Father’s Day, Pt. 34

Two Father’s Day things, since these are de rigueur:

I talked to Dad today about things that are going on at work.  He offered me advice.  At the end of it, he said, “You’ve probably thought of most of that already, but if you hadn’t, now you have.”  It wasn’t anything that he thrust upon me or would be angry if I didn’t accept it.  He was just thinking out loud, and they were good ideas.  I accept all of his advice save his politics.  😉

Driving to the dorms just now, I was stopped at a light on the square in Fairfax and saw the car next to me doing that thing that stick-drivers do in edging up and rolling back in anticipation of the light turning green.  I used to do that, but I don’t anymore because it’s rough on the clutch, and since I’ve burned one out in the WRX already, I’m of no mind to do that again anytime in the next 60,000 miles.

But that brought back a memory from high school.  The first car I drove that was “my” car was a terrible 1982 Dodge Aries K car, tan with a white vinyl top that had cracked and mildewed, and with a bad seal around the rear windscreen, so the back seat was also mildewed.  It was not, as Steven Page put it, “a nice Reliant automobile”.  So my parents decided to get me something better, which put me into a blue 1986 Nissan hardbody pickup with a white camper shell on it.  That proved to be perfect for moving into and away from MSMS both years.

But to get to the point where I could drive it full-time — remember, the car that I got at 15 was an automatic — I had to learn how to drive a stick.  I ground gears and killed engines with the best of them, but eventually I figured it out.  EXCEPT FOR HILL STARTS.  Those took me some time to get the hang of.

The worst incident came when we were driving from Forest into Morton to do hunter’s safety courses so I could get licensed.  (I’ve never killed a thing.)  We’d driven in on US 80 — we lived right on it next to the Catholic church — and there was a light at the bottom of a hill.  Coming up to it, I was dreading getting stopped at the light, but it happened.  I was the front car in line.

I killed it maybe 15 times.

We went through the whole light cycle.

This was the main drag, and that was a long, long light.

Somehow I got it right very quickly on the second light cycle, but I have never forgotten that.  Why?  Well, for one, there’s a lot of shame in that, but also, Dad was so cool through it.  I know that he was frustrated.  He was almost as frustrated as I was.  But he kept it in check.

I inherited Dad’s temper.  [Cut to my mother nodding her head vigorously.]  But I see it from him only when necessary.  I think that he’s modeled that pretty well.  Back at TBE, I had a co-worker comment on my temperament in meetings — never too high, never too low, always rolling with the punches.  What she didn’t know is that I let all that pent up frustration free in my office, as closer co-workers of mine know well.  I’m sure that Dad has that steam valve, too.  That’s probably why I don’t get an earful nearly as often as I deserve.

So: advice, how to drive a stick, and keeping my anger in check.  Those are three good things.

My Brief Brush With the Long Arm of the Law

Earlier today, I got an email telling me of a retirement ceremony for UAH President Frank Franz, Ph.D. I, of course, had to go. Frank meant a lot to me as a student, and I think fondly of him. I sometimes find that this opinion is a lonely one, but … :shrug: As we talked briefly, I brought up the only time I have come close to being arrested, something I hinted at last year and never really brought up again. [Mostly because I’m out of the practice of blogging, you see. Been having that discussion with Trey via email tonight.] So here it is: the story of how I almost got arrested in college for leading a protest.


Spring 2001. Osama bin Laden is not a household word. George W. Bush is still trying to be a uniter, not a divider. Economic times are tough across the country, and especially in Alabama. Like many American states, Alabama has a balanced budget provision in its state constitution. Unlike many states, Alabama has a thoroughly earmarked budget system, set up so that each budget group must be balanced. Unlike most states, Alabama doesn’t use stable, growth-related tax bases like property taxes to fund its education; instead, we fund the Education Trust Fund with sales tax receipts. Yes, folks: when the economy goes south in Alabama, education funding goes with it. You might say that we deserve our perennial place in the bottom quintile of American educational rankings for this and this alone, and I will not disagree with you.

When education budgets do get slashed—it happens once or twice a decade—we have a name for it here: proration. Sure, that’s a reasonable technical term for what happens, but it’s also a living, breathing entities in the years when it happens. In the 2000-01 school year, it was the elephant in everyone’s living room.

Because we see proration so often, political interests have worked out a way to guard their fiefdoms in these dry times. The Alabama Education Association, run by Paul Hubbert—arguably the most powerful private citizen in this state—got a rule passed into law that shielded K-12 teacher salaries from proration. It seems sensible on its surface: public school teachers are never paid what they truly deserve [well, the good ones, anyway], so why should they suffer when proration happens? Well, let’s start doing a little budgetary math: of the total Education Trust Fund, a full two-thirds goes towards K-12 and the community college system. [The community college system knows where its bread is buttered, and besides, many of them are members of the State Legislature … an affront worth discussing some other time, lest I never get to why I almost got thrown into jail.] Of that two-thirds, more than three-quarters goes towards salaries. If you shield K-12 teacher pay from proration—a great idea on the surface!—you’ve now shielded half of the total ETF budget from proration.

Uhoh.

In 2001, then-Governor Don Siegelman took things a bit further, misconstruing the no-K12-teacher-proration law to mean that K12 itself could not be prorated … whatsoever. [Yes, the community colleges held tightly to their primary and secondary education brethren and somehow stayed under the umbrella. How, I hardly remember. I’ve drunk a lot of beer since then.] In light of Siegelman’s decree, all of the proration burden would be shifted to higher education, the educational arm of the state that draws a majority of its income from users [er, students] rather than from the taxpayers. [At the time, only the HBCUs of Alabama had a majority of their funding come from the state. UAH and Troy State University—which renamed itself Troy University because, they said, the State of Alabama had very little to do with their success—were at the other end of that spectrum, with less than a third of funding coming from the taxpayer.]

Coming as it did very late in the school year—I believe it was March—the proration proved especially painful for higher education. The sales tax receipts were off by more than 6% for the full year. With K-12’s two-thirds funding protected by Siegelman, higher education was staring a 20% proration in the face. With the educational fiscal year going from July to June and with the bulk of the monies coming in the main part of the school year, higher education was faced with getting little to no funding from Montgomery for the rest of the year. As you might expect, we didn’t take to this news very well.

Fast forward a week or two. Toyota had announced that they would open an engine manufacturing plant in Huntsville that year. [If you drive one of the new Tundras, that big-ass V8 is made right here in the Rocket City. We’re prouder of the Saturn V, but that Tundra money do spend nicely. Thank you kindly.] The Port of Huntsville decided to give Gov. Siegelman an award for bringing Toyota to the area. He would fly into the private part of the airport, ride in his limo down the street to the terminal, then step inside after a quick photo op. A little birdie—and I’m never going to name that person, but they know who they are, and I shook their hand today, too, after shaking Frank’s—put a bug in my ear: go lead a protest at the airport.

You see, at the time, I was student government’s vice president. I could pull such an event off. I threw myself headlong into it, contacting local media to ensure their presence and working with Alabama A&M across town to bring some of their students down, too. [After all, AAMU’s budget was far more dependent on money from Montgomery than ours was. They stood to lose far more than we did. I think that this is why their students turned out very, very well for the event, even though they let us spearhead things.] We staged a very simple protest: signs denouncing pro-ration, a march up and down in front of the terminal, and a simple plea to have the governor face us down.

The timing couldn’t have been better for us: it was a Saturday evening, right around 5:00 p.m. If I could gather everyone together around 4:15 p.m. or so, we’d have our full crowd by the local news half-hour, and because it’s Saturday in a sleepy metropolitan area, chances are that we’d be the lead story. We were—on two of the three stations. Never found out why the third didn’t come out, and I can’t remember which one that was at this point. We got together 250 or so folks together. Dale Jobes, a good friend and fellow activist, took the air on one TV channel; I took the air on another. We made a simple, impassioned plea: in tough economic times, let’s all bear proration together, rather than forcing all of it onto higher education. Why? Simple: cut higher education, and Alabama’s best and brightest will leave the state for college, unlikely to return. All that investment we made on them for 13 years? Gone.

As you can imagine, the Port of Huntsville wasn’t terribly happy with us. Neither were the State Troopers who were on protective detail for the governor. We were being very peaceable, but we were Screwing Things Up For the Governor, and they couldn’t have that. Some phone calls were made, and suddenly I was told to take my group back from the exit of the private air terminal back towards the public terminal. By the time I and my crowd reached the public terminal, Huntsville police asked me to disperse the crowd. The reason? I didn’t have a license to protest.

Fair enough, I thought. I was all set to disperse the crowd—we’d had our moment in the sun and made some waves—when Joel Lonergan, head of University Relations, walked up to me and told me to stall. Thinking quickly, I announced that everyone should go home, but to make sure that they all got in the right cars that they came in. I made this announcement while standing in front of my own truck, and … then proceeded to wander aimlessly around the parking lot, looking for my ride. “Where did I park?” I loudly asked, passing my truck for the second time. A number of UAH folks laughed, caught on, and quickly passed the word to others in the crowd. We aimlessly milled around for five or ten minutes, to the bemusement of HPD. [The head of the airport detail just looked at me, smiled, and shook his head. I think that he was ready to run the plates of our cars to help us jog our memories.]

Why had I been asked to stall? You see, Frank Franz was on the phone with the mayor of Huntsville, Loretta Spencer. He was making a plea to keep us from getting arrested. What a guy.

We went on about this for a little while, and I must have walked past my truck a half-dozen times, “searching”. Part of this time, I was on the phone with Dad. He wanted progress on the protest, as I’d told my folks about it earlier that week. I also figured that, if I went to jail, he’d want to know. I was on the phone with him when some idiot decided to place one of their placard on the rear glass of an HPD cruiser. An HPD patrolman quickly saw it and declared it cause for interference with his duties. I quickly told Dad, “I’ll call you later, hopefully not from jail,” and hung up. I quickly pleaded my case, but I was told to get my crowd to disperse or I and a number of others would go to jail. Knowing that we’d crossed the line at that point, I shrugged and walked directly to my truck, telling everyone else to leave. I swore loudly and vehemently in the truck on the way home, but I got it out on the five-minute ride back to campus. I figured that the TV guys might follow us there—they’d been covering us, ready to roll tape if I got the cuffs slapped on me—and they did. I needed to be cool for them, and I was. We declared victory and dispersed a little while later for a beer. Or five.

In the end, K-12 salaries were protected, but proration happened to everyone else—K-12 non-teacher budgets, community college budgets, and higher education. It hurt—it amounted to a 10% cut, and about a 50% cut from there to year-end—but given that we’d already done the planning for no budget, we found a way to make it work. I’d like to think that we played our part in focusing the debate a bit, but that could just be delusions of grandeur on my part.


Today, it’s dead Don who’s about to head to jail. Maybe I’ll visit him in there.

Nah.

Initialization, or Usenet Memories, or How Old Habits Are Hard to Break, or How I Really Still Miss George D. Morgan in Some Small Way

Alex asks why people sign emails with initials. I responded, as I’m certainly one of the people who does that. But let me tell the longer story.


Back when I was in college, I was a regular participant in the alt.books.tom-clancy newsgroup. I have a history of being a part of online communities, and for a time, this was the one I strongly associated with. As it turned out, there were a couple other guys in the Huntsville area on there at the time, so we would lunch together once every few months or so. It was a good experience. [If you ever have a ton of time to kill and want to embarrass the hell out of me, spend some time with Google Groups finding me saying some really dumb shit: spouting ignorance on geopolitical matters, talking about my silly-ass crush on Ellen LaFiore, or any other myraid of subjects. I’m not hard to find, although I’m not about to provide you a set of email address on which to search…]

Anyhow, sometime in 1998 or thereabouts, I developed this annoying habit of signing posts with a <– so I could make one last parting shot. [It proved to be less annoying than my propensity for footnote abuse: I would routinely write three-paragraph posts that had 10 or more footnotes. It was my thing, dammit. And yes, I have always been this parenthetical.] I had my tab stops set for five characters [have I ever told you about how I love, love, love fixed-width fonts? I haven’t? Oh.], so my multiline comments after the < would push out past the previous line, like so:

GM  <-- I was a really annoying shit back then;
     I reckon that I still am now as well,
     but at least now I am gainfully employed.

Problem was, though, that I was not the only “GM” on our group. We had another beloved regular, George D. Morgan, with the same initial set. After protesting at my use of GM, I quickly switched to GFM.

Not long after that, George D. Morgan passed from this Earth far too soon. I think about George about once a week as I sign the 450th email with my initials, wishing that he were still with us.

We still miss you, George. I do hope to meet you in heaven some day.

Goodbye, Little Bubba

Bubba Do

Mom called me today, about 4:00 p.m. “Do you have a minute? Is there anyone in your office?” I did, and through her tears, Mom let me know that she’d had to have her loving and wonderful dog, Bubba, put to sleep today. I took it okay then, but I’m having a little bit harder of a time now that I’m home and have my guard down a bit.

Bubba was never a family dog for me, although I loved him like one. Mom got him during the winter of my senior year at MSMS, a few months after our previous family dog, Buttons, had died. Mom was home by herself at that point—I was off at school, Doug was in his first job, and Dad lived two hours away while he was trying to get out of his horrible situation at the sinking ship that was Sunbeam. Mom needed companionship around the house, and Bubba was what she’d needed. The day Mom picked him up from the breeder, we’d actually had lunch—I was down for MSMS’s Legislative Day, and she was over working to represent the Parents’ group—and I’d brought up getting a dog. She assured me that she wouldn’t, but when she called me that night, I heard the sniff, sniff, sniff of a puppy nuzzled under her chin while we talked on the phone.

Bubba was a sweet, rambunctious puppy. He needed someone to roughhouse with, and I was happy to oblige him. I’d sit on the floor in front of the couch and roll him over and over, playing Demon Fist / Open Hand. He quickly learned to be sweet when my hand was open and that he could try to bite me as much as he wanted if my Demon Fist was formed. [Even as an adult dog, his mouth never got big enough to close around my fist, and he never figured out that his canines could break my skin. Of course, we were just playing.]

The last few years, he’d gotten very much “old” … fighting off some skin problems, and lately more serious issues. Mom had told me that she might have to put him to sleep at some point, so I had snapped a bunch of photos when I was last up there. I’m glad that I did. Bubba’s breathing was very labored early this morning, and Mom knew that it was time. We will miss him greatly, but he was definitely in very bad shape.

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. … When all other friends desert, he remains.

— George Graham Vest, Speech in the Senate

Goodbye, little Bubba. Big Bubba loves you very much.

Drinking Girly Drinks

The other day, Adriene accused me of drinking a lot. We compared notes, and she realized that I talk about alcohol way more than I drink it. [My drinking days are largely left as hazy college memories. Ahhh … good times.] I haven’t had a beer since I was in Portland a couple weeks ago, and that was a pretty rare occasion. Every third or fourth Tuesday, I’ll get really hacked at something going on with work and pick up a six- or 12-pack of Yuengling on my way to The Granades’, where it largely is consumed by people not named me. [I won’t point any fingers, but his name starts with a pirate’s favorite letter and ends in ick. ;)]

But tonight, the Granades, Kings, and Creekmores, May anniversaries all, went out for dinner, so I was unable to crack open a beer while watching Veronica Mars. Instead, I came home, talked to the folks, puttered around a while, went and got dinner around nine, and came home to fix the foofiest thing I’ve had since I made Impeachement Punch back in college: a glass of OJ with a healthy shot of peach schnapps.

No, tonight was not a whiskey night, despite having a good bottle of Jameson in the house.

You may find yourself asking, What was in Impeachment Punch? Good question. Anthony and I devised it while sitting in the student section at a hockey game one night…

  • One part amaretto
  • Two parts peach schnapps
  • One part peppermint schnapps
  • One part sour mix
  • Four parts orange juice

If feeling particularly evil, add:

  • Three parts vodka
  • One part triple sec

Mixed well, the first part of Impeachment Punch tastes largely like orange juice [although slightly minty and slightly cherry]; when throwing a never-to-be-forgotten party at Club Todder—ahhh, the mere mention of that phrase brings back memories—I joked about treating it like a screwdriver. Todd wordlessly handed me the vodka and waited for me to pour in a liberal amount before handing me the triple sec. We just laughed. The girls? They loved it.

[I think the funniest part of that night was the next morning, putting on my T-shirt before getting up to work on cleaning up the house. My white T-shirt reeked of beer. I was confused, because I didn’t spill a drop. I then realized why: I had sweated the aromatics out.]

Right now, my parents are reading this and thinking: “Wow, we’re glad he didn’t write about this much in college. We would have been very worried.”

Right now, Todd is reading this and thinking, “That drink is pussy!”

Right now, Anthony, the One-Beer Wonderboy, is no longer reading this, having passed out at the mere mention of Impeachment Punch. Lightweight.

First Impressions

My, I’m out of the habit of writing here. I refuse to let GFMorris.com become only a set of all posts related to my 2006 resolutions!

Someone brought up first impressions today on the Rumor Forum, and I was reminded of something Stephen and Misty said to me about six months ago or so: that, at first, they thought I was a complete jerk, and that they’d never be able to relate to me. Now I’m over at their house at least once a week, and usually twice. In fact, when I mentioned earlier this week that I’d dropped in on the Creekmores on Saturday, Misty said she went all, “Awww, he usually comes here!”

While this entry is a vain, shameless attempt to get Misty to tell the story of their first encounter with me, I’ll note that I barely remember that they were there that night. What happened? Well, suffice it to say that the second Lord of the Rings movie was coming out the next night, so all the geeks gathered together to watch the first movie … the extended version on DVD.

For those who’ve never had the … “fun” … of watching a movie with me, let me tell you: since I suffer from Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder, the act of watching a movie and doing nothing else while watching it is anathema to me. When I watch TV at home, I am always doing something else: working on the server, writing, consuming feeds, something. Gilmore Girls is not able to get my full, undivided attention: mainly because I spend every episode writing Kari an email about every bit I do and don’t like about a show. [Mostly what I hate.] [[And Kari is a sweetheart not only for reading those emails, but responding to them. Have I told you lately that I love you, Kari? Totally in that “you put up with all the insane emails I send you” kind of way.]]

Anyway, yeah … Geof + movie + no distractions = FIDGETING. LOTS AND LOTS OF FIDGETING. The Granades, poor folks, were new to town, looking for friends, and they had to put up with my endless twitching through the movie that never ended. [Did I like it? It was … okay. Not my thing, really. I appreciate all the awesomeness, but I don’t enjoy it. I feel the same way about figure skating—I recognize that there’s a lot of skill and grace going on, but … meh. If folks are going to be on skates, they should have sticks in their hands and be chasing a puck. Just the same way, I have friends who find hockey fascinating but don’t enjoy watching it. C’est la vie.]

I’m aware that this is not the only instance of a bad first impression that I gave. I can easily get wrapped up in myself or whatever I’m thinking about, and I lose all self-awareness. [No, I haven’t read the bit in New Scientist about how the brain shuts down self-awareness when it gets overloaded that Marginal Revolution pointed to today … I’ve been too focused today to get to that. Okay, now I’m lying … because I linked to it, I decided that I had to read it really quickly.] Thanks to my NADD and all the crap I’m always thinking about—some trivial, some not—I am not very self-aware. Because of that, I know I make bad first impressions.

So, feel free to share your first impressions of meeting me in the comments. I won’t edit or delete a one of them. 😉

Regret and Tennyson

Were it not better to forget
Than but remember and regret

Letitia Elizabth Landon, Despondency

Last Saturday, I helped Jeff grill up burgers and dogs for Amy‘s birthday bash, but I wasn’t able to stay long without the cat hair causing my lungs to explode. I bid everyone adieu, and then headed over to the Granades’, figuring that Misty would be up, working on the cross-stitch project she’s been madly trying to finish for a while.

I ended up staying there until almost 0100, as our conversation provided just enough distraction for her to work efficiently on the project, which she finished while we were there. We rambled through a number of discussion topics—which surprises no one who’s had a conversation with me that lasted more than, oh, five mintues; this went more like five hours—and one of them was silly relationship stories. Misty’s a great person for me to talk to for perspective—not only is she a good friend, but she and Stephen have been married for a decade. [In fact, their 10th anniversary was my brother’s wedding day. I love it when dates line up and make it easy for me to remember.]

I have never been a ladies’ man—to be honest, I purposely didn’t date in high school. There are two reasons for this: when I was at Forest High, I really didn’t want to date any of the folks from that town, because I didn’t want to associate myself with it at all. Snobbish, but there it is. And when I was at MSMS, well, I made the conscious decision to not date anyone because I didn’t want any relationships to sway my college decision. Mom always said I was a weird kid, and well … it’s true.

In any regard, one story I told was about someone I’ll call … R. She came along at a bad time for me, in this nice, ugly period after the first girl I’d really pursued spurned me, started dating a guy I knew a few days later, and then suckered me to be a groomsman in their wedding. It was a bad time, especially for my liver. [Okay, that’s exaggerating.] Anyhow, that period was pretty bad for me, as all my notions about how to go about these female creatures were thrown all a-kilter. Somewhere along here, I realized that some dumb teenage dating was probably the cure for my issues, but I was 19 or 20 and that ship had already sailed.

So, into that maelstrom sails R, who was one of the prettier girls at UAH at the time. If I were to ever list a ton of qualities for a girl to have—and I don’t believe in doing so, because I think that sets up horrible expectations, but that’s another story entirely—she would have had most all of them. Heck, she was even Methodist. I didn’t notice at first that she was really working to spend a lot of time around me, mainly because I was in the process of running for Executive Vice-President of UAH’s student government, and that was pretty well consuming me. But I eventually noticed, and … I was like a deer in headlights. Here, I’ll cut to our conversation [and I’m paraphrasing]:

Me: “And I froze, and I didn’t know how to handle the situation at all. Here was a great, wonderful young woman, seemingly quite interested in me, and I was in this place where I just was naturally assuming that all women would drop me after they got to know me.”

Misty: “Ouch.”

“When I didn’t respond to her, she seemed to grow bitter, and definitely pulled away. Since then, every time I’ve run into her, we have these surface conversations in groups of people, but I usually end up catching her looking at me with a slightly pained expression. I wish I’d been able to say to her at the time, ‘Look, I’m coming out of a really crappy relationship. My head is not in a good place.’ ”

“Well, that’s an awfully mature conversation to be having at that age.”

I didn’t say anything, but right then, Misty was working on some detailed counting thing, and she may not have noticed. But that sorta hit me like a shotgun blast to the face. I’ve learned lately to not regret trying and failing, although trying can certainly be difficult at times given some circumstances; I’ve been far more frustrated with those situations where I’ve not tried at all and been left wondering. When I think of standing at the plate with the bat glued to my shoulder, R’s advances to me always come to mind, and I mentally kick myself. But … Misty’s right, and as I’ve ruminated on that some this week, it’s helped, a lot.

Thanks, dear.

‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam, 27, st. 4

Smash Into Thine Own

Ivory tusk, smash into thine own
To show thee fit to continue
I weep for them and I weep for me
We rally to charge to die
And laugh when it’s through

“Ivory Tusk”, Blues Traveler, Travelers and Thieves

I was a mental athlete in high school. I was your typical Quiz Bowl dork. The Mu Alpha Theta chapter at MSMS, hearing of my prowess in mental competitions, bade me to join their organization for my senior year, purely so we could compete well at the state level. [We did.] I was on National Science Bowl both years at MSMS, and I was captain senior year.

Now that I’ve established my geek criteria, let me talk about why any of this matters to anything besides my ego. I used music as a way to hype myself up for knowledge competitions. “Ivory Tusk” was a favorite of mine back in the years when most of the music I listened to was either Eric Clapton or Blues Traveler. [It was a phase; I blame the BT listening on Nima Mazhari hooking me on four, and then I found the rest of their back catalogue and found most of it even better. But then Bobby Sheehan died, and … the suck knob went to 11.] I really (ab)used this song to great effect at the Mississippi state Beta Club Quiz Bowl competitions my two years at MSMS … I became known as “that kid who listens to his headphones non-stop between competitions and then comes out in a blaze of glory”. I was always asked what I was listening to, and I don’t think I ever told anyone what I was “on” until after we got knocked out of the competition senior year. [Yes, I offered the victors my headphones after we were defeated … their captain took one listen and understood.]

So, what the hell does this have to do with anything, again? I broke this mental boost out the other day when I took my midterm. I needed a kick … I was getting sick, and I was truly worried about the exam after borking the case study up a bit. I happened to have this on my iPod, so in the 30 minutes or so before the exam, rather than reviewing my notes one more time—I’d been mentally quizzing myself at random times, even when I awoke in the middle of the night, to list things from the notes that would serve as bases for my answers—I spent time with Mork, picking songs to amp me up. I started and ended the playlist with “Ivory Tusk”, and I felt the same zone come over my body as I did it.

To explain zone, let me tell you the weird thing that would always happen to me when I really got locked in … the only thing that I’d see, in all the room, was the game moderator’s lips moving. I was so locked in during rapid-fire questioning that the words coming out of the GM’s mouth were the only thing that mattered in my world for that 20-30 minute period. It was always draining, though, and music was how I’d make myself recharge for another strike.

[If you go and actually read they lyrics, you’ll see that this song really doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of going out and actually kicking ass, because it’s very much a call-and-response between a belligerent father figure and a recalcitrant young man. But if you give it a listen, you’ll see that it’s a thumpin’ little song, a rare jam that keeps its energy for 5:30.]

The kick for me always is to get my blood pumping and my thoughts racing when I take an exam of this sort—much like an athlete getting pumped up for a game. It might lead to a false start every now and then—I changed my approach to an early question halfway through and had to strike a bunch out—but I definitely felt like it gave me an advantage on the exam. I do my best work under pressure, and anything I could do to recapture that groove I used to have seemed like a good thing. I might have gone eight or nine years into the way back machine, but … I think it was worth it.

Hello, Leonard

In honor of my roommate, Leonard, having moved from our apartment, let me tell the first good story I have about him.

L-Fred, I miss you, you ugly goateed freek.


I met Leonard through Jared, my rarely-spoken-of-since roommate. [After Jared moved out, I didn’t see him for for over three years … then when Mark came to town, I saw him twice in the span of 15 hours. Well and truly strange.] They were both from Arab, and they’d lived together in CCRH. I’m fuzzy as to how we first met, but it probably had to do with helping Jared move in with me. I was desperate to have a roommate at that point due to finances, so I took all hands and the cook to help him move in.

Anyhow, at the end of that semester (Spring 2000), I’d gone back to full-time work at TBE under my co-op agreement. I came in from work one day to see Jared asleep on my futon in the living room as I came in the front door. I immediately quieted myself, slinked past, and went to my bedroom at the rear of the apartment. After changing clothes—heh, those were the days when I wore a button-down shirt and a tie to work!—I thought to myself, “Was that really Jared?” I tip-toed back out … and saw Leonard on my couch.

Why is he here? Who let him in? What the hell is going on?

Well, he’s reallllllly out. I’ll let him sleep.

After a couple hours, I heard stirring out in the living room. I walked out. I got a sleepy “hi” from Leonard.

“What’s up?”

“Not much, man.”

“Hey, um … how’d you get in here?”

“Did Jared not tell you?”

“I haven’t seen Jared in a couple of days.”

“Oh.”

I waited for him to continue.

“Yeah, well, I was up like 70 hours straight through finals.”

“Damn, dude!”

“Yeah. I got my stuff packed, and Jared came over to get the last of his stuff out of our suite. He saw me and said, ‘No way are you driving home to North Carolina without some sleep.’ ”

“North Carolina?”

“Yeah, my folks moved there a couple months back.”

“Oh. Well, he made the right call then. Anyhow, sleep all you want. You hungry?”

He was, and I remember proceeding to go to the Food World with him for groceries, bringing home stuff for chicken fajitas. I think that was the only time I ever cooked dinner for Leonard that wasn’t done on a charcoal grill. On that score, I’m way in the boy’s debt.

Some other time, I’ll tell the story of how he actually came to live with me, closing a loop in my really weird-and-odd roommate web. For now, I’ll leave you with this, and apologize for the quiet of the last month. I’ve had plenty of things to write about, but little time or desire to write about any of them. The things I would have written about? Best that I not have done that now. Such stories are for a distant, distant time in the future when the memories are easily laughed at by all. [Mind you, I can laugh now, but that’s because I’m a cold, heartless Vulcan or something.]

Getting to MSMS

I’m sure that many of you are aware right now that I am a graduate of The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. More than a few of my local friends are graduates as well, including Rick and Jessica King, Jonathan Creekmore, and Remy Kenny. I finished in ’97; Rick, Jon, and Remy finished in ’98; Jessica in ’99. It’s a nice little perk of being an alumnus.

My road to MSMS is a bit interesting. Dad moved back to Mississippi in October of 1990—around the time the Reds won the World Series—and when he got involved in the local chapter of the American Society for Quality Control—since renamed ASQ—he ran into the father of one of MSMS’s legacy families. [I forget exactly who right now, but I’m wanting to say that it was the Womers. Dad can correct me if I’m wrong, which I probably am.] At that point, we learned a lot about the school and what it was about—long before we even moved to the state.

The idea appealed to my ego, and frankly, I wasn’t that happy about moving to Mississippi. [That’s known as “an understatement”.] I knew that moving to Mississippi was going to be much like getting held back a few grades in terms of what I was being challenged with academically; I didn’t know that my 7th grade year in Forest would be even easier than my 5th grade year in Beavercreek. The only groups that kept me sane were choir, UMYF, and my parents. I was a decidedly unhappy kid. My parents refer to Greenville, Miss., as “the town we never lived in and don’t speak of”; I often feel that way about Forest. Sure, I made some friends there, but they were far, far shallower friendships than the ones I’d made back home in Ohio—which is sad when you consider the age groups of people that I was working with.

In any respect, MSMS was the carrot at the end of a four-year stick: put up with Forest Municipal School District from 7th through 10th grade and you can get out of academic purgatory and go to academic heaven. I don’t know if I thought that I’d have a Dead Poets Society experience there, but I was sure that a collegium of learning was something that I desperately wanted. It was, in many ways, even though I really only took advantage of it in my final semester, being stubborn and independent as I am.

I never will forget going up for Interview Weekend—yes, you have to interview to get there—and being awed by it all. It seemed so … adult. It was where I was ready to be, even if my parents weren’t ready to hand their then-16-year-old off to a bunch of people that they barely knew. I came back from the experience pretty sure that I’d get in—why, I didn’t really know at the time. It was only later, when, concerned with my professed nervousness, Mom called Mike Neyman, the then-Director, to see what my chances were. He assured my mother that, unless I’d freaked out the interview committee, I’d be in. My test scores as a sophomore were already higher than the mean of the graduates.

[I thought that I’d be at or below the mean there, really. I mean, I know that I’m academically gifted, but I didn’t think that I was really all that hot stuff. That changed with that fateful call to Neyman, and I remember hanging my 33 ACT score from April of my sophomore year on my wall by my desk the day I moved in. Talk about your out-of-control ego!]

When we went back for Orientation, I remember getting an MSMS T-shirt and wearing it every Friday back at my home school. That didn’t fly too well—I was seen as considering myself “too good” for Forest. Honestly, I did see myself that way—and if my contempt for it doesn’t show, I still [unfortunately] feel that way. I’d come in and screwed up their dynamic—their destined valedictorian, Jessie Boutwell, wouldn’t be valedictorian with me around, for while we both had 4.0 averages, she was in band while I was taking more academic coursework, so the QPA machine would put me on top. [It’s interesting to note that Jessie is my best friend from Forest and the only person I’ve talked to from there in the last year. I love her and her husband dearly, especially as he’s not from Forest and has fostered her desire to see the world and get out of Podunk. Last I checked, they were living in Manhattan while he is in art school and she’s working as a nurse.]

I didn’t take the traditional route to MSMS—if there even is one. I was from a part of the state that didn’t see many kids go to MSMS; I was the third from Forest to go, and I think only one person—Roshan Patel, who was also a ’98 and lived next to me my senior year—has gone since I have. But I’m grateful for the experience, even if I was an absolute ass during the four years I was waiting to go.