Tag: story

A Knack for Forgetting Faces


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?


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 since 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.


Kant Stop, Won’t Stop


Philosophy is weird.

Allow me to clarify. When I say that, I’m not referring to the broad topic of philosophy as a whole. I’m referring specifically to the college course of that name, Philosophy.

…Also, the broad topic of philosophy as a whole is weird but, well, that’s a whole other issue that I don’t have time to get into right now.

It’s been about ten years since I graduated. And since that time, I’ve discovered an odd little quirk about college. I can remember a number of things that were said word for word but almost none of what I was taught during class.

I realize that probably comes as a bit of a shock to anyone still attending college. After all, your ability to pass or fail hinges almost entirely on whether or not you retain all that information. Based on bad dreams alone, it seems to be the number one fear of any college student come exam day.

Well, that and the “not wearing any clothes” thing.

I also expect it’s considerably less of a shock to anyone who’s been a college graduate for more than fifteen minutes. As any Psychology major will tell you (if you ask before they graduate and prove my point), memory strength is based heavily on access. Things you thought of only once or twice are bound to be lost forever. Things you think of again and again tend to stick in your mind forever – whether you want them there or not.

There are only two things I remember with any real clarity from my college courses. The first was the theory of how the first peoples migrated to the Americas – largely by virtue of hearing it several thousand times during my Anthropology coursework. There’s a bit of grim irony there, mostly because it’s since been proven almost entirely wrong by dozens of peer-reviewed studies.

As to that, I assure you, it will come up at some point during the story. For now, though, I want to focus on the second thing I remember clearly. That being things said by my professors that were so bizarre, confusing or shocking (and in at least one case, borderline racist) that it permanently burned the quote into my brain.

In this case, “You can use philosophy to prove pretty much anything.

Taken at face value, this isn’t unusual. In fact, it hints one of the more interesting axioms of philosophy. There are so many different viewpoints and schools of thought that you can make a fairly convincing argument for almost anything. And if the teacher hadn’t said this in the middle of discussing how exams were graded, that’s exactly what I’d have assumed he was implying.

But he wasn’t.

“I mean, it’s all essays. No multiple choice or anything,” he added. “If you say anything that you can back up with any philosopher, I’ll give you credit. Hell, if you say something that sounds philosophically convincing, who am I to argue?”

His point was even more valid, considering that, through some administrative fluke, he was teaching the class without even having a Master’s Degree, but I’ll assume that wasn’t what he meant.

The class made sounds of confusion and disbelief until a brave soul raised their hand to ask a question. “So…anything we say that sounds right…is right?” the student asked.

“Pretty much,” the teacher said.

If the rest of the class was anything like me, their next thought was likely why we should even bother coming to lecture at all if that was the case. And apparently at least one other student was, because they asked, “Then…why come to lecture at all?”

“Well, I’ll be teaching you the specific areas of philosophy that will let you answer the exam questions best. You can use the ideas of other philosophers, but you may as well show up, since I’ll pretty much be giving you the answers,” the not-quite-professor explained.

The students didn’t seem convinced. Grumbling continued. “Couldn’t we just copy notes from someone who does show up?”

“You could,” the teacher admitted slowly. He quickly added, “Though, to be fair, ten percent of your final grade is based on attendance, so you should show up.”


Still a bit confused, someone asked for an example.

The teacher considered before brightening when he thought of one. “Okay. So let’s say there’s a question about whether or not it’s morally okay to steal bread for your family. I’ll be teaching you what Kant and Mill think of that question, so you can give either answer. Or, you could just use nihilism to say that everything is meaningless. So in the end, any codified system of how we ought to behave is irrelevant. Understand?”

A number of heads bobbed up and down. Then, another student raised a hand. “That seems like an easy answer to anything. Can we just say nihilism means all your exam questions are meaningless?”

“No,” the teacher said, starting to sweat a little. “No using nihilism on exams.”

“Why not?”

“Because you wouldn’t learn anything. It’d be meaningless for you to even be taking the course at all,” he said, exasperated.

“Isn’t that the point of nihilism?”

The teacher grudgingly conceded the point. “Yes. But it’s not the point of formalized education. If you don’t learn anything then I’m doing a bad job.”

A chorus of other questions erupted from the class.

“Are you going to argue this hard against our exam answers?”
“Isn’t closing loopholes just squashing critical thinking?”
“So…only easy answers are wrong?”
“I zoned out. Is this going to be on the midterm?”
How is it that you’re teaching this class when you don’t even have a degree again?”

The teacher cut off all discussion by rapping a book against his desk. “Okay. Just…don’t worry about it, okay? Just listen to lectures and you’ll do fine.” He shot me a dirty look then, because I was the one who asked the last question. “And don’t worry about my degree. It’s just…held up. I’ll have it soon.”

To his credit, things made a lot more sense when we reached the midterm exam. His questions were incredibly random, one of them arguing whether or not animals might be held to human standards of morality, or where the fault fell if they were trained by a human who needed them to steal for him and they committed other crimes. In short, I highly doubt he used the example questions from the teacher’s manual.

I still can’t remember anything I learned in that class. I barely remember which side Mill or Kant took in the debate on morality. But I’ll give that teacher credit. I won’t soon forget being asked whether or not it was immoral for a monkey to stab another monkey and steal his food.

Though, I really wish I’d remembered his name, because I’m actually really curious as to whether or not he ever got that degree.



Hook up and Shook up – pt. 2

Pictured: Something pertinent to this topic and not an innuendo.

As you may have gathered from my previous writing, largely because I said it almost word for word and am now trying to hastily summarize to tie this back to it, sex wasn’t hard to come by at my college.

Was everyone having it? No. And they weren’t for the reason most people weren’t eating at Arby’s. They didn’t want to be.

Your personal college environment may have varied, though I at least know from secondhand experience that even (or especially) some of the most religious schools were basically poorly-organized orgies that sometimes broke out into learning. I can’t speak to your personal experiences. But at my school, I remind you that I once knew of someone who bungled buying frozen pizza and it somehow resulted in intercourse.

I absolutely don’t say this to insult those who have never had sex. There is nothing inherently better or worse about you as a person when it comes to having or not having sex. The point I’m trying to make is that if people are dedicating their entire lives to it, you’d at least think they’d be good at it.

As an example, consider this second scenario from my second weekend at college.

I was doing some writing on my then-still-functioning computer, likely trying to decide whether or not repeatedly hyphenated compound words were proper grammar. Whatever the case, I was startled when something hit the screen of my window and fell out of sight before I got a good look at it. I gazed out into the night, deciding that at that hour it must’ve been a bat.

“Are you a hot girl?” a voice called from below.

For a moment I wondered if maybe Dracula’s charm had been heavily overrated in the movies. But I looked down to see a group of three boys retrieving a tennis ball. “No!” I called back down.

“No to being hot? Or…no to being a girl?”

I’d never been asked for demographic information through a window before, but I assumed honesty was the best policy – at least insofar as it ended the conversation as quickly as possible. “No to being a girl,” I answered, contemplating how many girls spoke in a low, pleasant baritone like mine. After waiting a beat, I noted, “I’m about a six, hotness-wise. Seven if it’s dark.”

As it was dark at the time, it seemed like an important distinction.

One of them loudly cursed me out for some reason. It likely had to do with some breach of etiquette in responding to being hit on through a window. In my defense, it wasn’t a situation that had come up before. Or, luckily, since.

But the tennis ball continued to bounce off the wall and random windows over the course of the next few hours. (I would later learn they’d been doing this the past week, obviously finding neither success nor a hot girl, apparently.) I paid attention with half an ear while various conversations played out almost exactly as expected. Shockingly, no one wanted to meet their future husband by having a tennis ball thrown at them.

Least of all when they couldn’t seem to grasp that we alternated genders by floor, and had probably spoken to more guys than girls by that point.

“Hey! Are you a hot girl?” the chorus sang again.

“Okay,” a stern voice called from at least two floors above me. “Guys, I know you’re just having fun and all. And I know this seems like a really great idea in your head, but this isn’t going to get you anywhere with girls or anyone else. So knock it off. People are trying to work and you’re being pests.”

“What are you? The lawn RA?” one of the boys outside asked. He and his cohorts slapped hearty high fives.

“Seriously, dude?” the voice called back, not nearly as amused. “I’m your RA. We talked right before you went outside to play your little tennis ball asshole games.” He noted that the conversation had specifically advised not doing so.

Some giggling below suggested the RA’s warning was being taken about as seriously as RAs usually are.

“Yeah, yeah. Ha ha,” the RA grumbled. “I actually have a lot of paperwork to do up here, so I don’t really have time for this. So knock it off. Find some other way to meet hot girls and then scare them off.” He suggested turning around and looking in literally any random direction until they found one outside.

Naturally, the three boys realized the error of their ways and considered the feelings of others. And while I didn’t see it personally, I have it on good authority that they went on a walk that night that ended with all three meeting the women they would eventually marry some years later. As endings to stories go, it’s probably one of the happier ones from my college days.

It’s also a total lie.

No. As pretty much anyone could have predicted, they continued tossing the tennis ball at random windows. I’m not sure if they even wanted to find girls by that point. More likely, they’d given up and were just being pricks. And in that RA’s defense, he actually gave them another ten minutes to get bored and find something else to do before he completely snapped.

At least until they hit his window again, this time hard enough to actually knock his screen out.

I’m sometimes sad that I’m not always privy to the fates of the side characters in my stories once they leave my field of view. It’s a failing inherent to any first-person storytelling and one, I assure you, that often leaves me just as curious as the people reading it. Suffice to say, though, those three were taken into police custody. Whether or not they got their act together later, I can’t say. But I can say with some certainty that none of them found the hot girl they were looking for that night.

Or, if I’m being realistic, any other night either.

That’s sort of the point I’m making here. One of the things that amused me to the very end of my college days was how dead set some students seemed to be on frightening away any sort of sexual intimacy they happened to come across. And that they were, almost without exception, the ones so transfixed on getting laid that they abandoned almost everything else to go looking for it.

I’m not sure there’s a moral to this story. In fact, I would generally view any story about trying to hook up with random girls via tennis ball as not necessarily worthy of a deeper lesson.

Though, if I had to tack one on so this could be published as a children’s book down the road, it would probably be that if you’re trying to find love with tennis balls, try to at least develop a basic understanding of floor plans.

That First Strep is a Doozy

Pictured: My throat (interior).

There are few things more disappointing than waking up sick.

I’m the sort of person that considers sleep a gift that I give my body, largely against my better judgment. Sleeping means I can’t get anything done. It’s more boring than almost anything I could be doing while awake. If the alternative wasn’t literally dying, I probably wouldn’t grudgingly sigh and part with six hours of my free time every night for my body to do routine maintenance.

Given that I’d actually slept twelve hours the night before, it seemed particularly unfair that I’d woken up feeling like I somehow swallowed six angry hornets.

“I sleep and you keep all my stuff working, body. We had a deal,” I said, or tried to say, anyway. My throat was so swollen that it was more a croak than complaint.

I sat in bed for a while longer then, not sure what to do. It was clear by that point that I was sick, so that was one less problem than I’d had the night before. But of my two problems – the other being decidedly more hornet and throat related – it was probably the one I minded least.

Then, acknowledging this moment as a milestone in my new responsibilities as an adult, I did the only thing I could. I called my mommy.

“You sound sick,” she said, almost the moment I’d said hello.

“I have a sore throat,” I rasped with great difficulty. “It’s hard to talk.”

“You could always e-mail me.”

“Can’t. Computer exploded.”


“That’s not important,” I said, trying to get us back on topic. (Though, as I hadn’t yet told her about the fiery demise of my desktop, I can understand why it was a topic that might interest her.) “I feel awful. Should I stay home from class?”

There was a pause. “I don’t know. If you feel sick enough to stay home, then you should stay home.”

“How sick is sick enough?” I wondered. Remember that sickness was always something other people had decided about me. I was happier letting my mother, doctor, mercury encased in glass or even a campus store cashier make the determination than I was to decide myself.

“I don’t know. Do you have a fever?” she asked.

“How would I know?” I explained, in as few words as possible, that I had no way to measure my temperature.

“Put the back of your hand on your forehead. If it feels hot, then you probably have a fever,” she offered.

Still a little skeptical, I did so. I waited. And to perhaps no one’s surprise, it felt almost exactly the same as my hand. It was only then that I considered that using my own body to test my body’s temperature might be an inherently flawed endeavor. “I don’t think it works on my own forehead.”

“Can you have someone else feel it for you?” she suggested.

“I’m…not entirely comfortable with that.” I wasn’t sure what seemed worse to me – the idea of asking a random stranger to touch my face, or a random stranger actually touching my face.

“Okay…” my mom said. “What if you put your hand on someone else’s forehead? If it feels cold then that means you’re hot. I think…?”

“I’m even less comfortable with that,” I said. I then explained, going forward, that she could probably skip any advice that involved other human beings – especially if it involved us awkwardly touching one another to detect our respective temperature variations.

It was at this point that my mother started to sound a bit exasperated. She sighed loudly. “I don’t know what to tell you then. If you feel sick, stay home. If you feel okay, then go to class.” There was a momentary pause before she added, “You’re on your own now. So whatever you decide is fine.”

We exchanged some small talk. This mostly consisted of her talking while I made as little response as humanly possible. She tried to bring up the computer several more times, but that wasn’t a topic I was ready to discuss even while healthy.

And then, as my mother had said, I was on my own.

There were two sobering pieces of this realization to painfully swallow. The first was that being an adult meant I was in full control of my life. And as excited as I was to take ownership of my successes, it was far less pleasant to consider that I was the only one responsible for my mistakes and failures. I mean, I could (and would) blame my upbringing for things here and there, but overall, the buck stopped with me.

The second, and more personal, realization was that so many of my life decisions had been made with my childhood in mind. On some level, I realized I wasn’t fighting to go to class because it was the right thing to do. I was fighting to avoid my mother’s disapproving gaze on the back of my neck as I watched Bob Barker make small talk with contestants on “The Price is Right.”

But my mother wasn’t there. She didn’t decide when I went to school anymore. And even if she judged me from afar for missing class, it wasn’t something I had to live with.

With those revelations in mind, I laced up my sandals, pulled up my short sleeves and pulled myself up by my…sandle straps? Sorry. I just realized that all the metaphors about working hard don’t really work when you’re wearing jaunty summer clothing. But you get my point.

I’m not sure why I went to class that day, even after I’d decided I was far too sick to make the trip. Maybe it was a long overdue attempt to try and live up to my own standards. Maybe it was a stupid decision, and someone with more experience should have made it for me.

In my defense, I’d tried to go that route.

The important thing, though, was that it was my decision. And as an adult, it would be the first of many. I felt a lot of pride in my choice…though, in all fairness, pride could have just been another symptom of whatever was killing me at the time.

I had literally ever other symptom, so why not pride, too?

“Jesus Christ,” a voice said as I set my books down. I looked up to see my professor doing a passable imitation of my mother’s disapproving glare. “You look like death.”

I croaked in the affirmative, then added, “But I made it here.”

“Awesome. Get out.”

I blinked at him, confused.

“You damn kids have gotten me sick five times in four weeks, because you don’t have the sense to stay home when you’re dying,” he said, muttering something about our parents needing to teach us these things. “No more. Go home. Sleep. Drink fluids. Rub yourself with Echinacea or whatever they’re saying to do now. Just leave me and my immune system out of it.”

“Oh,” I said. I waited a beat to make sure he wasn’t joking, and then picked up my books. “I guess I’ll just…go then?”

“Go breathe your death air in the hallway,” he said, pointing.

I left, a little stunned. I was joined, not half a minute later, by six other students displaying a variety of other symptoms. It made me feel a little better. Emotionally, I mean. I was still so sick I could barely stand.

There might have been another life lesson or two to learn from all that. Maybe something about making decisions but accepting the unpredictability of life. Maybe something about accepting limitations. And I may have even tried to learn them, if my vision wasn’t slowly fading to black. So I went home.

Though I did note, as I stumbled back outside, one of my fellow exiles worriedly looking at her phone as she said, “My mom is going to kill me.”

He’s a Light Gun Wizard

House of the Dead
Your low-resolution textures and Ninja Turtle fingers will do you no good, Magician. I’m packing heat.

I know what everyone is thinking. “I really like the stories lately. But I feel like the title puns aren’t as obscure as they could be. Don’t be afraid to throw in some references from British rock groups from a decade or two before you were born.”

You. Are. Welcome.

I imagine you’re also wondering, “How does one go about spending an unexpected $1600 in college?” For the most part, one doesn’t. At least if it was me, which is the perspective you’ll be locked into for most of this story.

This probably comes as a bit of surprise to people. After all, even those who didn’t have bad spending habits as a young adult at least knew a few friends who did. I was personally shocked to see the way some of my friends spent money in college, especially when it belonged to other people.

Alas, I grew up very poor. While some people view financial security like a dip in a warm pool – a comfortable, relaxing experience that lasts as long as you like – I didn’t have that luxury. (Pun mildly intended.) To me, financial security has always been more like wading into a warm spot in a pool – mysterious, fleeting and less and less pleasant the more you think about it.

But every night I did dig into the bag of loose change I’d been picking off the ground since I was five years old, grab four quarters and went to the local arcade.

Let me go back over that last sentence, because I understand there’s a lot to unpack there. An “arcade” is a place where they used to have a bunch of video games in a single building. They slowly lost their following over the late 20th century and were slowly replaced by every imaginable form of media ever. So far as I know, there’s only one left in Japan and a single hunting game from 1996 at every bowling alley in America.

As to why I only brought enough to play four games, well, that part’s easier. I am, in fact, amazingly good at arcade light gun games.

If you were waiting for the punchline to that joke, there’s not one coming.

I’m not sure where that all started. But it likely had to do something with my not having a decent video game system most of my childhood. Combined with my habit of picking coins off the ground since I was five and having plenty to spare, things just kind of worked out that way. It certainly didn’t help that my mother’s shopping trips tended to last several hours at a time. Very likely, it was on one such trip, just after I’d recited the final digit of pi, that I saw a video game cabinet in the store lobby, shrugged and decided to go for it.

Still, coins weren’t an infinite resource. And even if people had dropped an unlimited supply of them for me to pick up it was only a matter of time before I found the dirty coin that would make me patient zero for the plague that wiped out humanity. So I took advice that wouldn’t become commonplace in gaming for at least a decade: I got good.

Am I telling you this to brag? Yes. And I demand all the respect that one might earn for being able to beat “Area 51” or “The House of the Dead” with a single quarter.

But in another way, this is all just part of my comedic balancing act. People can only handle hearing about how poor or sad or friendless I was for so long before screaming out any confidential information they might know, just to make it stop. In small doses, self-deprecation is funny. In large doses, a form of torture.

This was my upswing. For the space of four quarters almost every night, I wasn’t worrying about grades or a rocky home life or where my next meal would come from. I was happy. No matter what else was going on in my life, I worked through it six imaginary bullets at a time, pointed offscreen and did it all over again.

I won’t lie and pretend that I was ever surrounded by crowds of chanting fans. In fact, I don’t think I ever spoke to anyone in the arcade I hadn’t arrived with. If not an official rule, there was always at least an understanding that people hadn’t paid their hard-earned money to stare at a screen in an attempt to talk to distracting random strangers. It’s essentially the same as putting on headphones and staring at your phone, except that people actually took the hint.

In any case, it was a thing in my life that happened and it made me happy. I remember each and every game I ever beat there with that odd sense of pride that would actually diminish by sharing it with another human being.

It was as close as I ever came to therapy in college. Unless you count the time I went to a few free session carried out by Pyschology Majors as part of their course requirements. And if I’m being fair, that was less like a therapy session than going to a session and speaking to someone who was, to some degree, aware of therapy.

To this day, I still think flashing lights on a screen and a plastic orange gun did a much better job.

Snap, Crackle, Pop.


The story of how I ended up with my very own college computer after years of sharing one at home is a long one that begins with my brother winning an athletic prize and buying a computer. It then immediately ends with him joining the Air Force. Exactly one twist and turn later, it passed on to me.

Hey. I didn’t say it was a very interesting story.

The story of how that same computer ended up exploding, if nothing else, is more interesting by virtue of it having at least one more explosion than the one just before it.

I’d like to begin that story by saying that the events that transpired were in large part not due to my actions and ineptitude. Any rational person who was very impatient and not all that aware of how to fix computers would have very likely probably made similar decisions to the one I had. I really can’t stress that enough, especially given that this is a super weak defense in the first place.

Allow me to set the scene…

The first thing you have to know, aside from the fact that this definitely wasn’t my fault, is that this was back in a time when people used to turn their computers off when they weren’t using them. The current system of just leaving them on indefinitely so we could hop on and off the Internet hadn’t yet been invented, mostly due to neither Facebook nor YouTube having existed yet.

I came home from a day of classes eager to peruse one of the seven or eight decent websites that existed at the time. So, as I had hundreds of times before, I pressed the big green button on the front of the computer. And like exactly zero times before, literally nothing happened.

(Note: I realize you were probably expecting an explosion there, but trust me. As much as you think you see it coming now, you’ll know when it’s coming later.)

I was flabbergasted. In fact, my state of mind was so intense that I was forced to run downstairs, find a computer in the library and look up a word that summed up how I felt. The word, if it wasn’t entirely clear, was flabbergasted.

(Though “flummoxed” came in a close second.)

From there, I went through my mental checklist of potential solutions. I don’t claim that it’s a great list, but it’s probably more than 90% of people would have done before calling the IT help desk. Then again, it loses some points for being the same checklist I use for cars that won’t start, printers that won’t print and boring conversations.

  1. Try turning it off and on again, on the off chance that you missed the button with your first attempt.
  2. Try turning the power strip off and on again.
  3. Plug something else into the power strip and turn it off and on again after forgetting which way is the “off” position.
  4. Remove all cords from your computer. Reattach all cords. Try turning the computer off and on again.
  5. Remove all cords from your computer again. This time, take each cord aside and offer it immunity from prosecution if it reveals the identity of the faulty connection.
  6. Give the computer a hard smack. Repeat several times. Begin saying, “Whatsamatteryou!?” every time you smack it. Lament that casual racism has become a part of your everyday life.
  7. Try turning it off and on again, seeing as this is the last possible thing you can do that won’t involve talking to a human being about how inept you are with technology.

Snap. It was on this, the ninth or tenth time I’d tried pressing the power button that I heard the telltale sound of rigid plastic breaking. Naturally curious, I went to work removing the front face of my computer using the saddest collection of tools any human being has ever assembled for the purpose of computer repair.

I made surprisingly quick work of the front face, exposing it – likely permanently, as I’d broken quite a few more pieces of plastic in the process – for a better look at the inner workings of the power button.

I can’t adequately describe what I saw there in any sort of useful detail. It wasn’t complicated, but I should be clear that my knowledge of computers at the time was leaps and bounds beyond my understanding of electrical circuits. And that wasn’t a good thing.

The short version, however, is that the power button used a tiny sliver of metal to connect two other pieces of metal together. Unfortunately, the power button had broken in such a way that it could no longer achieve said function. And, with the day quickly passing me by and nothing even resembling foresight entering my mind, I pressed a metal coin against both bits.

Crackle. I was, to the surprise of no electrical engineer anywhere, given quite a nasty shock for my efforts. This is probably why circuits are rarely connected with a coin clutched between one’s bare fingers. In fact, I’m sure this is exactly why circuits are never connected with a coin clutched between one’s bare fingers.

On the other hand (the one I hadn’t used to complete a live electrical circuit), my computer had actually started.

I went about my business for some time after this rather blissfully unaware of the small doom cloud hovering just slightly above my computer from then on. The second worst thing that can happen to someone is for their bad idea to actually work, since it gives them ample incentive to try it again. The first is the constant wave of movie reboots. That’s not related to this story. I’m just sayin’…

That said, my life went on surprisingly normally for the next seven days or so.

Sure, my computer had been running a week straight without rest. Sure, its front panel was so broken that it was impossible to reattach. And sure, it’s private parts were on display for the whole world to see, like some two-bit hussy.

(Or thirty-two-bit hussy. I’ll…see myself out.)

But, aside from the fact that I’d been completely unwilling to risk shutting down my system, things were going smoothly. Of course, even I was aware that leaving the computer on indefinitely was a problem that was going to need to be addressed at some point. Then again, I figured that by the time it became a real issue, I’d need to buy a new computer anyway.

I mean, in my defense, I was technically right about needing to buy a new one.

For whatever reason, my computer had gone off while I was at class. I’m still not sure why. Maybe it was part of the existing problem. Maybe it had just gotten overworked and overheated. For whatever reason, though, I found myself once again clutching a coin in a questionable attempt to “hot-wire” my personal computer.

“This is a really good idea,” I noted, mere inches from duplicating my previous electrocution. “When I turn on the computer I’m going to write a list of all the things I don’t regret about doing this.”

The computer hummed to life. And, in a moment of surprise that would almost immediately be topped, the coin wedged into place. As a stream of sparks discouraged me from pulling it out of place (which was a brief moment of intelligent thought in a veritable stormy sea of stupidity), I absentmindedly noticed the hum grow louder and louder until it closely resembled a circular saw. To the surprise of absolutely no one, this turned out not to be a good sign.


Pop. To this day, I have no better word to describe it. There was a sound like stepping on a full bag of cooked microwave popcorn. Then my computer case deformed into a piece of outsider art.

I watched a cloud of dense black smoke rise lazily to the ceiling where it (mercifully) never found a smoke detector. Small mercies, I suppose.

After the initial shock wore off, I surveyed the damage without much optimism. As it turned out, I’d managed to turn my computer’s power supply into a small bomb. The only saving grace was that I was as good at accidentally making bombs as I was at fixing computers, meaning that there was surprisingly minimal damage to the area immediately surrounding the computer. It was, for lack of a better description, a 100% unintended precision strike.

The computer itself, of course, had been reduced to a paperweight. Its outer casing had stretched into odd shapes while its innards became a mixture of blackened confetti. It was more or less the computer equivalent of eating at Arby’s.

I still remember spending the rest of that day gaping at the destruction. I’d never seen a piece of technology fail so badly. And it brought back the bitter taste of every time I’d insulted an older relative for not being able to find the proper input on their television or set the clock on their microwave. At least they hadn’t turned their television or microwave into something that might land them on a government watch list.

When it was all said and done, I simply replaced the front plate as best as I could, sighed and turned off the power button.

Better safe than sorry.

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This

See? Because the framing device is crooked. That’s the joke.

“You’re back in the story’s framing device,” the radiologist said, poking his head out from behind the monitor. “What happened this time?”

I sighed.

“And stop sighing,” he chided. “It messes with the image.”

I waited until I heard the telltale whir and several almost eerie moaning sounds from the large radioactive camera above me to indicate the technician had a picture of my insides he was happy with. As he approached the table I explained, “It’s not my fault this time.” I hedged slightly. “It’s not entirely my fault this time.”

The other man helped me sit up on the scanning table. “So who else was at fault?”

“It was my computer.”

He blinked at me. “I’m…not sure I follow.” Then, considering, he nodded. “Actually, I’m entirely sure I don’t follow. What does your computer have to do with the long gap between you telling the whole college story thing?”

After rearranging my hospital gown to about half of my satisfaction – in that it only showed about half of my rear end to anyone standing behind me – I faced him. “My computer sort of…exploded.”

The radiologist went through a series of expressions that, despite their nuanced differences, all seem confused to one degree or another. “Let me be entirely clear here. You’re literally writing my character’s responses right now, and I have no idea what that’s got to do with any of this,” he admitted.

For that matter, I realized, anyone who just started reading right here would have no idea why this college story has a portion happening in the hospital a decade in the future. I cleared my throat again to cover the sound of me breaking the fourth wall.

“Okay,” I said. “It didn’t actually explode.”

“Then why say it did?”

“It sounds a lot more interesting than saying my operating system disappeared and all I could do was stare at a black screen,” I offered. I was well aware of what a computer looked like when it actually exploded, given what was about to happen in the main story. “Suffice to say, it stopped working as anything other than a very large, very hot paperweight.”

Despite my explanation, the technician looked just as confused. “So…what’s that got to do with telling me a story? And how do you know your computer at home…exploded?”

“No, no, no,” I waved it away. “I mean, my computer exploded in the future, preventing me from typing new segments of the story and publishing them.” It was only after I’d said the words that I realized how ridiculous they sounded.

“I think what I like most about your story is how easy it is to follow,” the other man said, mockingly sincere.

“Shut it.”

“Okay. So let me try to summarize here,” the radiologist said, tapping his fingers on his clipboard thoughtfully. “You’re here now, telling me a story. The story is about your college days ten years or so ago. And it’s being written down as a blog sometime…after this doctor’s visit?”

I nodded slowly. “Actually, that’s a pretty good summary.”

The man gave me a weighing look, as if he wanted to say something more, but he just nodded as well. “Well, in that case, in that very oversimplified form, it’s not as complicated as I thought it was.”

I hopped off the table. “For a story with multiple timelines running in unison at different rates of speed with only one character in common, it’s actually fairly straightforward…” I hesitated. Then, being a realist, I added, “Straightforward…ish.”

“In any case,” the technician said, looking at the chart disinterestedly, “Something something doctor babble. You can go sit in the waiting room for another fifteen minutes.” His brow suddenly furrowed. “Did you actually write ‘something something doctor babble’ as my dialogue?”

“Sorry. I wasn’t really listening to what you were saying when it happened. So I’m losing some details as I’m writing it down later,” I admitted sheepishly. “I probably could have taken a more dignified guess than that, though.”

“Probably,” the man said, and led me back to the tiny third world country just outside the radiology department that had been very generously labeled as a “waiting room.” He watched me sit down and readjust my nudity to my liking before asking, “So refresh my memory. Where were you in the college story?”

I opened my mouth and then snapped it shut. “Honestly, I think it was my first job hunt, but I don’t really remember. But then I remembered something else happened before I went out looking for work anyway.”

“Which was?”

“My computer exploded.”

The radiologist gave me an uneven look. “I feel like we’ve covered that bit.”

“No,” I said with a sigh. “In the past. That computer exploded.”

He gave the television a wary look. “That wasn’t working when you came in, right? Because if you somehow destroy technology just by being around it there are actually some expensive imaging machines you should stay away from…”

“Shut it.”