Where Did I Go Wrong? – 14: Healthy Eating

I’m a bad eater. As a child I was a legendarily picky eater, and as an adult I’m only mildly better. I went through phases in my younger years where I would ONLY eat Cheer-ios, or ONLY eat hot-dogs, but the hot-dogs had to be in a piece of white bread, not a bun. I’ve never been good at eating vegetables and fruits. I’m not a big fan of my food mixing on my plate. I don’t like pizza for this reason.

As I got older I tried to expand my palate. I didn’t do this out of a desire to be healthy, but so that getting food for me wasn’t such a chore. If someone at work is doing a food run for eight people, you don’t want to be the guy who says “grab me a cheese burger, but with no ketchup, no mayo, double down on the mustard, light on the lettuce, and pickles on the side”. First of all, you’re going to make an enemy of the person getting your food, and secondly they’re going to mess it up.

Even now, when I arrive at a restaurant for the first time I will scrutinize the menu, desperate to find something that I won’t have to change into a special order. It’s not a matter of being ashamed, or scared of drawing attention to myself. It’s much more that I don’t want people to make a fuss over me, and the more complicated you make an order, the more likely someone is going to mess it up.

I’ve gotten to the point where I can eat at almost any kind of restaurant. Most people don’t even realize what an incredibly picky eater I am. On rare occasion I’ll even try new things. A co-worker from Kenya once brought some grilled goat into the workplace and offered it to everyone. True, it took me days to get the noxious and caustic taste of goat out of my mouth, but I tried it.

Now, all of that said, I grill an amazing steak; you should come over and try it sometime. It only took me 28 years of life to finally convince myself to start eating baked potatoes as well. The final determining factor in the Great Baked Potato decision was that anything containing bacon, cheese, and butter HAD to be good. This is one of my core philosophies of life, as you’ll soon see.

But it’s because of this culinary limitation that I so love places that thrive on customization of your order. One of my favourite places to eat is a place near my house called Ritzy’s. Now, this isn’t meant to be an advertisement for the place, but they are incredible. They primarily do burgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, all those things we Americans consider fine cuisine. What they are most famous for though, is their custom salad bar.

They’ve got every topping imaginable, and a couple I’m scared to ask the identity of. They have four different types of lettuce, and dozens of dressings. You can add in strips of chicken, prepared three different ways. Also, the salad bowls are literally the size of your head. I can only ever eat a Ritzy’s salad if I’m starving before I get there. After eating a Ritzy’s salad, I have no need to eat for the rest of the day. This is no exaggeration. I had one today at 1pm, and as I write this it is 2am, and I haven’t eaten anything since, nor am I hungry.

Now these amazing salads don’t come cheap. With a drink, and adding some grilled chicken, they usually come to about $10. However, the owner knows me by now. He seems to think that my name is “Hey film guy, when you gonna put me in your next movie?” (which is a really long and cumbersome name), but he gives me half off everything I order, so he can call me anything he wants. I love this place.

Considering what I’ve told you about my intensely picky habits, you’re probably wondering what sort of things I get on my fabulous salad. By the way, I’d like to point out that fabulous was your word, not mine, but whatever, I don’t judge.

I warn you now: my salad is not for the faint of heart, nor for the slim of waistline. My salad is exactly the same every time I go there, half the time I don’t even have to tell them the ingredients anymore, they just make it for me. I start out with iceberg lettuce, since it is the least nutritional of all the lettuces (it’s important to make sure they don’t accidently sneak any kind of healthiness or nutrition into my salad). I then have them add a few onions, just in case any woman was thinking about possibly making out with me (this is a much bigger punch line than you know; trust me, women everywhere are falling out of their chairs laughing at the mere thought of making out with me). Then comes the exciting part, I demand copious quantities of bacon bits and cheddar cheese. Oh yes. I have made them go in the back to find more bacon and cheese to satisfy my cravings. Then I have them add a mountain of croutons, some grilled chicken (the grilled being the healthiest of the chicken, to delude me into thinking that the pile of bacon and cheese won’t clog up my heart), and drown the whole concoction in a double serving of honey mustard dressing.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, I, Jeff Hillary, have created the world’s unhealthiest salad. I’m tempted to ask them to deep fry it and serve it at the state fair. For those of you who’ve never been to the Texas State Fair, the food from this past year included chicken fried bacon, deep fried beer, and deep fried lard.

Now, I’m ashamed to admit this, but I don’t always manage to finish my meat salad, complete with fresh-made roll. In fact more often than not, I end up leaving half of it behind (these things are HUGE). But on those rare days that I complete the Herculean task of eating a salad I begin to eye the fresh homemade ice cream counter. On those days I know I will be partaking of some chocolate with chocolate chips…yes, I consider every day a war on my body.


Where Did I Go Wrong? – 13: Furry Felines of Furious Fortitude

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Likely after this secret you’ll think less of me, but bear in mind I didn’t have to share this secret with you.

I’m scared of cats.

No, not like cougars and lions. House cats, the ones we pretend to have domesticated. Now, I don’t hate them, but I suffer a literally paralyzing fear of them.

This is the only fear that I have. High spaces, cramped quarters, death, public speaking, these things bother me not at all. Only cats. It is a completely irrational fear, I’m aware. It’s irrational for several reasons.

First, I’m pretty sure I could take a cat in a fight. In fact, I would dare say that I could take MANY cats in a fair fight, even more if I was allowed a baseball bat. So why should I fear that which I can overcome with relative ease?

Second, if somehow the cats got the drop on me and managed to kill me, that’s fine. Now, I’m not suicidal, or even depressed, I just suffer no fear of death. All of us are going to die sooner or later. Some of us may live to a ripe old age and pass away in a hospital with machines violating all of our orifices. Others might die peacefully in their sleep (like my uncle). Still others may die screaming in a horrible car wreck (like the passengers in my uncle’s car). The fact remains, none of us are getting out of this alive, and we may as well enjoy it. That said, why should I be scared of anything if I’m not scared of the termination of my life?

As a brief aside, I did not have an uncle who fell asleep while driving a car, thus dooming him and his passengers to death. I didn’t even come up with the joke in the first place. I apologize for misleading you and promise not to do it again.

Third, I don’t fear the big cats (the aforementioned cougars and lions as examples). Now if you locked me in a cage with one, I’d be a little apprehensive perhaps, cautious even, but ultimately I’d prefer it to being in a room with a house cat.

Lastly, I am not scared of kittens. Seriously, itty bitty kittens are adorable. How can you not love them and want to play with them? Now please someone explain to me how my brain decides not to be scared of something until it reaches a certain age, and then it’s terrifying?

I don’t care if your cat weighs 500 pounds and is essentially a sofa that never moves. I don’t care if it’s the sweetest, gentlest cat in the world. I don’t care if “he’s like a dog really”. If it’s a cat, I fear it deeply. I sometimes have nightmares about a demon cat trying to kill me. I never have anything but pillows to hold it off with. I never win the fight, I just keep trying to hold it off until I wake up.

I can’t even say for sure how this fear began. My best guess is when I was attacked by my babysitter’s cat at a very young age. He was supposedly the nicest and sweetest cat in the neighborhood, until I went to pet him. Now I swear to you, I did nothing but attempt to pet the cat. I wasn’t trying to hit it, taunt it, abuse it, frighten it, molest it, or rape it. I went to pet the cat, and was clawed. Even today I can see the scar (although it’s so faint I don’t show it to anyone out of embarrassment).

Another source might have been the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I watched it several times as a kid, and just rewatched it as an adult. The cat in that movie is terrifying. I think it’s actually the cat that features in my nightmares.

Anyway, this unique fear has caused me to be the subject of scorn and derision on many occasions, as well as putting me in some sticky situations. What follows are a collect of cat stories.

My grandfather had a cat. Nobody liked this cat, but nobody liked my grandfather either, so it worked out pretty well for them. When I would stay at my grandfather’s house I would usually sleep on a couch (until my mid 20’s, when I argued for a right to sleep in one of the 5 bedrooms). The first night I slept there after he got the cat was one that will live with me forever.

I’m suddenly woken up from my slumber to find the cat laying on my chest staring at me. I can not move. I can’t cry out to my sister on the next couch over to help me. I can’t roll over to dislodge the cat. I can not move. As I stare at the cat he very slowly and purposefully closes his eyes and goes to sleep. I spend the next 7 hours staring at the cat. After that night my sister often would help me trap the cat in an empty bedroom before we went to sleep. We made sure it had a nice comfy bed, and we always let it out in the morning.

I’ve NEVER let my fear of cats lead to abusing cats. I have nothing but contempt for anyone who would abuse an animal, especially domesticated ones that have been taught to trust and relay on us. What kind of person can honestly violate that kind of trust?

My friends have always known of my fear, it’s impossible to hide. One day I was invited over to a friend’s apartment. She realized I was terrified of cats, and she had what seemed to be dozens of them. Commando style she herded the cats to one side of the apartment while escorting me into her room. This is when the problem struck. The doors on either side of her bedroom had been modified so as to allow the cats easy passage from one room to another. These weren’t cat-flaps, these were just big squares cut out of the doors. She quickly blocked the squares with plastic tubs. This alerted the cats that something was going down. Suddenly from both sides countless hordes of cats began pawing at the plastic tubs. Plastic SEE-THROUGH tubs. I could WATCH the cats trying to get to me. It was worse than any scene from Aliens, and quite honestly worse than any demon-cat nightmare I’ve ever had. I honestly don’t remember how I got out of that apartment, I think I may have passed out.

My biggest problem with this fear is the paralyzing factor. When I see a cat, especially if I’m not expecting to see one, every muscle in my body freezes, and I can NOT unfreeze them. The best example is when I left my apartment to go to work one day. I locked the door behind me, turned around, and there was a cat on the other side of the hallway. It stared at me, making it very clear it had no intention of moving. I stood there for 30 minutes. At any point I could have reached my hand back about two inches to knock on my apartment door. Daniel would have answered and rescued me. two inches was way too far for frozen muscles. After 30 minutes Daniel did emerge however, as he had work as well. Upon opening the door and seeing me still standing practically in the door frame, he asked “Where’s the cat?” Once he realized I couldn’t respond, the lifted me up and moved me out of the way so that he could shoo off the cat. He was my personal hero that day.

One last story, and of a different sort. A homeless cat had taken up residence in our apartment complex. Daniel and his friend David named is Sirius (they were both astronomers, and thought themselves quite clever naming a cat after the “dog-star”.) Even I would on occasion leave out food for Sirius, but I’d never go near him. One day when I was going to the gas station Sirius quickly rushed in through my open door and curled up by my back window. I was flabbergasted. Part of me just wanted to lock up the car and run away, possibly to another country. I couldn’t do that though, I didn’t want to be responsible for the cat’s death, nor be without my car until it did pass on. I tried to shoo the cat out of my car, but it was very happy where it was. Finally I performed the bravest act of my life. I got in my car. I think I drove about 10 miles per hour to the gas station, watching the cat in my rear view mirror the entire time. Sirius never stirred. Finally when I got back home, he got out. I decided at that point that I had a pet cat. A pet cat that terrified me, and probably secretly wanted me dead.

Later that winter we had a particularly bad cold snap. The temperature got down to the single digits. I told Daniel that we simple could NOT leave Sirius out in that weather. Daniel was a cat lover, but still wasn’t entirely sure about my plan. We had no litter box, and pets were against the apartment code. I finally persuaded him to line the bathroom with newspapers and put the cat in there for the night. True, he’d be locked in a small room all night, but it was going to be better than sleeping in the freezing cold. What happened when I needed to go to the bathroom that night? I didn’t, I held it, like a man, a very very scared little man.

I’ve been working very hard on my fear over the past several years. I’ve even progressed some. If I know there’s going to be a cat, I can move around it….unless it gets close enough to touch me. Even an unexpected cat doesn’t cause me to lock up for more than a few minutes anymore.

I think ultimately there is probably a simple way to cure this fear. Since I don’t fear kittens, all I need to do is raise a cat from a kitten. Seriously, after caring for a living creature for a year or so, I doubt I’ll wake up one day terrified of the thing.

I may even do that someday, but for now I’m sticking with my dog.

Where Did I Go Wrong? – 12: Funeral for a Friend

This story will probably not be terribly amusing, nor is it likely to be all that entertaining. This story must be told because of the stories that preceded it. Over the course of reading these stories we’ve bonded, you and I. Although we may never have met, if you’re this far along in the book, we’re friends. Since we’re friends, I think it’s important to tell you about a mutual friend of ours.

Daniel, who has featured in many stories, and in many ways was the brother I never had, died in July of 2008, he was 27. His death was sudden and a shock to everyone, although it probably shouldn’t have been.

Daniel suffered from diabetes since birth. It was a very severe case, where he had to not only watch his diet, but regularly use medicine to keep his body functioning correctly. It was complications of this diabetes that led to his death, but I’m skipping ahead.

Daniel was my roommate through almost all of college. Even when I briefly moved back in with my parents, I still slept on his couch more often than my own bed. He was always there for me, even when nobody in their sane mind would have been. My battle cry for the longest time was “DANIEL!” to which he would always come running.

Not that I want to paint Daniel as a saintly figure, he wasn’t. Some people would frequently accuse him of being a jerk, which he could take a great amount of joy in being. The last several years of his life he was described by some (myself included) as that old man sitting on his porch yelling at kids to stay off his lawn. He hated talking on the phone, was known to yell at people for cooking steak the wrong way, and was a complete and utter slob.

He was also one of the most loyal friends I’ve ever known.

Daniel was a graduate student in the astronomy department, and he loved teaching. He was a devastatingly bright young man, and that’s part of what made his death so baffling.

In the course of my time living with him, I noticed a pattern. About every 18 months or so, he’d get frustrated with his diabetes. He’d seemingly declare that he would no longer be a slave to his disease. He would eat what he wanted, when he wanted, and would take his medicine irregularly. Every time he did this the result was the same, he ended up in the hospital.

There was one week where I didn’t hear from him at all. Him disappearing over a weekend wasn’t unusual, but when Wednesday came around and he was still gone…that wasn’t normal. His phone was turned off, so on a whim I went to the nearby hospital and asked if he was there. I was promptly directed to his room. As soon as I walked in he said “Oh good, I was about to call you, they just discharged me.” I began yelling at him. Not only had he done this before, but he didn’t even call to tell me where he was. He claimed his cell phone was low on power, and he wanted to save the power for when he was discharged. I yelled at him some more, and he admitted that no, he had failed to think to ask his ROOMMATE to just BRING HIS CHARGER to the hospital.

Daniel was the stupidest smart person I knew. Every time he got out of the hospital, he’d always swear he’d learned his lesson, and then time would prove that he hadn’t. Living with Daniel was occasionally frustrating, and when I finally moved out of his place, I needed some space. I barely saw him the next year.

Finally realizing I missed my friend, I called him up to ask him if he wanted to be in another short film of mine (he’d previously starred in several), he was reluctant, but I badgered him into it. He didn’t sound well, and he told me he was feeling sick. I told him to take care of himself and got off the phone. He died two days later, and I was the last person to talk to him.

I got a call that night from some friends while I was at work. They hadn’t heard from Daniel in a while, and were worried. They had finally convinced the police to break open the door, and he was dead. To this day I still wish more than anything that call was a cruel practical joke.

The biggest problem was that nobody knew where his mother lived. The people who found him gave the wrong last name (she’d been remarried) and wrong city. I knew how to get to her house, but not her number or the actual address. So at 1am I packed my friends up in my vehicle and drove them out to Daniel’s mother’s house, so we could wake her up and tell her that her son was dead. I hope that this night will always stand out as the worst night of my life, because I doubt I could deal with something much worse.

The only part of this story that remains to be told is the funeral itself. Daniel’s mother called me the night before the service to ask me to speak. I had hoped to speak, but finding out the night before? No pressure. Not that I actually bear any kind of grudge, the woman had been through a horrific ordeal, my prep time for a speech was not going to be top of her priority list.

The funeral was PACKED. The entire funeral home was standing room only, from the room itself all the way to the entryway. The physics department of our university rented a bus to ship down students and faculty. People from The Rocky Horror Picture Show arrived in full costume (per Daniel’s mother’s request). As I said when I started my eulogy, when you pack the funeral home to capacity, you won at life.

I don’t care what you think of the afterlife, I really feel like Daniel was with us all that day. First, the funeral director kept calling Daniel by the wrong name. He kept referring to him as David, which was the name of his brother, and also the name of another friend of his who spoke. After getting the name wrong a couple times Leah (who was the leader of Rocky, and basically a Den Mother to us all) stood up and declared “His name is Daniel jackass!” I like to think that Daniel was speaking through her at that moment, except she’s always like that.

The funeral director went on to say all sorts of things about Daniel that proved to us they’d never met; we slowly began to get angry. Our anger quickly turned to sadness when they played the bagpipe version of Amazing Grace, and everyone began crying. I was standing in the back with all my friends when a thought shot through me like a bolt of lightning. I said aloud to those around me “You know, if Daniel’s watching us right now, he’s thinking ‘bunch of pussies’”. That broke the tension, and a wave of laughter spread through the mosh pit. Daniel’s mother turned around to see me in the middle of a giant circle of laughter, and smiled. She absolutely got it.

Now my whole life I’ve used humour as a defense mechanism against life. Whenever things got too much, I would just start laughing. My philosophy has always been that in moments of extreme stress/sorrow/pain/whatever you really only have two options, laugh or cry. I pick laugh every time, it’s not like any of us are getting out of life alive, might as well have a couple chuckles along the way.

This event hit me harder than anything I’d ever encountered. In some ways I doubt I’ll ever fully get over it, but I’ve learned to move on as best I can. When he died there were only two jokes I was capable of making, as distressed as I was. I made them frequently, and to anyone who would listen, and I’ll share them with you now in an attempt to bring something a little uplifting to this whole depressing episode.

The first pertains to the fact that he was reluctant to be in another film of mine. My joke was that he really could have just said no, instead of taking the hard way out.

The second joke had to do with the fact that the funeral home was across the parking lot from a hospital. I postulated that it probably saw a lot of business, since the first rule of business is location, location, location.

I realize they weren’t funny jokes, but it was the first time in my life I didn’t really have anything funny to say.

I suppose if there’s going to be any point to this story at all, beyond simply sharing my grief, it’s the following. Had I known he was going to die, I never would have spent that year away from him. But that’s the point; we never know when something like this could happen. That means it’s extremely important to make sure that the people around us know how we really feel about them. You never know when you’re going to run out of time, you should tell your friends and family NOW how much you love them.

Go ahead, I’ll be here when you get back, I promise.

R.I.P. Daniel, your axe-wielding, underwear-clad antics have touched us all.

R.I.P. Daniel, your axe-wielding, underwear-clad antics have touched us all.

Where Did I Go Wrong? – 11: Insulting Accepting

My parents have always been very open-minded people, and it’s a value they instilled in me from an early age. That’s part of the reason I’ve never been bigoted towards any group in my life. Except furries…furries are disgusting.

Now, growing up wasn’t always easy for me. I always had a hard time fitting in at school. I would demand answers to questions nobody in my grade would ever ask. One particular incident was in the first grade, when I DEMANDED to know the purpose of spending an hour colouring in a picture of a hot air balloon. I seriously wanted to know what impact this was meant to have on my education. I clearly knew how to colour, I knew the names of every colour. I knew what a balloon was. So how was sitting down and colouring one for a while supposed to teach me anything at all?

Now that I’m older, I know about the existence and purpose of busy work. Plus I suppose it’s possible my peers enjoyed the activity. Me, I wanted to be doing something substantive. Finally the teacher became so upset with my obstinacy that she threatened to send me to the Principal. I called her bluff and volunteered to go visit the Principal, stating that perhaps the Principal would be able to answer a simple question.

Yeah, fitting in was never really one of my strong points. And it didn’t get better as I got older. I’ve always had a need to understand things. I want to know why I’m doing something. This was a problem in school, and would have gotten me shot by friendly fire in the military. Mind you, it wasn’t the only problem I had in school, but it’s the only one I feel like sharing with you at the moment.

My parents didn’t really understand why I had such a rough time in school. They tried to come up with a reason. In their defense, they wanted there to be a single reason I had problems so that they could fight it, and help me out. The idea finally dawned on them that maybe I was gay. It would explain why I couldn’t fit in with my peers, and why I always seemed a little out of place.
So sometime in junior high my parents called me into their bedroom, and we had a nice chat. They explained to me that if I was gay, that was ok. They’d still love me and support me, nothing would change, and I should feel free to tell them. Now, being assumed to be gay is a little insulting for any straight guy, but I knew their hearts were in the right place.

Thank goodness all of this happened before I made out with Daniel and saw Gary’s junk, because then I’d have had a lot harder time defending my heterosexuality.

I calmly explained to them that I wasn’t gay, and they said that if I decided that I was, I could tell them anytime. We left it at that.

My parents deny it to this day, but that exact same conversation occurred 4 more times over the next 6 years.
Five times my parents let me know it’d be ok if I was gay. Five times. FIVE! At first it was at least a little endearing, but after five times it began to feel like they really wanted me to be gay. Seriously, I began to feel oddly pressured towards homosexuality by my parents. I’m still the only person I know that has a “coming out as a straight man to my parents” story.

Now, the only thing I can say in their defense is, in college I did join the Gay and Lesbian club at school. My reasons for doing so were fairly simple though. I had dated a girl with a gay brother, and she took me to all of the meetings at her school’s organization. After that I dated a bisexual girl, who took me to some of the meetings at HER school. Couple that with the fact that my Imaginary Friend Russ is gay, and I finally decided to just join the one at my school. I wasn’t the only straight person there, and they were actually a lot of fun to hang out with. Although I will say this, as a straight guy, the worst place to try and pick up chicks is at the Gay and Lesbian club at your high school or college. Seriously, it’s just not worth the frustration.

I was even an officer my last semester there. When I ran for Historian I made a little speech introducing myself. I explained that while I was straight, I didn’t choose to be that way. They voted me in unanimously, although the fact that I was running unopposed helped.

And after all of that exposure, and my parents constantly hounding me with “are you gay yet? How about now?” I did honestly consider whether or not I could be gay. I tried to picture in my head what it would be like to be in a relationship with a guy. I suppose I could get used to holding hands, maybe even cuddling….but it all falls apart when I try to picture kissing a guy. I am 100% straight, but at least I gave it a shot.

Anyway, the final time my parents called me into their room for this little chat, I’d really had enough. Also at this time I was in a very serious relationship with a girl. In fact I was missing quite a bit of class because we were spending so much time in bed.
Finally fed up with this line of questioning, I did what I think very few men have EVER done in their lives. I offered to bring my girlfriend over and allow them to watch us have sex.

Yes it was awkward. No they did not take me up on that offer. But they never brought up the subject ever again.
In retrospect, I suppose I could have just let them look at some of the porn on my computer. Still, it worked. My sexuality has never since been questioned…by my parents.

Where Did I Go Wrong? – 10: The Great Platypus Caper

My friend Kyle and I stole a platypus.

Once again, heavily tempted to let that be the entire chapter, because it’s all downhill from there.

We’re going way back now, earlier than any other story yet told. I’m in high school, and my buddy Daniel has a huge crush on Stacy. As is typical in high school romances, Stacy is hesitant to date Daniel, for whatever reasons. She finally decides to issue him a challenge. If he can bring her a platypus, she’ll be his girlfriend (or have sex with him, or maybe just kiss him, I don’t remember). Daniel is defeated, for how is a man supposed to get a platypus in Texas? Such a task is clearly beyond mere mortals. It would truly be a task for a God…no, even that is not enough. Such a mighty task would take two Gods. That’s when Kyle and Jeff spring to the rescue. I’m always willing to be a bandit for love.

Now, Dallas has a very excellent zoo, which was key to our plans. That was the night Kyle discovered that platypi (a word spell-check was never prepared to encounter) have poisonous claws (my editor has pointed out to me that what they actually have is venomous ankle spurs, clearly a very vital and significant difference, thank you Alice). Did you know that? I didn’t know that, but Kyle certainly found out the hard way.

We tossed the platypus into my trunk (where it could happily romp with the old issue of Playboy and the pull down screen for passport photos, amongst many other odd things) and drove out to meet Daniel and Stacy. Upon arrival Daniel removed the platypus from my trunk (being careful of the claws, as we’d learned to be) and handed it over to Stacy. Stacy declared the entire deal null and void, since Kyle and I had retrieved the platypus instead of Daniel. My argument that Daniel retrieved it from my trunk, where it just so happened to be, did not sway her. Daniel got nothing. But Daniel did not give up hope, inspired by the heroic courage, daring do, and general handsomeness of Kyle and myself (or so I like to pretend), Daniel went on to make future attempts to woo the mighty Stacy.

That is how I tell the story in person, and it’s a pretty decent story. But I promised that the stories in this book would be completely factual, so I should include the missing information.

The platypus that we captured was in fact one of my sister’s Beanie Babies. We did consider stealing one from the zoo, until we learned that they didn’t have any platypi (sorry spell check), so that part is true. Kyle did research in an encyclopedia and discover about the claws (and reading is always the hard way for Kyle to learn something), so that part is true. We asked for permission to borrow the platypus, but were firmly denied on the grounds that we couldn’t be trusted with a small stuffed toy platypus. This meant we had to steal it, so that part is true.

But see how much better a story can be when you remove certain elements?

Oh, and the platypus was returned unharmed, and my family never knew it was stolen, until now obviously.

That was not Daniel’s last attempt to get anything from Stacy. The story that follows is very odd, but I promise it is entirely true. The decisions that feature in this story made sense at the time they were made, even if I can’t justify them fully now.

Daniel and I went to Rocky one night, where Stacy was the boss. Now, one of the girls on cast had become creepy and stalkerish towards me, and I feared being alone with her at any point. My personal preference would have been not to go at all, but Daniel asked me to help him out. Little did I know what helping him out would entail.

Now, in order to avoid being somehow trapped alone by my stalker, I arranged to have my friend Ivy come with me, on the condition that she be handcuffed to me the entire time. Like I said, it must have made sense at the time. The part of this I find most confusing is, why the hell did she agree!? Ivy will not feature in any other stories, so there’s not much point in you the reader actually getting to know her. But she was far more attractive than any girl I should ever be legally allowed to be handcuffed to.

Nevertheless, the show went well and afterward we were all hanging out in the parking lot, as high school kids love to do. I don’t recall how the situation initially arose, but Stacy offered to make out with Daniel, but only if he could complete a great and mighty quest first. Having learned from the Platypus Caper that I would find loop holes in any quest she could assign, she issued the only thing that would guarantee my non-involvement.

In order to make out with Stacy, Daniel would first have to make out with me.

So enamored was Daniel, that he did not hesitate before approaching me. I backed away as best I could, but remember I was hindered. Not only was I handcuffed to Ivy, but I’m fairly certain she wanted to see this happen. As Daniel loomed closer, I fought, I really did. Sadly, I could only fight with one hand, and Daniel had the full complement of limbs.

Still, I valiantly and stalwartly (a word I never dreamed I’d actually get to use, and now that I have I’m going to have to go and look it up to see what it means) beat the beast back. I was victorious; I did not have to make out with a man!

And then Daniel pleaded with me. Realizing that were the tables turned, and all that was standing between me and the girl of my dreams was a brief make-out session with a dude, Daniel would have helped me out, I conceded the contest. The things we do for love and friendship.

The mighty Daniel achieved his quest that night, and was rewarded as he was promised.

The only real upside to this entire caper? I got to spend the rest of our friendship pointing out that he was a lousy kisser.



Where Did I Go Wrong? – 9: Super Heroes Need Sleep Too

Who creates college class schedules? And which one of them thinks that the best class to have at 8 am is a history class. And not an exciting history class, a history class about…like…boring stuff. If you want to teach me history at 8 am, there better be strippers involved if you want me to even have my eyes open.

Who actually wants to listen to some tenured professor droning on about the Visigoths when all they can think about is that nice comfortable bed they left behind (and potentially the even nicer and more comfortable girl who’s still in it, sleeping away.) Although history classes aren’t the worst thing to have first thing in the morning, film history classes are.

Most film analysis classes follow the same pattern, one or two days of lecturing (depending on the schedule) and one day of watching a film to be discussed the next week. And I’ve seen some interesting films in these classes. One situation I hope to never relive is when we watched The Dreamers, which features a very attractive French girl, naked, A LOT. Eva Green, if you’re reading this, you’re absolutely stunning, and I’m incredibly single. Sitting in a room full of people whilst being intensely aroused is a very uncomfortable feeling, only mollified by the fact that every other person in there with a Y chromosome was probably going through the same thing (and probably a few of the double X chromosomes too, this was college).

But you don’t watch The Dreamers at 8am in film history. No, you watch Fall of the House of Usher, or Nosferatu. You watch black and white silent films. The problem here isn’t so much the black and white (because there are some incredible black and white films out there that I’d put up against anything Hollywood can put out today), it’s the silent part. Silent films make me a little sleepy under the best of circumstances; 8 am is NOT the best of circumstances. Early Film History is the only film class I ever failed and had to retake, and when I retook it, I slept through all the films again. Luckily the tests didn’t change from one time to the next, so I’d memorized enough answers to get by.

I swear I’ve still never seen a single frame of The Fall Of The House of Usher (which apparently isn’t about a movie theater employee or a rapper) or Nosferatu, but I was in a room while they played, twice.

But I’m not here to talk to you about Film History, no, that’s far too interesting for 8 am. I’m here to talk to you about regular good old fashioned History. I’ll at least give this particular history professor credit, he tried to make things interesting the first day. The first day of any class is almost universal, the professor gives you a syllabus, explains his absentee policy (and I always kept track of how many classes I could miss how many times, man I loved college), and they give you the same speech about how they hate seeing cell phones in their classroom. To be fair, I don’t blame them, if I was trying to teach a class I’d get royally pissed if I saw students busy texting or whatever. It’d almost anger me as much as seeing cell phones in a movie theater, but I digress. He explained to all of us his cell phone policy in his class, he would only allow us to have a cell phone in class under one of two circumstances. The first is that the president’s life was in our hands. The second is that we were Superman. But he said that if we were Superman, we’d have to prove it by ripping open our shirt to reveal the costume.

Now would be a good time to tell you about the trunk of my car. I have no idea how it started, but one day it was apparently decided that my trunk would become the repository of all things that might ever be useful under any possible circumstances, as well as things that would never be useful under any circumstances. I’d list for you some of the things in my trunk, but you honestly wouldn’t believe me. In fact I’d swear that some of the things in my trunk were never actually put in there. I’m starting to think that the oddities contained in my car are somehow breeding, and giving birth to little monstrosities when I’m not looking. However, the number of times I’ve been in a circumstance where I was able to solve a problem by saying “I’ve got one of those in my trunk” would blow your mind. I bring all of this up, because I did in fact have a Superman costume in my trunk. A nice expensive Superman costume, with fake muscles and everything. I fit those muscles like they were a Jell-O mold. Seriously, if I took it off fast enough, you could still see where they were.

So the next day of class I’m sitting in the back of the room, wearing a Superman costume underneath a large black trench coat. Daniel calls my cell phone at the prearranged time, and the professor glares at me with hate in his eyes. I answer it; the students are for the very first time in this class fully awake. I say into my cell “I’ll be right there!”

The professor demands to know what’s going on, and explains that he was very clear about his feelings about cell phones in class. That’s when I whipped open my trench coat, proclaimed that the President’s life was in my hands, and ran from the room with my cape and trench coat flapping in the breeze.

I immediately went home and went back to sleep.

Nobody ever spoke of the incident again afterwards. I think everyone wrote it off as a mass hallucination.

Now, as an adult, I’d like to apologize to that teacher for being so ridiculously childish while he was attempting to impart important information to me. Teachers are more deserving of respect than anyone, they’ve all chosen a career that is thankless in wages, thankless from the students they forcibly insert knowledge into, and thankless in some third way that would make this sentence really funny if only I could think of it. On the other hand, he was teaching a History class at 8 am, so he totally deserved what he got.

Where Did I Go Wrong? – 8. The Night I Went Blind

This title isn’t meant to be a figure of speech, or even an exaggeration. This title 100% accurately depicts the events I’m about to share with you. There is only one new character for this story, Gertrude. I’d like to take a moment to point out that I’ve replaced the names of all my ex’s in this book with old lady names, because it amuses me. Gertrude and I dated for a couple years, and for a while we were in Rocky together. We’d actually met at Rocky, which may tell you more than you’d like to guess about the type of person she is. In her defense though, I never had a complaint about her as a girlfriend. Even my friends who didn’t like her didn’t have anything negative to say about our relationship.

The setting? The drive home from Rocky. I have previously addressed how exhausted you are after Rocky, and that 45 minute drive home feels like it takes years. It’s actually thanks to three years of driving home from Rocky well beyond the point of exhaustion that I can now confidently drive however long I want under any conditions without fear of falling asleep at the wheel. I’ve probably clocked more miles half asleep than I ever have awake.

Now, Gertrude and I had a very fair and simple division of labour to make that drive as pleasant as possible. Every week I would drive, and she would sleep in the passenger seat. It was a good arrangement, because…ummm…yeah that just sucked.

This particular night it was raining, and raining HARD. Luckily we were about the only car on the road. This is lucky because it was raining hard enough that I could barely see the road. I began driving by Braille. This is when you put your tires on top of the dividing line so you can feel it bump on the little safety thingies. I’m assuming that’s what they are there for.

Now, I drive remarkably well in rain for a Texan. Most Texans see rain and just decide to live in their car on the side of the road for a couple weeks until they get over the whole mysterious “water from the sky” thing. And we’re not even going to begin addressing the issue of Texans driving on ice or snow, the state just shuts completely down.

This is where our story takes a turn for the worse. I glanced off to the left, I don’t know why, I’ll never know why, the reason for this decision will always remain a mystery to me, but the consequences are something I’ll never be able to forget. Just as I look over there I see a lightning bolt hit a giant transformer. After that all I see is blue. Baby blue. Undifferentiated, no shades or hues, it’s solid blue. I’m going down the road at 60 miles an hour in treacherous weather, and I’m blind.

One of my greatest attributes is being calm in a crisis. I knew I couldn’t start freaking out, because it’d wake up Gertrude and she’d start freaking out, and we’d crash, and we’d die. So I very gently reach over and wake her up. I explain to her very calmly that I need her to take the wheel of the vehicle and slowly move us onto the shoulder. I tell her I’m going to start gradually decelerating, and that everything will be fine. I honestly feel I should get some bonus points for thinking that quickly on my feet. Stuck blind by lightning, I don’t swerve or slam on the brakes, I arrange for the passenger to slowly go for the shoulder while I gradually decelerate. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I’d like a trophy or a plaque for that kind of intelligence under fire.

And here’s where you get to learn a little bit of Gertrude’s back-story. Not long before we began dating, she’d been in a very bad car wreck. She had metal in her leg, and some serious post-traumatic stress issues. It was not uncommon for her to start wigging out and crying if I turned a corner too fast, or bumped a curb. Once, with a car full of people, I actually had to pull over to the side of the road and calm her down after a car cut me off in traffic. She had issues with cars. So you can imagine her reaction to being woken up in the middle of a car ride home, when it’s raining too hard to see more than a few feet in front of us, we’re going sixty miles an hour, and the driver is blind. To say she begins freaking out is an understatement.

I can’t recall her exact words, I was a little focused on my own personal crisis, but there was a lot of sobbing, high-pitched screeching, and the phrase “Oh my God” over and over again. Normally when she yelled something like this, it was under much more pleasant circumstances. These were not pleasant circumstances.

Now, I’m blind. And I can’t help but having a thought flash through my head really quick.

I’d heard about a film called Blue, which is a documentary about a man dying of AIDS, and about two thirds of the way through the film the man goes blind, and all he can see is blue. The film itself represents this by having the last third of the film be a nice light blue, and all you can do is listen. This had me thinking that maybe all blind people see blue. It’s not like they’d know it was blue, so they couldn’t tell us. We assume they see black, but that’s a pretty big assumption.

So with that racing through my mind, and the fact that I can’t make out ANY shapes or hues or variations, I’m honestly concerned that I might be blind for life. What am I going to do for the rest of my life? I can’t be blind filmmaker! I’d end up with practical jokers for Cinematographers who’d make sure the film was pointed at the floor the whole time, and assuring me it’s the greatest footage ever filmed. I could still write, sure, but I’d have to hire someone to actually type stuff for me. Imagine if I wrote an entire novel or screenplay with my fingers one key over from the home row. Almost everything I enjoy in life involves SIGHT, and now I may have lost it for good. This is so much worse than not having socks.

I don’t have time to deal with that fear though, because this entire situation with driving has completely flipped Gertrude out. So I’m trying to calm her down, which means staying calm myself. We sit in the car with her sobbing, and me trying desperately to make out ANY sign of my vision returning. Gertrude had many great qualities, but I’m still amazed how in this situation she didn’t even once seem to think about me or my fears. Still, keeping her calm kept me calm, so if we wanted to pretend we could claim that she was actually pretending to be freaked out because it was the only way to keep me calm. Truly she was just being self-centered.

After about 15 minutes my vision began to come back, and once I could see again, Gertrude calmed down and went back to sleep. Why shouldn’t she? She’d just been through a horrible traumatic event, it must have worn out her already exhausted body. Me? I’d just had a peachy keen time, so it was only natural that I should drive the rest of the way home.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, but it will remain one of the scariest moments of my life.