Monday, January 19, 2009

Meatspace Omnibus

In case anyone's looking for a convenient place to find all of the Meatspace Adventures I'm going to link to all of them here. So just bookmark this page and check back for updates as they roll in.

I wanted to make a little niche over at Brute Finesse but my working HTML files are shot to shit and I can't edit without it causing catastrophic problems for the site. Once I get that hammered out I'll just link to that so you can book mark my OTHER awesome site.

Here goes: Last Updated (01.19.2008)

From Mundanity to MetaFiction
Part I
Part II

Metastatic Carnage
Part I
Part II

Metamorphic Cacophany
Part I
Part II
Part III


Chronicles of Craigslist

And the newest Meatspace Adventure: Dulce Periculum, Baby

Link to original image.

Chronicles of Craigslist: A Meatspace Adventure, Part I

For those sad few who have never charted the rocky waters of online commerce I suggest that each and every one of you resist the urge to scour the likes of Ebay and take a gander at the darker, dingier analog that is Craigslist.

For those in the know it’s an awesome way to get rid of stuff and acquire everything from Arcane Miscellenea to Unobtainium. All transactions are encouraged to be cash, local and (barring the initial contact) exclusively meatspace transactions.

It’s a great way to meet Shady Characters and to spice up the otherwise mundane task of buying or selling goods and services. Huzzah!

Now I have plenty of fodder for Meatspace Adventures that delve into the seedy secret society that is embodied by the 'list. So for now I will designate this an open ended series to be expanded on and fleshed out as temporal constrictions allow.

My early dealings would not have been possible if not for the computer I acquired during my junior year in college. It was a Dell Dimension 8250.

At the time it had all the latest psychotic gains in silicon technology: 2.66 ghz P4, 512mb of 533 mhz Rambus, 128 mb AGP video card…it beat the unholy shit out of my old laptop. Now computers age like eggs so after a few years and a few upgrades the thing was getting pretty ripe.

Here’s the problem. At the time one of the selling points was the comparatively fast Rambus. Regular old DDR only clocked out at 400 mhz and DDR2 was not yet available. So when I got the box it was cutting edge though the tale of Rambus is one of woe and tragedy. Suffice to say it was crushed by cheap and abundant DDR2 shortly after it’s inception.

I had 4 slots, each with room for 256 megs but only 2 slots were populated. Circa 2006 when I wanted to bump up to a gig it would have cost about 250 bucks JUST for the ram. I was appalled though I didn’t know enough about PC’s yet to risk getting a new mobo and reincarnating my aging PC.

My friend, we’ll call him Kenny, was a network tech for a local company and I confessed my plight to him. He nodded, dragged off his cigarette (one of mine, recently bummed) and smiled.

“I think I have some Rambus in my van.”

Thus 512mb became 768mb and all was happy in the world. Later, once I started my life as a disgruntled IT guy, thoughts turned back to upgrading further. My new boss, we’ll call him Twinkle Toes listened intently as he frowned at my cigarette.

“I think I have some Rambus in my truck.”

Score! 768 mb became 1024 and all was rosy. With a better video card I could now stomach the idea of keeping the 8250 for a while longer.

That all changed the first time I got to play with dual core computer. It was high time to ditch that old beater and get me some quality hardware. As luck would have it the local CompUSA was closing up shop and they had some awesome deals. I scored a mobo and a case with a 500watt PSU for only 80 bucks. Now all I needed was a video card, processor and some new RAM.

A further perk of working in IT is that coworkers always have leftovers. I was able to secure 2 gigs of Dizzle Dizzle Rizzle 2 riz-am on the dizzle lizzle *that's down low.* I had to purchase my dual core Athlon and a decent video card from my favorite online retailer. I also got a hold of another case with a motherboard sans guts.

After the build and a few more parts acquisitions I found myself with a surplus. Having built computers day in and day out for my first 2 weeks with my company I had the confidence to tackle a little Frankenstein work.

The bottleneck was the Rambus of course. I was able to rescue the CPU and video card but had no idea what to do with 4 sticks of low capacity obsolete Ram. And I couldn’t bear to just throw it away. A further stroke of luck was that my soon to be father in law ALSO had a Dimension 8250 so I traded 2 sticks of Rambus for some filial kudos.

Cheeky.

Now on a lark I was checking out Craigslist and noticed that someone had posted a desperate plea for, you guessed it, Rambus. I don’t understand why but the guy I sold it too was willing to drop 100 bucks to pimp out an older P3 system. It was lunacy, for about 300 he could have rocked out a brand new box and wouldn’t have had to continue suffering with Windows 98.

Remember this happened in 2007, he was using a P3 and a decade old OS. But whatever, money is money.

I met the first fellow at 5am in the parking lot of the Red Lobster near Concord Mills Mall. It was freezing and so early I could barely keep my eyes open. Yet once he pulled in with a mid 80’s burb beater I knew that we were go for launch. At this point I did not know what to expect but suddenly I felt like some kind of drug deal was about to go down.

The guy gets out and I nearly shit my pants. He’s almost 70 years old and wearing a really funky looking hat. Check that he’s wearing lumberjack grade hearing protection and orange safety glasses. That’s shooting gear for you gun control types.

“Got my ram?” the guy asks brusquely. He pronounces it 'ray-am' in a thick southern drawl. I nod, wondering if this is prelude to an untimely death. Like I would be up so friggin’ early and forget the Ram. I flopped my hands into my pockets and had another mini heart attack. No ram!

“Must have left it in the car,” I say. I do one of those nervous giggles that’s 3 octaves above helium-addict. The guy just scowls at me.

In order to get the ram I have to turn my back and bend over. I am already keyed up but this ramps the queasy feeling in my gut. Luckily I quickly nab the ram in it’s electrostatic bag and hold it up triumphantly. Two sticks. I hand them over, fully ready to trade them for leaving without gunshot wounds. The guy doesn’t pull a piece or point a sawed off at my head he just takes the ram and scrutinizes.

One, two. Yep, two sticks. He grunts and hands me a was of cash. It’s all 5’s and 10’s but what the hell ever. I do a cursory count and BAIL like OJ on the place. I ride the adrenaline all the way home and duck back into bed for a few hours before work.

Now I got into bed freezing and jittery, wanting to wake up the wife and tell her about it. I leave her alone and when I wake back up my feelings have changed. I just scored 100 bucks for obsolete hardware and all it cost me was 40 cents worth of gas and a few minutes of paranoid terror.

I could get used to that.

My confidence soars as I do a few more deals. I trade a few more parts, a PSU here, a hard drive there. One of my Frankenstein computers goes to my best friend. Another earns me a buck fifty *meaning 150 dollars* and some little girl gets her very own recycled Turing machine. Ain’t life grand.

Now my brisk dealings, while mostly uneventful, quickly deplete my stocks. I still have loads of hardware but whenever I have cases I need PSU’s and whenever I have extra CPU’s I need Mobos and so I generate a list of stuff I need to complete cheap ass PC’s.

Almost any working computer that can run XP would sell for between 100-200 bucks depending on the deficiencies in the hardware. At that cost, since most of my parts came from salvage I could invest a little here and there to fill in inventory gaps and still make a tidy profit.

I was just reevaluating my stock one day when I came across a post for “3x socket 478 mobos, various floppy and CD drives, and some random other parts.” That might sound like geek to you but there was an odd synchrony with my needed parts list. All that stuff would allow me to complete 4 boxes for my next batch. I negotiated with ‘Jerry’ to spend 50 bucks on the lot.

Little did I know that this transaction would lead to one of the single weirdest, most unsettling nights of my adult life thus far. Yes the guy selling it was a complete redneck and it was a little strange that he had so much stuff but lived in some lady’s basement but I gave that little thought.

However the second I stepped foot into the smoky, dim basement that I knew I might not make it out alive.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Metamorphic Cacophany: A Meatspace Adventure, Part III

Link to Part I for the newbs and Part II for the merely newb-ish. Part 3 of 3 follows in all it's whimsical majesty.


***
I did not elaborate on my romantic encounters with Helen earlier for they were too sparse and infrequent to remember accurately. Suffice to say she broke up with her lame boyfriend in Georgia and for a time we could have been going out but it never really happened. She just wanted to be my friend.

I found that out one evening as we lay in my bed (clothes on) and I was rubbing her shoulders. Like the sap I am I asked a meaningful question: “So what are we?”
“Just friends,” she said. My heart stopped for a full second but I did not indicate my disappointment.

That said I still took her to prom and we kissed occasionally though it never escalated to making out. We missed each other for most of the summer. I sent her a postcard the third day we were in Africa. It arrived the day I came back. I was actually at her parents’ house when it finally did arrive.

Long had I dreamed of a day when things could finally culminate between us and whatever bug had crawled up her ass about me would finally die. Though it had taken 30 hours of travel to reach home I set out to see her as soon as I could. We kissed and cuddled, I held her on the swing in their backyard near the Magnolia tree. I told her that I loved her and she said “I love you too, Seth”

But when I leaned over to kiss her again she stopped me. This was the moment I would later define as the pinnacle from which my heart would tumble onto the dirty rocks below. Things did not sour out promptly. I saw her the next day though the sweetness and urgency were suspiciously one sided.

Our connection, once a massive serial bus, was now interdicted by a diode. If that doesn’t make sense to you I mean the current only flows in one direction. I was puzzled but not defeated in my resolve. That came soon enough.

While I saw our moment on the swing a prelude to deeper affections Helen saw it simply as a happy day with her friend. This killed me. Worse, every day I did not tell her that my faith was hanging on by threads felt like a day of lies. Eventually I did tell her, the conversation went poorly. We crashed and burned on the phone.

Me: Helen, I need to tell you something and I know it’s going to upset you.
Her: Ok. You know you can tell me anything.
Me: I have been doing a lot of thinking lately and certain things have become very clear. Try not to freak out but I need you to know that I don’t think I believe in god anymore.
Her:
Me: But listen, I still love you and I really care about our friendship. I don’t want this to be the end . . .
Her: This is terrible! First I find out that we are moving and now one of my best friends doesn’t even believe in god? How could you do this to me?
Me: I’ll call you later, we can talk more then.

Oh but as I lowered the phone I already felt like smacking Helen with her bible. What a selfish reaction! I was baring a piece of my tender young soul and without even asking how it happened or why I was suddenly faithless she just centered it right back on herself. I hated her for a time, really and truly wished her ill for treating me so unkindly.

Now the smart thing to do would be to just cut my losses, focus on my upcoming college days and commit myself to reason rather than superstition. That might have made the summer’s final days a bit easier to manage.
Instead I relapsed.

At least I did it in style. I kept going to church, did about 12 hours worth of one on one bible time with her father, the pastor. I read apologetics, studied the bible and kept trying to smash the sensible parts of my brain back into the tiny box from whence they sprung. Legion and Subcon made this hellish, pitting my reasonable parts against my longing for peace and love (of Helen.)

I got to hear the tired arguments about ‘nothing’ exploding into everything and how given enough time random explosions could never create a watch, much less life. Therefore gawd had to dun’ it!

Gorging myself on Christian propaganda made me sick with cognitive dissonance. Being absented from a close friend, really wanting nothing more than a mutual understanding, made things all the more miserable. One of the last true conversations I had with Helen touched on this. Then she was gone and any hope or prayer I once had of being with her sublimed into the atmosphere like so much frozen CO2.

Me: It’s hard for me to understand how we can’t even be friends anymore. I get that you don’t love me like I love you, I hate it but I can’t fault you for it. But as soon as I told you I don’t believe in god it was like everything we ever shared just became worthless.
Her: Life is worthless without god, Seth. Don’t you see that I can’t be a part of your life if you can’t accept jesus. Promise me you won’t give up and I know that someday you’ll find HIM.
Me: Even if I do, I just don’t think we will ever be the same. I’ve seen the way you look at me and it breaks my heart.
Her: You shouldn’t be looking for god as a way to find me. You should be able to find god, and should want that first and me second.
Me: But I don’t want that. All I want is to have my beautiful friend back. And it kills me because you can’t see past my lack of faith. You blame me for what I can’t really control and I resent that. But I still love you, Helen.
Her: I know you do. I know. But listen, without god even love is pointless. Once you get rid of your pride and just surrender to god then we can be friends again. I think you’ll figure that out someday.
Me: I just did.

That’s where I left it. ‘I just did’ is exactly what I said. I remember because it was such a bold faced fucking lie. Instead what I figured out is that no matter what I did or tried to foist upon myself I would never ever have a fucking chance with Helen. So I quit her. Yes I missed her for over a year and still wonder if things had gone differently what might have become of us. I like to think that in some alternate reality we did get together and I hopefully managed to worry some reason through the chinks in her ‘spiritual’ armor.

Now I need to draw a strong perpendicular line through the loss of love versus the loss of faith. Losing a single person, though Helen is not the only casualty suffered, hurt me so much deeper than losing my brittle faith. Let me tell you why. A person is a real and tangible thing, more nuanced and special than the entire infrastructure of any faith, any scripture and any set of superstitious ritual.

An actual person is so much more valuable than a hierarchy of fables and pretension we are all subjected to suffer. While I would gladly see the world rid of religion I would not sacrifice a single person for that end. Actually I probably would because that would save many more lives lost to oppression and wickedness of the multitude of ‘one true faiths.’

What sank in the deepest about the whole experience was a sense of freedom and relief. I have often had to answer the question, ‘Well if there’s like no god, why do you even get out of bed in the morning?’

Pitiful, right? I get out of bed because I only have a finite number of days to do so and I would much rather spend them enjoying life in the here and now than fretting over the nightmarish conjurations of some goat herds millennia past. There’s no freedom like freedom from religion. And whatever may transpire I am thankful for every day that I can stand erect and upright without the burden of ritual or arbitrary restriction placed on my back.

Ridding myself of christianity was nothing more than clearing the weeds out of my mental garden, allowing the desirable plants to blossom and flourish. I would not truly be myself without snapping off that leash. Now freed my imagination if free to roam to every corner of the world and to the deepest reaches of space without a care for the imaginary crosshairs lined up against my skull.

Kathy Griffin got in a lot of trouble for saying ‘suck it, jesus.’ I don’t see why so many people got cranky about a fictional character. I can joke but in seriousness I never underestimate the gravity of faith and how people ensnared by it cling to their beliefs like a battered woman hiding behind the abusive piece of shit ruining her life.

My experiment with faith does not end with Helen. Instead it ends with a quiet moment in the male locker room of Carmichael Gymnasium at NC State University some months later. I had been swimming after something of a hiatus.

Around February of 2000 I stopped swimming fanatically. I still swam 2 times a week, tried out jogging and helped my friend Mike get ready for his year at the Naval Academy. But without that constant struggle, the ever present burden on my physical resources I could pay a lot more attention to the world around me.
Naturally my physical condition declined and over the next three years decayed back into general chubbiness.

Without some drive or motivation I had no reason to kill myself day in and day out in the pool, so I didn’t. Freshman year I started to get pudgy again so I launched a blitzkrieg against entroy. Over several months I managed to score some multi-mile workouts. I was also the only student that year to take Swim Conditioning for a grade and get an A.

So one remarkably unremarkable day, I was walking to the pool wearing nothing but trunks, flip flops and goggles I just paused. My water bottle sloshed and then stilled. That was it.

All the torment, fear and doubt was gone. It didn’t just vanish I just hadn’t noticed that it was leaving me until it was all but gone. That was the first day I called myself an atheist. My convictions have not wavered in the interim.

I like to think that college was the mental analog to my swimming phase and that all the stuff I should have been cramming during senior year got dragged along with my novel intake. I found Legion a welcome ally for gathering, filtering and processing information. I devoured history, science and literature until it was time to leave.

Though my grades slipped into mediocrity I siphoned the wisdom of hundreds of books, even wrote my first novel “Fair Coin” though it will likely accompany me to the grave unseen. Yes it’s that awful. But it was a good learning experience!

Now the only time Legion and I get to hang out is during my writing times, quiet moments where it’s just me and the keyboard. No longer a hungry lion I like to think of Legion as a trusty old dog that I can count on when all else fails in this world.

Among the treasures gleaned from life and library I hold this ideal close to my heart: not believing in the impossible does not make you close minded. Often I have been accused of being dogmatic or overly rigid for not abandoning reason to accommodate a competing world view. Listen, fuck that. Talk to me all you want about homeopathy, psychic powers and UFO visitation. It’s all nonsensical bullshit and I don’t have to tolerate or respect anyone dumb enough to side with bullshit and bullshitters.

My mind is hard but not impenetrable. It’s like the blood brain barrier, only admitting that which is vital and nothing else voluntarily. I don’t shut ideas out when they deserve due consideration. Nor do I invite parasites to leech off my brain. Why would I? Better yet, dear reader, why would you tolerate the notion of miracles or supernatural intervention?

My flirtation with swimming was escalated by hormonally charged fury. My mental fitness program is very different. It’s not hate, nor revenge nor anything so mammalian leaning on the gas. Rather it’s the never ending search for good and useful information. I used to dread learning because of what it might mean for me.

Now I relish the chance to crack open my preconceptions and see what comes spilling out. Sometimes the truth is ugly and absurd. Other times it is insanely elegant.
Whatever faults the world may have and whatever evils people do to each other I would not trade my clarity for any amount of faith. Though imperfect it is always reassuring to know that I can see the world just a little more clearly than most of my peers. Given the choice I would choose to be an atheist any day over any quantum of comfort.

Trying to force religion into your world view is like cramming a horse shoe into a beehive. The bees don’t like it, they get angry and loud. Do so and you will find yourself under the wrath of tiny little killers full of sound and fury. And venom. Bees are not to be trifled with, for they are many.

Metamorphic Cacophany: A Meatspace Adventure, Part II


Link to Part I if you missed it. This is part 2 of 3.
***

Religion is an odd facet of human existence. On the one had it’s fairly obvious that due to the plurality of faiths, beliefs, sects and deities as well as the flagrant failure of ancient scripture to stand up to scientific inquiry that one can dismiss it without a second thought.
But then, as a fellow human, one has to wonder because so many people fervently believe in this stuff. Is it worth a second look after all? Is there some mystery here that I have missed because I wasn’t paying attention?
This is how I rationalized my affair with faith and the oft repeated failures with Helen mirrored the oft repeated failures of her faith throughout history. No matter how bloody, futile and vain I tried to forgive her and to discover the truth. Part of this no doubt relates to hormones, another part to my brain being sapped by inhuman amounts of exercise and still a third to the age old curiosity of homo sapiens sapiens, my clade of birth.
As I began my search for the divine I was already fairly well cut out to do so. My body was at its peak physical condition, my mind was young and elastic and I was at the point in my life where I really questioned if my beliefs were subject to my own decisions or mere byproducts doled out by lineage and circumstance. But first, a primer on my pseudo religious upbringing:
Trace a line one score years ago and you’ll find the curious and bright eyed six year old version of me sitting in Sunday school pondering a conundrum which my own mental faculties had not the mettle to resolve. Lately I had been learning about dinosaurs. When they lived was interesting, how they died out was fascinating.
I knew from lessons previous that Adam and Eve were getting it on in Eden about 10k years previous. I also knew that dinosaurs had been extinct for about 65 million years. The question I could not wrap my tiny feeble neurons around was this: Given these two data points when the HELL did the cavemen come into the picture?
After all they couldn’t very well have come before Adam and Eve since they were definitely people. But then how could they have come about after, given the biblical family trees. It was a toughie and I decided to ask my Sunday school teacher. I’ve always hated to admit defeat, but I have always hated not to know stuff more.
Mrs. Grinder’s reaction was classic. Her cranky face turned to stone, hard and silent. Not only had a 6 year old just asked a real question but it was borderline heresy to boot!

“There's no such thing as cavemen,” said the gargoyle. It was one of those moments when the brain contemplates exploding for a split second and decides to just eject instead.

“Oh,” I said. Ah but then my hamster wheels flew into high gear and now I had a real fucking mystery to contend with. If the cavemen were not real then why did I know about them, how did someone think them up and what purpose could these fictional troglodytes possibly serve?
As I got older I learned one of the sad truths of our world: adults can be dumb as shit and this does not prevent them from becoming teachers, principals or guidance counselors.
Mrs. Grinder made this abundantly clear by alluding once to the space shuttle traveling 6 times the speed of light.
“Speed of sound?” I suggested.
“Oh, it’s one of those. They are pretty close.”
“Umm,” I couldn’t believe it. Everyone with neural rod logic knows that sound crawls and light hauls. She also said that objects could never leave the solar system because we weren’t meant to go anywhere else. Hello, voyager probe!? As a lifelong fan of science fiction this really stuck in my craw.
Another more benign example came a bit later in fifth grade. The teacher was asking people about their weekends and if anyone had seen or done anything cool. My hand shot up like a Saturn 5.
“I got to see this windows demonstration at the mall and they had a huge block of dry ice. On regular glass you could feel how cold it was but the insulated windows felt normal.”
“Umm,” Mrs. Meeter said. “What is dry ice?”
“Oh,” I was taken aback. No matter. I shook it off and said, “It’s frozen CO2”
Long pause.
“What’s CO2?”
“Carbon Dioxide,” I said. Duh! Keep in mind a few years before this incident I memorized most of the periodic table just for the hell of it. I was hoping to beat dad at twenty questions by fleshing out my knowledge of obscure material. To my chagrin Xenon is the only animal, vegetable or mineral on planet earth that begins with X. Clever old man, I got him a few times eventually.
(Yes I know that Xenon is a gas and there ARE X-examples but you try foisting something onto an MD with a shitload of random knowledge at ten years and see how you fare.)

Anyway so you can guess I had an intellectual sanctuary at home which made the world that much stranger. My parents are not religious but they didn’t let on until we were much older. Through much deduction my older brother and I determined that they wanted us to learn just how freaking weird christians can be. I might not have believed it had I not seen firsthand.
So we always hated church but we went until I was older. Ironically as I reached the high school level of Sunday school it suddenly became not only tolerable but enjoyable. The teachers were a pair of younger ladies, maybe late 20’s and we mainly talked about life lessons and the social gauntlet that is public high school. It was a lot of fun and largely because god and religion were not invited to the pep rally.

Then the presiding pastor died and church became ugly and cruel again. Luckily inertia drew this out and for a while things did not change significantly. Once they did entropy took its toll swiftly.

The middle and high school classes were combined and our former teachers replaced by the new female pastor. I have nothing against females but clergy of any gender that take a good thing, a tangible asset, and smash it over their knee for an extra avenue of indoctrination can suck lightning through my glowing white urethra.
Suddenly instead of talking about dating, or love, or freewill or anything remotely cerebral we were back to the old and the answer is almost always Formulaic and uninspired rants replaced anything of benefit.

Oh and they cranked up the guilt for not being evangelical an order of mag.
To make things worse some of the middle school kids were these newbs who came from a staunchly evangelical family that loved the phrase ‘hot for jesus’ more than life itself. So many times during the few classes that my younger brother and I suffered through we had to turn towards each other with That Look in our eyes and knuckles in our mouths.
That Look is the nonverbal equivalent of this:
  • Me: I can’t fucking believe I just heard that!
  • Him: Duuuuuuuude, I KNOW!!!
So I ended my childhood experience with a long drawn out sigh of relief and the enjoyment of sleeping in on Sundays. This was vital to my mental health since I was spending so much time in the pool.
Before Helen and I became interested in each other I got involved with Young Life. Ah, I know some of you know who these people are. They are evil, pure and simple. However they don’t sport holocaust cloaks and live in fiery castles surrounded by vampiric snipers and hairless cats so they don’t appear evil. Make no mistake they employ tactics that Charlie Manson would recognize in an instant.
The older brother summed this up best so I’ll quote him rather than pass it off as my own epiphany. “When I was in college I was afraid that I might get sucked into some cult. So I started looking for ways to defend myself against indoctrination I realized that the very same methods work on organized religion as well. Because they’re cults.”
So being young and na├»ve I decided to check out a few meetings. My basis for this was that my morality already synced up with the Christian ideals. What I mean is that I did not drink, smoke, do drugs, pound girls, steal cars or rape/murder anything besides my own muscle fibers. I had just stepped out of my bomb building phase but that’s another tale for another day.
Now despite that I kept a reputation as being something of a pervert because I was still socially awkward and testosterone addled as anyone my age. Couple that with Poor Impulse Control and you get labeled a sexual deviant. Ironically I was a virgin until age 19.
Somehow the rumor that I was a straightedge got to circulating. my younger brother may or may not have played a role in this. Ok he did, that fucker. So I was interested in dispelling that rumor and somehow one of the Young Life leaders convinced me to check out a meeting.
Description of YL meeting: mostly harmless. Bunch of kids get together, sing songs and act like jack asses but in a clean and supervised environment. I’ll admit I had some fun and the people were nice enough but the whole religious aspect never really found purchase. All that changed once Helen debuted as a potential girlfriend and then somehow it became important to me.
But look, I was raised with only token exposure to religion and one of the few arguments that really got to me (regarding going to church/young life) was that I was old enough to check it out for myself and that I should do so. The more about it the more I found myself liking the idea. After all religious kids get to rebel and question their parents so why shouldn’t the atheists have the same angst? Well, in reverse anyways.
There was a time when I found myself singing the praise songs, often tearing up during the emotional bits. I still get a chill or two from “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” What flips out my irony meter is that it was not my relentless swimming, nor the physical and social boons that resulted that lead me to being a cocky asshole. It was jesus, or rather thinking about myself as a disciple and acolyte of him.
For an example of this consider Jake, a boy that went to my school. Jake and I did not get along well in middle school because he was the new kid and the rednecks that used to pick on me all the time started picking on him. I could have been the bigger person and tried to defend a fellow outcast but instead I got in on his misery. I felt like a dick but it was nice not to be the only punching bag around for once.
In high school we would argue about intellectual stuff and I thought of myself confidently invalidating his arguments and attributing them to anger and general snottiness. It’s hard to remember exactly what we argued against but at the time I truly believed myself to be on the side of good and Jake on the side of evil.
Of course looking back I see the error of judgment. A few years out of college I got a chance to hang out with Jake and some of little brother's friends. There were no hard feelings between us and it was nice that we could revisit those days with some perspective. It helped that I realized what a colossal asshole I had been and hopefully my apology was well received.
There I go getting ahead of myself again. Let’s go back to Young Life for a moment.
Think of YL as the precursor to my involvement with Helen. After all YL was just a social club meant to put Christian feet through open doors and secure involvement with the organization and jesus in general. It's like giving kids methadone and hoping they turn to heroin. Helen actually went to church and held theological discussions that I felt unprepared to participate in. She had the spoon and lighter thing nailed, veins collapsed and life already committed to seeking that lift forever. Metaphorically of course.

So for a large chunk of my senior year I went to church with Helen and held an esteemed place with her family during services. It was nice because people wanted to meet me since I was a stray that had been brought into the fold by the pastor’s daughter. Plenty of nice people attended and I found myself lavished with kind words and affection.
Yes it was handed to me on a silver platter and yes I lapped it up like a good little doggy until my ears rang with hymns and my eyes glowed with the ethereal shimmer of heaven. That is, until Legion and Subcon joined forces to get me under control.
Make no mistake that I really wanted to believe and this was motivated not solely by wanting to be with Helen. My biggest struggle in life has always been to line up my morality in such a way that I feel like a good person and not some slipshod bit of hackery polluting the world with my thoughts and actions. I wanted to believe because I thought that faith was a way to ensure my quality as a human. And for a time I felt good about it.
Any illusion takes energy to maintain and before long I found doubt and wonder creeping out of my mind. At one Sunday school meeting, at Helen’s church, there was an interesting question posed to those present.
Teacher: If you had only one wish that you could use to improve yourself what would it be?
Most of the people gave stock answers like “I wish I would always do what god wants me to do” or “I wish I could be a good example for others” so when I replied the place went rapt. I just wanted clarity.
Teacher: What do you mean exactly by ‘clarity?’ Do you mean you could see the future or read minds?
Me: Not exactly. I wish I could see the world with perfect and inerrant clarity. We can know so little about long term effects of our actions and I don’t want some bias or misinformation clouding my judgment. I would wish for the ability to perfectly see the ramifications of all my actions not only as they affect me, but the people around me and around them and so on until they played out everywhere.
Teacher: That’s very interesting. Why exactly do you want this?
Me: Because then I could do the world good without it even knowing that I had done so. Like I could drop a quarter somewhere and know that when a person’s car broke down three days later they could find it and call for help (still no cell phone) Or I could be nice to someone that would chain react out to the greatest number of people. And, strange as it may sound, if I had to do something mean to one person that would make a lot more people happy or better off then I could do it without guilt.

Oooh, silence. I realized half the kids there were giving me That Look. It was a real humdinger and anticipating a monopolized discussion the leader quickly diverted. Helen’s brother had another good idea. He wanted to be able to feed the entire world Lucky Charms. That’s fucking money any way you slice it.
Anyway looking back it was almost laughable. Here was a herd of docile, pleasant enough people with an infant wolf walking amidst them. It was a fine time, full of introspection and semi-toxic chlorine exposure I feel like I learned quite a bit but I suspect I just wasn’t fearful enough for the other religious stuff to take.
See religion has to offer you hope and fear, creating a nice voltage differential to persuade and motivate you. The morals and hope I could dig on, like I said most of my convictions were compatible. Better still where we did not sync up I could be forgiven for just being too nice. See I have never, and will never have a problem with abortion, evolution, gay marriage or pretty much any of the moral outrages ‘suffered’ by the christian majority.
As far as premarital sex is concerned, and this often comes as a surprise, I held onto my moral high ground despite kicking my faith over the horizon. I waited for love, not marriage, because I wanted it to be real and special. That was not a question of morality instilled by any faith, it’s just a social norm and without growing up with the idea drilled into my head I feel like I could better make the choice rather than have sociology make it for me.
Make a note that the girl who took my virginity is now my wife. It's worth mentioning she's not the only one but we broke up for 4 years and I boned a few hoes before we got back together. Circle of life.

At any rate the small differences between me and the church were manageable in daily conversation, even in bible study. There came to be a pair of issues that proved irreconcilable.
The first is Hell. Hell is a really fucking stupid idea and I would be ashamed of any deity who actually backs such a worthless punitive structure. Yeah we’ll punish the wicked with no hope of reform for all eternity. No they can’t possibly be redeemed or changed in all the countless eons to come. That’s stupid. No we’ll have to punish them all forever and ever, with absolutely no hope of respite or succor.
I had a personal beef with this because there is a MULTITUDE of better ways to punish the wicked than to burn them forever. I mean, with eternity to play with why not just focus on fixing the finite number of dead people. No matter who you are or what you have done in life a few years on the spit are enough to open your brain up to new ways of thinking. Ask me if Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot should roast in hell forever. I say no, though an ass raping or two might be in order. It always galled me how casually people could treat the subject of Hell and who is headed there.
Considering that my family would be among the searing damned this proved no easy pill to swallow. Now if I possessed strength, or intellectual prowess or some sort of trait in excess greater than that attributed to a deity it would be pretty easy to argue that it isn’t much of a deity after all. I mean if a single person can out-anything a being that can purportedly create the universe that is suspect. When it’s something fundamental as Mercy, come on.
Now that’s the big philosophical issue that I had a problem with. The second came about after a trip to Lake Saranac towards the end of senior year. This was it, the big Young Life retreat where you get your fingers really dirty in the jesus mud. Everyone’s offered a money back guarantee if it’s not the ‘best week of your life.’
We had gone to Zimbabwe, the family and I, just a few weeks previous so the trip seemed a little tame. Travel always brings out the best in your sense of adventure but just highlights how insular and short sighted American culture can be. I got a big dose of that right after one of the finest adventures yet undertaken.
Now I won’t go into painstaking detail to outline every aspect of the trip itself. Suffice to say it was a week full of bible studies, speeches, talks, games and a lot of other corny teenage crap. I had fun at times, struggled to cope with some burgeoning thoughts and all and all wasn’t sure about anything except that it was definitely not the best week of my life. Helen was not there and only one person bears mentioning even though we barely spoke.
There’s a girl, we’ll call her Mary for ironicality. She’s not atypical for teenage girls. Mary has something of a reputation as a ditz and a party girl. She’s not exactly a slut but she had gone so far beyond my sexual experience that it was hard for me to speak with her without blushing. On the bus ride up to Saranac I remember finding myself hoping that she would find some direction and clarity of her own. Five days later and my outlook on the world had shifted during transport.
It’s night time at Lake Saranac and everyone leaves the bible study to ‘go be alone with god’ for a while. Just ten minutes or so is all it takes. I climb a tree outside the camp area and ponder the evening. It’s hard not to watch the other people around and once a few people notice that I am up in a tree they begin looking for their own trees to climb.
You unoriginal fucks.
I find myself hostile without reason. It’s not that I was so original, I’m sure dozens of kids climbed the very tree I staked out. It was watching just how passively the late comers accepted my being there as a good idea. Rather than come to the conclusion themselves they just saw a guy in a tree and hopped onto that bandwagon.
Something clicked and Legion began to chuckle softly. I climbed into the tree a believer with doubts and climbed down a nascent atheist, afraid to even utter the A word aloud for I still feared the condescension that would follow. There was much cheering when the bell rang and people began to stream back into camp. My feet were lead and my lungs were pushing mercury as we rejoined our individual bible studies.
We talked about our ‘one-on-one’s with the big man’ and I confessed my disbelief. It would be nice if my transformation had been resolute and swift, convulsively comprehensive. But no, I just choked and sobbed through a half-hearted explanation that I don’t and can’t believe some of the things that we talked about. Yes, I cried and wailed in front of 15 other high school boys, many of them younger than me. It was frightfully embarrassing but I would mar something so pure and new with hubris or deceit.
There’s a picture of me from the next day, a self portrait taken with my SLR and a time delay shot. It’s just me sitting on the rocks, wearing my gray State Final swimming shirt and looking out over the lake. Without a doubt it’s the first picture of me after my epiphany. Perhaps it’s not right to call it epiphany for it demanded insight as well as courage to dig myself out of the theological hole that I had made.

On the way back I remember sitting near Mary for a little while. Someone asked her if she had ‘felt’ anything, meaning the ghostly hand of jesus, and she just shook her head. I watched her intently, silently hoping that whatever shortcomings and demons she saw within herself these people would not claim her. As she answered I sighed with relief and noticed she was looking at me intently.
“Something funny over there?” she asked.
“I am just glad that we are going home,” I said. “I have a lot to talk about with my older brother.” I said this, half wishing I could kiss her and confide that I had seen the light and that the shackles of these kooks were forever broken. But I just smiled and let her sink into boredom and introspection.
Helen was waiting for me. I dreaded her reaction nearly the entire trip home.
***
Thus ends Part II, Part III is on its way shortly.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Why you can't always trust statistics.

It's no secret that I have a deep and abiding love for Science Fiction. Generally the rule goes like this:

Harder=Better

One of my favorite books of all time, one that I am rereading lately is Blindsight by Peter Watts. Now this book demands more than cursory knowledge in a great number of disciplines and it's a far cry from the dumbed down dragon-bloated shit you'll find one or two shelves over at your local book store.

Without pretty extensive reading and a long history of reading about physics, technology, biology, psychology and science in general it would be damn near impossible to get much out of this book. Ironically the strong appeal for me is a strong turn off for the overly bland literary palettes of my contemporaries and countrymena.

Therefore it gave me great pleasure to stumble across a feature built into MS Office 2007. If you check a certain box and then do a spelling/grammar check it gives you the reading level for the piece in question. What fun, I thought. Surely this work would register off the chart.

Right?

Check it out. I broke the book down into it's 4 sections and include a screenshot of the relevant stats and their respective reading levels. I'll do a summary at the end.

The prologue is the shortest section and you can't imagine my surprise at the result.

This book that pushed my mental boundaries and reignited my passion for the weird arcana that dwells within the mind of my dear P.W. starts out at only a 4.7 reading level. That means a 9 or ten year old should be able to cope with it easily, right?

Now the first section 'Theseus' is many times longer and begins to delve into the rampant psychoses of the world. Staggeringly it only rates at a 5.6 reading level. Hmmm.

Rorschach, aka section 3, deals with most of the heavy ass shit that makes the story so utterly kick ass. Most of the big questions (those with answers get them here) peel back like long picked blisters. To my utter dismay this section doesn't even rate 5th grade reading.
Finally, at only about 300 words more than the prologue we end with Charybdis. This finally ratchets the score up a notch but only to a meager 5.8.


What does this tell us? Oh let's see...ummm...oh yeah. The criteria are fucked all to hell if this is the result we are getting.

I need to find some better means of literary analysis (like say, using my own brain) or at least score something with more refined parameters to work with. When I get some better tools I will be sure to revisit this work and provide a better report. Something that looks at the type, scope and uniqueness of words and not just the size of words/paragraphs.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pint Sized Epic

If you're jonesing for some Meatspace Adventure then look no further. Well you could scroll down or you could check out the now one year old "Pint Sized Epic"

It's a harrowing tale of danger and intrigue through my childhood. You'll find a lot to love in that post. Plus I have pictures to prove that it happened.

Or you can check out THESE meatspace adventures:

From Mundanity to Metafiction

Metastatic Carnage

Metamorphic Cacophany (scroll down to the next post)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Metamorphic Cacophany: A Meatspace Adventure, Part I

This is a rare thing, an adventure from the past. It's more of history since it covers a broad swath of time and not some minor adventure over the course of a day or two. Eventually I intend to chronicle enough of my life to compose a coherent work, say novel length, and for true understanding my esteemed readership will require more than a litle backstory. This will be the first three part adventure so be sure to check back soon.

**************************************


When I get angry, really really angry I tend to have a transient tantrum and then fall sick with depression for a few days. Don't let the delayed response fool you. My brain is an arcade of psychosis and more than a few of my teenage nights I devoted to thoughts of terror and revenge. Part of me is a wailing beast, no more intelligent or merciful than the fucking Nicofiend. There's my human side of course and Subcon manning the engine room.

And then there's Legion.

Legion is a sword rarely unsheathed. I usually only find Him during times of prolonged duress from which I cannot escape or mitigate using my normal cognitive resources. As a child I was prone to violent fits of rage. My brother even coined a term for the pinnacles of unbridled fury that overtook me. Usually he provoked me into this state but as I aged I learned restraint and even temperance. Betrayal was enough to destroy both of these in one quick jerk, not unlike a hangman's noose.

My first encounter with Legion began, as only true misery would allow, with a girl.

We'll call her Alice and she was my first girlfriend, my first kiss and my first real hope at love. Things began well enough. Before our relationship could really develop I found myself tumbling o'er the precipice spraying blood through the knife wound in my back. Allow me to explain.

Alice was very tall girl. Brown hair and eyes with a shotgun blast of freckles and a kind face. She was cute but not a knock out, thin but never dressed to accentuate it and for over a year I paid her little to no attention because I was crushing on her best friend.

Without going off on too long a tangent I have to mention swimming because it plays a vital role in the before and after. Since I was five I have been capable of swimming, every summer at the Beverly Hills Swim Club I did my part for the team. I was always decent but never outstanding. That’s me in a nutshell, competent but never expert. I was always strong but never the strongest, determined but breakable and resilient but not invulnerable. I might score average above people in most areas but I can’t seem to master any one thing.

Freshman year I did not join the school swim team out of fear and the general shoddiness of that time of life for me. Sophomore year I worked up the nerve and did fairly well, but again, no world records were broken.

The season ended in February around the same time that I got my driver's license. One of my first real solo journeys out into the world was to the local Sports Center where I would often go and swim about a mile a day. That might sound like a lot, and I was very proud of myself at first, but come August my longest workout was only about 1.3 miles to date.

In the meantime I had trimmed down about 20 pounds from 200 to 180. I was still pretty chunky but I achieved tone and some gains in muscle mass. My confidence soared and even the modest gains brought me to a point where I could actually talk to girls without stammering like an idiot or running away afterward.

When it comes to hooking up, as I have learned in subsequent years, all you really need is some privacy (sometimes) and a Crucial Moment. With Alice there were several close calls and times when, if the advantage had been pressed, might have yielded an earlier success. However being two years younger and a full foot shorter than Alice I found it hard to believe that we would ever end up together.

Things accelerated one night during movie night at a friend's house. It was her best friend’s house, the one I used to crush on, though I cannot remember which movie we watched to save my life. We had just returned from our family trip to Spain and I sat with Alice on the floor. She was sunburned and had wet hair so she was freezing. I jokingly offered for her to snuggle with me and to my utter surprise she snuggled indeed. We held hands and my arm was around hers until I lost every nerve ending to numbness. Had there not been so many others we might have kissed then and there.

Alas, twas not to be. Later, one week before she left for college to be exact, I called her up to see if she wanted to catch a movie with me. This I do remember for it was "Disturbing Behavior." The movie sucked dog balls but as the credits rolled I looked over and found myself riding the cusp between a Crucial Moment and an Uneventful Evening.

So we kissed, warm and syrupy, until the lights came on and an usher shooed us out. This was back when Clear Springs Cinema was still open on Hwy 29. Out in the parking lot we kissed some more and all was well with the world.

We only had two more dates after that. The first was an afternoon by the lake just walking and making out, talking about how much it sucked that she was going to be leaving soon. School had already started for me and many of my first few classes were lost to daydreams of my dappled darling.

Our third and final date began with Italian food and a trip to the local park. We lay in the grass, her head cradled in my arms. During our hour long make out session it took some time and nerve to steel myself but I took the plunge and brought a hand up to feel my first consensual breast touching since Mom cut me off 16 years previous.

Ah nipples, they truly are wonderful. Anyway the evening ended with us at my old house down on Overbrook where we could be alone without getting chased off by park rangers. Second base, nothing too sexual, and then she was gone off to college over 2 hours away.

Still we talked and emailed and all went well until her first weekend back. I knew something was amiss from a previous email. It was pretty innocuous but still the phrase 'we need to talk' should be treated as an act of open war. Poor me, didn't take the hint, didn't see the train until my brains were pancaked all over the shiny rails.

We were supposed to meet up in the afternoon. I called her house when she said she would be home (if this sounds strange it's because neither of us had cell phones at the time. This was 1998 after all.) When we did speak I could hear the apprehension in her voice. She trembled and quaked like aspen leaves bearing the brunt of gale force winds.

"I really like you and I think that you really like the idea of having a girlfriend," she said. "But I don't feel like you and I are meant to be boyfriend and girlfriend."

"Ok," I said. The horror of the moment had frozen me up. See on our last date I even told her that if she didn't want to stay together that would be fine. She would be off at college and I didn't want things to suffer because of it. But no, she had said. I really wanna get to know you, she said.

Fucking cunt.

A long silence hung between us. There were about a million things that I wanted to say, or scream or beg her to do. I did none of them. I just held fast to the desk and tried not to faint.

"Do you understand what I am saying?" she asked patronizingly. Ooh, snip. Legion just bit through his own umbilical cord and started to claw his way back inside. I just stood there, not wanting to speak because I knew I would just croak out some nonsense or cry. She told me goodbye and I echoed it weakly.

Trembling, I worried the keys into dad’s Ford Taurus and left the house for the open road. We had just moved from the other side of town so it was all pretty strange and unusual. I reached for the radio, praying for some solace in music. Instead I got Cowboy Mouth.

I have seen this for a long time coming I have seen this for a little while In the way she would never kiss me In the way that she would never ever smile Never ever smile She must have been joking To think our friendship would remain unbroken

The tears come at this point. Joining them the chorus joyfully spanks nails into my leaded coffin.

Whatcha gonna do About your lover? Whatcha gonna do About your friend? Whats it gonna take To find another Another one to break Your heart again?

Now since it's the first time I heard the song it sounds like 'without your lover' and I open palm tiger-strike the radio into sweet blissful silence. Nothing but the wind cuts into my concentration and the flames of misery begin to spread, licking their way into my holiest cortical wrinkles.

To my surprise airplanes and meteors do not fall from the heavens, commerce of all stripes does not cease and the entirety of Western Civilization does not crumble into ruin on the spot. By contrast the world seems full of people doing much better than me. Life goes on. That just makes it twice as bad.

I sob, wail and all that other angsty teenage bullshit that I am glad to have left behind. School becomes intolerable and now my daydreams turn not from romantic moments and when we'll reach that third base phase but to dark and twisted landscapes strewn with scorched entrails and chaos.

American History finds me in vastness of space, shredding open cosmonaut spacesuits with oxygen charged RPG's. English is a rolling battle across the plains of some vast territory, grassy but full of huge chunks of ice. Swords clash and arrows fall until my prey retreat onto an icy lake. My army hurls boulders into their midst until they drown and flounder to cruel and chilling deaths. Math involves tossing grenades at tanker trucks full of gas and acetylene.

Weeks pass in anguish. I know what happened. I know it down to the last fucking detail. Alice met some guy, some guy her age, her height, living in her town and without the embarrassing status of being a junior in high school. Strangely my wrath does not turn to this man. I have no name or face to center my crosshairs on.


The pool absorbs the brunt of my wrath, as if it could give half a shit what I do to it. My violent thoughts find purchase on nothing else, no vent or valve to release the howling legions screaming for the blood of virgins and frothing my blood with adrenaline. No harm comes to anyone except for me and I smolder in anguish. Pain becomes sharper along with the rest of the world. I lunge forward into its smirking maw. Teeth gnash at me every day and all I can do is just keep pretending like I am ok until it's time to get into the pool and let the freak show play out where it can do no harm.

Some time later, right around the 3 month mark, I realize that I have been swimming almost 2 miles a day, five days a week. I make a decision, the first non robotic thing I can remember since I picked up the phone to call Alice. Instead of swimming every day I will dedicate Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday to the pool. Maybe with rest in between I can do more total.

Seven months after Alice I am swimming 12 miles a week. Legion is an army of rabid wolverines that I let out for my workouts and occasionally during swim meets. The swim season is halfway over and so far I am undefeated in the 500 yd freestyle and the 100 yd butterfly. I weigh 165 pounds and have grown about an inch since I got my license.

Given the struggles behind my eyelids, under the lonely sheets in my strange and unfamiliar room I have grown accustomed to torment. Compared to that thrashing some dorks in the pool is easy enough. I remember a few of the highlights from the beginning of the season.

Our first meet there was this guy, I'll name him Chris, but I never learned it. Chris was decently in shape, he was about 3 inches taller than me, lean and muscular. He would be my very first opponent in the 500 yd free. The only reason I was swimming it was because no one else wanted to and everyone knew I had the endurance for it.

Twenty laps, no idea how long it will take. I am not really nervous because there's no stake in winning. It's a first race. We'll see what happens I think. Then I meet this Chris fellow. Did I mention he's got his chest hair shaved into a big ass cross?

That's right. Of course I ask him about it, he seems distant and pious, like he hadn't noticed it until now.

"I couldn't win without the strength of god helping me along the way," he tells me soberly. Not laughing in his face proves difficult. I ask if he really thinks god is going to help him win. "With the power of god how could I lose?" he asks. Legion licks his teeth with delight.

Whatever it takes I know I have to beat him now. Not that I was confronting god, or out to prove something I just saw a grand opportunity to crush someone's self esteem without any ill action. His average time is about 6.5 minutes. Mine is listed as ‘n/a.’

The race begins and I have no idea what kind of pace to swim so I figure I will just try to keep up with the jesus fish two lanes to my right. Hope I don't get steam rolled by this freak, I think. Two girls from my team have a metal lap count book that they dunk in whenever I approach the far wall. This prevents the need for counting mentally and ensures I know exactly how much I have left to swim.

At first I find myself struggling to keep up with Chris, he's hammering away about a body length ahead of me until lap 07. Then I realize why I am struggling. I normally swim laps a little faster than the pace he's setting. I smile during my flip turn and decide to break the pace. By the time the lap counters dunk 09 I am more than a body length ahead. By the end of the race I have won by about a length and half. Not a body length, a pool length. I slaughtered him even though my time was only 6:27. Apparently Chris was in better shape last year.

Victories roll in and begin to pile up. Every race goes by a little faster.

I date a girl named Janine for a while but she proves too catholic for us to last long. Ironic considering catholic means ‘universal’ but she was a terrible fit for me. Janine was only 1 year older than me and wasn't keen on moving past 1st base. We ended things mutually and I filled the abscess with chlorinated water. Legion prodded me along the way.

My social standing grew and I established a reputation for being freakishly devoted to swimming. That was who I was inside and outside of my silicone swimming goggles. Work outs increased in distance and complexity. By the time summer rolled around I was swimming 20-25 miles per week.

An unforeseen side effect of this was nasal trauma due to the over chlorinated water and my increasing exposure to it. Some days my nose would run uncontrollably during class and I had to just hold a paper towel over my face until was saturated with thin mucus. I drank voraciously, usually at least 2 gallons a day and though my waistline was taut with muscle I found myself eating everything that crossed my path.

Summer found me working as a lifeguard part time at the BHSC. I earned minimum wage, worked about 25 hours a week and found it utterly tedious. Between shifts I continued my work outs and without school to encumber me was able to up my workouts to about 30 miles a week. This only lasted a few weeks because school rolled around and senior year was about to start.

Just before the year began I got my senior portraits taken in the gym. It was 100 degrees outside, bright and merciless. Sweat broke out through my red polo shirt as I shouldered my way inside.

The gym was dim and dreary by comparison but the ambient temperature was only in the 80's. The Color Guard was practicing and took a break as I strolled inside. I looked over at the girls in their practice gear. Ashley, who I would have dated in a heartbeat had she not been attached at the hip to some douche bag already out of high school caught my eye. I waved but only received a concerned look, like she didn’t recognize me. I nodded at Stephanie and even Karen who would later marry my best friend. My entrance synchronized with a short break. Whispers broke out as the girls clustered up and began to talk.

At the time I couldn't fathom it but apparently quite a bit of talk was about me. That's right the dude with a drippy nose still tucking in a chubby self-image into his belt every morning. I got the pictures taken and went to leave. As I went to go Ashley and a few other girls watched me as I sauntered out.

What the hell are they looking at? I hope I don't have something on my shorts.

As I reached for the exit I gave Ashley one last parting glance. She had turned her attention back to her flag but the girl standing next to her was still looking my way. Helen something, I thought. She was all right.

Little did I know the carnage that would ensue from that sweet smiling face. It began a few weeks later.

One of my cohorts in high school was a fellow named Matt. Matt's dad worked at a local car dealership and conned some of us into helping out with their annual inventory. We worked about 8 hours for 100 bucks and thought ourselves quite well to do as we broke off.

Matt's brother suggested we make a stop on the way back. Helen lived just down the road from them. Now I don't know details but there was some level of romantic involvement with Helen and Matt's brother. All I know is that shortly before we got there I decided that I was going to flirt like hell with this girl just to piss off Matt's brother.

So I did, and apparently with some effect. Helen and I could talk freely and easily about . . . well whatever the hell high school kids talk about. It's hard to remember though we did spend a prolonged phone call talking about all the different hygiene products that we use. There was an interesting moment which I recall here:

Helen: So now that I know what kind of toothpaste and deodorant you use I can imagine what you do in the morning and what you'll smell like before you come to school.
Me: And I know that you'll smell like one of four types of perfume when I take you out.
Helen: When? You mean if you take me out. Now what kind of shampoo do you use?
Me: I don't use shampoo.
Helen: Ha, ha. Seriously what do you wash your hair with?
Me: I am being serious. I haven't washed my hair in over a year. There's no need. Every time I go to the pool I get a chemical scalp scrub. My hair would be dark brown if I didn't (at the time it was somewhere between amber and blonde.)
Helen: I just can't believe that. You seriously haven't washed your hair in over one year?
Me: Well I still use conditioner. . .

Around Christmas there was a party. It was a 'parents' party but the parents in question were friends of my parents as well as Helen's parents. I was rocking khaki cordoruy and a carolina blue long sleeve shirt. Helen was there, of course, and every chance I could pry her away from friends and family I did.

Sadly though it came time to leave and I just had to give her a prolonged goodbye hug. I knew that I wouldn't see her until school started back.

Me: I'll be counting the hours until I see you next, Ms. Helen.
Helen: Gosh. Are you falling in love with me?

Now I REALLY wished that I could have been suave and cool and laid some exquisitely cloying bit of melodrama but like a complete asshat I just botched it up.

Me: Not falling, no. But I'm leaning . . .

I kissed her hand and left. The nanosecond I was out of sight I felt like kicking something for such a failed attempt. Alas for me, had things been done differently that night my life might have changed significantly.

For when Helen returned to school from her trip to Georgia she left behind a long distance boyfriend. A dark chapter of my life began to unfold though it seemed very normal at first. As I spent more time with Helen my affections grew deep and wild. She never appreciated it but I told her once that my love for her was like kudzu. It can be trimmed and tamed at times but is impossible to eradicate completely.

This became more of an issue as I delved into the deeper parts of getting to know her. See Helen was the daughter of a preacher and religion was very important to the family.

And so I found it becoming more and more important to me as well.

Stay Tuned for Part II, coming later this week. And I know that I said I wouldn't use 'meta' in the title but this is my shit, bitches SO IT GOES.