone far more than I ever intended to.

22. I've always been very averse to change. If I am comfortable in one situation, it is very difficult for me to try something different. It took me a long time to adjust to living away from home. As soon as I started to get comfortable in my Freshmen dorm room, last year was over and I had to pack it all up. I've become comfortable in my fraternity house a little more quickly, thankfully.

23. I wish I had the mind to be a master singer/songwriter, someone on the order of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen (my two favorite such artists). But I think all of the greatest songs have been written; I can count the number of original songs from the last three years that I genuinely enjoy on one hand.

24. I don't really know why I maintain this blog. I think that's why I don't post more regularly. I would like to say that I blog because I feel like I have interesting things to say, but that is certainly not my call to make. If you reach the end of this post and don't feel as though the time you took to read it was completely wasted, then I suppose I haven't done this in vain.

25. This was one of the more challenging posts I've undertaken. I have found it quite difficult to provide 25 facts about myself without repeating things (and I probably have here a little bit...god knows it's been a verbose list). Oh well. I gave it a whirl.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

And Now, A Brief Public Service Announcement

The sinister nature of fast food advertising never ceases to amaze me.

Most will agree that the McDonald's Dollar Menu (and its ilk) is one of Man's greatest innovations. Most would not consider it a stretch at all to declare the Double Cheeseburger one of the yummiest possible uses of a dollar.

Most Dollar Menu veterans will note the recent introduction of a new Dollar Menu item: the McDouble. Just a renaming of the Double Cheeseburger. Or is it?

I learned the dastardly truth last night, when I was hit head-on by a snack attack. I had quite the DC hankering. When I glanced at the Dollar Menu at the nearest site of the Golden Arches, I noticed that a Double Cheeseburger was now an infuriating $1.19! Confused and a little troubled, I inquired as to the difference between the McDouble and the Double Cheeseburger. My braces-toothed order-taker informed me in a splendidly lazy drawl that "the Double Cheeseburger has two pieces of cheese and the McDouble has one piece."

This move by McD's is really pretty stingy, in my opinion. As one of the few stocks that has felt relatively little to no heat from the recent economic downturn, the decision to quibble by 19 cents over a single piece of ultra-processed cheese-type matter is quite silly. But that's the way it goes, I guess.

Anyway, I just thought I would warn those of you who have not yet been duped by The Man (none other than that bastard Ronald McDonald, in this case) that he is fixing to fleece you out of 19 cents per DC if you're not careful.

You'd better run, Ronnie. We're on to your little game.

Corporate pigs.