There is a last story to be told from my final semester of college.
We drove in silence as we returned from a night out, Lizzie, Danielle, and me. The sky hung high over Lakeland, every star in the vast emptiness swimming wildly in the crisp darkness that surrounds it, each light telling a story thousands of years old, a star born ages ago in a place I’ll never know, whispering the secrets of universes I’ll never see.
And me, silent in the back seat, striking deals with the air in front of my nose, promising I’ll do better in one more song on the radio, that I’ll speak up if no one says anything before the next stoplight, that I’ll break the silence in another 3, 2…
We pulled into school and parked out behind the pool lanes on the far side of campus. I sat, frozen, as the girls gathered their to-go drinks and backpacks and cracked open their doors, the dome light in the car flashing to life over my face, and
kneeling next to a fireplace in an oversized cabin just outside of Boone, North Carolina.
The pastor was making his way around the room, laying hands on the other youth that filled the large living room. As he neared me, I uttered the same prayer I had uttered countless times before, as countless as the stars in the Carolina sky, swirling and gleaming indigo and gold over the distant mountains.
I confessed my prayer to the pastor that night, and as the words clambered over my clumsy tongue, I knew things would never be the same. I told my family, my classmates, strangers on the street. I wrote about it in school essays. I filled my shelves with books called things like Desires in Conflict and Free Indeed. I met with a group of men every week who told me to keep going, I’ve won the battle, walk it out. I catalogued article after article of practical tips on how to live right. I surrendered my impatience to the Lord and waited hopefully as I knew the process was being worked out in divine time. I prayed when I woke up, throughout my day, and until I fell asleep, on my knees, leaning over my bed, weeping into my pillow. I read the Bible until I couldn’t talk about anything else but the scripture I was just reading before you called and can I read it to you now? At the recommendation of an article I read, I chanted, every day like applying lotion, repeating
“God created me to be free. He is restoring my right desires.”
I believed, believed that things would change, that things had changed, that this was life in the light, and I’m not defined by my desires, and even if things never get easier, I’m a new creation in Christ and the old has gone and the new has come.
“God created me to be free. He is restoring my right desires.”
And I didn’t sin. I didn’t mess up; I didn’t fall. I didn’t give in to temptation, and I didn’t doubt. And I stood under the midnight sky of Saint Cloud, Florida, my arms raised towards its towering, glowing blueness, its brilliant stars shifting and colliding over my head as I disappeared into its vastness.
“God created me to be free. He is restoring my right desires.”
And five years later, under the Lakeland moon, in the backseat of the car parked behind the pool lanes on the far side of campus, I sat, suffocating, the space between my flittering eyelashes and the front seat thicker than steal, colder than the loneliest night in winter. And Lizzie and Danielle removed their seatbelts in unison, turning to opposite sides like prima ballerinas as each of their cascading, fiery red hair flounced into the air behind them as they pushed open their car doors and rose to leave, and the waves of auburn hair rose high above me and
as I watched them
and it had been four years, and nothing had changed. I still prayed, still chanted, still believed. Didn’t fall, didn’t stray, didn’t doubt. And the dream I had that summer when my guard was down still haunted me with its love, and peace, and clarity; with its warmth and calm. And I asked the Saint Cloud stars as they glittered over my chapped, folded hands:
“If he was going to change me, wouldn’t he have done it by now?”
And I began to listen, to the divine responses to my nightly prayers, to my experiences, to the way my school books told me to read the Bible without ascribing meaning not inherent in the text, to the Bible when I read it this way, to others who were asking the same questions, to the stars as they shined off my shoe tips, to the preacher that said we need to crucify our ideas of who God is that are keeping us from loving him fully and accepting his love even if we think we are disobeying him by doing so, to “Landslide,” by Fleetwood Mac, to the wind in the Lakeland air as fall turned to winter, to my eager pleading to the Lord that he stop me if I was making a big mistake, to my heart as it calmed each time I knew to press on, to the soft chiming of the car door as Lizzie and Danielle swung their auburn hair and placed their feet on the pavement and moved to get out, and
as I watched them
in the backseat of the car parked behind the pool lanes on the far side of campus. “You guys,” I said, breaking the thick, suffocating silence that had hung between my quivering lips and the front seat of that car for twenty-three years,
And they paused, lowering themselves back into their seats, closing the doors, and turning to look at me, four eyes peering into mine in the darkened car. And I, with stars in my skin and my fingers, glowing out of my chest and sparkling in my eyes, soaring high above in the glittering autumn sky, climbing to far off universes of gold and deepest blue.
It is no secret that I wholeheartedly, unapologetically, and unashamedly believe in the existence of the aliens. If there is anything in this world of which I am more sure, I don’t know what it is. How to correctly accessorize camouflage? More sure of the aliens. Whether I adored or loathed Oz the Great and Powerful? More sure of the aliens. Whether I will one day bear Katy Perry’s miracle baby in a surgically constructed man-womb? Though I know it is tempting to assume otherwise, more sure of the aliens.
I have on more than one occasion sped hastily down a small town side street in a car full of clambering fellow-believers to follow what we KNEW was intelligent life hovering above the Zaxby’s parking lot. Whether it turned out to be a blimp some and/or all of the times is less relevant than Wendy Williams; my faith in the extraterrestrials has never wavered.
It is within this realm of thought that I sometimes comfort myself in the weekly loss of my lip balm by casually assuming that it has been thieved by the Chupacabra.*
I hope PLUMP by Bath & Body Works serves you as well as it did me,
Despite the antics of the Chupa and other malicious mythical creatures onto whom I’ve placed much of my life’s culpability (I blame my hair in middle school on Oprah and Oprah alone), I’ve always longed for supernature and magic to find its way into my life. When I was a wee lad and my room would get so messy that my mum would tell me I couldn’t leave it until it was clean, I would often try my hand at magic as a quick-fix to the [literally] mounting problem. Laying flat on my back atop an undulating sea of private school polos and glittering neon pogs, I clenched my eyelids in nuclear concentration and wished for my bedroom to be miraculously cleaned. After waiting what seemed an appropriate period for whomever it was that would be carrying out my desires to do his, her or its work, I slowly creaked open my eyes, just enough to see the ceiling fan and clean ceiling.
“So far, so good,” I thought, pensively.
However, as you might imagine, the sprites or chinchillas or Julie Andrewses or whoever was supposed to set my space aright did NOT come through, and it was left to me to make something of that mess. Who knows if I ever did or not but at some point I switched from pogs to Tamagotchi, so there’s that.
It was sixteen years later that I found myself at the end of what felt like the most magical few months of my life, seated in a large auditorium in a black gown, a square cap upon my head, its feathery tassel swaying gently in and out of my vision, as my fellow college seniors filled the pews around me, waving to family members seated high above us in balconies. Knowing that my family was running late to the ceremony, I glanced around the lofted room, allowing the grandness of my college graduation to overcome me and bend me like a helicopter landing in tall grass.
I was finally here.
Eighteen years of non-stop schooling and I was to have a real-life degree. And where would I go next? And would I make it? And WHERE was my family??
And then I saw them, sitting three in a row: Danielle, Lizzie, and Katia, faces beaming with light and enchanting familiarity. We locked eyes, arms flailing in uproarious affection. My heart overflowed so instantly with love and gratitude that I began to weep, my cheeks reddening and my lips quivering with emotion. These women had become my family that semester, and we had cried together on long car rides in the hills and raged for our youth in the night and laughed enough to move the trees, and we had arrived together at this moment. From having known each other as amicable acquaintances at the semester’s inception, we had become the descendants of a self-created family tree. I was taken aback by the severity of affection I was feeling in that moment. “My family is here,” I thought, drying my moistened cheeks.
And that’s when I realized that magic had indeed come into my life.
For if there is
to be found in the world today,
it is surely
when two strangers
And all the wizards and mermaids and soaring phoenixes in all the skies couldn’t compete with the magic we had created that endless autumn.
And so the night came, and the night went, and we fought recklessly in the name of forever against age and the years and the passing of time until dawn made us stop, and I graduated from college, and I moved back to Saint Cloud, and my life ended and my life began, and I was finally found and I was completely lost, and the world opened itself up as an expanding wonderland, and the world closed in as the smallest cell on the block, and the magic is near and the magic is far and the magic is hiding in that blackberry bush at the edge of the field. And we seek it until we find it and we wield it like the legends of old.
And still we seek.
*Writer’s note: the Chupacabra is a rumored-as-fake-but-definitely-one-hundred-percent-real jackal-like creature that inhabits much of South, Central, and Southern North America and sneaks around at night and sucks the blood of goats and other livestock and everything you love and is probably in your backyard on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if not Wednesday mornings, as well.
And no it’s NOT just a hairy vampire, you Twilight-obsessed freaks.
(jk, love you Pattinwart.)
In the words of nobody in particular, “If you’re not using the final Thanksgiving break of your college career to take a road trip to New York City with other restless souls like yourself, then you’re probably doing something else.”
When the prospect of using our fall break to road trip to the Big Apple in lieu of watching every season of iCarly on Netflix from our ill-decorated bedrooms back home came to our attention, my friends and I knew what we must do. We planned the trip in a very detailed manner several weeks before our departure. I brought my wardrobe plan with me to every school assembly through the entire months of September and October to take advantage of the forced quiet time and plan and re-plan my every piece of clothing for the trip. A sampling of my inner monologue follows:
Do I wear the black pea coat over the wine button down and paisley tie on Sunday morning, or is that better saved for eveningwear? Is brown still in? What if someone notices that this Burberry bowtie is a fake? I know argyle is out, but can I wear it in an ironic way? WWKD (What Would Kanye Do)? Leopard print cardigan it is.
We knew that if we were going to pull this trip off, we had to be thrifty. We petitioned our families for non-perishable foodstuffs that we could cook for ourselves in the City to save money. I went to the local food outreach facility and listed my roommate and myself as needy so that we could get a few bags of canned goods and expired candy bars for the road (I understand that this seems a little shady, but NO REGRETS JUST LOVE.) We planned to steal cream cheese and a spinach wrap or two each from the cafeteria on the night of our departure to take on the road with us.
We stuffed the trunk until it literally would not fit a single furry boot more, and then smashed items in the various crevices (crevicae? crevisum? crevicee?) of the car interior, filling the back window with our snacks, our foot room with inflatable mattresses and blankets. Our route was simple enough:
We drove 16 hours straight, each taking a shift at the wheel. When it was time for my 2-6 am driving shift, I took a caffeine pill with a caffeinated soda to wake myself up. I then puked into the garbage can at a gas station in South Carolina. Several times. I recovered soon enough and we were on our way again. After leaving another gas station, we had very nearly made it to the main highway after a pit stop before realizing that I had left my phone ON THE ROOF OF THE CAR like the irresponsible muggle that I am. Luckily it was still intact, though any arguments for my sanity were far gone by that point.
We arrived in the City the next afternoon. It was just as lovely as I remember. I don’t know what it is, but to me, a spiraling cityscape is just as beautiful as a mountain range or seaside. What can I say? I <3 NY.
We spent the trip doing very New York things:
Sending letters to Santa from Macy’s in Times Square.
Santa hears all requests.
Reading the Village Voice and playing the harmonica (no song in particular, just joyful blats along the line) on a street corner in Jersey City like the vagabonds that we were.
Riding the subway and **not** thinking about the movie The Midnight Meat Train and what happened to those innocent subway-riders. So much blood.
Seeing Bonnie and Clyde, a new show that closed a month after opening (We liked it, though!)
Ice skating in Bryant Park. Waiting for Kate Beckinsale to show up with our missing glove. She never did come, though.
Browsing for books in Strand.
Taking this photo.
Eating food from carts.
“Mystery meat on a stick.”
Judge not, lest ye yourself should also eat and/or become mystery meat on a stick.
I SAID GOOD DAY.
Eating really flat pizza, which is apparently a thing.
Eating Chinese food at this restaurant that got a B rating for cleanliness BUT WE WERE THANKFUL.
Getting cocoa and cookies from Magnolia Bakery and loitering outside Radio City Music Hall, because it felt right.
Seeing Kim Catrall on the street.
Seeing Kim Catrall on the street.
WE SAW KIM CATRALL ON THE STREET, I TELL YOU.
And reuniting with this PRECIOUS LAMB (remember her?) who I hadn’t seen in months and had never seen on American soil!
We spent the afternoon finding filming locations from Sex and the City, like all self-respecting, educated young adults ought.
When our trip came to an end, we made our way back to the Sunshine State to spend Thanksgiving with our families. The concrete jungle was kind to us, and although I never saw Bernadette Peters in the street, I could feel her with me. And I still do, even now.
AND that’s our trip in a nutshell!
Or should I say AN APPLE????
Goodbye. Forever, probably.
Or at least until next time.
Whenever that will be.
I SAID GOOD DAY.
There is always a great chasm between my idea of the way an event will play out and the way things actually happen in reality. In my mind’s eye, my weekend camping in St. Petersburg with my friends would look something like how a Jack Johnson song feels, where we would make s’mores and dance deep into the night, singing the songs of our youth (Eiffel 65’s “Blue” and Blink-182’s “All the Small Things” come to mind. Also, Shaggy.) and telling stories that would make us fall off our logs in laughter, though in retelling them later we would find it difficult to pinpoint why exactly the stories were funny. When this projected vision of outdoor whimsy met reality that autumn night on the coast, however, the proceedings did not go quite as planned.
With our tent erect and the fire crackling, we found long sticks and roasted marshmallows for s’mores while our little travel speakers blasted as loud as they could the best of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and today.
We soon learned that our site was sandwiched between the Monica Geller and Joey Tribbiani of the campgrounds that night. Sure the people at the Monica site probably ran a clean camp and had the more elaborate barbecue spread of our little cul-de-sac, but they were also incredibly dull, going to bed early and snipping at us for being too loud and disruptive. On our right side was Joey, a larger group laughing, eating and blaring the latest from Wisin y Yandel and Tito “El Bombino.” A little obtrusive at times? Perhaps, but mostly harmless, and full of heart. And who doesn’t love a little Daddy Yankee in the wilderness? We were, of course, the Phoebe Buffay of the grounds, wacky, fun-loving, and musical. I also tend to look like Phoebe when I run.
After a considerable time of mirth had elapsed, we decided at around 2 am that it might be time to settle in for the night and dose off so we could be ready in the morning for a day at the beach. We could have never imagined what awaited us in the still of the night…
Below is a timeline detailing the occurrences of that fateful autumn evening.
2:00 am – Laughing, we gather our items and carelessly begin to move the party indoors to our tent.
2:15 am – Enter the raccoons.
2:16 am – I eagerly entreat the heavens, “PLEASE let a house-trained/wild raccoon come befriend me and offer to live as my domesticated house pet and best friend for life. I promise I’ll never be dissatisfied with my lot in life again ever if I just have a pet raccoon to open jars and watch Cougar Town with.”
2:17 am – Kayla informs me on the impossibility of domesticating a raccoon.
2:20 am – We settle into our tent on top of our sleeping bags. We chat about Halloween costumes, The Office without Steve Carrell, and the pursuit of happiness.
2:41 am – Jonathan remarks, “It’s kinda hot out tonight.” We all agree.
2:50 am – Something makes us laugh. The mom from the Monica camp shushes us. “Sorry,” we whisper.
3:10 am – “It’s not really cooling down any, is it?” Kayla notes. We all agree.
3:22 am – What is probably a raccoon but could just as probably be a serial killer and/or an upset grizzly bear with an appetite for a twenty-three year old college student with rebellious, thin hair and sometimes oddly rosy cheeks stirs in the bushes. We scream.
Someone from Monica headquarters tells us to “Shut up.”
IF YOU EXPECT US FOR ONE SINGLE SECOND TO NOT MAKE NOISE WHEN OUR LIVES AND THEREFORE YOURS ARE PUT IN DANGER BY A HUNGRY SERIAL KILLER BEAR HUMAN, THEN YOU HAVE ANOTHER THING COMING, SIRS OR MADAMS.
3:30 am – We discuss the possibility of a night raid on the Monica camp.
“Did anyone bring raw, boiled, or even devilled eggs that we might employ in a sneak attack on our less than cordial site neighbors?”
3:37 am – Paul, in a tizzy: “OK, my sleeping bag is sticking to my legs.” We all moan in agreement.
It’s official: the heat is intoxicating. We reposition ourselves on our sleeping bags. Sleeping bags. We packed sleeping bags thinking that with the setting of the sun would come a cooling off of the warm coastal day.
We were wrong.
One would think that having spent the majority if not all of our lives in Florida, we would realize that when it is fall in most states, it is still Indian summer in the sunshine state. But we didn’t, and so there we were, sitting in our tent, whose plastic siding was nice for keeping out mosquitoes, but terrible for trapping in the dry, pulsing heat of a southern summer night. Not a breeze in the sky, we laid in our own sweat, wishing for even the smallest drop in temperature.
4:07 am – Paul somehow falls asleep despite the heat. We hate him for it.
4:45 am – The Monica camp has a baby, we learn as the child awakens, crying into the night. We can hardly blame it, the poor thing, stuck with such caretakers in this miserable campground, but after fifteen minutes, we were ready to give it a strong talking-to on the subject of silent fortitude, bearing one’s problems with grace.
5:08 am – Grace shmace, it’s friggin’ HOT! Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy did we think it was a good idea to go camping this weekend? Who even does that anymore? Camping, puhh!
5:12 am – Jonathan and I take a walk down to the water side to get some fresh air, but the serial bear man hunger killer makes its presence known again, and we run for our lives, diving into the tent for safety, leaving flip flops in our wake. Only time will tell if we will ever see them again.
5:55 am – Jonathan, Kayla, and I leave sleeping Paul and go down to the public restroom, just for a change of pace. It’s a creepy, sleazy sort of place at this hour. It’s probably always that way, but we have no way of knowing.
6:11 am – Returning to the camp sight, we collapse onto our sleeping bags—SLEEPING BAGS—too exhausted to talk anymore and too hot to sleep.
6:20 am – I finally doze off.
6:32 am – I’m awake again, hotter and more uncomfortable than ever. I sit up, the lavender sky welcoming the smallest bits of a sunrise. I long for my sleep-filled nights in Honduras, where, except for one fateful night, I was at least able to hold a box fan in my arms like a cool, breezy lover, tipping off the otherwise stinging heat of the Honduran countryside. I curse my need for breeze and water. “Frivolous concerns in times like these,” I tell myself. “What the world needs now is love, not cool air, you shallow, selfish freak.” Perhaps my self-talk should be more tightly monitored in the wee hours, but the thoughts of a tired man cannot be censored.
7:06 am – There is nothing.
I sit, staring at the morning sky, decidedly unhappy, but oddly accepting of this burden of discomfort. This is my lot in life: to sit, exhausted, at random cap sights along the western coast of Florida, forever. There is no other path which my life might take.
Some time after that I am able to doze off again for a short amount of time before we all get up a little after 8 am, bedraggled and aching, and pack our tent up, wanting only to get out of the miserable site of our listless night.
We use what little energy we have to pull ourselves together and pack the truck.
We left as soon as possible and went to the beach for a few hours. The members of camp Phoebe then dragged themselves back to Lakeland to try to recuperate before school the next day. We would later laugh at our own misfortune and planning, but not that weekend.
Not that weekend.
Not. That. Weekend.
Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat, What ARE They Feeding You?,
Camping. Who needs it? College students who grew up in urban Central Florida, that’s who.
There is a certain unspoken To-Do list that exists in the minds of persons who watched shows like Boy Meets World and Dawson’s Creek of things one must do while unfettered by the worries of a mortgage or an overdue legal brief, which includes but is not limited to stay up all night watching scary movies and eating room-temperature Chinese food, go to the beach on a national holiday of whose significance you are blithely unaware, and go camping with other non-outdoorsy friends. One weekend in the fall of my senior semester at college, my friends and I chose to check off the third of these items with a trip to St. Petersburg.
There is something magical and timeless about a weekend camping trip between heavily loaded school weeks, something instantly memorable about the whole occasion, from the frenzied planning and hurried packing of bags, to the thievery of ice from the school ice machine for the cooler and the clenching of youthful butt cheeks to squinch into the tightly filled vehicle as it departs campus en route to the west coast of Florida.
With Jonathan driving, Paul in the front seat with the map, and Kayla and I gossiping and admiring each other’s sunglasses in the back seat, we were St. Petersburg-bound with only the highest expectations for our weekend with nature.
When Kayla got car sick (“Classic Kayla!”) we stopped at the McDonald’s and helped them get more one dollar bills, something the establishment had apparently been experiencing a dearth of as of late. This act of kindness buttressed our confidence that the weekend would be all we wanted it to be. “We’re good people. How could we not have the perfect camping trip?” (<– foreshadowing)
Before long we were crossing the bridge into St. Pete, mere miles from our destination, the slowly setting sun welcoming us with its warm, benevolent rays.
As the slim, ginger likeness of Kayla Smith will be frequenting the pages of this quaint blog of mine until the world ends and/or Destiny’s Child has a reunion tour and I leave it all behind to follow them across the globe, you should probably know up front that she has an odd, almost unhealthy predilection for Subway subs. It’s a cause for concern amongst our more conservative friends and family members. I do my best to accept her for who she is, though, the poor thing. That’s just the kind of friend I am.
With this debilitating penchant for five-dollar foot longs in mind, we stopped and got subs to take with us to the camp sight. Though Handsome Paul would not want me to tell you this (He’s so dreadfully meek, you see. Very suffering-millionaire-turned-silent-philanthropist, like Mark Zuckerberg became after we all saw The Social Network and found out that he was a terrible person.), he donated a dollar to the American Heart Association, and so filled out one of those little paper hearts that people who do such things get to fill out to be posted on the wall. As we observed the other donors on the wall of generosity, we saw that one of them had put his Twitter handle in lieu of his actual name, an @LakerTim1. Being the amiable believer of giving credit where it is due and making connections with other such amiable persons throughout the giving universe that I am, I shot Mr. Tim1 a congratulatory tweet, stating with couth:
Well apparently connecting with kind strangers via the interwebs is not “in” this season where @LakerTim1 is from, because to this very day I have yet to receive a reply, a thank you, or even an acknowledging though terse ReTweet from our deceptively generous donor. SORRY for trying to be a friendly earth-neighbor. NEVERMIND, @LakerTim1, I WILL FIND SOMEONE LIKE YOU.
It was not but moments after this that Kayla spilt Cajun mayonnaise on her white sundress while voraciously devouring her sub, possibly ruining the joy of spicy mayonnaises for all of us, forever. Perhaps my assumed quarrel with the reclusive and heart disease-conscious Mr. Laker partnered shortly after with Kayla’s equally destructive altercation with a violent condiment should have been sufficient signaling that we should abort our trip before it was too late, but in the haze of our youth, we travelled on, deeper into the crevasse.
After circling the campgrounds for longer than it takes to watch an episode of Pretty Little Liars on Hulu, we finally picked a camp site as night fell. Our neighboring campers seemed accepting and nonintrusive, which was exactly what we wanted. We turned on Jonathan’s headlights and began the task of making our little sand trap into a home.
We attempted to assemble the tent. Well really, the other three attempted while I documented the proceedings with my camera. “I’m a blogger now,” I explained. “We need to just get used to this non-interactive me behind my Nikon Coolpix.” They rolled their eyes. Kayla probably called me a slut under her breath. We’re actually rather affectionate, though you won’t find that out in this blog.
We [they] soon found that borrowing a tent from a friend and trying to put it together by headlight is a harder task than one might initially think. Is it the B poles that go in the 5 loops, or the C poles that go in the 2 loops?
We didn’t know.
We didn’t know (Angle 2).
It looks so easy when you’re young. You dig for rolly polies (try as I might, I have NO idea how to correctly spell that duo of words. Are they actual words, really? I may never know.) in the dirt around the fire pit and name them after your favorite characters from what you consider primetime television—“Arthur,” “DW,” “Wishbone,” “Lamb Chop,” “Ricky Lake” (our TV pretty much vacillated between PBS and the WB for most of our summer vacations)—and before you know it, your father and physically-inclined brothers have a spacious and well ventilated tent set up for the whole family to enjoy. Turns out, not so simple! NO THANKS TO YOU, Ms. Lake.
We continued not knowing for some time, stopping only to take one of these pointing pictures that I feel all traveling groups should at some point in the journey take. What would precious world landmarks like Stonehenge and Betty White’s House be without a group of teenagers in matching t-shirts pointing in different directions out front, after all?
After we finally concluded that poles Q must belong in loops 2 – 4.5, Kayla and I left Paul and Jonathan to the task while we set out to build a fire.
The owners of the campground must make it a priority to keep a clean camp, because we could find few dry, fallen, paper-wrapped and lighter fluid-soaked logs ANYWHERE. We began to claw at the trees.
Sometimes the trees fought back, and I fell down while posing for pictures.
Other times, they cooperated.
After acquiring enough wood and “kindling,” as we used to call it in my Royal Rangers class when we would talk about going on camping trips from the safety of our air-conditioned gymnasium and then play dodge ball, we made fire!
It soon died, and Kayla left me to go help the others put the tent up, the wench.
I took it upon myself to make fire for all of us, knowing that in the event of a world disaster, we would need the fire to help us rebuild Central Florida with the few iPhone Virus survivors that might find their way to our safe-haven in the wooded areas of the Sunshine State’s west coast.
After jumping as high as my shock-absorbent Reef flip-flops would allow me to coax a few sticks down from some nearby trees, I put my survival skills to use and made us a not-unimpressive little fire. THANK YOU, Pathfinders Outdoor and Teambuilding Camp, which I attended every year from fifth to seventh grade, never winning the award for most outdoorsy, but always winning for being polite and accommodating to the sporty people who wanted to skip ahead of me in line for kickball, and once for being a kind reminder of my mother to the trip coordinator (true story).
With the fire ready, the tent soon followed, and we were ready and excited to settle into our night of outdoor fun.
Or so we thought.
To Be Continued…
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Ladies, Gentlemen, hipsters of the digital universe: please allow me to interrupt your Googling and online streaming of back-episodes of Samantha Who? (That’s not just me, right?) to inform you of a very real and very terrible disease that might be affecting someone near you.
Before you even allow your mind to wander to that darkest of places, NO, I am not talking about the vials of the bubonic plague that Russia may or may not be secretly stockpiling to use against the citizens of the USA in the event of a war or the release of Anastasia II: Return of Rasputin, even though I consider that possibility to be a very real and very pressing danger to all of us ever since my friend Amanda told me of a book she was reading about these sorts of things. Amanda is a medical student and would NOT lie to me about something of this serious sort of nature, so I feel very confident when I say WE SHOULD BE FREAKING THE HECK OUT ABOUT THIS, PEOPLE.
Iran and North Korea are also collecting smallpox, as I am told by my sources (Again, medical student Amanda).
It should be noted here that I have absolutely no ill feelings or intensions toward the country of Russia and its people. In fact, my first kiss-on-the-cheek was with a Russian girl. Her name was Anya, or affectionately “Anichka,” and I kissed her on the cheek the last day of school before Christmas break in the 5th grade. It caused **quite** the stir among our compatriots, needless to say. Our affair was brief, but it had all the love that two elementary students coming of age alongside the impending danger of Y2K could give.
When it ended, I dedicated Macy Gray’s “I Try” to little Anichka via my family’s new cordless phone, which I had waited by the radio to record onto a cassette when it played on Magic 107.7’s hot nine at nine that week. I got practically the whole song from the middle of the first verse to DJ Delilah speaking over the outro, dedicating it to all the hurting souls listening that night. That was Anya and I: two heartbroken, pre-pubescent desperados. I also dedicated *NSYNC’s (That is not an asterisk directing you to a footnote. It’s part of the name. For the love of all that is good, people.) “This I Promise You” to her. Those were some somber moments of static-filled phone time, if there ever were.
So yes, I love Russia for Anya’s sake.
Also, Aleksandr Petrovsky from Sex and the City season 6. That is, until he hit Carrie in the last episode (***SPOILER ALERT***), at which point I despised him. I guess that’s a bad example.
Oh, and Fiddler on the Roof!
We return our focus now to the non-bubonic disease that is more of an epidemic than we might currently realize. This wretched illness is a terrible, terrible menace to society that localizes itself in college students, specifically those in their final year of schooling. No respecter of persons, this silent monster preys on all college seniors, regardless of gender, race, or Batman cast preference (George Clooney, now and forever. #TeamGeorge).
Yes, concerned citizens of the cyberspace, I am speaking of the horrendous, heartless, hurtful disease of
You see, seniors in college have one major problem with which they must deal on a daily basis:
When I began my senior semester at Southeastern, including Kindergarten, Pre-K, and the extra semester or so that adding on a music minor during junior year required, I had been in school for what was going on 18 ½ years. EIGHTEEN AND A HALF YEARS. That’s a lot of college-ruled notebook paper and group projects (the WORST)! I experienced in that time a raging case of the Senioritis.
You or your loved one might be suffering from senioritis if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
Unwillingness to get out of bed in the morning.
Unwillingness to get out of bed in the afternoon.
Lack of urgency to attend mandatory functions and abide by rules and laws.
Unwillingness to get out of bed at night.
The sudden desire to organize your iPhoto library at 3 a.m. when you still have a paper to write for the next day.
Excessive hoodie wearing.
Excessive daydreaming about life in a retirement home or assisted living facility.
Audible threats to “leave it all behind and join the Dharma Initiative.”
Constant reference to “the system” or “the man.” I.E.: “There are no more bagels at the breakfast bar.” “It’s the system, man. THE SYSTEM!”
The uncontrollable need to start that novel you’ve always wanted to write in lieu of studying for midterms.
Unwillingness to get out of bed on the weekends.
There is no known cure for Senioritis, something I quickly learned in my final semester, as I attempted to bribe, threaten, and cheer my way through the fall. It went a little something like this:
“Isaac, class is starting in half an hour, it takes ten minutes for you to walk to the other side of campus to get there, and a minimum of half an hour for you to get ready with the hairweek you’ve been having. It’s time to get up…
Okay Isaac, class is starting in fifteen minutes. If you wear a hoodie, hat, and dark sunglasses so that you don’t have to chat with anyone on the way there, you can probably make it before the first few moments of grace have ended…
Isaac, class starts in five minutes. If you get up and go to class today, you can buy Talk That Talk AND that Mr. Saxobeat song tonight before you go to bed. That’s a Rihanna album and a dance anthem JUST for going to class today!
Class is starting right now, Isaac. If you don’t get up right this minute, you’re going to end up a balding 38-year old praying that your manager at Starbucks will finally put you on as a part-time barista instead of a seasonal condiment station-refiller…
Ok. Class has been in session for ten minutes now. IT IS TIME TO GET UP. You only have three months left until you are done with school FOREVER! You can do it! Push through! Gettttttt uppppp.
Class is over. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
And thus it goes.
If you think you or someone you know may be a victim of Senioritis, don’t be afraid to reach out. Only by talking openly about this disease and its affects can we hope to find an eventual solution. We shall overcome, my eBrothers and eSisters. With hope, fortitude, and the wings that only Redbull can provide, we CAN overcome.
Unwilling to Get Out of Bed,
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Lakeland is a quaint, odd sort of town. Although it houses more than one modern private university, it is itself roughly 20 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to matters of business and nightlife. Most Lakeland businesses—and by most, I mean all hold the Walmart, the Applebee’s, and the greasy, yellow-walled gas station at the edge of the woods where they find dead bodies and headless Furbies every weekend—are closed by sundown, so you have to do your community business, which for me includes but is not limited to never successfully procuring a new license and replacing broken hangers (my life’s greatest battle), swiftly and in broad daylight, or you won’t be doing it at all. If these businesses insist on closing before night arrives, the LEAST they could do is replace the neon in their signage.
While my hometown of Saint Cloud is no metropolis, the transition to the Lakeland way of doing things was still one requiring some adjustment (We in the Cloud recently got a Bojangles of our very own, so we are confident that skyscrapers and subways are not far behind [the subways that transport people underground and offer a free stage to budding acapella groups that are short on cash, not the ones that offer five dollar foot longs and help Jared lose more and more weight every season. We have those.].).
A trip to the Lakeland mall via public bus, for example, an adventure which my friend Lindsey and I tried one Saturday like all young and untamed college students must at some point during their undergraduate career, may SEEM like the thing of dreams as you count and find the square root of the number of bad weaves in just the back half of the bus with you and text back and forth trying to decide if the aroma surrounding your neighbor is indeed what pot smells like or not, but as the loquacious new friend you have accidentally made in the man across the aisle from you who is detailing the dinner he is making for his roommate tonight down to the cherry tomatoes and can of orange Fanta he is planning on cramming into the rear of the Cornish hen he just got on sale finally gets off and you reach your stop, you will soon realize that on Saturdays, the Lakeland bus route closes early, leaving you with no way home but your hopes and erect, westward-facing thumbs.
We did make it home eventually, after we ran into some classmates who graciously allowed us to squeeze into the back of their car. We DIDN’T, however, make it back in time for dinner. C’est la vie for vagabonds such as we, I suppose.
What Lakeland lacks in business hours, however, it makes up for in old-world charm (“Old-world” being the 80s circa the original Footloose, of course.). In order to highlight this charm of which I speak, I have designed for you a Lakeland To-Do List of actions in which you MUST partake if you ever spend any amount of time in this precious little hamlet of a place. And so, without further explanation, I give you:
Isaac’s Lakeland To-Do List of Things You Will Not Regret Doing and If You Do Feel Free to Egg the Mayor’s House If You Can Find It Because We Never Could Even Though We Bought the Eggs and Everything
1. Watch a movie at the drive-in movie theater after eating a cheap college-priced dinner at the Steak-N-Shake. Do your very best not to take a 15-minute detour on the way there chasing a UFO down the interstate that people will later tell you was only a blimp although you will go to your grave KNOWING it was more than that and perhaps also your only chance at true happiness in this life. Another tip: Bring a pillow. The bed of a truck is no place for the rear of a college student for the entire length of The Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Which had less blood than I wanted it to, oddly enough. But as my voice teacher always said, “James Franco, am I right?”).
2. Attend one of Lakeland’s “First Friday” events, when a bunch of different businesses and restaurants come out and set up booths and have games and food and themed contests and things. Try not to go when the theme is “Cars and Canines,” though, unless a 5-square block area of barking dogs and old cars is your idea of a wild Friday night, which it may be, and in that case, good for you, vehicle and hirsute mammal lover.
Feel free to grab a friend and pretend to be a couple in order to get free pens and Frisbees from the safe sex information table, while you’re there.
3. Get slushies from the gas station and go shopping in shady thrift stores and consignment shops.
Try on all Halloween Costumes that you find.
ALL of them.
Buy some matching rings from the Goodwill and make them into friendship rings.
Try to think of better things for the initials “KOC” to mean than “Knights of Columbus,” like “Kings of Class,” for example. Or “Koolaid over ChocolateCoveredGummyBears.” All of the rest of our ideas were too inappropriate for this forum, and for that I cannot apologize. The slushies made us do it.
4. Go Geocaching!
Geocaching, if you weren’t aware, is like searching for buried treasure, except the treasure in this case does not involve Spanish Doubloons or a musical number with Tim Curry and Miss Piggy, but instead a piece of crumpled paper hidden somewhere in a park, business, or dark alleyway that you find by putting the latitude and longitude into a GPS and add your name and the date to upon discovery.
This list is in no way comprehensive, but the items within definitely made for many memories, lots of photos, and a few stomachaches. But when the laughter was so plentiful and the friends so fun that you don’t even regret the stomachache afterwards, you KNOW it was a fantastic evening, and that’s what my time in Lakeland was full of: fantastic evenings with fantastic people. It was, in a word,
Kids Ogling Champagne, Killers of Chihuahuas, Keurig Outta Coffee,