Matt Walsh Writes A Useless Blog. You Deserve Better

Today is Monday, the day where I talk about “The Issues”.  Today’s issue is “Matt Walsh writes a useless blog”.  My friends, you deserve a better blogger than Matt Walsh.  I don’t like Matt Walsh because we don’t see eye-to-eye on a number of ideas.  For instance, I’m going to start this by saying this piece is an opinion piece based on a number of texts Matt Walsh has created, and if you disagree with me you can still be a good person.  If Matt Walsh were to try and make a similar disclaimer, it would have to be something like “I’m going to give you a fact piece based solely upon my biased opinion and if you disagree with me you are a heartless satanic liberal’.  Let me take a step back to justify these claims.

Matt isn’t a humorist.  I feel that is important to mention, because a humorist can write that his blog is ‘absolute truths’ or that he is a ‘professional truth sayer’ for comedic effect; Matt Walsh does both these things purely out of egotistical delusion.  Matt leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m going to show you why, along with some help from my good friend Matt Walsh, who wrote down so many condemning items for me to share.  Now some of you might be thinking “Steve, why are you doing this?”  Because you deserve better, dear reader.  Also, I hate Matt Walsh’s blog, and I think you should too.

I have a few problems with Matt’s blog that cause me to categorize his work as uninspired and unreadable.  The first is that it infests my Facebook feed, when I’d rather see articles written by intelligent people that have something meaningful to say that isn’t just a biased rant typical of a confused old man pining for the white-washed days of yesteryear.  The second problem is that he doesn’t attack actual issues, he attacks straw men that he’s constructed in his head that look nothing like the issue he’s talking about.  The third problem is that Matt lives in a fantasy world that doesn’t look anything like the actual world that we live in.  Matt’s world is one where white patriarchal Christian conservatism is always right, the Satanic liberals are always pushing an agenda of evil, and his proposed ‘solutions’ are relevant to reality.  The fourth problem is that he doesn’t understand complexity, but will always boil a complex issue to a binary stance of either ‘you are with me or against me’.

The fifth problem is that his blog is far too predictable and useless, and that’s the deal breaker for me.  Because I like to know what my friends are reading, and I hate Matt’s blog, I started playing a game called “Can I predict what Matt is going to say?”  I could almost every time without fail.  It is a very easy game to play.  Just pick whatever an elitist conservative ‘Christian’ dripping in white privilege would say, and there you go, the blog practically writes itself.  If the topic is about unarmed black teenagers being gunned down, his post basically says ‘calm down, those cops have a tough job and maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt’ (even though the facts were in by that point, and the attitudes he opposed were in fact correct, he just wanted to ignore them because the black people were right for once). If the topic is about women’s rights, feminism, abortion, or one of those other topics that is a women’s issue, his post basically says ‘bitches need to stop being so uppity and listen up to what he is about to tell them is right’.  If the topic is about suicide, his post basically says that he’s against it, even if a person’s life contains nothing but pain, that life needs to go on suffering because he’s uncomfortable about what his kids will think” or maybe it just shows his complete ignorance about mental health issues and basically says ‘if Robin Williams was right with Jesus, he wouldn’t be so depressed all the time’.  If the post is countering claims that he has white privileged, his post shows that he has no idea what white privilege is so you should shut up because Matt Walsh gets to decide what white privilege is now (which is the ultimate demonstration of white privilege).  I could go on (posts about poor people, atheists, minorities, etc) but this blog post needs to start going somewhere, and can’t just list every condemning biased post Matt has written.  There’s already a blog called What is Matt Walsh wrong about today?; you can read it for more specifics.

The one time I got it wrong was when he wrote a piece called “Sorry, but it’s your fault if you’re offended all the time”.  Without reading the piece, I assumed it was going to be his autobiography, because Matt Walsh blog is nothing but a guy whining about how he is constantly offended by some things that do matter and a lot of things that don’t matter.  Seriously, I can’t find a cheery piece that he’s written in which he’s not trying to sell tickets and make himself money at some speaking event.

[Edit: Right after writing this piece, but before posting it, Matt Walsh wrote this cheery little number about why it is so great to get married.  That’s going to be very funny when you get two paragraphs further into this blog and read how Matt Walsh wants to prevent people from getting married.]

People of the internet, you deserve a better blogger!

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I’d like to do a breakdown of a more recent article from Matt that highlights each of the 5 faults I find in his uninspired work.  This blog post of propaganda and bigotry was waiting for me in my facebook feed.  The article is called ‘There Is No Such Thing as Marriage Equality”.  This is a typical article form Matt.  Go ahead and play the game where you predict exactly what Matt is going to say.  It’s really easy.

Okay, now that you’re predictions are in, go ahead and read the article.  Or don’t.  It’s pretty much what you’d expect it to be.

Matt has two points as to why gay marriage should not be allowed:
• A relationship between two men or two women is not the same exact thing as a relationship between a man and a woman.
• Gay folks can’t have kids.

The rebuttals to these points are “so what?” and “yes they can”.  Matt’s 2000+ word argument can be countered in 5 words.  Also, both of these ‘reasons’ why gay people can’t get married are non sequiturs.

Reasoning isn’t Matt’s strong suit, but deception is.  To really understand Matt Walsh and the kind of writer he is, I feel like there are 3 things that need to happen before you can really get to the heart of his blog posts.  The first is to locate all of the straw men, then all of the non sequiturs, and finally all of the delusions.  The second thing to do is cut out all of the ‘woe is me’ and the ‘what happened to the good ol’ days of yore’ and the ‘why is everything so bad now’ which does nothing but inflate his lacking content with a whiney diatribe.  That’ll take awhile, because he has a lot of clutter in his articles. He likes to include tangential rants to reinforce that the boogeyman of liberalism is behind every problem.  The third thing you do is read what remains once all of the nonsense has been removed from his article.  In this particular post, once you cut all of the crap, you’re left with Matt Walsh saying “I don’t think gay people should get married because I don’t like it.”

Straw Man 1 – The article starts off explaining that poor little Matt is mad.  Matt is mad because marriage equality is being forced on him and he doesn’t like it.  Matt doesn’t like the fact that relationships that don’t involve him in the slightest are occurring, because Matt is a bigot who feels the need to insert his personal philosophies into peoples’ lives to rule over them as a self-entitled white conservative man.

Okay, I’m being intentionally mean, but I wanted to highlight what a straw man looks like.  I started making fun of a caricature of Matt Walsh rather than the author who wrote the article I’m talking about.  This is the kind of tactic that the actual Matt Walsh uses all the time.

Without straw manning Matt, we start off with Matt Walsh complaining that marriage equality can’t exist, therefore it shouldn’t exist, and therefore gay marriages shouldn’t be allowed.  When everyone else in the English speaking world talks about ‘Marriage Equality’, they are talking about the ability for gay people to get married to members of the same sex.  When Matt Walsh talks about ‘Marriage Equality’, he’s saying that a gay relationship isn’t the very same exact thing as a straight one, therefore it is null and void.  Good straw man, Matt!  Those things are not equal.  You get a gold star!  That’s still no reason to outlaw the real marriage equality, though.  Matt just made a bad word game, and a dangerous one at that, which I’ll explain in Straw Man 5.

Straw Men 2 & 3 –  Matt Walsh likes to insult people that don’t agree with him.  In this article, he calls those people brainless, spineless, foolish, and he doesn’t say it outright but he gets very close to calling all his detractors godless, immoral, liberal, baby-killing Satanists trying to start a religion of debauchery.  That’s not a straw man, that’s actually in his article [paragraphs 7 through 10]. You can find other similar rants against his detractors throughout his blog posts.

Specifically, in this one, he picks on people that use emoticons while communicating (which are mostly children, but I guess adults do it to) and Adam Sandler fans.  That’s interesting, because I wasn’t aware that gay tolerant people used emoticons while anti-gay marriage folks never used them at all.  Also, Adam Sandler is a conservative and that’s common knowledge.  His fans are mostly teenage and college boys.  These are folks, which in my experience, don’t really care about politics.  Odd choices to be the downfall of civilization into ‘liberalism’. Emoticons and Adam Sandlar are annoying, I’ll grant Matt that, but they are hardly indications of poor intelligence.   ;^)

Straw Man 4 – Liberalism is the constant boogeyman in Matt’s various posts.  Liberalism is a thing, but what Matt Walsh is attacking is actually just a straw man/boogeyman.  There are many folks that like to portray liberal thought in a scary way in order to inspire loyalty within their audiencesThis is well documented and it is a common tactic found amongst conservative news sources.  In this article, Matt claims that the foundation of liberal philosophy is the support of gay marriage and abortion.  I don’t think he’s trying to be funny here or exaggerate, he honestly thinks that the wellspring of liberal thought is an abortion-centric place.  Clearly this man has some issues when it comes to confirmation bias.

Straw Man 5 –  No one is arguing that a relationship between two gay people of the same sex is the same as a relationship between two straight people of different sexes.  That’s silly.  I’m sure everyone can point out the differences.  Despite this, Matt is acting as if this is the very obvious truth that everyone is blind to and that he needs to explain to his readers.

But let’s go down this rabbit hole.  Is the marriage between a white man and a white woman equal to that of a black man and a white woman?  Should one of these things be made illegal because it is not ‘equal’ to the other?  According to Matt’s logic, yes, those interracial couples have a different relationship and shouldn’t get married.

Some folks might argue ‘eh, it’s close enough’.

And that’s the million dollar answer right there: “eh, it’s close enough.”
This is the same argument used to justify gay marriage.  You’ve got two people, they are in love, they want to spend their lives together, and they want to get married.  “Eh, it’s close enough.”  Matt doesn’t want to acknowledge that there is wiggle room in where we draw the line on what is and isn’t marriage. Unfortunately for Matt, the line that used to exist is being erased and being replaced with one that does include gay couples, and the people moving the line are the Supreme Court Justices.

Straw Man 6 – Matt’s definition of marriage is weird.  Matt seems to think that there is this unchangeable and time tested definition of ‘marriage’ that every single one of us has subscribed to and it can never change or else something bad will happen.  That’s not the case, and that’s a blog post for another day, because ‘traditional marriage’ and ‘biblical marriage’ are two ideas that are horrifyingly bad in a modern context or any other historical context.

Matt thinks that there needs to be a chance for human procreation between the married individuals in order for a marriage to be legitimate.  That shouldn’t matter, but to Matt it does.  He even goes on to explain why couples that get married are selfish if they are not planning on having kids.  My overall interpretation of Matt’s thoughts is that people who can’t or aren’t planning to have kids are not in a legitimate marriage.

Hey Matt, I’m married to my wife and my marriage is fine, even though we aren’t planning on having kids.  You think my marriage is invalid or selfish?  Well screw you.  Your opinion doesn’t matter in the slightest to my wife and me.  You know whose opinion does matter?  The Supreme Court’s opinion, and they are on my side, and we are on the side of gay marriage being a reality.

Again, Matt’s narrowminded ideal of marriage would make it impossible for post-menopausal women, anyone sterile, veterans whose genitals were wounded, or couples that just don’t want kids to get married.  Matt, who also wants to restrict sexual relationships to marriage, and marital relationships to those of people having kids, also lives in the 1800’s with the Victorian Era, and he oversteps his bounds when he tries to tell you what your sexual lifestyle should be.  It isn’t surprising that Matt does this, he is a delusional man drunk on white patriarchal privilege that thinks he is in an authoritative position that can speak ‘absolute truths’ as to how you should live your life, you minority scumbag.

Non Sequitur 1 – Just because a relationship is different doesn’t mean it can’t be recognized by the state.

Non Sequitur 2 –Matt thinks that because gay people can’t have children that they shouldn’t be allowed to get married.  Children have nothing to do with marriage.  When I got my marriage certificate, no one asked me if I was planning on having children with my then fiancée.   Children aren’t an issue.  That’s just Matt pretending he’s the Emporer of the Universe.

Usually it’s a bad sign if both of your points in a debate aren’t related to the argument you are trying to progress.
Matt’s Various Delusions Expressed Throughout The Piece –
•That marriage has a definition we all agree upon, and isn’t some relationship status that fluctuates wildly from culture to culture and time period to time period, starting long before the bible was even a thought
•Liberalism, the boogeyman causing everything to fall apart
•Homosexuality is an implied evil
•Homosexuality is a sign that a civilization is becoming corrupt
•That all forms of Christianity and conservatism are against gay marriage
•That the Supreme Court doesn’t get the final say, Matt Walsh gets the final say
•There is some Liberal conclave working behind the scenes to bring down all that is right with the world in some sort of Lovecraftian horror story, who won’t stop until everyone is forced to have an abortion
•Gay people are infertile, and couldn’t possibly have children via a surrogate mother, a sperm bank, or maybe even a friend of the opposite sex just willing to help out
•There is some concentrated effort by Liberals to dumb the world down in order to achieve some kind of nefarious end that involves gay people being happy
• His own self importance

So what are we left with when we remove all the crazy from Matt’s post?  Nothing relevant.  If we erase all of the tangents about a liberal conspiracy theory, all of the straw men, all of the non sequiturs, and all the delusions, then Matt Walsh’s post is simply him stating his opinion that he doesn’t like gay people and they shouldn’t be allowed to get married because it makes him feel sad.


People of the internet, you deserve a better blogger!

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Burning Down The School

[This is the 5th and last post in a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia”.  To start at the beginning of the story, click this link.]

Edit: To assuage the fears of some of my readers, the title is metaphoric.  I was not an accomplished arsonist in 2nd grade.

Week 7, Day 1, Hour -1  My sister and I were waiting at the bus stop.  I had my minutes sheet in my hand, staring at what I’d accomplished.  Two thousand minutes in a week wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t my best.  My sister had actually beat me this time, with her two thousand three hundred minutes.  Her goal was to beat my total, but that was her being my adorable little sister.  She never liked being younger, and would often try to do what I was doing just to prove that she was my equal or even superior.  There she stood, smiling away because she liked to read and she’d beaten her big brother at his own game.  She was so proud of herself, and I was a bit proud of her also.  I couldn’t believe the girls were willing to destroy an innocent bystander in order to win a reading competition.

I had a lot of time to think my situation over.  I wasn’t responsible for the actions of the girls.  If they decided to start treating my sister terribly, that was all on them.  The trick of the girls’ hostage situation is that they tried to make it look like it was my fault if they decided to be monsters.  I wasn’t going to take responsibility for their actions.  Still, the girls had an objective, which was no longer to win the reading competition but to make me give in to their bullying.  They had one move left, and they would play it if I didn’t look like I’d surrendered.  I didn’t want to set the stage so the girls could release their inner demons on my sister.

So I told Kristen about what was happening.  She listened, tilting her head to the side as I explained the finer details of what was going on.  She looked very solemn during the entire story, until I finished with the threats made to her in the girls’ bathroom.

Kristen nodded twice when I finished, than dug around in her backpack, pulling out her minutes sheet.  She looked me in the eye and tore the sheet down the middle, folded it, then tore it again.  I tried to grab her hands to make her stop, but she wouldn’t, she crumpled them up and threw them in the air like confetti.

“Kristen!  You can’t just throw away your minutes!  You worked hard for that.  You poured everything you are into getting those minutes.  You gave up cartoons and playing with friends and recess for that.  You can’t just throw away everything you’ve earned just because some girls threatened your brother.”

Kristen walked up to me and poked me in the chest, locking eye contact with me.  I was short enough that she was about the same height, and I felt the need to step back, but I didn’t dare.  She uttered a single word with all of the wisdom her tiny self could muster.

“Exactly.”

I nodded.  She was right.

I knew what I had to do.  “Can you put up with some trouble for the next two weeks?”

“If you’ve been doing it for six, I can do it for two.  Girls don’t always need to be rescued.  I’ll be fine.  You can’t let bad people stop you from doing good things.”

I smiled at her.  “Thanks Kristen.  It meant a lot to me.  But you didn’t have to tear up your minutes.”

She shrugged at me.  “I didn’t.  Those were the minutes from last week.”

My sister was a genius.  I had a plan.

Week 7, Day 1, Hour 0  I had the bus driver sign the minute sheets for my sister and me.  Without a spare minutes sheet (I never kept track of old papers), I needed to sneak my minutes past whatever offense the girls launched and get it to Ms Hotchkiss.  I leapt from the bus and ran to my school, but was stopped short when a barricade of girls kept the doors shut.  Other students were filtering through, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to.  The girls had foreseen the obvious move.

“Hey Steve.  Have fun reading last night?”  It was the leader from the restroom, a girl named Jessica, who I had looked up in last year’s year book.

“Hello Jessica.  As a matter of fact, I did.  Would you please move so I can get to class?”

She held out her hand expectantly.  I looked at it, feigning confusion.  Jessica sighed with exasperation.  “Hand over the minutes sheet, stupid.”

I turned around and looked behind me.  “Is there someone else here that you’re talking to?  Because I don’t respond to that.  But if you want to stand out here until we both get in trouble for being tardy, I’m happy to wait.  I know it’ll be easy for me to explain why I’m out here.”

“Give me the sheet.”

“Where are my books?  I’m not giving you the sheet if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain.”  The books materialized, each of them in good shape, and held out of arm’s reach.  I looked at each of them and nodded.  “Good, you brought all of them.  Now if you wouldn’t mind, please hand over your reading sheets to me.”

The girls looked confused.  Jessica stepped forward.  “That wasn’t a part of our deal.”

I shrugged.  “We’re negotiating a new deal, a second deal.  My deal is that you can hand over my library books right now or I start screaming ‘they stole my books!’ while pointing at each of you.  There are too many witnesses for you to back out now, and I won’t take those books from you if you try to thrust them on me.

Jessica stepped on my foot, leaning over me for maximum intimidation.  “I’m not going to get bullied by the likes of you.”

I smiled at her, wincing through the pain.  “Neither am I.  You can either hand over my books or your reading sheets.  I don’t care which.  One shout from me and it’s all over for you.  You’ve still got the books in your hands. I’d hand them over quick before I just change my mind.”

Jessica shoved me and I fell backwards with an undignified yelp.  “No one goes back on a deal with me!”

She grabbed my backpack and rifled through it, but it was entirely empty except for one piece of paper.  Jessica whipped it out of my backpack and held it up in triumph.  I looked up at her from my new spot on the sidewalk.

Jessica threw my backpack back in my face.  She sneered at me, finally victorious over this nerd that had defied her for so long.  “Give him back the books.  I don’t want anyone saying I’m a liar.”

The girls quickly dropped their books off at my feet.  I placed each on in my backpack, looking up at Jessica with disdain until I had the last one.

“Alright, you pushed me over and had your fun.  I’m going to class.”

Jessica shouldered me as I tried to walk past her, but other than that I wasn’t harassed.  The girls watched me go, into the school lobby to take the first right to head to the second grade classrooms.  One look down the hallway and I knew my plan was working perfectly.  I turned around next to the corner of the hallway.  “Oh Jessica, I want you to know that I won this round, and I’m going to win this war.  You all just gave me my books back for nothing.  I’m not sure what you’re going to do with that drawing, but go ahead and keep it.”

Jessica looked at paper she had stolen from my backpack to see that it was a fake reading sheet I’d made in pencil on the bus ride over with the words “I stole this from Steve” written in the minutes section.  She ripped it while shoving her way through the pack of girls.  “You get back here and give me the real minutes sheet or I’m going to beat you up!”

I briskly took three steps to get around the corner and then stopped.  Jessica careened around the corner unable to stop herself before colliding with Ms Hotchkiss.  My sister, who was standing behind Ms Hotchkiss, poorly stifled a laugh.  Ms Hotchkiss towered over us all, and she snatched Jessica’s wrist so she couldn’t get away.  “Is this the minutes sheet you want him to hand over, Ms Jessica?  The one that Ms Kristen handed to me this morning saying ‘the bullies won’t let my brother turn in his minutes so I had to’?”

Jessica turned about face to run but only succeeding in losing her footing to swing by Ms Hotchkiss’s arm back into the grown-up’s legs.  The wrath of Hotchkiss was the likes I had never seen before.  She strode into the lobby, practically dragging Jessica behind her, and pointed at all of the girls.  “You all, in the principal’s office now!  Jessica, you’re coming with me.  We’re going to see if your mother is still in the parking lot because she’s going to be taking you home right this minute!”

Week 7, Day 1, Hour 1  It was the day of reckoning.  Parents were being called, a few of the more active members of the mob had been suspended, and other girls were tripping over themselves to confess so that they could avoid any penalties.  The ‘seven books per girl’ plot had leaked to the adults, and everyone had to return their library books immediately.  Every girl with seven books was noted as the list of suspects grew and grew.  Some tried to deny that they had taken part, but the librarian knew exactly who had seven books and who didn’t.  Those that lied got in more trouble.  The faculty were in a

PE had been suspended for the school, while the entirety of 2nd grade had been corralled into the gym to watch Reading Rainbow, while all of the 2nd grade teachers were in talks with the principal, guidance counselor, and super intendant.  All eyes were on me.

Week 7, Day 1, Hour 2  Recess was interesting.  The girls were in their usual reading circle, but none of them were reading.  They were terrified.  A vicious blame game went back and forth between them as they tried to sort out their stories and organize who would take the fall for what.  It took them awhile to realize that I was standing amongst them.  Silence fell over the circle as they looked at me with wide and frightened eyes.

“Hi ladies.  Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

A few nodded.  The rest froze like deer in headlights, with a rapidly approaching and unclear doom hurtling towards them just down the road.  No one moved, and the spectacle became eerie.  Cassie was the first to respond.  “I heard that you’re going into the principal’s office after recess.”

I nodded.  “Yes.  They wanted to talk to me about the past few weeks.”

Cassie looked at her fellow girls.  I could feel the air saturate with fear.  “What are you going to do?”

I stood there and absorbed the moment.  I had them, and they knew it.  I’d beaten everybody.  If I played my moves correctly, the entire school would be under my control, and whatever I decided to do next would shape the girls’ destiny.  I’d thought about it long and hard, and while it was appealing, it wouldn’t work.  I’d read too many books.

I shifted in my stance.  “What you all put me through was miserable.  I couldn’t sleep, my friends are all mad at me, and I’ve been incredibly lonely ever since school started.  You’ve all made me very sad.  Now when the principal calls me in, I could tell on every last one of you and get you in trouble.  Your parents will get called and you’ll probably be in detention for a week.”

The girls shuddered at that idea, a surge of panic running through the gaggle of girls.

“But,” I continued, having given them a moment of panic they so richly deserved, “I’m not going to get you all in trouble.  Throughout all of this, I’ve been the good guy, and I’ve tried hard to stay the good guy.  You ganged up on me, you fought me, and you tried to crush me.  You all were the bad guys from the very beginning.  I’m not going to sink to your level.  I’m not going to become the bad guy now that I’ve won, not at the very end after I’ve come so far.  I’m going to win, I’m going to end this, and I’m going to do that on my terms.”

Cassie swallowed hard.  “What does that mean?”

Week 7, Day 1, Hour 3  In the principal’s office, I had some explaining to do.  After the second time that a large group of girls had gotten in trouble for picking on me, the school had to take action.  Mr. Paul sat across his desk from me with a yellow legal pad and pen.  A taskforce of teachers were around his office, most leaning against his book shelves.  My sister sat next to me, swinging her feet high above the floor she couldn’t reach.

Mr. Paul was going through a long explanation of various ‘feel better’ and ‘this isn’t the way it should be’ messages designed for someone identifying as a victim in a situation that they couldn’t control.  I didn’t care to listen too much because I wasn’t a victim. I had controlled the competition quite nicely.  Very soon, I would be the victor.  Still, I looked very pleased with what he was saying, waiting my turn to speak.

After a good five minutes of Mr Paul talking to some victim that I just couldn’t locate in the room, he finally asked me what I’d like him to do to make the situation better.  My sister looked at me, I could tell that she had been drowning out the victim conversation with her own thoughts as well.  I found my voice.  “Mr. Paul, what is the minute count for our school?”

Mr. Paul blinked at me, the sudden conversation change catching him offguard.  “Uh, it’s right on track for a million.  Just a few hours shy.”

“I think what would really help is if you stopped the reading drive right now.  It’s done nothing right, and so many people have done things wrong.  It’s gotten out of hand.”

Mr. Paul blinked again.  “Steve, you worked so hard to gain so many minutes for the school.  Why would you want to give all that up?”

“Things have gotten worse every week since this started.  Today a pack of girls were tearing apart my homework and trying to beat me up.  I don’t want to see how this gets worse a week from now.  Either this stops now or I’m not coming back.”

Mr. Paul looked around at the teachers.  If he’d been alone, he’d have tried to talk me out of it.  With the audience he’d look heartless if he refused the request.  The teachers were tired of this and didn’t have the energy to go on; I could read it on their faces.  “Steve, that’s what we wanted to talk about.  Who are the people specifically that are picking on you?”

I smiled back at Mr. Paul.  “I don’t want to get into who did what.  That’ll only make things harder for me.  I’d be the tattle-tale who had to hide behind the teachers because he got scared.  If you want them to stop bullying me, I need to win on my own terms.”

“Steve, we have nine hundred thousand minutes.  You’d be losing the reading drive for everyone.”

“I know, but its worth it.”

Ms Hotchkiss stood up from her spot, leaning against the bookshelf.  “Dave, can we just do it?  My class is going to be a nightmare if we don’t.”

Mr Paul sat still, thinking hard about what to do next.  “I think you’re right.  We’re going to stop it as of this minute.  Book reading was never supposed to cause this kind of behavior.”  Mr. Paul looked into my eyes, searching for my thoughts.  “Steve, is there anything I can do to help?”

“There is one thing.  Can you subtract my minutes from the school before you end the competition?  Those are mine, and I don’t want anyone else to have them.”

My sister was quick to join in.  “Me too.  I want my minutes to go with his.”

Mr. Paul looked at the two of us.  “I can do that.  You two are dismissed to your classrooms.”

Walking down the hallway, my sister grabbed my hand and skipped along.  “You won.  You could have done anything.  You could have gotten everyone in trouble, but you didn’t.  Why not?  Why not beat the bad guys?”

I smiled at her.  “I did beat the bad guys, but picking on them after I won is something that a good guy doesn’t do.  I just had to beat them by doing to them the one thing they couldn’t do to me.”

Kristen looked puzzled.  “what’s that?”

“I took away every single last one of their minutes.  Those girls you saw picking me, they sold their souls for nothing.  Nothing.  And I want them to know that forever.”

Week 7 Reading List:  Nothing.  I played soccer all week.

Final Count:  Team Steve & Kristen with 29,682 worthwhile minutes out of 1,000,000.
Sunnyside Elementary with 0 worthwhile minutes out of 1,000,000.

The End

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Getting In Trouble Is Great Practice For Staying Out Of Trouble

Week 6, Day 1  When I got back to school, my books hadn’t magically reappeared like I hoped they would have.  The girls had them on lock-down somewhere.  I could feel their eyes probing my expression as I searched for them.  I shut my desk and smiled up at everyone.  It was the best tactic I had.  I wasn’t going to worry about those books.  The girls had them and there was no guarantee that they’d ever turn in my books even after I stopped reading.  They might keep them forever out of spite, and based on their recent switch from normal to evil, I dismissed those books as collateral damage in their misguided war against me.  The difference between the girls and I is that I was used to being in trouble.  The punishments looming over my head were annoyances, but I could deal with them.  There was no use worrying about that now because it was out of my hands.  I was going to forget about it and be happy, because that was the only way I knew how to conquer their fear tactic.

It was time to fight back.

One thing I learned from reading is that bullies don’t like an enemy.  So far I’d managed the damage they threw my direction, but this only encouraged them to throw more trouble my way.  If this kept up, they only needed to overload my life with misery until I couldn’t manage it.  A school of 200 girls would eventually win, so ‘ignoring the bully’ was out of the question.  I needed to go on the offensive.

Fighting back would be difficult.  I lived in conservative Iowa, which is protected as a time capsule by the rest of the world.  Things were backward here.  The girls were immune to any penalty for their crimes unless their crimes were severe.  Previously this year I had been attacked by a girl who just started punching me repeatedly, the first two sucker punches in the face.  I slapped her hand hard to make her stop.  A teacher saw this and immediately came to stop the fight.  The girl was coddled for being so innocent and defenseless; I was punished for hitting a girl and had all my recesses taken away for the day to think about what I had done.  I did think, confirming over and over that I had done the right thing.  The reason I was in trouble was twofold.  The first reason is that I didn’t tell on her first, because the first person to tell doesn’t get in trouble.  The second thing I did wrong was that I was born a boy.  Girls and boys were treated differently, I had noticed over the course of three years in school.  Girls were always innocent no matter how malevolent.  Boys were always guilty and were expected to just take any abuse.  Getting the teachers involved in this would be difficult, because I couldn’t be the first one to tell,  it had to be a girl.

I had one advantage.  The girls didn’t know that I was fighting back.  I’d played possum long enough to surprise them when I turned lion.

First recess came around and the girls all formed their reading circle.  I approached their circle, my own book in hand.  “I want my books back.”

The girls didn’t answer me, they just stared at their books.  It was a free chance to read each of their expressions.  A schism was forming, like I thought would happen.  Girls tended to follow the rules, be nice to everyone, and be much better human beings than boys.  Three out of five of the girls looked nervous and reluctant.  This shift to organized crime was out of character and they didn’t like it.

“I said I want my books back.”

Megan was the first to answer, talking in an angry and sarcastic tone.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I laughed.  Laughs can convey a great range of things.  I felt like mine conveyed victory.  The girls all looked up from their books.  Speaking couldn’t break their obvious attempts to ignore me, but laughing could.  They were expecting anger.  Jubilation from their victim was something that scared them.  “That’s funny, Megan.  It’s funny because everyone here knows that you are lying.  You don’t have to admit it, we all know it.  That makes you a liar, Megan.  You’re a bad guy.  A villain.  A cheat.  A sneak.  The problem with liars is that they can’t be trusted.  Maybe one day they’ll say something like ‘I promise that none of you will get in trouble for stealing Steve’s books’, and the next day they are telling the principal exactly who did what, because the first person to tell won’t get detention.  The first person to tell is a good guy.  Liars aren’t, and will say anything they need to in order to save their skin in that moment.  The only question is, which of you is going to tell on the others first?”

I walked away.  I could hear Megan scramble to her feet, as she got up to go tell on me, exactly as planned.  I imagined that she was going to tell on me for calling her a list of bad names, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on.  I turned around and said to the girls, “looks like she’s beating you to the punch.  She’s probably ratting you all out right now.”

The girls looked scared now.  I walked away.  Any moment a teacher would come swooping down on me, and I needed to be out of earshot when that happened.  I needed the girls to think that Megan had told on them and not me.

Sure enough, Ms Hotchkiss came stomping my direction with Megan in toe.  Megan was behind the teacher and was smiling with such vehemence that I knew I wasn’t wrong to call her a villain.  “Mr. Steve.  Megan tells me that you called her a liar in front of all of her friends.”

“Really?”  I asked innocently.  “What was she lying about that would make me say such a thing?”

Hotchkiss turned her attention to Megan.  Megan wasn’t ready for this.  Her plan was to tell on me and get me in trouble and that’d be the end of it.  My plan was to force her to confess.  I had to tread carefully here; one wrong move and I’d be in trouble for name-calling.  Megan was caught off guard, assuming she was in trouble because of Ms Hotchkiss’s sudden attention, when really Ms Hotchkiss was waiting for her to clarify what I was supposed to be in trouble for.  Good kids tend to get really nervous when it comes to the recess authorities.  I had plenty of experience with them and knew how to keep my cool.  I needed a loaded statement that either confirming or denying would still land her in trouble.  Megan looked infuriated at me before yelling “nevermind!”

“Because what I asked her was if she knew which of the girls stole books from my desk in order to frame me with the library lady.  Megan said she knew who it was but that she wasn’t going to tell me.”

“I did not!”

Megan didn’t even see the trap.  She had denied a detail of a story, which still left her guilty.  She needed to deny the entire story to stay in the clear.

“Ms. Megan, do you know who stole Steve’s books?”

Tears welled up in Megan’s eyes.  It was too late.  I was dismissed from the conversation, as Ms Hotchkiss liked to deal out verbal scoldings one on one, something I was very familiar with.  I smiled and walked over to the old slide.  The girls in their reading circle were frozen in fear.  I winked at them.

“I don’t know who has the books, but the safest place to hide them right now is in my desk.”

Week 6, Day 1, Night 1  The fallout from Megan’s capture was severe.  Megan couldn’t keep quiet.  She’d never been in trouble before and didn’t know how to navigate the principal’s office.  She was scared.  Everyone is, their first time in the principal’s office, but there are a few rules you don’t break, such as telling on one of your friends and dragging them into your misery.  Megan did herself no favors by ratting on everyone she knew who was involved.  Ms Hotchkiss called together a parent meeting with all of the girls’ parents to talk about bullying.  So many grounded with so little effort.  To top it off, each of them had to write me a letter of apology, which meant that ten minutes of reading time was wasted on a letter I probably wouldn’t even read.  That’s one hundred and forty minutes right there.

The school did still see fit to hold me responsible for the books I’d checked out.  There wouldn’t be the usual threat of detention, but I needed to be responsible for the property I borrowed.  I’d have to pay for it with my allowance, but that was a small price to pay to get out from under the girls’ current form of blackmail.

Week 6, Day 2  It happened suddenly.  I was walking on my way to TAG (talented and gifted) when a hand reached out and pulled me into the girls’ restroom and pinned me against a wall.  There I was, surrounded by a host of my classmates and a couple of larger fifth graders for muscle.  The girls from my class were red-eyed from crying, and looked particularly cross with me.  I didn’t expect them to call in reinforcements.

I didn’t recognize the girl who was holding me against the wall.  She was much larger than I was, but as a very short kid (the shortest in my grade), this wasn’t an accomplishment.  Maybe a third grader?  Either way she had too much muscle backing her up for me to break free.  She spoke with a tone of bullying authority.  “Hey Steve.  We noticed that you’re still reading.  We already told you what would happen if you didn’t stop.”

“You sure did.  Can I go now?”  I tried to sound dismissive, but this unexpected show of force had me nervous.

Their leader pushed me harder against the wall.  “It’s not funny.  We’ve still got the books.  You’re still in trouble if you don’t return them.”

I looked up at the ceiling and made a face of exaggerated thinking.  “Not really.  Hotchkiss knows that they were stolen.  The library lady likes me.  I call her ‘Book Worm’ to her face and she likes it.  She got me a book for my birthday and Christmas last year.”

The girls all looked at each other, unsure of how to proceed.  This wasn’t going to plan.  I imagine they thought I’d cry and wet myself, but that wasn’t what they got.  No one had told them that the school had forgiven my future crime of late library books.  The time to strike was now.  I looked back into the eyes of their leader, still holding me against the wall.  “I’m not sure what I’m doing here.  If your plan is to beat me up, you can.  It’s going to be hard explain why all of you needed a hall pass at the same time to go to the bathroom once they find a boy bleeding on the floor of the girl’s bathroom, but I’m sure that all of you combined could actually beat me up.  I’m not even going to swing back, because I’d hate to crowd the detention hall with you.”

A scared voice from the back whispered “what are we going to do?  He’s going to get us all in trouble again.”  It was Megan.  She looked miserable, probably staying up all night crying about getting caught.

“You’re right, Megan.  I am going to get you all in trouble.  I just haven’t decided how yet, but I’ve got options.”

This wasn’t going as planned.  I refused to be afraid and they only had fear tactics.  Their leader snared “get one of his books out.”

To my surprise, they had it.  I recognized the cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins.  I watched the book carefully.  I didn’t see whose bookbag they pulled it from, which was disappointing.  Their leader turned to look at it, then sneered back at me.  “Throw it in the toilet.”

I couldn’t see, but I heard the splash.  My mind raced to keep ‘unscared’.  The best I could do was formulate half a joke about the Island in the toilet.   Still, that was a week’s worth of chores down the drain.  Their leader turned back to me.

“This is what is going to happen next.  You can read all you want to.  Next week, if you want your books back, you’re going to give me the slip of paper with your minutes on it before you turn it into Hotchkiss.  I’ll keep your minutes, and you get your books back.  If you don’t do this, you’ll never see your books again.”

“Fine.  It’ll cost me two months of allowance, but it’ll cost you your character.”

“That’s not all, pipsquek.  Think long and hard before you try to defy us again.  We can get to you in more ways than this.”  The leader fished something out from her pocket.  I recognized the tiny salmon colored lunch ticket, because I had drawn a Viking on the back of mine.  It looked like I was going hungry for the next few days, but that also gave me more time to read.  “We can get your lunch tickets, we can get your homework, we can make you miss the bus, we can tell on you for all sorts of things, we can make the boys hate you, we can make you unpopular, we can spread rumors, and we can keep this up forever.  Who are you going to take to the dances in High School when all of the girls hate you?  Who are you going to go on dates with?”

I smiled at them all.  “None of you deserve me.”

A punch landed soundly in my stomach, knocking the wind out of me.  I collapsed to the floor, fully expecting to get kicked next.  Nothing happened.  I decided to risk another quip.  “You know something?  I’m glad you did this, because now I know that I’m the good guy in this story, and that each and every one of you is the bad guy.  You’ll know it when you look in your mirrors tonight while brushing your teeth.  You’ll think ‘I’m a bad guy’.  You’ll know I’m right because you’ll be angry with me or angry with yourself, but either way you’ll be an angry bad guy.  You can’t win.  Even if you win the competition, that ice cream won’t even begin to get rid of the taste of turning into a monster.”

“Get me that minute’s sheet or your life is going to be miserable forever!  You see, you might be acting strong now, but you won’t be.  The library books were just the beginning.  What will you do when your sister comes crying to you because everyone decided to stop being her friend?  We can get her too.  If you turn in another minutes sheet, you and your sister will see just how bad things can get.”

The girls filed out of the restroom and all went back to their classes, leaving me alone in the girls’ bathroom.  I let out a sigh that went from relief to despair.  I wasn’t holding up well.  I was a social kid.  The isolation of Read A Million Minutes was taking its toll.  I didn’t want to be the nerdy kid that had to sit by himself at recess.  I wanted to be the kid that got to do what he loved and still had people like him for who he was.

Threatening my sister, Kristen, was taking this fight to a whole new level.  She was leading her Kindergarten class, putting up more minutes than her entire class.  Effectively, she canceled me out in the school competition.  It wasn’t fair for her if she was punished for reading.  I couldn’t do this to her also.  It wasn’t fair to ask a Kindergartner to be a social outcast in her second month of school.

Maybe it would be easier to just give up.  I could recapture soccer, the friendship of the boys, the neutral tolerance of the girls, hours of free time, and peace of mind.  For the first time I considered quitting.

I got up and looked in the toilet.  The girls had made a mistake here.  Explaining how my library book wound up in the girl’s bathroom wouldn’t be easy.  The hall passes contained the list of possible suspects.  The trouble was that I couldn’t be the one to tell anyone about the book, because I had a hall pass also and it might look like I was dumping my own books to frame someone.  Instead, I just left.

Week 6 Reading List: The Beast, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Swiss Family Robinson, Johnny Tremain

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Just Because Your Little Girls Are Angels, It Doesn’t Mean They Came From Heaven

[This is part 3 in a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia”.  The first post in this series can be found by clicking on this link.]

Week 5, Day 2 Once a week we had library time, which was a chance for us to check out a book from the school library.  I loved this time of the week because I could pick up more of the authors I liked, their books were right on either side of the book I had previously selected.  This week was different.  I quickly rounded the library to the fiction section where I had collected all of my books.  They were gone.  All of the books in the fiction section had been checked out.  That was impossible!  It would take every kid in the school to check out that many books.  Or maybe…

I turned around to see a bunch of girls giggling by the doorway.  They weren’t even in my grade, these were fifth graders.  Each held a stack of seven books, the maximum amount we were allowed.  Their leader mouthed “look in the back”.  I went around to a little bookshelf to see that the only books remaining were the entirety of the Babysitters Club series.  More giggling ensued when they saw my disappointment.  Yet the library was sacred, and I wasn’t going to let them hurt me on my turf.  I approached the librarian to see if there were any books that had been turned in and had yet to be put on the shelves.  The girls bristled, as they hadn’t anticipated this move.

The librarian, a kindly old woman, said “I’d give these to you, but only the fifth graders have been to the library.  These are way too advanced for a second grader.”

With some quick talking and a promise to take care of them, I convinced her that I was up to the challenge, and I checked out all of them.

Week 5, Day 3  It was time for silent reading, a fun ceremony where we all got to read and Ms Hotchkiss got to drink some coffee and grade some papers.  This was the only time that the boys put minutes on the board, it seemed.  I was delighted, because I got to read again.  I was halfway through Hatchet and I wanted to know what happened after Brian had accidently kicked the porcupine.  I went to lift the top of my desk to find that it wouldn’t budge.  I tried again, but nothing happened.  I stood up to give it a good go, but when I heaved with all my might the desk didn’t open, it just flipped over.

Ms Hotchkiss whirled around, “Steve, what is it that you are doing?”

“My desk won’t open.”

“We don’t throw desks around just because they don’t open.”

Julie raised her hand, but proceeded to talk without actually being called on.  “Ms Hotchkiss, the reason his desk won’t open is because Steve glued it shut.”

That’s silly, why would I glue my own desk shut?  Oh you lying jerk!  Ms Hotchkiss zoomed across the room, sailing like a foxtail on the breeze through the maze of classroom clutter.  She descended upon me so swiftly that I was unable to enact any kind of verbal defense of my innocence.  One sniff and she confirmed that my desk was indeed glued shut.  “Steve, it’s very bad that you glued your desk shut.  We also don’t throw our desks.  That’s something bad kids do.  You know what else bad kids do?  They go to the principal’s office.

“But I didn’t do it Ms Hotchkiss!  It had to be the girls-“

“We also don’t tell lies to get out of trouble.  We take responsibility for our actions.  Come along now.”

I had to sit in the principal’s office without a book for all of silent reading, and for the first recess.  All the while I sat, staring at the clock, watching my minutes slip through my hands into oblivion.  I had zero minutes because of this charade.  The girls had two hundred and eighty.  I had to read five hours when I got home just to catch up.

When I got back to class, the janitor had pried my desk open and removed all of the rubber cement.  He gave me a scolding about respecting other people’s property.  I tried pointing out that I don’t even own rubber cement, but that just made him angry, because now he thought I’d lost a bottle of rubber cement somewhere and it was vandalizing some other part of the building.  I didn’t listen to him; I didn’t have to.  Not only was there no rubber cement in my desk, there were no books that I’d checked out from the library.  All of them were gone.  If I didn’t return them by next week I’d get a detention every day until they were returned.  I couldn’t get detention, I had to take the bus home.  The girls had sent their message loud and clear.  I couldn’t even risk telling on them, because sitting on the board was my name with a checkmark behind it.  One more instance of misbehavior and I was in for a detention.  Who was going to believe that the girls were all a part of some massive conspiracy, when I, the class clown was so much easier to blame?

On the bus ride home, Paige sat next to me.  She lived in my neighborhood, and it was especially hurtful that someone from my street could turn on me.  “I’m sorry about the desk and the books.”

“Thanks.  Do you know where they are?”

“No.  They hid them in case you asked Ms Hotchkiss to search all the desks in the room.  I think the third graders have them now.”

“Paige, I’m going to get in trouble if they don’t give me those back!  I told the librarian I’d take special care of them.”

“I know.  I’m supposed to tell you that if you stop reading this week, you’ll get the books back.  We’ll put them in the book return and nothing will happen. You won’t get detention, and you’ll get to catch your bus.”

“Paige, they can’t do this!  This is stealing!  This is lying.”

Paige sighed, because I just wasn’t getting it.  When she spoke next, her voice was curt and condescending.  “If you keep reading, your books are going to stay missing for a month.  Then they’ll show up on the library’s doorstep one day, except they’ll have been washed in a tub, colored with crayons, every fifth page will be missing, and we’ll smear them with mud.”

“Paige, tell them no!  I’ll have to give up my allowance to buy those books back, and I’ll have to miss the Scholastic Book Fair!  They’ll take away my library card.  They won’t let me read anymore.”

“Then you know what to do.”  Paige got up and went to the front of the bus with the rest of the girls.

Week 5, Day 4 I had to borrow a book from my aunt and uncle, my babysitters before school began.  Technically I stole it, but both of them were working on some unrelated project and were unavailable to be asked.  It was the first time I had delved into Stephan King.  The Green Mile started off in a pretty scary place, unlike all of the previous books I had read.  The characters seemed much more mean than they needed to be.  It was an eye opening experience.

At school I didn’t want to talk to anyone.  The boys were jerks and the girls were nefarious.  I just wanted to sink into my shadow and disappear.  That wasn’t going to happen today.  Today was the day that Ms Hotchkiss had updated her bar graph.

I was still in first, but there were more bars.  Cassie was in second, Pam was in third, the girls were in fourth, Paige was in fifth, and the boys didn’t matter.  The girls all collectively bristled.  If Hotchkiss had kept the girls together they would have won, but she didn’t.  Somehow this was my fault, and I could feel the malevolence of their resolve strengthening around me.  The only way they’d win is if Cassie could beat me by herself, otherwise the girls’ bar graph would just keep splitting.

Silent reading approached and I took out The Green Mile,taking a peek at the girls around me.  It was hard to read their expressions.  I hadn’t stopped reading, despite their threats to my library books.
It was a strange mixture of expressions, showing some kind of disappointed respect.  The girls were at a crossroads.  They didn’t really want to steal my books, rip them apart, and frame me for a crime I didn’t commit; they just wanted to win the competition.  I smiled over my book at each of them, because even though they were debasing themselves they still weren’t getting what they wanted.

The problem with silent reading was that it gave the girls a solid 10 minutes to come up with a plan.  Courtney was the first to pounce on my rebellion against the mafia’s tyranny.  “Ms Hotchkiss!  Steve is reading a bad book!”

Ms Hotchkiss stood up and looked at my book.  “What’s that you are reading?”

“The Green Mile by Stephan King.”

“Will you come to the front of the class, Mr. Steve?”

The girls all put their books down, watching what would happen.  They had been prepared to make threats of getting me in trouble, but seeing the consequences carried out was something else entirely.  I gauged their expressions as I approached Hotchkiss’s desk.  Some of them were ready to give in to this, uncomfortable with what they had become.  The others sat resolute in the face of my destruction, determined to finally crush this boy that dared to defy their collective might.

Ms Hotchkiss didn’t have much patience for my surveying of the classroom.  “Steve, have you been faking your reading this entire time?  There is no way that you are reading a Stephen King novel.  That’s way above you level.”

“No it’s not!  It’s about a prison guard in a nursing home. It’s easy for me.”

“Steve, I think that you’ve been pretending to read and putting up fake numbers.  A few of the girls mentioned that you’d checked out books from the fifth grade section, and they think you are faking your reading.  Are you lying just to win?  Are you just pretending to read?”

My voice cracked, as I was on the verge of tears.  The girls weren’t satisfied with trying to stop my minutes, they wanted to wipe away everything I’d done, as if this whole time I’d been sacrificing my recesses for nothing.  “No, I’m not!  I can read it to you!  It’s easy for me.”  I was not going to let Ms Hotchkiss disqualify me from all my hard work.  I opened the book and read quickly and confidently, putting Ms Hotchkiss through one of the most surreal moments of her life as a second grade boy read aloud the story of a botched execution of a prisoner via electric chair.

“Uh…nevermind, Steve.  That was some good reading.  Can we get you a different book?”

From that moment on, for the rest of my second grade career, Ms Hotchkiss would always have a hint of worried panic in her expression when she looked at me.  She also called home to make sure everything was okay.  Mom was furious with my uncle for letting me get my hands on the book, but it wasn’t his fault really.  My uncle switched out The Green Mile for a couple of books from his Doc Savage collection.

Week 5: Voyage Of The Frog, Sign Of The Beaver, Redwall, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Number The Stars, The Green Mile

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART IV….

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Sugar And Spice And Thrice The Vice

[This is Part II of a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia.  Read part 1 by clicking on this link.]

Week 4  I was still in the lead.  To show everyone in my class that I was going to do this with or without the boys, I put up some better numbers than the previous weeks.  The girls had gotten their act together, however.  They had read exactly one minute more than I did last week.  It was a show of dominance, their reading schedules so tightly controlled and disciplined that they could strike with such precision.  I sat there, staring intently ahead at the bar graph, carefully focusing so that the girls with their malicious smiles couldn’t see me crack.  They wanted to see the fear in my eyes, and it was there, but as long as I kept them focused on the bar graph, no one could see my shivering soul.

I was in first.  The girls were in second.  Cassie was in third.  If Hotchkiss had included Cassie with the girls, I was defeated, but no one else seemed to realize this, so I kept my mouth shut about it.

We had just started multiplication and I knew the awful truth.  Every one minute that went by, I could put up a total of one minute, but the girls could put up 14.  In one hour I could only generate 60 minutes, but the girls could accumulate 840.  If they all read 2 hours a day, I’d have to read 28 hours a day in order to keep up, which didn’t seem likely.  The girls had organized.

The recess bell rang, much to my sweet relief.  The classroom was thick with tension and I needed to kick a soccer ball around to work out my frustration, but before I could stand up from my desk I was frozen in fear.  In a synchronized motion, each girl lifted her desk and pulled out a book, then looked over at me and smiled before getting up and walking outside.  No…it couldn’t be.  I grabbed A Wrinkle In Time just in case, and fled out the door to the recess field.  There they all were.  My class of girls had formed a reading circle.  That wasn’t fair.  You couldn’t do school work at recess!  That was against America!  Yet there they sat, each happily reading away while Ms Hotchkiss watched over them to sign off on their minutes.  I did some quick multiplication in my head.  A total of 45 minutes of recess times 14 girls equaled….somewhere around a million minutes.

Breanne saw me first.  She snapped twice and pointed as I exited the school.  The girls all turned in unison and as sweetly as they could sang out “hey there, Steve.”  I stood there, nervous.  I lived to play soccer three times a day at school and once at the YMCA.  I woke up every morning and got my soccer shorts on in preparation for school.  What these girls were doing was unfair.  I had a choice.  I could either buckle down and read during recess, or I could do what I loved.

With a grave sadness in my heart, I approached the reading circle.  Maybe, just maybe we could strike a peace between us.  “Hey, uh, can I join your reading circle?”

Sarah was the only one to look up from her book, the rest went on diligently reading, although I caught a few sneaking peaks out from behind their pages.  With the utmost concern in her voice, Sarah spoke for the group.  “Oh, Steve, I’m sorry.  This reading circle is for the team that’s going to win the ice cream party.  Sorry about that.”

Sarah went back to her book; the conversation was over.

There would be no peace.

They had taken the boys’ allegiance away, they had taken soccer away, and now they had taken away any chance of readership comradery.  They had me in complete isolation and the choices were to surrender to regain everything I had, or to be systematically dismantled in isolation.  I couldn’t keep up, and they knew it.

I climbed the old forgotten slide on the playground and opened up my book.  Maybe it was out of spite.  Maybe it was out of anger.  Or just maybe this was my fight to finish, because I wanted this; I needed this.  I loved books and I loved soccer and I loved recess, and these girls weren’t going to ruin everything.  No.  For every minute I read, I took 4 seconds away from each of them.  For every hour I read, I took 4 minutes away.  Two could play at this game.

When recess ended, the harassment was relentless, not from the girls, but from the boys.  By choosing to read, I’d apparently chosen to be a girl.  The boys all made their jokes as best they could, stereotyping and sexist jokes that proved how weak their derogatory powers were, which would have been greatly improved if they actually read something.

“Why don’t you go kiss a boy, you nerd?”
“Are you growing your hair out?”
“What’s next Steve?  Are you going to have a baby?”

It seemed that the boys had no knowledge of how to do a proper insult, so they scrapped the bottom of their very shallow barrels to pull out all of the information they knew about girls, which wasn’t much.

The girls were delighted at this turn of events.  How easily they manipulated their male counterparts.  These results were more than they could have ever hoped for.  They sat back at a respectful distance and reveled in every minute of this, watching as I got ever closer to snapping.  And I did, in fine form.

“You want to make fun of me because I’m reading?  That’s the very thing that you swore to me you’d do on the soccer field!  You think I’m a girl because I read, well let me tell you something. Men keep their promises, so if I’m a girl, I don’t know what you are, but it’s something far worse.”

Everyone, boys and girls alike, stood there in shocked silence.  It was clear that the boys had come to a battle of wits unarmed.  I had Beverly Cleary, Bruce Covell, Laurence Yep, Mark Twain, and a host of other ammunition.  More importantly, I had allies. I had D’Artagnan, Henry Huggins, Shimmer, young Henry Jones, Phileas Fogg, Tom Sawyer, Basil of Bakerstreet, Robinson Crusoe, and an entire army of men and women that stuck it out alone against insurmountable odds no matter who was against them or who made fun of them.  I was an unstoppable legion.

Week 4 Reading List:  Goblins In The Castle, The Castle In The Attic, Lost in the Devil’s Desert, Dollhouse Murders, Bridge To Terabithia, A Wrinkle In Time

Week 5, Day 1  Things continued to get worse.  To mark the halfway point of Read A Million Minutes, the school held an assembly.  They announced a few figures to show that we were ahead of where we needed to be, and with some renewed effort we would prevail.  And then they threw me under the bus.

The principal wanted to recognize the leaders of our minute count and award them each with a pencil.  I was in first, Cassie was in second, Pam was in third, and Paige was in forth.  The fifth was some girl from fourth grade named Samantha.  The principal watched as we all got up from our seats in the gym.  “Hey, Ms Hotchkiss.  You’ve got the top 4 in your class?  How did you do it?”

Ms Hotchkiss beamed with delight.  “I’m running a boys vs girls competition.”

The principal nodded in approval.  “Well why don’t we do that here?  I was going to say let’s split it up by grade, but Ms Hotchkiss’s class has obviously won it for second grade.  Let’s do boys verses girls!”

Boys and girls throughout the school cheered.  I knew that the boys were doomed, for in that moment of friendly competition I heard Pam and Paige turn to the fourth grader Samantha and say “We’ve got this in the bag, the only boy we need to take down is Steve, and the rest will fall.  Next time it’ll be five girls standing up here.”

Ms Hotchkiss’s class got an extended recess for their efforts.  It stung that my effort had bought my enemies more time for them to kick their soccer ball around and laugh at me for being a nerdy girl.  However, when recess hit, the three girls that played soccer weren’t there.  The reading circle was gone.  The boys were all lost in their game of soccer, but I needed to find out what they were up to.  I ran around the recess field, and even around the school, but I could not find them until I chanced to glance into the window that led to the basement where the music room was.  Every single girl in the school was in there listening to Cassie speak.  I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it couldn’t be good.  The mafia had branched out, and now it included every girl in the school.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART III

The 2nd Grade Mafia: Powerful Enemies Waiting In The Shadows Of The Slides

I grew up in a sleepy town in Iowa, deep in the country about an hour’s drive from the nearest interstate, but even that kind of seclusion could not protect me from the horrors of organized elementary school crime.  I was in 2nd Grade when it all started.  I lived out in the country, miles from the nearest classmate.  My parents couldn’t get far enough from everyone else, it seemed.  I was too young to bike the required distance to seek out companionship, so every summer I turned to books to get me through the lonely days.  I read a lot and at an advanced level, but I didn’t know because other than my younger sister, another advanced reader, reading the 3 Musketeers and Gulliver’s Travels in a week was commonplace.  Yet because of this isolation, I found myself ill prepared for the social aspect of a book reading competition that would crush my soul.
Ms Hotchkiss had introduced the school’s reading initiative to us, a competition called “Read A Million Minutes”.  For the next 2 months, we were to record our time spent reading and then as a school we’d combine these times to see if we could hit 1 million minutes.  Ms Hotchkiss was going to up the ante for our 2nd grade classroom.  She split the class into boys and girls, and whichever team read more minutes would receive an ice cream party.  It was an innocent enough move on her part to spark some friendly competition, but it would drive a wedge between the sexes that would last until puberty.

Week 1  Without a hitch, this was the easiest week.  The girls were ahead at the very beginning, but that was to be expected.  The girls had shown much more excitement at the onset of the competition, and more of the boys were enrolled in soccer at the YMCA, which took a good 2 hours out of our available reading time.  We were very competitive, however, and we made a pact with each other that we would buckle down and beat the girls at this competition.  School stuff was the girl’s domain, and we wanted to beat them on their own turf.

I did have my worries.  The boys were committing to reading an ‘hour’ when they got home.  I started reading as soon as I got home, took a break for dinner, and then stopped when it was time to brush my teeth and go to bed.  Sometimes I didn’t even stop when it was time to go to bed, I just kept going.  Still, I had learned about multiplication just recently, and twelve boys times sixty minutes was a lot of time, more than I could do in a day, unless that day was Saturday because I totally finished three literary classics last Saturday.

Week 1 Reading List: Around The World In 80 Days, Call of the Wild, Black Beauty, Every Henry Huggins Book, Dragon of the Lost Sea, Dragon Steel

Week 2  The boys were ahead now, which sounds like a good move to win a competition, but it was a tragic mistake.  We were 2nd grade boys, and as any parent of a son knows, 2nd grade boys are turds.  We weren’t winning gracefully.  We celebrated, we bragged, and we rubbed it in every chance we got.  The girls would never hear the end of it if we had our way.  The boys had dominated, and nothing could please our little jubilant hearts more.  Ms Hotchkiss had to resort to the school’s discipline method of writing our names on the board to keep us in line.  A name on the board was bad, but was just a warning shot fired by the teacher across the bow.  If we misbehaved again we got a check behind our name, and that meant that we lost recess for the day, and a couple of us got that check because we were monsters with no social graces.  Despite our colossal victory over the girls, the threat of losing recess was too much for us, because we lived to play soccer every day over the course of three separate recess periods.

That week we created a monster.  While we pumped our fists in the air and laughed heartily at the girls, they were gripping their little knuckles until they cracked and turned white.  This was their turf, and they were going to defend it.  They didn’t show their anger in its entirety.  Brimming with irritation they forced their revenge down to fester deep in their chests.  Decades later, I know that this is a sign that a woman is at her most dangerous, but back then I was an oblivious bungler.  I couldn’t have known.

We sucker punched them with our minute count, and that was embarrassing.  A bunch of stupid boys weren’t going to take the ice cream party away from them.  They might have lost the battle, but they would crush our souls and make us beg for mercy before this war was over.  Ms Hotchkiss’s second grade class was a house divided.

In this state of unfettered braggadocio, there was one boy who wasn’t celebrating, and that was me.  Ms Hotchkiss had drawn up a bar graph, something we were learning about in math, which showed how many minutes the boys had read vs how many minutes the girls had read.  Something looked wrong with the graph.  Could it be possible that Ms Hotchkiss had made a mistake?  Because I knew how many minutes I had read, and according to the bar graph I was looking at, I had contributed more than half of the minutes to our cause.  You might even say that the boys contributed a sliver of the minutes, a barnacle upon the whale of minutes I had slaved over.  We hadn’t beat the girls this week; I had beat the girls this week.  I had given up my entire weekend to put those points on the board.  It wasn’t a great sacrifice, I loved to read, but it took a lot of effort and I wasn’t sure if I had that in me another time around.

Week 2 Reading List: Dear Mr. Henshaw, Young Indiana Jones and the Lost Gold of Durango (and several others in that line), Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks At Midnight

Week 3  The previous two weeks, Hotchkiss had made a bar graph of boys in blue and girls in purple.  This week she had an entirely new one.  This week there were 4 bars on the graph: Boys (blue), girls (purple), Cassie (red), and Steve (green).  I was in first place, Cassie was in second, the girls were in third, and I’m not even sure if the boys were even trying.  I was floored.  How could this be?  Surely one hundred and forty hours of reading in 3 weeks wasn’t that big of an accomplishment, was it?  Yet the numbers spoke for themselves.  I had one hundred and forty hours.  Cassie had ninety.  The girls had seventy-five.  The girls and Cassie had more minutes than the boys and I had.

Ms Hotchkiss called Cassie and I to the front of the classroom.  She pronounced us the king and queen of reading, gave each of us fun pencil, and then had us turn to face the class.  Hotchkiss started clapping, and everyone else took up the cue to clap also, but I saw trouble in the sea of my fellow classmates.  The boys had already lost interest in the competition, staring off out the window at the soccer field as they absently clapped.  It was good enough for them that they had won last week, and now they didn’t care, especially now that ‘their’ victory had just become ‘my’ victory.  The girls, on the other hand, did care.  They cheered for Cassie by name, and then one by one they each turned to me.  Each had a tight, mischievous smile on their face as their eyes narrowed to pinpricks.  They knew that everything they wanted was in their grasp.  Every single boy in this chain was a weak link.  They only needed to beat me.

This was the moment that the 2nd Grade Mafia formed.

Julius Caeser himself would have been impressed with their ability to divide and conquer.  The first recess took place right after reading class.  I got ready to run out to the soccer field when another classmate named Pam pulled me aside.  “Hey Steve, take a look at this!”

I couldn’t believe it.  Written in lavender pen on unicorn stationary, I walked through a math problem.  We had just learned division, and what I saw was horrible.  The boys were reading less than an hour a day.  Their entire reading chunk was in the remainder section because one hour didn’t’ work for them.  Pam tilted her head to the side and said “they really let you down, huh.  Leaving you to do all the work for them so that they can eat your ice cream at the ice cream party.”

Pam was right, and I was livid.  I ran out to meet the boys on the soccer field.  “Hey!” I called out to all of the boys gathered at the soccer field.  “I thought we had a plan!  We were all going to read a whole bunch.”

The boys all mumbled back excuses, realizing that they had broken a promise they cared nothing about, and had probably forgotten about until this moment.  Seeing that I still cared, they were a bit embarrassed for me.
“Yeah, well you just need to read a bit more and we’ve got this.”
“We won last week.”
“Reading is boring.”
“Megan is right.  You are a nerd.”

The last one hurt, stinging right to my exposed heart.  Everyone stopped giving excuses, anger in their faces.  Megan had gotten to them.  I liked to read, but I knew it was a nerdy thing to do.  Hotchkiss’s graph had exposed my anonymity.  What I thought was a chance for me to show my passion for stories in an acceptable way had just turned out to be a source of condemnation on the soccer field, the holiest of places.  I was mad with them, or so they had already heard from Megan, so they felt no remorse in dismissing me entirely.  They weren’t going to stand by and let some nerd tell them what to do.  The captains started to pick teams, deciding that the vow we had made on the holy soccer field was inconsequential and the boring conversation was over.

I whipped around and saw Megan there on the soccer field.  There were three girls that played soccer with us: Lisa, Robin, and Megan.  They were all huddled together, smiling those vehement little smiles while appraising me with their trenchant eyes.  Was Pam a part of their plan, a way to keep me off the soccer field while Megan planted her seeds of betrayal in the minds of my allies?  I had never experienced conspiracy before in real life, but I had read about it plenty in books, and I knew what was happening.  The trouble was, I couldn’t convey that to these illiterate boys.  If they didn’t read, they lacked the capacity to understand the big picture because they were working with such a small screen.

That day, I was picked last for a soccer team, technically not being picked at all.  No one wanted an angry nerd on their team.  Cassie, on the other hand, was allowed to cut to the front of any Tetherball, 4-Square, Hopscotch, or Double Dutch line that she wanted to.  Just last week the boys had been flagrantly bragging about ‘their’ victory over the girls, but now that Hotchkiss had taken away their victory and made it my victory, reading was no longer cool and the competition meant nothing.

The girls had Cassie’s back.
The boys were too busy stabbing mine.

It was fine, I decided.  The boys were dead to me.   I’d have to walk this road alone.
Week 3 Reading List: Robinson Crusoe, Basil of Baker Street, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, The Dragonslayers, How To Eat Fried Worms

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART II….

The Next Dimension

There were many bikini-clad college ladies at the lake that day, and they had their choices of many muscled, intelligent, and dangerous college men.  We all knew what was at stake.  We were at a private lake about a half hour away from the nearest town, and we were there for the entire weekend.  It was a summer bash where everyone was expected to make poor decisions and the probability of winding up with a girlfriend/boyfriend was pretty high.  It was a very exclusive party; the organizers only invited the social elite.  Everyone there was beautiful and well connected.  I’m not sure how I was invited; perhaps the Post Office got their Steve’s mixed up.  I was a Freshman in college, socially awkward, and I only knew three of the other guys at the party.  I was out of my element, sure, but I had a few things going for me: I looked good in a swimsuit, I had a good sense of humor, and I was a great story-teller with a fresh audience.  Still, the guys outnumbered the girls about 2 to 1, so I had to play this right.

 

I knew I had stiff competition from Al.  Al was a beautiful man, a lumberjack with bronzed muscles shining like Adonis in the sun.  He was extremely charming, quick to joke, amazing conversationalist, had a contagious laugh, knew everything about popular music and culture, and was dressed like he belonged in a Sexy Fireman Calendar.  But on top of all that, the thing that made Al irresistible is that he was a bad boy.  He rode a motorcycle, smoked cigarettes, had a reputation of sweeping ladies of their feet, and rebelled against authority at every turn.  The man was charisma incarnate.  I once saw Al walk into a liquor store with no money, charm the lady behind the counter to loan him $10, and then walk out of the liquor store with a six-pack and two dollars.    That was normal for Al.  (He did go back the next day to give her $10.  She gave him her number.)

 

The parents were all at the lake before we arrived.  It was normal for them to get the party started and then leave before sunset.  They acted as a social catalyst, getting all of their children talking to each other before they gracefully bowed out and left us to our own devices.  We were young, scantily clad, well aware of the desirability of those around us, guaranteed privacy late into the night, and we had enough beer to float a boat.

This probably sounds like a stupid idea to you, because you are intelligent.  This sounds like lighting a flare over a powder keg.  I didn’t understand why they did it at the time, but a couple of theories have surfaced.  My best theory is that this is how the powerful and wealthy elite of the county kept their circle small.  By throwing all of their children into this Petri Dish and adding significant stimulant, the rich and powerful were guaranteeing that their sons and daughters would wind up with someone else that was the offspring of someone rich and powerful. They kept all of the undesirables out of the genetic pool while exposing their offspring to the best breeding the county had to offer.  We’d all form the tightest of social bonds.  Their daughters would inspire desire, upon which I’d develop friendship that could never be betrayed because my heart would always remember that it desired them at one point.  Their sons I’d learn to respect and admire as we all competed for the affections of the same women.  We’d all be a group, our own society, and no outsider could break in because we were already so close.  We were the up-and-coming elite.  Our parents’ legacy would continue through us, but only if our parents thrust us into the fire to forge these kinds of alliances.

 

That’s just a theory.  Maybe our parents were stupid.

 

I arrived late, because I didn’t know where the location was.  This story happened before smart phones, before GPS, and before any kind of printable internet map.  I was given directions such as “go to the Smith’s old place, take a left, past the tracks, right after the Barn House (you’ll know the one I’m talking about), keep going, and then left on the dirt road before the cow fields.”  It’s a skill that MidWesterners have, giving directions using no street names, and I’m decent at finding my way around, even when I don’t know who the Smith’s are, but I needed a guide this time, and that guide was Al.  Al rode his motorcycle, and as we came onto the property he revved his engine and nodded at the ladies.  He wore gigantic sunglasses (very stylish in the 90’s), so every single one of the girls thought he was nodding at them.  He then popped a wheelie and stood on his bike, balancing it perfectly, and slowly wheeled toward where the girls were stationed.  It was a great move signifying his mastery over the motorcycle, control, care, grace, and he had to flex his arms to maintain the wheelie.  I drove to where the cars were parked and gave myself a pep speech, because I was obviously outmatched.

 

Al’s parents were not the social elite.  His father worked developing construction equipment and his mother was big into New Age trends.  Despite his pedigree, the designers of this experiment understood what Al was: an unstoppable charisma.  Al would become something big in this county with or without the help of the “Old Money”.  They needed to draft him to their side to ensure that Al would stand with their children as opposed to against them.  Al was critical to their children’s success.

 

I wound my way down to the party, which was in full swing.  I maintained a constant flex of my abs while walking; it’s something I used to do when I was younger, shallower, and much better looking.  It may sound desperate, but I knew what I was up against.  I was up against Al.  Al already knew everyone here.  I sort of knew everyone here, I went to elementary school with some of these kids, and I knew their parents from long ago, but I hadn’t kept in touch.  The girls I knew in elementary school were now women.  Beautiful women.  Some of them sort of remembered me (I was a rather boisterous class clown, hard to miss), but I was never really close friends with any of them…

 

… except Gabrielle.  While walking to the beach where everyone was gathering, I got my first good look at the ladies.  One stood out in particular.  Tan, thin, the scoliosis stance that super-swimsuit models tend to favor, designer flip flops, freshly painted pink finger and toenails, impractical sunglasses, radiant smile, calculated hair that looks like she put in three hours of effort to make it look like she put in no effort, tactical make-up, and she was very good looking.  It took me about ten seconds of absent-minded staring to finally pull myself together and wonder, is that Gabrielle?  Gabrielle was a girl who liked soccer, could run decently fast, had a list of funny jokes, and enjoyed the same games I did.  We spent many hours together when our parents had parties, and I considered her a good friend.  She was pretty much everything I was looking for as a 2nd grader.  Now that I was older and much more shallow, she was ‘interesting’.  Love-at-first-sight isn’t something I believe in.  I actually preferred ladies to be witty, snarky, intelligent, able to navigate an interesting conversation, able to tell a story, full of new and brilliant ideas, hopes, dreams, and determination.  That isn’t something you can tell by first-sight.  So maybe what I was looking for wasn’t so shallow, but that doesn’t mean that “keen-interest-at-first-sight” wasn’t a factor for me in my college days.  There was only one problem with Gabrielle standing there on the beach, and that was how she was making googily eyes at Al while casually touching his bicep.

 

The party got underway.  I introduced myself to all of the parents, giving the fathers a firm handshake and nodding respectfully at the mothers.  Word had gotten around that I taught ball-room dance, and so many of them demanded a demonstration.  I was happy to oblige, knowing that treating the mothers to a quick dance was high-elite diplomacy.  The mothers would then introduce me to their daughters, or if I miscalculated whose mother they were, I’d get introduced to their son.  The sons weren’t ever impressed by the dance, but the ladies saw from afar.  They saw that I knew how to dance, that I could make their mothers laugh and smile, and that wherever I went people were happy.

 

It’s important to note that I wasn’t letting on with my internal rivalry with Al.  Al was my friend, after all.  It’s just that I didn’t like feeling inferior to him.  I was here because Al invited me, not because I belonged.  The ladies flocked around Al as their knees became weak and their eyes became soft.  The “Old Money” all complimented Al on his start-up business and were impressed by his decision to skip college and just start being successful by owning a company that employed fifty men.  A deep and dark part of me just wanted to show that I was on the same tier as Al.  For once I wouldn’t be known as “Al’s friend”, but as “Steve, the guy worth knowing on his own”.  So the performance there on the beach was not an act to fool people into thinking I was a fun person.  That was the genuine me.  I just always felt in the back of my head that I was losing some unspoken popularity contest.

 

The party migrated into the lake.  I had formed a conversation with Al, Gabrielle, and two other gals, and three other guys.  We kind of drifted about the pond the way that MidWesterners tend to do on summer days.  The unnamed folks in our group were all interested in each other, but Al was clearly interested in Gabrielle, and she was clearly interested in him.  I just did my best to be friendly and interesting, waiting my time.  I was evaluating Gabrielle, seeing if she was any fun to be around.  She was, and it turns outs that I was to.  I could make Gabrielle laugh, smile, and most importantly, engage with the conversation.  Maybe I had a chance out here, however slim it may be.

 

We drifted to the far side of the lake, and that’s when things changed.  Al nodded to the trees and said “hey, check this out.”  We all started to swim over to the bank.  A steep hill went straight into the lake at this spot.  It was a thirty-foot incline with a flat spot at the top.  Trees were everywhere, but I saw what Al was up to.  A single rope hung down from one of the taller trees.  It was a thick hemp rope, long enough to barely grab from the shore.  It had a small circular wooden platform at the bottom where a person could sit.  This was a rope-swing.

 

The group each took a turn, except for Al.  We would climb the hill, do our best to line up a path that would avoid any trees (not easily done), and then jump.  The swing would go down 30 feet, up thirty feet, and then you had to let go and drop into the water.  Riding the swing back wasn’t a choice, as it would invariably crash a rider into the trees.  I went first, and other folks followed.  Al stayed behind, helping folks onto the swing.  After all, he had built the rope swing.

 

Conversation between the guys shifted to “The Next Dimension”.  Should we show them “The Next Dimension”?  Will the parents get mad if we pull out “The Next Dimension”?  Are we too drunk to pull off “The Next Dimension”?  This unexplained event was generating a lot of hype, until Gabrielle finally asked “What is ‘The Next Dimension’?”

 

That is what Al had been waiting for.  “Here Steve, hold this.”  At the top of this thirty foot hill, there was a tree.  Al monkey-ed his way up the tree quickly and effortlessly, his lumberjack skills displayed for all to see.  He climbed to a rather sturdy branch about fifteen feet off the ground, and walked across it, balancing with his arms outstretched.   He then turned and faced the rope I was holding.

 

No way.

 

I looked down the hill.  Directly below was a very steep drop off, and at the bottom was a collection of sharp pointed sticks and jagged rocks.  If Al missed this, he’d fall about thirty-five feet and then die.  I looked up at Al, holding the edge of the rope.  “Watch this” is all he said, winking at Gabrielle.

 

Al jumped into the air, hands stretched out above his head, thirty-five feet above certain doom.  His body completely horizontal as he crossed the necessary seven feet to even have a chance at grabbing the rope.  His hands grabbed it with ease, his feet planted squarely on the seat.  The rope snapped out of my hand, and I saw Al go.  Careening through the trees faster than I’ve ever seen a swing go, Al was a streak of brilliance.  The swing crested on the other side over the lake just as Al let go.  His feet stayed on the platform as he backflipped off the platform with practiced ease, his arms stretched out to the sides at full length, his legs fully extended with pointed diver’s toes.   At least fifty feet in the air, he rotated backwards once, twice, three times before he slowly raised his arms above his head in a perfect swan dive.

 

The other lake goers didn’t know about this.  They just saw Al comet out of the forest like some kind of aerial champion.  Everyone cheered and yelled.  The swing came all the way back to the top of the hill where I caught it.  That was incredible.

 

I looked over at Gabrielle, to find her already looking at me.  Her breath had been taken away, clearly, it was the hottest thing ever done.  But her eyes were interrogating and playful, her bottom jaw flirtatiously quirked to the side, her smile devious.  “Think you could do that?”  And with her challenge, she took one finger and stroked it alongside my arm.

 

The next thing I knew, I was struggling up a wet tree.  Al had the advantage of two years Lumberjacking and a dry tree.  I had sure determination and ego, and both were wearing out.  I managed it, but it wasn’t graceful.  It was described as “climb-humping” the tree.  I had tree bark stuck on my chest and scratches everywhere.  Gabrielle stood at the top of the cliff of certain death, holding the swing for me, smiling sweetly.  I stood on the sturdy branch, still braced up against the trunk of the tree.

 

This is where I did some thoughtful introspection of the situation.  Gabrielle clearly knew that I liked her.  Despite my clever plan of trying to remain friendly and unflirty, she knew that I was interested.  She pulled one string and I performed masterfully as her puppet.  She wasn’t being cruel though.  She was clearly enjoying that I was going to such lengths to impress her.  She was open to flirtation.  Maybe she was into me.  Maybe she was just caught in that both Al and I were interested in her.  Maybe she was just naturally flirty.  Maybe she was toying with my heart and was ready to crush it at a moment’s notice.  It was hard to tell.  Climbing the tree was probably a bad decision, and I wasn’t thinking straight, but standing on the Branch of Fate (as it was called) did clear my head a bit.

 

I took a breather because climbing the tree was hard.  From the Branch of Fate, the collection of sharp sticks and rocks looks more like a churning meat grinder.  To successfully grab that swing, I’d have to fully commit to jumping over certain doom.  Folks in the water were splashing and clapping now.  Some had started chanting “Next Dimension”.  I had somehow become the center of attention for the entire party.  They weren’t taking any more stalling.  One of the guys said to Gabrielle “Do you think he’s going to chicken out?”

And before he had finished the question, I had leapt.

 

I remember the jump very well.  In order to make it to the rope, I had to clear seven feet horizontally, and had about fifteen feet vertically to do that in.    In the air, there was no time to look at the certain doom beneath me, as all five of my senses were focused on that rope swing.  The air was electrically cool against my wet skin as I flew through it.  My muscles were all tense.  My face had the calm of Buddha, with a slight smirk that sparked when I snuck a quick peek at Gabrielle.  My hands brushed against the rope.

 

That’s when everything went horribly wrong.  Gabrielle let go of the swing early, my hands were touching the rope, but I didn’t have a grip.  I didn’t get my hand placement as high on the rope as I wanted.  Al’s previous attempt at ‘The Next Dimension’ had left the rope wet.  The platform for my feet had already started to move away and I could not wrestle my feet onto it.  Instead I just slid down about four feet of rope, my hands clutching for dear life despite the sudden rendering of flesh on my palms.  I looked panicked at the collection of death spears and rock macerators below me when suddenly my view was blocked.  The foot platform had snapped back like a whip and clobbered me in the face.  I was knocked senseless.  All thoughts of death below, the Branch of Fate, my stupid unspoken competition with Al, even thoughts of Gabrielle had been shattered by the platform collision.  Only one thought remained.  “HOLD!”

 

My hands cinched onto the ropeswing.  The foot platform stopped my slide to certain doom, and I choked the ever-loving salvation out of the rope.  My vision had tunneled to mostly stars and black, but I could still barely see, and the moment I knew that I was over water I let go.

 

I did not gracefully soar high into the clouds like Al did.  I looked more like a cat shot out of a canon.  My legs were both higher than my head in some kind of uncontrolled karate kick.  My arms flailed about, all control lost after using every last bit of strength to keep me from dying.  I rotated on three axes like a rag doll, completely out of control.  Where Al had pulled an Olympic 3-rotation swan dive, I had achieved a hideous monkey roll.  My horizontal momentum was impressive; I remember seeing the lake water flashing past as the rotation slowed.  I saw my reflection, as if I was standing in the air horizontally, my arms casually at my side.  And then I fell into my reflection face and belly first.  An audible crack reverberated through the party as I rebounded off of the water tension, which sent me hurtling through the air again spinning like a top.  CRACK!  That time my back had bounced off the water tension, and again I was sent toppling over in a flurried ball of arms and legs.  Another loud crack sounded, but this time the lake had mercy.  The water tension let me in, ending my experiment as a human skipping stone.

 

Under the water I heard laughter.  Maybe it wasn’t real, just some delusional hallucination brought about by facial bludgeoning, but I still heard it.  I remembered thinking “You know, rather than face Gabrielle, you could just die here.  It might be easier.”  I stayed for a good ten seconds to regain my composure, and then kicked to the surface. 

 

I had decided that I wasn’t beaten.

 

I broke through the surface with my hands raised in triumph.  I had succeeded!  I had survived.  I acted like this is what I meant to do.  Clapping erupted, punctuated with the staccato of cheers and laughter.  I looked up the hill and smiled.  Gabrielle was there, holding her hands over her face in a bit of horrified shock.  Her eyes were large and guilty.  I called out to her “you let go a bit early.”

 

I managed to swim to shore.  My face was covered in blood and so were my hands.  I kept my hands and face out of the water to avoid getting any more lake water into my blood stream.  Profuse bleeding was not a good way to impress any of the ladies.

 

I did not end up getting a girlfriend that trip.  At one point, Gabrielle and Al disappeared off into the woods together and I sort of gave up.  Come to think of it, Al disappeared off into the woods with a lot of the girls, which made a lot of the fellas give up.  I still had a lot of fun.

Club Dancing Is A Strange Phenomena I’ll Never Understand

Today is Friday, the day I talk about the issues.  Today’s issue that I want to talk about is: Clubs are awful.  I’m not talking about clubs like G.R.O.S.S (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS), the George Takei fan club, or even secret clubs like the illuminati.  I’m talking about Dance Clubs.  A dance club is where a person goes in order to attract a potential and temporary mate.  A club is a weird place to go for this, because it is designed to make the process of finding a mate very difficult.  All of the potential mates available are being assaulted on all of their ‘mate-finding’ senses.  The building smells strongly of sweat filtered through a person’s perspiration system and Axe body spray.  The potential mates’ ears are being assailed by the sophomoric remixes of the day’s top 40 remixes that all have the same bass line and hundreds of people screaming at each other in order to be heard.  A potential mate’s sense of touch is useless as they grow numb to the incessant rubbing of the bodies in the crowd around them and a strange humidity that grows stronger throughout the night.  The best way to attract a mate in this environment is to jerk your body in syncopation with the music in an elaborate manner that sets you apart from all other members of your gender.  Despite your best dance efforts, potential mates will need super vision to find you as a club is simultaneously too dark and far too bright, depending on what setting the strobe lights are set to. 

 

Clubs are expensive.  Far too expensive.  Some people think that the primary reason for a club existing is to give people that like clubs a place to be.  That’s insane.  Clubs exist to make the owners a lot of money.  No one likes people that like clubs.  Clubs don’t even like people that like clubs.  The first person you meet at a club is a person with the job of keeping you out of the club.  The person is called a Bouncer.  The bouncer is the most reasonable person you’ll meet at any club.  The bouncer is to hell what St Peter is to the Pearly Gates of heaven.  Bouncers learn their hatred of people that like clubs (PTLC) early.  Their job interview goes something like this.

Club Owner: “Hey, I hear you are looking for a job.”
Bouncer:  “Yes.  I’m trying to pay off student loans with a second job so I can get ahead in life.”
Club Owner:  “Sounds like you are a reasonable person.  Your job is going to be dealing exclusively with people that aren’t reasonable.  These people are in no way like you.  They are younger.  They are drunker.  They are dumber.  They don’t like that you are keeping them out of the club.  They think that they’ll find a potential mate within the confines of my psychedelic prison complex.  And on top of all that, they are PTLCs”
Bouncer:  “That sounds awful!  I hate clubs!  I hate PTLCs.  But I need the job.  Tell you what, mister.  I’ll guard your club as long as I never have to go in it.”
Club Owner:  “Deal.”

 

Outside of a club you’ll find a gigantic line with the Bouncer as the gatekeeper.  You might think that once you get into the club you’ll be fine, but all that you’ve really accomplished is gaining entry to a more complex line.  The line is very broad and disorganized, but it’s basically the same thing as outside.  The difference is now the atmosphere around you is awful.  Before the obstacle you had to fight was a bunch of people in front of you.  Now that you are inside the club you can’t see, you can’t hear, and the obstacle you have to fight off is a bunch of people in front of you that are thrashing about.  Dance floor, bathroom, or the bar, you’ll have to go through a bunch of people jerking weirdly about.  Welcome to the advanced line, sucker.

 

I have been dragged to clubs a handful of times.  Never was it my own idea, and I protested each time.  The only people I’d find at a club are PTLCs, and that sounded awful.  However, my friends were more suave and charismatic than I, and they made many promises, so I went.  They promised it would be fine.  They promised it would be fun.  They made a promise that seemed odd, but I trusted them.  It is this last promise that made me agree to their request.  Their promise went something like this:  everyone can dance, even you.  Perhaps they saw the movie Footloose, where a dance suppressed culture of teenagers can break out into choreographed delight the instant that rock music starts to play.  Maybe they themselves were born with the magical ability to move gracefully through the swamp of a club like a crane standing out beautifully amongst its surroundings and they thought that I too possessed this dormant instinct.  Perchance these individuals believed in musicals, where even the most hardened of villains who never heard a note of music in their entire lives were capable of tap dancing to an incredible pace of 32nd notes while accomplishing aerial feats of gymnastic valor.  Whatever caused this notion in their heads, I don’t know, but they were wrong.  Woefully wrong.  I can’t dance.  I can’t even bop.  A normal person has 3 axises of movement: yaw, pitch, and roll (rotating shoulders around, bowing forward and back, leaning side to side respectively).  A middle-aged white person in a crowd will usually pitch forward and back (a weird bowing motion) while bending their legs slightly to move their body up and down.  Sometimes there is a bit of a sidestep involved.  It is a travesty that no one should have to watch, but middle aged white people in large crowds have some kind of magical herd immunity to this.  I am incapable of even doing this.

 

After passing the Bouncer and the sign that reads “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”, my captors found a group of females that they wished to display their mating rituals to.  I was not excited about this, but I went along because the alternative was to strike out on my own to display my own mating ritual alone in a hostile universe filled with plenty of competition that knew what they were doing.  I had no chance on my own, and wandering about simply observing this spectacular mess of humanity did not seem humorous to me.  So I ventured with the other pack of young males to woo the ladies.

 

It was quickly apparent that I was outmatched by my peers.  I was not in a mating mood, so I simply needed to stay in the background and pretend to be enjoying myself.  The other males in my group had convinced a group of females they were familiar with to circle around to lay claim to some dance floor territory.  The females of this circle placed their purses in the center of our circle to observe how well the males of my group could simultaneously protect their valuables while slinging about in a mating ritual.

 

The ratio was in our favor.  There were seven females and only three males.  Two and a third girls for each of us, but that is not how nature works in the swamp.  All of the females desired to mate with the alpha of our group.  I do not wish to embarrass him, so I will keep his identity secret and refer to him only as “Cameron Jones”.  Cameron was very accomplished when it came to performing the mating ritual of the club swamp.  He performed it effortlessly while at the same time demonstrating charisma beyond that of his competitors.  I was not accomplished at performing the mating ritual.  A person watching me might assume that I’m not moving.  Perhaps I was shrugging just enough to readjust the way my shirt fit on my shoulders.  My arms stayed locked in a 90 degree angle at the elbows, as if I was pushing an imaginary shopping cart that I was going to place all of my potential mates into.  Whatever it was that I was doing, it was stupid.  I knew it was stupid.  I felt stupid.  I wanted the whole stupid adventure of the club swamp to be over with, but that’s not how the others in my group saw it.

 

“Dance!” they said.  ‘They’’ being the females.  Perhaps they meant it as encouragement, but I only heard mocking.  I kept doing what I was doing, knowing that the night’s jubilee would be over one second at a time.  “Dance!” they insisted.  The females had turned their attention over to me for whatever reason.  Despite Cameron Jones still performing the mating ritual with eminent refinement, the girls now wanted comedy.  To see how superior a mate Cameron Jones was, they needed a baseline to compare him to.  I now saw why Cameron Jones had brought me to the club.  It was to set the bar low.  Very low.  Cameron Jones brought me to the club so that I would set the bar on the floor, where Cameron could clear it as long as he didn’t shuffle his feet.  I felt betrayal and embarrassment, neither of which helped me perform any kind of movement that might be mistaken as a dance.

 

Despite all this, I tried harder.  I tried moving along more than one axis.  I tried to bop up and down, forward and back, side to side.  I mixed up the movements.  I shrugged my shoulders slightly in time with the beat.  I kept my arms close, but moved them in some kind of subtle kungfu mimicry.  I tried, but the more I tried, the worse it got.  The females looked at me like I was sick.  Perhaps I was dying.  It felt like I was dying.  I wanted to die.  Cameron Jones made me want to die.

 

The night did eventually end.  All seven of the females wanted to mate with Cameron, but Cameron tossed their hearts aside.  Being a gentleman, he did not want to mate with just anyone.  Or perhaps Cameron thought himself too good for the females of the club swamp.  Maybe Cameron wanted to assert his dominance over our friendship by showing me that he could have all of the ladies while I could only convince them that I was dying of muscle failure.  Maybe Cameron Jones wanted to establish the social hierarchy where he was better than PTLCs while I was inferior to every last one of the PTLCs.  Or maybe…just maybe…Cameron wanted to show me the truth, the hardest truth I’d ever come to know.  Cameron Jones wanted to open my eyes to show me that clubs are awful, and so are the PTLCs.  I’ll never know.  Unfortunately Cameron suffers from a contagious disease that alters his memory to the point that he thinks I had a great time.  I say it is contagious because he convinced me to change my memory of the club every time he dragged me off to another one.