I Left My Mark on Pi Phi

The housemom at the Kappa house asked me to throw away two bottles. These were spray bottles, like Windex, but filled with dye. You can see the bottles sitting on the grill outside the dining room (which I call the Kappateria; no one else calls it that). They’ve been there for a year and a half.

I put them there. My junior year before Owl-o-ween (the Kappa Halloween function – apparently they like it when they come up with the puns), my date and I tie dyed shirts. As a Halloween function, a couple goes as anything matched. I’ve been a robot, a tattoo artist, and even a unicorn. That year, we were professional function goers, because we were good at dancing. We were really good.

When I told Mom Shanks that the bottles were mine, it wasn’t apparent whether or not she was mad. I get away with many things because I’m now the senior houseboy. Ringo, who’s a year older than me, left last Tuesday. Afterwards, I was late to my shift, and when scolded I told the chef that washing dishes was like Top Gun, and I was the Maverick of KKG.

My sophomore year I worked at the Pi Beta Phi house. They paid us there, but they only employed five houseboys, so you had to work five meals as opposed to two. It evens out. Trust me – I was a math major. I worked with a few fraternity brothers, which made it fun, but the head cook was this old harpy named Wilma. We hated Wilma. When she was a kid, people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she said, “Ugly and mean.” She smoked like a chainsaw.

The housemom, Mom B, may have had Alzheimer’s. I say this because in the spring, I studied abroad in Rome for a semester. I just worked at Pi Phi for the fall; when I got back, Mom B had given my job away because she thought I was Heath Mitchell, another houseboy. A month later I was working at Kappa.

I tell this story because, like the tie dye, I left something at Pi Phi, too. When I was gone, somehow one of the girls got my picture printed onto posterboard and pasted it on the wall in the kitchen, above the buffet line. It was probably an 8×10 – a good sized picture. After I left, no one took it down because if they did, it would strip the paint off the wall. They left it there for two years.

It went down earlier this year. By that time, none of the girls who lived in the house knew who I was. I still get stopped between classes by girls who say, “Oh my god! Yours is the face who haunts me! Tell me your name, spirit!”


It is (Almost) Finished

I finished the first draft of my novel last night. Tentatively, I’m calling it Thanaphine after a fictional drug I created. The main character is addicted to it. I get high vicariously.
The protagonist’s name is Chancellor Drysdale, which was the name of a camper I had two summers ago at Camp War Eagle. This was when I was a counselor with Ricky Shade in the youngest cabin. We told the kids my name was Dragon Master and his was Night Hawk. They never knew otherwise.

Chancellor Drysdale was a blonde seven year old who wanted to punch everyone, but he had a great name. His punches hurt, too, if you weren’t ready. He’d swim up behind you and hit you in your kidney like they do in movies, only he wouldn’t know there was a kidney there. I guess he thought the whole body was made up of funny bones, and a person could float in the pool completely numb if you hit them enough.

Chancellor Drysdale in my book is a time traveler. The plot takes place in the last three days of the world; since he can time travel, there about as many flashbacks as there are present actions, explaining how everything got to be in such bad shape. There are many timelines, from the many times past events have been altered. Chance can remember these separate timelines, where he had different childhoods, and went to different schools, and had a dog that lived versus a dog that died early. Because of this, he’s developed something like multiple personalities.

If all that was happening to me, I’d be addicted to fictional drugs, too.

It’s 280 pages. I have a month to edit it before I turn it over to my thesis committee and go skiing for spring break. While skiing I will never think about this novel, because it’s all I’ve been doing for nine months.

Longer than that. Two years ago when I worked at Camp War Eagle, before my cabin with Chancellor and Ricky, I was on a day off when I saw the movie Time Cop. I was flipping through channels and stopped on this Civil War period piece, where a highway man tries to rob a general; suddenly the highway man pulled laser guns out of his trench coat and I thought, “This is what I have been seeking. I know what my purpose is.” The movie is terrible, but I named a character in my book after the evil mastermind. McComb. He was a senator in the movie, but in the book, he doesn’t even have a first name.

Member Retreat Racist, but True

This weekend was our fraternity’s member retreat. We were supposed to drive to Bolivar, MO, to camp for the weekend. It snowed there, so the officers moved it. Also, I told them I wanted to sleep in a real bed and have fresh bluebells in my trailer. They asked me to leave their meeting.

We slept in a gymnasium owned by a church. Last year, we had a retreat with four other chapters in Stillwater, OK. We called it the Trifecta until the Missouri chapter joined; it then became the Superfecta. We slept in the main worship hall of an enormous church with no light switches. We couldn’t turn off the lights. I pushed eight chairs together and wrapped a shirt around my head to make darkness. Originally it was a trash bag, but I had to be revived. That’s why I tell people I’ve already been baptized.

Saturday morning we drove to Winslow, AR, to the farm of a member’s family, to shoot guns. Winslow used to be home to the Winslow High Flying Squirrels till the district had to start busing to Greenland. The school house is still there. It looks like a stone garage.

Shooting skeet is interesting because you can never predict who is going to be good. Obviously, a few brothers are easily identified – they wear their camouflage jackets when it snows. A lot of good that pattern is doing you when trying to blend in with white. But many of the members who had guns were dark horses. I had these gunhands pegged as dorks and geeks. Guns scare me. When I was younger, there was a gun that lived under my bed. No one believed me.

The best part of the retreat happened that first night. We were an hour early to the ice rink to play broomball; it was the kid’s broomball league. Instead of leaving for an hour, we settled down and eventually began cheering. We didn’t know any of the kids, but we gave them and their teams names. Legs was the goalie for the Barracudas. Number Two was an eight year old who kept changing teams. Martha jean was by far the best player on the ice.

My favorite player was Brian; Brian was the best player on the Barracudas. He was our answer to Martha Jean (though he couldn’t move like her). He was also hispanic. When we first started assigning names, he was Jose or Juan or Miguel. Something like that. Then I felt racist and changed it to Brian. After they finished, I approached and gave him a high five; I wanted to congratulate him on playing so well, but I couldn’t. He didn’t speak English.

Into the Morning is on a Chart Somewhere

Ben Rector released his new album on Tuesday. It’s called Into the Morning. It topped out at number six on the iTunes Pop Album charts. I’ve never been there. That’s what I say in conversation when I can’t relate. I was talking to a student from Saudi Arabia at lunch today. When he said he was from Saudi Arabia, I said, “I’ve never been there,” and then we went back to eating.

Ben was in my fraternity; he used to play a show in Fayetteville biweekly. Now he lives in Nashville; he’s touring with two other musicians, who at similar stages in their careers: unsigned but rising. I read a book on novel publication recently, and it described three authors who banded together and created their own book tour, with posters and chapbooks and rehearsed jokes. It sounds glamorous. When I was younger (21), I wanted to be in a national musical. I would sleep on the bus and warm up during the day. I would be best friends with the other chorus members because, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have a leading part. I’d be part of the chorus. When I’m asked to make a list of things I like about myself, I write that I can be honest even in day dreams.

Fayetteville was the second stop on their tour. Tulsa was the first. As these are both Ben’s areas, he got to headline. When they get to the coast, another guy will headline. We didn’t listen much to the other guys. No one was really interested. One looked like Seth Cohen, but he didn’t produce the same laughs.

Last year, when Ben released his last album, Songs that Duke Wrote, he played a album release party in the same venue, George’s Majestic Lounge. The company that packaged his CD’s forgot to ship them. I was sleeping on his couch the night before when he woke me up. It was around nine. “Do you want to go to Dallas?” he asked me. “Lock and load,” I said, then he asked me again, and I said, oh wait, I am not dreaming? We were just about to take down that evil sloth/jaguar with Wolverine and Shadowcat. Shadowcat said she loved me.

We had to drive through a terrible storm in Oklahoma. We actually stopped on the interstate and called someone to consult the Doppler Radar. Doppler said the storm was a portent of evil tidings. I voted to press through it. I wasn’t driving. I actually wasn’t involved at all. I was along for the ride.

We slept from two to seven, when Ben picked up the CD’s, and then turned around to go straight home. We ate Wendy’s twice, at the same location in McAlester, halfway between Fayetteville and Dallas. And that night, I still had to pay for the album.

Consequently, in the 1990’s, my mom used to play at George’s Majestic Lounge. Back then it was called George’s Majestic Beer Garden. She was the lead singer in a cover band called “Decoy;” she also played tambourine. The lead guitarist was Dr. Gregg, the dentist who my mom worked for as a secretary. The only song I remember them playing is “Brown Eyed Girl.” Dr. Gregg now teaches Biology at the University. He gave me a 67% on my first test.

Top Three Things I’d Like to Put on Twitter

1) Last night I had a dream where my dog committed suicide. I left him on the balcony of my sixth floor apartment where he was playing Scrabble. I think he used the deckchair as a lever to unhinge the cast iron railing. He then pushed everything, including the plants and the game board, over the edge with him. After I examined the body I went to Crystal to get a bag of Slammers.

2) Last week I was in the basement of Old Main, and I saw a room with a plastic plaque that read, “Beard Center.” Inside there were four or five vending machines and several groundskeepers. They all had beards. I think I used to hang out there when I was a kid, and look for change underneath the machines so I could play the arcade games that used to be in the Union. You can visit the Beard Center. I don’t think you even have to shave.

(If I had a Twitter, I’d write things like that. I think I’d be good at it. That isn’t a blog post by itself, but I think I could compress that into Twitter. The problem is, I’ve been using the same phone for three years. It has a color screen, and the background is three balloons – red, yellow, and blue. Ben Rector used to have the same phone, and we’d switch accidentally, but I always found out eventually because his background was three stones stacked one on top of the other. I always read his text messages before I returned it.)

3) I was eligible for a trade in maybe a month ago, but my mom used it to get herself a new phone. She threw up on her old phone. She had a fever over Christmas and for some reason put her phone at the bottom of the trash can she used for vomiting. Unwise. I cannot fault her. When I lived in Rome, a girl I had a crush on back in the States stayed with me for a weekend. I slept on the couch. The day she was supposed to leave, I thought about kissing her, then I threw up in front of her. She had to find her own way to the airport. I got to skip my Italian art history final.

Man Night!

Okay, so I did do something for Valentine’s Day. It was called Man Night, and it was a celebration of all things that are not available to guys who have girlfriends. Or at least what I think isn’t available. The same principle applies to my semi-annual Earthling Night.

To get in, you had to wear flannel and have a cigar. I bought mine from an old man who looked like Mr. Filch from Harry Potter. While my friends bought items with Spanish names and warning labels, I paid two dollars for an unmarked tree branch six inches long and as thick as a quarter. I couldn’t really taste it, although I hear you can’t taste radioactive fallout from a nuclear blast, either.
(I heard this from a chemistry professor this morning; I went to his office hours, though I only had him for one class a year ago, and after reintroducing myself asked him about the effects of a nuclear blast seven hours later at two miles away from a bomb detonated one mile above the surface of Pittsburgh. To ease into the conversation, I told him it was for my thesis.)
Smitty, one of my fraternity brothers, bought four twelve packs of Best Choice Fruit Punch, which came in aluminum cans. It tasted like Mexican orange soda. I didn’t drink any, but I know the taste because my clothes are soaked in it. The main activity of Man Night was softball pitching these cans to another Man wielding an aluminum bat.
These things explode like doves. It’s kind of beautiful. As the bat hits the can, the opposite side splits open and fruit punch flows out like vomit. What remains of the can floats to the ground on two little wings.
There were girls at Man Night. They had to follow the rules; they couldn’t talk about girls either. One of them, Alex, was a golfer in high school. We gave her an old nine iron. She split a can in half.
I went inside after maybe thirty six cans, so what follows I have pieced together from separate and disparate accounts, but apparently near the end of his reign as fruit punch king, Smitty began to climb one of the trees in his backyard. This is an old tree; they had to build the porch around it because it wouldn’t move for them. Too bad they didn’t have faith the size of a mustard seed – Jesus told me that helps.
He was on a branch, maybe ten feet off the ground, when he asked another brother, Taggart, to pitch the cans to him so he could hit them and watch the doves glide to their nests on the grass. Before the first pitch, the branch snapped and Smitty fell all the way to the ground, among the split cans and sticky grass.

Taggart was laughing when he told us this; he couldn’t get out the last part, which was that Smitty had almost landed straddling a tree branch, like in Home Alone. After he finished laughing he asked for some band-aids. I followed Taggart down to assess the situation. Smitty had a three inch gash below his knee that looked deep. The girls asked him if he needed to go to the hospital, but before he could reply, Taggart, staring at the wound, said, “This makes me want to watch Saving Private Ryan.” And we did.

A Valentine’s Memory I Found in Therapy

Today was Valentine’s Day, and I didn’t celebrate it. I had dinner with my 10th grade cell group. In exchange for food, all I do is recite rap lyrics with the sly ones. We really like the New Boyz. I was replaced long ago as the spiritual leader of the group.

In a conversation with a friend, I was reminded of a Valentine’s Day two years ago. At the time, I was spending a semester in Rome. I kept a blog, called Lectio Difficilior, but I can’t explain why. I think I wanted to make it difficult for my mom to find it. Below I’ve posted part of the Valentines entry for that blog, because it was an important day in my life.
After school, I was walking home from school when I popped into a chic boutique to peruse the new men’s fashions, because, if you haven’t been keeping up with my personal life, I have recently become fashionable (and not in the way that, women want to carry me in their purse. Well, actually, in that way too, but that’s not the point). So, in a nameless clothing store, I was looking through the assorted blazers (by TOGS clothing, no less) when the owner/operator/only worker in the store Rion decided he wanted to help me. He kept handing me things to try on, and watching me flip through the stretchy pants. As I was leaving, he stopped me and struck up a conversation about my studies, complimenting me on my Italian. Then he said we should get coffee sometime. Eager to leave, I agreed, and then he said, “Okay, let’s go.”

I got asked out by a guy on Valentine’s Day. After I had stopped running, I reflected and thought about how nice it is to be appreciated by someone, even if it’s a guy. It’s the thought that counts anyways, like Ned from Pushing Daisies says, “on a holiday created to sell greeting cards, it’s still kind of nice to get a card.”

During the four months I spent in Rome, I was propositioned by three different men. Rion was the first. The second was at an after party for a Shakespeare production in London; as to what happened, I cannot relate it here. Or anywhere. I am going to take it to my grave, and bury next to the body I used to fake my death. The third was the night I was robbed and forced to sleep on the streets of Florence. Let’s just say I thought the coffee he offered was spelled r-a-p-e-c-o-f-f-e-e. Which still spells coffee.

Gender Isolation, Pizza at Teach for America

I was the only guy at my Teach for America interview. There were four female candidates and two female interviewers. I gave my five minute lesson plan on the plot structure of the short story “Imposter”, about a man accused of being a robot who has to prove his innocence, only to find out he’s a robot and explode, destroying the earth in his fireball. There’s a movie version with Gary Sinise. But no one really knew how to respond to my presentation. I made worksheets with a plot curve and five listed scenes – the students and I were supposed to work together to place the scenes on the curve. While we were filling out the worksheet as a group, every time I called out a plot point – exposition, rising action, climax, and so on – someone would answer, “B,” which was “Spencer realizes he is the robot and detonates, destroying earth.” I don’t care if you like science fiction or not – I think it’s pretty clear that can only go at the end of the curve, at the resolution. I know of no stories that continue after the main character and the earth are destroyed.

The interview was on the thirty seventh floor of the Chase Building in downtown Dallas. I’ve never been up that high. I got there at eight in the morning, right as it opened. I was wearing my new suit; I felt like I knew something no one else did, like the combination of a safe or where to find a great cheeseburger. On the elevator, someone asked me where I worked. I gave him a high five.
The thirty seventh floor is a law office, all of it. It’s gorgeous. A third of the walls are glass, and all of the chairs are good for your lower back. They have this kitchen that’s a bigger version of the ones I’ve seen in the houses of rich friends that I’ve broken into. It was all steel and granite, with refrigerator set aside especially for Coca Cola. I want to be a lawyer when I grow up. After my interview (where I talked about the importance of male teachers – that’s right, I did feel awkward as the only guy) I wandered in there to eat the plums, but I found six boxes of pizza on the kitchen island. No one was there, so I began to eat. There was a flatscreen showing the Weather Channel. It was supposed to snow in Dallas. I watched it and kept eating pizza.
By the time the actual lawyers showed up, I had eaten half a box of cheese. Someone said “excuse me,” and I turned around. There were a few seconds of silence, where I felt guilty about the pizza slice I was holding, then I pointed over my shoulder, through the glass doors were the interviews were, and said, “I’m with America.” They backed off after that.

I Call it a Cheeseburger Tie

I have an interview with Teach for America on Wednesday. In it, I have execute a five minute lesson plan, teaching the eleven other interviewees and two interviewers something from my field of study. I’m teaching on a Philip K. Dick short story called “Imposter.” The story is about a scientist who is accused of being a robot saboteur and has to prove his innocence, only in the end to be revealed as in fact a robot. He explodes. Everyone dies.

I’m feeling really good about my presentation. I have handouts.

I had to leave Fayetteville today, however, because of the snow. It’s snowing everywhere. The Weather Channel looks like someone erased all the maps. If I wanted to make it to the interview in Dallas, I had to leave early. Passing through McAlester, OK, I stopped at a Wendy’s to get lunch. It was snowing there too. As I pulled out, I saw a homeless man with a sign asking for food. I was at a stoplight, and I had two cheeseburgers, and so I said, “My lesson plan may not be math orientated, but this makes sense.”

Timeout here: I don’t usually do this. Don’t think I’m a good person. I’m not. I used to kick my dog, before she died of old age. She was a lazy dog.

My car is a standard; since I was parked on a hill, I had to turn off my car to make sure it didn’t roll backwards. And I had to move fast – I had to deliver the food and get back in the car before the light turned green.

I was in such a hurry that I jumped out of the car without the cheeseburger. When I realized this, I opened the door and grabbed a burger by the wrapper, but as I pulled it out of the bag, the contents – buns, meat, pickles, onion, et cetera – floated away. These things fell on my suit. That I’m wearing for my Teach for America interview.

The clock was ticking. I put the burger back together, except for the onion, which I held free in my other hand, for some reason. I walked slowly to the homeless man. He looked at me expectantly. All I could think to say was, “It’s a double stack.” And I handed him the cheeseburger.

Getting back into my car, I pointed at my suit and said “You did this to me.” He laughed maniacally and turned into a dragon. The rest of the trip was pretty normal.

An Informative and Entertaining Alzheimer’s Story

A few days ago at the Kappa house, one of the girls asked me to help her write an essay about Alzheimer’s that was both informative and entertaining. Easily done. There are many things more entertaining than Alzheimer’s.

She asked me when I could get together to work; we have to get together to do this? Can’t I just ghostwrite it? But after I asked her what I was getting out of this, she backed off a little, like I was a homeless man. Many girls think the houseboys are homeless. Once, when I worked in the Pi Phi house, a girl found me in the kitchen and told me that there was a homeless man sleeping on the living room couch, and all the girls were afraid to wake him up. It turned out it was just Blake Chism. He wants to be an engineer.
So instead of actually working, I said that I would tell a story about Alzheimer’s that was both informative and entertaining, and she could transcribe it. This is what I spoke:
My family lived with my grandmother for six years; we moved in when she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She was nearly normal up until the last two years, when she began to slide. She forgot my name – I think she thought I was my grandfather. She told me I was handsome a lot (first sign of Alzheimer’s). And she stopped watching television. Unfamiliar shows upset her. She could watch DVD’s of the shows she traditionally watched. She loved Murder She Wrote, and she loved JAG. That’s all that she watched every episode multiple times, and I watched with her.
Eventually she reached a point where she couldn’t remember even these shows. Harmon Rabb, or Angela Landsbury would solve a crime, and she would ask, “Who is that?” That’s the hero, Grandma. He or she is doing good.
But she retained something peculiar. Even though she forgot the premises and the characters, she could always identify the bad guys. I don’t think she could remember the bad guys – that would be way to much to ask of her mind, and really, if she could do that, that’s a waste of memory in a world where she thinks we’re married. No, I think that she just watched enough mysteries that she cracked some sort of narrative code by which bad guys could be identified by physical traits and entrances. Every first time a bad guy would enter the screen, ten minutes into the episode where he’s not even considered a suspect, Grandma would make her hands into guns and shout “Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew!”
That was her version of a machine gun.
Thanks a lot, Grandma. I hadn’t seen this episode, but now it’s pretty obvious that the uncle did it. This is why I never take you out with me.
Sometimes the Kappa house makes me feel like a sage. Yesterday, a girl at lunch told me she took a right brain/left brain test, and out of 18 questions, answered 18 of them with her left brain. What does that mean. It means, I said, that you’ll die when you’re 25. She didn’t talk to me after that.
This morning, as I walked through the house after breakfast, I heard different girls talking about the right brain/left brain test. One said, “If you’re all left brain, you’re only supposed to live till 25.”