A Fairly Dumb Companion from Lake Wanttobegone

Last night my wife and I were able to take part in the Mormon version of paying our indulgences by having the missionaries over for dinner. This usually translates to an awkward little hour where plate upon heaping plate of food is ingested and we are left with a commitment to convert our neighbors by the end of the week. I stared at these two young men, who had been paired together only a few days earlier, and wondered just when the older of them would snap and try to suffocate his companion with a pillow during the night, or when the younger one would grow so disillusioned by his companion’s relaxed personality that he would head out on his own to preach, door to door, the divinity of Chuck Norris. One or the other was bound to happen.

LDS missionaries are sent out to all corners of the world in “companionships” of two. This is in conjunction with an early revelation that made it clear that a 19-year-old can not be trusted by himself, and so must be paired up with an equally immature 19-year-old in order that both parties will act as a check and balance to each other’s insanity, and all shall rejoice. A missionary companionship is the most interesting dynamic of any relationship you could imagine. A therapist might deal with a long-term couple, a struggling marriage, a mother and daughter, a man and his pet ferret, a gun shop owner and his basement dungeon gimp, and none of these would compare in the complexities and difficulties brought on by the missionary companionship.

I experienced this wonderment first hand as I served my mission nearly ten years ago. During my time in a foreign country, speaking a strange, guttural language, subjected to vicious dogs, well-armed anti-solicitation advocates, brutal forces of nature, various people possessed by spirits that would give Linda Blair a run for her money, my biggest challenge was dealing with my companions. I feel that throughout my two-year tenure, I was actually very lucky when compared with others, but that did not mean that it was not a challenge. It simply meant that I did not sustain or have to administer any lasting physical injuries.

I had twelve companions in all, just like someone else we all know. Jesus. Or, Elder Jésus from Guadalarja, that is. These twelve companions really ran the gamut of the human genome. One companion refused to learn a word of French, explaining that it was my job to speak to people and his job to look good in case there were any young females involved. One thought he was black even though he was the epitome of white. One had an unnatural fixation with his Rubik’s Cube. One had palms that sweat so badly while teaching other people that he left wet hand prints on their furniture. One was German. But through all of this, there was one who raised the bar on the definition of annoying and was the supreme example of the limits of patience that a human being is capable of. This companion was, fittingly, the last that I had before ending my missionary service. This companion was named… Elder Boring.
I have no need to hide his identity as I have no idea where in the world he is at this point. I was hoping a safe, padded institution somewhere, but not long ago I received an invitation to his wedding where the bottoms of his dirty, sandy feet were the main focal point of the picture. I felt deeply rooted pity for his wife, knowing that the marriage could not last any longer than the six weeks I had endured by his side. It had to be a scientific fact. And I only occasionally saw him naked.

I met Elder Boring at the train station in Montreal as I said goodbye to my previous companion, one of my favorites, and hello to this strange little smile and stringy hair that was parted just above his left ear. Though he was odd-looking and said a few odd things, I did not fully grasp the experience I was ready to undergo. I believe the first sign came as we attended a dinner appointment with a few of the church members in our area. I heartily ate the spaghetti and meatballs and tried to commit them to convert their neighbors. Some things never change. When I had my plate cleared, I quickly realized that Elder Boring had not touched his meal at all. Our lovely host looked at his plate in equal surprise and asked, “I’m sorry, Elder, did it not taste very good?” “Not really, but I don’t eat spaghetti,” came the shocking response. Yes, the staple food of the LDS missionary was apparently inedible to one Mr. Elder Boring.

It wasn’t just spaghetti however. The next dinner appointment, when a casserole was served to us, Elder Boring pushed the food away again. After a stern “companionship inventory” (a system set up to civilly tell your companion how much you dearly, deeply hate him) I asked what his problem was. He then informed me that he only ate hamburgers and ham sandwiches. That was it. That was all. In complete awe, I told him that was not an option and that he had better buck up and eat every damn (well, darn) plate of food that was put in front of him. “No, I won’t. You can’t make me. You aren’t my dad,” he explained to me. I couldn't help but wonder who his dad was and what harsh chemical fumes he exposed Baby Elder Boring to. And so, I called all the church members in our area one morning when Elder Boring took one of his long showers (*sound of me clearing my throat*) and asked them to not invite us over for dinner while Elder Boring remained.

I later found out through some investigation that he believed that hamburgers and ham sandwiches were made from the same meat. I had to draw out for him through the use of a flipchart, a slide presentation, and a flannel board, how the pig and the cow were actually different animals. Because I found the humor in crashing his pre-conceived, firmly held since kindergarten, notions of food, he stopped talking to me. I let this go on for five days, enjoying the solitude that allowed me to reflect on the girls that I would date when I arrived home in a few weeks. However, I knew it could not go on and so we had another companionship inventory. I apologized profusely until he uttered his first words to me in days; “I hate you.” In a way, it was good to know the feeling was mutually reciprocated.

In the weeks that followed, I would find him reading female interest magazines instead of studying our training materials. He had a way with words that managed to offend Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. He made it a habit to fall asleep on the bus rides between appointments, rarely waking up before he was at a bus stop a few miles away from the one I had gotten off at. Luckily, he could find the humor in certain situations, like when he passed gas while teaching a lesson about the restoration of the gospel or meeting a woman in a full burqa, assuming it was a Halloween costume.

Throughout all of this and more (believe me, much more) the only thing that kept me rooting around for that last shred of patience, which I had stored inside for just such an occasion, was the fact that I would soon be relieved of my duties. And I was. I would soon be home with my loving parents who would shower me with Mountain Dew and R-rated movies upon my arrival. My last day came and, as I stood at the train station where we had met an eternity of six weeks ago, and stared into the eyes of what at this point I was convinced was more demon than man, I offered a sincere prayer in my heart to God, pleading that I would never again be subjected to such trials. I had been taught from an early age that God would never give us trials that we could not bear and that they would end up being for our benefit if we endured. And I found comfort in the fact that one person had gone through much worse than I could imagine and understood the pain I went through. That person was Elder Jésus. He had some pretty rough companions.

Party at Freud's House

I don’t know if it was the half bag of string black licorice that I ate before retiring to bed, but I had some pretty messed up dreams last night. I mean, the kind of dreams that are so weird that you want to tell your wife about them in the morning, but when you begin to flesh out the details with words, you sound like a schizophrenic person who just had a double shot of LSD. I mean, the kind of dreams that seem like a live-in version of a Hieronymus Bosch triptych. Weird stuff.

Filtering out the information that bears no relevance to the central theme of the dream, I am working on interpreting what exactly my subconscious was trying to tell me. Maybe those of you readers who are well versed in psychoanalysis can let me know what corollary there is between the horrors of my dreams and the horrors of my experience.

It began with me being lost and desperately trying to find a class in high school. This is something that I believe is a universal nightmare. Every hallway leads to another option of corridors that each take you further and further away from the calculus test that will doom you for life if you do not take it. The lockers change shape and colors and the lighting is increasingly dimmed. From under the doors of some rooms billows thick smoke which gathers around your ankles and then up and… ah yes… now you have no clothes on. At this realization, the class bell rings and everyone comes out of their misty classrooms. You try and play it off, as if it isn’t that big of a deal that you are naked in a public education facility. It doesn’t work and you still can’t find your calculus class. It doesn’t matter, your calculator was in your back pocket anyway.

10 years after graduating from high school, this is still my recurring nightmare. When I was in college, the location occasionally was upgraded to that of a higher education, but with the same result of being lost, confused, and deprived of clothing. But usually, it was something about high school that has and will continue to haunt my sleep. Something else about high school was frightening to me and that played a part in the initial part of my dream, at least the initial part that I will reveal to you. In my dream, I was frantically looking for the location of a party that it was imperative that I attend. All of my friends, the ones from high school no less, were there and waiting for me to arrive. My trip there included a taxi drive from an Albanian man who drove me past certain features in the city like the holographic dinosaur exhibit and the gigantic statue honoring Robert Smith of the Cure who ironically had found the cure for cancer. I got to the party and realized, along with the fact that I was naked, that I had left my two children on the corner of the street in the rain. Sometimes, you just can’t win.

The dream got me thinking about some of the parties that I attended while I was in high school. It was more a means of prognosis than it was reminiscing. My first and most shocking exposure to parties came when I was actually in 9th grade. It is at this time, scientifically speaking, that the hormones of the pubescent American boy go from the dormant and lackadaisical zombies in Dawn of the Dead (1978) to the sprite, light-footed, and ravenous zombies in Dawn of the Dead (2004). Parties in ninth grade all happened at Retford’s house, he being the only Catholic kid in our circle of friends and, as such, residing in a home with much looser party standards. Though I still didn’t get into anything too crazy, I believe that at one party, kids snorted Smarties off of a hand-held mirror and at another a goat was ritualistically sacrificed. Ah, 9th grade.The parties in 9th grade were, however, my exposure to the wonders of non-discriminatory kissing games. As my hormones were usually the pumped-up, injected Manny Ramirez to the junior little-leaguer of my friends’, I would initiate these games. They ranged from the classic (Spin the Bottle) to the adventurous (7 Minutes in Heaven) to the more-innocent-than-the-name-claims set (Suck and Blow). I was also the one who upped the ante on most of these games. When other boys would meet the girls the bottle pointed to with a chivalrous kiss on the hand, I brought it up to the lips. When the lips became tiresome, I moved to the nape of the neck. I would be only a few spins away from sucking the Kool-Aid Retford’s mom made for us out of a girl’s belly button when I changed the game around entirely. That usually involved the same game played outdoors on a trampoline with the sprinklers running. Today, all of this is, mercifully, kind of a blur. This is the exact reason why my sons will wear a locator device and perhaps a shock collar from the ages of 14 until at least one year into their marriages at 32. This is also why I have willed my chromosomes into only creating baby boys and never, no never, what will grow up to be a teenage girl.

As a Mormon kid, and a somewhat obedient one, it was actually difficult to get into too much mischief at parties. Throughout high school, we went to a few parties that usually petered out to be not much more than playing a wrestling game on the Playstation. Instead of alcohol, we got sauced on Mountain Dew and went on Hot Dog runs to the local 7-11. We watched movies that were supposed to be scary but were no match for our nervous tension at just how close we were to touching this girl’s hand or just how far past her knee we could touch in a playful fashion before we were slapped in the face and had to have a joint interview with our bishop.

In my senior year of high school, parties actually became tamer as I had built up an immunity to the doses of sexual tension I experienced. Plus, I had a girlfriend throughout the year. Longtime readers will know about at least part of my relationship with Tina. Because of what I have written about her, she no longer reads my blog, so I don’t think I have to worry too much about offending her now. Tina was always fun-loving and looking for parties to go to. She was always surprised when we would arrive at a friend’s party and there was no dancing or even music playing, except for the hokey tune coming out of the Super Mario Bros. game. She was the type of girl who always opted for the mosh pit when I was too old for them by the time I was 17.

It turns out that the most important party of my life was one that I did not attend. The millennium fast approached and with it, the lure of several crazy celebrations which were sure to give Tina the party fix she was in need of. We were planning on going downtown where the outdoor festivities were going to be monumental. In the morning of the last day of the millennium, the unpredictable Utah weather was foreboding to say the least. There was a thick fog, not unlike what would fill classroom hallways in my dreams. Though I do not tout my own spiritual acuity, I had a very strong impression that I should not make the drive downtown that night. I struggled with the idea, knowing the importance of this to Tina, but in the end, made the decision that I would not go. Tina was upset, declared she was going by herself, tried to barter with me to go, and then finally resigned to stay home with me. I set out to plan the most romantic evening possible. My parents promised to vacate the basement that I had set up with a small dining set, candles and roses. I prepared a delicious meal did everything that I could to make the night perfect. Nothing I could do, however, could quell the resentment from my girlfriend. I had taken away from her what would have been the greatest party in her life and replaced it with an overdone piece of chicken in a dank basement with a loser boyfriend. We passed the last moments of the last thousand years and the first of the next thousand together in silence. She then said goodnight to me and went to bed in my guest bedroom at approximately 12:01.

It was essentially the end of our relationship and the end of my teenage partying once and for all. It was the death of something that is both exciting to retell and horrifying to relive. Parties now consist of a rousing game of Canasta and carrots dipped in ranch dressing. And this only if the kids happen to be sleeping. But I am a different person and I love these quote-unquote parties. I like to rock that party. Maybe my dreams are reminding me about the terror and trauma that I experienced in my younger years so that I can be more grateful for what I have now. In that case, I am extremely grateful for my loving, if occasionally boring, wife, my priority being placed on my children instead of my style of kissing, and that the pure dread that fills my socially awkward body at every given moment now occurs only in my dreams—my dinosaur laden, graphically nude, Netherlandish dreams.

The Birthday After Tomorrow

It is hard to imagine that it has been three years since my beautiful baby boy was fiercely ripped from the splayed belly of my anesthetized wife. Exercising his first act of defiance, he managed to work his head into the birthing canal, and then got distracted by the funny moaning sounds coming from outside the womb. So he stayed and entertained himself by fiddling with his umbilical cord and kicking his mother’s innards around. So, a cesarean was scheduled and the doctor pulled the unsuspecting child from his safely nestled position. Realizing that he had been removed from his comfort zone and was now in a world full of adults and responsibility, he exercised his second act of defiance by urinating on the nurse that brought him into this world.

Over 1000 days of stubbornness and pee later, that boy’s parents found themselves planning a third birthday party. This was the third opportunity that my wife, Miranda, had to abandon all sane and rational thinking and decorate the entire house with a themed assortment of crate paper streamers, posters, balloons, and individualized accoutrements for each invited guest.

In Zachary’s first year, the theme revolved around the early child development DVD series “Baby Einstein”. For those of you who might not be familiar, this series showcases a colorful spectrum of toys and an equally colorful spectrum of children all set to music played exclusively on a xylophone. Occasionally, a sock puppet made to look like a capuchin on Zoloft appears to laugh at a word that comes up on the screen. For celebrating my son’s first year of life, the cartoon creatures who all claimed to be smarter than me, filled the halls of our home and wished my son, who had by this point been partially raised by the developmental series, a happy birthday.
For the second birthday, Zachary was old enough to decide, through a series of grunts and shrill cries, what kind of decorations he wanted. This also involved us giving him two options and showing an obvious bias towards the decorations that Miranda had already bought a few days after his first birthday party. So, the decision was made that Charlie and Lola would be the second leitmotif. Turning up the notch on birthday themes that are unfamiliar and unsettling, Charlie and Lola are a British cartoon brother and sister who have indoctrinated my son so that he now speaks of crumpets at dinner, trolleys at the grocery store, and bangers in what I can only hope is an acceptable situation since I am still unsure of the meaning.

So, then came year number three. After everything from the invitations to the cake had to be meet the ante of previous years, we pushed Zachary towards choosing, now with much more impressive verbalization, the theme of pirates. I have commented on Zachary’s disturbing fascination with pirates and pirate culture before (which you can read about here; I love how I cross reference myself). We thought we would celebrate that fixation with a party that was sure to provide him with several pirate themed gifts, apparel, and weaponry.

It was sometime between hanging up the jolly roger flags around the house and meticulously decorating cupcakes in the shape of pirate faces (so, around 1:30 the morning before the big day) that I repeated the same complaint that my wife had been hearing from me for the past few years.

“You know, I never had a birthday party.”

My wife never buys my solicitations for pity very easily. “Of course you had a birthday party,” she said. “Everyone has a birthday party growing up.” But, I hadn’t. In my home, the special nature of birthday’s came from being able to open up a present before school, which was usually clothes to wear to school that day, getting a fiver in the mail from Grandma, and then choosing what meal to eat that night. Though, it may seem sad to someone like my wife who had a progressively larger animal to ride each year with her gigantic pool of friends, I really didn’t mind. I had been raised with a protective anti-social personality so that birthdays were to be spent with family and hopefully reading a book with big vocabulary words; not with friends causing a ruckus and playing violent donkey pinning rituals. I actually genuinely enjoyed just picking out the meal that I wanted for my birthday dinner, especially when I could pick something considered torturous to my older sisters’ appetites.

My wife still didn’t believe me, and so she told me she would ask my mother. A few days later, my mother, ashamedly, confirmed to her the sad truth. I never did have a birthday party. But, it really isn’t that sad. I feel that I turned out ok, even with my social ineptitude and haunting recurrent nightmares of unspeakable things. But who am I to deny that my child be treated like a King for one day out of the year, as opposed to the other 364 where he is treated as a mere heir to the kingdom.

And so, we decorated every inch of the house, prepared a wide array of foods for our guests, and purchased everything that Target had to offer with a pirate on it, including a grueling non-fiction book that discussed the intricacies of Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden. And, in a way, I can experience vicariously the joys of a child’s birthday party by seeing my child’s face as he makes his way through the gauntlet of balloons and streamers to see the smiling faces of friends and family offering him mounds and mounds of toys, cake, candy, and adulation. At this rate of ever increasing expectations, the theme of next year’s fourth soirée will be Alexander the Great’s conquest of Asia Minor. At least there will be an elephant ride.

Blog About Blogging: The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse

I like my blog. I came up with the idea of starting a blog in the fall of last year. I loved to write and had a lot of ideas for what to write about. What could be better than hosting my banal opinions and mildly disturbing personal recollections on the internet to give people a break from all of the stock trading and cat picture captioning that was going on? And so, I chose a blog name (that made little sense), picked a color scheme (which has been known to induce mild to severe nausea), and had at it. We are now nearing nine months into this little blogging project which has come to be known as Bag Stranded. The incubus is nearly ready to make its way out of the safety of the womb and through the birthing canal. But, just as a newborn calf finds it difficult to stand on its shaky legs, still slick from amniotic fluid, so my blog still is sure to struggle. It will probably also end up in a cage with its legs shackled to make some nice, tender veal.

After all, I am part of the literary and illiterate amalgamation known as “the blogsphere.” If you are looking for a definition of what blogosphere means, it really depends on the context. When muttered through the jowly rasp of political pundits, it is the aura of negativity which pervades the internet and its highfalutin opinion-istas™. If you listen to the ads that pop up when you search for pictures of Brittney Spears tactfully exiting a limousine, the blogosphere is a fantastic way to tap into the virtual money just floating around the web. It might also be a thin layer covering the earth just above the stratosphere. It’s made up of 5% methane and 95% mediocrity.

Most of the people that I know have a blog, which means that they take part in this worldwide frenzy of over-sharing information. Most of these blogs involve an arrangement of family pictures, descriptions of the cutest thing a certain child did ever, and graphic pictures of a post-op bunion removal. I have my own one of these blogs. I keep it private at the behest of my wife who insists that some internet fiend will use pictures of our children towards some evil end. I could write a book, or at least a blog, about my wife’s assorted paranoia. This one, however, has recently been proven fairly founded.

I recently read an article about a St. Louis family that happened to have their family’s Christmas card photo show up in the storefront window of a department store in Prague. Apparently, it is a mystery as to how it ended up there, but the mom posted her pictures on her blog and apparently, they were lifted, blown up, and used to sell button-up denim jackets. Now personally, I think that it would be pretty boss to have my family act as an unbeknownst sponsor for the Yugo. After all, the Smith family (the Missouri ones, not mine) had since received 180,000 hits to their blog since this cross-country discovery. That is pushing some traffic.At the rate that I am going, Bag Stranded will reach 180,000 hits sometime in early July of the year 2049 (This is true, by the way. You can see my work here.) To me that is very depressing. When I first began to have reservations about the amount of traffic on my blog, my wife asked me what my purpose was in doing the blog. Before I could respond to her, she responded for me by telling me that I should just be doing it for myself, as if writing was comparable to sitting down for a session with Dr. Phil. For me, writing has been and always will be an outlet that I use to seek personal gain, notoriety, and attention from others. Nothing more.

I started writing when I was in 7th grade after I wrote a scathing and humorous review of my life in 6th grade. I cleverly titled it “Sixth Grade” and its two-page length has been the standard by which I write these columns today. It received rave reviews, which means that both my mother and my 7th grade English teacher loved it. That teacher read it in front of the class as an example of superior writing ability. I have spent the ensuing second half of my life trying to sustain and maintain that feeling of being revered for some talent other than being able to eat things other people wouldn’t.

And so, fast forward to the present, and I find myself pursuing the same futility. Last Saturday night, I spent a few hours searching the web for different ways to boost the traffic on my blog. I joined a few different websites where bloggers met and apparently networked together to show their wares. The promise of thousands of people flocking to my corner of the internet was real and I could feel it. I could sense the admiration of thousands waiting to leave a congratulatory comment below my column about how hot dogs have influenced my life.

I realized the next morning the harsh cruelty that goes along with online networking. My blog received no new hits. I did however receive a message from someone saying that they really liked my blog and that I should check theirs out. On clicking their profile, I discovered that they had sent the same message to roughly 75 other new users within a four-minute period. Each of these 75 users wrote back to thank the greeter for his kind, copied and pasted words. And his blog sucked.

There are thousands of bloggers that use the site that I joined. There are millions of bloggers with tens of millions of blogs all around the world. Most of these blogs revolve around teaching other people to blog and make money off of blogging. It is a self-propagating entity and it frightens me more than a redheaded ventriloquist dummy with a meat cleaver. The originality and presence that I struggled for is a hopeless cause. With so many people and so much blogging, a little guy like me, just trying to be funny, gets seriously lost floating around in the blogosphere. There isn’t much oxygen up here, by the way.

I am not the only one who has experienced, as of late, the doubt that comes from pouring your heart and soul into an unfeeling machine for the scrutiny of the handful of people that stumble across it. Several friends have felt the same disparagement. Blog regret: it is an epidemic. And so, I am not sure what to do at this point. Should I keep writing, using it as a form of therapy, and wait for the year 2049, or the Rapture (whichever comes first), for Bag Stranded to make it to the level of slightly Slovakian looking families and their blogs? Or should I bag Bag Stranded and save myself from the inevitability of whoring myself out to the internet public just for my next hit of recognition? All this questioning and self-doubt has made me a bit hungry. I could go for some nice, tender veal. Perhaps sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies. No one else would ever eat that.
Post Script: This column is not a call for a flood of commentary to give your support to me to not quit my blog. I have tried asking for that before with little success. Feel free to comment, of course, but don’t feel impelled. If I were a reader of Bag Stranded, I would probably be tired of me already and would not respond to my vague threats of quitting. I might even encourage me to quit. Good thing I don’t read Bag Stranded.

Debate and Switch

I recently received a letter in the mail from a good friend of mine named Chase Carey. Chase also happens to be the President and CEO of DIRECTV, but first and foremost, he is my friend. As a friend, he has recently unlocked the magic box in my DVR at home that makes it possible for me to view Showtime free for three months. This gift was given to me for being such a loyal friend over the past three years, as well as, perhaps, the fact that I did not call him out directly when a weather disturbance made me miss the episode of Survivor where, according to the commercials, the survivors just pulled the clothes off of each other in a mud puddle to get immunity. Thanks Chase.

It is amazing what premium cable can do to your TV watching mentality. Should I really be watching the History Channel’s glorified slideshow of the Chinese Opium trade when I could be watching Weeds? Do I need to be somewhat enthralled by an unsolved murder on Cold Case Files when I can witness the murder itself on Dexter? Why would I succumb to watching AMC’s commercial laden and edited Judge Dread when I can get the R-rated version over on channel 539?

And, oh yes, Showtime is no longer just one simple channel. As with other premium cable networks, it has become a conglomerate of no less than 12 channels. Showtime. Showtime 2. Showtime Gay and Lesbian. Chowtime Food. Showtime Dry. Shitmeow - The Anagram Channel. All of this variety is there to offer me a premium selection of ten movies, most from 1998, which rotate and play at different times on each of the stations over the next three months. But it still beats A&E.

And so I selected five of the movies which I figured either I could watch as long as my wife and/or child/children weren't in the room with me and one that I could enjoy in the company of my wife while our kids slept/screamed uncontrollably in their beds. That one movie was the unfortunately titled Denzel Washington film “The Great Debaters”. Though, the film’s subjects were “masters” in their field, I am grateful for the toned down adjective of “Great” chosen by Denzel. The film portrays a group of afro-centric debaters who follow their dreams all the way to the national debate championship, or something. I think I fell asleep about halfway through. But in that sleep, I was able to summon up the memory of my own illustrious career as a debater. The year was 1992. Cue the wavy screen transition and appropriate period music, perhaps "Baby Got Back".
I was in 5th grade at the time and I was selected to act as alternate to my little GT class’ (That’s “Gifted and Talented” for you lay people out there) debate team. As alternate, I slept through practice and prayed for someone to vomit during competition so that I could rise to stardom in their place. Unfortunately, I was the alternate on a team of very intelligent and very healthy 5th graders.

After practicing for several weeks, we went to the annual elementary debate meet at Skyline High School. The topic to be debated by every team was whether or not the United States should pursue alternate sources of energy. My team was arguing the negative, which meant our fates were sealed well before our nerdy pre-pubescence even graced the hallways of the high school. It is surprisingly difficult to debate against something that you and nearly everyone on the planet would have to agree with. Our only hope was that the judges happened to be on the Board of Directors for a heartless coal or oil company and that they hadn’t yet heard of the newly born hole in the ozone.

We took a break between debates after my partner got all riled up over the 5th grade girl’s resolution to have hydrogen-run cars that would only produce water as a waste product. He slammed her ridiculously conceived idea of a scientifically impossible magic car that, if it did exist, would flood the streets with water so that our sewer systems would back up and we would be living in our own filth and amongst deadly crocodiles. If only our team had Wikipedia back then. During this break my partner and I decided that we would relieve some tension in usual 5th grade fashion, by engaging each other in a Mercy fight. Again, assuming there are lay people amongst my readers, Mercy is a game where the two competitors interlock fingers and squeeze, twist, and gyrate each other until the pain becomes intolerable for one party, at which point they yell the plea “Mercy”. I prided myself on being a particularly skilled Mercy player. As my partner and I battled, I moved my arms up and down, adjusting the positioning of my body as we grappled in the hallway. I was just about to put him in a classic “Half-Dougie” when I, rather ungracefully, moved my forehead straight into the handle of a locker.

The blood flowed freely through the thin brown paper towels in the bathroom and into the sink. My veins sent blood out of my forehead like water out of a punctured garden hose. By the time my partner joined me to see the damage he had done, the bathroom looked like something imagined by Wes Craven. “Mercy,” I conceded.

Our debate coach was contacted and she decided to call my parents. My parents however, had assumed that I was at the elementary school down the street practicing for my debate meet. When they were informed that I was on the other side of the valley at a high school with a profusely bleeding head wound, they were understandably upset/fuming with rage. They drove me to the hospital, scolding me all the way. I sat waiting in the emergency room triage as I heard sirens blaring toward the entrance. Several paramedics rushed a stretcher carrying what I can only assume was a man though he looked more like a six foot piece of chicken that was left on the barbeque overnight. They rushed his screaming charred body to the room next to mine, which meant that a thin blue curtain separated our differently attained injuries. His was a house fire. Mine was a 5th grade debate-related injury.

I went home a changed man with two stitches now holding the skin above and below my eyebrow from surely spilling out the contents of my skull. I received a grounding for not telling my parents of my secret debate meet. The affirmative teams overwhelmingly won the debate and thus influenced the US government to cease using fossil fuels forever. And I had developed a taste for debate, along with a slight lingering taste of blood in my mouth. I was the captain of my 6th grade team and would argue in the affirmative that puppies were in fact cute. We won.

I did not continue my debate pursuits as I entered 7th grade as I, with puberty, realized the triviality of nearly everything in life that didn’t either bring me closer to the opposite sex or conceal my horrific acne. However, at heart I am still a debater. A master one at that. I am still that chubby little kid from the Negro college who elicits a standing ovation at every remark. “I say to you, if puppies were cute yesterday and are cute today, may they ever be so!” Thank you, Denzel. Thank you.

Me in 5th grade