Tag: bad advice

A Knack for Forgetting Faces

Hatey

Having solid confirmation of someone’s feelings for me, I immediately jumped into (in)action. I proceeded to march right up to Kay (the following day), looked her right in (the vicinity of) the eye and never once brought up what she thought of me.

While anyone with the appropriate amount of guts and the requisite number of spines might have broached the subject, I took a different tack. I went with the tried and true method used in dozens of romantic comedies – finding relationships by saying literally nothing to the potential love interest until she’s basically ready to leave the country in utter disgust. Or…maybe less “tried to true” and more “tried and tried,” anyway.

I mean, it hadn’t worked well for those guys in the movies. But that only meant it was bound to work for someone eventually, right? Maybe even me?

…Right?

More importantly, I wasn’t really sure it was a good idea to seek a relationship with Kay at all. And as much as I’d like to pretend the reason was primarily my being a coward, it wasn’t. In truth, having more or less not noticed her for three full weeks despite seeing her five times a week, I wasn’t sure I had any feelings for her worth pursuing.

Still, for all my cowardice and uncertainty, she seemed dead-set on spending time with me. And I certainly didn’t mind having a friend. We walked to class together. We ate lunches and dinner together. We studied together. I even started inviting her along to my semi-nightly arcade adventures.

And at the end of the week, I searched my heart and finally realized the truth: I didn’t much care for Kay’s friend who seemed to invite himself along everywhere we went.

I wasn’t sure what it was at first. I didn’t strictly view our outings as dates, so it wasn’t like I was jealous. But there was just something that rubbed me the wrong way about him. It might have been his sense of humor. It might have been the way he carried himself. If I had to guess, though, it was probably that, for someone who insisted on being literally every single place I was for ten days straight, he certainly hated being around me.

Of course, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise at this point that I don’t recall his name either. The only thing I really remember was that he looked a lot like the oldest brother from “Malcolm in the Middle”…if he also hated me and glared at me whenever he thought I wasn’t looking.

For the purposes of this story, I’ll be calling him Hatey McHateface – or Hatey, for short.

While I wasn’t comfortable discussing Kay’s feelings with her, I was eventually forced to mention Hatey’s. “Does Hatey…hate me or something?” Keep in mind, again, that wasn’t his real name, and this question didn’t sound so weird using his actual name.

“He’s…a bit overprotective,” she explained, though she was at least quick to apologize for it rather than pretend I was imagining things. “Sorry. We’ve known each other since we were little. I think I’m the only one he really gets along with.”

Judging by what seemed to be the eternal side-eye he was giving me, I certainly couldn’t argue her theory. In my wisdom, however, I came up with a more diplomatic answer. I then immediately dismissed it and said, “Maybe he’d make more friends if he wasn’t such an asshole to everyone except you.”

“Oh, be nice,” she said teasingly.

“Have I been anything but nice to him?”

Kay considered this for a while before letting out a pent-up breath. “No. You’ve been fine. But maybe you could try being nice enough for the both of you.”

Despite how immensely fun and likely to succeed that sounded, I gave her a doubtful look before sighing. “Maybe you could at least try suggesting he make some other friends in class or something? I don’t know. Seems like it would mellow him out a bit to have other friends.”

She gave me a confused look before something dawned on her. “Oh. He doesn’t go to classes. He doesn’t go to school here.”

My expression become a mirror or her prior confusion. “…How’s that, exactly?”

“He was going to go to school over in Allentown when he graduated. But he decided to take a few years off because he didn’t want to be away from me when I went to Penn State,” she explained, in a tone that suggested it wasn’t utterly insane. She went on to explain – just as calmly – that he’d made this decision when he graduated from high school a full three years prior to her.

I managed to muddle my way through the remainder of that conversation without saying any one of a few hundred very reasonable points I could have made that, notwithstanding, seemed like they might not have gone over well.

It was then that I came to two realizations. The first and more obvious of the two being that Hatey was utterly infatuated with Kay. And, in a similar vein, if the situation was as filled with landmines as it seemed to be, I had to decide soon whether or not I even wanted to be involved with a girl with so much baggage.

At which point I proceeded to make a very bad decision for reasons very much related to my own not insubstantial set of personal luggage.

Rather than pretend my decision was anything other than idiotic, I’ll instead draw attention to one of my more important flaws. When it comes to love, relationships or any number of similar topics, my childhood had taught me very little. And what few details I’d pieced together were almost invariably wrong in every regard.

I had, for example, never gotten the strong impression that my parents liked – let alone loved – one another. My mother seemed to resent my father being at work. And yet, the more time he spent at home, the more time they spent fighting. By the time I was a teen I came to the very reasonable conclusion that marriages were relationships built almost entirely out of misery and loathing. What few redeeming qualities they seemed to have came from the brief moments when the fighting stopped.

Or…at least, it was the most reasonable answer I could have possibly come to given the completely broken data I was being fed.

Rather than walking away from a potential relationship with Kay based on a hundred very sensible reasons, I ignored them all. Instead, I focused on the one thing that mattered to me. She seemed very fond of me. This, I irrationally rationalized, meant that it would be some time before she reached the inevitable point of mandatory loathing in a future relationship.

And to a lesser degree, well, I didn’t want to let her down. Despite not really feeling anything for her, I felt somewhat obligated to at least pretend to reciprocate. The alternative – turning down someone I didn’t like that way when they had so graciously gone through the effort of liking me – seemed almost…rude?

Thus, armed with enough bad ideas to replace a suitable spine, I met her the next day for a rare unchaperoned lunch. “I was thinking…maybe you and I could start hanging out more often like this…with just you and me. You know?”

Kay positively beamed at the idea. “I’d really, really like that.”

“And…everyone else will really like that, too?” I had the feeling that, if Hatey had been there, he wouldn’t have been beaming at the notion whatsoever.

“We’re two adults. We’re the only two opinions that matter,” she said. I didn’t beam. I wasn’t, after all, much of a beamer. But I very likely did some approximation of what a normal person might have done to express happiness with my mouth. “And…you’re sure this is what you want, too?”

“I am.” I wasn’t. I was, in fact, making the decision based entirely on her feelings, rather than any I might have had on the subject.

Then again, I wasn’t nearly as unsure as I was going to be, when I found out Hatey was her boyfriend.

Oh? Did…I not mention that little wrinkle earlier?

Well, neither did she.

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“A Schoolhouse Built of Lies”

burning-money

There are many places one might begin the story of my time in college, but I suppose the best would be the beginning.

It began with debt. Hmmm. Or perhaps not. That was a beginning, but not the beginning.

No, it began at University. I went to learn of ancient civilizations and untold truths. And then I found out I was just supposed to get a piece of paper that told employers I’d learned something. If I wanted to I could learn, but it wasn’t necessary. If I wanted, I could also pay an extra thirty-five dollars and have the piece of paper placed in a wooden frame.

Paying extra, I would quickly learn, would become an integral part of this story.

But I digress. No, the true beginning was, as with most things, sometime before the beginning as most people saw it. And as with everything else, it was made better with a sweet Patrick Rothfuss reference.

My college adventures had their roots in my always being pretty smart.

I could go on and on about why this is true, beginning with being told I was slow in school and teaching myself to read out of pure spite. I could tell you about good grades and free food from local restaurants after report cards. I could not, however, tell you all this without bragging. So maybe just take my word for it.

Yes, I was pretty smart. And that would inevitably be my downfall.

I’d pretty much decided that I would go to college by the time I was ten, because that’s just what smart people did back then. My resolve was only hardened at the end of high school when I realized how rapidly I was approaching either a military stint or homelessness otherwise. To say nothing of the lifetime of being told by older relatives and almost hourly commercials, it would dramatically increase my earning potential by a million dollars. Or more! Why, passing up college would have been akin to putting a million dollars in a pile and setting it ablaze.

To prevent that, I put $140,000 in a pile and set it ablaze instead, then didn’t get the million dollars either.

People look back on decisions like that and scoff. “You should have known it was smarter to get right into the job market. That’s what I did.” They’ll then mockingly buy me a small newsboy cap just to toss some spare change into it and laugh drolly.

At which point I usually just wonder why they didn’t use their amazing prophetic abilities to tell the rest of us about the impending decade-long recession due to terror attacks and subprime mortgages.

That’s the thing, though. There’s no arguing it. In 2001, going to college was the only way to succeed in life according to literally everyone who was giving advice on the subject at the time. A solid four-fifths of my graduating class was going to one flavor of college or another, even though not all of them were what you’d call “college material.” Back then, you were forced to go to college at expectation-point. Which, in all fairness, isn’t quite as daunting as gunpoint, but still.

The very suggestion of doing something else was ridiculous. If you told someone that you wanted to drop out of college and marry your dog, they’d give you a worried look and say, “That’s insane! Do you realize what that would do to your earnings potential?”

Then, they’d circle back to dog marriage. If there was time.

Why mention this point at all? Well, I’m going to be poor pretty much the rest of the story. Being poor was the very essence of my college experience. If they turned the whole thing into some sort of sitcom (and given what I’ve seen on television lately, it’s not entirely unlikely), they’d probably work it into the title somehow.

It also saves me the trouble of touching on each and every avenue for making or saving money. Yes, I worked during college. Yes, I applied (and received) scholarships that stopped after my first semester for no reason despite earning a 4.0. Yes, I filled out the FAFSA but was dismayed to not see a checkbox for “Parents have good earnings but will not help me pay tuition in any way.” The end result? Please see my previous paragraph.

For the next five years (we’ll get to that little Van Wilder-esque wrinkle later), I would be poor and starving and desperate in a way you wouldn’t think possible in a first world country. And it was an amazing experience almost from start to finish.

I point out this second detail – it being amazing – because so much of comedic writing is based on complaining about life’s little trials rather than celebrating its joyous occasions. It’s why comedians rarely talk about their significant other giving them an unexpected back rub after a hard day of work. And why they’re always talking about traffic. Or taxes. Or the lines at the DMV. (Amirite?)

Or the unexpected back rub I once got in line at the DMV.

College was expensive and scary and embarrassing and on two separate occasions I found myself stranded in another state with no shoes. And it’s easy to focus on the poverty and fear and shoelessness. Even though I loved every moment of it.

Except for Statistics, which I contend is the mathematical version of diarrhea, and the single worst waste of my time all four times I had to take it to pass. (That isn’t the reason for the wrinkle I mentioned earlier, for the record. Though, it certainly didn’t help.)

And thirdly, I want it to be clear that for me there really was no alternative to college. So when I hit some inevitable low points in the story and people wonder why I didn’t just do something else, I hope this explains it. Trying to understand my actions in 2001 with a 2017 mindset would be like me trying to come up with an analogy on short notice – pointless and, I don’t know…handsome?

So, just keep all that in mind going forward. I may not always mention my poverty, but I was poor. I may not mention how worthwhile the experience was – for my growth as a person if not the promised earning potential – but it changed my life. And from beginning to end, I never had a choice in the matter. Looking back, though, I can only say that if I had the chance to do it again, I would…definitely consider it. Possibly.

And that, I think, is a good place to stop for now. Just before the beginning of the start of the story. Finally.

(Oh, and if it wasn’t clear, this is still a “Story Time” column – the same one from a week ago – just with that part of the title dropped. It saves me some space to use bigger and far worse puns that way.)