Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween! AKA I Hate Horror Movies

I hate horror movies.  I have hated them since the first one I’d ever seen as a kid, and I haven’t seen a lot of them.  My parents are firm believers in the movie rating system, and my mom detests scary films.  It doesn’t make sense to me in the slightest that someone would pay money to have their wits blasted out of their brains in fright.  Nowadays, I watch about 3 scary movies a year, and I only watch them in the month of October.

When I was 12, I saw my first horror movie ever: I Know What You Did Last Summer.  I know some of you guys are like, “ugh, what a boring movie, with stupid effects, and dumb looking bloody bodies, and fake fake fake blah blah blah.”  Take this moment to (forgive the extensive swearing and) go fuck yourself, because that movie scared the motherliving shit out of me.

I was 12, and my mind was innocent.  My family and I were doing our usual Catholic family things on a Friday night.  My aunt and cousins were visiting us for the weekend, and all of us kids got to rent a movie for the night.  My sister and cousins really wanted to get I Know What You Did Last Summer.  My mother conceded after a few tantrums thrown by most of us.

The older members of our family are smart, and do not enjoy scary movies.  I was young and naïve.  I had no idea what a scary movie entailed.  My closest encounter had been Ernest Saves Halloween, which DID give me nightmares, and THAT even had a happy ending… I think consisting of defeating the monster with milk.  I don’t know, google it.

So the young trusting kids were shepherded into a room all our own, to take delight in one of horror movie’s finest.  I sat on the ground in my usual fashion, feeling the invigorating blood rush that accompanies doing something bad for the first time.  Like stealing cookies or using a racial slur for the first time (neither recommended).

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the plot of the movies, but what I do remember goes in this sequence:

Initial scene: Beautiful teenagers hit a terrible man with a hook.  Life is going good for me.
First 3 murders

Second 3 Killin's

The finale

After the movie I was paralyzed.  I wanted my cousins to think I was cool.  I hadn’t screamed at all.  This was because my liver had imploded and my kidneys had fused out of sheer terror.
But then life was supposed to just “go on”.  I was supposed to forget about the fact that I had just witnessed 18 bazillion murders, by a serial killer who was STILL ALIVE at the end.

He was in my house.

He was sitting behind the couch.

He was staring straight at me.

I sat there, staring at the TV screen, pretending to laugh while desperately trying to remember all of my yellow-belt tae-kwon-do moves.  Fuck!  I was trying to remember what my master had told me about giant fish-hook stabbing attacks and pulling up nothing!  Tae-Kwon-Do failed me again!

Flying Fish Attack of Doom: Very effective against fish hook stabbings
I was aware I had to pee.  Slowly, by twisting my appendages free of my own vice like grips, I went into the bathroom, about 10 feet away.  I turned on every fixture as I went, and made it securely inside the bathroom.  What had I done?

The serial killer could have easily concealed himself ANYWHERE.  I grabbed a box of tissues as a safety shield and sneaked along the wall of the bathroom.

I realized that if I were on a murderous rampage, the shower curtain was exactly where I would hide.

Finally, I made it to the toilet.  There was just one problem.  I am pee shy, and I can’t go if someone was looking at me.  I found this to be definitive proof that HE was standing right outside the bathroom window staring at me trying to pee!

I was eventually able to relieve myself, but the whole time I was internally screaming.

It took months for me to get over my fear of giant fish hook wielding mad men.  Every time I had to be somewhere alone, I had to have all the lights on.  I needed to be armed with at least a box of tissues, though I preferred the family encyclopedia or my even more naïve younger brother*.

My nightmares had dulled down.

I could look in my cousins’ eyes and not feel shame.

And I could finally pee again, without feeling a 40 year old crazed villain’s eyes on the back of my skull.

*My brother was annoyingly cavalier about this movie.  I remember him being allowed to watch the movie, but I’m not positive he had watched it.  If he had, he’s a sick little bastard, because he slept soundly every night as I laid up at night, staring under his bed, positive the serial killer was lurking.  If you want a bonus read about almost this exact situation, visit Allie's Blog

He slept like this ALL NIGHT.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Adventure Race

In my first semester after joining my fraternity, I participated in one of the three times I’ve attempted a sport.  For the record, I am not an athlete.  I go for runs.  Those do not require more coordination than a fast paced walk.  I didn’t volunteer to play, but as a SigEp new member, I was obligated to play at least one intramural sport at some point in the semester.  So one day, my roommate, Ben turns to me:

Ben: “Hey Rob, you know you have to do an intramural, right?”
Me: (sigh) “Yea, I know, I’m dreading it.”
Ben: “Well there’s this thing called Adventure Race that I’ve always wanted to try.  They need teams of two.”
Rob: “Adventure?!  Race?!  A race that’s an adventure?!  Tell me more!”
Ben: “I’m not exactly sure, bitch.  I think it’s like a mini-triathlon.”
Rob: “Oh… well I can swim and run pretty fast, but I don’t own a bike.  I haven’t ridden in years.”
Ben: “Well, they say you never forget, bitch.”
Rob: “I break a lot of traditional rules, Ben.”

We sign our names up on the list, and decide to start training for the race.  Training is the operative word; because all that happened was Ben joined me on my daily run and fell down about halfway through. 

We looked up the actual rules to the race and it was like a triathlon, except much shorter, and no swimming.  Instead, we were to canoe one mile, bike three miles, and run one mile.  Not too bad, considering.

The morning of the race, Ben was still complaining of the soreness caused by training.  I had recently started an annoying habit of creating stupid songs about what I was about to do that day.  This one started off with, “Adveeeeeeeennnntureee Raaaaaace, AaAAAaaadventure Race!  We’re on an adventuuuuuuureeeeee………………………RACE!” 

It didn’t get better.  My closest example can be heard here.

We finally got warmed up and ready, so we loaded the bikes into our truck and drove to our race site, in Peterson Pits.  We aren’t exactly sure where it is, but we see a bright yellow sandwich sign that pointed us to the start line. 

We were ushered to our parking spot by a shy looking girl with neon blue hair.  She told us to stack our bikes next to all the others and stand by the lake to wait for the start of the race.  We stacked our bikes in a very strategic way, so we would be able to hop right on and go down the trail.  I nervously glanced back at the bike and mentally steeled myself with the prospect that I will have to be riding it soon.

We arrive at the start of the race, and it was quite clear that our 2 mile run was nowhere near enough training.  The race was split up into genders, and even the girls looked like American Gladiators.  We stood with the mammoth men and both of us knew to quit talking immediately, as even the slightest sound will set off a gorilla on steroids.

“Well,” I whispered to Ben, “at least we showed up.”
“You’re going to lose this for us on purpose aren’t you?” Ben criticized.
“No!  Fuck you!  There’s no way we can beat these Olympians!  But I’m going to do my best!”
“You say that a lot, Rob.  Your best is like a normal person’s 60%.” Ben countered.  He was really started to get under my skin.
“Listen asshole, I never claimed to be things like ‘athletic’, ‘manly’, or ‘straight’.  This was your idea, and I am here willingly and without a new running injury, so be grateful and let’s go do something really athletic.”
“Whatever, bitch.  If we lose this it’ll be your fault.”
“Just for that, I am going to kill this race, and you will be finishing behind me, guaranteed.”
“Rob, this isn’t an individual race, it doesn’t matter which one of us finishes first.”

I guess this was our way of warming up because everyone was finishing up their stretching and lining up in front of a long shallow hole someone had carved into the beach.  Ben and I took our place on the far right, about 10 feet away from everyone who were aggressively elbowing their way to the middle, the closest point to the canoes.  Hell, maybe Ben would be doing it too if it wasn’t for my damn non-elbowing attitude and me.

Suddenly, we heard the gun, and we all sprinted towards the canoes.  As a safety precaution, we needed to put on the life vests, all of which were untied, except for mine, and the latches were tied with the knottiest, most vice-like grips I have ever seen.  Who last used this?!  I wouldn’t even tie these things this tight if my 2 year-old infant swallowed a bunch of weights and decided to jump in the deep end of a pool.  My fingers started working violently at the ties, eventually ripping the top tie wide enough for me to fit my head through.  By then, Ben and I were the only ones left on the beach, and he was staring at me with cold eyes.

We pull into the water, and luckily, I am very verbal and know how to canoe.  I start shouting commands to Ben, and he is listening.  That was new.  We surprisingly started to catch up with the Goliaths.  Apparently, they couldn’t do a lot of canoe training in between their abundant shots of Sterizone and Testosterone.  Ben and I pass the first canoe and I am feeling so great that I start singing the “Adventure Race” song again.  The other racers, overcome by the sound of my voice, start furiously rowing and are wooed into a sense of accomplished canoeing.  My singing sabotaged our slight gain, and they pass us with a crazed glow in their eye.  So… you’re welcome everyone else in Adventure Race.

Halfway across the lake, the same blue haired girl was sitting in a kayak, telling the rowers that they need to go around her and back to the beach, where our bikes were waiting.  Ben and I were in last place, though we were getting a pretty good sync in our rowing, so I found no reason not to have a small chat with blue haired girl.

“Hi there, I’m Rob!  What’s your name?”
“I’m Jess.  You guys are losing pretty badly.  Maybe you should pay attention to the race.”
“Nah, that’s okay Jess.  I like your hair!”
“So.. um… do you wanna date sometime?”
Ben interjects, “SHUT UP ROB.”
I reply, “YOU shut up Ben, I’m trying to make the best of a crappy situation, and if that means taking a girl with blue hair out on a date, then that’s what I’m going to do.  So Jess, whattaya say?!”
“No,” she answered.

Dejected enough to not jump into another chorus of adventure race, Ben and I paddle our way to the shore in silence.  We beach our canoe and sprint towards our bikes.  This was my own moment of truth.  The giant yellow monster with wheels seemed to glare at me as I approached

I kept thinking to myself, “please remember how to ride this thing. Try not to think.  Muscle Memory!  That’s a thing right?  Muscles will remember how to do this.”  I mounted the bike, kicked off the ground, stabbed my calve muscle with the spokes of the bike and fell to the ground, my leg bleeding heavily.1  Ben passive aggressively sighed.  I cursed.

I grabbed some leaves from the ground and slapped them onto my wound.  Then I got back on the bike, and started pedaling, eventually getting a good momentum going.  Ben and I follow the signs which lead us onto a path in the woods.  I was a little worried, what with just learning how to ride a bike, that the woods might be a little treacherous, but I figured that ISU wouldn’t have us mountain biking without warning.  Plus there is a surprising lack of mountains in Iowa.

After falling in the mud a few times, I started to really get the hang of woods biking.  Then the hills came.  And the bike path we were riding on completely disappeared apart from the leader’s old bike tracks.  Soon, Ben and I were pedaling through a legitimate mountain biking experience.  We came perilously close to a cliff’s edge and I seriously considered getting off my bike and walking it.

About 2 miles into our bike ride, Ben calls for me to stop.  I immediately feel thankful that he has finally fallen too, but when I turn and look, he’s standing perfectly.  But he’s clutching his chest.  “Bitch, we have to stop for awhile.  I could be having a heart attack.  I have this medical condition called tachachardia.2”  I oblige and stop, but I grumpily reply, “Well I was born with terrible balance, but it didn’t stop you from being an ass every time I’ve fallen.”

As we were waiting, 2 girls’ teams passed us.  They had incredulous looks on their faces and I glared at them as they went by, saying absurd things, trying to sabotage their efforts.  It didn’t work.  Whores.

Eventually, Ben’s heart slowed to a semi-normal pace, and we continued our hellish trek through the woods.  We came to the end of the bike trail, and stiffly removed our bodies from the banana seats.  It was time for our run, and Ben and I were shot to hell.  I had lost all humor of the situation.  I just wanted to be at the end of the race where Jess would smugly stare at me and know that she had made the best decision when denying my date proposal.

I looked at Ben and asked if he was ready for the run.  He just called me bitch again and came to stand next to me.  We started at an easy pace.  Then I remembered my obligation to beat the crap outta him.  So I kicked up my pace.  Both of us knew I was the better runner.  But then I remembered Ben’s tyrannosaurus heart condition, so I slowed until I could hear his breathing behind me.  By the end, we were both so tired of ADVENTURERACE that we sprinted across the finish line.

Sure enough, blue haired girl was there with a smug smile on her face.  Bitch.

I had had enough.  This was one of the most ill-conceived attempts at a sport I had ever tried, and for once, my body was flowing with testosterone and adrenaline.  I was pissed.  I turned to her.  “You know what blue hair tells me about a person?  Low self-esteem and a deep-seated need for attention.  I asked you out because I felt bad that you needed to drastically alter your appearance to be noticed.  I asked you out on a date, for what is probably the first time in your life, and you said no out of what I can only assume was a reflex reaction to anyone asking you anything.  Just do your job, record our time and let us go home.”  This is one of the few times Ben has ever laughed at any of the things I have said. 

Afterwards, Ben and I grabbed our bikes, got in the car and drove home.  But on the way, we stopped at the park entrance and stole the bright yellow sandwich sign. 

Because fuck Adventure Race.

1 Yea, I still have scars on my leg from adventure race.  Super proud of my outdoorsy manliness.

2 When I was fact checking for this story, Ben made it clear that I was to say that the only reason he had to stop was because of his tachachardia, and NOT because he was out of shape.  Poor guy was scared I would embarrass him.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Day in Special Education

As a kid, my family moved a lot.  In 2nd grade, I started my first school year in Adel, Iowa in the Adel-DeSoto-Minburn School district.  There are funny stories that occur in 2nd grade, and they will be for your eyes to feast on another day.  My family moved again after that year and I spent the first half of 3rd grade in Plymouth, North Carolina.

The school districts below the bible belt are as segregated today as they had been since the 1950s.  The white kids tend go to the private school, and the black kids with parents’ not on meth go to public school.  My parents are awesome, and they aren’t coddlers, and they are both from the North.  Northern reasoning states that there is no racial difference great enough to send your kids to a private school, especially if they don’t want to go.  So my parents had no idea that they were sending me to one of the worst educating establishments of all time.

In 3rd grade, I had Mrs. Wilson, and I was her favorite student.  This was because I was able to spell some of the most complicated words in her class like, “other” and “butterfly”.  I was also able to nail the social studies questions, “What do adults do to make money while you are at school?” and “What has a motor and is used to float on water?”  I LOVED being the smartest.  I can tell you with all honesty that I earned more merits and “classroom dollars” than any other kid.  I was always picked first for classroom trivia, and I had the biggest collection of scratch n’ sniff stickers that I became something of a hoarder/classroom mafia godfather.

A particular instance that stands out in my mind was when we were given a simple worksheet at the end of the day.  It was blank except for a bunch of clocks.  Our homework was to write down the times written on each clock.  We turned them in the next day, and we worked in our math booklet while our teacher graded them.  The next thing I knew, Mrs. Wilson was at the front of the class.  “Everyone but Robbie and Kanisha need to put your workbooks away, because we are going to learn how to tell time.  You two can go sit in the corner and cut up paper with scissors.”  Apparently, the sub-par intelligence level of the south finds cutting paper with safety scissors to be a huge treat.

My parents eventually realized we were learning virtually nothing and decided to head back to Iowa.  My teacher was heartbroken.  I thought she had really liked me, but she asked my mom if I could stay and take the ITBS tests.  You see, teacher’s salaries often are boosted with high ITBS scores and I was a savant compared to the rest of the school.

We moved back to Adel, and I jumped right into 3rd grade.  Not only had the class progressed through half of the cursive alphabet, but they were already taking timed tests on multiplication. I was miles behind, and it had only been a semester away.  I slowly but surely made it through the extra work and practiced my cursive so diligently that I still write using it, unlike 95% of the rest of you.  But no matter how hard I worked, the South had taken its toll, and I was one of the slower kids in class.

One day in 4th grade, I was sitting in Mrs. Schulz’s social studies class when I received a surprise.  I was barely paying attention because even at 9 years old I knew that I would never need to actually know what states the Appalachian mountains ran through.  This happened often throughout my early grades.  I had no attention span for pointless subjects like social studies, library, or science.  I liked reading class.  To be fair, I have been cynical for a very long time, so it never made sense to me to understand the history and social structure of the Ancient Mayans, or the pollination practices of bees. (Yea, I actually remember that we were learning about those subjects at this time).  The surprise occurred when my homeroom teacher came into class and asked to take me out for the day.

Curiously, I stood up and went with her.  She told me, “You’re going to spend a few hours of the day going to Mrs. Ryan’s class.  I think you’re going to like her; she’s very nice.”  I knew a select few people from my class who spent a few hours in Mrs. Ryan’s class.  I was very disappointed by them.  They seemed slow, ugly and utterly disinteresting whenever I sat next to them at lunch or PE.  One had crossed eyes and another had what I now recognize as Down’s Syndrome.  I know now that I was being put in Special Education.

I arrived at Mrs. Ryan’s room and was immediately delighted.  COLOR.  There were colors everywhere.  Along the walls was a zoo of stuffed animals, toys, and books that I had already read (at 4), and the classroom was decorated for the upcoming Halloween.

Mrs. Ryan smiled kindly when I entered the class.  “You must be Robbie,” she simpered, “Welcome to my classroom, my name is Mrs. Ryan.”  I said hello and took a seat (Blue plastic!) and she sat next to me.  That was new, and I liked that she liked sitting with her students in brightly colored plastic chairs as much as I did.  She took out a (Green!) folder and pulled out a few worksheets for me to do.  But she first had me describe myself out loud.  I don’t think a teacher had ever asked me to speak aloud before, and I was a shy child.  But I talked to Mrs. Ryan.  After a while, her smile faded into a slight frown, but it came back up when I finished, and she said, “My, that’s quite the vocabulary you have.  Here is a sticker for being such a talkative young man.”


Mrs. Ryan then told the class that it was time for stories and juice.  Juice AND stories?!  Hellz yea, Mrs. Ryan was the shit!  I picked up my apple juice and sat next to Down Syndrome, who patted my knee affectionately and spit into his juice.  Weird.  Mrs. Ryan then read us excerpts from The Indian in the Cupboard.  After story time, she gave the class something to keep them busy and she came back to sit next to me and her green folder of worksheets.

She handed me a math worksheet.  She also took out a sheet of mini stickers.  With all my brain power, I tackled to division problems without asking for help.  Mrs. Ryan cried, “Excellent!” and “Outstanding!” with each right answer and I got a sticker after each problem.  I was finally okay with the education system.  All of these colors and compliments and stickers and it was 3rd grade in North Carolina all over again.  Even the weird kid with Down Syndrome was a tolerable best friend in this magical land of Mrs. Ryan’s room.  Mrs. Ryan kept doling out stickers and praise after each and every subject’s worksheet was laid out before me.  Soon, I had completed the full folder’s worth, and Mrs. Ryan made some notes in her notepad.  She turned to me and said, “Robbie, thank you for spending the afternoon with me, but I don’t think we should interrupt any of your normal classes with these worksheets.  Feel free to say hi any time, but please keep going to class like you have all year.”

I was heartbroken.  This beautiful classroom full of feel-goodery and happiness was given to me for just one short afternoon and then ripped from my non-retarded fingers.  I walked my newly esteem-broken self out into the hallway, and it was worse than I had imagined.  When did my school become such a dark, barren, unforgiving place?  Were the halls always so gray?  And the lockers always so off-gray? And the floor… was it always black and white?  I immediately longed for the splendor in Mrs. Ryan’s room.

I hated normal school

I spent the rest of the day with a sad look on my face, glaring at the terrible “decorations” the teacher’s had in their rooms.  I mean what exactly are those Math Posters even for?  You can make a cute alligator say, “Math is gr8” 300 times, but it won’t equal fun.

I also received a graded piece of homework.  My teacher had the audacity to give me a smiley face on the top of the paper.  I had half the mind to march up to her and demand a sticker, or at least a smiley face with a different colored pen.

Finally, at the end of the day as we lined up for the bus, I spied a sheet of stickers in one of my teacher’s cubbies.  I quickly whipped off my backpack, stole the sticker sheet, zipped up my bag and ran to catch up with the class.  When I got on the bus, I waited until we had started driving away from school and stuck every sticker I could onto my shirt.

It felt good to be King