Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hero in Hiding

Just a few entries ago I wrote about collaborations between writers and composers. Here is a brief description of my collaboration with a composer.

This collaboration was designed as a work for children. We wanted something along the lines of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf set in a modern urban environment. The Hero in Hiding is a simple story about a hero who rescues a young boy and will always be remembered for his bravery and humility. The goal of the composer was to accentuate and complement the text. He chose instruments that would be found in a jazz ensemble and wrote for them in a jazz-like style that would be fun for a younger audience to listen to. - L.W. and B.P.

The Hero in Hiding
The hero leapt from building to building. By his definition, the night had been calm except for some petty criminals.

The robber, whose incompetence was the roadblock to a successful criminal career, was an easy catch.

And the fight he stopped. He thought as alley after alley passed beneath him, people always fight; it is in their nature to try to bring each other down. The robber will never understand this. He wished his job didn’t have to exist, but there will always be the next hero.

A fight far below him in an alley brought him back to reality. He saw a large man standing over someone. He swooped down with ease and once he was closer he could see the person being beaten. He was a young man, very close to the age in which he was found by his hero.

The brute towered above the boy, throwing punches in a great downward arc. The hero was moving as fast as he could toward the brute, but he didn’t get there before the hard fists of the brute had plunged deep into the boys face.

The brute saw the leg out of the corner of his eye and caught the hero’s foot in his hand. The brute’s hand engulfed the foot. The boy’s rescuer didn’t underestimate his villain though. The hero quickly bounded to his feet and threw the first punch to knock the brute away from the boy. He shouted, “Run!”

The boy ran, but not far. He wanted to see his hero in action. A crowd had amassed at the end of the alley to watch the spectacle. They yelled at the boy to move further away from the fight, but he longed to see goodness prevail. His hero threw punch after punch into the brute, but the size of the man was great, he threatened people solely with his towering frame.

The two fought for a long time. They traded punches and kicks. The hero was wearing the brute down, he slumped in exhaustion and his fist no longer traveled forward with that intense power.

The boy saw his hero step back a few feet. He leaped toward the brute and was above him when he brought his foot across the man’s face. The two men collapsed in a tumbled mess.

The boy ran to his hero, he had been slashed by a knife and was badly hurt. The boy was determined to help his weakened hero up.

Together, the boy and his savior helped each other to the end of the alley where the crowd stood cheering for the hero. Now with his hero by his side, the boy walked out of the darkness of the alley and was hugged by many strangers and friends. He turned to see his rescuer, but he had vanished from the spotlight, like a true hero should.

Friday, April 29, 2005


For whoever reads this blog, I had to share my excitement with you because I bought my Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith tickets for the 12:01 midnight showing. I am not ashamed to be called a Star Wars geek.

May the Force be with you...

The Beginning

I wrote this in the fall. It's a memory of how I found the sport that molded me for 13 years.

It’s hard to go back to the beginning, back to where it all started. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering how I got here, to this pool, to this sport, to this school, but I do know it was an innocent beginning and it will be a joyous end.

I was seven when I heard the plans for a pool just up the street from my family’s apartment in Princeton had been set in stone. My Dad had one more year of classes, and I thought great, the pool will be done in a week or so and it will be mine to enjoy for a whole year. The indoor pool didn’t spring up out of the ground like I magically expected it to, but it was finished in time to test the waters.

The pool was just a few minutes walk up Emmons Drive. My family lived in married-student housing apartment buildings. Our second story apartment faced another brick and cinderblock building. Between the two apartment buildings was an expanse of grass that proved to be great socializing grounds for all the families of Emmons Drive. Behind our building was a large parking lot and from there you could see the indoor pool silhouetted against the woods that, seemed to me, to surround the entire residential area, but they were actually only on one side.

My first trips to the pool were with my parents and my best friend, Ben. Ben and I loved the new thrill that the pool gave to the neighborhood. What did we do before it was here? It was a nice building with a thin metal roof and glass doors all the way around the pool that were constantly fogged up.

At first, Ben and I spent most of our time jumping off the ledge in the deep end. The concrete at the edge of the pool curved upward and it helped us get an extra couple of inches higher before we began our descent. When we got bored with jumping we tried flips and dives, and started bringing out a tube to land on. Even at that young age I loved challenging myself, so I started swimming the width of the pool, and then the length of the pool.

The lifeguards at the pool rarely spoke and were very talented in the art of annoyance. They were either irritated with the patrons of the pool or we were aggravated with them. One of them took notice of my swimming. I can’t remember her name, but I know I liked her and her encouragement made me believe I was good at swimming. One believer was all I needed.

“I bet’cha I can swim down and back twice,” I said.

“Oh really? Well let’s see.”

I pushed off the wall and circled my arms until I achieved some propulsion. This was easy. I didn’t think of a different method. I just knew that I was making progress because I was moving forward.

The lifeguard continued to challenge me over the weeks. Sometimes she would give me a bag of candy if I swam 6, 8, or 10 lengths of the pool.

I was going to swim for as long as I wanted to and didn’t have an inkling that those small beginnings, swimming for candy, would lead me to where I am now. Swimming has changed a lot in my life in the thirteen years since my humble beginning in Princeton and it will determine my life for one more season and then my time will be invested elsewhere. Who knows where it might take me?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Believe It. Posted by Hello

April 28, 2005

Laramie, WY - Almost May Posted by Hello

Yes folks. It's true. Despite Wyoming being a great place, the weather just flat out sucks sometimes. So here is to a couple weeks from now...This place will have completely skipped Spring, and Summer will be raging.

Collaboration Embarrassment

Final projects in my creative writing class are collaborations with composers. The writer and composer talked about what they wanted to produce. The writer would be sent away to come up with a story, song, poem, etc. Once the writing is done, the composers wrote the music. Final projects are being presented this Saturday. However, there was a dress rehearsal first.

So, last night I was sitting in the front row of the concert hall. The first perfomance was by a writer who wrote a song that she will sing on stage with the piano music her composer wrote for her. I sat there in such anticipation that I harbored her embarrassment within me. It was such a weird feeling. She started to sing and I couldn't even look at her. I feared her screwing up possibly more than she did herself.

Anyway, her piece turned out great and I am excited to see her performance, but it got me thinking. Where else do I have this feeling? In Church. Sitting in a pew I am more nervous for the people singing than anywhere else. This nervousness wouldn't be there if I hadn't seen genuinely bad performances in church before. I have two conclusions about this feeling. First, I shouldn't even worry about something going wrong up on stage. I should be happy that people are brave enough to use what gifts they have to express themselves, and to worship God. Second, I shouldn't have to worry about people up on stage singing and not being good. I know these two points contradict each other, but not everything I say makes sense. What can I say? I'm human.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Peter hated mornings. The first thought that crossed his mind at 6 a.m. was, I always get the shitty jobs. He always got the morning shifts at Ladder Company 6 in Manhattan. Nothing ever happened in the morning. It seemed like all the rest of the guys at the station were on the exciting shifts except for him.

He walked the same path from his studio apartment on 42nd Street to the firehouse every morning; two blocks north, one block east, and two more blocks north. The walk was boring for Peter and he remembered when he used to get bored as a kid in church he would count. He was seven when he started counting the number of people with gray hair in church. He was eight when he started counting how many times he had sat in a certain pew. When he was ten, Peter graduated to counting how many pieces of glass made up the central, stain-glass window. It had been sixteen years since then and Peter still counted, but not only when boredom commanded his mood. He counted everything and now counted the blocks of cement he walked on to the way to work.

“Peter, you hear about the fire last night?” Hank said as Peter crossed into the garage from the sidewalk.

“Huh, no,” Peter said.

“Right over on forty-eighth street. It was nothing big. You didn’t miss much,” Hank said.

Hank was always polishing the trucks when Peter came in. It’s what Hank liked to do before he went home for a few hours. He was portly and his shirt became un-tucked every fifteen minutes because of his girth shifting in movement.

Peter had a soft spot for Hank because he was the only one in the house who encouraged his counting obsession.

“Hank, you’ve told me that sixty-seven times,” Peter said.

“Oh yeah? And how many days have you been working here, man?” Hank said.

“Day number four-hundred and twenty-nine right here, Hank.”

“Well, I will see you on day four-hundred and thirty because I’m outta here.”

Peter walked into the kitchen, past the long table of plates laid out for breakfast, and went to the fridge. He needed some orange juice to start off this day. He always drank in three sets of three swallows. The juice was filling his mouth for the eigth time when he heard the bell tear through the firehouse. Commotion upstairs followed and Peter dropped the orange juice and ran out to the garage. The other firefighters in the house fell more than slid down the pole in their excitement.

“C’mon Peter, let’s get going,” Gagne yelled as he slid down.

“I’m on it,” Peter answered. This was the first time an alarm had sounded this early since Peter had been on the job. He tried to keep his excitement at bay just in case it wasn’t a fire worth fighting.

Peter grabbed his gear and jumped into the rear of truck six. The cold truck soon heated up with the excitement in the air. Gagne was bouncing legs the size of tree trunks on the floor. In his nervousness Peter started counting and didn’t stop until they pulled up to an abandoned five-story building on 30th Street. Gagne’s heels hit the metal floor two-hundred and thirty-nine times until he stopped when the air brake on the truck hissed.

Peter and Gagne were inside the building with the first company and he realized this was no worthless fire. The entryway of the building was a large room that was three stories high. The fire wisped up the far wall and stretched its fingers on the ceiling almost to the roof above Peter.

“This is my second fire in a building like this,” Peter said.

“Who are you talking to Peter? Pay attention man! We have to move to the opposite side and get through that door,” Gagne ordered.

The door was fifty yards away from them. There was no debris in the way but the fire was constantly overhead. The guts of the building moaned under the contortions of the heat.

“I estimate one-hundred steps to the door,” Peter said.

“Great, let me know if you’re right when we get over there,” Gagne smirked.

“Thirty-seven, Gagne. I think I was right on the money.”

Gagne was ten yards ahead of Peter and looked back and didn’t give the laugh Peter expected, instead Gagne’s eyes darted upward. The roof was making a new noise. It was giving in to the fire. Roof tiles started to fall in between Peter and Gagne.

“Get over here Peter, quick!”

Peter started running, “Thirty-eight, thirty-nine.”

The roof shuddered and the tiles were peeling off quicker now. Gagne couldn’t see what was coming down behind the tiles until it broke through about halfway down. One side of a crossbeam had come loose and was arcing its way toward Peter. The helmet crumpled like aluminum and Peter lay prone on the cement floor.

“One,” Gagne said.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Su Casa, Alexander, and Today

If you ever find yourself driving along on that desolate stretch of I-80 in Wyoming, do yourself a favor and stop at Su Casa. What? You have been there? So you know that tiny Mexican restaurant in Sinclair, Wyoming? I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Su Casa is no bigger than a dorm room, but it packs a punch. The chips are burning hot when they come to your table and the salsa doesn't look much better than Pace, but it is mysteriously good. I go with the Taquitos. They come with a liberal serving of guacamole that makes you wonder...Is it possible to have guacamole like this in the middle of Wyoming? The service is quick and the food is gone in a flash. You find yourself back on the street in Sinclair, wondering how you got there, in awe of that small building that houses such giant satisfaction.

Collin Ferrell in Alexander, is horrid. I made the mistake of seeing this movie. I left after the first 50 minutes and got a full refund for my ticket. I did get to see Ferrell in that fruittastic headpiece, trying so hard to be Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

I once calculated that the time I spent swimming the 50 free, my event, is 1/80,000 of the time I spend in the water during a whole swim season.

The Today Show, I can't stand The Today Show. My favorite is when Katie Couric says, "But first, this is today," before every commercial break. They couldn't think of a better line? Even the Today Show commercials are horrible. One commercial names the major four people on the show and then proudly proclaims them as "America's First Family." Please!!! They aren't my first family, and I hope they aren't yours either.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Some Distant, Some Near

The field had absorbed the last snow quickly and the sun had dried the ground so it wasn’t too soggy for a game of football. I sat down on the steps leading down to the drop-off zone for the buses and watched the game. I would occasionally play and I was damn good at running…if I caught the ball. I had developed a reputation of not being able to catch and had been named “Butterfingers” by the popular kids at school who busied themselves with bringing down everyone they knew.

I soon got bored with the football game—I didn’t want to play today. I might have had some fun, but then it would have ended and so would my freedom with another chime from the speaker. I looked across the street, through the park, and onto passing cars. I walked down to the sidewalk and stared at my bike and thought of Trey, my best friend and next-door neighbor. He was one year older than me and now went to the high school in town. He was getting out of school right now because he didn’t have a class the last block of the day. He would probably zoom by any minute if I kept looking at the street. The thought of hopping on my bike and riding to his house crossed my mind. I could spend the rest of the afternoon with my best friend and miss a couple of classes. I had never skipped school, but I had a good reason to try it this one time. No one would notice.

My classmates would probably think I was going for a brief ride. I would pass from sight and they would never notice whether I came back. I untangled my bike lock and coiled it around the stem of my bike seat. I looked behind me while I was straddling the bike to make sure no one was watching and pushed off with one leg. The first pedals were hard; someone was going to see me, they were going to tell, and I was going to get in trouble. But having a great afternoon with my best friend was a lot more tempting than two more hours of school—I sped off.

The bike ride passed quickly because I was distracted. The anticipation of the afternoon’s fun was building. Trey and I didn’t have to do much of anything to have fun, so I knew we would. On the way home, I rode through a couple of intersections and couldn’t remember if the light was green or red. I pulled up to the side of my garage and leaned my bike up against the house. I walked across the gravel side yard and into the grass that neatly lined all sides of Trey’s house. Crouching down next to the basement window well I could see Trey in front of the TV. He spent all his time in the basement when he was home and sure enough he was sitting cross-legged in front of his old TV framed by cheap wooden paneling. He was playing his Nintendo and the glow from the TV danced across his face, his nose casting a pointed shadow back to his ear. I reached out over the window well, making sure I didn’t fall in, and tapped the window. The window well scared me because of the huge wolf spiders that lived in them. I had this fear of falling into the hole and being eaten alive by spiders, their hairy legs all around me. Trey didn’t turn around before he bolted up the stairs to come to the door; he always knew it was me. I was the only one who tapped on this window.

I walked around the front of his house past the great window that looked into the living room. I could hear his loud steps up the stairs. He skipped two, maybe three steps with each lunge and made a racket that his mom couldn’t stand. Trey opened the door with a startled look on his face. His hair billowed upward in uniform waves that jerked when he gave a cautious look back into the house.

“Trey!” His mom’s yell escaped the house just as Trey slid out and shut the door behind him.

“What’s that all about?” I said.

“Nothing, she wants me to do my homework now,” Trey replied.

“So…nothing serious then. Phew! Thought she was going to chase after us there for a second.”

The lawns in our neighborhood were not fenced so Trey and I began walking from his front yard to my backyard.

“Wait, aren’t you supposed to be at school?” Trey said.

“Yeah, I ditched. I don’t know what got into me today. I couldn’t take anymore classes after Algebra. Just wanted that part of my day to be over.”

“That’s fine with me,” Trey said.

“I knew it would be.”

We jumped on my trampoline and I tried to bounce Trey higher than ever. I was getting big enough that I couldn’t jump too high without hitting the ground through the trampoline—that stung a little. We jumped for an hour and then mimicked the wrestling moves we had seen on TV earlier in the week. We were pretty good at them and we should have been because Trey and I watched six hours of wrestling per week. We also had plenty of time to practice because Trey and I didn’t concern ourselves with homework. We would try homework, but we had too much energy back then and couldn’t take our minds away from our own fun for more than ten minutes.

Eventually we got bored and picked some crab apples from a tree in Trey’s yard. Our backyards faced a busy residential street that our old elementary school was on. The fence lined the backyards of the houses that faced the street. Trey and I each got a handful of crab apples. I stood at an angle to the fence so I could see, through the slats of the wooden planks, the next car that was coming up the street. We launched our handfuls over the fence. The car didn’t stop. We continued hitting car after car. There were a few boring people who kept on driving after we drilled them, but finally one car stopped right in the middle of the road.

“Run like hell,” Trey yelled.

“Good idea, dude.” I took off after him because he was the faster runner. He led the way to the front yard between our houses. From there we could hear the driver’s door slam, like he had stepped out to chase after us. We quickly caught our breath before walking to the end of the cul-de-sac. We took a few steps toward the corner of the fence and saw the car through the slats. A man was slowly driving up the street toward us.

“Go, go, go! He’s right there!” I yelled. We cut through backyards, jumping over shrubs, and rocks, and dodging through trees. The trampoline was a soft place to land. We stood up in time to see the driver turn the corner.

“That was a close call, Trey.”

“I know. He almost got us.”

We lay on the trampoline on opposite ends so we wouldn’t slide toward the middle where the trampoline would sag. When my family moved into this house we planted a small maple tree in the backyard and it had grown tremendously over the years. The maple now gave Trey and me shade from the hot afternoon sun and prevented the trampoline’s surface from being uncomfortably hot to touch. Before we hunkered down for the night with thirty blankets we made sure the trampoline rested under the maple tree so it would shade us from the streetlight. In a few years the maple was big enough to keep the light out from my parents second story bedroom.

The next five minutes passed in silence. We caught our breath. I stared at the clouds rolling across the sky and followed a rare maple leaf that had been brushed off by the rustling of the branches in the wind, fall down in-between us. Trey’s serious face caught me by surprise.

“We’re moving, Brian,” Trey said.

I took it in before I replied. He must not have known an easier way to break the news and it was impossible to break it lightly.

“Uhh…you are?” Silence.

“Yep, I would have told you sooner but I’ve been dreading this conversation with you because there’s no way to make it easy.”

“Well, no there isn’t. Where to? And why?”

“My Dad found a new job in some town about an hour south of here.” We had both returned to our backs, too afraid to face each other and the truth.

“That sucks. Well, what I mean is that sucks for you and us…good for your dad. When are you moving?”

“Two weeks.”

“Two weeks, Trey? That’s so soon. You haven’t even put the house up for sale.”

“I know. My parents have already found renters and they closed on the new house last week.”

There was nothing I could say that would make Trey stay here, living next to me. I wanted it to be a lie, but I could see a tear sliding down his cheek. I rolled over on my stomach and elbows. My head drooped and I paid ridiculous attention to the blades of grass through the tarp of the trampoline, trying so hard to wish this away. My tears ran down my nose, falling to the trampoline. Our silence thickened the air. I sorted through my memories of Trey. I feared not having anyone to talk to. Who was I going to cause mischief with? When were we ever going to practice our new wrestling moves? When were we going to see each other again after he moved? And the years left of high school…I badly wanted to experience those with Trey. The double dates we could have gone on, the proms, and graduation parties. Those years now expanded in front of me, endless on the horizon. Each remaining year of high school was going to feel like a decade.

I wasn’t wise enough to enjoy the time we had left as neighbors and friends. To me, this news meant Trey was going to die in two weeks. Sixty miles away is just the same as a thousand miles away when you don’t have cars.

I think I’m heading inside, Brian,” Trey said as he rolled off his side of the trampoline. I expected him to break the silence with that, but I couldn’t tell if that was an open invitation for me to follow or not, so I just lay still.

“Okay, see ya later, man.” Maybe if I weaned Trey off like some bad habit it would make the move easier for the both of us.

I was foolish then. I should have spent as much time with Trey as possible over those weeks, but I didn’t.

Over the next few months Trey and I managed to see each other almost every weekend, but that was only through the summer. We got distracted from our friendship when school started. Our visits were mostly around holidays or three-day weekends when we had a lot of time on our hands.

The visits we had were less and less eventful. We always seemed to be reminiscing about what it was like when we lived next to each other. We tried wrestling on the trampoline, even threw crab apples at buses leaving the elementary school, but we weren’t into it like before. The experiences Trey and I had, the things we did, made any time apart insignificant because they could bring the closeness back, but whenever conversation shifted to the present I felt disengaged. We couldn’t achieve the comfortable level of friendship we had before by reminiscing about our experiences. We needed originality and it was not to be found by either one of us.

After one visit I realized that we would never have enough time to fully catch-up. Trey would always have friends I didn’t know, and I would always be involved in activities that he would never hear the details of, even if we had a week together. That wasn’t enough time to establish familiarity again. I thought Trey and I were living the same life. It was easy to think that because we liked the same stuff, thought the same stuff, and did the same stuff. Now it seems like they were always separate when I look back on those years.

* * *

Seven years later I find myself in a similar situation. College brought many new experiences and friends, but I didn’t expect it to bring a friend that I cherished as much as I had cherished Trey. Zvika is three years older than I and graduated a year ahead of me. I had accepted the fact that when I went to college I would have friends from all over the country, but Zvika is from Israel.

The morning before I took Zvika to the airport one last time, I lie on my bed and shuffled through the memories of my friend. For years I had confided in him all my internal struggles. The first year we lived in the same hall. I often walked down a few doors to his room to vent my frustration with life. He helped me through relationships with girls, or the lack thereof. I would lie on my floor staring at my ceiling after a girl rejected me. I busied myself with finding faces in the drywall pattern until Zvika came into my room and talked things over. He had served three years in the Israeli army before coming overseas. I always thought of him as being more experienced. I respected my elders, so I expected Zvika’s advice to be good. He had been through a long distance relationship with his girlfriend for years; I admired that, so I listened. In return, I offered up what little advice I had for him and occasionally I would correct his English.

I swung my legs over the side of my bed, waking my tired eyes for this day. On my trip to the bathroom I stopped and looked at the door Zvika slept behind.

My home was Zvika’s home away from home. He had joined us for Thanksgiving breaks and Easter breaks. He had been there when my family surprised me with a Nissan Maxima one morning. My mom took snapshots of us the first time we got in the car—smiles from ear to ear. My family took him in, welcomed and enjoyed his presence.

Before Zvika flew home to Israel this morning, he spent one last night in my parent’s house. I expected it to be a profound night, but just because someone is leaving doesn’t mean something magical is going to happen. We sat around and drank Coronas while watching Sportscenter. ESPN was a luxury we didn’t have at our apartment.

I knocked on Zvika’s door, opening it up to see him sprawled on top of the covers. “Hey, you ready?” I said.

“What time is it?”

“5:30. There’s a clock right there.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll be down shortly.”

“Alright, see you then.” I shut the door. Just like last night I had expected something great to happen, I expected our last conversations to be profound, but by now I know it is our friendships that make the everyday talks memorable.

My parents weren’t up yet, they had said goodbye to Zvika last night. I stood at the top of the stairs leaning over the banister listening to their goodbyes. I thought if I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t cry myself, but I did. Unlike my last weeks with Trey, I had spent as much time with Zvika as possible. I had known this day would come for three years. The brevity of friendships forces you to treasure them. I had learned that much from Trey, but you couldn’t learn to make these departures easy and I feared that most this morning.

“No breakfast?” I said to Zvika as he hauled his suitcase down the stairs.

“Nope, no time.”

“Okay, it’s up to you.” Zvika had always obsessed about being on time, and on time for him was early.

The drive to the airport was long; I had a lot of time to determine when I should give Zvika his letter. I had tried to write everything I felt, but it just turned out to be a jumbled mess. Finding the exact words that would encapsulate my emotion was impossible, this was a feeling that I couldn’t write about, at least not yet, maybe never.

I drove intently so it looked like I was too busy to talk. Zvika wasn’t saying anything either. The rift in our friendship was on the horizon. We silently cowered before it, afraid to take the next step on this journey.

“Man, I am glad you shipped all your other stuff home,” I said as I lifted Zvika’s suitcase out of the trunk.

“Got everything?”

“Hope so.” I could see tears in his eyes. Mine soon flooded with their own.

I hugged him tightly, trying to remind myself that I would see him again, but this was the end for this stage in our friendship. Backing off, I held out my hand to give him the letter.

He looked confused. “What’s this?”

“You’ll see,” I said.

I held out my hand for a parting handshake and Zvika firmly grasped it.

“Goodbye, my friend,” I said.

“Until next time.”

I laughed and stood on the edge of the curb leaning up against my car. Zvika turned and walked into the terminal. The tinted automatic doors shut behind him and he was gone.

It was silent in my car, absent of Zvika’s boisterous voice and joyful laugh. I thought of all the laughs we had shared then. The drive home was hard. I started to reminisce about the times with Zvika, the parties, the trips home, but mostly the conversations. We knew each other so well. I didn’t worry so much as to who would take his place like I did after Trey left. I knew no one would ever take his place, just as no one had replaced Trey. There would be another great friend down the road, but Zvika and Trey were now memories, some distant, some near.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The State of Wyoming

Prior to my attending the University of Wyoming, I didn't have any affiliation with this state. Actually, I don't even remember if I had any knowledge about this state, other than it being the home to Yellowstone.

I can't even remember thinking about Wyoming. It was a great big piece of land that I drove through a few times to get to California or Washington. Wyoming, a place so big, and so close, only occupied a sliver of my thoughts, or none at all.

If someone asked me what I thought about Wyoming when I was in high school, I would have probably been critical of the state. I had been there for a family vacation, and once for a swim meet in elementary. And I probably only affiliated the state with Matthew Shephard, as many people still do.

Someone suggested that I go to the University of Wyoming to further my swimming career, and of course to get an education. At a time I was ready to give up a large portion of my life, swimming, in order to avoid that great expanse just north of me.

Wyoming has proven me wrong. I found out I was full of misconceptions, but I would have never known this if I didn't come to this place. Laramie and Wyoming didn't win me over immediately, but each year I have returned, the people of Wyoming and UW have held a greater place in my heart.

The most unattractive place I could think of four years ago has snatched away a piece of my heart that I am not going to take back. It's going to stay here, where I found more of myself, friends, family, and a peace that can only be found in a place like this.

Friday, April 22, 2005

12:00 a.m., Thursday, May 19, 2005

May 19, 1999. I was a sophomore in high school and I was unable to see the midnight showing of the first Star Wars film in 16 years. The Phantom Menace came out in the middle of the week. I couldn't camp out and ditch school. However, I had friends that took more drastic measures to win their ticket to the midnight showing. Dan decided to streak through the line of tents that were set up in a vacant lot next to the movie theater. Star Wars geeks had assembled there almost a week in advance to get their midnight tickets. Dan sported a white cape and shoes. On the back of the cape in bold black lettering was written White Lightning. He was successful in his streak and someone in my geography class was kind enough to record the event and play it back in class the next day. I had to wait until Friday night to see Episode I.

May 16, 2002. I was a freshman in college. With two finals on the morning of the 16th, and not living in a town which had a midnight showing, I was destined to be denied once again the joy of seeing a Star Wars movie with other bona fide geeks. I had to wait one more day until I was done with finals and moving back home to see Episode II. I saw it the first Friday it was out at 10:35 p.m. with one of my great friends, Trey. We started the line for that show at 6:30 p.m. much to the surprise of the theater's employees. I admit, I was being selfish that day. I wanted to be the first in line. I didn't want to be shafted twice, with not being able to get the prime seats in the house.

May 19, 2005. I am a senior in college. Finals are done before Episode III hits the big screen. Finally, I will be able to see the midnight showing of the missing chapter in the Star Wars saga.

Writing this blog brings back fond Star Wars memories. I get goosebumps. I spent the summer of 1999 drinking a lot of Pepsi products because there were 24 collectible cans, each with a different character from Episode I on them. I got them all. All 24 cans, unopened and full, are stacked on a shelf in my room at home among other SW memorabilia. Below them rests a June 1983, LIFE magazine, with Return of the Jedi on the cover.

It has been a long time coming for this fanboy and what a way to go out with finally being able to see the last SW movie made at the midnight showing where the popcorn flows like water, the fans choreograph lightsaber battles in line, cheering is encouraged, and it's a standing room only when the 20th Century fanfare music starts the night off with a bang.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

On Writing

I recently finished If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. The book was recommended to me by my Mother, who isn't a writer herself but she is a living card catalogue due to her infatuation with the library. I am grateful for this.

Back to the book. Ueland is very opinionated, but who isn't? Ueland caught my attention because she doesn't try to hide herself. She shouts her thoughts onto the paper. I can imagine a reader being totally turned off by her though, but it's like she is reading my mind when she writes. Let me take a minute to clarify that every sentence she has written has been previously conceived in my head.

So, not all the words in this entry will be mine. I am obligated to share what I believe to be wise observations about society and writing. I relate much to what she says because it holds true to the person I am and the experiences I have had.

"Then we go to school and then comes on the great Army of school teachers with their critical pencils, and parents and older brothers (the greatest sneerers of all) and cantankerous friends, and finally that Great Murderer of the Imagination - a world of unceasing, unkind, dinky, prissy Criticalness." - Ueland (XI)

Having English professors examine every word and every syllable of mine in papers for a few years has really paved the way for this quote to sweep in on me and beat me around with its honesty. Obviously, I realize these professors are doing their job and not all criticism is bad criticism. In my experiences though I believe much of the criticism that is unloaded on students, especially in secondary education, leads to the suffocation of the original voice in us all. We ultimately mill into line and try as best as we can to produce formulaic, bland ideas that work toward the so-called betterment of society.

This book isn't just about writing, it's about expressing whatever is inside of you. Ueland makes her point again and again that just because you might not make money from it and you might not be praised for it, IT needs to be expressed and you should go to great lengths to protect it from the suffocation of this world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Always Listening

*All names, events, and places are purely coincidental.*

My hand had never felt something so hard before. It was Craig’s body, but with the life and warmth drained out of him—cold and hard. I pulled back in shock and regained my composure to touch him one last time.

Craig lay in a cherry wood casket inside the funeral chapel. He was dressed in his favorite Abercrombie and Fitch clothing, with tokens from his life set snugly in the coffin between the wall of the casket and his bitter body. A stuffed monkey, a mix CD of Craig’s favorite band, the Beastie Boys, and a shot glass, usually filled with bootlegged vodka, placed in the casket down by his feet.

I touched Craig on the shoulder and looked for the bruising around his neck from the noose, but the shirt was buttoned all the way up to his chin, hiding any evidence of pain. My eyes stuck to Craig’s face a long moment before they looked away. I hoped that I would be able to call upon the image at any point in my life to recall the person I once knew. As soon as I turned away, however, the image left me and I realized that images of Craig alive would be the only ones I would be able to remember.

* * *

I knocked on the door. No one. After a few minutes I saw Craig come down the stairs and motion to me that the door was open. I would have just walked in, but I didn’t feel comfortable.

“What’s up, bud?” I said.

“Not much. You coming out tonight?”

“Maybe. What’s going on?”

“Party somewhere.”

I sighed and thought about telling Craig how we could be better friends if he wasn’t relentlessly bent on drinking. I would have loved Craig to stay sober tonight. We got along so well when he didn’t drink, but when he did I could never relate to the Craig I wanted to know. I resigned myself to change and didn’t try to persuade him into not attending the party. I tried to change the subject.

“So, when do you think Lauren is going to marry your brother?” I said.

“Which one? Brian?”

“Of course, man.”

“I don’t know. It is pretty serious though. You know, once they get married, we will be like brothers.”

“I have always wanted a brother."

* * *

My ceiling glowed dark silver, reflecting light from the window blinds that were collecting the moon’s rays. This night I lay in bed for an hour, like the previous three nights, and tried to picture Craig in Heaven. Heaven was a mysterious place to me, but I lay there in contemplation of my friend enjoying its bountiful treasures.

I had found some comfort in talking to Craig, as though he were standing beside me, the last nights as I fell asleep. I can’t claim to know about the ability of the dead to communicate with the living, but I held on tight to a thin line of faith that he would be able to hear me. I might have known a thing or two about Heaven, but I was unsure about Craig’s ears for my words.

“Craig? I don’t know if you hear me, but I just wanted to let you know that I was thinking of you. I just wanted to say that I hope whatever peace you couldn’t find in this world you found in the next.”

I held back enthusiasm and emotion when I spoke to him, thinking that if I spoke clearly and smoothly my voice would be more discernable to Craig.

“I miss you, and your friends miss you. We’ll never forget you.”

The words didn’t last long before the exhaustion of the week overtook them and changed them into an incoherent slur.

I dreamt I was in my high school’s main hallway. The hum of the white, tube lighting overhead could hardly be heard above the commotion of students leaving for the day. My last block of classes had finished and I joined the lemmings headed for the parking lot. We were propelled toward the doors by our desire to leave school.

It was freezing outside and my height gave me ample opportunity to scan the drop-off zone of the parking lot for the cars and their drivers that would be able to spare me the cold, long walk to my car. A red Honda Prelude caught my eye. I had seen the car before and recognized the cheap hub-caps that could have been bought at a gas station’s convenience shop. I was soon by the side of the Prelude. I bent over and cupped my hands over my eyes on the frosty window to see Craig staring blankly at me.

The window rolled down. “You want a ride, man?” Craig said.

I was thrilled that Craig was back. He was dead, but now he was very much alive, and I was going to get a chance to ride in his car, something I hadn’t experienced prior to his death.

“Would you give me a ride? That would be awesome, dude. I wasn’t looking forward to the walk,” I said.

“Hop in. Where are you parked?”

“The far side of the tennis courts.”

His composure was casual. He seemed to evade the mood of suicide that lingered in the air, making it thick. He started to drive and loop through the parking lot in order to get to the opposite side. I sat there, half expecting him to start telling me why he’d done it, and half expecting, the next time I glanced to my left, to see anyone else but Craig driving the Prelude. But it was always Craig at the wheel, and he never said a word.

I had so many questions about his death, but now that he was here all I could do was sit in silent reverie. My mind muddled through the questions, trying to pick one because I felt as though I had only one shot at getting a reply before my ride ended.

The Prelude pulled to a stop, and I saw my Accord to the right. I opened the door and put one foot outside. I hesitated and gazed at my car for a moment. I didn’t want to waste my opportunity. I slowly turned to Craig. His face was expectant, as if he knew my question before I had even chosen the one to ask.

“Can you hear me when I talk to you, Craig?”

His eyes glanced down and a smile flicked through his complexion as though he was happy I had chosen this question above the others.

“All the time,” he replied.

I couldn’t put into words the joy his answer gave me; anyway, no words were necessary. We smiled, and I nodded one last goodbye. We wouldn’t see each other again until my time came. I didn’t stare at him, trying to grasp again one last image before I stood up out of the car. The door shut and I watched the silhouette of Craig disappear down the street.

I was staring at my ceiling again, but this time it was a bright white, with the reflection of the sun off the rain-soaked street bending through the slits of the blinds. I remembered my dream in its entirety and tears found their best path down either cheek. I wasn’t trying to cry; the tears just came forth without effort. I find that these tears, the joyful ones, come unexpectedly and are welcomed.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Collage

***I tried here to take pieces of other works to make one complete scene. This is what I came up with.***

What I recall isn’t pain but a sense of jarring reversal, as of all motion, sound, and light encountering their massive opposites. I felt grass and dirt against my cheek, and sorrow that Dad was shot, and confusion that I couldn’t reach him. (1)

As I saw the last blue line of my native land fade away like a cloud in the horizon, it seemed as if I had closed one volume of the world and its concerns, and had time for meditation before I opened another. (2)

I shut my eyes, the old morte settled its grip, and the next country gathered itself under my feet. (1)

The grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise. (3)

I waded ashore with measureless relief. The bank was an even slope of waving knee-high grasses and I came up into them and turned to look back. It was a wide river, mistakable for a lake or even an ocean unless you’d been wading and knew its current. Somehow I’d crossed it and somehow was unsurprised at having done so. (1)

There came into view a man, or so it seemed. (4) He had a blue coat and a long brown beard; his eyes were blue and bright, and his face was red as a ripe apple, but creased into a hundred wrinkles of laughter. In his hands he carried on a large leaf as on a tray a small pile of white water-lilies. (4)

“This is what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living.” (5)

The words uttered by the person without, affected me as somewhat singular, but what chiefly rendered them remarkable was the tone that accompanied them. It was wholly new. I cannot pretend to communicate the impression that was made upon me by these accents or to depict the degree in which force and sweetness were blended in them. They were articulated with a distinctness that was unexampled in my experience. But this was not all. (6)

“We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (7)

It (the words) imparted to me an emotion altogether involuntary and uncontrollable. When he uttered the words my heart overflowed with sympathy and my eyes with unbidden tears. (6)

He sat down on a rock and swung his feet in a stream – it was deep and swift; it would take him in a moment. I seized his arm.

Please, I said.

Soon, he replied, which makes better sense under the rules of that country than ours. Very soon! He added, clasping my hands; then unable to keep from laughing, he pushed off from the rock like a boy going for the first cold swim of spring; and the current got him. (1)

Is there a single person on whom I can press belief?

No sir.

All I can do is say, Here’s how it went. Here’s what I saw.

I’ve been there and am going back.

Make of it what you will. (1)

(1) Enger, Leif. Peace Like a River. Atlantic Monthly: New York, 2001.
(2) Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories. Penguin: New York, 1978.
(3) Tolkien, J.R.R. Return of the King. Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1955.
(4) Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1954.
(5) Lewis, C.S. The Great Divorce. Harper: San Francisco, 1946.
(6) Brown, Charles Brockden. Wieland. Oxford: New York, 1994.
(7) Hebrews 6:12. The Bible.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Unanswered Moans

I have to vent my frustration once again...non-traditional students. I am not prejudice against non-trads but the ones that are very proud and vocal about their lives prior to their undergraduate studies make me want to yell.

I will give you the good news first. Tim is a non-trad in my creative writing class. Tim is easy to talk to, easy to work with, and it is easy to share personal work with him. I am sure there are many things Tim has experienced that I have not, but he isn't boastful about them. He doesn't have a superiority complex because he is twice my age. His demeanor makes me respect Tim more than I would respect a Tim that feels obligated to enlighten my poor, unfortunate life with his vast knowledge of the world and experience. Props to Tim.

Enter the complete opposite of Tim, a nameless forty-something woman in my philosophy class. She is always the first to class and often I am the second. Now it took me two classes to know I shouldn't talk to this lady because she would just keep on babbling long past the required response, in hopes that I would collapse to my knees and praise her for her wisdom. Alright, back to the point that I got to class second. I walk into class and act busy immediately. I avoid all eye contact. I don't say "Hi" because I knew even that will set her off like C4. I usually stuff my head in a book and don't look up until I am not the only possible victim in the room. Other students, are not so smart. They come in looking for a good conversation. They are enjoying their morning, why not start it off with a friendly conversation with this adult in their class. An innocent, "Hi, how are you?" comes out of their mouth. They anticipate a good and brief response. Five minutes later, they are wondering how they lost track of that good morning at right about the point they decided to open their mouths. They know now, never to make a welcoming gesture, or to say a happy word to this woman, but they have suffered the pain of her words and will be forever scarred.

And what is with the very loud obnoxious sighs that she makes once I enter the room? I know she doesn't make these noises when she is the only one in the room. I should wait outside the door some morning and listen for the sighs when she is the only occupant. I bet no sighs, grunts, or moans would come out of her. It's as if she doesn't know how to spark conversation with younger generations so she tries to get a rise out of us by making animal noises. This is a good sign that despite her "expertise" and her acquired "wisdom of the world" by not going straight into college after high school (or most likely flunking out the first few attempts), still haven't taught her any communication skills.

So, that was the bad news if you couldn't tell. My appreciation goes out to all the non-trads that humbly keep their wisdom and experience to themselves, except when they are prompted to share about it--which, most of the time, the prompting comes from younger generations who recognize them as an elder to respect.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Wal-Mart's Knocking

I shall express my malcontent with Walmart. The frustration runs deep. I came to Laramie with a strong distaste for the store. Laramie is proof of the monopoly that store has on our lives. It doesn't just affect those that choose to call Walmart their home for every service, trinket, or gallon of milk.

As long as I have known Walmart a horrible smell has accompanied that memory. The store is never clean. The buzzing, white tube lighting overhead makes the brown and black grime patches on the floor stick out. Is it a requirement to look like death warmed over before you shop in Walmart? I know it isn't now, but seriously, before I came to Laramie for school the answer was a decisive, YES!

People rely too much on this store. Could they sacrifice ten dollars a month and shop elsewhere? It's tru that some can't sacrifice any amount, but are they really saving more at Walmart? Certainly, not their dignity. Walmart sucks you in with their despicable motto, "Always Low Prices. Always." This comforts the average consumer. They think Walmart will always be cheaper and it will always have more variety because it is a "Supercenter", and super implies superiority, so let us act upon that as consumers and never go to another store for the rest of our lives.

After all this ranting and raving I will enter a guilty plea. I do shop at Walmart when I need to. I love supporting Safeway and Albertsons, but every so often I will buy something at Walmart because I am in Laramie--there is no other choice. I take pride in the fact that I haven't been to a Walmart outside of the Supercenter in Laramie for over two years. And after I am exported, following my graduation, just like the rest of the students at the University of Wyoming (Wyoming's greatest export), I plan on never stepping foot inside another Walmart store again.

So I close with Walmart's new mantra, Walmart, Always White Trash. Always.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


*All names, events, and places are purely coincidental. This story isn't based on true events.*

The dark street lit up with an arrow of white-blue light. A boy bounded from the couch and raced to the garage. He didn’t have to see the car to know who it was. It was his dad’s car and those headlights, imported from Japan, had a welcoming glow.

A silver Honda Civic droned into the garage, its front bumper barely above the pavement. The boy could barely see his dad over the large scoop in the hood that faced the windshield. All the boy could make out was his dad’s slicked back hair with his silver sunglasses resting on his head. His hair was silver too. Everything was silver.

The driver’s side door opened and Dean climbed out of the Civic. He had naturally pink skin and painting in the sun all day didn’t help Dean’s skin look better. Two outcroppings of slightly pinker skin encircled his eyes where the Oakley sunglasses had been. The white Billabong t-shirt had a montage of paint splatters that the boy would often reach up and touch when he hugged his father. The splatters dried stiff and they were a precise record of how long Dean had been painting in that same shirt.

“What are you doing up at this hour, kid?” Dean said.

“Waiting for you,” the boy said.

Dean gave a slight smile. He knew the boy paid no attention to his bedtime because his mother wasn’t home yet. He would reward him for his disobedience.

“What do you say we go cruise Main?”

The boy examined his father up and down. He couldn’t believe his dad had just asked him to go cruising. For as long as he could remember, the boy had watched his father’s friends come over for a night of cruising. His father’s friends had nice cars too, but everyone came here because his dad’s car was the best. It was the holy grail of street racers. Some would say, “Why it’s only a ’96 Honda Civic,” but the boy knew that the model and year didn’t matter. His dad’s magic is what made it fast. He knew more about the car than the builders themselves, and could drive it better than anyone else. Never in his wildest imagination had the boy thought the day would come when he got to see his dad race, actually be in the car with him.

Races would come and go with Dean’s friends, but races for Dean were a test of manhood. They weren’t to be taken lightly.

“You’ll have to be real still and real quiet when it is time for Dad to go, okay?”

The silver glow of the car had hypnotized the boy. He imagined it revving up past redline and shifting into gear, the tires smoking because his dad gave it so much power.

“Levi? You listening, kid?”

“Yeah, yeah. Sorry ‘bout that. I’ll be real quiet, real still,” Levi answered.

“Okay, good. Now you just wait in the car. I will be back in a moment.”

Levi noticed the faint smell of smoke as he climbed into the car. His dad didn’t smoke, but his friends often got a cigarette by his dad long enough to light up and get a few puffs before his dad would throw it out the window.

The interior of the car was silver. The dash had been black, but it didn’t match so Dean found a silver dash at an online auto parts dealer. Levi’s younger brother had been in Dean’s car more than him, but certainly not when Dean was racing. Eli’s child seat was in the small, worthless backseat. Eli’s seat was the only thing dirty about the car. Not even a small pebble carried in the tread of someone’s shoe had found its way to the floor-mats. The seats were wiped down with a leather-protecting polish, and Dean used Windex on the face of his stereo and the heads-up displays.

Levi could now barely see out of the car because of the scoop in the hood. A large sticker that ran the width of the windshield narrowed the view out the windshield even more. Levi could see just a strip of his dad’s shirt, as he walked over to get in the Civic.

“Ready to go?” Dean inquired.

Dean changed into a white t-shirt that wasn’t splattered with paint, and jean shorts. This was dress-up for Dean. Any article of clothing without paint on it was fancy.

“Let’s go,” Levi replied, trying to hide his excitement and wonder at the site of his Dad at the steering wheel of this car.

Main Street was flooded with cruisers on Saturday night. Oncoming cars sped by with low or high-pitched hums, depending on what kind of engine and exhaust. Dean’s car had a rhythmic, high-pitched sound. The sound was a cross between a weed-whacker and a lawnmower.

Dean had taken the shocks off and this made the ride a little bumpier, but it had made the Civic look much sleeker than before. It was a streamlined car now, ready to take on any cruiser in its path.

Dean weaved in and out of traffic to come even with a green Honda Prelude. Levi had never seen his Dad move so fast in the car. It was as though Dean was now part of the machine. He moved in indescribable efficiency. The light ahead turned yellow and then red. Main Street was a four-lane road and the Civic and Prelude were now the first cars stopped at the intersection.

The driver of the Prelude was in his twenties. The Prelude was a present from his parents for getting his GED. He didn’t know how to become one with his car, and that is why the race was over before it started.

Dean revved the Civic to get it warmed up for the quarter-mile sprint. The Prelude answered back. The light turned green. Levi was thrown against the back of his seat. He had been waiting for this moment for so long and was able to slow everything down to take it all in.

Dean’s eyes were bent on the street ahead and nothing else. The sinews of his muscles tightened on the wheel. He knew how to shift by the sound of the car because Levi never saw his eyes shift as they sped off the line. The tires shrieked and left a streak of black on the asphalt behind them. As Dean shifted into second, the Civic’s turbo kicked in. Air was injected into the car and it hissed for a brief second. Dean was only in second gear as long as it took him to shift to third. The car exploded forward and the streetlights blurred by.

Levi looked right to see the Prelude, but it wasn’t there. It had fallen back far enough that Levi could only see its low profile in the rearview mirror. The quarter-mile mark was a couple seconds away and the Prelude was in too big a hole to make a comeback now.

“That fool had nothing. Look at him…way back there,” Dean exclaimed.

The apprentice had succumbed to the master once again. Levi didn’t think it was possible to be as good with a car as his Dad was. Dean had molded into the Civic for the fifteen seconds the quarter-mile usually took. Levi felt like he was in the car by himself during the race. Dean wasn’t human, he was the car.

“You like that, kid?”

“Thanks so much, dad!” Levi’s smile spread across his face.

“Maybe we will make this a habit now.”

“I’d like that.”

The white-blue light flooded the garage as the Civic came to a stop. The engine hissed as Dean turned the car off. The tires were still warm from the race and Levi could feel the heat rising from the floor as he made his way out of the car.

Levi felt like he had been on a magic carpet ride for the past hour and was still staring at the car when Dean called to him from the door of the house, “You coming, kid?”

Levi didn’t answer and ran to his father.

“You think I could drive that car like you someday, Dad?”

Dean watched the garage door close and shroud the car in darkness until the next race called its driver back to the streets.

“Maybe, kid. Maybe.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Apartment 504

*A note. All names, events, and places are purely coincidental and aren't based on real events.*

The noise rolled up through the walls and threatened to shake the picture frames off the coffee table. The wood floor vibrated and made my feet tingle the rest of the day. I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t know what to do about the band practices going on in the apartment below me. My once beautiful and open apartment now seemed cluttered and choppy. It was the noise. The abrupt changes of beats from the drums, the bass guitar, and the screeching (or was that singing?) changed everything.

* * *
I wasn’t a feng shui expert, but my furniture made good use of the space available in my one-bedroom apartment. The couches’ low backs didn’t divide the living room into sections. My desk, with books and a laptop, had a low profile and hid in the corner where I had just bought a plasma television to mount on the wall. I was very proud of the whole layout and I called my parents to thank them for finding the apartment for me. I had been so busy with job applications that the time to search for housing was out of the question and my parents took it upon themselves to find a nice, but inexpensive residence in Newark. I was hoping for something closer to Manhattan and specifically not in New Jersey, but it was a sacrifice I had to make because living in Manhattan would mean much more expensive housing.

When I moved in, I noticed the apartment below was vacant, and hoped a pretty young lady would take it. Perhaps she would commute to Manhattan with me when I found a job there.

After I finished my job searching for the day I knocked on the door of the empty apartment. I held my breath as I anticipated the sight of my beautiful neighbor, but no one came. I was beginning to fear it would be vacant until I upgraded to a Manhattan studio apartment.

It was a Sunday afternoon. I started climbing the stairs to my sixth floor apartment. As I approached the fifth floor door right below mine, I heard a noise from inside. It grew louder with each step and I knew that my wish hadn’t come true. There couldn’t have been a pretty young lady in that apartment making that earsplitting racket. I stopped at the door and stared at its dull green paint job. My hopes for a neighbor had been dashed away in a matter of stairs and I dreaded what lay beyond that fifth floor door – the source of that noise.

I slammed the door behind me but it couldn’t be heard. The disturbance from beneath my wood floor muffled all other noise. I wasn’t and am still not the expert on rock music, but I knew by the time I reached my door that a rock band, or at least one member of the band, was now living below me. I thought to myself, I need a job fast, and a well-paying one. Newark can be home to the lower people in life, the rock bands. People with the loftier goals can move to the city.

Sleep didn’t visit me that evening. The band played through the night. Even in my room, where I wasn’t directly over the guitar, drums, and amplifiers, I heard every chord. I lay there with my eyes closed. Why did people have to do this during the night? I made a pact with myself that if I didn’t sleep at all the next night I would visit Apartment 504. I would ask them as politely as possible to practice some other time, maybe during the day. I was sure that wouldn’t be much of a problem for the band. I mean, it wasn’t as if they would have day jobs.

Still, I was without sleep twenty-four hours later. I dressed for the big introduction and kept imagining the person who would open the door. I had heard mostly yells from below the last two nights and feared what kind of body housed the vocal cords that could make such noises. The vocals in the band’s songs were raspy and loud. The voice carried notes, but in the form of shrieking. This was a discovery for me. I didn’t know the human voice was capable of such horrendous noise. I wore jeans and black leather shoes with a pea coat. I hoped that my clothing wasn’t too preppy or would somehow intimidate the neighbor into a position of inferiority. Naturally, my apartment cost more because I lived higher up, not that I had a great view of Newark, but I had a sense of pride that no one lived above me. I took a cautious approach to Apartment 504 because I was going to suggest a change in their daily schedule for my convenience and I didn’t want to come off as arrogant.

The drab green door stared back at me. I was now ready to say what I had to say. I had played through the conversation in my mind and it was going to go smoothly after some small talk and introductions. I knocked. There was no answer. I put my ear to the door and listened for even the faintest sound of the guitar. Maybe they were playing acoustic in there for a change. I leaned harder into the door. My right ear smashed into the door and engulfed the peep hole.

Someone yanked the door open and I almost fell into the entryway. Just in time, I grabbed the door jam with both hands and managed to stay upright. At least I had kept an embarrassing scene from becoming worse.

“Can I help you?” A man asked me before I saw him.

I was repositioning myself and fixing my coat, which had been shifted on my body in the attempt to rescue myself from complete humiliation. I looked at a man who was 6’5” and probably weighed 250 pounds. I could tell he was strong, but not chiseled like a body-builder. He wore holed jeans with Converse Chuck Taylor low-tops. His tight black shirt stretched across his chest and the words, “The Sex Pistols”, were barely readable. He had a protrusion of metal coming out of his chin. I had only seen this piercing on MTV a few times and thought it was so animalistic. His face was stern. There was no moustache or beard present except enormous sideburn chops coming to a point on either side of his mouth. His hair was buzzed short and he had a mohawk. It was a subtle mohawk, if there is such a thing.

“Uh, yes sir. I wanted to introduce myself. I am from Apartment 604, the one right above you. My name is Brent.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Craig.”

“Sorry if I seemed to be snooping around. I was trying to hear if anyone was home.” I made eye contact and was surprised to see welcoming blue eyes that weren’t glaring with anger as I had imagined them to be.

“Oh that’s all right. I was just cooking up some breakfast. Everyone else is asleep.”

I was trying to nonchalantly peer around his mass to get a view of the entryway. I saw a bunch of cords wrapped in electrical tape running through the hallway from the bedroom to the great room. The light from the window reflected off of the wood floor, making the dirt visible. By the look of Craig I would expect more dirt on the floor, but the entryway was almost as clean as mine.

“Brent?” Craig asked.

“Sorry. Excuse me Craig, but did you say everyone?”

“Yes, I did. There are four of us. We’re all in a band and needed someplace to stay before we move to New York. We are trying to make it big and get some gigs going that will give us more than enough money to get us through the night.”

“I see. And does your band have a name?”

A wave of mercy came over me and I suddenly felt sorry for these four guys. They were just trying to make a living and I selfishly wanted to change their daily schedule so it would improve mine. I felt intimidated by Craig’s presence and was not ready to suggest that they practice some other time.

“We go by Damrosch.”

“Well, good luck with the gigs…Damrosch,” I squeaked out. I can’t believe I said that. I didn’t even mean it, but was too scared to say anything about the sleep deprivation that was clearly visible in my bloodshot eyes.

“Thanks man. I’ll let you know what happens.” Craig turned and shut the door. The sight of the door made me forget about the surprisingly nice tenant who lived behind it. The music came rushing back – the screams, yells, and violent guitar.

I spent the rest of the day strolling around Manhattan. I hoped to find a job writing short, one paragraph product descriptions for one of the big department stores’ catalogs. The distraction of Damrosch’s music hindered my job-searching enthusiasm. The rock of Damrosch came with me wherever I went.

The bass drum had vibrated a picture frame off the wall in my entryway while I was away. I picked it up. It was a picture of my parents and me on Fifth Avenue. They had come out to help move me in and we had taken a day off and gone into the city to gawk at the canyon of skyscrapers in the heart of New York City. I opened the closet to the right of the front door, grabbed the broom and swept up the glass. Damrosch was playing as I swept and the glass shards bounced across the floor with the vibrations that thundered from beneath.

After the third consecutive night without sleep I couldn’t even move the next morning. I tried to sleep during the day but the thumping was in my head. The bass drum would constantly strike, even when the neighbors weren’t playing. I had never experienced a migraine until now. It came with the drums. I spent that day hiding from light. I pinned a dark blue fleece blanket over the curtains in my room to snuff what ever light had managed to leak through the curtains. I took a body pillow from my bed, stuffing the edges of it between the base of the door and the floor. It was pitch black; I stumbled back to my bed and hit my nightstand. The stand was the cheapest piece of furniture in my apartment. I had bought it at a garage sale before I left for Newark. It had three legs, but one leg was significantly shorter than the rest. I sat down as slowly as possible into my bed. My brain felt like it would burst forth from my head any minute. I groped for my water in the dark; I found it along with a bottle of ibuprofen. I took four of them. As I lay there, I couldn’t distinguish anymore between the echoes of Damrosch’s music in my head and the live music below my apartment. They molded together and synchronized in my head. I was accepting the noise, that was when I was able to sleep.

My migraine was gone the following morning. I had slept through the rest of the day and that night. I had fallen asleep around four in the afternoon. I had sixteen remarkable hours of sleep. There were no guitar chords echoing through my apartment when I pulled the body pillow away and opened the door. Damrosch must have been taking a break from their noisemaking. It didn’t ever sound like playing. For me, the goal of Damrosch’s music was to make noise, and they were damn good at it.
I had some luck that day with the job searching. I had applied at Macy’s and given them some samples of my writing. They called for an interview later that day. It was set for three in the afternoon. I spent the morning cleaning the apartment. I had denied any effort to clean the last couple of days because I couldn’t find the motivation. It is so useless to clean when vibrations are bound to knock more objects off of desks and tables. I found some sticky tack in a drawer of my desk and thought it would be of great use. College graduates didn’t have to sticky tack their posters to walls anymore. Graduates trying to make a living needed to mount their framed posters by nail, hammer, and level. This was another step toward sophistication.

The sticky tack held pictures to tables and my computer speakers to my desk. I even put a piece in every corner of the laptop. The computer was fairly heavy but my paranoia about the powers emanating from below my apartment pushed me to extremes. I was so sick of picking up the same books off of the floor that I stuck them to the shelf in the bookcase. The books were old and dusty anyway, left over from some obscure college course because the bookstore refused to buy them back. I also remounted my plasma television on deep hooks so even an earthquake couldn’t send it from the wall.

My apartment was Damrosch proof. However, my mind wasn’t. The time came for my interview but I had another awful migraine. I ended up having to excuse myself mid-interview and that surely sealed the deal that I wouldn’t get the job at Macy’s. I didn’t even notice the guitar riffs when I came back to my apartment. The real ones just melded into the guitar already playing in my head and caused me to hole up in my cave with some more ibuprofen.

I slept again and woke up right before sunrise. Damrosch was still playing, but now I wanted to hear more of their music, it had made me lethargic before, but now it was energizing me. I took down the blanket and opened the window. There was an escape ladder right outside the window with small platforms at each floor. I slowly stepped out of my window and set my feet down on the platform outside the window sill. The platform and steps of the ladder were rusted red. I didn’t want to trust the metal with my whole weight. I was fearful of the platforms ability to support even my flimsy body. I bent my head to hear the music. The noise was coming out their open windows and bouncing off of the brick wall facing the building and up to my perch. After all this time listening to the music I couldn’t decipher the words in any of the songs. If the words were sung and not yelled, that would make the difference. There were parts of one particular song that I did enjoy. The drums died down and so did the shrieking while the guitar player lit up the amplifier with an impressive solo. It started slowly and built to a climax. Its rhythm always thrilled me, but it would be drowned out by the drums bursting forth from the silence. I tried many times to pick apart the drums so I could hear the guitar, but it was too hard. The noise began to irritate me, it wasn’t as muffled outside, and so I slipped through the window into the dim apartment. However, I was thankful for the timing of my rest on the windowsill, so I could hear the guitar solo that I enjoyed since Damrosch moved in.

I walked into the living room and felt imprisoned. The room didn’t flow like it used to. The edges of the room and furniture were sharp. The lines of objects ended suddenly, much like the songs, and then they would start up out of nowhere again to disturb the peace. I wanted to rearrange the furniture but knew that this was the best possible layout. I had drawn up all the layouts and chosen this one because it made the most use out of the least amount of space, but now the walls seemed to lean in on all sides. Perhaps the beats of Damrosch’s music were caught up in the walls like they were caught up in my head and they were about to explode onto the room, rearranging the furniture in the loudest formation possible – the way Damrosch would arrange furniture.

The next morning I woke up from sleep that wasn’t induced by a load of ibuprofen and a migraine. Damrosch kept playing through the night, but how could I tell? They were always playing in my mind. There would be no job searching that day. I needed some rest and hoped that I would be able to get back on the same daily routine now that I could sleep to Damrosch’s music. Lunch was New York style pizza in New Jersey. On my way back to the apartment I saw a moving truck out front. I remember thinking maybe someone would move in on my floor. We could help one another cope with the monotonous chords of Apartment 504. I tore up the stairs hoping to find a pretty young lady in the empty Apartment 606, but I halted at the fifth floor. The door to Craig’s apartment was open and there were boxes stacked six feet high. I took a few more steps and Craig came around the corner of the entryway and out the door with a box in each arm.

“Hey Craig. Are you moving out?” I said.

A low grunt came out of Craig as he set the boxes down and he rose with a smile, “Yes, we are. We finally got a permanent gig in the city and we are headed there. The housing is going to be steep, but we will get by.”

I couldn’t believe it. Just when I was learning to live with Damrosch’s music, they were moving out. Now my thoughts were focused on the future of my life in Apartment 604.

“So no more late night practice sessions?”

“Nope. Why? Were we keeping you up?” He chuckled.

“Ah, are you kidding me? No. No. No.” I smirked and doubted my ability to lie.

“Great. I was worried about the other people in this building and the next.”

“It was fine. Do you need any help?”

“Nope, the rest of the guys will get the last stuff. Thanks anyway.”

“Yeah, no problem. Maybe I will see you around in New York.”

“Maybe, talk with you later.” He heaved up the boxes and lumbered down the stairs in his Chuck T’s.

When I got into my apartment I felt as though Damrosch was still below me playing. The only thing that was missing was the vibrations moving through the floor and the walls. The sticky tack was the first stuff to go. It didn’t bother me that it was holding my pictures down. However, the tack was simply unnecessary with Damrosch gone. I swept the floor and picked up some papers that had been drummed off of my desk. Lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling, I fell asleep to the guitar riff I was going to miss.

I woke up with the worst headache yet and stumbled around with my eyes closed until I found some ibuprofen. This headache had come on instantly, much like earlier versions when Damrosch would start up another concert in their living room. A couple hours had passed and the ibuprofen still wasn’t working. I made my room as dark as possible again, remaining on the brink of sleep throughout the day and night. Movement hurt and I only got out of bed for the bathroom, where I would also fill up my water bottle. I might have slept some during the night, maybe an hour, before I came out into the living room. I wore my Oakley sunglasses to reduce the throbbing pain brought on by the light. The beige curtains in the room didn’t do a great job blocking out the morning rays.

The bowl of Frosted Flakes was hard to keep down that morning and it was hard enough to eat. The light burned my sleepy eyes so badly I couldn’t see my cereal bowl. I managed to find my spoon and take a few mouthfuls of Frosted Flakes, but I couldn’t finish them. I felt sick. My headache was different; it was brought on by the lack of Damrosch’s music, not because of it. I was now certain this was the cause of my pain. I knew I had started to get more used to the constant noise. The music may have been continuous, but I had some of the best nights of sleep and my headaches were beginning to be rare. If Damrosch were here now, maybe the headaches would be dying off completely. If I kept on living in my apartment without Damrosch below me my headaches might eventually go away, but how long would that take? I didn’t have the time to take a week off from job searching. I needed to be rested and sane to even have a shot at an interview. I wondered where Damrosch would have moved. Certainly, they were some place that was cheap, but closer to their work. I didn’t have Craig’s last name though. I didn’t even know the other band members. I thought that it would be impossible to track down Damrosch and even harder to move in above them, but that was my best shot at getting rid of the migraines. The housing wouldn’t be as nice and the rent would be more, but this move had the power to open windows. I wouldn’t have headaches. I would be able to sleep. And I would be closer to a potential job in New York City.

I walked down to the fifth floor and stared at the doors. Craig had to have befriended someone on the floor. He turned out to be a nice guy and it was possible that he had given someone his new address. I tried Apartment 502. My memory served me right, my other neighbor, Adam, answered the door. I hadn’t spoken with Adam much since I had moved in. There was an occasional “hello” and “how you doing?” but nothing serious. I used to hear Adam’s surround sound when he watched movies but all other noise was drowned out when Damrosch moved in. He answered the door in gray plaid pajamas and a white t-shirt. I had woken him up by the look of his hair.

“Hey Adam, I have a weird question for you.”

“Alright, go ahead.” He looked puzzled.

“It’s nothing bad, don’t worry. Did you know Craig, next door?”

“Yah, nice guy. His music was a little loud but I learned to deal. They moved out yesterday.”

“I know. Would you by chance have their new address?”

“Let me check. I wasn’t here when they left but I think Craig slid it under my door with a note.” Adam walked back to a small stand inside his entryway and picked up a slip of paper. “Here it is.”

I read it, Northwest Corner of North 10th St. and Berry St., Apartment # 301. It was hard to tell if it was 10th or 11th Street. Craig had drawn a vertical line right through the zero. “Thanks a lot Adam. Have a good day.”

“You all right, man? You look like you haven’t slept in a few days.”

“A couple. I am fine. I just need to get out of here.” I walked away quickly hoping Adam wouldn’t inquire as to why I needed to leave – he didn’t.

So, there were two possibilities. I wished that there weren’t apartment buildings on the corner of 10th and Berry and 11th and Berry, but I wasn’t that lucky. There were two apartment buildings, nearly identical, and they both had Apartment #301. I knew it would weird Craig out if I knocked on his door and told him I am his new neighbor, but I was willing to take that risk to get my daily dose of Damrosch back. I tried 11th and Berry first without any luck. No one came to the door. The apartment building at 10th and Berry was similar to mine in Newark. Its staircase wound up in a big circle and Apartment 301 was in the middle of a flight of stairs on a landing that was not much bigger than two doormats. I didn’t even have to knock. I heard Craig’s shrieks coming from inside and I knew I had found the place. The bass drum was hitting hard, the energy from that guitar solo was back, and the bass guitar thumped. I didn’t have to spook Craig out by telling him I followed his band to another city to live above them.

I contacted the real estate agency and couldn’t believe my lucky streak. Apartment 401 was vacant and I told them I would move in that day. I didn’t have much to move. Adam was willing to help me move the sofas and the bed with his pickup truck and I thanked him a number of times. As I took load after load up the stairs I heard Damrosch’s rock blasting through Apartment 301. The Newark apartment was twice as large as the new one, but I was all about sacrifice. Adam helped haul the couches up the stairs and I gave him a twenty as a thank you. I wanted to spare more, but this place almost cost twice as much as Apartment 604. My headache had begun to taper off when I arrived and by the time Adam left it was gone.

The arrangement of my furniture wasn’t such a big dilemma this time. There was barely room for it all. I put everything up against the wall and created as much open space in the middle of the room as possible. I finished unpacking in a few hours and sat down on the sofa. I was completely relaxed and ready to start my job searches tomorrow. Damrosch’s music shot up from the floor and my ears ate the noise up. There was something weird about the floor. My feet didn’t feel any vibrations. I looked at the pictures on my coffee table and they weren’t shifting at all from the bass drum. I was no longer able to see the dirt on the floor bounce to the music. There was something different about this Damrosch. The ear splitting sound was there but the force that shook everything on the same block was gone. It might have never been here. I didn’t pay any attention to feel the walls or the floor for the vibrations of their playing earlier. I was too pleased to hear their music again. I was positive Damrosch was playing so I had to go see for myself.

I visited the apartment right below me and could hear them playing inside. It was deafening. I pounded the door with my fist because I knew it would take something awful to be heard inside that noise box. Damrosch kept on playing and they were playing my favorite song with the guitar riff. I stood at the door and didn’t knock until the drums had overpowered the artistic expression of the guitarist. This time the door opened. It was a woman. She was probably in her mid-twenties. She wore a lot of black make-up but it didn’t hide her beauty.

“Can I help you?” I couldn’t hear her over the music.

“What? I can’t hear you,” I yelled.

She didn’t answer, turned around and ran into her apartment. The music stopped. It didn’t gradually die down like it was live. It stopped like it was a CD. I realized then that Damrosch didn’t live here. I was hearing their music, I wasn’t hearing them playing. Whoever this girl was, she was playing Damrosch’s music as loud as they used to practice it. This would explain the lack of vibrations. The sound was present in my apartment, but not the energy, the force that made the building shake violently.

“Hello, can I help you?” The woman asked.

She caught me daydreaming about the band she was listening to.

“Sorry. I thought someone else lived here.”

“Nope, it’s only me. And your name is?”

“I’m Brent.”

“I’m Cassy. It’s nice to meet you.”

“I just moved in upstairs, right above you.”

“Would you like to come in for a minute? Have a drink maybe?”

“Uh, sure.” I felt uncomfortable but she was being the nice neighbor and inviting the new kid on the block in for a drink.

I followed her into the apartment. It was identical to mine and she had her furniture backed up against the wall too. One wall had an enormous bookcase with a television, CDs, books, and her stereo. Cassy pressed play on the CD player and turned the volume down.

“Sorry the music was so loud. I really like this band.”

“Who are they?” I played innocent.

“A new band from Jersey. They’re called Damrosch. Have you ever heard of them?”

“No, but I like their sound from what I have heard so far.”

It’s true. Their sound had grown on me and I discovered after they left that I couldn’t live without it, I had mistakenly followed it here. Cassy wasn’t Damrosch. Her Damrosch CD didn’t shake my apartment and knock picture frames off the wall, but it was the same sound. I hoped that the sound would be enough for me and that I didn’t need the vibrations of the live music to rid me of the headaches. I was willing to give up the live music to live near Cassy. I was sure I could adapt to living with just the music and not the presence of the actual band living below me.
Cassy was a pretty young lady, and I was all about sacrifice.

The Reason

In high school I was the Sunday custodian at the church, where my dad was the preacher. I held this job for two years and learned a lot. Being the custodian and the PK offered an awesome sideline seat to watch the Christian church unfold before me. I will never forget it.

If I ever have the time to write a book about those early mornings with nobody in the church, but God and I, and those awkward confrontations with church members who I had never seen but who knew all about me, I will name it Six Hours on Sunday. In the meantime, I will use the name as my first blog.

Postings will be up soon.