Looking back at the road fully visible

A trending topic on Twitter today gave me an existential moment that was as fascinating as it was slightly horrendous. The topic –  #10yearsago – is pretty self-explanatory. I have a notoriously bad memory, so I was sitting in the basement with my sister, thinking about what I could have been doing 10 years ago as we were having a conversation, coming up with very little.

I had to accomplish the task mathematically. Ten years ago I was … about to turn 16. That made me a sophomore in high school, I think. Sophomore year, second semester, I was about to buck the system and join the staff of Novi High’s newspaper, The Wildcat Roar, which was normally a class reserved for juniors and higher.

(UPDATE: I realized soon after this that I’d done the math wrong, and actually was a freshman in high school 10 years ago. That’s not really conducive to this blog, so in favor of writing the one that I’m interested in writing, we’re adjusting to #9yearsago.)

Sitting in the basement, wandering through my life the way kids go through history textbooks, I realized that the singular decision to join the newspaper has had a larger effect on my life than any other thing I’ve done – ever.

It’s actually kind of haunting, not to mention a little grotesque, the way this one choice has absolutely shaped every. single. thing. that has happened to me since. From academia to career path, from college choice to my love life, from who my friends are to how I spent various summers, from what I wanted to be to what I am, the Wildcat Fucking Roar is responsible for all of it.

How unsettling, not to mention altogether underwhelming (who am I, exactly, that I can be narrowed down and pigeonholed so thoroughly?), is that?

Not that it’s all bad. I’m painting the suck picture here, and there’s a hearty helping of that. There have also been some incredible things to come out of this decision. Finding something at which I excelled was hugely formative for me. I had very little self-confidence for the entirety of my time in school, and journalism turned me around, helping to become (somewhat) more outgoing and altering my view of myself and the world at large. I have a few key people and newspaper to thank for that.

Central Michigan Life -- three years of long hours and great people. I attended Central Michigan University instead of the University of Michigan, a decision I stand by (and am extremely thankful for) to this day. My college years were dominated by my work at Central Michigan Life, which was altogether amazing. Many of my best friends are journos and I love them. And there’s Caitlin M. Foyt, who I only know (and who only loves me) because of the time we spent together on the newspaper.

But let’s also track the ensuing carnage from that single moment, shall we?

In 1999, I joined the newspaper. I designed the sports section. Jason Skiba, a journalism teacher who also had a major effect on me, had just taken the paper from an 8×11 magazine-format craprag to a broadsheet newsprint Actual Paper. Game-changer, that guy.

Skiba also gave me my first high school B. Because I got my section done late. Because designing is goddamn hard (and I still don’t believe I deserved that B).

That first B knocked me out of contention to be among the 80-odd valedictorians in our grade-inflated high school. It pushed me out of four-year straight-A contention, which had a massive effect on my work ethic. Suddenly I couldn’t obtain academic greatness, and therefore, the pressure was off. I was somewhat coasting through of high school after that because really, who the hell cared at that point.

The majority of high school was dedicated to The Roar. I worked up to editor in chief, a role shared with one Nick Hurwitch, and I let it consume my afternoons and weekends. I wrote a feature column and stupid articles about movies and cartoons. It was a writing outlet and I was in love with it.

When it came time to go to college, journalism factored in heavily. My work at The Roar had me considering journo as career path, which in turn led to me looking seriously at CMU and Michigan State (at the time, I didn’t think I had much chance of getting into U-M). There were a handful of other things that occurred, including scholarship happenings that influenced the decision, but in the end, CMU was as much a choice that made sense financially as one that had a journalism program I could get behind.

As far as career was concerned, the thing I’d always sort of planned to do involved creative writing somehow. Mostly I was thinking “novelist” and therefore studied creative writing. Journalism was a backup plan, and thus my minor. It was later that I realized I could double-major without too much stress and it made much, much more sense.

But journalism was always the “backup career” in case I needed to do something in the meantime while waiting to get published/discovered/otherwise famous. Until, of course, it became the primary career as I devoted just about all of my time and energy to CM Life. I rose as high as managing editor at that institution, spent a summer as design editor, got some pretty great clips, did a whooole lot of editing, and parlayed my time there into internships and a couple of jobs. (It wasn’t until much later that I realized the industry was falling apart and as a “backup plan,” it was barely feasible.)

One has to wonder about destiny when you find a woman like this, a year after you thought you'd never see her again. While I was there, I met Caitlin, which tops the list as The Single Greatest Thing To Ever Happen To Me. For that reason alone, the 10 years of journalism that were the result of Skiba’s (and later newspaper adviser Lydia Cadena’s [she deserves much more mention than I’m giving her here]) influence and the intoxicating allure of newsprint have been, as they say, Fucking Phenomenal. The last year with her has been life-alteringly great, and without the decision to attend CMU, without the decision to study journalism, without my experience at my high school newspaper, I would never have found her and life would be sad and abysmal. Of everything that’s happened, even if everything that had resulted from journalism was negative, it would have been well worth it.

Although, she could have made it a little easier on me and said something to me five years ago, instead of us waiting until last March to finally admit to each other how we felt. But anyway.

The massive influence of journalism on me led me to my internship, which constituted a second summer in journalism, at the Grand Rapids Press. Since I’d been interested in page design and have some sort of irritating affinity for editing copy, I did a copy desk internship there. That work experience and my experience as an editor at CM Life (I basically started as an editor and designer, which robbed me, in retrospect, of a great deal of reporting) led me to a copy desk job at the Port Huron Times-Herald. Moving to Chicago led me to the Web copy editing job I currently hold.

I’ve come to realize editing definitely is not how I want to spend the rest of my life – at all. I wonder what might have happened if I’d had the foresight to drop journalism in favor of spending more time immersing myself in English, creative writing, and film – the way I’m starting to wish I had.

So today I’m two months out from turning 25, and pretty much reserved to the notion that journalism is not, in fact, what I want to do with my life. And deciding not to join the newspaper way back when I was two months out from turning 16 would have put me at a different college, in a different city, studying a different thing, and eventually working a different job. I wouldn’t have spent the last year living at home, or most of the year before that in Chicago, or most of the year before that living in apartments in southeast Michigan night shifts at newspapers and watching movies.

What ifs are difficult and, obviously, pointless. What isn’t pointless I think, though, is recognizing the path of life and how important a single decision can be. And despite all this random career insecurity I’ve been suffering from for the last year, it’s important to note: I have never ever been happier, in my life, than I am today. When I look back at the path of my life, despite some misgivings, I can’t help but wonder about the concept of fate – journalism, that one original decision, is responsible for me finding the woman of my dreams. And we’re together despite my inadvertent efforts to never realize how she felt about me, or to tell her how I felt. The path seems to have led me, inexorably, to Caitlin.

Hard to downplay the significance of that.

It’s weird thinking about the exact path of life over the last 10 years. But you can’t change a path if you can’t see it, right? And I can certainly see it, in stark clarity.

Thanks for the nightmares

Out of the darkness descends a shadow, unfolding from the somewhere unseen above. It curls down and drops to the gleaming metal floor below, at home in darkness, and only after it is standing at its full height do you realize it’s seven or eight feet tall.

Light glints off its edges, giving you an impression of a sleek, bony frame and sharp, shining edges carved of something jet black. It rises above you, towering like an obelisk.

You start to back away, horrified as black lips slide away from silver teeth that seem to shine with their own light, emerging slowly from the slick black head. And suddenly an entire second set of jaws explode forward like a battering ram, a living bullet, tearing through flesh.

That’s if you’re lucky.

alien Much more likely is the creature, the alien, will ambush you. You’ll never see it coming as its long, thin claws wrap around your face and chest and it rips you off the ground with incredible strength, dragging you off to its hive. There, it will secrete a glue that will bind you, cocoon you, to any hard surface. There, you’ll wait.

You’ll wait for the babies.

The alien might eat you, sure, if it feels like. But what it wants to do is feed you to its hive’s young. Imprisoned in the hive, another sort of alien, which looks like a spider, will attach itself to your face, force a tube down your throat, and lay an egg in your stomach. Where it will grow.

Before long, it’s time for the baby to be born. It’ll use its teeth. And it’ll come through your ribcage.

That’s easily the most horrifying experience I can imagine – becoming the victim of a creature that doesn’t just want to eat you, but to rape you so fully that when you finally give birth to the bastard child, it will kill you; and that you’ll help in the creation of a thing that knows nothing but murder. I’ve been captivated, and held captive, by visions – and fears – of the monster ever since I first saw Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” and even before that, when I read the novelization of writer Dan O’Bannon’s script for the film when I was around 9.

I found the novel, its cover coming loose and pages hanging half-free of the binding, in a used book store in Toronto. “Alien 3” was released just two years before and when that happened, the film series became a part of my consciousness that I’ve never been able to shake. A fan of sci-fi for the entirety of my life, I couldn’t put the book down. It was incredibly frightening – the story of a group of bored working-stiff spacemen on a tugboat dragging an interstellar mine across the galaxy. And then they were attacked by a monster that killed them all in the most vicious way possible.

225px-Dan_O'Bannon O’Bannon died on Dec. 17 at the age of 65. He was a writer and director for films, including “Return of the Living Dead,” a genre-altering zombie movie. (The zombie moaning “braaaaaiiiins” is the child of “Return.”) But O’Bannon’s work on “Alien” is what changed the worlds of science fiction, film and horror for me forever.

There are occasions when I’ll awake with a start and a cold sweat, searching the darkness in my room, convinced that one of those huge creatures is waiting just out of sight. There are few other stories that have had such a profound effect on my psyche. When I was young, I consumed all I could from the “Alien” universe – movies, novels based on the films, comics, video games, even toys.

O’Bannon’s death reminded me of how acutely this one story has affected me. The alien and its awful power and singular purpose still is one of the most original horror conceptions I’ve ever encountered – nothing I’ve seen that’s been created in last 30 years even compares. How many movie monsters have you ever had a nightmare about? Because my list is short (though it is a list, and maybe that makes me weird).

The list of things I can designate as “Made Me Want to Be a Writer” is huge, with more items that I can enumerate or probably even remember. But high on the list (really, really high) is the work of Dan O’Bannon on “Alien.” Really, it boils down to a single idea – but that single idea, that alien creature, holds the place as the scariest thing of which I’ve ever heard. That’s an incredible achievement, in my mind.

The very reason for creating something is to have a serious effect on the lives of others. O’Bannon didn’t do a ton of memorable work – the majority of his movies are some of which I’ve never heard – but just this one idea was so formative to me that the man had a serious influence on my writing in all genres, and in science fiction and horror in particular.

I wake up from bad dreams about O’Bannon’s monsters.

But it’s always a good thing.

One among the musically challenged

When it came time for Caitlin’s birthday, I remembered something she’d mentioned on Twitter (I think) about the inherent romance to be found in making someone a mixed tape.

I, of course, fancy myself a romantic and have a goal of being the best boyfriend ever, and thus immediately set about making such a tape.

I stared taking notes as I listened to my iPod, cataloguing songs I thought would be great for a compilation that could explain how I feel and pretty much be an amazing gift. I got together a pretty decent list over the next two or three months, then went about figuring out just how the tape would be laid out.

Not long before I got close to thinking about the final product (and procuring the many implements necessary for recording  a cassette tape in the age of the mp3), Caitlin and I had a conversation about music. More than one of the songs I’d chosen for the list (of which Caitlin was completely unaware) came up in the conversation. And of course, it was a conversation about crappy music.

Music comes up as a topic of conversation a lot in our relationship. This is something I really like. Caitlin is incredibly well-educated when it comes to Rock and Roll, specifically classic rock, and she can speak intelligently about all manner of bands, topics, songs, movements and genres. She knows a ton and we talk about it a lot.

Comparatively, I know almost nothing about music. Where Caitlin’s upbringing included tons of music – the movements of the ’90s coupled with extensive time spent listening to classic rock in the cars of  her parents, afternoons in front of record players and digging through vinyl collections belonging to her parents and the parents of her friends – I was subjected to bad late-’80s, early ’90s pop.

My musical education was as such: Top 40 hits that sucked on the easy listening stations that populate Detroit, thrust upon me in my mom’s car. When I was with my dad, despite his being a musician, I had little exposure to anything noteworthy. I remember a lot of Van Halen – not much else.

I spent a long time struggling with music in my youth. I was late to the party on bands, radio stations, MTV, and owning and operating CDs, to the point of it actually affecting my identity. After all, I didn’t do well as a kid as far as self-esteem, and here was yet another way in which I was inadequate, uneducated, and completely uncool.

People would ask me things like “What do you listen to?” and “What’s your favorite band?” and I had no answer to give them. In a lot of ways, that was really tough. When you struggle to interact with other people your age and can’t even connect on ground so common as music (and for a seriously long time – I was probably 12 or 13 before I bought my first CD and by then it was a survival necessity), every time someone asks you something stupid and simple like that, you wince.

When I was really young, I owned a total of maybe three cassettes. One was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out of Their Shells,” one was Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” (which my dad had a copy of by coincidence and gave to me), and one was “Dookie” by Green Day, which I lost or otherwise destroyed. Green Day would later become one of my favorite all-time bands, but there was a long gap between those first tapes and figuring out a musical identity.

It’s worth noting that you get this impression of being a freak if you don’t know anything about music. It wasn’t that I’d never listened to music – it’s that I spent so much of my life hating the music to which I was forced to listen. I spent so much time reading and watching movies and playing video games that the music I really liked was stuff by John Williams and, later, Japanese composers responsible for game soundtracks. I found myself hating Billy Idol and Paula Abdul and similar pop garbage.

So whenever anyone brought up music, I had nothing to say, and worse, when I was directly questioned I had no answers.

Ever known anyone who can’t say, “Yes, this is the kind of music I like?” Or who didn’t even know what the kinds of music were?

I started to grab hold of and hold tightly to whatever bands I could. This way I had: 1. Something to listen to and become familiar with, which meant being able to speak in a (somewhat) educated way about at least something, and 2. Something to point to in order to prove I wasn’t some kind of freak/diminish my status as a nerd-dork.

When I found a copy of Aerosmith’s greatest hits CD, “Big Ones,” among my parents’ albums, I grabbed it. I listened to it like crazy. Aerosmith was a respectable band, right? They had a fairly modern sound, one which people wouldn’t fault me for liking, right? It wasn’t about what the music sounded like – it was hitting a mark so that I could survive socially. Later, I saw Bush play “Swallow” on “Saturday Night Live,” and thusly picked up “Razorblade Suitcase” and started telling people how Bush was now my favorite band. Again – modern sound, cool guys that other people knew, who filled a social need and not much else.

It wasn’t until much later that I actually started to learn something about music. It was considered “cool” to watch MTV in the middle school era, and I tried that for a while, but I really found the station irritating. So eventually I stopped playing that game. I got further into the pop punk movement from friends, and before long I was just keeping up with them. In sixth grade I snagged a CD of “Dookie,” I stole from my dad’s CD collection, and I started burning CDs from other people.

About that time I got heavily into video game music and instrumental/classical type stuff. I still knew absolutely nothing about rock, but I was finding that I wasn’t really into the music available to me on the radio. At least I was finally starting to pay attention: By high school, I was building what I thought was a diverse, eclectic music collection that spanned genres and periods, leaning more and more heavily on classic rock.

Still, I struggled to talk to people about music. A friend of mine on CMU’s Ultimate Frisbee team was driving us to a tournament my freshman year. He asked me what music I liked, fumbling and stuttering I said “punk,” and then immediately afterward realized I didn’t mean punk, but the shitty modern iteration pop punk, and this kid was a real punk guy and knew what he was talking about. He asked about The Clash. I responded sheepishly about Green Day and The Offspring. We didn’t talk about music again.

But by the end of college I’d created what I thought was a decent musical identity, and I had a distinctive taste, and I knew what sounded good even if I didn’t know the history of it, and I could say definitively what was bad.

Then I met Caitlin M. Foyt. Then I started trying to make a mix tape that would both be a physical manifestation of my feelings for her and a tape to which she’d actually want to listen.

I started panicking.

My list sucked, I decided, and it was extremely obvious that Caitlin’s taste far outpaced my own. Often when we drive together, listening to my iPod, she blasts past numerous songs on which I would have lingered, finding more obscure things, or songs from genres I’m not used to and bands with which I’m less familiar. She’s usually, if not always, right when it comes to musical taste – but I’m painfully aware that what I might choose is stuff she’s been into, listened to extensively, learned about, and subsequently moved beyond.

Four or five nights I stared at the list for four or five hours each. I spent two whole nights going through all 4,600 or so songs in my iTunes arsenal, trying to decide what should go on the list. I ended up with a vat of more than 100 songs from which to choose.

Next I polled people I knew. Musically, Nick Hurwitch for a long time has been my touchstone, so I went to him. Courtney, Caitlin’s sister, knows her better than anyone, so I asked what she thought. Both sent me in directions that really helped.

But what changed the project and made it work was realigning my perception. There were some things I had to consider: First, that I’d likely never come up with a decent enough list to really impress Caitlin, because I simply didn’t know what I was doing; Second, that the tape could still be a success if it became more than just a simple mix.

The tape needed to tell a story.

It made a lot of sense. I’m worthless as a musician or music critic – but as a writer, I could potentially create something Caitlin could appreciate on a level beyond the weakness of my taste and understanding.

Suddenly I wasn’t picking songs based on how good they were, but whether I thought she would like them, and more importantly, on how well they interacted with one another.

The story I came up with is sort of strange. The tools at my disposal – other people’s creative work cobbled together in a short list of 17 songs – are blunt as hell. And it’s not our story (although that’s what I’d originally hoped for), because, again, I just didn’t have the tools.

But it’s a story close to our story. It’s similar to ours, it hits a lot of the right notes (so to speak), and that’s definitely the inspiration. It’s more fiction than not, unfortunately, but it’s a love story, and I think it’s a powerful one.

I haven’t given Caitlin the tape yet. I’m writing this the  morning of her big surprise birthday celebration, planning to post it Sunday, so I don’t know how she’ll react. But I feel good about it.

The whole experience opened my eyes to some things that I’d never really thought consciously about (now documented at length, as you’ve just read): Basically, how little an impact music has had on me as a person – a case that seems to be really at odds with most people my age, and most people in general. While I was reading and extensively watching movies and television shows, all of which had extensive impact on crafting my personality, other people were being angstily shaped by the things they were hearing.

I never got there, and I’ve come to realize – that’s weird. Which is why I like the conversations Caitlin and I have together, even though she often gets self-conscious because she feels like she’s talking at me. Really, it’s because I sit quietly and take in everything she has to say, and not because I don’t like the topic.

It feels like I’ve come a long way in musical development in the last nine months: further, likely, than in the last nine years. It’s one of the many bonuses of dating Caitlin. The test, I guess, will be her reaction to the mix tape. Regardless, her passion for music (and a lot of other things) is rubbing off. I love being in a relationship in which I’m always learning.

For anyone interested, here’s the playlist. Some of it’s a little weird, as it’s kind of a big inside joke, with much of it pertaining to us only.

“Chosen Carefully,” Caitlin’s birthday mix tape
1. “Who Will Comfort Me,” Melody Gardot
2. “Scattered,” Green Day
3. “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd
4. “Molina,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
5. “Lips Like Sugar,” Echo & The Bunnymen
6. “Magic Dance,” David Bowie
7. “Anti-Gravity Love Song,” Incubus
8. “Stuck In the Middle With You,” Stealers Wheel
9. “Bad Things,” Jace Everett
10. “Just Like Heaven,” The Cure
11. “In Your Honor,” Foo Fighters
12. “The Perfect Drug,” Nine Inch Nails
13. “Please Read the Letter,” Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
14. “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough,” Cyndi Lauper
15. “Love You Madly,” Cake
16. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” Death Cab for Cutie
17. “Sure As Shit,” Kathleen Edwards

Second Wind

As he reached the end of the driveway, it started raining, and Tom nearly turned around and headed back inside.

He stood at the mailbox for about three minutes, if it was that long. It could have been an hour that he stared at the cold black-painted tin, the red plastic flag aimed skyward as if to exclaim something he couldn’t read or hear. Impulsively, he opened the box, but it was empty.

The red plastic flag seemed to glow in the diminishing sunlight. Demanding to be noticed.

Tom set one foot, tied tight into a brand-new gray cross-trainer, against the dirt road ahead of him, and started running.

It hurt. A lot. He used to get shin splints when he would play soccer in middle school and they seared with a vengeance now. Despite the rain, he could feel himself go to sweating almost instantaneously. Tom’s extra weight bounced around his waist and chest and he felt like a leper under the bright halogen scrutiny of each passing car.

Pavement and puddles slapped under the fresh shoes with the sound of meat dropping to the cutting board, and he got the distinct impression of the sound echoing his body’s struggle, its unwillingness to participate. He ignored it and counteracted the feeling by dialing up the volume on the mp3 player he carried in his left hand.

Tom found himself wheezing and he struggled to focus his mind on something – anything – that would keep his attention off his own sorry excuse for a body. He cycled through any thoughts he could come up with: school, television shows, recent movies, new albums, moments with friends; but of course Tom’s thoughts eventually settled on Tuesday night at the Library Pub.

It was bustling and crowded for the nightly drink specials and because it was one of the only places the newly graduated or still-enthralled students could go drink while they were away from college. Tom, of course, had never left town, unlike most of the kids he’d gone to high school with. His grades and his family’s finances hadn’t been enough to send him to the illustrious state university along with every single person who’d graduated with him.

He hated it here, but it was Demetri’s birthday and he’d insisted. Tom didn’t see those guys much anymore – really only when they happened to be home for a holiday or he could muster enough gas money to make the two-hour trip out to one of their parties – so he’d gone, grudgingly, knowing full well that it would be like lunch in the school cafeteria, only more irritating.

Tom had been the last to arrive. He’d purposely let an extra forty minutes pass before heading out to the bar, which was only a half-mile down the street from his parents’ house anyway.

At first he’d drifted through the smoky bar, which was alternately themed with pool tables and shelves of books, as if the owners couldn’t make up their minds as to atmosphere. The whole place was lit green by jade-shaded plastic fluorescents, giving it harsh white glare over tables like a prison and a soft glow that made it difficult to get around anywhere else.

He sat down heavily beside Jason at a shiny wooden table that caught the light and bounced it into Tom’s eyes as if off stainless steel. The other guys were through a beer or two each. Tom wished Demitri a happy birthday, giving him a handshake over the table, squinting through the light. Jason clapped him on the back.

“Starting to wonder if you were gonna show up,” he called over the music.

Tom just gave a thin-lipped smile.

Across the round table, Hugh leaned so he was closer to the center. He was midway through a story.

“So this girl is gorgeous,” he said, looking from face to face. “I mean, I would have gone for her.”

He shot a glance back at Daphne beside him and gave her a grin. She returned it with a little punch on his thigh.

“She was pretty hot. So I figure, I’ll put Marcus onto her, she seems nice and he could stand to get laid,” Hugh continued. “So I bring him a couple drinks from the kitchen – this girl is into screwdrivers, and I mean into screwdrivers – and send him over.”

“Is Marcus coming out tonight?” Tom asks, interrupting. Marcus was his preferred Sommerville brother. Hugh was a little more…hard to handle.

Hugh shrugged. “I thought so, but who knows, maybe he’s banging his babysitter.

“Anyway,” Hugh said, stretching the word to indicate his annoyance at the delay, “He goes over with these screwdrivers and offers one to her, and she gives him this big smile, and I think, ‘Well done, me.’”

Hugh paused to look around at his audience. Tom waited for their eyes to meet and Hugh to move on before releasing the heavy sigh that was building in his chest.

His feet were pounding pavement somewhere, his shirt soaking with sweat, and he was already sick of this scene. Tom had turned out for the birthday festivities, and he had known going in that he’d have fun with the guys like always, but somehow he already felt distant.

The sky grew bloated, purple and gray, the air around him going thick and hazy with darkness and moisture. Tom’s muscles burned from head to foot, front to back. He could feel tension building in his shoulders and tried to relax his hands. He could feel impacts welling up in his knees. The word “atrophy” tracked through Tom’s mind.

Ahead he saw some bike-riding silhouettes. High school kids, he guessed from their sideways hats and low pants. They were meandering on the upcoming chunk of sidewalk.

Tom adjusted his stride and stepped down off the curb onto the street to avoid them.

“So I look over a little later, and this girl and Marcus are gone,” Hugh nearly bellowed over the drowning tide of full-bar conversation and what passed among their generation for music. Tom looked back toward the door, scanning it for a second, before turning back to the story. He caught Daphne’s eye, watching him, as he brought his attention back to Hugh.

“I ask around and people are saying they saw them out on the porch. So I put my head up to the window on top of the door – and there’s this hot chick, standing there with two cups in her hand, and there’s my jackass brother, bent over the railing and puking into the bushes.”

Jason and Demetri laughed heartily. Tom cracked a smile, but really, most of Hugh’s were generally the same. And all spoke to an experience – a college experience – of which Tom had little or no understanding. These stories brought up images of “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Animal House” for him. That was about as far as the recognition extended.

“So what happened to him?” Jason asked. Tom heard thick enthusiasm in his voice.

“No one is really sure,” Hugh replied, chuckling. “It was his second drink of the night. He just hauled off and started puking for no reason.

“Although, looking back – and don’t tell Marcus this, he’ll kick my ass – but I think that orange juice might have been there when we moved in.”

Jason, Demetri and Hugh laughed again. Tom caught Daphne’s eyes – she’d heard it before and grinned only for Hugh’s benefit.

Tom smiled too, a little, and asked, “What happened with the girl?”

Hugh almost gagged on the beer he’d been pouring back from the thick glass bar mug as Tom asked the question. Now he slammed it down and looked toward the other man, his face alight.

“I almost forgot! She took him home!”

“You’re kidding,” Demetri said, leaning up toward the table, suddenly captivated.

Hugh struggled to breathe, drink and speak at the same time.

“No,” he returned, wiping beer foam from his thin face and thinner brown beard and mustache. “No, I’m serious. She thought he was cute, they talked for the rest of the night and she took him home. I mean, it ended as soon as he mentioned he had a kid. He seemed pretty into her thou
gh. You know, for, like, that couple days.”

Now it was Daphne who leaned in, brilliant green eyes piercing Tom. “Speaking of girls,” she muttered in a low, mischievous tone. “Did you ever ask out Caitlin?”

Tom blushed and immediately hated the feeling. He leaned back and folded his arms over his chest.

“I’ve talked to her some,” he returned.

“So no,” Hugh said, laughing.

“You know, she’s coming out tonight,” Demetri said. “Or at least, she was supposed to.”

Tom involuntarily looked back at the door, right in front of everyone looking at him, and when he turned back he felt their stupid gazes, screaming “Ah ha!” as if he’d been holding back something incriminating they’d just now discovered.

“There you go,” Hugh piped, his eyes lighting up. “Perfect opportunity.”

Tom sighed loud. “Please don’t start giving me advice.”

A headlight flared and Tom spat out a deep coughed as he passed the high schoolers. His lungs burned right along with his calves. As he went by, he met eyes with one of the students. The stare felt cold – contemptuous, he thought. He felt his face twist in confused reaction.

But they were gone within a few seconds and he wasn’t sure what he’d seen, and he worked to convince himself that it had been, in fact, nothing. Tom preferred to give people the benefit of the doubt – to assume they were generally good.

Even though his experience didn’t really bare that out.

He couldn’t shake the inclination he’d gotten from the instant he saw the kid’s face, though. The boy was tall and thin, lanky with bones protruding in weird places in his face and elbows, like his skin was stretched too thin over a skeleton cobbled together from leftover parts, and his creator had been short on muscle and fat that day. He’d only seen the kid’s eyes for a millisecond, and they were obscured partially by a sweatshirt’s hood and growing purple darkness, but it been more of a feeling – a shockwave, a jolt of something awful and icy that leapt free of dark blue eyes and was carried down the wire of the boy’s stare.

As he thought about it, Tom realized what he was feeling, and it was familiar. He was feeling the coursing sting he always got when someone eyed him, when their gaze turned down off his eyes to his chin, his chest, his gut.

Despite his attempts to put the feeling away and write it off, something in Tom knew what he’d seen in the kid.

After all, people who run are running from something. A thing that chases them. A monster that threatens to swallow their identity and to make them into something they despair at being. They run from themselves – they’re fat alter-egos.

What nerve Tom had – the thought grew in his mind and he couldn’t shake it – that he, a fat guy, should try to rise above his station when the monster had already taken him. Too late, fatty, the high schooler had shot at him with all the power and accuracy of lightning. Know your place.

“I don’t know if I like her that much,” Tom lied. “We’ll see.”

The other men at the table laughed. Daphne was silent and Tom felt her watching him. It was a feeling he despised.

“Liar,” Hugh cracked between chuckles. Tom said nothing and the issue fell away as Hugh launched into another story. It turned out to be another long tale of college partying, and after a few moments, Tom realized he’d heard it. He excused himself to head to the bar for another drink.

Tom crossed the room carefully. He kept his eyes forward, refusing to fall into the trap presented by looking around the place and potentially meeting eyes with someone he knew. His face was obscured by green-hued dark and he aimed to keep it that way as he dodged wooden tables, which went from polished and classy like a library to covered in scrawled names and cheap witticisms, a classic bar attempt at community borne at low cost by sharpies and pocket knives.

It was strange, the difference between high school and now. It was as if, by graduating, everyone had come out of some tragedy together. The people he’d never known, people he’d never liked, they all talked to him as though they were old friends.

Tom hated the charade of it, and he couldn’t handle the small talk. What are you doing now, the inevitable question would arise between him and Person X, and he’d be forced to explain his meandering through community college, unsure of what to study or where he was headed. He also couldn’t handle the equally inevitable “Oh,” which inexorably carried a tone that said very clearly, “Oh – is that it?”

He reached the bar and took a seat in an empty stool while he waited. The bartender, a pretty woman in her early twenties who was wearing a tight black shirt that seemed to beg for tips, was scurrying around and he recognized that he would be last on the list of people to be served.

Tom stared down at the scarred wood and at his fingers laced over one another there. He was losing himself in thought, waiting for the bartender to look his way, when someone slapped the bar beside him loudly.

“Tom Carter,” a voice erupted and Tom felt his shoulders drop. He turned to see the flaring eyes set in a young, chiseled face. The guy was grinning widely, his thick neck stemming out of a sort of pinkish-purple polo shirt. Recognition came instantly.

“How the hell you doing, man?”

Tom smiled half-heartedly.

“All right, Brett. How’re you?”

“I’m great, man, just great,” Brett returned, jamming a hand toward Tom. His grip was vice-like and excessive, Tom thought. “Jesus, I haven’t seen you in, like, two or three years.”

“Yeah, not since high school,” Tom agreed. He looked for the bartender, but she was busy with a group of three guys that were clearly hitting on her, far at the other end of the bar. No escape offered there.

“So what’re you doing now?” Brett asked, still grinning. Tom recognized that the polo shirt was about a size too small – a calculation to show off Brett’s chest, which was far more defined and toned than Tom remembered.

“Same old stuff, going to school,” Tom replied in a short burst. He eyed the other man slowly. Brett had been popular in high school and always treated Tom like a piece of garbage. Of course, though, now that they were out, everyone in Tom’s senior class had been his best friend, he thought.

“That’s awesome,” Brett returned with glowing enthusiasm. “Man, I’m loving college. I’m studying fitness now. It’s awesome.”

Tom nodded along as Brett spewed practiced facts. He was annoyed at Brett’s presumption that he could be a dick for years and now pretend that it had never happened. Then again, Tom thought bitterly, there wasn’t much to do about it now.

“What’s your major?” Brett asked.

He could have said, “I’m between things,” or “I don’t have one,” or “I have no idea what I want to do with my life.” Instead, Tom intoned matter-of-factly, “Graphic design.”

It was a go-to response he used with people who didn’t matter. Brett nodded fast, his head bobbing up and down.

“That’s awesome,” he said fast. “That’s really cool, dude. Hey man, you been working out? You look good.”

Tom involuntarily smirked. Working out? He’d gained twenty pounds since he’d been out of high school. He hadn’t worked out in months.

But he lied again. This time it was involuntary, and Tom wondered to himself if he actually did look better. Lately he’d been trying to eat better, he reminded himself. “Yeah, once in a while.”

“Looking good, man,” Brett said. He was talking fast. “I’ve been doing this new workout program, Power Cross it’s called. There’s a whole six-day-a-week program, a diet program and a vitamin regimen. It’s awesome.”

“Awesome,” responded Tom quietly, holding
the irony in check.

He reached the end of the street, the drab rough setting for glowing, mirror-like reflective puddles and splashing raindrops, and Tom actually was feeling pretty good, despite those stupid high school guys. He’d gone further than he thought he could, and he’d only walked once so far.

Checking the street for oncoming traffic, he jogged across to the other side and doubled back toward home. There weren’t many people out anymore, which he preferred. Tom really dreaded an audience as he jogged, so much that it was often an excuse to keep him inside.

It still sucked. The blasts of pavement against his feet seemed to ripple up his body and make his spine hurt, his shoulders throb, and he could feel a headache starting. Still, he had too much reason not to stop. Tom gritted his teeth and his hands balled up tight as he went, but he was determined to make it back home.

“You know, I think a guy like you could really benefit from this vitamin regimen I know of,” Brett told him. He was giving Tom his full attention now, looking him right in the eyes, no longer concerned about waiting for the bartender to drop by.

Tom raised an eyebrow. Vitamins?

“They’re really great. I’ve read a lot about the way they amp up your metabolism, especially for heavier guys,” continued Brett, not missing a beat. “Especially if you’re working out. The whole thing comes with an appetite suppressant, a metabolic regulator – they’ll really help you, especially if you’re doing a sort of sedentary job, like working on a computer all day,”

He couldn’t even say anything as Brett rattled through his speech. Tom realized immediately what was happening – he was receiving a pitch.

Brett went to his shirt pocket and drew out a business card. He slid it toward Tom.

“Gimme a call sometime, man, or come in and I’ll hook you up. We can do a whole BMI-metabolism workup, complimentary.”

The card was in Tom’s hand and he stared at it, disbelief flooding his features.

“You want to sell me vitamins?”

He was almost home now.

His lungs were going crazy and Tom’s pace had been reduced pretty substantially by this point, but he was still moving, and that was a victory, he figured.

The sun had nearly disappeared and the sky had turned to black silhouettes stabbing high into deep blue. A few people were still out, but not many. Across the street up ahead, Tom recognized the same group of bike-riding high school kids plodding down the sidewalk. He kept his eyes straight ahead.

As he was passing them again, Tom felt the pavement below him pick up about two inches. His toe caught the lip and he pitched forward, the world careening around him in a blue-gray swirl. His mp3 player flew violently from his hand, followed by his headphones, as he threw his arms in front of his face and landed on the pavement with a scraping roll.

His hands burned and he could feel pebbles embedded in the skin. Tom was on his stomach and rolled a little. Blood trickled from scrapes on his knees and elbow. By some miracle, he thought, wincing, he hadn’t landed on his face.

Across the street, Tom distinctly heard laughter.

“I just figured, here’s a guy who I can help reach his goals,” Brett said, and now the facade was so obvious that it actually nauseated Tom.

Tom blinked.  He looked over the card – Brent Bauer, Independent Sales Associate, it read – and then down at himself. Was he really so fucking pathetic that this guy, who hadn’t talked to him in years, had looked at him and thought, “Here’s a jackass who must be so unhappy with himself that I can sell him in a bar?”

His eyes went to his hands. They were bloody and hurt, but what he was really feeling, vibrating through his skull and rattling his eyes, was the laughter. With a grimace, Tom rolled to his back.

The kids were still  there across the street, occasionally shouting taunts at him. Tom couldn’t really hear over the blood thumping in his ears from the adrenaline that had accompanied the fall. He got to a sitting position and looked to his right.

A tall man was standing there with a cigarette in a tan Marine uniform. His arms were crossed and he was looking straight at Tom. For a second, he expected the man to offer to help him up, and he couldn’t decide if it would be kind or humiliating. The other man said nothing, though, and Tom didn’t move.

After a second, the Marine took a puff on the cigarette and then re-crossed his arms.

“On your feet, son,” the Marine muttered, his voice gravely and guttural, but even and devoid of emotion. “Have some pride.”

A couple of long seconds passed while Tom let the words sink in. Then he brushed his palms clean of any bits of pavement and hauled himself up to his feet.

“Nothing broken,” the Marine said, and Tom recognized that he wasn’t asking. The man dragged his cigarette for a long moment, tossed it, and cocked his head back toward the building behind him. Tom followed the motion and read the sign that identified the building as a recruiting station. “Full disclosure,” said the Marine.

He stepped forward, stuck a hand in his pocket, and withdrew a card. He pushed it toward Tom, who took it with a slow, stinging hand.

“Give me a call – or don’t,” the recruiter muttered again. Then, as he turned toward the building, “Keep your head up.”

Tom crushed the business card in his hand, feeling the anger seething through his fingers. Brett’s face screwed up into confusion as Tom dropped the card on the bar.

He shot the confused salesman a grin. “Fuck you, Brett.” Then Tom stood up and left the bar. His plunged his hands into his pockets and kept his gaze down, slaloming through the tables and people until he reached his seat.

Hugh had everyone laughing as Tom dropped into his chair. Jason turned to him and said, “Where’s your drink?”

Tom shrugged.

“Was that Brett Bauer up there at the bar?” Demitri asked, and they all turned toward Tom. He frowned and nodded.

From Hugh: “What’d that asshole want?”

“Just shooting the shit,” Tom returned, looking at his hands. “Thinks because we went to the same high school we’re best friends.”

“What is that,” Hugh said, shaking his head. “Like nobody remembers what a jerk he was.”

“Yeah,” Tom replied.

“Did you tell him to fuck off?”

Tom watched the recruiter go in and looked down at the card. Hold your head up. Tom wiped his knees and picked up his stuff from the sidewalk.

They were still laughing and calling things at him from across the street as Tom put the ear buds back in. He ratcheted up the volume until he couldn’t even hear his own thoughts. It was a nice feeling.

Pain flared in his knees as Tom’s shoes splashed across the wet pavement. The pain felt good. Running felt good.

He sucked air into his aching lungs and found belonging in the gathering dark.

The empty space I found in New York

A week has passed since I left New York City after making what I once considered to be a pilgrimage to the site of the World Trade Center.

On the other side of my intial, more cynical reactions, I’ve come back to the experience with a much deeper sense of ambivalence and confusion.

Comments from best friend and fellow Midwesterner Nick Hurwitch had me questioning how I felt about the events and about my visit to the site. I’ve had to ask myself, what did I expect from it? People crying in the streets? After all, eight years has passed.

Even so, for something that has bothered me so deeply and for something that I’ve envisioned for at least a year, the trip was nothing like I expected. Regardless of the reactions of other people at the site (I guess I expected something just a little reverent), there was nothing about the WTC site that gave me the closure or answers that I had hoped to find.

I’m left wondering what I should feel about the whole situation. Part of the trip was to takee a city that was, for all intents and purposes, fictional, and make it real for me. That, in turn, was to make the entire 9/11 event become real for me.

My problem has always been one of distance, metaphorical and physical. From my vantage as a Michigan teenager going through high school, New York was a shining city that existed in film. Nothing like that place exists in our state, and I never even made it to Chicago until I was in college. Until recently, I’d never seen a place like New York outside of a screen or a photo of some kind.

So how was I to feel about a national tragedy? I’ve never even felt very connected to the United States as a nation. The U.S. you see on TV (and therefore, extrapolate as the experience of other Americans in the American places that matter) is not the one you experience in the Detroit suburbs.

The Midwestern U.S. is far more muted.

Reading about and seeing depictions of Americans lining up to fight for their country after Pearl Harbor had particular resonance. When there was an attack on our country, ALL Americans felt attacked.

I didn’t feel attacked on 9/11. I still feel an isolation in this state, which is ass-backwards in as many ways as possible. Our largest city is so corrupt, government officials are stealing from their own children. We’re losing people and jobs so fast there might not be much more than a sinkhole where Michigan is now in 10 years.

How am I supposed to feel about two planes being crashed into the World Trade Center?

It’s a question I’m only beginning to answer, and I didn’t find that answer at the site of the tragedy. What I’m feeling now is confusion because if that answer wasn’t there, where the hell is it?

I hurt for the people who died, but do I feel community with them? No.

More than anything, what I’ve experienced in regards to the national tragedy is seeing identification in others. A feeling of belonging. A feeling of camaraderie. A feeling of community. A feeling of needing to reach out to help those among them who have been hurt.

There’s identity in that.

What identity do I have?

The trip to the WTC site was a search for a mirror that I thought would help reflect back at me a greater understanding of what it means to be an American. But that mirror doesn’t exist.

I’m still wondering what my reflection looks like.

Impressions of a Tragedy

The subway goes to the World Trade Center site again. For a while, it was closed.

We emerged from the station into the bright sunlight, like rats into a tight maze. To the right were the collossal buildings of New York City, static and strong despite their location. To our left was a bright blue fence, stretching eight feet high, covered in big photos at intervals of the spectacle that will one day be constructed on the site of the destroyed World Trade Center.

The entire corridor, which is what is created, was packed to the brim with people. Foot traffic flowed quickly, but it was tight and claustrophobic.

The sun was bright and hot because there was nothing to block it.

I was struck most by the disorganized chaos. We were quite literally walled off from the construction site of the Freedom Towers, and by extension, from the tragedy.

People bustled through, most totally untouched by their proximity to the site.

I, however, felt stained by it. I’d never seen the World Trade Center in person, but I felt the temporal shadow of those buildings and what happened stretching out over me. Others just hurried on about their business.

We walked the perimeter of the site, but there was no seeing in from street level. I felt a mix of disappointment and a dull, throbbing sort of anger. I couldn’t even see into the site. I didn’t see mourners or people even thinking twice about what they were walking past.

Finally we found an information kiosk that pointed the way toward the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. Pushed along by the river of indifferent humanity, we passed a man handing out photocopied maps that he’d highlighted.

“It’s history, it shouldn’t be a mystery,” the man shouted into the crowd. “Do you know what you’re looking at?”

That’s a good question, I thought, as the man was chided by people who must have regularly walked by. The only person I would encounter in New York who seemed at all passionate about the event, and he was treated like a joke.

We continued along the outside of the site, always accompanied by the blue fence. I stopped and studied some of the artists’ renderings of the Freedom Towers. Of course, these renderings included all the retail opportunities that would be present in these new, improved towers. Shops like Bulgari were included in the drawing. Quite a tribute.

But it wasn’t as disgusting as the street vendors who wheeled out coolers filled with water bottles available for a premium, or large piles of “tribute photos” of the World Trade Center. You can’t spell Capitalism with capitalize, I thought bitterly.

We passed the Visitor Center and pushed past to where one wall of a fire house had a large bronze wall plaque commemorating the rescue workers who died in the towers. A few people gathered around and snapped photos. But not many. A few other people hurried by, walking through photos without realizing or without caring, and without even glancing over.

A few moments later, we headed back to the Visitor Center. I flashed my student I.D. to get half off our tickets, despite no longer being a student of anything. I felt cynical and dishonest. I saved ten dollars.

We entered the gallery, which had a few too many people in it and seemed a little small compared to the size of the event. Caitlin and I walked along slowly, reading quotes on columns that made up a timeline of events stretching from the first attack on the Trade Center in 1993 to the aftermath of the event.

On the wall beside us were copies of various missing posters that had been found around the city during the tragedy. As we moved across the timeline, the fliers became thicker and closer together, until they papered the entire wall. We moved past a twisted steel girder and into a room where two entire walls were covered in photos and personal items from victims of the tragedy.

Caitlin started to cry. I held my composure, but only just barely.

We continued down a flight of stairs into the Visitor Center’s basement, past several thousand origami cranes, to a room that contained hundreds of fliers filled out by international visitors, detailing their feelings about the tragedy. Beyond that was more information about the Freedom Towers. And then we were back upstairs, passing the “gift shop,” which was sad first because it existed at all, and second because it was both pathetic and miniscule.

I pushed my way out of the building, Caitlin close behind. Clouds were rolling in over the WTC site. We dropped back into the flow along the sidewalk, passing the street vendors at a fast pace.

“What are you thinking?” Caitlin asked as we headed away.

I didn’t know what to tell her.

We stopped on a elevated walkway where, for the first time, there was glass between us and the construction site. Caitlin told me about the disrespect she felt she was seeing as the rubble had been swept up and placed off to the side, as she put it.

I didn’t know what I felt. I still don’t.

I held onto her for a long time and didn’t say anything. There was no closure here. There was no reconciling tragedy or paying respects to the dead. There was a tiny apartment that served as a museum and memorial, at ten dollars a ticket.

There was bustling by and pretending it never happened. There was building over top of a tragedy. Maybe that was the only way this city could have moved on.

For me, it feels like covering an amputated limb with a band-aid.

I’m more confused and disconnected now than ever.

Research trip: NYC

Halfway to New York, and I’m in the car working and now blogging. As I’m nearly to my destination and the purpose of this trip is directly related to my future as a writer and novelist, I feel like I should explain the trip’s significance.

I’ve already spoken about the trip’s conception, in a vague way. Allow me now to give that situation context.

I started about a year ago working on a series of short stories that eventually will compose a novel. The working title for the whole project is “Millennium Men.” It concerns a number of topics of great interest to me, and many feelings and conceptions about growing up as an American Midwesterner man at the turn of the century that I hold close to my heart.

The largest and most important of these is the effect of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on me as a resident of Michigan, as an American, and as a young adult at the time. Ever since the tenth grade, when I sat in physics class, watching the event unfold on the class room TV, I’ve felt this sort of strange dichotomy about 9/11.

On the one hand, I feel a great deal about the national tragedy. In a very real sense, it’s still a fresh wound for me. But on a personal, individual-people-who-died-in-the-buildings sort of way. And NOT on a larger, I’m-an-American-and-we-all-grieve-together scale. I’ve never felt “connected” to the tragedy.

In “Millennium Men,” the climax of the story, and the experience of the main characters, has to do with coming of age in a climate where everyone is shaped by a series of events to which the characters feel no strong connections. They (and I) are actually shaped more by the ABSENCE of connection — to the tragedy, to the country, and to each other.

The characters in the novel travel to NYC to deal with how they feel about being American men, and their time at the WTC site is a key moment to the story I want to tell.

So I have to experience that myself, and get my own head on straight about the tragedy, before I can write about it.

That’s tomorrow. I honestly don’t know what to expect.

One of those existential moments, but also involving ‘Star Wars’

A ludicrous Twitter exchange involving my sister and one of her best friends threw into sharp relief how ridiculous my life is.

For the better part of an hour, we jokingly discussed starting a 1950s-style leather jacket-wearing gang not unlike what you’ve seen in “West Side Story.” After discussing possible names (involving crushing, skulls, lasers, souls, and being old and obsolete), we started to talk about being in the gang, where we’d have our clubhouse, training ourselves for extensive snapping, etc.

The entire discussion included no fewer than:
19 references to “Star Wars”
2 references to “The Venture Bros.”
1 reference to “West Side Story”
1 reference to “Star Trek”
2 references to Oprah
2 references to Dr. Phil
2 references to the Jonas Bros.

This while the laptop sat on my lap and I played the new “Ghostbusters” video game. On a Saturday night. Alone.

What’s insane is not that I was freakin’ great at the game of making totally obscure “Star Wars” references during this conversation (and I am); what’s insane is that I remember so much from movies and, often, large portions of my own life are a little hazy.

For example, I was trying to think back on my childhood the other day, specifically the areas of right around fourth and fifth grade. I can’t remember much of anything from those years, except that I was, in a vague way, unhappy. Picked on, probably.

But I can recite most every line from “A New Hope” in succession with a high degree of accuracy. I could act that entire movie out with improvised sets and costumes if I wanted, on very short notice, by myself.

That’s sad in a lot of ways. How is it that “Star Wars” had a greater effect on me than fourth grade?

It’s not like I’m ashamed of my intense nerdiness. “Star Wars” is a morality tale of our time. It’s a quintessential battle between good and evil. Aspiring to be like heroes from movies isn’t a bad thing, I think, especially when it was experiences like laying on the living room floor, chin on hands, watching “The Empire Strikes Back” with Dad that shaped me into the man I am today. I want to be a writer because of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader and Stephen King and George Lucas and Michael Crichton and Chuck Palahniuk and Philip K. Dick. I want to make movies because of Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm and Johnny Five and Rick Deckard and Arnold Schwartzeneggar and Ellen Ripley and George Romero.

But it is a little ri-goddamn-diculous.

I write this post as I dig away at a new zombie story for the “Wrath of the Damned” blog. There’s another ridiculous nerd outlet. And what I do remember of school included a lot of being made fun of (like when I wore this Vader t-shirt mocking an old Uncle Sam poster that said “I want you! For the Galactic Empire.” And douches were like, “you want me?” “No, Darth Vader wants you — to die!” Should have said that). Specifically for things that I liked and was passionate about.

Guess my point is this: The things we like, the things we make, have the potential to be huge. I don’t think I’d be the same person I am today if Indiana Jones didn’t exist. I’m almost positive I’ve never had an impact like that on a person.

And I can count on one hand the people who have had as much an impact on me as Luke Skywalker.

Makes you (or me) think about to what exactly your life amounts. And your work. I wonder if anyone I know would count me on the same hand as Luke Skywalker. Or hell, even Flash Gordon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Timon and Pumba.

And on a similar note, I guess I need to get writing, because I know exactly where the bar is set.